Blog

Sep18

Huckleberry Hounding

By Bob Ferris
 
I read an article recently that reported that when peace officers wore cameras happier outcomes resulted for the2019372475 police and for citizens.  I think of this now as our Legal Director Nick Cady readies himself for to meet along with our members of our coalition with officials in Washington about the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s handling of the situation with the Huckleberry pack.
 
In my mind also is a depredation report that I recently reviewed from Oregon (see below).  This well-reasoned and thorough report—available to the public—is one of the tangible results of our lawsuit and 18 months of negotiation with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Cattleman’s Association.  It is part of the manifestation of the “video camera” we have installed on that wolf recovery program and hope to install in Washington too.  
*******
ODFW LIVESTOCK DEPREDATION INVESTIGATION REPORT
Investigation ID: 140905 Wallowa
Date Investigated: 9/5/2014
General Area: Chesnimnus Creek area ‐ public land
General situation and animal information: On 9/2/14 hunters found a dead adult cow on a ridge. Wolf depredation was suspected and on 9/5/14 ODFW was asked to respond. ODFW investigated the same day. Scavengers had removed muscle tissue and hide from the left side of the neck, the left hindquarter and the medial portion of the right hindquarter. All entrails were gone from the body cavity except for the rumen contents. The skeleton was intact. The entire cow was skinned during the investigation. The cow was estimated to have died 9/1/2014.
Physical evidence of attack by a predator: There were no signs of predation on the carcass or the scene. The majority of the hide, including most of the areas commonly bit by wolves, was present and had no bite wounds on them. There was a scrape from a large blunt object on the outside of the front right leg above the knee. There was diffuse premortem bruising and blood clots just below the scrape under the hide at the knee, but no damage into the muscle fascia. There was pocket of pus next to the right hind leg hamstring (rear flank above the hock), but no bruising or damage found to the hide or muscle nearby. No signs of a chase or attack were found in the area around the carcass.
Evidence that the predator was a wolf: N/A
Evidence of wolf presence near the time of the animal(s) death/injury: There was no wolf sign at or near
the carcass or a nearby pond.
Recent wolf depredation in the same or nearby area: One calf was confirmed killed by Chesnimnus wolves 5.5 miles away on 7/16/2014 and one calf was confirmed injured by Chesnimnus wolves 10 miles away on 8/14/2014.
Cause of death/injury: Confirmed Wolf Probable Wolf Possible/Unknown Other
Summary: The cause of death is unknown, though there were no signs that predation was involved.
*******
Now this comprehensive report indicated that a wolf was not at fault.  But had a similarly detailed report indicated that a wolf had killed the livestock I would have been satisfied as well—not as happy, but satisfied.  This is an example of the type of changes that we are trying to institute in Washington’s program.  It is all about being transparent and open about what you are doing, balancing rights with responsibility, and moving wolves towards recovery.  We wish our team well!
 
 
 
 
 

 

Sep14

Public Lands Calculations and Creating the Conservation Chip

By Bob Ferris
 
When pocket calculators first came out in the early 1970s some of us had some fun with these devices revolving Old Growth Tree in Sale Parcelaround tasking them with calculating imaginary numbers like the square root of -1 or with getting these slide rule replacements to find values for irrational numbers such as π.  What answer or response you received from your new pocket companion was largely driven by what chip or chips your magical device used.  
 
The above experience and the chips come to mind as I look at the current debates over federal public lands.  Because many involved in the debate appear to be missing the necessary logic chips including one I might call the “conservation chip.”  They also need to spend a little time with a calculator working with some real and relevant numbers.
 
I have had a bunch of discussions with folks lately about the importance of the existence and condition of land—mainly federal land.  These discussions have become more frequent because ranching, timber and energy interests have been arguing that we have an “overabundance” of federal public lands that should be privatized or given to the states or counties.  They are also arguing that we need to do away with the Endangered Species Act and weaken the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act which is all related to their desires for unfettered access to federal public lands and use of our other public assets (i.e., waterways and air) as dumping grounds for their wastes.  
 
They are achieving some success because they are using a media machine often fatally crippled by the loss of the Fairness Doctrine.  They are helped in this by a fertile political construct enabled greatly by the wide open barn door of Citizen’s United. Both of which are then applied towards a populace that has been largely and purposely deprived of the educational advantage they once enjoyed.   
 
Rancher Bundy is escorted in BunkervilleHow else can anyone explain why a man like Cliven Bundy who is breaking the law, trashing wildlife habitat and costing the American taxpayers millions in grazing, legal and law enforcement costs could gain any sympathetic press coverage at all?  Moreover, on what planet does it make sense for any elected officials at any level supposedly acting in the interests of their constituencies and adhering to the US Constitution to stand up for this sort of behavior?  And how can anyone who enjoys hiking, hunting, fishing, bird watching or dozens of other outdoor pursuits that take place on federal lands express support for Bundy’s selfishness and think that their activities will be enhanced by privatization or increased exploitation of these lands? 
 
