Blog

Jul21

Observations from the BLM’s Buck Rising Timber Sale Field Tour

By Rory Isbell, Cascadia Wildlands Legal Intern
 
Fellow intern Rance and I recently joined Cascadia Wildlands’ Conservation Director Francis Eatherington on a public tour of the Buck Rising timber sale on BLM land east of Myrtle Creek, Oregon.  The tour was organized by the BLM Roseburg District office in order to demonstrate the results of the timber sale and gain feedback from the public.  Officially, the project is called the Buck Rising Variable Retention Regeneration Harvest (VRH), and is one of four demonstration projects currently underway on BLM lands in Western Oregon.  The demonstration projects are mandated by the Secretary of the Interior in order to increase logging on O&C lands.  The Buck Rising project was initially proposed and sold as a thinning project that would cut and harvest 60 year old trees originally planted as a plantation to accelerate the development of
Buck Rising unit 3

Buck Rising unit 3, a clearcut by most definitions.

late-successional habitat necessary to the survival of the Northern Spotted Owl – habitat now drastically underrepresented on public lands in Western Oregon.  In order to appease political pressures for increased logging on O&C lands, however, the Buck Rising thinning project was re-sold as a secretarial demonstration project.  The project’s silvicultural prescription, VRH, was developed by Drs. Johnson and Franklin, professors of forestry at Oregon State University.
 
The BLM-hosted field tour provided a first look at the aftermath of a “variable retention regeneration harvest."  Because Senator Ron Wyden’s O&C Bill utilizes the VRH method, and because all BLM districts in Western Oregon are considering the VRH method in the development of new Resource Management Plans that set the standards and guidelines for timber harvest in Oregon, the Buck Rising project is especially significant.  The tour began by passing through a locked gate on adjacent private industrial forestry land and ascending to an overlook where all three units of the Buck Rising project are visible.
 
Questions immediately arose form the public regarding the Buck Rising project’s compliance with the Northwest Forest Plan and the current BLM Roseburg District Resource Management Plan.  Those concerns came to a head upon crossing the boundary into unit three of the Buck Rising VRH.
 
While some clumps of trees were retained, most retention occurred in buffers along riparian areas.  In non-riparian areas, only 10% of trees were retained.  The BLM stresses the ecological benefits of early-successional habitat development, including flowers, nectars, fruits, and forage herbs for wildlife, and refuses to call the harvest a clearcut.  Many concerned members of the public, however, noted the lack of snags and remnant dead wood necessary to healthy and natural early-successional habitat development.  Cascadia Wildlands’ own Francis Eatherington continually noted how one of three BLM project objectives includes creating forage foliage for elk and deer, yet within a mile away on private
Buck rising slide

One of the tour stops was at a landslide in one of the Buck Rising logging units.

industrial timber land, timber companies recently petitioned ODFW for a public deer hunt in order to curb the abnormally high deer populations feeding on the omnipresent early-successional conditions on their post-clearcut plantations.
 
After lunch and a short drive to Buck Rising Unit 2, we saw the remnant debris of the slope failure event that occurred in February following timber harvest and heavy rains (http://www.cascwild.org/wyden-style-clearcut-causes-mudslide-on-oc-lands/).
 
By the end of a tour full of adversarial discussion, consensus was decisively lacking.  Understanding, however, was plentiful.  The concerned public understands the tough position that the Roseburg District BLM finds itself.  While the Northwest Forest Plan calls for the restoration of the range of the Northern Spotted Owl by limiting timber harvest on federal lands, the O&C Act along with political pressures from Senator Wyden and the Department of the Interior call for increased timber harvest as a short term economic benefit.  The BLM also understands that the concerned public wants tall, biodiverse forests on our public lands, and streams clear of sediment and full of salmon, and that we are dedicated to holding our public lands agencies accountable to those goals.
 
 

Jul20

I am Wanda. Hear me Howl!

By Wanda
 
wanda
[Editor’s note: Wolves do not speak directly to humans nor do they type their thoughts on computers, but what if they did? What if Wanda spoke?]
 
I am the wolf you know very little about.  I came out of nowhere and jumped into the hearts and minds of people around the world by simply doing what wolves do: Traveling great distances during dispersal.  
 
I found the wolf known as OR-7 or Journey by doing the four-step wolf waltz so known to young wolves of walk, pee, sniff and howl.  It worked and now I have a partner.  And this spring I had Journey’s pups. 
 
I grew up in the wilds where the night air was sometimes filled with howls of others and now it is not.   We hear nothing but each other and soon our pups will learn to call in the manner of our pack.   
 
As our pups grow, we will roam where our noses and prey take us.  And we will still continue the waltz, but now it has a different purpose.  Now it defines our land, our home and our future.  
 
Follow me on facebook here
 
Contact me soon at: wanda[at]cascwild.org
 
 
 
 

 

Jul11

Of Race Cars and Banked Tracks (Elk and Wolves)

By Bob Ferris
 
“At issue is how wildlife is managed in this country. Our belief is based on more than 100 years of the most successful wildlife management model in the world that our state agencies are to manage wildlife within their respective borders. That includes management of gray wolves along with other predators.” David Allen letter to Congressman Peter DeFazio dated July 10, 2014 
Elk US FWS
 
An Open Letter to David Allen of the  Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
 
July 11, 2014
 
Mr. David Allen
President and CEO
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
5705 Grant Creek
Missoula, MT 59808
 
Dear Mr. Allen,
 
As much as I enjoy reading your declarative statements about complicated issues you clearly know very little about, I find that I must interrupt that pleasure and interject a few comments.  Again, as I have before (1,2,3,4,5).  
 
There is a lot to criticize in your letter starting with the disrespectful and unprofessional omission of the “Dear” in the salutation to a sitting Congressman (here are some helpful tips on writing to elected officials), but I want to set all of that aside and focus on this gem of a paragraph at the top of this page and also your general invoking of science.    
 
Ignoring the question about whether or not wildlife in your first sentence should be treated as a plural in this context (i.e., multiple species and in multiple settings) and setting aside the fact that the following sentence is poorly written, this whole paragraph demonstrates that you are laboring under a tall tower of misconceptions as jumbled as your second sentence.  And while it might seem advantageous for you to pull a state’s rights page out of the Cliven Bundy handbook at this point, you should take some time and actually look at conservation history in this country before acting the expert as you have.  
 
While completing that exercise you would come to understand that market hunting—what caused your elk to decline precipitously in the first place—was largely allowed or inaffectively opposed by the states. But it wasn’t until the federal government stepped in with the Lacey Act in 1901 and other similar federal legislation as well as international treaties (Heaven forbid, Edna, he’s talking Agenda 21) that market hunting finally took a powder.
 
