Posts Tagged ‘Bob Ferris’

Jul28

Two Talking Wolves, Conservation and Ted Turner—conversations with Todd Wilkinson and Bob Ferris

We–Todd Wilkinson (at right) and Bob Ferris (at left below)–are in the planning stages for a speaking tour tentatively scheduled for a one or two-week period sometime between October 15th and Todd-Wilkinson1-284x300November 15th in 2014 and covering the geography from San Francisco north to Vancouver, British Columbia.  
 
Our reasons for doing this are many but revolve around promoting model approaches to conservation action that come from our respective, multi-decade work as a journalist covering conservation issues and a wildlife biologist working in species restoration, habitat conservation and sustainability.  
 
Our tour is timed to coincide with the release of the paperback version of Last Stand: Ted Turner's Quest to Save a Troubled Planet, and the approaching 20th anniversary of the first wolves being captured and then released into Yellowstone and central Idaho.  This latter event also marks the beginning of our long association and friendship.  
Todds cover350
What we are hoping to do in the next two months is schedule a collection of radio interviews, bookstore events, class discussions, college lectures and speaking engagements where we can talk about the successes and failures of past conservation actions as well as the biodiversity challenges and opportunities that we face in the present and future.  In all instances we are looking for activities where we can tell these important stories and fully engage audiences the discussions. 
 
Bob Talking
We are currently considering stops at the following cities: San Francisco (CA), Sacramento (CA), Ashland (OR), Eugene (OR), Corvallis (OR), Portland (OR), Seattle (WA), Bellingham (WA), and Vancouver (BC).   Suggestions of other locations along this general path or additional events at these stops will be welcomed and considered.   
 
If you have suggestions about venues we should investigate or people we should contact, we would be most appreciative.  We are also flexible in terms of presentation format and audiences.  Carolyn Candela at Cascadia Wildlands will be helping with logistics on this tour, but please feel free to contact any of us about opportunities or interest (bob@cascwild.org), (tawilk@aol.com) or (carolyn@cascwild.org).   
 
Thanks for your help and interest,
 
Todd Wilkinson and Bob Ferris 
 

Mar21

Where’s the science? Fish and Wildlife Service must rewrite proposal to strip endangered species protections from gray wolves (an excerpt)

By Paul Paquet and Bob Ferris 
Special to the Mercury News
 
about.paul
Silicon Valley embraces science and loves innovation. Sadly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently shown contempt for both when it comes to the recovery of gray wolves — particularly in the wilds of Northern California where a lone wolf recently visited for the first time in more than 80 years.
 
Our unflattering assessment derives from the peer review of the service's 2013 proposal to strip Endangered Species Act protections from most wolves in the West. The service's recommendation to "delist" wolves was judged to have ignored and misrepresented the "best available science," which is the unambiguous standard for species listing decisions. We wholeheartedly agree with the peer reviewers' troubling conclusions, and we are disappointed that the service pursued political expediency rather than abiding by the lawful provisions of the ESA.
 
Bob TalkingThat choice was encouraged by state wildlife commissions and agencies blatantly promoting the extremist views of some ranchers and anti-wolf hunting groups. In doing so, these agencies ignored scientific principles and the intrinsic value of species by portraying wolves as needing lethal management and fostering policies that treat them as problems rather than as respected members of the ecological community.
 
Paul Paquet (right) is an internationally prominent wolf scientist and senior scientist at Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Bob Ferris (left), executive director of Cascadia Wildlands, has been a leader in wolf advocacy for two decades.
 
Click Here to Read the Full Piece on the San Jose Mercury site.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Nov28

The Angry Ocean Calls

Gleneden BeachBy Bob Ferris
 
Acidic and angry, the ocean—
father and mother of us all—
Storms past amputee sea stars
And oysters with half shells
Bent not on revenge but  
inevitable correction.  
 
But our commercial tendrils 
Continue to flail unaware
And careless
Whipping wildly cross the globe.
While the waves build
And peril accumulates.  
 
