Posts Tagged ‘Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’

Oct25

The Saga of Wolf Recovery in Washington

by Nick Cady
 
A highlight of Cascadia Wildlands' wolf conservation work includes a lawsuit that culminated in the successful negotiation of wolf/livestock conflict rules in Oregon between conservation groups, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and livestock producers.  Those rules provided concrete guidelines as to when the state could kill wolves in response to livestock depredations and helped eliminate the hysteria generated every time there was a potential conflict. 
 
In 2012, following the creation of the Oregon rule, Cascadia Wildlands then turned its eyes to Washington state.  Washington at the time had approximately the same number of wolves as Oregon (60), but had yet to experience the wolf/livestock conflicts that had caused so much polarization in Oregon.  Conflict between wolves and livestock in Wallowa County ultimately led to the livestock industry introducing2008937557 wolf kill legislation, threats of poaching, and threats of secession. 
 
Similar to Oregon, Washington had a wolf conservation and management plan that provided general standards for addressing conflicts between wolves and livestock, but the state lacked any specific rules or guidance on procedures that would be taken when livestock were killed.  We have found in Oregon that concrete rules provided predictability in agency response to these conflicts, which helped reduce nerves in both the conservation and livestock communities.  Additionally, these rules provided a clear path for Department staff to follow, which is critical because when there are dead livestock, the situation on the ground can become very heated and intense.  However, things had been relatively quiet in Washington because there had yet to be a depredation event in the state, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff had been dutifully working to sign up large ranching operations with cooperative agreements to implement measures to prevent wolf/livestock conflict before it occurred. 
 
Just as Cascadia staff began exploring the regulatory framework of the state, Washington experienced its first major depredation event in Stevens County, in the northeastern portion of the state where the Wedge Pack was denning.  Despite clear requirements in the wolf plan that the Department focus on non-lethal measures and that the wolves were and are still in the first stage of recovery, the Department panicked and before even confirming wolves were responsible for the depredations and not just scavenging, ordered the aerial gunning of the entire pack.  What made the situation worse was that the producer clamoring for the killing was a loud and well-known anti-wolf voice in the state and had openly rejected Departmental and conservation community assistance to prevent the depredations.  The Department ended up spending over $77,000 in taxpayer money to kill the entire pack and appease the rancher. 
 
The Department's actions appropriately caused massive public outcry, and resulted in an official legislative investigation into the event.  Cascadia began organizing conservation allies, and filed an official rule-making petition with the Department to create lethal control rules similar to the rules developed in Oregon, so that the Department would not be pressured into a similar response in the future.  After initial conversations, the Department agreed that rules were needed, and in exchange for us dismissing the petition, the Department agreed to begin negotiating rules through the Washington Wolf Advisory Group, which contained conservation, state, and agricultural representatives.  After a year of too many meetings and very little progress made, the Department suspended the rule-making process, and Cascadia and our conservation allies refiled our petition with the aim of getting the attention of and enlisting the help of Washington's Governor Jay Inslee.
 
While this process was ongoing, Cascadia staff began catching whiffs of unrest in Stevens County again concerning a pack of wolves on tribal land, the Huckleberry pack. The pack had been hunted previously by the tribe, and was being suspected of being responsible for some missing sheep on lands bordering the reservation. 
 
Cascadia has continually argued to the Department that research on the predator/livestock conflicts has shown that killing individual wolves does nothing to decrease depredations, but in some cases has been shown to increase depredation levels, because of a destabilized pack structure.  Taking an entire pack may end depredations for a period, but it opens the area up to quick recolonization by other packs as has happened where the Wedge Pack was killed and replaced by the Profanity Peak Pack.
 