Certainly there were actions from both levels of government, but it is a complicated relationship.  And my sense is that you seem to have problems with these complex relationships like, for instance, why wolves and elk are seemingly at odds but really need each other to prosper in the long run.  All this led me to believe that perhaps no one has taken the time to explain these relationships in terms that you can understand—you do, after all, lack grounding in ecology and any direct experience in conservation or natural resources policy.  I have taught ecology, worked as a biologist and participated in policy for more than 30 years, so let me take a stab at that. 
 
You come from NASCAR so let’s start there.  NASCAR is a sport born out of bootlegging and running from federal revenuers.  The best initial drivers were the ones that ran more ‘shine faster and kept it on the road.  So we have a good example of natural selection here as those who did not were removed from the population by running into trees, rocks or handcuffs.  
 
In essence this sport involves running a car at high speeds around a banked track (my wife’s family once owned a tire company and stock cars so she is coaching me).  The car, driver and engine provide the speed and excitement while the banked track—for the most part—keeps cars and drivers from spinning out of control with potentially fatal repercussions.  If you think of the cars and drivers as the "states" and the banked track as the "federal government," this analogy works for the North American model of wildlife management and why it has functioned as it has over the years.  As much as you want to invoke the 10th Amendment you cannot have a successful model without both parties playing and it is folly to think so (see also this analysis on the North American Model).
 
But there is more.  In the western states a lot of the wild habitat is owned by the federal government so they become even more important in this relationship, not less, as your paragraph has characterized.  In addition when you look at Montana, Wyoming and Idaho where the flow of federal money is positive (i.e., more federal monies flow into the states than flow out in federal taxes) the folks who are paying to maintain and keep those habitats are from all over the country and therefore federal in nature.  And since what we are talking about in this proposal by Congressman DeFazio is mostly federal forest lands perhaps a more open and welcoming attitude in this should be exercised by you.  (Just a suggestion.)  
 
The funny thing is that the relationship between elk and wolves is very similar and the NASCAR model works here too.  Wolves prevent elk populations from spinning out of control by overshooting the carrying capacity of their habitat; being too numerous or concentrated thus more subject to disease; and accumulating too many of the wrong kind of alleles (variants of genes) that normally would be selected against just like the bad bootleggers referenced above by the process of natural selection.  These seem to be foreign concepts to you as you continually mischaracterize what is happening in Yellowstone though your organization has paid for and been briefed on the science by folks like Dr. Arthur Middleton. 
 
Moving on to the topic of science, your condemnation of Congressman DeFazio’s lack of scientific justification is ironic coming from someone who has called for a reduction of all predator populations in the absence of any scientific justification for that collection of actions.  This is made even more ironic given your organization’s tight relationships with the cattle and timber industries both of which through grazing and herbicide use displace elk and degrade elk habitat.  And the science on the increased likelihood of disease transference when wildlife populations are concentrated at supplemental feeding stations that are supported by you and RMEF further calls into question your dedication to science, scientific principles or even prudent wildlife management.
 
Perhaps you and others in your organization have trouble with complex analyses or dealing with data in general.  That was certainly apparent when you rolled out your page on wolves and elk using truncated graphs that were purposely misleading.  Your constant arguing that wolf populations are too high because they are well above minimum recovery goals may sound like science to you and many of your adherents, but it is not.  These were simply numbers indicating when the shift from federal recovery management to state recovery could happen.  Nothing more, nothing less.
 
Are wolf numbers too high in the Northern Rockies states as you have repeatedly claimed and inferred? Probably not.  Right now the wolf densities in these states are about one fifth of what we see in British Columbia with about the same land area.  Certainly there are habitat and human density differences between BC and the Northern Rockies states but there is unlikely a five-fold carrying capacity differential and there are many in BC who think that their wolf density is too low.  
 
And while you are madly trying to claim this scientific high ground, there is nothing in your rhetoric that shows any acknowledgement of the ecological value of wolves, their impact on other predators such as cougars and coyotes, and any appearance of a mental governor on your talking points as evidence emerges of the importance of maintaining social structure in packs and the need for large numbers of wolves across a broad landscape in order to realize the promised benefits of trophic cascades and meso-predator release.  
 
Circling back to the original premise for your letter, I will not tell you that Yellowstone wolves killed outside the Park will cause population calamity as that would be just as disingenuous and unfounded as  your claims that science dictates that predators—particularly wolves—need to be controlled and that their current levels are too high.  That said, these near-park boundary mortalities do impact the population.  
 
My concern, which is science-based, has to do with the value of these animals as part of a well-studied population free from interference.  Now you might—having never conducted scientific research yourself—not consider these animals and the data their continued existence contributes to our overall understanding of complex predator-prey relationships valuable but many of us do.  And quite frankly I long for a day when the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is once again led by someone who might similarly value research and understand that successful conservation is more about appreciating the complexity of these natural systems and all their parts and less about marketing fear and innuendo like a pair of jeans or stock car race.  
 
Now granted some of the above is certainly facetious in nature and somewhat patronizing.  And I would be annoyed and offended if something similar was done to me.  But at some point, Mr. Allen, you have to ask yourself which is the greater sin, the facetiousness and patronizing tone I employ or your misstatements and missteps that make this sort of response not only appropriate but necessary?  
 
Sincerely,
 
bob's signature
 
 
 
Bob Ferris
Executive Director
 
 
 

Jul08

US Fish and Wildlife Service: The Leadership and Vision Vacuum

By Bob Ferris
 
"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." Aldo Leopold A Sand County Almanac, 1948
 
WolverineSnow
I have been spending a lot of time lately reading scientific justifications and policy statements emanating out of the US Fish and Wildlife Service such as the new policy on “significant portion of its range” (see Society for Conservation Biology Comments) for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the leaked documents on the wolverine ESA listing tangle.   This is a painful process because these documents and other related works are often so tortured and mind-numbing.  
 
Well worded and grammatically correct these pieces are so covered with political fingerprints, cripplingly bent by special interest hip-checks and too liberally doused with an absence of courage that you have to keep going back to the title page to remind yourself that these were written and issued by an agency with public trust responsibilities (i.e., the folks who are supposed to protect our natural resources for future generations, including making sure that species do not blink out and that ecosystems still function naturally and not like grand, but woefully inadequate, zoo enclosures.)
 
Being older I have the opportunity in all this for hindsight and vision.  And what we are seeing in these type-rich decrees is not reflective of the former and shows little or none of the latter.  They are, in short, the ministrations of bureaucrats told to fit a square and wondrous peg into a hole of a disastrously diminishing diameter and taking pride in the process.  
 

