Blog

May05

Lawsuit Challenges Plan to Log Old-growth in Alaska

Mail Attachment-6 copy

Cascadia Wildlands yesterday filed suit against the Forest Service challenging approval of the Mitkof Island timber sale, a 4,117-acre old-growth logging project on the Tongass National Forest, near Petersburg in Southeast Alaska.

This lawsuit comes close on the heals of our challenge to the Big Thorne timber sale, another big old-growth sale that is currently on appeal before the 9th Circuit. These cases, along with a proposed revision to the overarching Forest Plan, represent a critical turning point on the Forest.

Long story short, the era of profitable old-growth logging is over, but the Forest Service and a handful of influential logging industry die-hards have been working overtime trying to prop it back up. Timber sales like this one on Mitkof Island are a last gasp of a dying industry.

The industry is dying—there is little doubt about that—but the question is whether it will leave enough healthy forest behind to sustain the wildlife and subsistence opportunities that rural Alaskans have traditionally enjoyed. The ecosystem is at a tipping point. 

Mitkof Island is a microcosm for the legacy of Tongass logging and habitat loss. Extensive areas have been clearcut on the National Forest, and (even worse) clearcutting on adjacent privately owned land.

One result is that the local deer population has crashed and is not recovering. Without enough old-growth providing shelter, the herd starves in winter. Petersburg residents no longer can go hunting out their back door. 

And, the result of that is that the State of Alaska is pursing ‘predator control,’ aiming to cull the wolf population by 80%. Without adequate habitat, the whole predator-prey system (of which humans are a part) comes crashing down.

In spite of huge controversy, on Mitkof the Forest Service determined that their logging project would have “no significant impact” on the environment, so conducted only a cursory environmental review. This is rare, and extraordinary. As the environmental consequences intesify, why would the agency be paying less attention to them?

Contrary to that claim, our lawsuit catalogues a number of significant impacts:

  • Loss of winter habitat for deer, further stressing the local population;

  • Harm to subsistence hunters, particularly low-income residents who cannot afford to travel to distant islands for deer;

  • Threats to the Alexander Archipelago wolf, which is currently being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act, from loss of deer habitat and the likelihood of increased trapping;

  • Damage to the Queen Charlotte goshawk, a raptor that relies on old-growth forest.

As Rebecca Noblin, the Alaska director for our co-plaintiff Center for Biological Diversity, said, “I suppose that if you don’t look for problems then you’re not going to find them.”

The case was filed on behalf of Cascadia Wildlands, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, in federal district court in Anchorage. Cascadia’s staff attorneys are joined by the superhero lawyers at CRAG law center arguing the case. 

You can read a copy of the suit here.

May01

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: The Abuse of “Ecological Forestry” on our Public Lands in Western Oregon

By Nick Cady, Legal Director
 
The conservation community in the Northwest was incredibly excited by Cascadia’s legal victory over the White Castle timber sale.  Not just because of the couple hundred acres of old growth forest that were saved from clearcutting, but because of the potentially important precedent the case set concerning logging old forest to create so-called early seral habitat.
 
A little background.  Early seral habitat is the agency name for habitat that is mostly brush and shrubs, ideal habitat for deer, elk and some bird species, and ideally is created after fires have burn through forested areas.  True early-seral habitat is somewhat lacking on the landscape because the feds for decades have suppressed fires, and even when there is a fire, the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will “salvage log”  the areas and replant conifer trees, quickly taking away any early-seral habitat value.
 
Given this pattern of post-fire salvage logging, folks at Cascadia were initially surprised and suspicious to hear about Forest Service and BLM plans to create early-seral habitat through commercial logging.  The agency plan was to create this early-seral habitat by logging middle-aged plantations. 
Plantation

Typical Young Conifer Plantation

These conifer plantations are 40 to 80 year old forests created from previous clearcutting, pesticide spraying, and dense replanting.  The logging would essentially create large meadow-like openings between clumps of reserved forests.  These reserves would contain the biggest trees in the stand, and areas with unique composition, for example a pocket of western red cedar or large hardwoods.  30% of the project area would be reserved from harvest in these clumps, and there would also be large, green trees, 12 to 18 per acre, distributed across the openings to provide connectivity for wildlife.  The logging concept was called ecological forestry or variable retention harvest (VRH).
 
Folks at Cascadia were skeptical, but not overly concerned because this prescription seemed genuinely aimed at restoring diversity back into these plantations.  Left alone, these middle aged plantations currently provide little to no habitat value for the Northwest’s struggling older forest species, and posed a severe fire risk given the density of these young conifer trees.
 
buck rising white castle

BLM’s Version of VRH Implemented in the Buck Rising Sale

However, when the timber industry and Bureau of Land Management got a hold of this idea to create early-seral habitat it quickly morphed into an “ecological” excuse to clearcut older forest.  We began seeing dozens of proposed timber sales aimed at converting older mature forest, not young plantations, into early-seral habitat.  The proposed reserves quickly were replaced by already existing buffers in place for imperiled species and around waterways, and the dispersed green tree retention across the logged areas was eliminated.  It was readily apparent that this novel approach had been high-jacked; it had become an ecological justification for clearcutting.  This was a very dangerous idea, because it could arguably be used in existing protected areas and owl habitat.
 
The White Castle timber sale, located in the South Umpqua watershed on the Roseburg BLM district, was the worst of the worst of these early-seral creation projects we had seen.  The sale targeted a one hundred year old-plus forests that had never before been logged. It was also designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl and hosted a healthy population of the red tree vole, a food source of the northern spotted owl.  Forest activists with Cascadia Forest Defenders had occupied the stand to prevent the clearcutting, and Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild readied a legal challenge.  We were cautiously optimistic that the judge would recognize how abused this concept to create early-seral forest from plantations had become.  
 