But with the Huckleberry pack, Cascadia staff received a call from the Department and we were informed that there had been some confirmed, weeks-old depredations, but the sheep had been moved out of the area, non-lethal preventative measures were beginning to be implemented, and a reassurance of "don't worry this will not be another Wedge pack situation."  That weekend, we got a message that the Department had hired Wildlife Services (see more on this reckless agency) who was aerial gunning the pack.  We managed to get ahold of agency staff, and we were told that they could not tell us what was going on.
 
We were able to generate a massive amount of public comment (thanks to our dutiful members) and got ahold of friendly legislators that were able to get the Department to suspend the aerial gunning and pull the trap line they had set for the wolves.  The Department notified us that a wolf had been killed, and eventually discovered that it was the alpha female of the pack, which they apparently were instructed not to kill.  We also discovered that the sheep had not be removed from the area, and the Department was not telling the whole story regarding the implementation of preventative measures.
 
Again, hysteria and public outcry ensued.  The agency secrecy, lies, and the accidental killing of the alpha female outraged the conservation community.  The killing of only one wolf and not the entire pack led to mass craziness in Stevens County, and a resolution by the County was issued, demanding citizens shoot wolves on site in violation of Washington laws (see more on Cascadia's response to this resolution here). 
 
It became patently clear that things just were not working within the Department.  The Governor became involved and called for a meeting between conservation interests and Department staff.  Cascadia staff journeyed north, and big changes have resulted.  First, the Department is going to completely restructure the Wolf Advisory Group, with an entirely new membership and oversight by an impartial mediator.  Second, revision of the Department's lethal control guidelines occurred, which describe when the Department can and will move to lethal control.  Third, the Department is looking to develop rules that would require livestock producers to have taken non-lethal, preventative measures prior to requesting lethal control. Finally, both Director Phil Anderson and Game Division Manager Dave Ware are stepping down, both who have been largely running the Department's wolf program. 
 
Cascadia is cautiously optimistic about these pending changes, and believe this is an excellent opportunity to systematically reform wolf management in Washington, which is admittedly and obviously broken. Stay tuned for big changes in Washington, and Cascadia will be weighing in at every step.  When the hiring process begins for new leadership in Washington, we will ask you to weigh in on this and other opportunities to shape wolf conservation in Washington. It has been a long haul thus far, and things are improving for gray wolf recovery in Washington state.
 
 
 

 

 

Sep17

Another mistake in managing wolf recovery

The Olympian
September 16, 2014 
 
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has mismanaged another conflict between an Eastern Washington 2008937557rancher and an important wolf pack. This time the department accidently killed the breeding alpha female of the Huckleberry pack, one of the state’s most stable and prolific packs. Gray wolves are an endangered species in Washington.
 
This is a catastrophic mistake that will likely lead to more conflict between the pack and livestock. The loss of a breeding adult in a pack is well-known to wildlife experts to cause chaos within the pack and unpredictable future behavior.
 
But the department’s mishandling didn’t end there. The agency knew the rancher had refused conflict avoidance resources from the DFW and Washington State University and proceeded to put 1,800 sheep in the wolf pack’s territory in difficult terrain without state-advised deterrents in place and protected by only a single herder and four dogs.
 
State wildlife officials surely knew this was a recipe for disaster.
 
When dead sheep started appearing on Department of Natural Resources-owned land, DFW should have been prepared to take quick and effective nonlethal deterrent action. It was not, and instead issued a secret kill order without notifying members of the Washington Wolf Advisory group in advance.
 
The DFW sharpshooter, working from a helicopter, was authorized to kill four of this year’s pups. But he mistakenly killed the pack’s alpha female.
 
Diane Gallegos, executive director of Wolfhaven International, located in Thurston County, said the conservation community is unanimous that the DFW and the rancher didn’t follow the state wolf plan and that the DFW shouldn’t have issued a kill order.
 
“This is an endangered species, and it is unconscionable that they accidently killed the breeding female of an endangered species,” Gallegos said. We agree.
 
In 2012, the DFW killed the entire Wedge Pack, even though it had failed to effectively implement the non-lethal measures required by the state’s wolf conservation management plan.
 
