I have been working in the wolf arena for most of my post-college career and so I watched with great interest the crowds at the various wolf hearings which by all accounts and in all places leaned towards continued federal-level gray wolf protections. At the same time I have also watched as the condemning comments from the national and international scientific community have become more pronounced and wide spread and the vitriol and tactics from the anti-wolf forces have escalated and become more reckless.
Given all of this I felt the necessity to comment because we are nearing the wire at the end of the comment period on federal gray wolf delisting (December 17th), but it is sometimes a problem to think about these things when your wife is in the living room listening to golden oldies including Jefferson Airplane’s classic White Rabbit. So some key elements emerged for me somewhere between the “pill that makes you larger” and “feed[ing] your head.”
“Safari Club International may have been the only organization backing the FWS, a somewhat unusual position for the service to be in. But if FWS officials Gary Frazer and Mike Jimenez felt uncomfortable, they didn’t show it, as the large number of speakers stretched the hearing well past its scheduled finish of 8:30 p.m.” Endangered Species and Wetlands Report October 1, 2013
“But more than 350 wolf advocates, who paraded from a nearby hotel and dominated the hearing, oppose the federal push to lift protection. They favor continued federal protection so that wolves that wander beyond their current stronghold in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho will have a better chance of survival.” Denver Post November 20, 2013
“Public comments on a pair of proposals by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would affect gray wolf recovery efforts nationwide ran about 2 to 1 in favor of expansion of the wolf recovery program, but cattle and sheep ranchers said the program is a failure and needs to be discontinued.” Albuquerque Journal November 21, 2013
“In the meantime, wolf advocates have been showing up in force at the federal hearings, along with a smaller number of ranchers. About 350 wolf advocates marched from a nearby hotel and dominated a hearing Tuesday in Denver, The Denver Post reported.
The turnout was similar Friday in Sacramento. The ranchers who spoke were often met with skeptical outbursts from the crowd. Those who called on federal officials not to delist the gray wolf as an endangered species received loud applause and cheers.” Sacramento Bee November 23, 2013
When the men (and women) on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go (Listen)
These consistent majorities for continued federal protections for wolves are encouraging but not the total story. So let’s review. We now know that a significant body of scientists including the American Society of Mammalogists and most of the public (i.e., the owners of the wolves and the public land where they are recovering most of the time) oppose the premature delisting of gray wolves in the US. So the popularity footrace is won and the questions being raised nationally and internationally about the science indicate that the USFWS position is far from being without scientific controversy.
We also know that the opposition to delisting consists mainly of the livestock industry and some, but not all hunters. What’s more these hunters are generally from the trophy hunting community that has been treated to a nearly constant barrage of anti-wolf rhetoric based on myths, half-truths and quite a few outright lies. Likewise we understand that these two narrow, but historically powerful interests have worked hard to convince some western fish and wildlife agencies to make statements supporting delisting. While some agencies have acquiesced to this pressure and issued statements, the prudence and appropriateness of these proclamations in the absence of inclusive public processes is being questioned by state legislators in places like Washington as well as by citizens who are engaged in the process.
The White Knight really is Talking Backwards
There is also ample evidence that the USFWS has historically exerted a greater geographic scope of effort for other species recovery efforts such as bald eagles, brown pelicans, peregrine falcons, American alligators, and grizzly bears making their geographically restricted stance on wolves arbitrary and nonsensical. The Service’s exit strategy appears even more ethically and ecologically irresponsible as we observe state management actions post-delisting in the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes that are not scientifically justified or even rational in some cases.
And study after study indicates that there is significant appropriate habitat in the Pacific Northwest and Southern Rockies as well as the need for other populations to insure the necessary connectedness between populations and the genetic dynamic that all populations need to thrive. In all of this we fully acknowledge that there have been great changes and developments in the way we look at species and populations. And yes it is complicated. Genetic analyses that are commonplace now and concepts such as minimal viable populations (MVPs) or habitat viability analyses (HVAs), for instance, did not exist when the wolf was first listed in 1973. But many forward looking leaders and scientists at USFWS understood that these concepts were coming which was why the federal listing was modified taxonomically and geographically in 1978. The current agency stance takes us back in times rather than forward.
