Posts Tagged ‘Gray Wolves’

Aug31

Of Wolves and Huckleberries

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

Aug28

With Huckleberry Wolf Pack in Crosshairs, Conservation Groups Appeal to Gov. Inslee to Require Rules Limiting Killing of Washington’s Endangered Wolves

For Immediate Release, August 28, 2014
 
Contacts: 
Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 779-9613
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, (541) 525-5087
Tim Coleman, Kettle Range Conservation Group, (509) 775-2667
 
With Huckleberry Wolf Pack in Crosshairs, Conservation Groups Appeal to Gov. Inslee to Require Rules Limiting Killing of Washington’s Endangered Wolveshuckleberry_pups
 
OLYMPIA, Wash.— Eight conservation groups filed an appeal with Governor Jay Inslee today to reverse the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s denial of a petition asking for enforceable rules limiting when wolves can be killed in response to livestock depredations. The petition seeks to limit when the Department of Fish and Wildlife can kill wolves and require livestock producers to use nonlethal measures to protect their stock. Rules similar to those requested by the petition are in place in Oregon and are working to encourage ranchers to enact nonlethal measures; there, the number of depredations has decreased dramatically, and the state has not killed wolves in more than three years.  
 
“All we’re asking for are some very reasonable standards on what ranchers need to do to protect their livestock and when the state can step in and kill an endangered species,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Many, many questions about the circumstances that led the Department to secretly move to kill wolves in the Huckleberry pack this past weekend — on top of the disastrous killing of the Wedge pack in 2012 — highlight a clear need for such rules.”
 
In 2012 the Department killed seven wolves in the Wedge pack despite the fact that the rancher had taken little action to protect his stock. A similar situation is now taking place in southern Stevens County with the Huckleberry pack. The pack has been involved in multiple depredations of sheep, but there are many questions about the practices of the rancher in question. In particular, the rancher is grazing 1,800 sheep in highly dissected terrain in close proximity to a known wolf rendezvous site. Reportedly, the sheep have been protected merely by four guard dogs since a sheep herder quit roughly a month ago and was not replaced. Additionally, sheep carcasses have been left in the area, serving as a potential attractant to wolves.  
 
Once depredations were discovered, the Department advised the Commission that the sheep were being moved, a range rider was being deployed and that agency staff were on-site to help deter further depredations, but before these actions were fully implemented, the Department secretly put a helicopter in the air to shoot wolves. To date, one wolf has been killed and the sheep still have not been moved.  
 
“This is exactly the type of situation where, if strict, enforceable rules were in place to implement the state’s wolf plan, the sheep owner’s lax practices and the failure of the Department to follow through would have kept the Huckleberry pack safe from the knee-jerk kill order that has been issued against them,” said Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands.
 
Last Wednesday the Department issued an order authorizing agency staff and the sheep owner to kill any of the Huckleberry pack wolves in the vicinity, instead of using rubber bullets or other hazing tools. It has also come to light that the Department failed to accept offers of assistance from a Washington State University wolf researcher to help get sheep carcasses out, implement more nonlethal measures, and help monitor the situation. It also failed to accept an offer from a conservation group of special predator-deterrence lights used elsewhere in conflict situations. Instead, without notice to the public or even to the stakeholder advisory group the Department consults with to implement the state’s wolf plan, the Department launched a secret aerial gunning campaign over the weekend with the aim of killing up to four of the pack’s wolves. One young wolf, which may have been a pup from this spring’s litter, was killed from the air and after more unsuccessful airtime, the helicopter was grounded but efforts continue by the Department to trap and euthanize up to three more wolves.
 
“When the Commission denied our new petition, one reason they gave for the denial was that wolf-livestock conflicts are complicated,” said John Mellgren, staff attorney with Western Environmental Law Center, “but that’s precisely why clear rules must be adopted. When the Department shoots from the hip, as they have these past two weeks in dealing with the Huckleberry pack situation, the outcome is tragic for the wolves and a public-relations nightmare for the Department.”
 
Conservation groups filed a similar petition in the summer of 2013 but withdrew it based on promises from the Department to negotiate new rules governing lethal methods of wolf management. A year later, with no negotiations having taken place, the Department gave notice to the Commission it was going to introduce its own, far-less-protective lethal wolf-control rule, leading the groups to refile their petition.
 
“The Department’s actions have been extremely controversial and we know that Gov. Inslee’s office has received thousands of emails and phone calls just this week since the helicopter sniper took to the skies,” said Tim Coleman, executive director of the Kettle Range Conservation Group. “So we think he is fully aware of how much Washington residents care about the state’s endangered wolves and how badly it is needed for the Commission to adopt legally enforceable rules to prevent this from ever happening again.”
 
