Posts Tagged ‘Washington’

Jun29

Rachel, Rachel Where Art Thou?: The Need for a Noisy Spring

By Bob Ferris
 
Accord Concentrate/ Rodeo • Accord XRT II • Arsenal AC • Atrazine 4L Drexel •
Atrazine 4L Sipcam • Atrazine 4L Mana •Compadre • Forestry Garlon XRT • Garlon 4 Ultra • Grounded • In-Place • Metcel VMF • Polaris AC • Polaris AC Complete • Polaris SP • Point Blank • Riverdale 2,4-D L V-6 Ester • Sulfomet • Sulfomet XP • Sulfomet Extra • Sylgard 309 • Syltac • Transline • Velpar DF • Velpar L
 
This past April marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Rachel Carson.  And while I certainly bemoan her absence and miss her rachelcarson_binocularsiconic Silent Spring voice, I mourn more for the fact that her life’s work and sacrifice on our behalf has apparently taught many of us little or nothing.    Exhibit “A” in this thesis is the list of herbicides contained in a 2012 private forestry spraying application for a 3,416 acre unit near the Willapa Headwaters in southwestern Washington (thank you, Jon Gosch). 
 
"If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth." Robert White-Stevens American Cyanamid biochemist
 
Rachel’s story is a powerful one and too often repeated.  Here’s how it goes: A systems thinker (in her case a marine biologist) noticing trends and problems in the natural world compiles evidence that establishes correlative links between a chemical or chemicals and a natural or human health issue and then brings it to the public’s attention.  These are not “proofs” in the traditional scientific sense but rather concrete rationales for further investigation—in short these are the building blocks of testable hypotheses.  
 
“Miss Rachel Carson’s reference to the selfishness of insecticide manufacturers probably reflects her Communist sympathies, like a lot of our writers these days. We can live without birds and animals, but, as the current market slump shows, we cannot live without business. As for insects, isn't it just like a woman to be scared to death of a few little bugs! As long as we have the H-bomb everything will be O.K.” Letter to the editor of the New Yorker
 
But once these building blocks form and become known, a storm of industry-led criticism always follows.  We know the pattern: Credentials and motivations are questioned; industry scientists rush in to defend the safety of products; new brochures addressing criticisms are prepared; and those offering the hypotheses are quickly and roughly kicked to curb for being un-American, job-killers, communists or worse.  In all of this we have to really wonder where the sin lies in raising legitimate and justifiable concerns.  And when exactly did poisoning our wildlife and future generations become an American value?  
 
Now I cannot say conclusively, for instance, that forestry herbicide use on private lands is directly causing hoof rot in elk in southwestern Washington.  That said, I know that the chemical cocktails being sprayed have some impact because herbicides directly lower available food supplies and that stresses elk (and deer) making them generally more vulnerable to any infections.  
 
And I have good reasons to suspect additional impact from glyphosate herbicides like RoundUp or Rodeo because they often control the availability of trace metals and micronutrients to plants, soil microbes, and thus bigger critters through a complicated process known as chelation that undoubtedly alters metabolic functions and other systems at each step up the food chain (see 1, 23)  And then there are some concerns about the immunological and thyroidal impacts of some herbicides. So this is not so much a debate about whether or not herbicides are contributing to this current elk affliction, but how far this class of chemicals moves the needle from zero (no impact) to 100 (proximate cause).
 
“The New York Times reported that in 1996, "Dennis C. Vacco, the Attorney General of New York, ordered the company to pull ads that said Roundup was "safer than table salt" and "practically nontoxic" to mammals, birds and fish. The company withdrew the spots, but also said that the phrase in question was permissible under E.P.A. guidelines."  Under “Legal Cases” in Glyphosate Wikipedia listing 
 
I suspect that many in America believe that the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the passing of theAutism_and_Glyphosate_correlation Clean Water Act have worked together to reduce herbicide use since the 1960s when things were really “bad.”  These are after all the pollution cop agency and a bedrock piece of environmental legislation.  The reality is that while many chemicals were eliminated from use, many more emerged with a lot of them being herbicides.  At the same time lots of wildlife issues such as difficult-to-identify diseases, deformities and population drops are manifesting themselves with similar things happening in human communities too.  Certainly there are multiple factors involved in any wildlife or human health syndrome but the incidence of these problems and the rise of herbicide use seems to track well enough that serious questions should be asked (see glyphosate use and autism graph at right).
 
