Posts Tagged ‘wolves’
"The wolf is the arch type of ravin, the beast of waste and desolation. It is still found scattered thinly throughout all the wilder portions of the United States, but has everywhere retreated from the advance of civilization." from Hunting the Grisly and Other Sketches by Theodore Roosevelt originally published in this form in 1902
Teddy Roosevelt was a lot of things in his life, but he was never a fan of wolves. In fact, he once characterized them (see above quote) as a beast of waste and desolation. Fair enough and very consistent with the prevailing view of the day held by both the general public and scientists near the turn of the last century. But what is probably more relevant to our current debates is what Teddy would say today.
My sense is that his view in present times would be similar to mine. My reason for thinking that way is that Roosevelt was both a scientist and a scholar who prided himself on being at or near the bleeding edge of the field. Please remember that this was a man who often rode the wild plains of America with a copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in his saddle bags. He was a what we would call today a “first adopter” and progressive thinker. My sense too is that he would have gobbled up Aldo Leopold’s works and embraced both his science and philosophy. But this is the stuff of speculation and campfire debates long into the night.
Returning to things that are not speculation, we know that Teddy was a renowned naturalist and wrote many books on natural history. He was also a friend of some of the most famous wildlife scientists of those times and treated as a colleague. These facts were reflected both in his breath of knowledge as well as his attention to detail. These character traits are important as we look at his writings beyond his parroting of then-popular wolf sentiments. I bring this up as anti-wolf folks are very anxious to quote the passage at the top of this piece and seem reluctant to look at other observations he made about wolves a few paragraphs later in the same work.
Buttercup: Westley, what about the R.O.U.S.'s?
Westley: Rodents of Unusual Size? I don't think they exist. from The Princess Bride (1987)
All of us who work on wolf conservation have had to suffer wolf myths and one of the most enduring is the one about the size of wolves reintroduced in Idaho and central Idaho (i.e., the Northern Rockies) versus those wolves that once haunted the wilds of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. To listen to these Monday (or Tuesday) morning quarterbacks great efforts were taken to capture wolves of unusual size (WOUS) and with Canadian flags tattooed somewhere on their oversized bodies.
"The great timber wolf of the central and northern chains of the Rockies and coast ranges is in every way a more formidable creature than the buffalo wolf of the plains, although they intergrade. The skins and skulls of the wolves of north-western Montana and Washington which I have seen were quite as large and showed quite as stout claws and teeth as the skins and skulls of Russian and Scandinavian wolves, and I believe that these great timber wolves are in every way as formidable as their Old World kinsfolk." from Hunting the Grisly and other Sketches by Theodore Roosevelt originally published in this form in 1902
Further, these anti-wolf souls claim that the Northern Rockies wolf of old was a kinder and gentler version of the rapacious beasts we careless biologists threw in the states so casually and "illegally." Their arguments are that the wolves that their grandfathers and great grandfathers knew were Lilliputian compared to the ill-behaved louts they have now. Their former wolves were in the 60-70 pound class and smaller than the so-called buffalo or plains wolves. Their belief in this is so strong that they have subjected the rest of us to a parade of badly photoshopped wolves with dimensions that appear approach those of baby elephants.
"A full-grown dog-wolf of the northern Rockies, in exceptional instances, reaches a height of thirty-two inches and a weight of 130 pounds; a big buffalo wolf of the upper Missouri stands thirty or thirty-one inches at the shoulder and weighs about 110 pounds. A Texas wolf may not reach over eighty pounds. The bitch-wolves are smaller; and moreover there is often great variation even in the wolves of closely neighboring localities." from Hunting the Grisly and other Sketches by Theodore Roosevelt originally published in this form in 1902
But Teddy in his contemporary observations of these historic wolves from the winter of 1892-1893 and other times, paints a very different picture. He singles out these wolves of the Northwest forests and Northern Rockies as being bigger than those of the plains and specifically mentions western Montana, Idaho and Washington as well as the wolves of the coastal Pacific Northwest (see Chapter VIII here for full text).