The Red Queen cannot say “Off with their Heads”
While we are encouraged by the outpouring of all who have attended the meetings and submitted comments both from the advocacy community and from the halls of science, we are still very concerned as this is a decision that ultimately rests with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell—the veritable queen of wildlife in this country. We need to make sure she knows that the prevailing science and public opinion both hold that this delisting is ill-advised and premature. And we need to be loud and articulate enough to be heard over the mad hatters and march hares that are currently whispering in her ears.
We Need to Take the Pill that Makes Us Larger
All this means that we cannot sit back and be complacent. We really need one more final and "larger" push before the comment period ends on December 17th. We know all of have been working so hard on this for more than six months, but in the USFWS’ current world view, “logic and proportion” do seem to “have fallen sloppy dead.” Logic needs to awakened. So please make sure that you have filed comments with us or the USFWS. And help make us "larger" by sharing this post or similar pleas with friends and family. Exert a little extra effort and give the wolves a true gift this season.
[Author's Note: Before the cards and letters start flowing, I am really not making any statements in the above about taking pills or eating mushrooms one way or another, but I am advocating engaging in the type of advocacy some of us experienced in the 1960s or are trying to encourage during these times of needed change. Be the "White Rabbit" for the wolf and I look forward to seeing many of you at the auction this coming weekend. Bob]
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.
“Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.” Ginetta Sagan
The title of a recent opinion piece in a Utah paper nailed it: Making War on Wolves. Because what we are seeing out there is truly a war waged on a wildlife species. And like with most wars there is a parallel public relations campaign making outlandish and unsupported claims against the “enemy” to justify and encourage actions that would normally be considered unethical or inhumane.
Poll after poll shows that anti-wolf forces are in the minority, but their myth and fear-based campaigns can only be countered by a loud and resounding voice of compassion and rationality. We, who believe that wild places are better off wild, need to speak up and urge others to do the same. And we need to do that before October 28, 2013.
So what do we need you to do?
1—Send a personal letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (click here for draft language and addresses)
2—Add you name to petitions (click here) and share those petitions widely through all your social networks (please use the share this buttons at the bottom of this post).
Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 779-9613
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, (541) 525-5087
Bob Ferris, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463
Greg Costello, Wildlands Network, (206) 260-1177
State of Washington Petitioned to Enforce Wolf Protections
Seven Groups Ask State Wildlife Agency to Codify Wolf Plan Into State Law
OLYMPIA, Wash.— In an effort to stop the indiscriminate killing of Washington’s wolves, seven conservation groups filed a petition today calling for the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission to make the state’s wolf-management guidelines legally binding. The new push to codify provisions put in place in 2011 comes after the state killed seven Wedge Pack wolves last year — a decision that ignored Washington Wolf Conservation and Management Plan provisions governing when lethal control of wolves is allowed.
In a comprehensive five-year process, Washington’s wolf plan was crafted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 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 from outside the state. Yet despite the plan’s formal adoption by the Fish and Wildlife Commission in December 2011, department officials have publicly stated they view the plan as merely advisory and have recently proposed numerous amendments to Washington’s Administrative Code that significantly depart from the wolf plan’s provisions.
“Despite years of hard work to develop this wolf management plan with buy-in from all concerned stakeholders, when it came to the Wedge Pack, the state failed miserably,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The state’s killing of seven wolves last year was tragic, unnecessary and violated the wolf plan. But Fish and Wildlife got away with it because the wolf plan isn’t currently enforceable. Wolves — and Washington taxpayers — deserve better.”
“Making the wolf plan legally binding will help avoid future confusion and mistrust over how wolves are being managed and will prevent the occurrence of such clear departures from the plan’s provisions, as happened last year with the Wedge Pack,” said John Mellgren, a staff attorney with Western Environmental Law Center.