Now herbicide proponents will be quick to point out that these are only correlations and not causation.  True enough, but like Rachel Carson’s work these correlations are and should be the vibrant roots of hypotheses that we must pose and follow to their conclusions.  And before the charges of scare tactics are deployed and my ethics questioned, my sense is that it is much more responsible to ask legitimate questions arising from a well-constructed correlation, even if it might elicit fear and caution, than to agressively deny that fear and condemn that caution in the absence of adequate and conclusive testing.  And if there is one thing that you learn from plowing through mountains of primary literature on herbicides it is that there is much we do not know and the number of studies that end with a desperate call for more studies is astounding.  
 
It should also be clear to those in the pro-herbicide camp by now that curiosity met with swift denial only leads to suspicion.  And ultimately this becomes distrust if legitimate concerns are ignored or dismissed without visible investigation.  They should also understand that suspicion and distrust can easily snowball into campaigns.  This brings us to our present state which is not quite a broad campaign but more like isolated prairie fires across the rural western landscape that are starting to send sparks back and forth to each other. 
 
These efforts include those by non-traditional folks like hunters and citizen activists Jon Gosch (1,2,3) and Bruce Barnes working on the elk hoof rot issue in Washington; wildlife rehabber Judy Hoy in the intermountain West trying to figure out deformities in deer, elk and antelopes; and Josh Leavitt’s emerging efforts in Utah to serve as a research destination and clearinghouse.  They also include the fine work of groups like our soon-to-be-ex-across-the-hall-neighbors, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides or NCAP that fight this battle daily. (You see, Kim, I was listening and we will miss your shining faces and having Edward's organic eggs just a few steps away).  They should give us all hope that the brave spirit of Rachel Carson lives. 
 
But there is a second part of the Carson lesson and that is the grassroots part of the equation.  For the US EPA to not think it is alright to characterize RoundUp similarly to table salt and for state agencies in charge of our forests, waterways, wildlife and health not to cavalierly sign off on the chemical carpet bombing enumerated at the top of this piece, we all have to speak up.  Carson’s efforts were initially successful because you, your parents or grandparents spoke up in the 1960s and, therefore, for these current efforts to be successful you, your children and your grandchildren have to be vigilant and not think that the first Earth Day was the end of the battle but rather the beginning.  Let’s get to it.  The below action is one to get started, but more will follow from us or other "prairie fires" in the West.
 
 

Jun24

The Hopes in a Howl and Science

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

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

Jun22

Looking Backwards, Forward and to You

IMG_1085

By Bob Ferris
 
Last weekend I stood on the rim of Crater Lake with my wife.  We were staring at the spectacular, Ty-D-Bol-colored water and contemplating strolling down the 700-foot drop to the shore and then back along the mile-long trail.  In walks like this there is always stunning beauty, but there is also a lot of looking forward to how much farther there is to go and looking back to appreciate how far you have come.  
 
In a little more than a weeks’ time all the staff at Cascadia Wildlands will be going through a similar process at a staff gathering.  I would call this a retreat, but it is anything but a retreat.  For us there is definitely a lot of breath taking while we look at the growing mountain of issues we have yet to climb.  There is also profound appreciation for the distances we have covered and the elevation we have gained on so many important fronts.  
 
With each victory—our big steps up the slope—we seem to gain reputation.  But success is its own curse as more look to us on an increasing number of issues in a broader geographic area.  We welcome this and strive to be worthy of the trust and deserving of the necessary support.  
 