Being older I also remember the peril we were experiencing in the 1960s and the promise expressed in our cornerstone environmental laws—The National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act as well as the cavalcade of initials that followed.  These were supposed to take us from peril to promise and beyond.  They were meant to stop the rivers from burning, help us breathe, bring back declining and disappearing species and basically stop Iron Eyes Cody (above) from crying.  And they made progress for a while.  But older folks forgot that diligence is always required and younger people never knew what was lost or what could be recovered.  
 
Before I charge off in some too obscure reminiscences, let me return to the Aldo Leopold quote at the top of this piece.  Because when you carve away all of the extraneous parts of any of these documents and melt them down in the crucible of intent they should always have as their immutable backbone the sentiments espoused above by Dr. Leopold.  Always. 
 
If they do not, we should not accept them.  If they do not, we should challenge them until they do.  If the leaders of this agency and others are not insisting that under their watch more is going to be protected and recovered in their quest to do what is right then why would we accept them as leaders?  Any fool can continue to accept species declines, dilute the intent of the ESA, embrace inaction, and make things worse, but we should really expect more from our leaders.    
 
Now the US FWS will claim there are reasons for not taking the above position and ignoring or significantly softening Dr. Leopold’s dictum.  Congress will cut our funding.  The ranchers and timber interests will not like us.  The wolf-110006Koch brothers will finance another anti-wolf video.  But these are not reasons, they are excuses.  The bad news is that while excuses give us comfort and shelter, experience tells us that waiting or avoidance only makes the eventual consequences worse.  
 
Perhaps in reference to the above, the US FWS should consult with their sister Interior agency the Bureau of Land Management and ask them if they could go back in time and remove Cliven Bundy’s cattle in the early 1990s whether that would have brought a better result than our current situation.  Certainly rolling over and peeing on oneself saves you a little immediate grief, but in the long term it just earns you more bullying and beatings—both literal and figurative.  
 
Am I asking for the impossible here, that a director of the US FWS would embrace the above quote and try to brave the “slings and arrows” shot by Congress and industry?  No.  When I first worked in DC I spent time with John Turner, Mollie Beattie and Sam Hamilton—all former directors of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and all folks who stood up for species even when it was less than comfortable.  
 
John Turner
 
“John Turner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director under the previous Bush administration, said in a telephone interview, he and others developed the program that Babbitt carried out to reintroduce wolves and allow killing of problem animals.
 
Other Republicans, going back to William Penn Mott, National Park Service director under Reagan also pushed for wolf reintroduction.
 
"This is a bipartisan issue," said Turner, a friend of President-elect Bush and president of The Conservation Fund.” In Official urges West to find space for wolves:
Babbitt confident animals will thrive
by Rocky Barker 
 
turner_eagle_500I met John Turner roughly 20 years ago when we sat together on a wolf panel at a National Cattlemen and Beef Association forum in Washington, DC—the two of us in suits surrounded by a sea of cowboy hats.  While it was logical that I was there because I had recently taken over the wolf programs at Defenders of Wildlife and was administering the organization’s compensation program, Mr. Turner’s presence was a little less logical.  You see, John was a Republican who had just left the director’s position at the US FWS to take the leadership slot at The Conservation Fund and he was also a multi-generational Wyoming rancher and outfitter complete with a missing finger joint from a roping accident.  Yet he was voluntarily there talking with ranchers (his peers) about the need to protect and recover wolves.  
 
"Economic incentives are the bridge between what we are doing now and what we should be doing for endangered species," said Bob Ferris of Defenders of Wildlife
 
As we are both biologists, our messages were largely similar in that we each argued that the wolf had a place in the West.  Our messages were also similar in that we were simultaneously looking at traditional and creative ways to minimize friction.  I was new to this arena and John helped me through some of the tougher questions on administrative details and history where I had some gaps.  We later collaborated on our shared interest in creating economic incentives for endangered species conservation on private lands.   
 
Mollie Beattie 
 
“In the long term, the economy and the environment are the same thing. If it's unenvironmental it is uneconomical. That is the rule of nature.” Mollie Beattie in Woman of the Woods: Mollie Beattie, a Natural as Fish and Wildlife Chief by Ted Gup  
 
My interactions with Mollie were too few and mainly were more conversations than working together in any traditional sense.  We sat next to each other at a few events and talked about wolves, but I will say that she DirmollieBeattiesimultaneously exuded serenity and a principled nature.  More importantly she was courageous—not only through her illness—but when dealing with Congress.  
 
"What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself.” — Mollie Beattie, former Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (1947-1996) 
 
My strongest memory of Mollie was during some hearings in the newly re-named Resources Committee in the House (nee Natural Resources) chaired by Don Young of Alaska.  All during the hearing Congressman Young  (R-AK) who referred to his female colleagues Barbara Cubin (R-WY) and Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) as his “sled dogs” waved a walrus baculum (i.e., penis bone) at the then Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  But Mollie held her ground, defended the Endangered Species Act and stood up to those in Congress attacking this and other bedrock environmental laws.  
 
“So Mollie calmly informed Congressman Young that the ESA was basically a good law, and that she intended to uphold and improve it. Did the Chair have any constructive suggestions?”  Vermon Law School Lawyer and Faculty member Patrick Parenteau in She Runs With Wolves: In Memory of Mollie Beattie  
 
Sam Hamilton
 
Sam Hamilton Phil Kloer Tenn NWROf the three I probably spent the most time with Sam Hamilton (at left at left) who also had the shortest tenure of the three as Secretary succumbing to a fatal heart attack while skiing in the Rocky Mountains mere months after his confirmation.  
 
I met Sam initially through the Black Bear Conservation Coalition that met each year in Louisiana.  Our meetings about black bear conservation when he worked for the US FWS out of the Atlanta office eventually led to other discussions at professional meetings like North American’s and those of the Wildlife Society.
 
It was at The Wildlife Society meeting one year when I ran into a bob white quail and turkey biologist from the Southwest who talked to me about issues of game bird recruitment and expanding coyote populations.  The biologist and I brought Sam into the equation when we started discussing red wolves as a possible solution in Mississippi.  As a result, Sam helped us set up a meeting in Yazoo City, Mississippi with local landowners and decision-makers.  We picked this site because of this area’s proximity to large tracts of public lands (i.e., Delta National Forest, Panther Swamp Wildlife Refuge and the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge), the low human density and the absence of a significant livestock population.   Sam worked hard on this and we got very, very close to pulling it off.  He saw the opportunity here as he did in the Everglades to do something remarkable for willdlife in the true spirit of cooperative conservation.  Who knows what Sam would have accomplished if he had lived (or Mollie for that matter), but if his past was a mirror of his future we expected great things.  
******
These are three people from three very different parts of the country and with different experiences and political persuasions.  Yet all three of them took their jobs at the USFWS seriously and while there supported the Endangered Species Act—including taking affirmative and courageous actions for wolves.   Perhaps the current leadership—many of whom were present during the tenures of these three—will use this and them as an empowering touchstone for their own leadership.  Maybe then they will remember that their jobs should be looking for ever-increasing ways to save species rather than looking for ways to avoid taking steps needed to “preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community” under their stewardship. 
 