Just over a month ago, the ruling came down, and the Court sided with us on all counts, harping on the fact that this “ecological forestry” was designed for young stands and not older forest.  The Northwest has limited older forest left on the landscape, so sacrificing older forest to create early-seral forest does not make sense.  It was the epitome of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
 
This victory threw a major wrench in a number of other “ecological forestry” projects being planned by the Forest Service and BLM, especially the projects slated for older forests. 
Cool Soda Map

Map of the Cool Soda Project and Age Classes

Cool Soda was one of these projects on the Sweet Home Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest.  The project was fairly large, over thousands of acres, and was part of a collaborative process between private timber owners, the Willamette National Forest and conservation groups and other stakeholders trying to get at restoration needs on the landscape across a “checkerboard” ownership.
 
The final proposal mostly involved commercial thinning in young plantations to restore ecological diversity while generating timber volume.  However, a small portion of the project involved heavy thinning and “ecological forestry” in native, never-logged forests over 120 years old.  We objected to the project because of these older forest units, and met with the Forest Service staff to attempt to resolve our differences over the project.  
Due to the weight of the White Castle decision and the understanding of the Forest Service, we were able to eliminate the older forest units from the final decision without resorting to litigation.  We were able to save all parties’ time and resources and end up with a project that would have a myriad ofbenefits, including restoring diversity into dense young plantations, replacing failed culverts that were impacting aquatic health, and generating timber volume for the local mills.
 
We are hopeful that moving forward the Forest Service and BLM will honor the original intent of creating early-seral habitat and abandon futile attempts at masking mature forest timber grabs as “ecological” projects.
 

 

Apr27

Maintaining Protections for Oregon’s Wolves

By Nick Cady, Legal Director
 
WOLF_OR17_odfw_Photo taken July 6 2013 of OR17 with a 2013 pup of the Imnaha pack. Subadult wolves assist in the raising of the pupsPhoto courtesy of ODFW

Imnaha Pack Wolves

This past Friday, I was driving to and from Bend, over five hours in the car, to give three minutes of testimony because the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) was proposing to remove gray wolves from the state endangered species list.  I was appropriately pissed given the plain fact that only 77 wolves exist in the state, but I was also feeling pretty jaded about the whole thing. I’ll explain why.
 
In 2011, when wolves were first returning to the state (there was 12 wolves and one breeding pair at the time), the ODFW tried to kill the male of that breeding pair and one of the sub adults from that same pack.  I had passed the bar exam weeks earlier and had one lawsuit filed to my name when co-worker Josh Laughlin yelled across the office that I needed to find a way to stop this active hunt for the alpha male, OR-4.
 
So I started digging around.  The problem was I did not have time to really conduct a thorough review as ODFW agents were out in the field hunting for the wolves as I was researching and writing.  But I just starting working, and began digging around in state laws pertaining to the protection of endangered species.  The gray wolf has been listed as an endangered species in the state since the passage of the law decades ago.
 
As it turns out the state laws did have a prohibition on taking or killing endangered species.  But everyone who had been working on wolf issues, everyone who was involved in drafting the state’s wolf plan in 2005 (governor’s office, ODFW, conservationists, agricultural interests, etc.) had not given this provision any thought, when the plan purported to allow wolves to be shot in response to wolves killing livestock during the early stages of wolf recovery while they were still listed.
 
The reason why no one had considered this provision was that when the state Endangered Species Act was passed, the timber industry had gutted the law of any substance that could negatively impact the ability to clearcut our forests.  Standard Salem politics. To be specific, the bill was clarified so that the “taking” of an endangered species, which was prohibited, does not include destruction of a species habitat.  So someone would have to go out into woods and shoot a spotted owl out of a tree to violate the law, while cutting down the owl’s nest tree and clearcutting for miles in every direction was fine.   Therefore, in order to violate the law, you had to directly go out and kill an endangered species.  Folks thought that this was preposterous. No monster would intentionally kill an endangered species, and another meaningless law for the environment was passed by Oregon Democrats, or so they thought.
 
Until it came to wolves.  Wolves are habitat generalists; as long as there is prey and not too many human beings around, they will survive.  The real threat to wolves is people shooting and trapping them, the reason why the species was wiped out and then protected in the first place.  The ridiculous contention that people might intentionally and admittedly kill endangered species had become reality in Oregon, but everyone had forgotten about the Oregon Endangered Species Act, the supposedly meaningless act of Democrat consolation to Oregon conservationists.
 
So I wrote a legal memo and pressed forward with the lawsuit with colleagues Oregon Wild and Center for Biological Diversity. There was a stream of late nights and Thai food drafting everything up as ODFW was actively trying to kill these wolves.  And a day or so before we filed, we got word that the agency hunters had actually taken a shot at OR-4 (father of OR-7 or “Journey”), and were not sure if they had hit him or not.  We quickly put everything together and filed.  The Court issued us a stay later that day and ended the hunt temporarily.  Ultimately, we settled the lawsuit with the state and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association by developing stringent rules or when the state could use lethal control on wolves (more on the details of those rules here).  ODFW could only now kill wolves in limited circumstances early in recovery, and when different population objectives were hit these rules would be automatically relaxed.  
 
