For immediate release, March 5, 2013
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463
PORTLAND, Ore.— In an effort championed by Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), 52 House members sent a letter today to the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urging an about-face on the agency’s anticipated proposal to remove federal protections for wolves across most of the lower 48 United States.
“We are grateful that these 52 representatives are standing strong for continued federal protections for wolves,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With wolves only just beginning to recover in the Pacific Northwest, California, southern Rocky Mountains and Northeast, now’s not the time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to turn its back on wolf recovery.”
An estimated 2 million wolves once roamed freely across North America, including most of the United States. But bounties, a federal extermination program and human settlement drove the species to near extinction in most of the lower 48. While protected by the Endangered Species Act, wolf populations in the northern Rocky Mountains and the Western Great Lakes states increased; but these regions amount to a mere 5 percent of the wolf’s original range, and in other regions wolves are only just beginning to return.
“The job of wolf recovery is far from over and the members of Congress who have written to the Service are asking that science, not politics, guide federal wolf management,” said Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands. “Maintaining federal protections is critical in allowing wolves to assume their valuable ecological role across the American landscape.”
Since the original wolf recovery plans were written in the 1980s, scientists have learned much more about wolves’ behavior, ecology and needs. Research has shown that returning wolves to ecosystems sets off a chain of events that benefits many species, including songbirds and beavers that gain from a return of streamside vegetation, which thrives in the absence of browsing elk that must move more often to avoid wolves. And pronghorn and foxes are aided by wolves’ control of coyote populations. Protecting ecosystems upon which species depend is a specific goal of the Endangered Species Act — all the more reason for expanded, rather than diminished, wolf recovery efforts.
Bowing to political pressure from wolf opponents, the Service has no plans for wolf recovery in areas beyond those regions it has deemed recovered (the northern Rockies and western Great Lakes). In states where federal delisting has occurred, there are insufficient protections from local pressures to hunt or “control” wolves back to the brink of extinction. In the 18 months since federal delisting began in 2011, more than 1,700 of the 5,000-6,000 recovered wolves in the lower 48 have been killed.
Conservation organizations are hopeful that Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell will be a stronger advocate for wolves than outgoing Secretary Ken Salazar, who never called for comprehensive gray wolf recovery across the country.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Cascadia Wildlands is a Eugene, Oregon-based nonprofit conservation organization that educates, agitates and inspires a movement to protect and restore Cascadia’s wild ecosystems.
By Bob Ferris
by Gabe Scott
Where is the Tea Party when we need them?
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with two thick Environmental Impact Statements — for the Tonka Timber Sale, and the Big Thorne Timber Sale — out of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. These fellas are a blast from the past, a nostalgic but savage reminder of why our work continues to be so necessary on Cascadia’s northern forest.
The Tonka and Big Thorne timber sales target thousands of acres of old-growth for clearcutting. Trying to stay clear of controversial roadless areas, they’re logging mostly “leave” areas between past clearcuts, on places like Prince of Wales Island and Lindenberg Peninsula. The result would be huge, continuous clearcuts. Sacrifice areas, really.
One big problem is these huge swaths of land will be worthless to deer during hard winters. In good weather, even a clearcut can be good habitat for a deer. But when deep snow comes deer seek refuge in the shelter of big trees, and rely on the lichens beneath them to avoid starvation.
A related problem comes when clearcuts grow back into densely stocked second-growth. This shades out undergrowth, killing the herbs and shrubs that deer eat. A second-growth forest in the “stem exclusion phase” is worthless to deer from about 30 years after logging out. The condition lasts about a century, nobody is really sure.
Loss of deer winter habitat has spiraling negative effects to wolves and humans who eat them. If this sacrifice areas strategy goes forward, the ecosystem won’t just be damaged — it will be destroyed, thrown fundamentally out of whack. Places like Prince of Wales Island and Lindenberg Peninsula will no longer be able to support deer, human hunters and wolves. One of the three will have to give.
