Posts Tagged ‘Oregon’
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact: Nick Cady: 541-434-1463; firstname.lastname@example.org
(September 8, 2014) – Cascadia Wildlands and a coalition of conservation groups are urging Gov. John Kitzhaber and the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to reject the “Siskiyou Plus” proposal to expand springtime black bear hunting in southwest Oregon, during a time in which mother bears are nursing dependent cubs. The coalition of local and national conservation groups sent letters in advance of the commission vote.
Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands said: “Expanding the spring bear hunt and putting mother bears with young cubs at risk is simply nonsensical. Orphaning more bear cubs in the state will lead to higher levels of human/bear conflict and result in an increased cost to taxpayers.”
In Oregon, it is unlawful to kill cubs less than one-year-old or mother bears with cubs less than one-year-old. However, by increasing the number of tags offered during the spring nursing season, the likelihood of accidentally taking mother black bears is also increased. Since cubs are dependent on their mothers for survival for 16 to 17 months, orphaned cubs will likely die from starvation, exposure to the elements or predation.
Scott Beckstead, Oregon senior state director for The Humane Society of the United States, said: “If this dangerous proposal passes, the chances of orphaning bear cubs in Oregon will greatly increase. Mother bears regularly forage at great distances from their cubs, which may cause hunters to mistakenly believe they’ve shot a lone female, dooming the cubs.”
The Siskiyou Plus bear hunt seeks to open up a new geographic area in southwestern Oregon to spring bear hunting, and will offer more than 200 additional bear-hunting tags.
Sally Mackler, Oregon carnivore representative for Predator Defense, said: “It is disingenuous to hold spring bear hunts and at the same time prohibit killing cubs less than a year old. Spring bear hunts inevitably result in the killing of mother bears and their cubs being subjected to prolonged and painful deaths.”
Oregon voters have twice favored providing strong protection for bears in statewide ballot contests. Liberalizing spring bear hunting would be at odds with voter sentiment in the state.
Female wolf is Northwest descendant: Trail cameras first spotted OR-7’s black female companion in May (an Excerpt)
By Lacey Jarrell
Klamath Falls Herald and News
September 6, 2014
According to a press release, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has received the results of scat samples sent to the University of Idaho for analysis. The samples, collected in Southwest Oregon in May and July, identified OR-7’s mate and two of the pair’s pups as wolves.
Cascadia Wildlands Executive Director Bob Ferris dubbed OR-7’s female companion “Wandering Wanda,” or just Wanda for short, in a June blog post for his organization.
“We got tired of calling her the uncollared wolf that came from nowhere,” Ferris said. “Wanda probably wandered as far as OR-7 and her story is probably just as remarkable as his.”
Ferris said although Wanda is just a nickname, he believes it’s a reasonable solution to talking about a well-known animal that doesn’t have anything to call it by. ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said biologists don’t name wolves; however, as a function of being collared, wolves are given an identification, such as OR-7’s. Dennehy said “OR” represents the state — Oregon — and “7” indicates he was the seventh wolf collared in Oregon.
By Bob Ferris
Francis Eatherington and I walked some timber sales yesterday near Roseburg (these are her pictures). It was good for us to spend time together because we do not often get to do that—particularly where we get to walk in the trees and talk in that way that people do when walking in the woods.
In the grand scheme of things neither of the sales was particularly horrendous or anything that made us happy in any way. Did we like them? No. Could they have been better conceptualized? Yes. Were we going to make our feelings known? Yes. Would we sue? Probably not.
On one site we measured two huge trees (one Douglas Fir and one Incense Cedar) in the 5.5 to 6 foot in diameter range (DBH). Real beauties whose post-harvest future seemed bleak. We took pictures and rubbed our hands with dirt when we encountered the ubiquitous pitch on the surfaces we grabbed as we slipped down the slope and looked for big trees.
I had walked timber sales before and seen clearcuts along with other massively destructive forestry acts, but the whole exercise helped me understand how my world differs from Francis’ work in that I work to protect and restore and she has a smoking boot applied as a brake on a runaway stage coach. My world is largely depressing but her world seemed potentially debilitating. (Clearly forests can make me reflective.)