Organizationally, Cascadia Wildlands spent so much time and resources on this process.  The settlement took almost two years to negotiate, and involved what seemed like weekly trips to Salem.  It was a brutal process, but it ultimately led to an agreement that has since made Oregon the national model for responsible wolf conservation.
 
Turning back to my trip to Bend, and ODFW’s attempt to delist wolves, I was feeling jaded because I hoped that this landmark agreement would have bought more time before I was again taking long commutes and debating state agents and livestock producers over wolf management.  I was especially upset because we had intentionally designed the wolf rules to avoid this debate over delisting.  Specifically, we crafted the rules so that changes in wolf management as the population grew happen automatically and do not hinge on listing or delisting.  Everyone at the table knew that the listing of wolves on the endangered species act would be incredibly controversial, so we wanted to avoid the conflict.  
 
But apparently we were wrong, and our efforts to avoid a pointless, premature contest over delisting were in vain.  Despite only having 77 wolves in the state, ODFW made recommendations to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission that wolves be delisted.  Although delisting would not have any management implications immediately, years down the road it could open the door to wolf hunting in the state. So we had to make the trip, organize testimony, get scientists to weigh-in and analyze the delisting proposal, because we knew the well-funded livestock lobbyists would be doing the same. I was pissed and frustrated, we had designed the rules to avoid this conflict, and ODFW launched us into it regardless.  It all just seemed somewhat pointless and a waste of precious energy given all the other threats to Oregon’s environment.  
 
After all, the wolf is just one species among many, and a species going through a successful recovery.  Although the majority of the wolves and packs in Oregon are concentrated in the northeast corner of the state, wolves are beginning to disperse west.  Two packs are now established in the southern Cascades, and wolves have recently been documented in the northern Cascades as well.  On the other hand, spotted owl populations are crashing, sea counts of marbled murrelets indicate that numbers are plummeting, and several wetland species are now listed in the state due to disappearing habitat.
 
So I found myself sulking.  But something happened at the meeting.  As public testimony began, I starting listening to all the different voices supporting the wolf’s continued listing on the Endangered Species Act: the hydrologist testifying about the importance of wolves to aquatic ecosystems, the business lawyer testifying about the importance of liberal wildlife policies to new businesses and attracting workers, the grade school teacher presenting loads of drawings from her students about wolves, the retired ODFW employee advocating for the exercise of caution. A slew of people testified and had made the trip from all corners of the state.
 
I began to feel inspired.  I had gotten caught up in the details of these rules and management phases, and had lost focus of what wolves and their status as an endangered species meant to the general public in Oregon. Aside from the rules and laws, wolves and the species’ recovery means so much to so many in Oregon.  They are a symbol of nature and true wilderness. A species that protects the intricate web of life in our fragile ecosystems.  Their recovery and the struggle to protect them is representative of the growing environmental ethic in this country.  
 
A meeting that I went into feeling discouraged and pessimistic, turned into a reformation.  A rejuvenation of enthusiasm about wolves and all they mean to the people of this state.  And I was not the only one that was influenced by the public’s outcry. The Commission, despite the Department’s urgings, voted to delay any decision on delisting until later this year so that more scientific information could be gathered and analyzed.  A wise decision for the Commission and the wolves.  So Cascadia Wildlands will gather further evidence and analysis on the ODFW proposal as we would have regardless, but now with a renewed sense of purpose thanks to the public voices concerned with the protection of wolves.  Thank you.

 

 

Feb12

Living in the Age of Returns and Firsts

 

By Maya Rommwatt, Communications and Development Intern

On February 13th, comments are due to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the Jordan Cove LNG project.  The potentially catastrophic project includes both a pipeline and a terminal for the purpose of transporting fracked natural gas and liquefying it for export to Asia.  Similar to other proposals to transport gas and coal for the purposes of export, this project refuses to consider the impacts it will have on climate change, which now stands between us, and a livable future.

We’re living in an age of returns and firsts.  Just recently, photos confirmed the presence of an extremely rare Sierra Nevada red fox in Yosemite National Park.  There have been no sightings of the elusive creature there for ninety-nine years.  And closer to home, we learned of activity of what appears to be another one or two wolves near Crater Lake, in addition to the burgeoning Rogue Pack. I never thought I would be able to speak of Western Oregon wolves, and yet here they are, pups and all. 

But as this encouraging story unfolds, we make plans for pipelines and exports that will guarantee a future governed by catastrophic climate change.  That future has no room for recovering species.  This, as the EPA announces Canadian tar sands will only be developed if the Keystone pipeline is built, now that oil prices have dropped.  While the Keystone pipeline may soon be a receding threat, the more local Jordan Cove project is a wholly different beast.  The project would assure the export of inefficient fracked natural gas for decades to come, and once the Boardman coal plant shuts down, it will be Oregon’s biggest polluter.  This doesn’t even factor in the emissions associated with obtaining the natural gas, nor does it consider the burning of the gas by its consumers in Asia.  And yet, Oregon moves closer and closer to the LNG terminal.  We have not even begun to ask what a future with the project might look like.  If an accident were to happen with this project, say a spill, we taxpayers would likely be forced to help foot the cleanup bill, as the history of corporate settlements shows (corporations forced to pay punitive damages often deduct their settlement costs from their taxes).Two pups from the Rogue Pack, June 2014

The Jordon Cove LNG project is a disaster we can’t afford on a number of levels.  It’s foolish to think we can both recover species and build the natural gas pipeline.  Will we choose the path to recovery and growth, returns and firsts?  Or will we choose the path of negligence and loss?  Help us show the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission we stand on the right side of history, that we respect other species, and are not working in opposition to them.  We have not spent countless hours and resources building a narrative with a future, only to wash it away so a Canadian corporation can make a profit at our expense and the expense of OR-7 and the Rogue pack, the wolverine, and the remaining ancient carbon-storing forests of the Pacific Northwest. No LNG Rally, photo courtesy of Francis Eatherington

Now is the time to submit our comments; we have until noon on Friday the 13th for online comments or postmarked mailed comments.  If you haven’t already done so, you can submit your comments beginning here.