It’s pretty clear how this story plays out. The last few winters have been hard, and the places that have been heavily logged have seen huge declines of deer. On Lindenberg Peninsula, where the Tonka sale is proposed, the Alaska Board of Game voted this month to limit the deer season and bag limit. Worse, they are considering “predator control” plans to kill off 80% the wolves in the area, in a desperate effort to leave enough deer to hunt.
These are the consequences of logging, so why are we still doing this? The thing is, the Forest Service sees it as their job to prop up and grow a timber industry in Southeast Alaska. These massive logging projects are based on the idea that if enough forest is sold cheaply enough, new mills will rise from the ashes.
The facts aren’t there to support the scheme. The truth is, not being able to find enough trees was never the reason behind the old-growth industry’s decline. The reasons are obvious: the price you can sell trees for went way down, and the cost of logging went way up. There’s only one mid-size mill left in business (just barely).
The fact is this: it is not profitable to log and mill Tongass old-growth on any large scale.
There are all sorts of gimmicks used to disguise the fundamentally unsound economics. The Forest Service builds, maintains and repairs a vast network of logging roads with taxpayer money. They try to hide the millions of dollars it costs to design, lay out, and do environmental analysis for timber sales.
The strategy doesn’t even obey its own logic. The Forest Service routinely issues exemptions allowing loggers to bypass the local mill and export logs overseas. If the point is to save the local mills, then why are these sales geared to export markets?
What is going on here is exactly the kind of “crony capitalism” that Sarah Palin rails against. We have a few dozen people in the logging industry, a Forest Supervisor, and local politicians co-enabling each other by peddling a tired old narrative. There’s a veneer of rugged individualism, but really these are government-made jobs. Taxpayers are paying over a quarter-million dollars for each logging job being created.
The “jobs versus environment” debate has become so entrenched that most politicians don’t know how to think any other way. Eventually the facts will catch up, and Tea Party folks will realize Tongass logging for the wasteful government program that it is.
Until then, we’ll have to keep fighting these big timber sales like it’s 1999.
The Oregonian by Richard Cockle
JOSEPH — Oregon has a brand new wolf pack, complete with a litter of five pups, discovered last weekend deep in the 560-square-mile Eagle Cap Wilderness of northeastern Oregon.
State biologists spotted two gray-colored adult wolves and their pups on Aug. 25 in the Upper Minam River drainage, said Michelle Dennehy, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman.
The litter is the fifth documented this year in northeastern Oregon, bringing the number of new wolf pups for the year to 23 in the state, Dennehy said.
That adds to the 29 known wolves in Oregon counted by the end of 2011.
"Now, we will be monitoring them through the end of the year to see how many pups survive," Dennehy said.
The state could be on the cusp of achieving a major goal of its Oregon Wolf Management Plan: four breeding pairs of gray wolves for three consecutive years east of the Cascades. Achieving that objective could start the process to delist the gray wolf from the Oregon Endangered Species Act, Dennehy said.
Irregular reports of wolves roaming along the Minam River have come to ODFW biologists for several years, she said. A vacationing Idaho biologist reported finding wolf scat there while archery hunting six years ago.
State biologists have closely monitored the Minam River since a photo of a black lactating female wolf was taken there June 4. But the newly discovered adult wolves and pups are all gray and appear unrelated to the lactating female, Dennehy said.
Oregon's wolf numbers have steadily grown in recent years, with adult wolves in the Imnaha, Wenaha, Walla Walla, Snake River, Sled Springs and now Minam River packs, plus at least two adult wolves in the Mount Emily Game Management Unit between Pendleton and La Grande.
Additionally, biologists have confirmed two separate wolf packs in the Sled Springs game management unit. They also captured and radio-collared a 49-pound male pup Aug. 2 in the Snake River Pack.
Jackson Hole News and Guide guest opinion by Bob Ferris
Actions and inactions always speak louder than words. So it is very telling that, in the two weeks or so since the Murie family released their eloquent letter urging the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to return to science and tone down their anti-wolf rhetoric, we have heard nothing from RMEF's scientific staff. The silence is profound.
Sure, we were treated to tea party darling Jim Beers' rant on the Skinny Moose blog and saw a remarkably sophomoric press release focusing on wolf killing tips from RMEF, but where are the elk group's biologists? And where, too, are the group's logical and natural defenders from the conservation and hunting communities?