The bell in the boat shed
Rings and rings again
In emergency tones
But we are deafened 
Made so purposely  
By those whose ears
Hear but one note
Played by a golden whistle.
 
And leadership?
We certainly have those
Who claim that mantle
But bray about progress
And great voyages 
Yet have never raised anchor
From a dark and destructive past.
 
Those in their idle and mired boats
Are cheered by those created 
Expressly by their negligence.
Like cave fish they have
Lost their vision and
Discernment from disuse.  
But the wave still comes
Whether seen or not.
 
So we are left to sink 
or swim.  
Unled and ill-served
Until we realize the wisdom 
Of the bristlecone, clams and Greenland shark.
We need to manage and serve ourselves 
And think in centuries not seconds
Systems and not status
And lead our lives and loves accordingly.
 
Bandon, Oregon November 2013
 
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Please take a moment to rest up, because we certainly have some work (and fun) ahead of us on forests, wolves, and the wild places we all love and need!
 
Bob Ferris

Apr05

Putting the Cap on Coal Trains?

 

By Camilla Mortensen Eugene Weekly
April 4, 2013
 
Bad news for coal is good news for clean energy advocates and conservationists: Not only has the Port of Coos Bay’s exclusive negotiating agreement with the last of the companies trying to export coal ended, a Eugene attorney has also filed a notice of intent to sue coal companies and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway for violating the Clean Water Act by emitting coal into waterways in Washington. 
 
While the Coos Bay coal proposal that would have sent coal trains through Eugene seems to be dead in the water, the Northwest still faces four more coal export proposals. And Bob Ferris of Cascadia Wildlands, one of the local groups that fought the Coos Bay proposal, says, “Another set of partners might come in or some worse proposal, we have to be constantly vigilant.”
 
Charlie Tebbutt, who filed the intent to sue on behalf of the Sierra Club, Columbia Riverkeeper and three other groups, says that “fundamentally, every rail shipment through the state of Washington and throughout the country discharges coal in significant amounts, and it has to stop.” He adds, “It’s a clear violation of the Clean Water Act and pollutes rivers and streams.” 
 
The conservation groups say that “by BNSF’s own figures, the four daily coal trains traveling through Washington heading to Canada or to the state’s last remaining coal plant combine to lose a staggering 120 tons of coal dust per day.” And they add that the soft, crumbly Powder River Basin coal from Montana and Wyoming contains “mercury, arsenic, uranium and hundreds of other heavy metal toxins harmful to fish and human health.”
 
Laura Hennessey of the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports sent out a press release in response to the suit, calling it a “nuisance” and citing a BNSF statement saying it “is committed to preventing coal dust from escaping while in transit.” 
 
Tebbutt says that railroads have pointed the finger at the coal companies and vice-versa, and “it is up to the industry to figure out the problem.” He says that not only do the coal dust, lumps of coal and petcoke come off the tops of the largely uncovered train cars, it also drips with moisture off the bottom of the cars.
 
BNSF has estimated about 500 pounds of coal blow off a single open car, according to the notice of intent to sue the railroad and the coal companies. Tebbutt says that under the Clean Water Act, each rail car is a point source of pollution and “each discharge from each car to each waterway constitutes a separate violation.” The intent to sue says at the end of the 60-day period the groups will file a citizen suit “for the applicable statutory maximum for each violation, presently $37,500 per day for each violation.” 
 
Tebbutt is not new to coal pollution suits; along with Megan Anderson of the Western Environmental Law Center, he represented the Sierra Club and reached a multimillion-dollar landmark settlement with a coal mine and power plant in New Mexico. The suit sought to stop ground and surface water contamination from toxic coal ash and called for spending about $8 million on restoring the watershed and controlling pollution.
 
Tebbutt says, “The trains have been discharging for years, and state and federal agencies have ignored the problem so citizens are taking action to stop it.”
 

Mar14

Coal Train Slowing at Port?