Send a message to Director Dan Ashe by clicking this button:
 
 
 
 

Jun29

Rachel, Rachel Where Art Thou?: The Need for a Noisy Spring

By Bob Ferris
 
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This past April marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Rachel Carson.  And while I certainly bemoan her absence and miss her rachelcarson_binocularsiconic Silent Spring voice, I mourn more for the fact that her life’s work and sacrifice on our behalf has apparently taught many of us little or nothing.    Exhibit “A” in this thesis is the list of herbicides contained in a 2012 private forestry spraying application for a 3,416 acre unit near the Willapa Headwaters in southwestern Washington (thank you, Jon Gosch). 
 
"If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth." Robert White-Stevens American Cyanamid biochemist
 
Rachel’s story is a powerful one and too often repeated.  Here’s how it goes: A systems thinker (in her case a marine biologist) noticing trends and problems in the natural world compiles evidence that establishes correlative links between a chemical or chemicals and a natural or human health issue and then brings it to the public’s attention.  These are not “proofs” in the traditional scientific sense but rather concrete rationales for further investigation—in short these are the building blocks of testable hypotheses.  
 
“Miss Rachel Carson’s reference to the selfishness of insecticide manufacturers probably reflects her Communist sympathies, like a lot of our writers these days. We can live without birds and animals, but, as the current market slump shows, we cannot live without business. As for insects, isn't it just like a woman to be scared to death of a few little bugs! As long as we have the H-bomb everything will be O.K.” Letter to the editor of the New Yorker
 
But once these building blocks form and become known, a storm of industry-led criticism always follows.  We know the pattern: Credentials and motivations are questioned; industry scientists rush in to defend the safety of products; new brochures addressing criticisms are prepared; and those offering the hypotheses are quickly and roughly kicked to curb for being un-American, job-killers, communists or worse.  In all of this we have to really wonder where the sin lies in raising legitimate and justifiable concerns.  And when exactly did poisoning our wildlife and future generations become an American value?  
 
Now I cannot say conclusively, for instance, that forestry herbicide use on private lands is directly causing hoof rot in elk in southwestern Washington.  That said, I know that the chemical cocktails being sprayed have some impact because herbicides directly lower available food supplies and that stresses elk (and deer) making them generally more vulnerable to any infections.  
 
And I have good reasons to suspect additional impact from glyphosate herbicides like RoundUp or Rodeo because they often control the availability of trace metals and micronutrients to plants, soil microbes, and thus bigger critters through a complicated process known as chelation that undoubtedly alters metabolic functions and other systems at each step up the food chain (see 1, 23)  And then there are some concerns about the immunological and thyroidal impacts of some herbicides. So this is not so much a debate about whether or not herbicides are contributing to this current elk affliction, but how far this class of chemicals moves the needle from zero (no impact) to 100 (proximate cause).
 
“The New York Times reported that in 1996, "Dennis C. Vacco, the Attorney General of New York, ordered the company to pull ads that said Roundup was "safer than table salt" and "practically nontoxic" to mammals, birds and fish. The company withdrew the spots, but also said that the phrase in question was permissible under E.P.A. guidelines."  Under “Legal Cases” in Glyphosate Wikipedia listing 
 
I suspect that many in America believe that the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the passing of theAutism_and_Glyphosate_correlation Clean Water Act have worked together to reduce herbicide use since the 1960s when things were really “bad.”  These are after all the pollution cop agency and a bedrock piece of environmental legislation.  The reality is that while many chemicals were eliminated from use, many more emerged with a lot of them being herbicides.  At the same time lots of wildlife issues such as difficult-to-identify diseases, deformities and population drops are manifesting themselves with similar things happening in human communities too.  Certainly there are multiple factors involved in any wildlife or human health syndrome but the incidence of these problems and the rise of herbicide use seems to track well enough that serious questions should be asked (see glyphosate use and autism graph at right).
 
Now herbicide proponents will be quick to point out that these are only correlations and not causation.  True enough, but like Rachel Carson’s work these correlations are and should be the vibrant roots of hypotheses that we must pose and follow to their conclusions.  And before the charges of scare tactics are deployed and my ethics questioned, my sense is that it is much more responsible to ask legitimate questions arising from a well-constructed correlation, even if it might elicit fear and caution, than to agressively deny that fear and condemn that caution in the absence of adequate and conclusive testing.  And if there is one thing that you learn from plowing through mountains of primary literature on herbicides it is that there is much we do not know and the number of studies that end with a desperate call for more studies is astounding.  
 
It should also be clear to those in the pro-herbicide camp by now that curiosity met with swift denial only leads to suspicion.  And ultimately this becomes distrust if legitimate concerns are ignored or dismissed without visible investigation.  They should also understand that suspicion and distrust can easily snowball into campaigns.  This brings us to our present state which is not quite a broad campaign but more like isolated prairie fires across the rural western landscape that are starting to send sparks back and forth to each other. 
 
These efforts include those by non-traditional folks like hunters and citizen activists Jon Gosch (1,2,3) and Bruce Barnes working on the elk hoof rot issue in Washington; wildlife rehabber Judy Hoy in the intermountain West trying to figure out deformities in deer, elk and antelopes; and Josh Leavitt’s emerging efforts in Utah to serve as a research destination and clearinghouse.  They also include the fine work of groups like our soon-to-be-ex-across-the-hall-neighbors, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides or NCAP that fight this battle daily. (You see, Kim, I was listening and we will miss your shining faces and having Edward's organic eggs just a few steps away).  They should give us all hope that the brave spirit of Rachel Carson lives. 
 
But there is a second part of the Carson lesson and that is the grassroots part of the equation.  For the US EPA to not think it is alright to characterize RoundUp similarly to table salt and for state agencies in charge of our forests, waterways, wildlife and health not to cavalierly sign off on the chemical carpet bombing enumerated at the top of this piece, we all have to speak up.  Carson’s efforts were initially successful because you, your parents or grandparents spoke up in the 1960s and, therefore, for these current efforts to be successful you, your children and your grandchildren have to be vigilant and not think that the first Earth Day was the end of the battle but rather the beginning.  Let’s get to it.  The below action is one to get started, but more will follow from us or other "prairie fires" in the West.
 
 

Jun25

A Trip to Washington DC

By Francis Eatherington

francis in DC

 
During the week of June 16, representatives of Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, and KS Wild traveled to Washington DC to discuss two bills, one from Senator Wyden and one from Representative DeFazio. Both mandate an increase of logging on western Oregon BLM lands.
 