During our time together, we will look at our forest, critter, water and carbon work.  We will, for instance, put our minds towards figuring out how a small non-profit can go toe-to-toe with well-funded timber interests intent on clearcutting the three fractured off parts of the former Elliott State Forest they paid pennies on the dollar for.  They hope that their arrogance and wealth will prove too steep a slope for us to scurry up.  
 
!cid_B387826A-5533-417B-83E8-CFF2C3DD21DD@hsd1_or_comcast_netWe will also talk wolves and maybe howl once or twice.  Journey, Wanda and the pups need to be the start of something rather than the ending point.  The more we learn, the more we know that we must fulfill the promising idea of western wolf recovery offered decades and decades ago.  And while we cannot match other larger groups with stuffed wolves or glossy campaign materials (our highly desired wolf ears are handmade by staff–at left), we certainly match those groups in terms of organizational impact, experience and expertise.
 
Our expaned work on carnivores will be a topic.  Since our adoption of Big Wildlife last fadll, we have increased our efforts on other predators like coyotes, bears, cougars and bobcats.  A lot of this effort is directed at state wildlife commissions and agencies and getting them to take their roles as stewards of these species seriously and with sound science rather than looking at them as pests or not considering them at all.  But it is also about strategies to get federal agencies, mainly the USDA's Wildlife Services, out of the predator control business.  
 
Salmon and water too will be covered too.  The suction dredge influx spilling out of California and Oregon and heading towards Washington needs to be met with an appropriate response and as we’ve been there before in Oregon with our successful legislation, we best get after it in these salmon and steelhead waters too.
 
Then there is carbon.  Nearly all we stand to recover and save is made vulnerable by schemes to use or export fossil fuels.  We butted heads with big coal and are making progress there but LNG, tar sands and shale oil are waiting none too patiently in the wings.  We cannot allow the world to fry and dry or the oceans to become so acidic that they consume our aquatic life support systems.  The situation with salmon in California’s dust-filled waterways and the dissolving sea stars of coastal Washington are alarm bells calling for our action.   We have to figure it out.
 
Alaska, big, bold and vulnerable is there as well.  Defending the Tongass and Cooper River with our allies and getting people far from the majesty of these places engaged.  Alaska’s wild landscapes cannot be out of sight out of mind and be expected to survive in anything but coffee-table books.  Because we can assure you that energy, timber and mining interests certainly have this state’s resources in their sights.  And once it is gone it is gone and we forever lose a shining example of what wild truly is.  If we lose what we aspire to in terms of wildness, how can we show future generations what we mean by something that is truly wild?  
 
And then there is you.  How do we add all this above to our plates and still be the folks you love to visit and occasionally be “wild” with?  How do we engage our supporters in ways that short circuits Facebook’s non-profit punishing algorithm and get our issues in the newsfeeds of those who support wildness and need to know about our work?  What sorts of events do our members want and need and where?  And how do barely more than a handful of staff work most effectively with volunteer activists and continue to have this level of impact (and more) across four states?  
 
We suspect that we will come up with some of the above answers during our two days together, but we also hope that some of the answers come from our members and supporters who truly and totally get engaged.  Towards those ends Carolyn and Kaley will be sending out more interactive materials in our e-news and other outlets (beyond Kaley’s riddles and jokes) to hear more from our public.  
 
But you do not have to wait until then; ideas and other help are always welcome from our friends and allies.  Do you have an idea for an event?  Would your company like us to do a brown bag lunch presentation?  Do you want to sponsor a house party or program briefing? Are you a member of a band that could play at Pints Gone Wild?  All of these are ways to help as are inviting your friends to become fans on facebook or subscribe to our action and event filled e-newsletter.  
 
If you are reading this you are already a part of Cascadia Wildlands and we are grateful for that.  So while we are looking forward and back as well as thinking of you, this might also be a good time for you to think about what you can and are willing to do on all of these important issues (or others).  Many of the issues that we work on are critical, serious and often heart-wrenching, but acting on these fronts and being generous to the natural systems and critters that support and sustain us is always a joyous act. Get engaged.  