 

More information on the pipeline can be found here.

 

Photo Credits: Top left, Two pups from the Rogue Pack, June 2014. (Photo by ODFW).  Bottom right, No LNG protest. (Photo courtesy Francis Eatherington).                              

 

 

 

 

Feb11

Exciting Leadership Transition at Cascadia Wildlands

Dear Cascadia Wildlands Supporters,

Bushwacking through head-high ferns to find the elusive Devil’s Staircase waterfall. Watching salmon thrash upstream to their natal grounds. Hearing the pre-dawn keer of the marbled murrelet high in the canopy. Knowing wolves are reclaiming their rightful place back in Cascadia. Educating and empowering communities to confront power imbalances. These are the things that keep me feeling alive and ever committed to the work of Cascadia Wildlands.

It is an exciting time for me. I’ve recently been asked by Cascadia Wildlands’ Board of Directors to serve as our interim executive director as Bob Ferris phases into retirement.

I’m determined to lead our powerful team into the future and further realize our vision of vast old-growth forests, rivers full of wild salmon, wolves howling in the backcountry, and vibrant communities sustained by the unique landscapes of the Cascadia bioregion.

I’m grateful for what Bob brought to Cascadia Wildlands over the past three years to make us a stronger organization. His expertise in conservation biology, decades of non-profit experience, and his ability to dig up the dirt on and expose the despoilers of wild nature are just a few things that have helped take us to the next level.

Photo taken July 6 2013 of OR17 with a 2013 pup of the Imnaha pack. Subadult wolves assist in the raising of the pups. Photo courtesy of ODFWEvery day, I’m amazed at what we have accomplished for a conservation organization our size. I get even more fired up for what we have our sights on. Because 2015 may be the year gray wolves get established in the Kalmiposis Wilderness, northern California, Oregon’s Willamette National Forest, and Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Much of Oregon’s remarkable wolf recovery has been facilitated by our legal challenge that halted wolf killing in Oregon and ensuing landmark settlement agreement that created the strongest wolf plan in the country.

Please dig deep to help Cascadia accomplish this critical work in the 2015 year by making a tax-deductible donation today.

Breathtaking photo of the Tongass National Forest. Photo courtesy David Beebe.With continued determination, we will have a lasting conservation solution for Oregon’s 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest now that we have ground old-growth clearcutting to a halt. This year we hope to put a nail in the coffin of the proposed 150-foot-wide, 230-mile-long liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline and export facility slated for Coos Bay that would wreak havoc for salmon, wildlife and our climate. And we will continue to fight tooth-and-nail against the 6,000-acre Big Thorne old-growth timber sale in Alaska’s fabled Tongass National Forest (image at left) in Cascadia’s northern reaches.

Having been with Cascadia Wildlands essentially since its formation over 15 years ago, I’m excited, rejuvenated and ready to lead the organization into the future. Thanks for believing in us, taking action when called on, and supporting our conservation work over the years and into the future. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any thoughts or questions.

Will you join me in supporting Cascadia right now?

For a wild and free Cascadia,

Josh Laughlin Signature

Josh Laughlin
Interim Executive Director/Campaign Director
jlaughlin(at)cascwild(dot)org

P.S. You can also mail a check or money order made out to Cascadia Wildlands and send it to POB 10455, Eugene, OR 97440.

 

Photo Credits: Top left, Josh Laughlin, Interim Executive Director of Cascadia Wildlands, at Devil's Staircase in 2012. (Photo courtesy Cascadia Wildlands.) Middle right, Subadult and pup from the Imnaha Pack, taken July 2013. (Photo by ODFW.) Bottom left, Breathtaking photo of the Tongass National Forest. (Photo courtesy of David Beebe.)

 

Feb02

Deja Vu, the Corrupt Bastards Club, and the Fabled Tongass National Forest

by Gabe Scott, Alaska Field Rep.
 
Do you ever get the feeling you’re running in circles?
 
That sense of déjà vu has been strong with me lately as we do legal battle over the Big Thorne and other massive old-growth timber sales in Southeast Alaska’s rainforest.
 
For all the progress we’ve made on the ground reforming forest policy over the last couple decades, it is frustrating that the same good old boy’s network can still get traction re-hashing debates that should have been put to bed long ago.
 
The sense of déjà vu first hit me a few months ago, when I learned that Jim Clark was drumming up support from impoverished local Mail Attachment-9governments to pay his law firm to intervene in the Big Thorne litigation.
 
It’s no surprise industry would intervene—of course they would – but Clark’s name took me aback. The last time I’d seen that name was several years ago, when he was pleading guilty to serious federal corruption charges stemming from the “Corrupt Bastards Club” bribery debacle. Clark at the time was Chief of Staff to Governor Frank Murkowski, and had got caught up in a massive bribery scandal surrounding a controversial bit of oil tax legislation. Clark swiftly pled guilty, publicly apologized, and, I had supposed, wouldn’t be allowed to practice law anymore.
 