We had over 21 meetings with agency staff, senators and representatives. We pointed out that if laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are weakened in Oregon (as both the Wyden and DeFazio bills propose) it sets a precedent nation-wide.
 
Both bills claim western Oregon BLM districts are in litigation “gridlock” because of environmental troublemakers. It’s not true. There is no gridlock. In December 2013 the BLM released information going back 6 years showing the BLM has been meeting its timber targets when averaged over all western Oregon districts. For instance, in 2012, the timber target for the 6 BLM districts with O&C land was 203 mmbf (million board feet). The exceeded that by offering 205.4 mmbf of mostly non-controversial, non-litigated timber sales. It is hyperbole to call this “gridlock.” Instead, the problem is that the BLM Districts with dryer forests (Medford and Roseburg) haven’t been able to meet their targets, which were set too high. But that is made up by the BLM districts with wetter forests (Coos Bay, Salem and Eugene) that have exceeded their target volume.
 
The Oregon congressional delegation is being pressured by counties who have such low tax revenue (and low tax rates) that they want to return to the days when they reaped in a huge share of BLM logging revenue.
 
We pointed out that reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools legislation would solve that problem on the federal level, while we recognized that state and county governments need to address the funding crises at local levels. For instance, the large percentage of private land in Oregon owned by the timber industry has a far lower tax rate than rural families pay. And if a timber corporation owns more than 5,000 acres, they pay even less taxes. Added to those tax gifts is the fact that industry has no fees on the large amount of raw-log exports from Oregon, unlike the payments required from industry in California and Washington State on raw-log exports.
 
On our last day in DC we discussed with legislators our concerns over exporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Veresen, a Canadian corporation, wants to use southern Oregon to export fracked gas to Asia. Veresen claims that if they can’t export, they will have to stop fracking. They want to take property from over 300 Oregonians for a pipeline to Coos Bay to feed a proposed LNG terminal in a tsunami and earthquake subduction zone.
 
While the staff of Senator Wyden seemed concerned when they met with us, they could offer no explanation to Senator Wyden’s statements that he “applauds” this project. They will get back to us on if he meant he applauds condemning his constituents lands, or he just applauds the release of huge amounts of methane in fracking, as methane is 100 times more polluting than coal when released unburned into the atmosphere. I’ll be sure to let you when they get back to us.
 

Jun24

The Hopes in a Howl and Science

By Bob Ferris0462_wenaha_male_wolf
 
One of the distinct advantages for me of working in a small organization versus a large one in DC with security doors and receptionists, is that I get to talk with people and see how they are impacted by our work.  Yesterday was a prime example. 
 
About mid-day yesterday an animated woman came into our office semi-out-of-breath and beaming. She had a story to tell.  She had just come back from camping in rural part of Cascadia about 150 miles from where a certain very famous wolf couple (i.e., Journey and Wanda) is currently thought to be tending to their pups.
 
“We heard them,” she said. 
 
OR-7And what followed was a discussion about wolves and wolf howls—how they sound and how they differ from coyotes or dogs.  We talked about the deceptiveness of distance and a little wolf biology and then I asked her, “Did this enhance your camping experience?“
 
Of course I knew what her answer would be even before it came bubbling out because I’d had this conversation hundreds of times before.   I did not have to listen to words because excitement was written all over her face and in the tone of her talk.  I cannot say for certain what she heard and whether or not it was a wolf, wolves or “the wolves” and it really does not matter.  She—like so many before her and many to follow—was excited simply by the hope of wolves.  

This concept of excitement over the existence of something that is not seen and often not experienced has been discussed and debated for the two decades that I have worked on this creature of myth and mystery.  The concept of existence value, though demonstrated repeatedly by hundreds of people lining the roads in Algonquin Provincial Park near the US-Canada border hoping to hear a wolf howl (you have to listen very, very closely) or thousands sending comments from New York City on wolf recovery, is a little like the wolf itself; either you get it or you don’t.  
 
The above operates on the emotional and my wife frequently ponders why we even bothered to hire a wedding photographer, because my expression is always the same. It is her way of saying I am a scientist and while I like the howls, I am excited on a deeper level by the ecological implications of the wolf and all that we are learning about this amazing critter. And I may not have been at that campground and heard that howl but I have been reading the literature and the last month or so has been pretty amazing with four papers of note.
 
The first one out of the chute is that paper about the BC coastal wolves and how diet and habitat might be creating genetic separation between fish-eating coastal wolves and their inland neighbors.  I am still digesting this but had a short conversation with one of the co-authors, Paul Paquet, about this when we were writing our piece on the ill-advised delisting proposal by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This is an interesting and thought provoking development and it brings to mind long ago, rancorous arguments in the scientific community about the possibility of species living with or near each other diverging in a process called sympatric speciation.  Good stuff.
 
The second piece in this series has to do with a theme of much interest and debate: trophic cascades.  Thomas Newsome and William Ripple out of Oregon State are the authors of a study that looked at fur trapping records across a broad expanse of Canada to see how wolf populations impact coyote and fox populations.  This article puts the punctuation mark on the idea that trophic cascades—the trickle-down economics of the animal world (only this actually works)—need lots of apex predators across a broad area to work.  
 
Cristina Eisenberg and I have had discussions about this idea that there is a critical mass required for trophic cascades.  It seems key when we look at how broadly we have to recover wolf populations to get the benefits that we need to accrue.  
 
The third article is the one on cougars and wolves.  The research found that cougars tended to avoid areas occupied by wolves.  This makes sense and addresses, in part, the concern that wolves act as an additional predator on the landscape when the story is likely more complicated than that.  Here again, the functional outcome probably has a lot to do with density and distribution and argues against the notion that a few wolves in a few places is sufficient.  
 
The last piece is fun.  It looks at the speculative function of face design and eye prominence in the dog family or canids as it relates Sierra_Nevada_Red_Fox_Keith_Slausen_US_Forest_Service_2010to sociality.  Wolves are the hands down, look-me-in-the-eye champs in this followed by foxes (at right) where we see the eyes but not pupils and then solo wild dogs where it is even hard to see the eyes.  Who knew “gazing” could be so interesting and what are the possible implications here for the social function of face and eye make-up in humans?  All very interesting so enjoy!
 
Without your help, wolf recovery will remain a shrinking shadow of a promise.  We need your help to move beyond this concept of isolated wolf refuges surrounded by hostile territories.  So whether you gravitate towards wolves because of the howl or hopes of howls or the science grabs you or both, get engaged in the process and please get active.
 