Now certainly there are size variations, as Mr. Roosevelt points out, and young animals taken in summer are obviously smaller and perhaps more prone to be observed or shot. But these caveats hardly explain all of the strength and vehemence of the claims of those wanting the world to believe that the “wrong” wolves were placed in Yellowstone and central Idaho. This willingness to embrace myths in the absence of compelling evidence is one of the factors that truly separate those who see wolf recovery simply as an invasion of oversized, foreign beasts from those who celebrate the return of selective forces and an important ecological actor to our western landscapes.
Wildlands need their full complement of species to maintain their ecological integrity. Thus it has been heartening to see the gray wolf repopulate the rugged northern Rockies and expansive western Great Lakes in recent years.
But postage-stamp populations of wolves on the American landscape is not comprehensive recovery, and this underscores as misguided and premature the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to strip critical protections for wolves in nearly all of the lower 48 states.
Sally Jewell, our new Interior Secretary, will soon be making the decision whether or not to remove safeguards for wolves across the country. Alarmingly, the current proposal would strip protections for wolves in places they have yet to return, like Utah’s Wasatch Range and wildlands across other iconic American landscapes that continue to feel the absence of the gray wolf.
It is clear the gray wolf recovery mission is not accomplished. Scientists strongly agree that significant habitat continues to exist for the wolf. Recently, 16 of our nation’s prominent wolf and ecological scientists sent a letter to Jewell calling on her to maintain protections for wolves, and the secretary should heed their advice.
Gray wolves need continued protections because they are necessary for ecosystem balance and because they are an economic driver for communities around them.
In Yellowstone National Park, where wolves have returned, landscape health is being restored. Scientists have documented that wolves keep elk herds alert and may prevent overgrazing of sensitive streamside areas. With the presence of the wolf, there has been a documented positive effect upon many other species, from songbirds to fish to beavers.
Research shows that wolves are not just good for ecosystem health, but also for the economy. The return of wolves to Yellowstone brings an estimated $35 million in annual tourist revenue to surrounding communities. Seeing wolves often entails filling up the gas tank, grabbing breakfast at the diner, booking a room, and hiring a guide. Wolves are big business in this part of the country.
But there is another reason to restore wolves. Wolf restoration epitomizes our country’s true commitment to restoring the nation’s wildlife patrimony. And we have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren to be good stewards of the wild American landscapes from which we so effectively exterminated wolves.
But in order to do so, they need maintained federal protections.State management isn’t promising. Utah’s Legislature has already tried to make it a "wolf-free" state if federal protections are stripped.
In Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, nearly 1,200 wolves have been shot or trapped since the federal government in 2011 removed protections for the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population and handed management over to states.
By Bob Ferris
I became convinced yesterday that actors who play zombies in movies learned their walking techniques from fly fishermen wading in swift rivers on slippery and slimy cobble. I came to that conclusion as I “gingerly” crossed the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River—it is all in the balance or lack thereof. But this summer seems to have been a season of lessons taught or inspired by the rivers my wife and I roamed in July, August and September.
Our first plans this summer were to go down the Wild and Scenic portion of the Rogue. Since this is the site of Zane Grey’s cabin and we tend to get regionally inspired recorded books for our trips we checked out Grey’s Forlorn River for a listen. But this year’s fires forced a migration to the Lower Salmon and Snake Rivers of Idaho, Oregon and Washington. As this was sort of last minute we still took the story of Ben Ide and Ina Blaine along with us for a listen.
Forlorn River is certainly about rustlers and romance but it is also about drought and the over-riding importance of water. It is a tale of how little weather blimps—like a six-year drought—can make profound differences when it comes to the livelihoods and welfare of people and wildlife. We got about a third through the CDs on our trip to the launch site at White Bird, Idaho. Grey’s descriptions of fried landscapes and denuded slopes around a de-watered Tule Lake resonated as we rowed past hillside after hillside rich with cattle hoof prints and cow flops but much bereft of plant life.