In 2011 the Commission formally adopted the state’s wolf plan, which was crafted in a five-year process with input from a 17-member stakeholder group, more than 65,000 written comments from the public, and a peer review by 43 scientists and wolf managers. However, Commission and Department officials have publicly stated that they view the plan as merely advisory. Washington’s wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. Since the early 2000s, the animals have started to make a comeback by dispersing into Washington from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia. But wolf recovery is still in its infancy. According to the Department’s annual wolf report, Washington’s wolf population grew by only one wolf, from a population of 51 wolves to 52 wolves from the end of 2012 to the end of 2013. 
 
The appeal to Gov. Inslee was filed by groups representing tens of thousands of Washington residents, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Environmental Law Center, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, The Lands Council, Wildlands Network, Kettle Range Conservation Group and the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club.  
Upon receipt of the appeal, the governor’s office has 45 days to respond with a final decision.
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Aug07

Wanda’s New Wolf Pack Survived the Fire But All Wolves Still Need Your Help

 

We were so pleased this morning to receive confirmation that OR-7, Wanda and the three pups are surviving the fires in southern Oregon.  We would breathe a huge sigh of relief, but the skies of Oregon are still filled with a little bit ofWolf Pup smoke.
 
This situation highlights the fact that wolves live in a dangerous world and face many natural challenges as well as man-made ones too.  Cascadia Wildlands works on the larger natural challenges through our forestry efforts by protecting the very wildlife corridors that enabled Journey and Wanda to get together.  
 
We also work on the man-made challenges too that are protecting these wolves and others in Oregon, California and Washington.  Please think about giving a special gift to our wolf work in honor of Journey, Wanda and the pups—it is such good news, but we have so much more work to do.
 
Thank you,
bob's signature
 
 
 
Bob Ferris
 
 

Aug01

State Fish and Wildlife Commission Denies Petition to Require Nonlethal Steps to Manage Washington Wolves

For Immediate Release, August 1, 2014
 
Contacts: 
 
Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 779-9613
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746
Tim Coleman, Kettle Range Conservation Group, (509) 775-2667
Rebecca Wolfe, Washington Chapter of Sierra Club, (425) 750-4091
 
State Fish and Wildlife Commission Denies Petition to Require Nonlethal Steps to Manage Washington Wolves
Eight Petitioning Groups Will Appeal to Governor
 
2019372475
OLYMPIA, Wash.— The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today denied a petition filed by eight conservation groups seeking to limit when wolves can be killed in response to livestock depredations, and to require livestock producers to exhaust nonlethal measures to prevent depredations before lethal action can be taken. The petition was filed to prevent lethal actions such as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2012 decision to kill seven wolves in the Wedge Pack despite the fact that the livestock producer who had lost livestock had taken little action to protect his stock. Petitioners plan to appeal the commission’s decision to the governor.
 
“Washington needs to make legally enforceable commitments to ensure the state’s vulnerable, fledgling wolf population is treated like the endangered species that it is,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The state has made some headway, but without clear rules to prevent the department from pulling the trigger too quickly, Washington’s wolves will be at great risk.”
 
Conservation groups filed a similar petition in the summer of 2013 but withdrew it based on promises from the department to negotiate new rules governing lethal methods of wolf management. A year later, with no negotiations having taken place, the department gave notice to the commission it was going to introduce its own, far-less-protective lethal wolf-control rule, leading the groups to refile their petition.
 
“The conservation community has asked the department to engage an outside, unbiased, professional mediator so that stakeholders can negotiate rules language to address wolf-livestock conflict prevention and produce standards for the department to adhere to before resorting to lethal control of wolves,” said Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “Until that mediated negotiation has taken place, we will continue to send a message to the state that Washington residents want their wolves protected.”
 
In 2011 the Commission formally adopted a state wolf plan, which was crafted in a five-year process with input from a 17-member stakeholder group, more than 65,000 written comments from the public, and a peer review by 43 scientists and wolf managers. However, commission and department officials have publicly stated that they view the plan as merely advisory. Its lack of legal enforceability resulted in the department’s mishandling of the Wedge pack in 2012 and in the adoption of rules by the commission in 2013 that allow wolves to be killed under circumstances the wolf plan does not permit.
 
“It’s time to put a stake in the ground and stop the state’s backsliding on the wolf plan,” said Tim Coleman, executive director for The Kettle Range Conservation Group. “We can all see what happens when nonlethal conflict prevention methods are used — they work.” 
 
Washington’s wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. Since the early 2000s, the animals have started to make a comeback by dispersing into Washington from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia. But wolf recovery is still in its infancy.  According to the department’s annual wolf report, Washington’s wolf population grew by only one wolf, from a population of 51 wolves to 52 wolves from the end of 2012 to the end of 2013. In the past year, three wolves were killed by mountain lions, one wolf was illegally poached, and another was killed by a deer hunter. In the face of these threats, it is essential that more wolves are not lost from the state’s tiny wolf population because of state-sanctioned lethal control actions that ignore the proven, nonlethal methods of conflict prevention.  
 