 

Jun22

Looking Backwards, Forward and to You

IMG_1085

By Bob Ferris
 
Last weekend I stood on the rim of Crater Lake with my wife.  We were staring at the spectacular, Ty-D-Bol-colored water and contemplating strolling down the 700-foot drop to the shore and then back along the mile-long trail.  In walks like this there is always stunning beauty, but there is also a lot of looking forward to how much farther there is to go and looking back to appreciate how far you have come.  
 
In a little more than a weeks’ time all the staff at Cascadia Wildlands will be going through a similar process at a staff gathering.  I would call this a retreat, but it is anything but a retreat.  For us there is definitely a lot of breath taking while we look at the growing mountain of issues we have yet to climb.  There is also profound appreciation for the distances we have covered and the elevation we have gained on so many important fronts.  
 
With each victory—our big steps up the slope—we seem to gain reputation.  But success is its own curse as more look to us on an increasing number of issues in a broader geographic area.  We welcome this and strive to be worthy of the trust and deserving of the necessary support.  
 
During our time together, we will look at our forest, critter, water and carbon work.  We will, for instance, put our minds towards figuring out how a small non-profit can go toe-to-toe with well-funded timber interests intent on clearcutting the three fractured off parts of the former Elliott State Forest they paid pennies on the dollar for.  They hope that their arrogance and wealth will prove too steep a slope for us to scurry up.  
 
!cid_B387826A-5533-417B-83E8-CFF2C3DD21DD@hsd1_or_comcast_netWe will also talk wolves and maybe howl once or twice.  Journey, Wanda and the pups need to be the start of something rather than the ending point.  The more we learn, the more we know that we must fulfill the promising idea of western wolf recovery offered decades and decades ago.  And while we cannot match other larger groups with stuffed wolves or glossy campaign materials (our highly desired wolf ears are handmade by staff–at left), we certainly match those groups in terms of organizational impact, experience and expertise.
 
Our expaned work on carnivores will be a topic.  Since our adoption of Big Wildlife last fadll, we have increased our efforts on other predators like coyotes, bears, cougars and bobcats.  A lot of this effort is directed at state wildlife commissions and agencies and getting them to take their roles as stewards of these species seriously and with sound science rather than looking at them as pests or not considering them at all.  But it is also about strategies to get federal agencies, mainly the USDA's Wildlife Services, out of the predator control business.  
 
Salmon and water too will be covered too.  The suction dredge influx spilling out of California and Oregon and heading towards Washington needs to be met with an appropriate response and as we’ve been there before in Oregon with our successful legislation, we best get after it in these salmon and steelhead waters too.
 
Then there is carbon.  Nearly all we stand to recover and save is made vulnerable by schemes to use or export fossil fuels.  We butted heads with big coal and are making progress there but LNG, tar sands and shale oil are waiting none too patiently in the wings.  We cannot allow the world to fry and dry or the oceans to become so acidic that they consume our aquatic life support systems.  The situation with salmon in California’s dust-filled waterways and the dissolving sea stars of coastal Washington are alarm bells calling for our action.   We have to figure it out.
 
Alaska, big, bold and vulnerable is there as well.  Defending the Tongass and Cooper River with our allies and getting people far from the majesty of these places engaged.  Alaska’s wild landscapes cannot be out of sight out of mind and be expected to survive in anything but coffee-table books.  Because we can assure you that energy, timber and mining interests certainly have this state’s resources in their sights.  And once it is gone it is gone and we forever lose a shining example of what wild truly is.  If we lose what we aspire to in terms of wildness, how can we show future generations what we mean by something that is truly wild?  
 
And then there is you.  How do we add all this above to our plates and still be the folks you love to visit and occasionally be “wild” with?  How do we engage our supporters in ways that short circuits Facebook’s non-profit punishing algorithm and get our issues in the newsfeeds of those who support wildness and need to know about our work?  What sorts of events do our members want and need and where?  And how do barely more than a handful of staff work most effectively with volunteer activists and continue to have this level of impact (and more) across four states?  
 
We suspect that we will come up with some of the above answers during our two days together, but we also hope that some of the answers come from our members and supporters who truly and totally get engaged.  Towards those ends Carolyn and Kaley will be sending out more interactive materials in our e-news and other outlets (beyond Kaley’s riddles and jokes) to hear more from our public.  
 
But you do not have to wait until then; ideas and other help are always welcome from our friends and allies.  Do you have an idea for an event?  Would your company like us to do a brown bag lunch presentation?  Do you want to sponsor a house party or program briefing? Are you a member of a band that could play at Pints Gone Wild?  All of these are ways to help as are inviting your friends to become fans on facebook or subscribe to our action and event filled e-newsletter.  
 
If you are reading this you are already a part of Cascadia Wildlands and we are grateful for that.  So while we are looking forward and back as well as thinking of you, this might also be a good time for you to think about what you can and are willing to do on all of these important issues (or others).  Many of the issues that we work on are critical, serious and often heart-wrenching, but acting on these fronts and being generous to the natural systems and critters that support and sustain us is always a joyous act. Get engaged.  

 

Jun12

The Un-BEAR-able “Siskiyou Plus Bear Hunt”

By Rance Shaw
 
black bear and cub
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Commission has proposed an additional bear hunt in the Southwest Region. The “Siskiyou Plus Bear Hunt” would make available 250 black bear tags in addition to the 4,400 normally issued for this region during the spring hunting season, which runs from April 1 – May 31.
 
According to ODFW’s 2012 Black Bear Management Plan, the Southwest Region of Oregon contains much of the state’s “good habitat” for black bears, and the area has the highest density of black bears. Oregon’s black bear population is estimated to be 25,000 – 30,000. The population may be steady or even increasing. 
 
Spring bear hunts already pose a great threat to bears when they are most vulnerable. At this time, bears are emerging from winter hibernation. Black bears do not emerge from their dens at all during hibernation—not even for food and water. After this long period of inactivity, the bears remain lethargic for a couple weeks while they replenish nutrients.
 
Hunters may not kill sows with cubs less than one year old or cubs less than one year old. However, the proposed “Siskiyou Plus Bear Hunt” would certainly increase the likelihood of accidental takings of those sows and cubs. “Objective 1” of ODFW’s 2012 Black Bear Management Plan is to “[m]aintain healthy and optimum bear populations.” If that is truly ODFW’s first objective, why would they propose a plan to increase the number of hunters in the Southwest Region at a time of year when mothers and cubs are already greatly imperiled? 
 
Black bears cubs remain with their mothers until they are 17 months old. Cubs over one year of age may survive if orphaned, but they will be extremely susceptible to death from starvation or exposure to the elements.
 
If orphaned cubs are found, ODFW handles them in one of six ways. Euthanasia and zoo placement are among those options, as well as simply leaving the cubs where they are found. However, none of the six options are satisfactory substitutes for the care that a mother bear provides for a young cub. For ethical reasons, no additional mothers and cubs should be subjected to possible orphaning for the sake of recreational hunting. 
 