We spent a layover day after our second day of raft rowing and the five of us in our party hid in the thorny locust trees and watched the REI thermometer top 112 degrees in the shade. The steep, dark canyon walls seemed quite capable of turning our little refuge into the Neolithic equivalent of an easy-bake oven. It made me think—as I often do—about the implications of climate change and the importance of doing all that we can to limit the use of fossil fuels. Parboiling in our shady version of Hades somehow gives special validity to all our efforts to stop pipelines and coal terminals.
We also ran into a BLM fellow during our series of siestas. In amongst the chit-chat and his questions about our compliance with poop-rules and other river regulations, I asked him about suction dredgers on the Salmon. His response was similar to other responses that I have received from other agency folks in that unarmed officers are understandably reticent to perform enforcement actions on heavily armed public lands users. Strikes me as a sad state of affairs.
It is about weather but also water too. Our boats clanked and clunked through the various rapids as they were festooned with water bottles of all ilks. And you can tell a lot about people by their water bottles. Ours bespoke folks who supported energy conservation programs in Oregon and Washington, wildlife preservation and organic farming—mostly metal, well used and dented. These are the modern day equivalents of the saddle blanket-sided canteens of Ben and Ina’s days.
We drank deep and often in the searing heat along our 75-mile trip (see water bottle above from business partner Mountain Rose Herbs). And it was so easy to imagine the craziness and desperation experienced by those without water in these conditions. Our Tully’s and booney hats replaced the big, broad sombreros of the Forlorn River crew, but it was clear that without water their personal shade would be but a short stopgap.
My thoughts returned to climate change again on our last night on the Snake—the day we rowed from Idaho to Oregon and then into Washington. We stopped short of our goal on a tiny little beach because a head wind was beating the current and our rowing. My friend Martin and I were building shoulders, but not making progress. Tired as we were we both hopped up when we looked at the quickly blackening sky and scrambled to erect tents and batten down whatever “hatches” were open. My wife questioned our haste and my bossiness as I shoved her and our gear into the tent, but when the angry skies unleashed the need for speed became readily apparent.
Our once quiet, sweltering and a little buggy beach quickly became like the stormy deck of a besieged ship as the wind and rain whipped us. I became a giant, wet tent stake as I held on to top of our tent to prevent ripped fabric and sprung poles. Then the calm came and we took a breath only to have the trailing edges of the storm blow us just as hard in the other direction.
We emerged wet and much cooler, but suspected that gear from some camps that afternoon flew miles before stopping. The bugs too were gone and there was a freshness felt. But I could not help but think about storm intensity and climate change essentially: What have we wrought though our consumptive ways and how justified the sky is in giving us the grief it does.
Following our return from the Salmon and Snake Rivers, the rest of Forlorn River CDs sat unspun until Carlene and I finally traveled down to the Rogue. This time we went to go rafting from Hog Creek to Grave’s Creek with a bunch of environmental law students from University of Oregon. When I say bunch I mean 70 or so. This is always a rowdy trip and not because of the river which only slaps us with Class I & II rapids in this stretch. It is a good float and nice to see this potential crop of environmental lawyers out in the habitats they will work so hard to protect in the future.
It is also a time for discussions and bonding; for the river opens as well as it binds. Paddling is a team sport as people have to paddle together to make progress and also have to develop both as leaders and followers to make it work in the manner that it should. No one is going to die but there are consequences when it does not work. It is also intriguing to see—one by one—why each of the students is there and what makes them special. It could be the shy talker who belts out a ballad next to the campfire or the timid and hesitant leaper who seems hesitant to jump off the lower level of the rock plunge only to nail a bold backflip with a perfect entry. I am along as mentor and guide, but in truth I do very little of either. I learn much from the discussions and their commitment deepens my own resolve.