As it turns out Clark’s charges were later dropped. The Justice Department, in their zeal to take down sitting U.S. Senator Stevens, goofed the evidence so badly that most of the charges against most of the defendants in the scandal ended up being dismissed. We watched secret video surveillance of bribes being handed out, and DOJ still managed to botch the case. Clark was among those retroactively let off the hook. In street lingo, he got off on a technicality.
 
OK then, whatever. These things can be complicated, and there is a lot we don't know and never will. I’ve never been one to let a past guilty plea to a serious federal crime come in the way of giving a guy the benefit of the doubt.
 
The feeling of being back on la-la land intensified though when Clark’s old boss, Frank Murkowski, wrote an op-ed taking us to task for the Big Thorne lawsuit. We environmentalists don’t really care about the Alexander Archipelago wolf, which doesn’t really even exist anyway. Frank figures deer don’t really need forests, and wolves don’t really need deer. We’re making all that up for our “selfish” reasons.
 
Oh, Frank. Disgraced politicians say the cutest things.
 
What I noticed about the op-ed wasn’t the misinformation so much, as the fact that his arguments matched, almost word for word, arguments included in the intervention briefing filed by Mr. Clark’s group.
 
Is the band is getting back together?
 
Now, all of this so far is relatively harmless. Frustrating, but harmless. Lawyers with suspicious pasts are a dime a dozen, and nobody in Alaska or anywhere else really takes the elder Murkowski seriously anymore.
 
What is not harmless is that Frank’s daughter, Lisa, seems to be picking up the old torch and running with it. Lisa got appointed to the U.S. Senate by her dad back when he was elected governor. (Seriously, who does that!?). With a lot of help from post-Citizens United PACs, she was re-elected and now sits atop the Senate Natural Resources committee. For an Alaska politicians she’s pretty moderate, but her public pronouncements on forest policy are starting to sound a lot like they were ghost-written by industry lobbyists like Clark.
 
Look, I get it. Ignorant bluster and demonizing environmentalists is a reliable political formula on the Frontier. But when this rhetoric finds its way into actual policy, we all should pay attention.
 
From her current position of power in the new Republican Congress, Ms. Murkowski seems keen to apply that frontier formula to forest policy on a national scale. Take the difficult conundrum of funding local schools and government in the rural Pacific Northwest. Ms. Murkowski recently stated that problem would simply disappear if the Forest Service would actively manage forests.
 
That kind of statement is par for the course in rural Alaska, but in the rest of the country it is laughably off-point. There are disagreements aplenty over these issues, but nobody seriously believes that just ramping up more timber sales could solve the problems. Oregonians left, right and center all pretty much accept certain physical realities. Endless expansion of resource exploitation just isn’t in the cards. The forest, even the youngest schoolchildren can tell you, does not in fact stretch on into eternity.
 
I’ll leave you with one final, terrifying point. In the aftermath of the Corrupt Bastards Club scandal, the political force that moved in to clean up the mess was a fresh new face named Sarah Palin. She was, conservatives and liberals at the time agreed, a “breath of fresh air” that restored integrity and sanity to government. Her most vigorous opposition came not from the left, but from the good old boy’s network epitomized by Clark, Murkowski and Murkowski. Palin absolutely demolished, absolutely humiliated that old order. It was delightful to watch.
 
Now Palin is the disgraced former politician, and Clark, Murkowski & Murkowski are back in business.
 
Am I the only one feeling dizzy?
 
(Tongass National Forest photo by David Beebe)
 
Jan06

Time to Get the Lead Out

By Bob Ferris
 
Over the past few years I have had a number of conversations with hunters, scientists, veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators about lead bullets, fragmentation and how fragments are entering the food chains of raptors and other lead_eagle_390858_7scavengers (see here).  These exchanges have been helpful in sorting out this complicated issue.  
 
"Ninety-four percent of samples of deer killed with lead-based bullets contained fragments, and 90% of 20 offal piles showed fragments: 5 with 0–9 fragments, 5 with 10–100, 5 with 100–199, and 5 showing >200 fragments. In contrast, we counted a total of only 6 fragments in 4 whole deer killed with copper expanding bullets." In Bullet Fragments in Deer Remains: Implications for Lead Exposure in Avian Scavengers 
 
Is there strong evidence this is happening?  Yes.  Can it be traced specifically to lead bullets? Yes.  Is this something that needs to be dealt with?  Yes. Are there viable alternatives? Yes. Is there room for respectful and fact-based debate relating to this issue and how specifically to deal with it?  Absolutely.  
 
Bullet Fragments
 
In terms of evidence one only has to go to Google Scholar (where the scientific papers live) and search under the terms “bullet+fragments+wildlife+mortality.” This action will get you 6500 results.  If you do the same switching morbidity for mortality, you get 884 results.  All of these articles are just dealing with the narrow issue of bullet fragments and not with the much, much broader issue of lead from other sources including lead shot which yields results in the million records range.  It is in fact hard to look at this issue without colliding with a mountain of studies.
 
“Our results confirm that ravens are ingesting lead during the hunting season and are likely exposed to lead from rifle-shot big-game offal piles.” In Blood Lead Levels of Common Ravens With Access to Big-Game Offal
 
The problem with lead and lead poisoning is much like climate change in that the science is a combination of compelling correlations, limited experimentation and a good deal of scientific triangulation.  That it is complicated leads some to doubt and deny the problem.
 