When ranchers engage in cooperative agreements with DFW, the state saves money, ranchers protect their livestock and wolves survive on other food sources.
 
Ranchers can also call on nonprofits, such as Conservation Northwest, to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock. Conservation Northwest is using private funds and staff to train and provide range riders to oversee livestock sharing range with wolves. They are currently engaged in five separate projects, and in three seasons have not lost any livestock to wolves.
 
After the Huckleberry blunder, some of the most passionate gray wolf advocates are questioning whether DFW has a tendency to favor the interests of livestock operators. Clearly, the agency should be doing more to protect an endangered species.
 
Hundreds of thousands of gray wolves once roamed the West. When their natural food sources dwindled after human settlements, they sometimes turned to livestock earning the ire of pioneers. By the middle of the last century, most wolves had been killed off.
 
Today, thanks to protected status, wolves are making a comeback. They are a natural resource that belongs to the people of this state.
 
Gov. Jay Inslee should order a review of the department’s wolf plan management, and state lawmakers must legislate a requirement that ranchers engage in good-faith cooperative agreements with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
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Sep06

Huckleberry Hindsight

By Bob Ferris
 
The true character of any person, institution or machine becomes revealed by stress. You could think, for huckleberry_pupsinstance, that you were in good shape until you climb that steep hill and realize differently because your lungs are struggling, your heart beats like a drum and your head aches. For the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) the “steep hill” is wolf recovery. And as we look back at the Wedge and Huckleberry pack experiences we clearly see they are ill-equipped to handle this challenge or even see the most logical pathway—a rulemaking process—to remove themselves from this constant, consistent and well-deserved public beatings (1,2,3,4,5).
 
All bureaucracies fear change and generally need to be dragged kicking and screaming to any process that alters the way they do business, but even the most entrenched within this bastion of rigidity must understand that the current mode operation is not working. If forced to characterize the problem I would state it by saying the agency is deficient in comprehension, commitment and communications.
 
I am a wildlife biologist and have worked in the conservation arena for more than 30 years in various capacities. During my education I was deeply exposed to ecological theory and practice including an extensive examination of the evolution of ecological thinking influenced by folks like Aldo Leopold, Olaus Murie and others. Moreover, from my earliest education in the 1970s until now I have had the advantage of watching my profession evolve from an exercise in maximizing game and fish populations to an understanding of the value of maintaining ecological function and biodiversity. All this drives how I think and act in regards to conservation.
 
This above grounding allows me to easily recognize others with similar grounding and understanding. When dealing with WDFW’s upper management and my collective sense of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, I do not get this sense of intellectual resonance. Now granted the WDFW clings to the old-school and dated notion of maximization rather than managing for sustainability or resiliency, but even given that I do feel that there is much in the way of effort being exerted to swim upstream rather than float with the current.
 
Anyone who has been involved with wolf recovery understands that the successful pursuit of the activity requires commitment. Many states want control of this activity but lack the commitment and also do not grasp that management and recovery are fundamentally not the same thing. That is why many organizations—including Cascadia Wildlands—would prefer federal recovery efforts to state management. This is in part because we understand that these are different functions and approaches and because we have the negative examples of Idaho and elsewhere.
 
Communications with stakeholders are key to the success of any endeavor and wolf recovery is no exception. When done correctly communications engender connectedness and trust. When done poorly—as with the WDFW’s press release on the killing of the alpha female—they result in several thousand angry phone calls and e-mails to the Governor. That is a major public relations failure.
 
Why was this press release such a problem? Emerging science indicates more and more that maintaining pack structure is very important—which means it is critical to keep the alpha pairs. Our group and others were assured through various channels at WDFW that lethal control would be directed only towards young of the year and that the alpha pair would be preserved. Additionally, the WDFW, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Governor are engaged through various legal petitions and the Wolf Advisory Committee (WAG) either directly with Cascadia Wildlands or via our partners in the Pacific Wolf Coalition which makes us a stakeholder and gives us standing on this issue.
 