“Wolf-livestock conflicts are so rare and, what’s more — they are preventable,” said Rebecca Wolfe, Wolf Advisory Group member for the Washington Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Let’s get some rules in place to reflect that reality and also to recognize that lethal control of an endangered species should be an absolutely last resort.”
 
The petition to ensure protections for wolves was filed by groups representing tens of thousands of Washington residents, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Environmental Law Center, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, The Lands Council, Wildlands Network, Kettle Range Conservation Group and the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club.
 
Petitioners have 30 days from receipt of an official commission document denying the petition to file their appeal with Governor Inslee. Upon receipt of the appeal, the governor’s office has 45 days to respond with a final decision.
 
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Jun24

The Hopes in a Howl and Science

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

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

Jun04

Breaking News: A very Happy Father’s Day Present for OR-7

By Bob FerrisOR7+pups (1)

BREAKING NEWS: The California Fish and Game Commission just voted 3-1 to protect wolves under the California Endangered Species Act!  Thanks to all who answered the call OR7_odfwto protect wolves and the integrity of the California Endangered Species Act.  They overturned the recommendation of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  We are so grateful to the Commission and to you and everyone else who helped make this happen! Happy early Father's Day present for OR-7 and his clan (and a late Mother's Day gift for Wanda too.)
 
 
 

May20

California Needs to Get Off the Dime on Wolves

By Bob FerrisOR7_odfw
 
Now that we have had time to get our elation at least a little under control, there are a lot of implications and questions that should come out of this situation with OR-7, Wanda (our name for the wandering wolf that has likely become OR-7’s mate) and the potential pups in the southern Cascades of Oregon.  We should first take some time to be grateful for this happenstance but also to think about what it means. 
 
 
What questions? For instance, we often characterize OR-7 as a wanderer, but what about Wanda?  Where did she come from? The likely options are Idaho, northeastern Oregon and the Northern Cascades—either from the Rockies or the coastal genetic units.  Any of these options are good as they show that OR-7 is not an anomaly and that our work to protect these important corridors yields results.  
 
As mentioned in the above CBC piece, her origins could be determined by genetic markers found in her scat.  I have to admit that part of me hopes that she came to the southern Cascades from some direct pathway originating in British Columbia or was the offspring of wolves that had migrated down from BC.  It would be nice to see a demonstration of how this mixing zone we have been speculating about works or does not work.  
 
Also given what we are learning about the importance of maintaining social structure in packs in reducing human/wolf conflicts, we should be glad that this pack—if it is to be—will be led by two wolves that have histories of staying out of trouble with livestock.  Perhaps also we can learn lessons from Oregon’s good example and Idaho’s bad one in terms of proactive livestock measures and enlightened wolf management leading to positive results versus a war on wolves leading to bad results for wolves and ranchers.  
 
Potential OR-7 mateThe simple presence of this squatting, narrow-nosed wolf should radically change agency thinking in California. The California Fish and Wildlife Department and the California Fish and Game Commission’s list or not-to-list fence-sitting has to end because there is a huge difference between the novelty that was the lone wolf Journey (OR-7) and the reality that we might have a pack whose alpha male claims dual state residency in Oregon and California.  
Oregon Wolf Use Map
Hopefully the linear, north-south configuration of OR-7s well documented home range, which likely holds clues for future use as well as future dispersal of any young wolves resulting from this pairing or others will be obvious to decision-makers in California.  If it is not I can almost picture a future cartoon with images of Journey and Wanda’s offspring flipping coins in a few years with Oregon on one side and California on the other.  Please join us in urging that California officials get off the dime (i.e., stop dancing around) and list this species under the California Endangered Species Act.  Even if you do not live in California, please speak up now!  
 
 
 

 

May12

Press Statement on Famous Wolf OR-7 Likely Finding a Mate and Fathering Pups in Southern Oregon

For immediate release
May 12, 2014
Contact: Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands, 541.844.8182
 
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, OR-7, the famous male wolf that traveled from the Imnaha pack in northeast Oregon all the way to northern California nearly three years ago, has likely found a mate in southwest Oregon and could be fathering pups. This speculation is based on GPS collar data from OR-7 and remote camera images of a black-colored female and OR-7 in the same area. The camera is located in a remote area of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest east of Ashland.
 
If ultimately confirmed, this would be the first wolf pack in Oregon’s Cascades since they were systematically exterminated from theOR7_odfw state over 60 years ago. Today, Oregon is home to nine confirmed wolf packs and at least 64 wolves.
 