I ascribe this all to the anatomical equivalent of a missing logic chip because it functions so much like that.  This missing chip hypothesis is also compelling because it not only explains the disconnect on the value of federal public lands, but elegantly squares with the pattern of rural folks continually electing those who so often vote against rural interests and those of hunters and anglers on issues like climate change, grazing, road building, and energy development. 
 
I have introduced the idea of the missing chip, but what about the calculator?  In the 1990s if you looked at the per capita federal land ownership in the US we all had about 2.6 acres of land each, if we were to dissolve the federal estate and distribute it equally.  By 2010 we had added more than 50 million people to the mix and at the same time disposed of something like 18 million acres of federal lands.  So when we look at our per capita ownership of these lands held in trust for us in 2010 they had dropped to around 2.03 acres each.  We had essentially taken a 22% hit in the arena. Ouch.  
 
Seneca Clearcut at Dawn
But the news gets worse.  Now that climate change is upon us it takes more land to provide the same value to wildlife, watersheds and us.  So if our elected officials were watching out for this element of our lives they would have not only corrected and reversed this growing public lands deficit but they would also have made corrections to accommodate for the impacts of climate change out of concern over our decreased quality of life.  But this is really not what we are seeing and we should be asking why before we lose another 22%.  
 
Moreover, the above really does not take into account the ecological and economic discount that these lands are suffering from road building, over-grazing, clearcutting, fracking, alien invasive species and unrestored open-pit mining for coal.  
 
Just as pocket calculators evolved and improved the quality of their chips, the conservation movement must do so as well. Essentially we all need to work to not only broadly install the missing logic chip referenced above but also install an upgraded “conservation” chip too.  So how do we do that in the face of a broken media machine, an increasingly compromised political system and a less than informed public?
 
First, we must become the media.  We must use the social media networks we have created to broaden the reach of a whole school of conservation writers and environmental commentators who live comfortably in the intellectual border lands between environmental advocates and those who hunt and fish.  On this list I would include Ted Williams, Hal Herring, Todd Tanner, David StallingDavid Petersen, Jim Posewitz, Brenda Peterson, and Todd Wilkinson.   Please follow them, read their works and then spread them around your networks far and wide.  (And a huge apology to those writer frends who I missed.)
 
We lose political power and influence when we narrow our circle and artificially make our movement a collection of minorities by only working with those with shared views and lifestyles rather than those with shared public lands interests.  So support and promote the work of those organizations that understand the peril we all face from these various exploitive quarters, are working these issues hard, and looking to rebuild bridges between historic allies—the type exemplified by the odd-couple alliance between John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt.  I think—though they may not know it yet—that Backcountry Hunters and Anglers’ campaign for keeping public lands public is a good example of a bridge rebuilding issue.  The same is true for our work to find a conservation solution on the Elliott State Forest in Oregon that benefits marbled murrelets, elk and Coho salmon.  Political power and the will to bring change springs from these alliances.  
 
It is important to remember when thinking about the critical nature of this bridge building that vegetarians and hunters both use and enjoy benefits from federal public lands and they are both minorities in this country.  If these diverse factions focus on their differences in a broccoli versus beef manner much energy will be wasted and nothing gained.  But if they make the dialogue about needing more public land rather than less and better management of the lands we all own, the outcome is much more likely to be positive for this generation and the next.
 
And lastly, we all have to be active, effective voices for conservation.  If our education system fails to help folks sort all of this out and find the proper path, we will have to constantly and respectfully educate people and provide them with facts.  You can bet that those who want to exploit the economic and ecological chaos they have created for their own gain will be pulling out all the stops to continue in an unsustainable manner.  (Todd Wilkinson and I will be doing exactly this for two week next month, I would encourage others to do this as well.)
 
Our strengths are in our numbers…if we stick together, the facts…if we stick to them, and our visions for the future…if we really want a better world rather than one that is disintegrating at an accelerated pace.  

 

Sep09

To BLM: Derbies Should be Cute Little Hats, Not Killing Contests

“This is an incredible opportunity to team up with our [sic] son or daughter during Christmas break and spend some quality time in the gorgeous Salmon, Idaho Country! Some of our objectives are to teach hunting skills, gun safety and wolf disease prevention to our youth and others.” From 2013 promotion materials for the Salmon Predator Derby  
 
By Bob Ferris
 
Most of us think that “derbies” are funny little hats worn by Leprechauns and the father in Mary Poppins. But when you combine coyote or wolf with that funny little chapeau, the meaning and association become much less funny. Coyote Close up In truth, there is nothing cute or endearing about coyote and wolf derbies—that is—unless you feel that ignorance and fear are attractive traits.
 