Eugene Weekly by Camilla Mortensen March 14, 2013 

The recent announcement that two foreign investors have pulled out of the International Port of Coos Bay’s coal export proposal doesn’t mean the coal train plans have been entirely derailed. The announcement leads to even more questions, says Bob Ferris, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands, one of several Lane County groups working to stop the fossil fuel exports. 
 
Objections to the coal trains range from concern over the dust dispersed along the routes as well as the larger issue of feeding global warming-inducing coal plants overseas. “The best use for the deepwater port at the Port of Coos Bay is to export locally produced Oregon goods such as farming produce and timber products,” Lisa Arkin of Beyond Toxics says. She says it is “nefarious” as well as “unsustainable and truly harmful” to mine coal in Montana and haul it through dozens of communities, the Columbia River Gorge, the Willamette Valley and “much of Oregon’s fragile coastline.”
 
According to documents posted on the port’s website in response to a public records request by Oregon Public Broadcasting, both Mitsui, a Japanese company incorporated in New York, and Korean Electric Power Corp. have terminated their agreements with the port. A third investor, Metro Ports out of California, has until March 31 to make a decision, the documents say. 
 
“It seems that Mitsui found that coal exports at Coos Bay doesn’t pencil out economically,” Laura Stevens of the Sierra Club says. “We already know it doesn’t pencil out for our health, environment and local communities all along the rail line.”
 
Ferris says while the Korean power company and Mitsui have not given any reasons for “bailing” on the coal export plan, he suspects it has to do with coal exports being politically unpopular and that the plan will result in legal challenges. 
 
He also says the only reason it has been economically worthwhile for Asia to import coal from 7,000 miles away is because it’s being sold so cheaply. “A buck a ton, you can’t even buy dirt for a buck a ton,” Ferris says.
 
Ferris explains that under the first Bush administration the Powder River Basin was “decertified.” So even though it produces 40 percent of U.S. coal, it’s not considered a coal-producing region and it’s not subject to the same rules and environmental regulations. As a result, the coal is sold for much less. 
 
But Ferris says with Sen. Ron Wyden calling for an examination of the possible millions in royalties lost from the mining of coal on public lands due to out-of-date regulations, he thinks “those two companies saw the writing on the wall.” He also points out that in February Mitsui agreed to pay $90 million for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
 
Ferris says if the Coos Bay coal proposal to export Powder River Basin coal went through, it would export 10 million tons of coal a year and be giving away something like $50 million in subsidies and natural resources to two foreign companies and competing economies, “which doesn’t make sense.”
 
In addition to Coos Bay, Oregon faces two other coal export proposals in Morrow and St. Helens. Oregon will decide whether it will approve the Morrow Pacific coal project on April 1. For more info go to http://wkly.ws/1fu
 
At 5:30 pm March 14 No Coal Eugene, Oregonians for Black Mesa and other groups will celebrate the investors pulling out of the Coos Bay project upstairs at the Growers Market at 454 Willamette St.
 

Aug13

Bob Ferris on the Radio in Coos Bay–of Timber, Coal, LNG, and Jobs

 

Bob Ferris interview on the Mark McKelvey Show on July 10, 2012.  He and Mark talk about timber, coal, LNG and jobs in Coos Bay.  The 40-minute interview starts at about minute 11 and can be heard by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aug08

Elk Foundation Shucks Sound Science

Jackson Hole News and Guide guest opinion by Bob Ferris

Actions and inactions always speak louder than words. So it is very telling that, in the two weeks or so since the Murie family released their eloquent letter urging the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to return to science and tone down their anti-wolf rhetoric, we have heard nothing from RMEF's scientific staff. The silence is profound.

Sure, we were treated to tea party darling Jim Beers' rant on the Skinny Moose blog and saw a remarkably sophomoric press release focusing on wolf killing tips from RMEF, but where are the elk group's biologists? And where, too, are the group's logical and natural defenders from the conservation and hunting communities?