Wolves were driven to extinction in Washington in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. They began to return from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia in the early 2000s, and their population has grown to 10 confirmed packs today. This represents solid growth, but wolves in the state are far from recovered and face ongoing threats. The state Fish and Wildlife decision last fall to kill the entire Wedge Pack in northeastern Washington for livestock-related conflicts resulted in a firestorm of public controversy; the department issued its wolf kill order despite conflicting opinions from experts about whether the initial livestock losses were due to wolves and despite the livestock owner’s refusal to take adequate proactive steps to prevent losses.
“The reestablishment of wolves in Washington is still in its infancy, and the species needs ongoing, adequate protections and certainty in management actions to recover and conserve a sustainable wolf population here,” said Josh Laughlin, conservation director for Cascadia Wildlands.
In addition to provisions regarding conflict-prevention strategies and the specific circumstances when lethal control of wolves is allowed, the plan also sets forth requirements for ongoing monitoring of the health and sustainability of wolf populations in Washington; the publication of annual reports to keep the public updated regarding the status of wolf recovery and conservation; and meeting specific population goals before regional delisting of wolves within the state can take place. But because the plan’s provisions have not been codified into law, none of them are enforceable; they can be changed by the department or commission at any time without public input.
The petition to increase 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, Kettle Range Conservation Group, The Lands Council and Wildlands Network.
Today’s filing of the petition with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission starts the clock ticking on a 60-day statutory period within which the state must respond.
For additional information and background please see:
We are exceedingly disappointed in the Obama Administration, Department of Interior and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for abandoning science and the intent of the Endangered Species Act in their draft delisting proposal of the gray wolf in the lower 48 states. The USFWS's pandering to the livestock lobby and involvement in political games will certainly impede or altogether block the wolf's continued recovery throughout the West.
This political maneuver by the USFWS not only threatens the gray wolf, but places in jeopardy any species that poses difficulty for a powerful DC lobby. The Endangered Species Act was a law built to uphold science and biology, but sadly the agency tasked with enforcing it has become a political tool.
For Cascadia Wildlands this additionally unsatisfactory as we watch our landmark settlement on wolf management in Oregon come to fruition—ready to serve as a shining model of what should be. Where are similar plans in place for California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Washington? As many renowned wolf biologists have already pointed out, this rule as it stands is a politically expedient “exit strategy” rather than a scientifically defensible recovery strategy. We expected better.
The 1973 Endangered Species Act provides federal protection — breathing space, in a very real sense — to plants and animals threatened with extinction. Had this task been left to the states alone, almost none of the species that have returned to health would have done so.
But the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service now plans to remove wolves from the endangered list in all 48 contiguous states and transfer control over their fate to the states. This may save the department from running battles with Congress, state officials and hunters about protecting the wolf. Whether it will save the animal is another matter.
Thanks entirely to federal protections, wolves have rebounded remarkably in some places. There are now about 4,000 in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and 1,600 or so more in the Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Interior has gradually delisted the wolves in all these places because, it says, their numbers are enough to guarantee survival. And it is not necessary to their survival, the service says, to protect wolves elsewhere.
Peter DeFazio » Congress members seek continued wolf protections
Associated Press By John Flesher Mar. 5, 2013
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Dozens of U.S. House members urged federal regulators Tuesday to retain legal protections for gray wolves across most of the lower 48 states, saying the resilient predator could continue expanding its range if humans don't get in the way.
A letter signed by 52 representatives urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to drop wolves from the endangered species list in areas where it hasn't already been done. The wolf has been designated as recovered in the western Great Lakes and the Northern Rockies after rebounding from near-extinction in the past century.
The comeback is "a wildlife success story in the making," the lawmakers said in a letter distributed by Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, both Democrats. But it added that because of lingering human prejudice, "federal protection continues to be necessary to ensure that wolf recovery is allowed to proceed in additional parts of the country."
The Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to return wolves to the Southwest, despite court battles and resistance from ranchers. It's also reviewing the status of wolves and their potential habitat in the Pacific Northwest, where perhaps 100 of the animals are believed to roam, and in the Northeast, which has no established population although occasional sightings have been reported.