I also had a thought while looking up the hill towards these timber sales. My gaze drifted across the barren expanse of a clearcut on private lands replanted with something approaching 600 seedlings per acre and an emerging flora that only seems to make sense to an herbicide enabled 2X4 but not to anything that would want to live on those slopes. My thought had to do with land ownership.
I have owned large tracts of land (and even harvested timber on those lands) and many members of my family have held that same responsibility. And there is invariably a time when you hold your cup of coffee, day-end cocktail or partner and stare out across your acreage. The words running around in your head differ but generally they are about some kind of pride about the fact that you own the land and are managing it well and responsibly.
The pride-fullness swells most when you know that you are managing the land so that it supports your needs and values as well as not being the aesthetic and ecological disaster that looms in the darkest recesses of your human and wild neighbors’ nightmares. If your end result does not meet or exceed these fairly modest criteria—whether you are an individual or corporation—you really ought to ask yourself why not? Now you can rationalize your actions by claiming that it is cheaper, the trees grow straighter or it will all grow back, but you cannot get around the fact that had you done it responsibly that we would not be wrestling now over owls, murrelets, and salmon.
It may seem like an overly simplified notion and far too obvious, but these species did not just voluntarily jump off a cliff. They have been pushed and pushed hard over that precipice. Perhaps as we rush headlong into these must-pass bills to accelerate this "speeding stage coach," we should stop to look at this image of a clearcut and ask ourselves collectively if this fills us with pride and demonstrates our responsible stewardship of lands. Did I mention that walks in the woods make me reflective?
By Bob Ferris
In conservation there are always turning points. For instance, I remember working on a swan project in the 1990s that involved ultra-light aircraft and imprinting young Trumpeters to teach them a migration route. My boss at the time, Rodger Schlickeisen (below left at left), turned to me the morning of the first leg of the trial migration and said: Do you think this is going to work?
In the time leading up to that point I had not given failure much thought, but I did then. We had invested more than two hundred thousand dollars in the project and I was getting more and more nervous as the ultra-light cruised back and forth and none of the swans rose to follow. All our months of efforts selling the Atlantic Flyway Council on the idea, getting the permits, and training the swans came down to this one moment in time.
And then Yo-Yo the swan (at right above) took flight and the others followed. I was ecstatic. The project had pivoted on the wing beats of a young and improbably named swan who simply did what swans had done for hundreds of thousands of years—took off after the “leading parent” and started its first long flight.
My wife and I were getting ready to return from a family trip to California, when I got the news that Wanda and Journey had at least three pups rather than the two that we had originally thought (see one of the pups below right and more photos on our facebook page). This welcome news put the frosting on an already delicious cake and reminded me of that feeling so many years ago sitting by that frosty field when Yo-Yo took off.
We hit Dunsmuir, California about 10PM and for some reason we just started to howl. Perhaps it was the glow off Mount Shasta or the acknowledgement of what was happening wolf-wise to the north of us.
Or maybe it was just the joy of turning this important corner in western wolf conservation. We were hoarse but happy when we reached Oregon and we came within legitimate howling range of Journey, Wanda and crew, but I am not sure that mattered to us in the least.
By Francis Eatherington
During the week of June 16, representatives of Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, and KS Wild traveled to Washington DC to discuss two bills, one from Senator Wyden and one from Representative DeFazio. Both mandate an increase of logging on western Oregon BLM lands.
We had over 21 meetings with agency staff, senators and representatives. We pointed out that if laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are weakened in Oregon (as both the Wyden and DeFazio bills propose) it sets a precedent nation-wide.
Both bills claim western Oregon BLM districts are in litigation “gridlock” because of environmental troublemakers. It’s not true. There is no gridlock. In December 2013 the BLM released information going back 6 years showing the BLM has been meeting its timber targets when averaged over all western Oregon districts. For instance, in 2012, the timber target for the 6 BLM districts with O&C land was 203 mmbf (million board feet). The exceeded that by offering 205.4 mmbf of mostly non-controversial, non-litigated timber sales. It is hyperbole to call this “gridlock.” Instead, the problem is that the BLM Districts with dryer forests (Medford and Roseburg) haven’t been able to meet their targets, which were set too high. But that is made up by the BLM districts with wetter forests (Coos Bay, Salem and Eugene) that have exceeded their target volume.