The answers to the above breaks down to one word: Murie. Wildlife professionals of all stripes hold the Murie family and Aldo Leopold's family in very high regard. And as much as RMEF CEO David Allen and his supporters try to ignore or dismiss the significance of this letter -to those of us in the field of wildlife -Murie's epistle is very serious business indeed.

I suspect the casualness with which RMEF electronically ejected Olaus Murie from its website and organizational persona shocked many. It was like it reached into itself and pulled out its own spine and then acted like nothing of note transpired. In all honesty, it really had no response to Donald Murie's concerns about ignoring the science and waging a war on wolves, but it seemed so strikingly abrupt and callous. It clearly had the feel and taste of a sudden death.

In many ways it is like a divorce. Former Bugle editor David Stalling courted the Murie family to establish the award in the late 1990s. At the time, it seemed like a perfect romance: A well-respected conservation organization with a biodiversity mission and elk focus forms a relationship with the family of a legendary biodiversity proponent and acknowledged father of modern elk management. What could be better?

But we all know that people and organizations change. In the case of the elk foundation, midway through is relation ship with the Muries, it started on a pathway that has taken it away from its stated mission. Its return to the dated and biologically selfish model of single-species management is as perplexing to many as its aggressive campaign against wolves in the absence of supporting and conclusive science.

We all have dealt with divorce in our lives, and it is of ten sordid and tawdry. We ultimately end up picking sides, mainly in accordance with our original allegiances to bride or groom. Sitting on the fence rarely seems an option. If we look at RMEF as the groom in this equation, one thing it has failed to grasp fully is that we in the scientific and conservation communities as well as in geographic communities like Jackson Hole, who know and have been touched by the Muries, are die-hard friends of the bride.

Moreover, RMEF does little to improve its public image by doing nothing to police its scant public defenders' efforts to question the motivations and qualifications of the Murie family and also, interestingly, the Leopolds. It is hard for me to describe how fast my blood pressure rose the other day when someone on one of the blogs claimed that Dale Earnhardt had done more for conservation than Olaus Murie or Aldo Leopold. But these are the people attracted to the elk foundation's current messaging. They bring to mind a chorus of drinking buddies who after materially contributing to the break-up besmirch the bride's character.

In my career I have worked more closely with the Leopold family than the Muries, but my recent experiences with the children and grandchildren of Olaus, Mardy, Adolph and Louise have absolutely mirrored that of the Leopolds. They are true conservationists and exude an authenticity that cannot be spun, marketed or photoshopped. These iconic families ushered in a new, more holistic way of looking at ecosystem functions, such as predator-prey relations and the consequences of myopic management schemes like maximizing game populations.

The rich tapestry opened to those taking a biodiversity view cannot adequately be observed via a single-species lens. One prime example is the elk foundation's position on climate change written, by Val Geist. The one-paragraph position from 2004 acknowledges coming changes but views them as largely positive for elk. While the position stops somewhat short of being jubilant, the analysis is extremely limited in terms of factors and potential scenarios. In sharp contrast, scientists working for a consortium of 12 sportsman groups predict dire consequences for elk in the Rockies, including the spread of disease, loss of sagebrush habitat and outright extirpation from areas in their current range. And this latter view is being borne out by experience as we see localized drops in elk population being attributed to drought conditions and related impacts to food resources and timing.

Having worked hard to shore up the finances of several nonprofits during my career, I can certainly understand the board's reticence to make leadership changes when its coffers are expanding in a down economy, but the Murie letter and the community's reaction should be taken to heart. Boards must govern with courage and foresight ever mindful of the fiscal health and reputation of the organization in their care. With David Allen at the helm, RMEF has one of these bases covered, and that is simply not enough. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Bob Ferris is the executive director of Cascadia Wildlands (CascWild.org) and a member of the volunteer team that went to Fort Saint John, British Columbia, in January 1996 to make sure the second translocation of wolves into the U.S. Rockies was not derailed by the government shutdown.