"The department’s wildlife veterinarian conducted a necropsy this week indicating the wolf was the pack’s breeding female."  WDFW press release September 4, 2014
 
So when we find out—basically by accident—that the alpha female was killed nearly two weeks after she died,lactating_female_wolf_eagle_cap_odfw2we are upset. When we find news of this event buried deep in what can only be characterized as a pro-ranching press release our blood pressure raises a little more. And when we see this monumental mistake mentioned offhandedly, in a manner that dismissively characterizes the role of this female, and that implies that the delay in notification is related to the need for a necropsy (the animal equivalent of an autopsy) we really have to question whether this agency takes its role in wolf recovery or it responsibility to public at all seriously. (Please see trail camera photograph of lactating female wolf taken during the summer in Oregon to understand how absolutely silly the necropsy defense is.)
 
The list goes on and on, but the answer to all of this is for WDFW and the Commission to finally wake up and undergo rulemaking. With rulemaking they would emerge with an approach that incorporates the understanding of all the stakeholders including those of the conservationists and ranching interests reflected in rules for wolves as well as for livestock producers. With rulemaking WDFW would also demonstrate that they are committed to a recovery pathway rather than one that simply manages. And with rulemaking lines of communications as well as mechanisms for communication would be created that would make sure that all parties had the information that they needed.
 
The public scrutiny and openness may seem like a pain but the agency has to ask themselves how is this current path working for them.  Because this public pressure will continue until WDFW makes meaningful changes in their program and their approach.
 
 
 
 
        

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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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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Jun09

Of Roosevelt Elk, Bacteria, Hooves and Herbicides

By Bob Ferris Elk US FWS
 
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.
 
WDFW Herbicide
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.
NCASI Report Tree Illustration
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.
Roosevelt and Muir
 
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. 
 
 

Feb06

Groups Urge More Cautious Approach on Washington’s Wolf-kill Policy

2019372475
 For Immediate Release, February 6, 2014
Contacts: 
Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 779-9613
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463
Jessica Walz Schafer, Gifford Pinchot Task Force (503) 221-2102 x 101
 
Groups Urge More Cautious Approach on Washington’s Wolf-kill Policy
Letter Urges Revision to State’s Policies on Lethal Control of Recovering Wolf Populations
 
OLYMPIA, Wash.— Twelve conservation organizations sent a letter to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife today raising concerns about the agency’s increasingly aggressive approach to killing endangered wolves and urged a more protective stance when it comes to the state's fledgling wolf population. The groups, working together as the Washington Wolf Collaborative, are requesting that the department revise its protocol for lethal control of wolves involved in wolf-livestock conflicts. Specific requests include a greater emphasis on nonlethal measures to keep livestock away from wolves and ensuring that Washington’s wolf lethal control policy is at least as protective of wolves as policies in place for wolves in neighboring Oregon.
 
“Washington’s wolves need tolerance and patience, not policies that are quick on the trigger,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The current protocol would allow wolves to be killed after just one or two conflicts with livestock, even though there’s no scientific literature confirming that killing wolves even solves the problem. Wolves are an endangered species and shouldn’t be managed like deer, elk or other game where the answer to every problem is just to start shooting.”
 
Washington’s wolf plan was crafted over five years by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife with input from a 17-member stakeholder group; it included more than 65,000 written comments from the public and a peer review by 43 scientists and wolf managers from outside the state.
 
Unfortunately, after the wolf plan was adopted in 2011, the state agency immediately transferred management authority over wolves from the Endangered Species Division to the Game Management division. Since then, agency actions toward wolves have strayed from the very conservative approach that is appropriate and necessary for recovering an endangered species. On Jan. 24, the agency issued a lethal control protocol, granting itself authority to kill wolves under circumstances that are a far cry from the precautionary approach that should be taken in the management of a recovering endangered species.
 