The following are press statements from Josh Laughlin, Campaign Director with Cascadia Wildlands:
 
“The news of OR-7 likely finding a mate and fathering pups is an incredible new chapter for wolf recovery in Oregon. If confirmed, this further sets in motion wolf recovery across the Oregon Cascades and into northern California.”
 
“The wildlife recovery success story for the gray wolf in the Pacific Northwest continues with this news. The information we have suggests that OR-7 has likely found a mate and fathered pups. This is incredible for the wildlands and communities of southwest Oregon, which have been devoid of wolf packs for too long.”
 
High-resolution photos of the two wolves can be found here. More background on gray wolf recovery in Cascadia can be found here.

 

 

May12

OR-07 Likely Finds Mate and Has Probable Pups?

By Bob FerrisOR-7
 
We just got news from Russ Morgan at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife that Wolf OR-7 (pictured at right), or Journey, has likely found a mate (below left) this season and has probable pups.  He had been looking for love in all the wrong places but now he seems to have found his alpha—a beautiful black-colored female wolf.  Way to go OR-07! Congratulations from all of us at Cascadia Wildlands! 
 
More news soon.
 
Potential OR-7 mate
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Apr09

Pop Go the Weasel Words

By Bob FerrisPine marten
 
When my wife and I lived in Santa Barbara our house was up a brushy canyon and we had trouble getting fire insurance.  The real estate agent joked about an old saw in the area that goes something like this: It is not “if” your house is going to burn in Santa Barbara but “when.”  
 
This saying is common in the area and our house—after we sold it and left Santa Barbara—did in fact burn to the ground during a canyon fire.  Not only that, but it would have burned a second time had it been rebuilt.  So certainly there was some truth in the saying, but is it too strong considering that some houses do not burn in Santa Barbara?  Perhaps a more cautionary statement with caveats is in order including the use of so-called weasel words?
 
“The key is that suction dredging represents a chronic unnatural disturbance of natural habitats that are already likely to be stressed by other factors and can therefore have a negative impact on fishes that use the reach being dredged.” Dr. Peter B. Moyle 
 
Every scientist who has ever written a recommendation or a report is familiar with the term “weasel words.”  Those are the words that we have been trained to use.  We use them because we have been aggressively taught the necessity to be “right” much more often than we are “wrong.” In this context, we also are all painfully aware that when we test something and are 95% sure that it works that way, 5% of the time it will not.  Pop go the weasel words and we preload our statements with this uncertainty.  
 
“Timber harvesting could possibly cause what is likely an inevitable event to occur sooner.” Noel Wolff, a hydrologist who worked for Washington State writing about the timber harvest above the deadly landslide on the Snohomish River in Washington in the Seattle Times
 

Oso Slide

But those who interpret “may” as “won’t” or “could” as “will not,” do so at great peril (see AP photo of the Oso, Washington mudslide at left).  This becomes even more problematic when we deal with complex, multi-variant natural systems where uncertainty and confusion are accounted for with even more cautious language and phrasing.
 
Interestingly, the level of complexity and the level of consequence often track one another.  Unfortunately, the financial rewards of inaction also track both these measures too.  So the fiscal benefits to the fossil-fuel industry, timber companies, livestock interests and suction dredgers for actively clouding the science on climate change, geological stability, predator-prey relationships and disturbing rivers are incentivized.  Essentially the complexity provides both opportunities and shelter for those wanting to invest profitably in misinformation.  
 
Original Language: "Many scientific observations indicate that the Earth is undergoing a period of relatively rapid change."
 
Modified Language: "Many scientific observations point to the conclusion that the Earth may be undergoing a period of relatively rapid change."
 
Weasel words come from this caution, but they are also frequently injected into documents for political and economic reasons too (see language changes above from 2002 report on climate change).  Climate change policy documents in this country are rife with statements that are altered not by the scientists themselves but by those who edit or provide comments in order to dampen the call for action.  
 
Likewise, many of these documents and the cautions of scientists are removed via the consensus process that is sometimes insisted on by special interests groups.  A good example of this is to compare habitat comments and recommendations relating to forestry and grazing practices in a document prepared by black-tail deer biologists and one completed under a consensus process that included timber and livestock interests in Oregon.   
 
The “take home” messages here are to listen carefully to what scientists say and why.  The insurance industry has done this well and as a consequence was one of the first industries to recognize the perils of climate change.  Some sportsmen groups and hunters are starting to understand that prey species are more often limited by habitat and land management regimes than by predators.  And legislators in Maine recently listened to the message delivered by scientists and will no longer allow suction dredging in Class AA rivers occupied by important salmon and trout species.  Keeping it wild means paying attention to the science–weasel words and all–and letting that point both to peril and also opportunities to make the world a little wilder.
 
 

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