Posts Tagged ‘Olaus Murie’


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 ( 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.

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Related Links:

Muries Rebuke Elk Foundation over Anti-Wolf Remarks

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





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
“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.

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."

Press Release: Murie Family Cautions Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Over Anti-Wolf Rhetoric

July 18, 2012
For more information contact:
Bob Ferris (Cascadia Wildlands) – 541.434.1463
Josh Laughlin (Cascadia Wildlands) – 541.844.8182
Murie Family Cautions Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation over Anti-Wolf Rhetoric—America’s first family of natural history asks RMEF to return to science and reason
Glendale CA—The Muries—arguably America’s first family of naturalists—sent an open letter today to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation asking them to either curb their anti-wolf rhetoric or stop using the Murie name in association with their organization.  The Foundation currently uses the Murie name on their website and other materials as well for their periodic granting of the Olaus J. Murie Award honoring the work of elk scientists.
The letter from Donald Murie—Olaus Murie’s son—was the result of a growing dissatisfaction with anti-wolf statements made by David Allen president and CEO of the elk conservation organization.  Mr. Allen is a vocal proponent of aggressive wolf control that he says could include aerial shooting and even gassing wolves in the dens.  
“[Y]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,” said Mr. Murie in his letter to Mr. Allen. “We cannot condone this.”
Mr. Murie was particularly critical of RMEF’s apparent dismissal of the importance of the role of large predators such as wolves both to elk populations and to ecosystem function—his father and uncle providing some early scientific underpinnings in this field of study.  He argued in the letter that the Foundation’s public posture on wolves, “…is in total opposition to the findings of careful independent research by hundreds of scientists. Wolves have always been a necessary part of a functional habitat for elk and other game animals. They have been re-introduced into areas where their absence has resulted in ecological imbalances. Now you are determined to exterminate them once again.”
The Murie family is known primarily through the work of the four senior Muries: brothers Olaus and Adolph and their wives Margaret (Mardy) and Louise.  All were accomplished naturalists and wilderness advocates whose collective and individual efforts resulted in the creation or expansion of national parks and refuges such as Denali National Park, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and additions to Grand Teton National Park; numerous scientific and popular publications on natural history; and a collection of awards from nearly every major conservation organization as well as the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award Medal (Olaus), Presidential Medal of Freedom (Mardy) and the John Burroughs Medal (Adolph).  The last of the four senior Muries—Louise Murie McLeod—passed away recently at the age of 100.

Muries Rebuke Elk Foundation over Anti-Wolf Remarks

Olaus Murie (r) and Aldo Leopold (l) at Wildlife Society Meeting

The Muries—much like the Leopolds—are part of the conservation community’s royalty.  They shined individually and were an awesome force collectively—and they still are.  They have also been on my mind a lot of late.

Poisoning and trapping of so-called predators and killing rodents, and the related insecticide and herbicide programs, 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. – Olaus Murie

They came to mind first as I wrestled with the irony of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation being so anti-wolf and yet honoring Olaus Murie who while clearly the father of modern elk management was also one of the pioneers when it came to predator appreciation and understanding.  For me—a proud owner of a well-thumbed copy of Olaus Murie’s A Field Guide to Animal Tracks—the cognitive dissonance caused by this happenstance was profound and irreconcilable.  

Adolph and Louise Murie

And now they are on my mind because they too are bothered by the above.  And just as the first generation of Muries—Olaus, Mardy, Adolph, and Louise—did in such precious places as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Grand Teton National Park, and Denali National Park, the remaining second and third generations are standing up for the wolf and sound science.  
So what did they do?  Donald Murie—Olaus and Mardy Murie’s son—recently wrote a strong letter (click here to see) to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation asking them to both stick to the science and change the direction of their comments regarding wolves or stop using the Murie name in association with the award and their programing.  This is a pretty straight-forward request driven by a growing frustration with the indefensible, anti-wolf rhetoric coming out of RMEF.  
The letter was sent to all the board members of the RMEF as well as the leaders of the major conservation organizations—many of which honored members of the Murie family with awards including:
The Wildlife Society’s Aldo Leopold Memorial Award Medal (Olaus)
Pugsley Medal (Olaus)
Audubon Medal (Olaus)
Sierra Club John Muir Award (Olaus)
Audubon Medal (Mardy)
Sierra Club John Muir Award (Mardy)
The National Wildlife Federation J.N. Ding Darling Conservationist of the Year Award (Mardy)
Presidential Medal of Freedom (Mardy)
John Burroughs Medal (Adolph)
On some level I suspect that this will be viewed as a harsh condemnation of RMEF as a conservation organization.  For my part, I hope it is viewed both as a community-wide intervention and an invitation.  I hope the elk foundation understands the seriousness of this action and owns up to their 
missteps.  But to move forward and accept the “invitation” element of the action they have to make serious changes in leadership and philosophies.  If they can do it, there are plenty of us who would welcome an opportunity to work with them again in the spirit of cooperation and sound conservation science.  It is really their choice.
Bob Ferris
Executive Director 
Cascadia Wildlands


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