 

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. 
 
 

May14

Journey and Wandering Wanda—A love story two plus decades in the making

By Bob Ferris
 
June 1st marks my twentieth year as a professional advocate for wolf recovery and roughly thirty years as a professional wildlife biologist. This is not a big deal as nearly everyone eventually is somewhere for a long time, but it OR7_odfwdoes give me one very important advantage: Perspective.  In other words, I know where we started and therefore understand where we are with wolves and why.  
 
The experience had also yielded amazing memories from freezing in Fort Saint John, British Columbia (-45 degrees) during the second capture of wolves for Yellowstone and Idaho in 1996 and hearing the Crow and Sioux warriors (at left) singing the wolves back to their ancient lands in our first national park to speculating on when wolves would get to California and Crow warriors singing in wolvescelebrating the first wild wolf prints in my life time in both Oregon and California.  All good and glorious memories.
 
That is not to say that all the memories are good. Certainly not.  Getting grilled by ex-Senator Larry Craig and former Wyoming Senator Craig Thomas in a Senate sub-committee hearing on wolves was not as much fun as it could have been and watching this manufactured hysteria over wolves that is resulting in continued, unjustified killing of wolves is breaking my heart on multiple levels.  And then there are the constant insults and the veiled and not so veiled death threats.  But we did and are doing all that we can for the wolf and will continue those efforts whatever the outcome of this federal delisting exercise.  
 
But one of my favorite sets of memories was sitting in my office and being a fly-on-the-wall over the last two years watching and listening to Nick, Josh and advisory board member and former staffer Dan Kruse work with our partners (Oregon Wild and Center for Biological Diversity), agencies and the opposition on crafting legislation and rules that have led to Oregon having the best wolf management approach in the lower 48 states (see details on settlement here). 
 
This whole history—past and recent—is on my mind because this coming Saturday May 17, 2014 marks the third full year that Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has not killed a single wolf for livestock depredation. (It should be noted that the animals not killed include the previously condemned to die OR-4 who remains the alpha male of the Imnaha pack and is the father of OR-7 or Journey.) We are so proud of that.  
 
So as we look at this potentiality or eventuality of OR-7 having a mate and pups in the southern Cascades of Oregon we have to understand that we would not be celebrating and anticipating this happy outcome if some dedicated and effective groups like Cascadia Wildlands had not stepped forward now and over the past decades since Aldo Leopold and others suggested the need to protect and restore wolves.  (Folks in the Eugene area will get a little bit of a chance to kick the tires on that plan when ODFW’s wolf guy Russ Morgan speaks on May 20, 2014.)
 
Potential OR-7 mateWhatever the results observed this June or the next, when biologists go to look for a den and pups in southern Cascadia’s wild reaches, and see if a pairing between OR-7 (pictured above at right) and his “Wandering Wanda” (pictured at right) have produced pups, we know the work is not done.   We still have to be vigilant in Oregon.  We need to move the process forward in Washington State.  We need to keep federal and get state endangered species protections in California.  And we need to simultaneously maintain federal gray wolf protections in the West and continue our work to educate and erase wolf myths and hatred wherever we find them.  
 
And to do all of this we need your continued support both as wolf activists and as engaged donors.  Yes we have wolf all-stars on staff, but they are on staff because our donors keep them there.  When you go looking for wolf heroes and the figurative grandparents of OR-7 and Wanda’s offspring you might just being seeing one in the mirror.  Please help us continue this work.
 
 

Mar08

The Suction Dredging War Starts in Washington: Gentlemen Do Not Start Your Engines

By Bob Ferris
 

 

The above clip came to mind when I was dealing with a recent posting on a fishing site about suction dredge mining in Washington State.  No one expects the Spanish Inquisition and most are not prepared for the onslaught of vitriol, misinformation, threats and bullying typically unleashed by the suction dredge crowd anytime anyone questions their “rights” to run wild and go motorized in our precious and vulnerable salmon-bearing waterways.  
 