So why would a federal agency even consider allowing a misguided group known as Idaho for Wildlife to conduct one of these killing contests as a fundraiser on lands owned by all of us?  Yes this is the same group that was deploying the so-called long-range tactical wolf hunters and offering bounties on wolves in Idaho.  Yes this is the same group that is spreading false information about wolves and disease ripping a page right out of Jim Beers' handbook (see here for a few facts on this).  
 
And yes this is the group that is fighting the other group that hates wolves because they do not tell the truth but is supported by other groups who hate wolves and spread misinformation including the group headed by a convicted elk poacher and ironically called Save Our Elk.  (I simply cannot make this stuff up.)
 
So when we distill this all down we have a group that spreads misinformation about wolves, wanting to raise money to spread that misinformation by creating a contest (based on fear and myths) on federal lands owned by all of us during a time (winter) when deer and elk—the species that they want to protect—are food challenged and most sensitive to human presence and stress.  (Why does an image of torches and pitchforks pop into my mind?)  
 
Before we all die of irony poisoning, please take a moment to give some feedback to BLM on this matter. 
 
 
 

Sep08

Cascadia Wildlands and the Tiny Linebacker

By Bob Ferris
 
I watched a little bit of football this past week. It helps take my mind off a number of issues we are dealing with and gives me a little emotional respite. This is particularly beneficial when you are in the Pacific Northwest and the two huckleberry_pupsgames you watch involve the Seattle Sea Hawks and the U of O Ducks.
 
In searching for game times and other issues I stumbled on to numerous videos about technical glitches in John Madden’s new X-Box offering “Madden 15.” Turns out a programmer made one of the linebackers 14 inches tall rather than the more realistic 6’2” tall. This led to a series of posts and video commentaries around the web about the tiny linebacker knocking over full-size players and even recovering a fumbled ball that was larger than him. This was all hilarious stuff for a time.
 

It got me thinking about Cascadia Wildlands and our size relative to our colleagues and also to those we oppose on a regularly basis. We are that tiny linebacker (only smaller) and yet we regularly prevail just like this out-of-scale video image does. I say smaller because the tiny linebacker is roughly one fifth the height of his co-players, while we are one hundredth the fiscal magnitude of a group like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation whose policies and actions allow it to freely draw from the wellspring of donations from exploitive corporations.
 
Bob and Incense CedarDon’t get me wrong, I like our size and it has many advantages. But the reason you do not get nearly constant electronic solicitations from us is because the person who would mostly likely write those is also working on critical program issues, is the webmaster, the head of personnel, the finance manager and the executive director all rolled into one.
 
It is an extremely efficient system, but at a time like now when we are fighting to save the Huckleberry pack; looking for a conservation solution on the Elliott State Forest (while blocking land sales and harvests via three lawsuits); launching a lawsuit for Alexander Archipelago wolves in the Tongass; trying to block LNG exports and a dangerous pipeline to Coos Bay; and trying to expand the suction dredge fight to Washington State it makes us prioritize and work on programs at exactly the time we should be asking the public for support.
 
Our tinier-than-the-tiny-linebacker-model is a great one and we are proud of our lean and mean reputation. But we also need public support and would encourage you make a donation to support our valuable work—particularly to our Mountain Rose Herbs matching gift campaign.
 
 
In this,I would urge you to understand that while even a large donation to larger organization makes little difference to them financially—even a small gift help us materially. Please share this around and encourage others to help us achieve a lot with very,very little.
 
 
Thank you,
 
bob's signature
 
 
 
 

Sep06

Huckleberry Hindsight

By Bob Ferris
 
The true character of any person, institution or machine becomes revealed by stress. You could think, for huckleberry_pupsinstance, that you were in good shape until you climb that steep hill and realize differently because your lungs are struggling, your heart beats like a drum and your head aches. For the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) the “steep hill” is wolf recovery. And as we look back at the Wedge and Huckleberry pack experiences we clearly see they are ill-equipped to handle this challenge or even see the most logical pathway—a rulemaking process—to remove themselves from this constant, consistent and well-deserved public beatings (1,2,3,4,5).
 
All bureaucracies fear change and generally need to be dragged kicking and screaming to any process that alters the way they do business, but even the most entrenched within this bastion of rigidity must understand that the current mode operation is not working. If forced to characterize the problem I would state it by saying the agency is deficient in comprehension, commitment and communications.
 
I am a wildlife biologist and have worked in the conservation arena for more than 30 years in various capacities. During my education I was deeply exposed to ecological theory and practice including an extensive examination of the evolution of ecological thinking influenced by folks like Aldo Leopold, Olaus Murie and others. Moreover, from my earliest education in the 1970s until now I have had the advantage of watching my profession evolve from an exercise in maximizing game and fish populations to an understanding of the value of maintaining ecological function and biodiversity. All this drives how I think and act in regards to conservation.
 