Article Link

Related Links:

Muries Rebuke Elk Foundation over Anti-Wolf Remarks

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation–Needed: Less 10 Gallon Hats and More 10 Pound Brains

 

 

 

Jul25

Elk Group Takes Hit from Muries, Others

July 25, 2012

Jackson Hole News and Guide by Todd Wilkinson

By now, you may have heard about the flap between the Murie family and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
 
Last week, foundation President David Allen said his organization was dropping Olaus J. Murie's name from one of its most coveted awards, an hon or given to prominent biologists whose life work has contributed to the scien tific understanding of elk.
 
The action came in response to a letter penned by Donald Murie, surviving son of Olaus and Mardy of Moose. Donald was troubled by re marks Allen's been making about wolves.
 
“Now, we find that your organization has declared all-out war against wolves; unreasonable, with no basis in science at all, wholly emotional, cruel and anathema to the entire Murie family,“ Donald wrote. “We cannot condone this. It is in total opposition to the findings of careful independent research by hundreds of scientists.“ He demanded that unless the foun dation changes its tenor, including calls for aggressive wolf control, it should cancel the Murie Award.
 
Allen opted to terminate the prize. More than a decade ago, long be fore Mr. Allen's arrival, the foundation received permission from the Murie family to put Olaus' name on a plaque. Murie is widely recognized as “the godfather of modern elk biology“ and an ecologist in the same league as Aldo Leopold.
 
It's an understatement to say it's a sad day. Over its 28-year history, the foundation has, nobly, been a leader in elk conservation, helping to protect 6 million acres of elk habitat.
 
Following decades of field research, Olaus Murie famously wrote, “Poison ing and trapping of so-called predators [wolves, coyotes, cougars, bears] … are evidences of human immaturity. The use of the term `vermin' as applied to so many wild creatures is a thoughtless criticism of nature's arrangement of producing varied life on this planet.“ Earlier this year, Allen, while speak ing at an anti-wolf rally in Oregon, re portedly made a statement published in the Bend Bulletin, that to keep wolf populations controlled, states “will have to hold hunts, shoot wolves from the air and gas their dens.“
 
Biologist and hunter Bob Ferris with Cascadia Wildlands brought Mr. Allen's comments to Donald Murie's attention.
 
He notes that the Rocky Moun tain Elk Foundation, under Allen, has backpedaled from its once-firm stance against the artificial feeding of public elk herds, a position supported by reams of scientific studies showing that feedgrounds (of the kind operated by the state of Wyoming and on the National Elk Refuge) are vectors for wildlife diseases, including brucellosis and perhaps all too soon chronic wasting disease.
 
The foundation board also has been reluctant to acknowledge that humancaused climate change poses a significant threat to wildlife due to changing habitat conditions. The organization is strikingly absent from “Beyond Seasons' End“ (BeyondSeasonsEnd. org), a report published by prominent hunting and fishing groups about the effects of climate change on wildlife persistence.
 
For example, a number of emerging studies suggest that drying conditions on crucial summer range in areas of Greater Yellowstone, Oregon and South Dakota are impacting elk nutrition and causing cow/ calf ratios to plummet in migratory elk herds. It can not be pinned on wolves.
 
Some very good people work for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, folks who understand, like Olaus J. Murie did, that natural systems are complex.
 
Hunter Bruce Smith, for decades the senior biologist on the National Elk Refuge and an original founder of the foundation's Jackson Hole chapter in the 1980s, is also befuddled.
 
“I agree with RMEF's mission to be an organization guided by science and to advance conservation while remaining apolitical,“ the “Where Elk Roam“ author says, “but in the last three years, that's changed. RMEF has strayed from being the group it once was.“
 
One prominent Murie Award winner resigned his membership over the foundation's positions. Also, read former foundation staffer David Stalling's critique of Allen online at TinyURL.com/c8fq42u.
 