Please submit the letter to Governor Kitzhaber and ODFW Commissioners we have prepared (or personalize it) asking them not to allow the “Siskiyou Plus Bear Hunt.”
 
 

Jun09

Of Roosevelt Elk, Bacteria, Hooves and Herbicides

By Bob Ferris Elk US FWS
 
Over the last several years through numerous blog posts and comments Cascadia Wildlands has been forwarding two important notions. The first is that state wildlife commissions (and therefore agencies) in the West are too beholding to resource-oriented industries such as ranching, timber, mining and energy interests at the expense of hunters, anglers and our ever-dwindling wildlife legacy (1,2).
 
And, at the same time, western wildlife commissions are too accepting of the ideas forwarded by some extreme hunting groups that increasingly reflect the views of these same resource-dependent industries such as increasing clearcuts, aggressive predator control, protection of public lands grazing and more road creation for access rather than hitting the conservation sweet spots of habitat restoration, wilderness preservation, road retirement and water quality improvement (1,2). In essence, both the commissions and these more trophy hunting-oriented groups have been quietly coopted by the very elements that do damage to the natural resources needed by all wildlife and fish.
 
The most recent and troubling example involves the issue of hoof rot in Washington State’s Roosevelt elk herds. No one knows for sure at this point what is causing the hoof rot in southwestern Washington, but there are a lot of candidates both of a direct and indirect nature. One hypothesis that was put forth recently is that there is some link between combinations of factors that could include herbicide use by the forest products industry and a bacterial infection known as leptospirosis. Leptospirosis often causes severe muscle pain in mammals which might explain the limping observed in these elk as well as the lack of hoof wear on the sore legs. Leptospirosis has been present in Washington for decades.
 
Caution the below video contains images that may be disturbing to some:
 

As a wildlife biologist who frequently looks at complex interactions, I can appreciate a scenario that includes multiple causes such as massive habitat changes and herbicide use that put elk in a vulnerable condition so they present the variety of symptoms we are observing with this hoof rot phenomenon. But the idea of this being driven by leptospirosis or via an herbicide link—either through decreased habitat quality or consumption effects—has been met with apparent resistance in spite of efforts by a retired public health researcher and an expert on leptospirosis detection, Dr. Boone Mora, and hunter Jon Gosch who has written two well-researched blog posts on the topic (1,2).  In addition, farrier Krystal Davies has also made a rather cogent argument for this being laminitis associated with or driven by herbicides.
 
WDFW Herbicide
The above is a screenshot from the WDFW website.  Please note the mentions of NCASI and the University of Alberta as sources. Click here to view U of A study's funding sources. 
 
It is amazing given the volume of public commentary on habitat, herbicides and alternative diseases that the WDFW Hoof Disease power point presentation from October 2013 focused on identifying symptoms and wildly invasive cures rather than dealing with what the root causes might be such as habitat degradation and herbicide use which seem buried deep in the presentation—almost as afterthoughts. You almost get the impression when you view this slide show that the elk are at fault and should bear the brunt of the solution. Why are the root causes being ignored in favor of a narrow band of issues that are more likely symptoms? That is a great question or set of questions.
 
"The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement is an independent, non-profit research institute that focuses on environmental topics of interest to the forest products industry. Membership is open to forest products companies in the U.S., Canada, and beyond." Mission statement of NCASI from website.
 
Part of the answer to the above comes in the form of an obscure but powerful group called the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement or NCASI. Formerly known as the  National Council of the Paper Industry for Air and Stream Improvement, this is the research arm of the timber industry and often their scientific mouthpiece. NCASI seems to enjoy preferred access to Washington's wildlife agency and used as a resource (see FAQ quote above) which is troubling given that the timber industry has a long history of viewing deer and elk as unwelcome pests (1,2,3) and because of NCASI's industry biased spinning of scientific findings, regulations and other phenomena ( 1,2,3,4).
 
"During that outing, Dr. Vickie Tatum, a herbicide specialist for the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, told the hoof disease group that herbicides target specific actions in plants that don’t occur in animals. Dr. John Cook, an elk researcher who also works for the NCASI, pointed out that herbicides are used in Oregon and the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon and there’s no hoof disease there." In The Daily News May 22, 2014
 
Of particular relevance here, NCASI has also been very active in telling the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) that herbicides are not the problem.  This is probably based in part on a report by NCASI written by Dr. Tatum, NCASI researcher Larry L. Irwin Ph.D. and others with assistance from Dr. Cook.  Unfortunately, WDFW seems to be listening to the pro-herbicide rhetoric and they are not the only ones.  
 
“Larry brings decades of on-the-ground work to the table,” said David Allen, RMEF President and CEO. “His studies on elk, other wildlife, and habitat further strengthen RMEF’s resolve to acquire more science-based research and knowledge.” David Allen quoted in NCASI press release April 15, 2013. 
 
Some who have been paying attention might ask: But where is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in all of this? Shouldn’t they and their members be outraged that the timber industry is compromising elk habitat with herbicides and forest management practices? Aren’t they the ones who should stand up for the elk, elk habitat and support Dr. Mora and Mr. Gosch in their efforts to get answers? Logical questions and some of the answer might come when you look at RMEF board of directors page and right in the middle, wearing a dark brown cowboy hat, a bolo tie and a smile sits the above mentioned Larry Irwin.  And the connection between RMEF, NCASI and Dr. Irwin is a strong one as RMEF has provided significant, long-term funding for a number of projects overseen by NCASI, Dr. Irwin and others in the timber industry (1,2,3)
 
"Improving large mammal browse was a primary focus of the first decade of research on forest herbicides (pers. comm., M. Newton, Emeritus Professor, Department of Forest Science, Oregon State University) and remains an important consideration today." in NCASI pp. 31.
 
As a former ungulate biologist I was particularly concerned with the statements made in NCASI's herbicide paper in the wildlife section on pages 29-31. Reading these pages in the absence of background one would think that the timber industry’s goal was increasing and improving forage for deer and elk and that these ungulates were only minimally impacted because the woody vegetation killed was replaced by grasses.
 
“Conversely, herbicidal control of hardwood brush for the establishment of conifer plantations may remove valuable wildlife browse species and habitat.” In Review of the Ecological Effects of Herbicide Usage in Forestry by J.P. Kimmins 1975
 
“Model results suggested that the potential for long-term changes in vegetation composition and resultant ungulate forage availability were most pronounced during winter.” in NCASI pp. 29-31.   
 