This above grounding allows me to easily recognize others with similar grounding and understanding. When dealing with WDFW’s upper management and my collective sense of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, I do not get this sense of intellectual resonance. Now granted the WDFW clings to the old-school and dated notion of maximization rather than managing for sustainability or resiliency, but even given that I do feel that there is much in the way of effort being exerted to swim upstream rather than float with the current.
 
Anyone who has been involved with wolf recovery understands that the successful pursuit of the activity requires commitment. Many states want control of this activity but lack the commitment and also do not grasp that management and recovery are fundamentally not the same thing. That is why many organizations—including Cascadia Wildlands—would prefer federal recovery efforts to state management. This is in part because we understand that these are different functions and approaches and because we have the negative examples of Idaho and elsewhere.
 
Communications with stakeholders are key to the success of any endeavor and wolf recovery is no exception. When done correctly communications engender connectedness and trust. When done poorly—as with the WDFW’s press release on the killing of the alpha female—they result in several thousand angry phone calls and e-mails to the Governor. That is a major public relations failure.
 
Why was this press release such a problem? Emerging science indicates more and more that maintaining pack structure is very important—which means it is critical to keep the alpha pairs. Our group and others were assured through various channels at WDFW that lethal control would be directed only towards young of the year and that the alpha pair would be preserved. Additionally, the WDFW, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Governor are engaged through various legal petitions and the Wolf Advisory Committee (WAG) either directly with Cascadia Wildlands or via our partners in the Pacific Wolf Coalition which makes us a stakeholder and gives us standing on this issue.
 
"The department’s wildlife veterinarian conducted a necropsy this week indicating the wolf was the pack’s breeding female."  WDFW press release September 4, 2014
 
So when we find out—basically by accident—that the alpha female was killed nearly two weeks after she died,lactating_female_wolf_eagle_cap_odfw2we are upset. When we find news of this event buried deep in what can only be characterized as a pro-ranching press release our blood pressure raises a little more. And when we see this monumental mistake mentioned offhandedly, in a manner that dismissively characterizes the role of this female, and that implies that the delay in notification is related to the need for a necropsy (the animal equivalent of an autopsy) we really have to question whether this agency takes its role in wolf recovery or it responsibility to public at all seriously. (Please see trail camera photograph of lactating female wolf taken during the summer in Oregon to understand how absolutely silly the necropsy defense is.)
 
The list goes on and on, but the answer to all of this is for WDFW and the Commission to finally wake up and undergo rulemaking. With rulemaking they would emerge with an approach that incorporates the understanding of all the stakeholders including those of the conservationists and ranching interests reflected in rules for wolves as well as for livestock producers. With rulemaking WDFW would also demonstrate that they are committed to a recovery pathway rather than one that simply manages. And with rulemaking lines of communications as well as mechanisms for communication would be created that would make sure that all parties had the information that they needed.
 
The public scrutiny and openness may seem like a pain but the agency has to ask themselves how is this current path working for them.  Because this public pressure will continue until WDFW makes meaningful changes in their program and their approach.
 
 
 
 
        

Sep04

The Huckleberry Alpha Female is Dead: Wolves -1 and WDFW Credibility 0

alpha female dead

By Bob Ferris
 
I am bone tired after dogging the Huckleberry Pack issue nearly non-stop for approaching two weeks. And now I am angry and disappointed. That is a very bad time to put your thoughts down electronically, but someone needs to.
 
I am not angry at the rancher who may have or may have not placed sheep in harm’s way. He was just being a rancher—acting as we have come to expect from this quadrant of Washington. Perhaps he was pushing the issue and abusing the system, but that is relatively immaterial to my anger.
 
I am not angry at the private timber company who allowed the sheep on to their property so that they could graze forest understory that could have been used by deer and elk populations. That is even though they are more than likely getting tax breaks from the State for providing benefits for wildlife and watersheds.  Still not there anger-wise.
 
I am mad, however, at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Why? Not because their contractor could have made an honest mistake and shot an unintended wolf. Not because they said they would not shoot either of the alpha wolves in this pack. I have worked in wildlife long enough and under tough conditions to know that honest wildlife managers working under similar conditions can make mistakes.
 
I am mad because the WDFW did not own up to their mistake when it happened. Why would I learn about this 12 days after it happened and then only because I saw a random Facebook post made by a fairly new friend of a tweet by a Washington newscaster (see above)? Really?
 
After the Wedge Pack disaster of 2012 the WDFW had a heavy burden to carry in terms of their credibility as an agency capable of dealing with the complexity of wolf recovery. They were given a second chance with the Huckleberry Pack to do it right and demonstrate that they were willing and able to deal with this recovery.
 