 
The whole situation and the actions of certain players reminds me a little of the story of Typhoid Mary.  Mary Mallon was an itinerant cook early in the last century who had asymptomatic typhoid—she carried the disease but did not show symptoms.  Her existence was discovered by a typhoid investigator who was hired by a wealthy family to find out why typhoid was popping up in New York where it was unlikely to occur–the houses of the rich.  The one and obvious commonality found by the investigator was this cook named Mary.  When confronted, Mary rejected the idea that she was the source and locked herself in a bathroom refusing to provide urine or stool samples 
 
Hunters and shooters intent on “going to the mattresses” over lead bullets should spend some time with Mary Mallon’s story because it is one of denial and obstinacy leading to a harsher outcome.  Folks were willing to work with Mary and there were viable and admittedly less desirable options, but those were still better than her ultimate fate of repeated incarceration.   
 
When you look at the evidence of bullet fragments poisoning wildlife they tend to fall into general categories and operate collectively much like evidence presented in a criminal trial or the epidemiology involved in Mary Mallon’s case.  First there are studies that show that animals near shooting ranges and other concentrations of spent bullets have higher levels of lead in their blood (1,2).  This essentially demonstrates that environmental presence leads to poisoning.
 
Then there are studies that show that bullet fragments are present in big game animals killed with lead bullets (1,2).  There are similar studies that show that species that eat lead bullet-killed big or small game animals—including humans—have higher levels of lead in their blood (1,2).  In addition, there are studies that show that the incidence of lead poisoning increases during deer hunting season (1,2,3).  
 
And to put a punctuation point on it there are even studies (1,2) that examine lead-tainted blood samples from wildlife and are able to determine the sources of that lead by looking at the lead isotopes contained in the blood and matching them with the differing isotope signatures found in objects like fishing weights, lead shot or lead bullet fragments.  If the concept of isotopes makes you queasy or uncomfortable, a good example of an isotope is the so-called Carbon-14 used in the carbon dating process.  Carbon 14 or radio-carbon has 6 protons, 6 electrons and 8 neutrons rather than the normal 6—these additional neutrons change the atomic number or mass of the atom but do not change its chemical properties.  
 
Now I can appreciate a healthy amount of apprehension from big game hunters and their desire to pull the political equivalent of a Mary Mallon because they see any efforts to control lead bullets in any manner as simply another step in the march to take their guns.   But I would urge them to take a deep breath, look at the substantial body of evidence and then become a productive part of the solution.   Because there is nothing in these studies that argues for continued tolerance for spraying the landscape with this toxic element and much that argues that its use should be discontinued or seriously curtailed.  
 
 
 
Dec19

Lethal Control of Predators: Of Science, Scapegoats and Icebergs

By Bob Ferris
 
I have been looking at the issue of lethal predator control for many, many years and the longer I look at it and 2019372475the more science I read and assimilate, the more convinced I become that lethal control of predators is more punitive than practical.  It is an activity and a supporting attitude that simply does not wash in the light of what we know and have tested. 
 
I know some will argue that lethal control is still needed for situations of chronic livestock depredation and where predators are dampening prey or endangered species recovery.  But even in these instances our opting for trigger, trap or poison is really more about our inability to admit that we are often raising the wrong animals in the wrong way in the wrong places and also our reluctance to recalibrate our expectations in regards to our ability to harvest, destroy and neglect our natural resources at unsustainable levels without consequence. 
 
Three wolf examples come to mind when I think of prime illustrations of the above: the Huckleberry pack control action, continual calls for wolf control in the Lolo National Forest to save elk and the killing of wolves in Alberta to save caribou. 
 
With the Huckleberry incident in eastern Washington—which we have written about repeatedly (1,2,3)—you  basically have too many of the wrong animal (i.e., sheep including rams) placed in poor habitat with little or no supervision near an area of known wolf activity.  Certainly livestock losses are regrettable and we have sympathy for the rancher who has to move his or her animals to alternative pasture, but the question hovers: Was this choice of stocking levels, location and inattention to non-lethal alternatives prudent given the situation?  One thing to think about in this context is the idea that anyone can leave roughly $180,000 worth of assets on any landscape without providing some measure of presence or protection from mishap.  In any event, this set of circumstances seems to not be a compelling argument for lethal control of a species recently released from federal protection and still under Washington State protection. 
 
The elk population decline in the Lolo has been offered up far too often as the poster child for the need for wolf control regardless of the fact that the decline started long before wolves came on the scene.  And biologist after biologist has pointed to this decline being associated with habitat succession (i.e., open areas transitioning to brush land and then to forests).    Certainly wolves are causing this decline to linger longer but at the end of the day this elk population is still habitat limited and will remain so as the availability of early seral habitat continues to decline.  Elk are creatures of disturbance and when the logging is done or fires put out the ticking clock of transition from good elk habitat to bad starts.  The State of Idaho is pursuing lethal control of wolves in this area but they are unlikely to get any awards for sound science or innovative management out of this endeavor (see here).  
 
Woodland caribou in Alberta are in terrible shape and getting worse (1,2,3).  The main reason for this decline is the explosion of tar sand development as well as tradition gas and oil development in the province.  Yet when searching for solutions, the province did not look to restrict fossil fuel operations, set up refugia or restore habitat they felt the “logical” approach was to cull wolves.  I suppose on some level this illogical of wolf culling is easily dwarfed when looking at the totality of this tar sands lunacy where wilderness is being sacrificed so we can accelerate climate change, ocean acidification and a host of other ills that compromise our ecological support systems.  
 
Alberta’s wolf cull strategy is not only wrong-headed but it may turn out to be an ironic choice as wolf biologist Robert Hayes reported in his excellent book Wolves of the Yukon that smaller packs had to kill more prey per capita because they lack the numbers to effectively protect their kills from crows, ravens and other scavengers.  Hayes’ observations are illustrative of the problem faced by lethal control proponents who only look at the obvious iceberg tip of predator-prey relationships and do not see the more important aspects below the surface that are not seen by the casual observer.  
 