“If their goal is to serve the best long-term interests of their membership, which means having healthy herds of elk and the ecosystems that support them, then RMEF ought to be standing behind those who champion competent science,“ says Steve Duerr, director of The Murie Center.
 
From Olaus and Adolph Murie to scientists who earned the Murie Award, Duerr says the honor gave the foundation credibility. But now, to wipe it from the records raises suspicions about the integrity of Allen as a conservation leader.
 
Todd Wilkinson's column appears here every week.

Jul19

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Changes Name of Conservation Prize Over Wolf Dispute

July 19, 2012

 
Associated Press
 
HELENA, Mont. — The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation removed the name of Olaus J. Murie from a conservation award after the family of the man known as the father of modern elk management objected to what they called an all-out war against wolves.
 
The demand came after the foundation backed removing federal protections for wolves, donated money to kill wolves that prey on livestock, and supported wolf hunts and trapping.
 
"The Murie name must never be associated with the unscientific and inhumane practices you are advancing," Donald Murie, youngest son of Olaus Murie, write in a letter to the foundation.
 
Foundation president David Allen said Wednesday the foundation would no longer call the honor the Olaus J. Murie award.
 
"We are going to accommodate the request because we are not going to change our position on wolf management," he said.
 
The foundation created the award in 1999 for individuals who demonstrate tremendous accomplishments in wildlife research and conservation.
 
It was named after Murie, a famed naturalist, author and wildlife biologist who conducted groundbreaking field work on many large North American mammals, including elk and caribou, in the early part of the 20th century.
 
Murie and his wife Margaret helped create the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and as a founding board member of the Wilderness Society, he fought a proposal in the 1940s to construct Glacier View Dam, which would have flooded more than 10,000 acres of Glacier National Park.
 
Donald Murie said Tuesday he only recently became aware of the foundation's position on wolf management and later read a quote attributed to Allen in an Oregon newspaper suggesting states would have to hold hunts, shoot wolves from the air and gas their dens to keep wolf populations in line.
 
Murie described the foundation's position on wolf management as an "all-out war against wolves" that would lead to their extermination.
 
Allen said the quote was taken out of context and the foundation has never promoted or suggested that wolves be exterminated.
 
"All I'm saying is if people don't get on board with using the approved state management plans that have been in place for almost a decade then the alternatives down the road are really unattractive," he said. "They have to stop managing wildlife with personal emotion, and use the science."
 
Several other conservation groups have challenged the foundation's position, including Eugene, Ore.-based Cascadia Wildlands. Director Bob Ferris, who communicated with the Murie family about drafting the letter, said they were sending a message to the foundation that it should base their positions on science.
 
"(Olaus) Murie, Aldo Leopold and a handful of other pioneers were the first proponents of biodiversity and preservation," Ferris said. "For the family, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's position just drove them crazy."
 

Jun06

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation–Needed: Less 10 Gallon Hats and More 10 Pound Brains

Right after the Mexican wolves were released in the Southwest I was at a DC press conference with Dave Parsons, Craig Miller, and other drivers of the restoration project.  I was interviewed after the event by a reporter from USA Today who asked me what wolves needed to survive.  My answer was quick and flippant and was a follows:

“Wolves are very resourceful.  All they need to survive is for people not to shoot them.”

That quote was picked up in papers across the country and eventually ended up being the quote of the year in the Chicago Tribune and still seems to pop up now and then on the internet.  That is pretty wonderful from a “getting out the message” angle, but the only problem is that I have since found out that I was flat wrong.  

As we look at the on-going wolf slaughters in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming my simple admonition of not shooting wolves is clearly not enough.  We have to stop trapping them as well.  Moreover, we need to make sure that the myths are dispelled and that sound, science-driven policies are enacted and enforced to make sure that robust and viable populations exist to re-colonize other wolf-empty areas in Oregon, Washington, and California.