They were on a path to failing the test put before them, but with this action (or inaction) WDFW just put the punctuation on that failing grade. Clearly the Governor and legislators need to step in and force the agency to undergo the rule making that we have all requested. But it is more than that, because this is a cultural failure within this public agency and in their governing body to understand their responsibility to the whole public in this matter and not just ranching interests and trophy hunters.
 
 

Aug31

Of Wolves and Huckleberries

By Bob Ferris
 
There are tons of rumors floating around about the Huckleberry Pack.  Things are being said about wolves, the 2008937557rancher, WDFW and even private property rights.  In this say-anything and believe-anything society we now find ourselves in we have to be discerning and cut the tails off both ends of the information spectrum to find something approaching the truth of this matter.  But there are some things we know and should be concerned about.
 
The first is the agency behavior.  The public expressed great displeasure at the way the Wedge Pack incident was handled and many of us—including Cascadia Wildlands—were simultaneously critical and stood (and are standing) ready with concrete ideas and solutions for moving forward.   As we look at this Huckleberry Pack situation it was clear that both were ignored. 
 
Most of my professional life has involved looking at complex ecological, economic and social systems in a conservation context.  And this Huckleberry situation is one of the most complex and myth filled.   Taken in its purest form what the wolves and this huge sheep flock on private timberlands in northeastern Washington State represents is the collision between a nearly two century old effort to transform the West into pastures and woodlots for the benefit of a select few and the desires of the many to see wildlands that are wild.  Both sides of the debate have valid points but rather than searching for solutions many are looking for bigger and uglier conflicts.  That search will ultimately result in poor outcomes for both sides.
 
In many people’s minds what makes this situation special is that it happens on private lands rather than public because that gets away from the issue of subsidies and below market grazing.  While that is kind of true, rural counties—like Stevens County—are notoriously subsidized by federal monies and by the more urban counties in the state.  Rural road systems and education are two areas where rural residents enjoy amenities far above their federal, state or county tax contributions and there are many others.
 
2019372475Certainly there are valid reasons for this osmotic flow of tax dollars and there should be no shame in it.  But it also should not be ignored or denied by those whose activities—like ranching and timber harvests—are compromising the water quality, recreational opportunities and ecological services needed or enjoyed by those parties footing some of their bills.  Nor should this situation encourage a sense of self-righteousness or crowing from rural private landowners promoting their reputation for rugged self-reliance, because it only makes these folks look a lot like teenagers plastering their rooms with no trespassing signs. 
 
On the flipside those in urban areas need also to understand a few things.  First off, animal protein and lumber comes from somewhere.  Only 14% or so of people in the United States are vegans or vegetarians and most of us live in houses so divorcing ourselves from this situation like we are disinterested parties is not productive nor is it honest.  We all have a hand or hands in this. 
 
We have to be honest too about the wolves and livestock.  Wolves are wild critters and they do occasionally kill livestock and where that happens it is a problem for that producer.  That said, there is really no excuse for comments like those made recently by Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho—a state which seems poised to nominate “lying about wolves” as an Olympic sport.  Leaders should certainly have strongly held beliefs but their leadership should not consist of throwing gasoline on a fire and the complaining about the heat.
 
Which brings us to sheep.  Domestic sheep are bred to be docile and afraid of their own shadows.  They are as distant in many ways from their canny wild ancestors as teacup poodles are from wolves.  So how truly prudent is it to release these walking, wool-covered cocktail wieners into a rough and rugged, re-wilding landscape?  
 
Certainly folks should be granted great latitude in the way they manage or use their private lands, but there are limits particularly when those lands often enjoy substantial tax benefits because of their perceived benefits for wildlife and watersheds—which are diminished by sheep and cattle grazing.  Or when the users of these tax-advantaged parcels or public lands expect non-trivial amounts of state and federal assistance to deal with conflicts with endangered wildlife such as the $75,000 cost of controling the Wedge Pack. 
 
So where does that leave us?  My sense is that this pack was aptly named because huckleberries are fruits used both by humans and wildlife.  When cultivated and over managed huckleberries only provide food for humans and little benefit for wildlife.  And when approached too casually in their wild state there are sometimes conflicts with bears and other wildlife.  But when left in their natural state and sensitively and cautiously approached by humans they yield both a wonderful experience and a tasty treat.
 
This Labor Day weekend is one of respite for the wolves and is a good time for reflection about this whole affair.  The WDFW, for instance, needs to consider how they move forward and how to repair their doubly bruised reputation with the public they serve. 
 