"The outcome of these reviews will identify which, if any, gray wolves should continue to receive protections under the Endangered Species Act outside of the boundaries of the recovered populations and the Southwest population," agency spokesman Chris Tollefson said.
A recommendation is expected in the next few months, he said.
An agency report last year proposed dropping the wolf from the endangered list in most locations where none are known to exist. In their letter, the lawmakers said that could prevent wolves from migrating to places where they once lived and where enough habitat and prey remain to support them.
They noted that lone wolves have wandered into northern California, Utah, Colorado and several Northeastern states. If re-established there, they would help restore ecological balance and boost the economy by drawing tourists, DeFazio said in a phone interview.
"I think a heck of a lot of Americans would be thrilled to hear or see a wolf in the wild," he said. "It's part of our natural heritage."
About 2 million wolves once lived in much of North America but were all but wiped out in the lower 48 states by the mid-1900s. The areas where they have recovered represent only 5 percent of their original range, said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity.
A catch-22 is a paradoxical situation in which an individual cannot or is incapable of avoiding a problem because of contradictory constraints or rules.Wikipedia
In Joseph Heller’s classic book Catch 22 the protagonist was caught between the horns of a dilemma. He, Captain John Yossarian, was a B-25 bombardier attempting to get out of his service in World War II on the grounds that he was crazy, but if he wanted to leave he was not technically crazy. Wolf Recovery in the United States is often not that different from a war, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, like Captain Yossarian, is not to blame for wanting to get out. However, in order for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to remove itself from wolf recovery and avoid the controversy, they must demonstrate that the wolf is recovered. There would be no grounds for controversy, if the wolf has truly recovered. Nevertheless, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is attempting to make this claim, a claim that is not technically or morally defensible and full of Catch 22’s.
Catch 22s you ask? Take the Northern Rockies wolf program, for example. This recovery plan was originally constructed around the concept of recovering a subspecies of wolves. The recovery area and therefore the recovery goals were predicated on the historic range of this particular subspecies of wolf. Subsequent morphometric (species determinations derived from skull or body part measurements) and genetic analyses have clouded this once crystal-clear picture from a classic taxonomic tome. What’s more, the population goals were determined prior to the wide-spread acceptance and use of minimum viable population analyses (MVPs) in looking at recovery goals. MVPs or population habitat viability analyses (PHVAs) are now commonly used to estimate needed populations.
So, if the US FWS is arguing that they have recovered this “subspecies,” then they need to take steps to protect and recover the other subspecies in the Pacific Northwest and the Southern Rockies. But if they quietly sweep the subspecies argument under the rug and make a “Canus soupus” argument (i.e., wolves are wolves), common sense as well as science would argue that recovery goals would have to be adjusted to reflect the greatly enlarged recovery area, not just the Northern Rockies. Regardless, nowhere in these scenarios is there a scientific justification for the USFWS to step away from wolf recovery in the Western US. In short, they like Heller’s Yossarian cannot simply opt out of an unpleasant situation, because they no longer want to be there.
Continued federal involvement also makes sense because the threats that led to endangerment—as evidenced by behavior in the Northern Rockies states—has not diminished or been corrected. Then there is the mobile nature of the wolf and wolf packs which frequently cross state and international borders and spend a good portion of their time on the matrix of federal public lands that dominate the western landscape. Both these conditions are strong arguments for continued federal oversight and protections. Add to these two arguments the fact that recovery of the wolf in the West is really a federal public lands issue (please see Oregon, California, and Washington map)
But there is another argument here that is rarely raised and that is the question of responsibility and past sins. The US FWS—through their precursor the Biological Survey—was the agency largely responsible for endangering the wolf in the first place. Their agents did not stop until wolves were truly and nearly annihilated in the lower 48 states. This historic exuberance by the agency should be mirrored in recovery. Brave and innovative wolves are trying diligently to restore themselves to their former haunts in the Pacific Northwest and Southern Rockies and their efforts need to be supported by like courage and adherence to the best available science by the US FWS. The mission is not yet accomplished.