This rapid fire electronic carpet bombing by internet trolls is part of an escalating pattern that we have seen over the past decade or so as the idea of sucking up gravel and silt from the bottom of rivers and streams using noisy machines has gained public scrutiny and attention.  
 
Another element of this pattern are states and federal agencies that are wholly unprepared to deal with this issue.  Collectively they have historically worked to enable and simplify permitting without giving any substantive thought to the need for monitoring, enforcement and a consideration of the cumulative and material impacts of this destructive activity—particularly in waterways with struggling salmonids.  The agencies are as unprepared for this assault as we often are.
 
 
In Washington State the agencies seem much like Bambi—the fawn portrayed above.  They have written a nice pamphlet and have a rudimentary permitting program. They have even formed some ill-advised partnerships with suction dredge miners to undertake mercury removal in spite of strong and repeated evidence that this is not a good idea. And now the “Godzilla” created by the ban in California and the restrictions in Oregon is striding purposely towards them one giant, reverberating footfall at a time.  Boom.
 
And who exactly is this horde presently in and now heading north to Washington State?  If you read the comments section of this site and the steelhead site as well as follow what the miners are doing in Southern Oregon, the answer to that is not positive.  In short, they are generally folks with extreme views and behaviors with a high level of resentment to regulation.  And even though they appear largely without advanced education—as evidenced by spelling, grammar and correctness of expression—they appear to lack a corresponding humility because their frequent claims to know more about law than lawyers and more about fish and fisheries impacts than ichthyologists.
 
Racist Tribe Quote
 
The suction dredge miners are also monumentally unaware.  Cascadia is a region defined by rivers frequently named for and still held sacred by tribes working hard to cling to their aquatic heritage.  These are important and valued characteristics of the region to many of us who work with tribes to fulfill the dream of recovered salmon runs and fully functioning coastal ecosystems.  This is in sharp contrast to the overtly racist tone we frequently see from suction dredgers in comment sections.  The quote above (click to enlarge) from a poster known as Terry McClure is particularly offensive but it is by no means unique.
 

In addition, one of the frequent commenters on the Washington dredge piece is a fellow who dredges throughout Cascadia and also sells dredge concentrates on the internet to those who want to pay $50 a pop to pan for gold.  This dredger’s LLC is called Blue Sky Gold Mining which sounds very close to the title of the song by the Australian rock group Midnight Oil—Blue Sky Mining—that became an environmental anthem highlighting the deleterious impacts of mining.  I wonder if he understands the irony in that name?
 
And I wonder if salmon restoration supporters, the tribes, Washington legislators and the state and federal agencies can come together to deal with the existing issue and the looming increase before our salmon and waterways pay the price of this laissez-faire approach to suction dredgers.  Join Fish not Gold and get active. 
 

Jan16

In Washington, Opposition Mounts to Notorious Federal Program’s Attempt to Grab Wolf-killing Powers

For Immediate Release, January 16, 2014wolf-110006
 
Contacts: 
Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 779-9613
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, (541) 359-0990
 
In Washington, Opposition Mounts to Notorious Federal Program’s Attempt to Grab Wolf-killing Powers 
 
OLYMPIA, Wash.— Eight conservation groups representing tens of thousands of Washington residents filed official comments today opposing a controversial federal agency’s attempt to give itself authority to kill endangered wolves in the state. In December the U.S. Department of Agriculture/ APHIS Wildlife Services published a draft “environmental assessment” proposing to broaden its authority to assist the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife killing wolves in response to livestock depredations.
 