The Oregon congressional delegation is being pressured by counties who have such low tax revenue (and low tax rates) that they want to return to the days when they reaped in a huge share of BLM logging revenue.
We pointed out that reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools legislation would solve that problem on the federal level, while we recognized that state and county governments need to address the funding crises at local levels. For instance, the large percentage of private land in Oregon owned by the timber industry has a far lower tax rate than rural families pay. And if a timber corporation owns more than 5,000 acres, they pay even less taxes. Added to those tax gifts is the fact that industry has no fees on the large amount of raw-log exports from Oregon, unlike the payments required from industry in California and Washington State on raw-log exports.
On our last day in DC we discussed with legislators our concerns over exporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Veresen, a Canadian corporation, wants to use southern Oregon to export fracked gas to Asia. Veresen claims that if they can’t export, they will have to stop fracking. They want to take property from over 300 Oregonians for a pipeline to Coos Bay to feed a proposed LNG terminal in a tsunami and earthquake subduction zone.
While the staff of Senator Wyden seemed concerned when they met with us, they could offer no explanation to Senator Wyden’s statements that he “applauds” this project. They will get back to us on if he meant he applauds condemning his constituents lands, or he just applauds the release of huge amounts of methane in fracking, as methane is 100 times more polluting than coal when released unburned into the atmosphere. I’ll be sure to let you when they get back to us.
“We heard them,” she said.
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.
And 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 to 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.
By Bob Ferris
Last weekend I stood on the rim of Crater Lake with my wife. We were staring at the spectacular, Ty-D-Bol-colored water and contemplating strolling down the 700-foot drop to the shore and then back along the mile-long trail. In walks like this there is always stunning beauty, but there is also a lot of looking forward to how much farther there is to go and looking back to appreciate how far you have come.
In a little more than a weeks’ time all the staff at Cascadia Wildlands will be going through a similar process at a staff gathering. I would call this a retreat, but it is anything but a retreat. For us there is definitely a lot of breath taking while we look at the growing mountain of issues we have yet to climb. There is also profound appreciation for the distances we have covered and the elevation we have gained on so many important fronts.
With each victory—our big steps up the slope—we seem to gain reputation. But success is its own curse as more look to us on an increasing number of issues in a broader geographic area. We welcome this and strive to be worthy of the trust and deserving of the necessary support.
During our time together, we will look at our forest, critter, water and carbon work. We will, for instance, put our minds towards figuring out how a small non-profit can go toe-to-toe with well-funded timber interests intent on clearcutting the three fractured off parts of the former Elliott State Forest they paid pennies on the dollar for. They hope that their arrogance and wealth will prove too steep a slope for us to scurry up.
We will also talk wolves and maybe howl once or twice. Journey, Wanda and the pups need to be the start of something rather than the ending point. The more we learn, the more we know that we must fulfill the promising idea of western wolf recovery offered decades and decades ago. And while we cannot match other larger groups with stuffed wolves or glossy campaign materials (our highly desired wolf ears are handmade by staff–at left), we certainly match those groups in terms of organizational impact, experience and expertise.
Our expaned work on carnivores will be a topic. Since our adoption of Big Wildlife last fadll, we have increased our efforts on other predators like coyotes, bears, cougars and bobcats. A lot of this effort is directed at state wildlife commissions and agencies and getting them to take their roles as stewards of these species seriously and with sound science rather than looking at them as pests or not considering them at all. But it is also about strategies to get federal agencies, mainly the USDA's Wildlife Services, out of the predator control business.
Salmon and water too will be covered too. The suction dredge influx spilling out of California and Oregon and heading towards Washington needs to be met with an appropriate response and as we’ve been there before in Oregon with our successful legislation, we best get after it in these salmon and steelhead waters too.
Then there is carbon. Nearly all we stand to recover and save is made vulnerable by schemes to use or export fossil fuels. We butted heads with big coal and are making progress there but LNG, tar sands and shale oil are waiting none too patiently in the wings. We cannot allow the world to fry and dry or the oceans to become so acidic that they consume our aquatic life support systems. The situation with salmon in California’s dust-filled waterways and the dissolving sea stars of coastal Washington are alarm bells calling for our action. We have to figure it out.