The latest nail in the coffin of the lethal control illogic is Rob Wielgus’ recent findings that culling wolves likely does more harm than good.  This is solid and well-reviewed work, but it is by no means unique in sending the message that lethal control is generally a flawed approach.   In 2012, for instance, the American Society of Mammalogists issued a strong letter to USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service—where USDA Wildlife Services is housed or hidden—heavily criticizing the program’s overdependence on and use of lethal control.  And investigative journalist Tom Knudson of the Sacramento Bee wrote an excellent set of articles examining problems with USDA Wildlife Services as well as lethal control in 2012 (1,2,3,).
 
At this point there are likely some who are asking: If science has shown that lethal control of predators—particularly via random culling programs—is generally ineffective or often deleterious then why does it continue? The answer to this question is that livestock producers, energy developers, and timber interests want access to natural resources on public lands and the presence of predators—particularly legally protected predators—often inhibits their ability to fully exploit and derive maximum benefit from these public lands.  Yes there are groups that also support predator control, but if you scratch the surface of most of the groups with anti-wolf or anti-predator leanings you do not have to look too hard to also find connections between those groups and these industries either through funding, governance or association (see here).  
 
Moreover, for wildlife managers, scientists and politicians, there is real peril in questioning the lethal control model.  Both Rod Sando (1) in Idaho and Ken Mayer in Nevada (1,2) lost their jobs as directors of their state wildlife agencies, in part, because they took a principled and scientifically defensible position on the lethal control of predators.  Likewise Dr. Wielgus’ work—before it was even completed—was attacked and his objectivity questioned by the livestock producers’ front group the Science First Coalition (which has since taken down their website).  And Congressman Peter DeFazio who has long championed reform of Wildlife Services and wolf recovery as well as opposing predator derbies has taken considerable lumps from the above crowd.  Being principled is a perilous course and frequently comes at a price.  
SCCA Talking Science
I met with the leadership of Wildlife Services in DC roughly 20 years ago armed with a stack of literature that questioned the efficacy of lethal control actions particularly as they applied to coyotes and we also talked some about wolves.  The agency and the approach has changed some since then because of public pressure, legal actions and congressional attention, but only cosmetically such as not stenciling an airplane with a wolf silhouette each time you kill one.  Lethal control continues not because there is a lack of science or inadequate evidence of problems but because the myths and fear continue to be promulgated by the same interests and industries (see above).  
 
As you enter the holiday season and think about this coming year and those in the future, please take some time to think about how you can help all of us turn the tide on this monumental effort to bring facts and science to wildlife management and public perceptions—particularly in rural areas.  We need to break the strangle-hold and undue influence these industries have on our wildlife agencies, public lands policy and the minds of our children.   Our future and the future of what we hold dear depends on it, so please support groups that work in this area, vote for candidates who embrace science, and educate where you can with fact-based and scientifically defensible arguments.  
 
 
Dec16

America’s Choices: Hysteria and Hyperbole or Hyper-volumes and Curiosity

By Bob Ferris
 
“…the more ignorant we become the less value we set on science, & the less inclination we shall have to seek it.” Thomas Jefferson May, 1795
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I remember a time in the late 1990s when I was interviewed by a writer for the New York Times. We had a long conversation about lynx restoration in Colorado and whether or not it would work or was worthwhile. At the end of the conversation he asked me where I got my PhD. I told him that I did not finish my PhD program and his response was that the New York Times only quoted PhD-level scientists on technical matters.
 
We continued to talk some about my education, experience and standing in the conservation community. We discussed some of my research efforts as well as restoration projects that I had worked on for wolves, swift foxes, prairie dogs and trumpeter swans. In the end, he included me in the article, but I had to work for it and prove that I belonged.
 
Flash forward to present times and we see ABC and NBC putting forth pieces on the manufactured wolf controversy in eastern Washington and the predator control paradox offered up by Dr. Rob Wielgus’ work. Both these pieces prominently feature quotes by folks who lack relevant education, experience and standing to qualify as “expert” voices in complicated, science-based debates. Unfortunately, these two media networks are certainly not alone in their current use of the non-experts—often with huge and glaring conflicts—to counter the statements of scientists working in a broad range of areas from wolf recovery and climate change to vaccine safety and water pollution.
 
Certainly comments coming out of these non-experts are entertaining and provide a countering view on these issues, but at some point we have to ask ourselves whether news is really supposed to be entertaining or is it meant to inform a citizenry trying to make tough decisions and support public policies that lead us forward towards a better future or past towards failed and destructive modes of existence.
 
Wolves are a pretty good piece of societal litmus paper in this regard. Understanding the function and value of wolves takes a certain level of intellectual curiosity. I remember being both blown away and intrigued early on in my study of ecology by the concept of niches—the often subtle ecological positioning and separation of roles of organisms—being defined as hyper-volumes. These hyper-volumes are basically abstract representations of all the various biotic and abiotic factors that influence a particular species.
 
Why “hyper-volumes?” When we talk about dimensions we tend to talk about length (x), width (y) and depth (z) as defining volume. Hyper-volumes are n-dimensional so instead of just having three axes (plural of axis) they could have a nearly infinite number of axes or dimensions. That means that required space, time, moisture, feed, intra and interspecies competition, vegetative cover, weather, and thousands of other factors that define their place in the grand ecological scheme could all be used as axes or dimensions to describe their niche. And a good number of these dimensions interact so if one or a group of elements changes then so do others. In short it is both complicated and dynamic at the same time.
 