The well recognized fly–even by NCASI–in this ointment is winter. Grasses are great in the spring and summer but as they mature and summer transitions into fall these plants take their protein and ship it below ground to be stored for next year. In short, if you have killed off the woody vegetation and are left with nutritionally useless grasses what do the elk eat in winter when stress and caloric needs are high–particularly in females carrying young?
 
I was also concerned with the coverage in this section about the toxic impact of the herbicides on wildlife. Certainly this is the timber industry’s party line, but the public has compelling reasons to be dubious about the rigor of these findings as they apply to wildlife and human health too. These “benign” herbicides are turning out to be more problematic than originally thought.  Adding to this general atmosphere of distrust are stories like the one unfolding at Triangle Lake in Oregon where citizens rightfully want to know what the timber and herbicide industries have put in their waters and ultimately their bodies.   
 
"The group also heard a presentation about herbicides by Anne Fairbrother, a veterinarian and principal scientist with the Exponent research company in Seattle.
 
Herbicides have “no known mode of action in mammals,” Fairbrother said. "They’re practically nontoxic to mammals according to most of the studies that have been done. We haven’t had any observations of direct effect that we’ve been aware of on wildlife and most of these herbicides have been around for several decades.” in The Daily News June 5, 2014
 
"CropLife America represents more than 60 developers, manufacturers, formulators and distributors of virtually all the crop protection products used by American farmers and growers. We are the voice of the industry that ensures the safe and responsible use of pesticides in order to provide a safe, affordable and abundant food supply." CropLife Mission Statement from their website.
 
My nervousness over this herbicide issue is little diminished by the nuanced quote above by Dr. Anne Fairbrother whose company Exponent is a dues paying member of CropLife America along with Syngenta the manafacturer of atrazine (see also attacks on scientists).  It is noteable that Dr. Fairbrother when she was with the US EPA during the Bush II era also supported the EPA's decision to continue to allow the use of atrazine over the objections of many and an existing and growing body of scientific evidence that if anything should have dictated a more cautious approach (1,2,3,4,5,6).  Atrazine is banned in the EU.
 
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Hamlet by William Shakespeare 1602
 
All in all the herbicide users, makers and the minions for both “doth protest too much, methinks” to do anything other than raise serious questions about too tight and too trusting relationships with WDFW and other serious conflicts of interest.  And what about spending just a little bit of time with Dr. Cook’s interesting “proof” about herbicies not contributing to or being at the root of this situation because we are not seeing the same phenomenon is other places where herbicides are used like the Blue Mountains?  We have indeed seen drops in elk populations in the Blues (1,2).  And setting aside the fact that we are dealing with a different subspecies of elk, in different habitats, and under different precipitation regimes, this area also has a full compliment of predators including wolves which are coursing predators that would make quick work of limping elk affected by leptospirosis, laminitis or other diseases.  
 
Getting back to Dr. Irwin, he is coincidentally also a science advisor to our friends at the Oregon Outdoor Council (1,2,3) who have, without caveat or condition, endorsed federal legislative proposals that could greatly increase clearcutting on federal forest lands in western Oregon as well as potentially reopening the door for herbicide use on some of these lands. As we have heard numerous rumors of limping elk in Oregon and leptospirosis has been documented in the state, this really needs to be examined and questioned as it has significant implications for issues like the privatization of the Elliott State Forest and the O&C proposals—both of which could lead to more clearcuts and herbicide use.
 
Embedded in all of this is also the oft repeated cautionary tale of massive habitat changes—human-wrought and natural—leading to short term gains in ungulate populations followed by population crashes and other catastrophic problems. Ecologists and visionary wildlife managers have been trying to raise the alarm about the consequences of these phenomena and related habitat issues for nearly 100 years (see Flathead Game Reduction). Yet we tend to get shouted down, ignored or fired (1,2) both during the elation over increased populations and the ensuing panic that accompanies the crashes.
NCASI Report Tree Illustration
In the latter case of crashes some hunters and wildlife commissioners do not want to hear about solutions—like habitat restoration—that might take decades or even centuries to fully unfold. They want right-now solutions like predator control, vaccines for diseases, and other biological Band-Aids. Population explosions also reset expectations and no one wants to be reminded that succession happens and clearcuts provide good elk food resources for a decade or two before shading out needed understory for nearly two centuries.  And as the illustration above from NCASI's herbicide report shows, the "clearcut bonus" is reduced nearly to zero when those lands are densely replanted with Douglas-firs and managed with herbcides.  
 
In all of this it is important to know the players and their biases. Moreover, it is important to make sure that the solution process is appropriately designed and equipped to provide solutions that solve the root causes of this problem and protect this important public resource for future generations. Towards those ends I would make the following suggestions to the WDFW:
 
1) Get more systems thinkers such as ecologists and also folks with experience outside of laboratories involved in the process.  These need to be people willing to ask tough questions about why this might be happening in the first place and not tied to any agency or industry that might be contributing to the problem.
 
2) Take some time to educate folks on elk habitat needs and the short and long-term consequences of habitat changes, herbicide use, and plant succession on elk populations.
 
3) Be more inclusive of other voices in the process and listen more closely to the concerns of hunters, anglers, and others who own and enjoy these public resources and less to those like the timber industry, herbicie interests or their scientists whose actions tend to decrease biodiversity and ecosystem integrity.
 
4-6) Conduct research, research and more research. This may seem facetious, but there is so much that we do not know, yet we are acting in a manner that suggests that we do. The impacts of herbicides and the interactions between various products as well as their "inactive" parts needs to be fully investigated before the issue is dismissed and the public told that these chemicals are safe for wildlife and humans. The full range of bacterial and immunotoxic causes and symptoms need to be examined and considered before they are ruled out. And the human health implications of handling and consumption of infected elk need to be fully addressed as well. There are others, but this would be a great start.
 
As I mentioned above, I do not know what is causing this phenomenon. But I do know that if the process and players lack openness and are preloaded to a certain realm of answers, the solution will reflect this. If you agree with these concerns click below to request that WDFW modify their current approach and remember that they are in the elk business not in the timber and herbicide game.
Roosevelt and Muir
 
My last comment has to do with the value of citizen activism and picking effective campaign partners by shared goals and benefits rather than appearance or perceived politics. I have written volumes about the campaigns of some with ties to the resource industries to drive wedges between natural allies in the conservation and environmental communities. Instead of rehashing what I have already said let me end with this. Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir—arguably the father of modern conservation and the king of the tree huggers—were friends and effective colleagues. They did not always agree on issues—in fact they had some pretty monumental battles.  But when they worked together they accomplished amazing things that are still talked about and revered more than a century later. Perhaps this is an issue where we can all work together again and not only do something exceptional on this front but set the stage for another and much needed push to ensure the future of wildlife and wild places and, at the same time, make our future more secure. 
 
 

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