For all of the above reasons and more, we ask that wolf supporters in the US and elsewhere join with us to send a clear message to the US FWS that the wolf recovery job in the West is not finished. Federal protections must remain in place and wolves expanding into western Washington and Oregon as well as northern California need and deserve federal protection. And we feel the same way for wolves recolonizing Colorado and Utah. Therefore we ask that wolf supporters sign a petition to that effect here.
Thank you. Working together we can fully recover the wolf in Cascadia and other promising areas. Pioneering wolves like OR-7, also known as Journey, should not become immediate targets because the road to recovery difficult and political expediency trumps science and compassion. Let's work for wolves and keeping it wild.
I have always liked sea otters—in part—because they are the quintessential keystone species or critters that materially determine some of the character of their habitat for them and others. And now as new research emerges about the trophic cascade effects (i.e., the side benefits of having top predators present) associated with the otter’s control of sea urchins and the resultant macro-algae (kelp) growth, we also begin to understand that they are effective and needed warriors in the battle against climate change and ocean acidification. How? Kelp forests—like terrestrial forests—sequester carbon and CO2 is one of the leading causes of these phenomena affecting our air and seas.
This almost obvious finding leads me to speculate: If urchins need the otter’s controlling influence for us to have robust aquatic forests, what are the terrestrial equivalents? To begin to answer this question, let’s look at what sea urchins actually do. Urchins don’t just eat large kelps such as bladder, boa and bullwhip kelp, they destroy the holdfasts which are essentially kelp “roots” and clearcut themselves into the oceanic pastures—known as urchin barrens—they most like to graze. Urchin dominated “marine-scapes” look like denuded plains. And without the three-dimensional volume provided by these large and long kelps they lack the structure and escape habitat needed for young fish (including salmon, smelt and rock fish) and a host of other sea life. They essentially become oceanic deserts—great for urchins but not for kelp forest denizens or overall biodiversity.
1) A mischievous young child, esp. one who is poorly or raggedly dressed.
When we look at the current and past large grazing guild for Cascadian forests and wildlands we have elk, deer, bison, caribou, moose, big horn sheep, mountain goat and the two new-comers cattle and domestic sheep. Who are the sea urchins in this equation and why? Well, deer and elk as well as the other less plentiful native ungulates do not have a history of knocking ecosystems irreparably out of whack—particularly in the presence of wolves and other apex predators. The same cannot be said, however, of cattle and domestic sheep.
Why are cattle and sheep different? For one thing it is a numbers and carrying capacity issue. Cattle and sheep—particularly on public lands—are brought in at and purposely over-stocked at levels that could not be supported year-round. This bovine and ovine host, therefore, eat more, faster than their natural counter-parts ever could. They are essentially like the guests who visit in large numbers, eat you out of house and home then move on leaving you starving. Additionally, they are critters that evolved in the Old World rather than North America in systems more prone to annual plants rather than perennials.
Bison exhibit a stronger preference for the perennial grasses that form the prairie matrix, and they are strongly attracted to open landscapes during the growing season. Cattle include more forbs in their diet, and they use wooded areas and riparian zones more intensively. From: Comparative Ecology of Bison and Cattle on Mixed-Grass Prairie.
Cattle grazing habits and regimes as well as the spread of European annuals through seeds in cattle droppings have altered vegetative make ups. This annual versus perennial issue is a large one—particularly as we look at carbon sequestration. Perennials sequester more carbon than annuals because their root structures are more substantial and longer-lasting and more roots in the ground means more below surface carbon. Add to the root structure loss, the flatulence factor from too many cattle farting methane—a greenhouse gas—by the hot-air balloon full and you have another rationale for adjusting your dietary choices.
And for those thinking that cattle and bison are functionally the same. The cattle’s use of wooded areas and riparian habitats not used by bison indicates an encroachment into the elk and deer realm and a departure from the co-evolved, ecological niche separation exhibited by the bison. This direct competition with elk and deer for space and food makes the alliances between hunters groups such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Safari Club International and ranchers all the more puzzling as the livestock industry’s interests are clearly in conflict with those of wildlife including game species and fish. And this further impact on native wildlife species cements cattle and domestic sheep as land urchins.