Alaska, big, bold and vulnerable is there as well. Defending the Tongass and Cooper River with our allies and getting people far from the majesty of these places engaged. Alaska’s wild landscapes cannot be out of sight out of mind and be expected to survive in anything but coffee-table books. Because we can assure you that energy, timber and mining interests certainly have this state’s resources in their sights. And once it is gone it is gone and we forever lose a shining example of what wild truly is. If we lose what we aspire to in terms of wildness, how can we show future generations what we mean by something that is truly wild?
And then there is you. How do we add all this above to our plates and still be the folks you love to visit and occasionally be “wild” with? How do we engage our supporters in ways that short circuits Facebook’s non-profit punishing algorithm and get our issues in the newsfeeds of those who support wildness and need to know about our work? What sorts of events do our members want and need and where? And how do barely more than a handful of staff work most effectively with volunteer activists and continue to have this level of impact (and more) across four states?
We suspect that we will come up with some of the above answers during our two days together, but we also hope that some of the answers come from our members and supporters who truly and totally get engaged. Towards those ends Carolyn and Kaley will be sending out more interactive materials in our e-news and other outlets (beyond Kaley’s riddles and jokes) to hear more from our public.
But you do not have to wait until then; ideas and other help are always welcome from our friends and allies. Do you have an idea for an event? Would your company like us to do a brown bag lunch presentation? Do you want to sponsor a house party or program briefing? Are you a member of a band that could play at Pints Gone Wild? All of these are ways to help as are inviting your friends to become fans on facebook or subscribe to our action and event filled e-newsletter.
If you are reading this you are already a part of Cascadia Wildlands and we are grateful for that. So while we are looking forward and back as well as thinking of you, this might also be a good time for you to think about what you can and are willing to do on all of these important issues (or others). Many of the issues that we work on are critical, serious and often heart-wrenching, but acting on these fronts and being generous to the natural systems and critters that support and sustain us is always a joyous act. Get engaged.
By Rance Shaw
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Commission has proposed an additional bear hunt in the Southwest Region. The “Siskiyou Plus Bear Hunt” would make available 250 black bear tags in addition to the 4,400 normally issued for this region during the spring hunting season, which runs from April 1 – May 31.
According to ODFW’s 2012 Black Bear Management Plan, the Southwest Region of Oregon contains much of the state’s “good habitat” for black bears, and the area has the highest density of black bears. Oregon’s black bear population is estimated to be 25,000 – 30,000. The population may be steady or even increasing.
Spring bear hunts already pose a great threat to bears when they are most vulnerable. At this time, bears are emerging from winter hibernation. Black bears do not emerge from their dens at all during hibernation—not even for food and water. After this long period of inactivity, the bears remain lethargic for a couple weeks while they replenish nutrients.
Hunters may not kill sows with cubs less than one year old or cubs less than one year old. However, the proposed “Siskiyou Plus Bear Hunt” would certainly increase the likelihood of accidental takings of those sows and cubs. “Objective 1” of ODFW’s 2012 Black Bear Management Plan is to “[m]aintain healthy and optimum bear populations.” If that is truly ODFW’s first objective, why would they propose a plan to increase the number of hunters in the Southwest Region at a time of year when mothers and cubs are already greatly imperiled?
Black bears cubs remain with their mothers until they are 17 months old. Cubs over one year of age may survive if orphaned, but they will be extremely susceptible to death from starvation or exposure to the elements.
If orphaned cubs are found, ODFW handles them in one of six ways. Euthanasia and zoo placement are among those options, as well as simply leaving the cubs where they are found. However, none of the six options are satisfactory substitutes for the care that a mother bear provides for a young cub. For ethical reasons, no additional mothers and cubs should be subjected to possible orphaning for the sake of recreational hunting.
Please submit the letter to Governor Kitzhaber and ODFW Commissioners we have prepared (or personalize it) asking them not to allow the “Siskiyou Plus Bear Hunt.”
Over the last several years through numerous blog posts and comments Cascadia Wildlands has been forwarding two important notions. The first is that state wildlife commissions (and therefore agencies) in the West are too beholding to resource-oriented industries such as ranching, timber, mining and energy interests at the expense of hunters, anglers and our ever-dwindling wildlife legacy (1,2).