This rancher and others need to think about how their businesses can thrive in this re-wilding landscape and how their choices of livestock breeds and management options can lead to conflict and loss or more happy outcomes.  In this they might look at other options such as hardier breeds of sheep and cattle or even bison as Ted Turner has on his Flying D ranch and elsewhere (for more on this latter topic please consider attending one of the Two Talking Wolves tour stops). 
 
Washington’s Governor Inslee needs to think about how he can help the WDFW deal better with this situation and others.  Our sense is that the best pathway would be what was done in Oregon where the agency, ranchers and wildlife advocacy groups sat down and negotiated rules that were later adopted by the legislators and the Fish and Wildlife Commission.  It took 18 months, but it was worth it.
 
And wolf advocates must reflect as well.  Based upon comments that I have seen, we need to become more aware and sensitive to the situations faced in rural areas and proceed in an informed and respectful manner.  I know this is difficult—particularly in the face of vitriol—but it is necessary as well as keeping up the pressure needed to get the logical and best parties to the table in Washington.  Please click below to help and share this around the social networks.
 
 
 

Aug26

WTF?!

By Gabe Scott
 
Cascadia Wildlands filed a lawsuit today to stop the U.S. Forest Service’s Big Thorne timber project on Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska. Big Thorne is by far the largest logging project on the Tongass National Forest since the region’s two pulp mills closed about 20 years ago.
 
Mail Attachment-9
The lawsuit argues the federal government failed to heed research by Dr. David K. Person, a former Alaska Fish and Game wildlife biologist and foremost expert on Alexander Archipelago wolves. A formal declaration by Person, written after he retired and filed with Cascadia’s appeal of the project, says that Big Thorne would be the final straw to “break the back” of the ecosystem dynamic between the wolves, deer and hunters on the island.
 
We’ve joined forces with Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity, and The Boat Company to file the suit, and are jointly represented by CRAG law center.
 
WTF?
The legal outrage at the heart of this lawsuit is political suppression of science by the Forest Service and Parnell administration. Dr. Person first circulated his concerns within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, where he worked at the time. The comments were buried by the agency and by higher-level state bureaucrats to implement Governor Parnell’s “one voice” policy, which suppresses troublesome science in order to maximize logging.
 
Dr. Person’s strongly held concerns were discovered through public records requests. Then, after confronting the Forest Service with the material in comments on the Big Thorne draft environmental impact statement, the agency simply ignored it.
 
 In this case, that gambit by the two governments backfired. The declaration, prepared after Person quit ADF&G, was filed by the plaintiffs in an administrative appeal of the August 2013 Big Thorne decision. The project was put on hold for nearly a year while Dr. Person’s declaration was reviewed.
 
A special six-person Wolf Task Force with personnel from the Forest Service, ADF&G and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, reviewed the declaration. Opinion was evenly split. This is not surprising, given political pressure and the state’s one-voice policy. Breaking ranks was a Forest Service biologist who has done wolf research on the island.
 
All of which fits the “one-voice” pattern that has been embraced so corrosively by our last three Governors. It starts when a field-level scientist with the State ADF&G discovers a fact or makes a finding that implies concern for some development project. They write it up. Politically appointed bureaucrats review the biologists’ statements, cherry-picking the facts that support development and eliminating statements that raise concerns. The lower-level biologist is not allowed to talk with people outside the agency.
 
The Alexander Archipelago Wolf
The wolf population on Prince of Wales looks to have dropped very sharply in recent years. The US Fish & Wildlife Service is currently contemplating their 12-month finding on a petition to list the wolves under the ESA.
 
Nobody has a firm count on the number of wolves, but the basic dynamic is understood. Wolves on POW face two problems: (1) a legacy of old clearcuts, that are now thickets devoid of habitat value; and (2) unsustainably high hunting and trapping levels, spawned by the vast network of logging roads.
 
Habitat
The habitat problem is well-recognized by scientists; we are suing the Forest Service to force their land managers to actually apply that knowledge.
 
Without enough old-growth winter habitat in the forest for shelter, deer populations plummet during deep-snow winters. Without enough deer to go around, wolves and hunters compete with one another for not-enough-deer. That never ends well for the wolf. Hunters lose out too, because without the big-tree habitat the deer still starve in winter.
 
Dave Beebe winter deer
POW is the most heavily logged part of southeast Alaska, and what remains is increasingly important to wildlife. The project would cut more than 6,000 acres of old-growth.
 
Theoretically, the Forest Plan “conservation strategy” protects the deer/ wolf/ hunter relationship by requiring areas of the forest to keep enough forest habitat to support 18 deer/ sq mi.. The Big Thorne area is already well below this figure, and the proposed logging would push it even lower.
 
Scientists, including Dr. Person, have been hollering about the 18 deer/ sq mi. threshold for years, to no avail. Without enough underlying habitat, the whole system of interaction between deer, wolves and hunters breaks down, they say. Without habitat, fiddling around with hunting regulations doesn’t matter.
 