Conservation organizations are calling for Wildlife Services to prepare a more in-depth “environmental impact statement” because the less-detailed assessment already completed contains significant gaps and fails to address specific issues that will significantly affect wolves and the human environment. The document prepared by Wildlife Services failed to provide data to support some of its core assertions, including whether killing wolves actually reduces wolf-caused losses of livestock. It also failed to address the ecological effects of killing wolves in Washington, including impacts on wolf populations in neighboring states and on nontarget animals — from federally protected species such as grizzly bears and Canada lynx to wolverines, which are now proposed for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.
  
“Allowing a notoriously anti-predator program like Wildlife Services to kill wolves will hobble wolf recovery in Washington, where they remain an endangered species,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wildlife Services is nothing but a killing machine for the livestock industry. There are certainly better options to protect livestock than killing these beautiful animals that are so important to ecosystems.”
 
Wildlife Services is a stand-alone program under the USDA that kills roughly 1.5 million animals per year, including wolves, grizzly bears, otters, foxes, coyotes, birds and many others, with little public oversight or accountability. Thousands of animals killed by Wildlife Services each year are nontarget wildlife species, endangered species and even people’s pets that unwittingly get caught in traps or ingest poisons intended for target species.
 
“There is no place for Wildlife Services in Washington wolf management,” says Nick Cady, legal director with Cascadia Wildlands. “This unaccountable agency program appears to have one mission only — to sanitize the landscape of America’s wild animals that interfere with agricultural operations.”
 
Long criticized as a rogue entity, Wildlife Services was recently the subject of a prize-winning newspaper exposé of its shadowy operations, as well as a documentary containing firsthand descriptions by former program personnel of illegal and cruel practices perpetrated on wildlife and domestic animals. Conservation groups petitioned the USDA in December demanding reform of Wildlife Services’ entire operations. Since then there have been congressional calls for an investigation into the program’s questionable operations, nontransparency and lack of accountability.
 
“Given the pending USDA Inspector General investigation into Wildlife Services, now is not the time to be granting this program new authority to kill wolves in Washington,” said John Mellgren, staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “Broadening its killing authority would introduce new roadblocks to wolf recovery in Washington, and with the use of questionable and inhumane tactics.”
 
Wildlife Services acted in an advisory capacity in the 2012 killing of the Wedge pack by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. In that instance, the department killed seven wolves after depredations of livestock on public lands, despite the rancher’s failure to take sufficient action to protect his cattle. The public, in Washington and across the nation, was outraged, and a Washington state senator called for an investigation into the Wedge pack’s annihilation. 
 
"Wildlife Services consistently fails to consider the ecological value of wolves and other large carnivores to maintaining ecosystem health, integrity and resilience," said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote. "It's high time Wildlife Services factored in these values and put its money where its mouth is by implementing and emphasizing non-lethal methods to reduce livestock-predator conflicts."
 
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 to Washington from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia in the early 2000s, and their population has grown to the current 10 confirmed packs and two probable packs. While this represents solid growth, wolves in the state are far from recovered and face ongoing threats. Wildlife Services’ proposal poses a new, significant threat to the full recovery of wolves in Washington.
 
The organizations calling on Wildlife Services to prepare a full environmental impact statement include Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Environmental Law Center, Project Coyote, Predator Defense, WildEarth Guardians, Kettle Range Conservation Group and The Lands Council.
###

Dec09

Problems with the White Knight, Red Queen and Wolves

By Bob FerrisGibbon wolf pack standing on snow;Doug Smith;March 2007
 
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]

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.  

Aug15

On Becoming a Wolf Activist—Do the wolf waltz

By Bob Ferris

“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).  
 
 
3—Share the following tweet (below) as Sally Jewell is active on Twitter and her staff are monitoring hash marks (simply click on the link and Twitter does the rest).
 

 
4—Support your favorite wolf advocacy organization.  (We hope it is Cascadia Wildlands but others need support for what will be a protracted campaign)
 
 
 
Follow these four easy steps—almost like a wolf waltz—and we will put these incredible creatures on a solid pathway to recovery.
 

we like it wild. Follow us Facebook Twiter RSS