And, at the same time, western wildlife commissions are too accepting of the ideas forwarded by some extreme hunting groups that increasingly reflect the views of these same resource-dependent industries such as increasing clearcuts, aggressive predator control, protection of public lands grazing and more road creation for access rather than hitting the conservation sweet spots of habitat restoration, wilderness preservation, road retirement and water quality improvement (1,2). In essence, both the commissions and these more trophy hunting-oriented groups have been quietly coopted by the very elements that do damage to the natural resources needed by all wildlife and fish.
The most recent and troubling example involves the issue of hoof rot in Washington State’s Roosevelt elk herds. No one knows for sure at this point what is causing the hoof rot in southwestern Washington, but there are a lot of candidates both of a direct and indirect nature. One hypothesis that was put forth recently is that there is some link between combinations of factors that could include herbicide use by the forest products industry and a bacterial infection known as leptospirosis. Leptospirosis often causes severe muscle pain in mammals which might explain the limping observed in these elk as well as the lack of hoof wear on the sore legs. Leptospirosis has been present in Washington for decades.
Caution the below video contains images that may be disturbing to some:
As a wildlife biologist who frequently looks at complex interactions, I can appreciate a scenario that includes multiple causes such as massive habitat changes and herbicide use that put elk in a vulnerable condition so they present the variety of symptoms we are observing with this hoof rot phenomenon. But the idea of this being driven by leptospirosis or via an herbicide link—either through decreased habitat quality or consumption effects—has been met with apparent resistance in spite of efforts by a retired public health researcher and an expert on leptospirosis detection, Dr. Boone Mora, and hunter Jon Gosch who has written two well-researched blog posts on the topic (1,2). In addition, farrier Krystal Davies has also made a rather cogent argument for this being laminitis associated with or driven by herbicides.
The above is a screenshot from the WDFW website. Please note the mentions of NCASI and the University of Alberta as sources. Click here to view U of A study's funding sources.
It is amazing given the volume of public commentary on habitat, herbicides and alternative diseases that the WDFW Hoof Disease power point presentation from October 2013 focused on identifying symptoms and wildly invasive cures rather than dealing with what the root causes might be such as habitat degradation and herbicide use which seem buried deep in the presentation—almost as afterthoughts. You almost get the impression when you view this slide show that the elk are at fault and should bear the brunt of the solution. Why are the root causes being ignored in favor of a narrow band of issues that are more likely symptoms? That is a great question or set of questions.
"The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement is an independent, non-profit research institute that focuses on environmental topics of interest to the forest products industry. Membership is open to forest products companies in the U.S., Canada, and beyond." Mission statement of NCASI from website.
Part of the answer to the above comes in the form of an obscure but powerful group called the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement or NCASI. Formerly known as the National Council of the Paper Industry for Air and Stream Improvement, this is the research arm of the timber industry and often their scientific mouthpiece. NCASI seems to enjoy preferred access to Washington's wildlife agency and used as a resource (see FAQ quote above) which is troubling given that the timber industry has a long history of viewing deer and elk as unwelcome pests (1,2,3) and because of NCASI's industry biased spinning of scientific findings, regulations and other phenomena ( 1,2,3,4).
"During that outing, Dr. Vickie Tatum, a herbicide specialist for the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, told the hoof disease group that herbicides target specific actions in plants that don’t occur in animals. Dr. John Cook, an elk researcher who also works for the NCASI, pointed out that herbicides are used in Oregon and the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon and there’s no hoof disease there." In The Daily News May 22, 2014
Of particular relevance here, NCASI has also been very active in telling the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) that herbicides are not the problem. This is probably based in part on a report by NCASI written by Dr. Tatum, NCASI researcher Larry L. Irwin Ph.D. and others with assistance from Dr. Cook. Unfortunately, WDFW seems to be listening to the pro-herbicide rhetoric and they are not the only ones.
“Larry brings decades of on-the-ground work to the table,” said David Allen, RMEF President and CEO. “His studies on elk, other wildlife, and habitat further strengthen RMEF’s resolve to acquire more science-based research and knowledge.” David Allen quoted in NCASI press release April 15, 2013.