####

 

Oct31

WDFW: Did You Ever Think to Ask?

Washington WolfBy Bob Ferris

In my experience so many conflicts are avoidable simply by checking in and asking simple questions.  In our office we do it all the time.  Is anyone else too hot?  Is my humming of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony bothering you?  Can I put popcorn in the microwave?  Anytime someone deals with a space or any other resource that is shared or co-owned a little consideration is an order.  

Collaborations or co-creations often spring from this approach and are a good thing, too.  More heads tend to add value to the product and also help spot those little issues that might turn out later to be Godzilla-like in their repercussions.  It is also a matter of courtesy.  

That is why the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s position of support for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) gray wolf delisting proposal is so troubling.  It was done in the absence of any visible effort to gather input from those people who actually own the wildlife in question—the citizens of Washington, all of them.  

And while the agency certainly can and should make informed pronouncements about Washington’s wildlife, they should be more humble and circumspect when commenting on elements of federal rules or regulations that impact wildlife and habitats beyond their jurisdiction and owned by other states and citizens.  The agency would be unlikely to think that their successes in managing bears or elk, for instance, would give them license to comment on Alaska’s bear management plans or Colorado’s steps to cull diseased elk.  But giving a blanket and unqualified endorsement of the USFWS is essentially the same action.  

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is basically a good agency and we feel that we have a productive working relationship with them.  That said, we do think that they often miss important details like the broader implications and unintended consequences of this and similar actions.  To be clear, those unintended consequences include incomplete recovery in western Washington, stalled recolonization of states with great habitat and organized resistance such as Utah, Nevada and Colorado, and diluted opportunities in California. They also, like many wildlife agencies, forget that their public is much broader and more diverse than the hunting, angling and ranching communities.  These are important players and stakeholders but are not the only voices when it comes to wildlife.  Please join us in asking the agency and the Fish and Wildlife Commission to be more deliberate, judicious and sensitive to the views of all owners and users of Washington’s magnificent wildlife resource.  Please take action below.

WDFW Please Reconsider Your Position on Wolf Delisting

The following state legislators in Washington are asking questions about the Department's position, and we thank them for the efforts and their leadership on this issue:  

State Senator Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island)
State Rep. Kris Lytton (D-Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan Counties)
State Rep. Hans Dunshee (D- Snohomish County) 
Senator Christine Rolfes (D-Kitsap County)

Oct11

Mr. Cady Goes to Washington or Ten Bears and Josey Talk Wolves

By Bob Ferris

I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and watched Westerns with my dad.  We liked the action, wildness and, at times, the messaging contained in the films about cowboys, mountain men, desperados and the first folks in the Americans.   Somewhere in the proteinaceous filing cabinets of my brain I am sure that I have a collection of favorite scenes and lines.  And one of my favorites is the scene between Clint Eastwood and the late Will Sampson in The Outlaw Josey Wales (below).  
 

I think of this clip because I was just getting briefed on Nick Cady’s trip to Washington to speak before the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf team on behalf of these recovering canids.  Our intent in sending Nick to Olympia was two-fold.  First, after developing a relatively strong Wolf Plan in Washington, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, under pressure from the livestock industry, has been steadily whittling away at protections for wolves.  And clearly the Wedge Pack train wreck still stings and we wanted to make absolutely sure that happenstance was not repeated.

Our second intent was to bring what we have crafted through nearly two years of negotiation in Oregon north so that parties in Washington can benefit from all the hard work and lessons—both good and bad—that we have learned through our efforts in Oregon.  

The message delivered by Nick and others in our collation is much like the movie’s in that it proffers a clear choice between a path of unpleasant and painful, mutual destruction or one where we figure out exactly what we need to do to live relatively peacefully together.  Our preference is for the latter as our experience tells us that the most creative and effective solutions come from situation with similar dynamics, but we are also fully prepared for the former.  

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