“To keep wolf populations controlled, [David Allen CEO Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation] said, states will have to hold hunts, shoot wolves from the air and gas their dens.”  (Predator, Protector —as Costs Mount, Some Researchers Point Out Benefits. Bend Bulletin Jan. 7, 2012)

Lots of people are spewing misinformation about wolves, but one of the loudest and most boorish is M. David Allen the CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation—a once broadly respected, science-driven conservation organization.  Mr. Allen is rapidly becoming the “poster child” of why conservation and environmental groups put themselves at risk ethically and intellectually when they hire CEOs who are not adequately grounded in the organization’s field of endeavor.  And while Mr. Allen seems extremely capable in the marketing arena as evidenced by his development of strong links with NASCAR, the Pro Bull Riders, and Aflac—all of which help the organization’s bottom-line—his anti-wolf rhetoric has alienated him and his organization from many of the very organizations that have helped RMEF—in subtle and profound ways—garner the successes it has over the years.

The environmental and conservation communities are not monolithic and we all have subtly different cultures—which is exactly why we exist independently.  That said it is important that we have continuous and constant dialogs that enable us to come together when the risk is high and we all agree on what needs to be done.  Mr. Allen, because of his short tenure as a conservationist and confrontation modus, has violated and stomped all over this long standing culture of agreeing to disagree and then coming together when needed.

I believe the above is a direct result of his lack of grounding and history.  He was not, for instance, a member of the conservation community in the mid-1990s (like many current conservation and environmental CEOs) when Newt Gingrich made his ascendancy in the House and we all were taking panicked breaths at the attacks and risks before us.  Had he been there he would have likely had a seat at the table organized by Helen Sevier CEO of BASS and eventually called the Natural Resources Summit of America.  He would have seen—like I did as the representative for Defenders of Wildlife—the true value of open and candid dialogs between organizations as diverse as Safari Club International and the Humane Society.  While we certainly differed on some details, these conversations exposed a great many commonalities and opportunities for future collaboration and respectful disagreement.

Certainly there are times when going boldly by one’s lonesome is absolutely the way to go, but doing it in a fashion that burns bridges and builds walls through vitriolic public disagreements is reflective of poor leadership.  What is the risk?  The most tangible illustration that comes to mind is RMEF’s endorsement and then backtracking on the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, H.R. 1581 in 2011.  Simply stated, this was a terrible bill for elk and RMEF’s initial endorsement of the legislation baffled and angered the organization’s supporters and past partners.

Though the organization eventually got praise for listening to their constituency and taking a policy U-turn, the action raised a fundamental question: Is an organization that has to rely on their members and the interested public to keep them from making bad decisions functioning properly?  The simple answer to that is: No.  I have never in my more than 20-year career as a conservation leader had to reverse my position publicly.  My practice is to do my homework—some of which is consulting with my colleagues in other organizations—prior to taking a public position.  Of course these dialogs become less frequent and natural if you have alienated your potential allies in the various camps and no longer have access to those differing points of view that help you refine and allow you to test-drive your own point of view.  

Perhaps more important here are the concepts of programmatic responsibility and resource stewardship.  Organizations should lead and be the best informed and most protective of the resources under their care.  In my mind they do not live up to their obligations on both these fronts unless they are informing their memberships on the best positions rather than putting their constituencies in the awkward position of helping the “experts” be the experts they should already be.

I know Mr. Allen has a vision for the organization and it seems to be working for him, but I wonder if he has ever read the mission statement of his organization which reads “to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat.”  I wonder if he understands that the “other wildlife” includes wolves and other predators.  I wonder too if he is familiar with the work and philosophy of Olaus J. Murie who is celebrated each year by the RMEF through an award named in his honor.  Olaus Murie along with his wife Mardy and his brother Adolf were all hugely supportive of predator restoration and protection.  My strong sense is that they as well as others in the family would be shocked and disgusted by RMEF recent offer of funds to the state of Montana to kill wolves and other predators.  