Some who have been paying attention might ask: But where is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in all of this? Shouldn’t they and their members be outraged that the timber industry is compromising elk habitat with herbicides and forest management practices? Aren’t they the ones who should stand up for the elk, elk habitat and support Dr. Mora and Mr. Gosch in their efforts to get answers? Logical questions and some of the answer might come when you look at RMEF board of directors page and right in the middle, wearing a dark brown cowboy hat, a bolo tie and a smile sits the above mentioned Larry Irwin. And the connection between RMEF, NCASI and Dr. Irwin is a strong one as RMEF has provided significant, long-term funding for a number of projects overseen by NCASI, Dr. Irwin and others in the timber industry (1,2,3)
"Improving large mammal browse was a primary focus of the first decade of research on forest herbicides (pers. comm., M. Newton, Emeritus Professor, Department of Forest Science, Oregon State University) and remains an important consideration today." in NCASI pp. 31.
As a former ungulate biologist I was particularly concerned with the statements made in NCASI's herbicide paper in the wildlife section on pages 29-31. Reading these pages in the absence of background one would think that the timber industry’s goal was increasing and improving forage for deer and elk and that these ungulates were only minimally impacted because the woody vegetation killed was replaced by grasses.
“Conversely, herbicidal control of hardwood brush for the establishment of conifer plantations may remove valuable wildlife browse species and habitat.” In Review of the Ecological Effects of Herbicide Usage in Forestry by J.P. Kimmins 1975
“Model results suggested that the potential for long-term changes in vegetation composition and resultant ungulate forage availability were most pronounced during winter.” in NCASI pp. 29-31.
The well recognized fly–even by NCASI–in this ointment is winter. Grasses are great in the spring and summer but as they mature and summer transitions into fall these plants take their protein and ship it below ground to be stored for next year. In short, if you have killed off the woody vegetation and are left with nutritionally useless grasses what do the elk eat in winter when stress and caloric needs are high–particularly in females carrying young?
I was also concerned with the coverage in this section about the toxic impact of the herbicides on wildlife. Certainly this is the timber industry’s party line, but the public has compelling reasons to be dubious about the rigor of these findings as they apply to wildlife and human health too. These “benign” herbicides are turning out to be more problematic than originally thought. Adding to this general atmosphere of distrust are stories like the one unfolding at Triangle Lake in Oregon where citizens rightfully want to know what the timber and herbicide industries have put in their waters and ultimately their bodies.
"The group also heard a presentation about herbicides by Anne Fairbrother, a veterinarian and principal scientist with the Exponent research company in Seattle.
Herbicides have “no known mode of action in mammals,” Fairbrother said. "They’re practically nontoxic to mammals according to most of the studies that have been done. We haven’t had any observations of direct effect that we’ve been aware of on wildlife and most of these herbicides have been around for several decades.” in The Daily News June 5, 2014
"CropLife America represents more than 60 developers, manufacturers, formulators and distributors of virtually all the crop protection products used by American farmers and growers. We are the voice of the industry that ensures the safe and responsible use of pesticides in order to provide a safe, affordable and abundant food supply." CropLife Mission Statement from their website.
My nervousness over this herbicide issue is little diminished by the nuanced quote above by Dr. Anne Fairbrother whose company Exponent is a dues paying member of CropLife America along with Syngenta the manafacturer of atrazine (see also attacks on scientists). It is noteable that Dr. Fairbrother when she was with the US EPA during the Bush II era also supported the EPA's decision to continue to allow the use of atrazine over the objections of many and an existing and growing body of scientific evidence that if anything should have dictated a more cautious approach (1,2,3,4,5,6). Atrazine is banned in the EU.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Hamlet by William Shakespeare 1602
All in all the herbicide users, makers and the minions for both “doth protest too much, methinks” to do anything other than raise serious questions about too tight and too trusting relationships with WDFW and other serious conflicts of interest. And what about spending just a little bit of time with Dr. Cook’s interesting “proof” about herbicies not contributing to or being at the root of this situation because we are not seeing the same phenomenon is other places where herbicides are used like the Blue Mountains? We have indeed seen drops in elk populations in the Blues (1,2). And setting aside the fact that we are dealing with a different subspecies of elk, in different habitats, and under different precipitation regimes, this area also has a full compliment of predators including wolves which are coursing predators that would make quick work of limping elk affected by leptospirosis, laminitis or other diseases.