The answers to the above breaks down to one word: Murie. Wildlife professionals of all stripes hold the Murie family and Aldo Leopold's family in very high regard. And as much as RMEF CEO David Allen and his supporters try to ignore or dismiss the significance of this letter -to those of us in the field of wildlife -Murie's epistle is very serious business indeed.
I suspect the casualness with which RMEF electronically ejected Olaus Murie from its website and organizational persona shocked many. It was like it reached into itself and pulled out its own spine and then acted like nothing of note transpired. In all honesty, it really had no response to Donald Murie's concerns about ignoring the science and waging a war on wolves, but it seemed so strikingly abrupt and callous. It clearly had the feel and taste of a sudden death.
In many ways it is like a divorce. Former Bugle editor David Stalling courted the Murie family to establish the award in the late 1990s. At the time, it seemed like a perfect romance: A well-respected conservation organization with a biodiversity mission and elk focus forms a relationship with the family of a legendary biodiversity proponent and acknowledged father of modern elk management. What could be better?
But we all know that people and organizations change. In the case of the elk foundation, midway through is relation ship with the Muries, it started on a pathway that has taken it away from its stated mission. Its return to the dated and biologically selfish model of single-species management is as perplexing to many as its aggressive campaign against wolves in the absence of supporting and conclusive science.
We all have dealt with divorce in our lives, and it is of ten sordid and tawdry. We ultimately end up picking sides, mainly in accordance with our original allegiances to bride or groom. Sitting on the fence rarely seems an option. If we look at RMEF as the groom in this equation, one thing it has failed to grasp fully is that we in the scientific and conservation communities as well as in geographic communities like Jackson Hole, who know and have been touched by the Muries, are die-hard friends of the bride.
Moreover, RMEF does little to improve its public image by doing nothing to police its scant public defenders' efforts to question the motivations and qualifications of the Murie family and also, interestingly, the Leopolds. It is hard for me to describe how fast my blood pressure rose the other day when someone on one of the blogs claimed that Dale Earnhardt had done more for conservation than Olaus Murie or Aldo Leopold. But these are the people attracted to the elk foundation's current messaging. They bring to mind a chorus of drinking buddies who after materially contributing to the break-up besmirch the bride's character.
In my career I have worked more closely with the Leopold family than the Muries, but my recent experiences with the children and grandchildren of Olaus, Mardy, Adolph and Louise have absolutely mirrored that of the Leopolds. They are true conservationists and exude an authenticity that cannot be spun, marketed or photoshopped. These iconic families ushered in a new, more holistic way of looking at ecosystem functions, such as predator-prey relations and the consequences of myopic management schemes like maximizing game populations.
The rich tapestry opened to those taking a biodiversity view cannot adequately be observed via a single-species lens. One prime example is the elk foundation's position on climate change written, by Val Geist. The one-paragraph position from 2004 acknowledges coming changes but views them as largely positive for elk. While the position stops somewhat short of being jubilant, the analysis is extremely limited in terms of factors and potential scenarios. In sharp contrast, scientists working for a consortium of 12 sportsman groups predict dire consequences for elk in the Rockies, including the spread of disease, loss of sagebrush habitat and outright extirpation from areas in their current range. And this latter view is being borne out by experience as we see localized drops in elk population being attributed to drought conditions and related impacts to food resources and timing.
Having worked hard to shore up the finances of several nonprofits during my career, I can certainly understand the board's reticence to make leadership changes when its coffers are expanding in a down economy, but the Murie letter and the community's reaction should be taken to heart. Boards must govern with courage and foresight ever mindful of the fiscal health and reputation of the organization in their care. With David Allen at the helm, RMEF has one of these bases covered, and that is simply not enough.
Bob Ferris is the executive director of Cascadia Wildlands (CascWild.org) and a member of the volunteer team that went to Fort Saint John, British Columbia, in January 1996 to make sure the second translocation of wolves into the U.S. Rockies was not derailed by the government shutdown.