As I am on a roll here I will also say that folks who refer to Theodore Roosevelt casually often do not understand him or what he stood for.  For one thing Mr. Roosevelt was a very learned man so Mr. Allen’s lack of scholarship regarding the natural world and ecological relationships would probably bother the former president.  Moreover, Teddy was a fair-chase man who reportedly would not shoot a bear tied to a tree.  Therefore, he would likely take a dim view of folks who would call themselves conservationists and sportsmen while at the same time advocating shooting wolves from a plane and gassing wolves in their dens.  And I fully acknowledge here that Teddy hated wolves—but there have been a whole lot of paradigm-shifting developments in regard to predator science since his time.

"Natural balance is a Walt Disney movie," he [Allen] said. "It isn't real."

 

So let’s talk about science.  One of my pet bugaboos is non-scientists righteously calling for sound-science because the prevailing science does not agree with their view of the world.  We see this in the climate change “debate” and we see it in regards to predators.  Natural systems are notoriously complicated and many people have trouble with complicated, multi-faceted systems.  And while it seems perfectly logical that predation should lower game populations and life is linear, it simply is not.  In fact, the more you study natural systems the more complicated they seem to become.  

While Mr. Allen seems a consummate marketer and has nailed messaging that certainly attracts an audience, nowhere in his impressive resume do we see anything that indicates the scientific grounding necessary to sort out the often mysterious and sometimes counter-intuitive world of predator-prey relationships.  People are absolutely able—as he probably has—of stuffing information into their heads, but it is more than that.  Science—unlike marketing or nearly any other discipline—is less about working until you get an answer and more about looking at everything you can to get the answer and then questioning it.   Science begins and ends with curiosity and doubt.  This is not the realm where David Allen apparently lives.

Mr. Allen seems perfectly satisfied with taking a position, finding a study that supports his proposition, and then calling it a day.  A perfect example of that was his recent promotion of a paper that argued that the presence of wolves lowered reproductive hormone levels in female elk.  Mr. Allen is perfectly correct that study claimed to demonstrate that happenstance, but a handful of other studies observed different results as well as suggestions for sampling or classification errors that could have accounted for the discrepancies in the Creel et al. study from 2007 he cited.  But instead of examining the issue more thoroughly, Mr. Allen charged ahead once again and used this “evidence” in a letter to an elected official.

 

The Elk Foundation's mode of operation can be explained in a single word: partnerships. We are proud of our reputation as a voice of reason, authority and integrity, as a facilitator capable of bringing opposing viewpoints to the negotiating table and then mediating creative and beneficial solutions and forging partnerships for the future.” RMEF Website

 

I can only conclude from all of this that Mr. Allen has not embraced all that RMEF has represented over the years, but is setting a decidedly different course for the future.  His stance of maximizing elk everywhere from ecological and economic perspectives seems myopic and is less than respectful of the collective ownership of public lands and the spectrum of desires of the owners—which includes both pro-wolf factions and ranchers who think elk herds are too large.   

When I was in graduate school and we wanted to describe someone who was really, really smart we would say that person had a ten-pound brain.  From an outside perspective the RMEF appears to currently include a whole lot more ten-gallon hats than ten pound brains.   Not that ten-gallon hats are inherently bad, but if the RMEF is going to be a vibrant and respected institution far into the future there must be a fundamental change in leadership and messaging that will attract the more heavy headed and less knuckleheaded among us.  I hope they do a little soul searching because there are a lot of us who would love to see them represent once again the best and not the worst that conservation community has to offer.

Bob Ferris

Executive Director 

Cascadia Wildlands

 

P.S. Please sign the Aflac petition and ask them to stop supporting this type of biological bigotry.  Thank you.

 

Additional Supporting Literature:

With Elk and Wolves Someone is Fibbing Todd Wilkinson 2012

The Truth About Wolves is Hard to Find Christina Nealson 2012

Undetected species losses, food webs, and ecological baselines: a cautionary tale from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, USA Joel Berger 2008

Linking wolves and plants: Aldo Leopold on trophic cascades. William Ripple and Robert Beschta. 2005

 

 

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