So what should we derive from all of this? First, efforts to broaden and emphasize sea otter restoration all along Cascadia should be re-accelerated and expanded particularly along the coasts of Oregon and Washington. We need also to open our eyes on cattle and sheep grazing—particularly on public lands—and honestly and realistically assess the benefits as well as the full spectrum of implications relating to federal ranching subsidies, wildlife impacts, and compromised ecological services such as clean water and carbon sequestration. And lastly we need to continue to work towards ecological literacy so that more people come to understand these complex ecological relationships for a host of natural systems and critters from otters to orcas and from wolves to wolverines. They all help us keep it wild.
People who teach in a classroom understand that the game is won or lost and the tone set extremely early in the process. Setting and communicating clear boundaries and expectations on that first day of class can help head off problems and save a lot time and energy on corrective actions. By this measure, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and their governing commission failed the Wedge Pack and also failed the public who expects that the agency—first and foremost—to protect the interests of the wildlife under their care.
The fact that WDFW field staff seemed unclear about procedures and policies, everyone except gas station attendants appeared to be verifying wolf depredation claims and agency’s strategy of not answering the phone and pretending to not be home when the concerned and angry public called only added to the Keystone Cop-nature of this whole affair. In short, through all these actions WDFW has seriously lost the public’s confidence and either needs to make some massive changes or find new leaders that can.
What kind of changes? First, the agency has to bend over backwards to rebuild trust with the public and remember that WDFW is in the business of species recovery not looking for ways to placate a recalcitrant and generally uncooperative public lands rancher. There is another state agency that looks after the rancher very well, thank you.
Then WDFW also needs to go back to square one—or day one—in terms of making sure that appropriate expectations are set and the infrastructure is there to forward wolf recovery. This will be tough because the agency has already shown itself to lack a certain level of gumption when it comes to dealing with the ranching community. Since the agency has been tested and failed, push back will happen and WDFW will just have to push back harder and stronger. This probably requires a new team—in short—a new sheriff has to come to town.
The public lands grazing aspect of this and the responsibility of leaseholders to undertake preventative measures and practice proactive stewardship may seem like a sideshow, but it is central to the problem. The cattle industry has occupied the throne on public lands for a long time and many still embrace a romantic view of cowboys—including me occasionally. But that inertia and those emotions have to be balanced with facts and reality particularly as we look at actions on our public estate.
The last figures I reviewed peg the taxpayer costs of public lands grazing in the West at a cool $100 million annually. Grazing fees on public lands are much, much lower than those on private. Add to those costs the environmental impacts of grazing from degraded habitat and water quality that translate directly into fewer elk and deer plus less fish and song birds to diminished recreational opportunities on our wildlands. I respect and often like ranchers, but in a multi-use setting there can be no kings or fiefdoms and all public lands users have to act responsibly. And given that hunting, fishing, and wolf-oriented tourism are all economic engines in their own rights, it really begs the question of whether we can or should still treat these lands as some sort of subsidized bovine day care facility for a handful of ranchers. This needs to be examined fully and acted on.
To address the above the agency needs to insist—particularly on public lands—that ranchers make sure they are doing everything possible to stem potential problems. Conditions have changed with the natural arrival of the wolf and ranchers can no longer expect to just dump their cattle at the beginning of the season and pick them up at the end. WDFW needs to simultaneously set expectations and also offer training and assistance. And ranchers need to remember that the original public lands grazing fees were set lower because these were lands where conditions such as predation would be higher.
People in Washington State and around the world are deeply saddened by the loss of the Wedge Pack—particularly so—because this was a tragedy that could and should have been avoided. The agency likely saved themselves from embarrassing court time through some last minute adjustments, but in the court of public opinion the judgment is strongly and painfully against them. To satisfy that judgment, WDFW needs to remember and be true to all aspects of their mission, vision and goals (see here) and get to the job of recovering wolves, because the “class” is currently out there shooting spit wads and paperclips and it has to stop now.