That’s not what the Forest Service wants to hear, however, so they’ve ignored it. This reality interferes with their plan to stay out of roadless areas by concentrating logging in sacrifice zones like Prince of Wales. The Forest Service don't want to admit to locals that cutting all those trees means they won’t have enough deer to hunt.
 
The State, who is in charge of managing wildlife, just wants to blame wolves.
 
Which brings us to the emotional heart of the issue.
 
Some Humans Don’t Love Wolves
The second threat to wolves is unsustainable hunting and trapping. A determined trapper or two can take every wolf in an area, and that’s what’s been happening on Prince of Wales.
 
In fall of 2012, Dr. Person determined through DNA sampling that there were about 29 wolves in the project area, in two packs.
 
In spring of 2013, he could only account for six or seven remaining. That winter, at least 15 wolves were killed legally, more when you count poaching.
Last winter was even worse, reducing the lone remaining pack of 13 to only 4.
 
The Forest Service claims that problem should be left to State game management to more strictly regulate hunters and trappers.
 
But is that right? I disagree that the folks who hunt and trap wolves on POW are blood-thirsty, stupid, and they almost always care deeply about a healthy environment.
 
The problem isn’t mean people, it’s bad management. Two factors are at play. First of all, the vast network of logging roads exposes pretty much every wolf to hunting. Work by Dr. Person showed that when more than 40% of a wolf home range is logged and roaded, it can become a population sink. The Forest Service proposal would bring it up to 80%.
 
The second factor is that wolf trappers are do-it-yourself predator controllers. When deer populations are low— and they are surely dropping as a result of all the logging— trappers kill a lot of wolves to help the deer.
 
The Forest Service strategy is to trust the State of Alaska board of game to keep wolf trapping sustainable. In reality, that’s obvious nonsense. The State would cheerfully kill the last wolf it if meant an easier venison steak. State sponsored predator control includes plans to kill 80% of the wolves around Petersburg, and all the wolves off another island.
 
Even if you could trust the State, and you can’t, hunting regulation can’t be the solution because the State has no population estimate for wolves. State management is predicated on knowing how many of a critter there are, calculating how many you can kill and still leave enough to breed, and fixing a harvest limit. But if you don’t know how many wolves there are, how can we say what harvest limit is sustainable?
 
There is also the problem of poaching. Dr. Person’s work has shown illegal harvest can be roughly equivalent to legal trapping.  With deer shortages driving them, how could the State really regulate experienced and motivated trappers on remote Prince of Wales?
 
“All Rise…”
What Governor Parnell tried for so long to keep hidden, now will see the light of day in front of a Federal judge.
 
Deer hunters, wolf lovers, and scientists all have a direct stake in the outcome of this fight.
 
We’ll keep you posted.
 
 
 
 

 

Aug24

Unfolding Huckleberry Pack Tragedy—We Have Been Here Before

By Bob Ferris
 
A little more than 20 years ago I started administering the wolf compensation program for Defenders of Wildlife.  huckleberry_pupsThat meant that every compensation claim during my nearly eight years with the organization had to go through me to get signed and then paid.  That also meant that I had to know the wolf side of the equation and understand the rancher or livestock owner's side as well.  So I look at the Huckleberry Pack (video of pups in 2012 below picture above right) situation through that lens and what I am seeing (and hearing) bothers me.
 

The lack of agency transparency and the clear bias towards the livestock producer’s rights rather than responsibilities is troubling in this situation involving an endangered species, but what irks me most is that I have written this piece before–twice in fact (1,2).  This is the Wedge Pack incidence played out again only with sheep instead of cattle and on private lands rather than public.   
 
Certainly Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has made progress in terms of trying to do what is right by the species under their care, but it is very much a work in progress and very far away from the model we see to the south in Oregon.  The agency has to do better and one way to get them to do that is to respectfully ask Governor Jay Inslee to intercede.  So please click the below button to take action on this critical wolf issue and also spread it around to other activists.  
 
 
 
 
 

Aug22

The American Mining Rights Association: A Darwin Award Winner in the Making

By Bob Ferris
 
“AMRA is different than all other non-profit associations, we don’t give you a T-shirt or a bumper sticker for a donation, we give you access to our gold claims.  Proven claims.  We own these claims, and most have been used to provide us with our incomes.  We are expanding our claim holdings in as many states as we possibly can and access to these claims will be provided to our members.  Our wish would be that every member who mines our claims makes back any donation to us in gold.”  AMRA website 
 