Getting back to Dr. Irwin, he is coincidentally also a science advisor to our friends at the Oregon Outdoor Council (1,2,3) who have, without caveat or condition, endorsed federal legislative proposals that could greatly increase clearcutting on federal forest lands in western Oregon as well as potentially reopening the door for herbicide use on some of these lands. As we have heard numerous rumors of limping elk in Oregon and leptospirosis has been documented in the state, this really needs to be examined and questioned as it has significant implications for issues like the privatization of the Elliott State Forest and the O&C proposals—both of which could lead to more clearcuts and herbicide use.
Embedded in all of this is also the oft repeated cautionary tale of massive habitat changes—human-wrought and natural—leading to short term gains in ungulate populations followed by population crashes and other catastrophic problems. Ecologists and visionary wildlife managers have been trying to raise the alarm about the consequences of these phenomena and related habitat issues for nearly 100 years (see Flathead Game Reduction). Yet we tend to get shouted down, ignored or fired (1,2) both during the elation over increased populations and the ensuing panic that accompanies the crashes.
In the latter case of crashes some hunters and wildlife commissioners do not want to hear about solutions—like habitat restoration—that might take decades or even centuries to fully unfold. They want right-now solutions like predator control, vaccines for diseases, and other biological Band-Aids. Population explosions also reset expectations and no one wants to be reminded that succession happens and clearcuts provide good elk food resources for a decade or two before shading out needed understory for nearly two centuries. And as the illustration above from NCASI's herbicide report shows, the "clearcut bonus" is reduced nearly to zero when those lands are densely replanted with Douglas-firs and managed with herbcides.
In all of this it is important to know the players and their biases. Moreover, it is important to make sure that the solution process is appropriately designed and equipped to provide solutions that solve the root causes of this problem and protect this important public resource for future generations. Towards those ends I would make the following suggestions to the WDFW:
1) Get more systems thinkers such as ecologists and also folks with experience outside of laboratories involved in the process. These need to be people willing to ask tough questions about why this might be happening in the first place and not tied to any agency or industry that might be contributing to the problem.
2) Take some time to educate folks on elk habitat needs and the short and long-term consequences of habitat changes, herbicide use, and plant succession on elk populations.
3) Be more inclusive of other voices in the process and listen more closely to the concerns of hunters, anglers, and others who own and enjoy these public resources and less to those like the timber industry, herbicie interests or their scientists whose actions tend to decrease biodiversity and ecosystem integrity.
4-6) Conduct research, research and more research. This may seem facetious, but there is so much that we do not know, yet we are acting in a manner that suggests that we do. The impacts of herbicides and the interactions between various products as well as their "inactive" parts needs to be fully investigated before the issue is dismissed and the public told that these chemicals are safe for wildlife and humans. The full range of bacterial and immunotoxic causes and symptoms need to be examined and considered before they are ruled out. And the human health implications of handling and consumption of infected elk need to be fully addressed as well. There are others, but this would be a great start.
As I mentioned above, I do not know what is causing this phenomenon. But I do know that if the process and players lack openness and are preloaded to a certain realm of answers, the solution will reflect this. If you agree with these concerns click below to request that WDFW modify their current approach and remember that they are in the elk business not in the timber and herbicide game.
My last comment has to do with the value of citizen activism and picking effective campaign partners by shared goals and benefits rather than appearance or perceived politics. I have written volumes about the campaigns of some with ties to the resource industries to drive wedges between natural allies in the conservation and environmental communities. Instead of rehashing what I have already said let me end with this. Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir—arguably the father of modern conservation and the king of the tree huggers—were friends and effective colleagues. They did not always agree on issues—in fact they had some pretty monumental battles. But when they worked together they accomplished amazing things that are still talked about and revered more than a century later. Perhaps this is an issue where we can all work together again and not only do something exceptional on this front but set the stage for another and much needed push to ensure the future of wildlife and wild places and, at the same time, make our future more secure.
We are very, very pleased as new parents to announce that OR-7 (Journey) and Wanda actually do have pups this year. This is so, so exciting and makes it even more important to contact the California Fish and Game Commission regarding state Endangered Species Act listing of gray wolves because now OR-7 and Wanda have young and so we have a group of wolves whose Alpha male has visited California three out of the last four years.