The “n” in this is unknown as we do not know with certitude all that influences a particular critter or plant. We do know that the number is large so if you are only looking at those dimensions associated with predator-prey relationships or even just the disease transmission elements, you are clearly missing most of the picture and are basing decisions on a myopic perspective. Where the litmus test comes in here is how you feel about the above information. If it stimulates and excites you and serves as a catalyst for thinking—even if you do not completely understand it—then that is great and we have hope for the future and for a return to American exceptionalism.
 
“Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” Benjamin Franklin
 
If, however, you see it as more scientific mishmash because you already know what you know and you see no problem with non-experts sharing “opinions” on highly technical matters in a “he said-she said” format with PhD level scientists (or others with grounding and experience), then you are essentially the anchor dragging us down the slippery slope of mediocrity. If you think that I overstate this then please give me examples of economic or intellectual advances that were led by people with stifled curiosity and closed minds. These traits lead to acrimonious and anonymous electronic comments but not to progress, innovation and prosperity.
 
The anti-wolf rhetoric, rumor spreading, and fear-driven messaging coming out of eastern Washington and Idaho is distressing not only in regards to the wolf but because it also represents the worst America has to offer as well as our bleak and getting bleaker prospects. That we allow it to happen and that it is enabled by any institution in this country is the wart on the nose that tells of deeper, more profound health problems. I am encouraged that there are those who speak up in the face of this juggernaut of witlessness (1,2,3), but others need to speak up on this matter as well as on other issues like climate change.
 
Our current conservation peril—represented by these anti-scientific postures and our in-coming Congress—like the above referenced wart is only a symptom of larger problems. I cannot help but think that if we make a concerted effort in our own actions and rhetoric to call out those who ignore or degrade science and intellectual curiosity that we might be taking steps to heal and enrich our country as well. These are some things to think about during this holiday season and as we ready ourselves for the legislative challenges to come—we do have a choice and we should exercise it.
 
 
Dec04

Jamie and the Amazing Wolf Hatred Echo Chamber

By Bob Ferris
WARAW Billboard
In my twenty-five years working on wildlife issues I have rarely seen anything as reprehensible as the above billboard slated to be displayed in Spokane, Washington.  Those involved should be ashamed not only for the content and imagery but also for being part of so transparent a propaganda device.  
 
What we see above is part of what is known as an “echo chamber.”  How does it work?  Someone or a small group wants a certain message to reach the public so they put it out and then bounce it off other like-minded groups until it is amplified and appears larger and more meaningful than it really is.  Volume in this instance is meant to correlate with truth.  Often times with each “bounce” the message gets shriller too as we see above.  And when there are not enough groups to bounce off to have the appearance of diversity you manufacture those groups—Washington Residents Against Wolves (WARAW) and the Science First Coalition are good examples of this deceptive strategy.
Eastern Washington Anti-Wolf Echo Chamber
The echo chamber associated with the billboard consists of the above groups and was likely orchestrated by Jamie Henneman who is the communications guru or spokesperson for many of the groups spouting similar messages—including WARAW.  When you look at the members and leaders we start to see many familiar names including the Dashiell brothers—Dave of Huckleberry pack fame and Don who signed the anti-wolf resolution coming out of Stevens County.  These gentlemen are also active in Cattle Producers of Washington and the Science First Coalition respectively.  And so the net gets more entwined and the actual constituency smaller as original voices are separated from the resulting echoes. 
Education and Certificates
When you look at Ms. Henneman’s profile on LinkedIn, the story on this becomes clearer.  Although she has worked for small market newspapers, her proof-reading skills (see above) and ethical behavior are not those of a trained journalist.  What we do see here and what is consistent with this “echo chamber” approach is her coursework at the on-line institution American Military University which includes a course entitled Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation (INTL653).  And if you visit the current syllabus for that course you will see that this course covers important topics such as “dirty tricks.”  Add that to her emphasis on social media and the sudden explosion of websites and Facebook pages—all with anti-wolf messaging—in this sector makes sense.
 
"Hedquist noted that the parasitic disease that affects an estimated 2–3 million people and results in an annual monetary loss of over $750,000,000 worldwide. Incidents of human infection increase as exposure to the canine feces that carry the parasite also increases. The Centers for Disease Control and every state where wolves are present, except Washington, warns the public of the dangers via public information campaigns." WARAW Press Release
 
The intemperate and misleading comments by Luke Hedquist in the press release associated the launch of the above billboard are somewhat surprising as he—in the absence of anything resembling any apparent grounding in Science First Coalition New Membersscience beyond his high school  coursework—is suddenly expounding authoritatively on a very complicated issue of parasite epidemiology.  It is not surprising that he got it wrong (see Little Worms, Big Lies) Moreover, his use of global figures is purposely done to induce panic when the reality is that hydatid disease in humans is extremely rare in North America and the incidence in the lower 48 states is so rare that individual cases generally rate a journal article and typically are about people coming to the US with the disease.  But this constant overstatement of risk is what we have come to expect from this fear machine.
 
All in all, the participants in this broader effort to promulgate biological bigotry in eastern Washington from the various cattlemen’s associations and these shadow “groups” should take some time to see where their moral compasses are pointed, because there is nothing about this complicated web they have constructed that bespeaks of integrity, principle or much in terms of stand-up character.  The choice is fairly simple:  Do you want to be known for being honest brokers or for your dirty tricks?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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