Those who have read my blogs and other writings know that I do not suffer bullies (real or cyber), truth-benders, fools or those who purposely ignore laws gladly.  And with Shannon Poe of the American Mining Rights Association we have all four.  
American Mining Rights Association
My first encounter with Mr. Poe (and his present or one-time fiance Ms. Grossman) was when someone told me that he was challenging me to a debate on the AMRA Facebook page.  As he never directly contacted me and I was unaware that there was a virtual chair waiting for my posterior, I was a little bothered when he publicly criticized me for not having the courage to show up—I believe there was even a mention of some missing body parts at one time. He riffed on that for a while until I found out and actually visited his site.  I then asked him to defend several statements he made in one of his too, too long video rants.  
American Mining Rights Association T Shirt
I had many issues with his video that was circulated during the debates on Oregon suction dredge legislation.  But the one gem that I really wanted an answer on was his statement that people along the rivers in Oregon—if those rivers were designated as state scenic waterways—would have to go through an environmental impact process to plant tomatoes.   Really?
 
We had some give and take on this and I kept asking the same questions, which he never answered.  His response was to insult me personally (again) and when he realized that he could not defend his statements and respond to rational questions, he banned me from the AMRA site and removed that portion of the dialog.  The whole incidence bothered me so I took a few minutes to try to figure out who and what AMRA was.
AMRA2
 
My research led me to the fairly functioning AMRA website and on the site they claimed to be a non-profit company.  But in other areas of the site and elsewhere they describe themselves variously as a 501(c)3 entity or as having applied for non-profit status with the IRS.  Since it is illegal in California to solicit funds for non-profit purposes unless you are a registered non-profit, I thought that I would check in with the State of California and the IRS (see above status report).  As he was not registered with either, I filed a simple complaint form with the Attorney General’s Office in Sacramento (see below result).  And that was that.  Until I saw a video posted on our friends and campaign partners the Fish Not Gold site in Washington State.  
AMRA3
Not satisfied with the non-profit violations, Mr. Poe thought that he would rip a page out of Cliven Bundy’s play book and publicly suction dredge in Idaho without the required EPA permit.  His video even stated that he did not have a permit and it included captioning identifying AMRA as a non-profit, which is clearly not the case.  Now I will admit that the federal and state law enforcement agencies have their hands full with a bumper crop of public land duffuses at this point, but the fact that Mr. Poe seems to beg for it and provides his own video evidence should move him to the front portion of this large class.  I would add that given the challenges that salmonids in the West are facing with water flows and temperatures at this juncture, his “my rights were given me by God” action was particularly poorly timed for the fish.
 

 
Now I suppose he could use the Glenn Beck I-got-caught-up-in-the-moment-and-was-spewing-crap defense for his earlier video statements.  After all the camera was running and he therefore had to say something—but his actions in Idaho are something different.  That is also true for his continued claims of being a non-profit even after being sent a notice by the California Attorney General’s Office of problems with his operation and being rejected on similar grounds when he applied for a raffle permit earlier this year (see below).   
AMRA4
And I am still trying to sort out all the problems with the opening statement of this piece from the AMRA website.  All I can conclude is that Mr. Poe is a big fan of Tom Sawyer.  My conclusion is drawn from his concept that people will pay him to be able to work his claims and then give him back the fruits of their labor—in gold, mind you—so that he can buy more claims, pay legal fees or protect their rights as he sees fit.  But the fact that he and others are not required to return their findings to the “non-profit” indicates that he is self-dealing and that they are getting value for the contribution which means it is not a donation nor is it tax deductible even if they were legally a 501c3 non-profit.   In point of fact it makes him exactly like every other mining club selling access, only he wants his miners to return what they find.
 
 

 
Now I will be the first to admit that running a non-profit is complicated.  It isn’t simply a case of paying LegalZoom and then getting a tax number so you can open a bank account.  There are federal filings and state applications as well as officers, meetings, bylaws and minutes to deal with.  Believing a $149 payment gets you a soup-to-nuts solution and a fully-fledged non-profit not needing care and feeding is a lot like thinking having sex is all there is to raising kids.  As we can see by the above dialog on the AMRA Facebook page, Mr. Poe is clearly out of his depth when it comes to the legal requirements for non-profits and thinking that these bare minimum, cookie-cutter Articles of Incorporation are a "license" of any type is telling and indicates his lack of sophistication in this arena.  
 
"showing that miners are not just uninformed, uneducated folks with scratchy beards and missing teeth as our opposition seems to picture us." AMRA Website
 
On one of their pages AMRA bemoans the fact that the public does not have a good impression of suction dredge miners and others who search for gold (see above).  I can understand that concern.  But exactly what impression should the public have of a group of people that continually and publicly misrepresent the science, disregard the laws of our country and act in a threatening, belligerent and bullying manner?  This is not really a matter of underpowered public relations, but a consistent and well documented pattern of behavior that makes the rest of us less and less willing to tolerate these machines and this we-are-beyond-the-law culture in our precious waterways.  
 

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