And again the CDs sit, but only for less than a day for we soon scoot off to spend an afternoon on the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette up past Westfir. We are midway through Forlorn River at this point and we revel at Marvie Blaine’s enthusiasm over fishing as the rainbows stack up in the last spring holes of Forlorn River. Knowing what I do about Zane Grey’s life and his dedication to angling, I suspect that there is a lot of him in young Marvie and his willingness to take a “licking” in pursuit of his passion. I get that because I was bitten by the same bug.
The last spring hole is also a contemporarily appropriate metaphor. We are in so many areas down to our last spring hole and the fish really have no place else to go. In my own North Fork wading and wandering looking for that legal-sized keeper native, I stumbled onto about a dozen or so nearly yard-long salmonids beaten and bruised from their long journeys. My emotions upon seeing these great fish were mixed. I was at once excited and empathetic as well as depressed and resigned when it dawned on me that these fish—brave and majestic as they were—represented some of the problem and our folly as these were most likely summer run steelhead from hatcheries judging from their lack of adipose fins. It is kind of like looking up a slope and seeing shapes you hope are elk and finding they are cattle—not completely the same but similar. Elation and deflation.
The CD spun to romance as we drove home and a coming together for Ben and Ina with hopeful undertones for the triumph of good over evil and right over wrong. I hope as we re-enter the world of wolves, O&C lands and salmon recovery that this Forlorn River theme can prevail. We still have about twenty percent of the book to hear so we are obviously obligated to visit another river or two soon. I wonder which waterway it will be and what lessons it will teach?
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recently delayed its independent analysis of a plan to drop endangered species protections for wolves. That’s a start, but the agency should go further by ensuring that its plans receive a rigorous peer review that focuses on the science and not the politics of delisting.
Better yet, the agency should abandon its premature plan to remove legal protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states — including Oregon, where the apex predator’s numbers have yet to reach sustainable levels.
In June, the agency proposed the elimination of most remaining federal Endangered Species Act restrictions, saying the wolf has sufficiently recovered after being hunted nearly to extinction by the mid-20th century.
The decision was driven more by hunting, ranching and political interests than science. The agency’s delisting plan conflicts with warnings from many wildlife biologists that the species’ numbers have not reached sustainable levels and the wolf has only begun to re-establish itself.
Sixteen scientists responsible for most of the research that the federal agency cited in its delisting decision sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell criticizing the delisting plan and protesting that their findings were mischaracterized.
The private consulting firm that was hired to conduct a peer review then removed three scientists from that review panel who had signed the letter to Jewell.
The agency insists that it postponed the peer review because the identities of the panelists, which were supposed to be hidden from agency officials, had been discovered. A more likely explanation is that they were removed because they had signed the letter protesting the delisting plan.
A Fish & Wildlife Service spokesman declined comment about the agency’s dealing with the scientists but said the agency “wanted to be particularly sure that the people we got for this process were objective and unbiased” because the wolf is such a “highly polarizing subject.”
Perhaps. But it seems doubtful that the agency would have removed the scientists from the panel if they had signed a letter praising the delisting.
The Fish & Wildlife Service should restore the scientists to the review panel. Or Jewell should pull the plug on a delisting plan that scientists and conservation groups warn will limit the further expansion of the wolves’ current range, which is less than 10 percent of its historic reach.
Gray wolves were once abundant in the West before white settlers arrive and hunted them nearly to extinction — they were wiped out entirely in Oregon. A small number were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and in Idaho in the mid-1990s and the animals thrived under federal protection. At least 1,600 wolves now populate the northern Rockies, although last year the population fell by a disturbing 7 percent, primarily because of 2011 delistings in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho and the recreational hunting that resulted.
Gray wolves need a fair hearing from the Fish & Wildlife Service — and they need a stronger, long-term federal management plan that provides for a sustainable number of wolves across their entire range so that they can survive and thrive for years to come.
By Bob Ferris
Although we do not have total counts at this point, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed reproduction in seven known packs this year—Imnaha, Minam, Mt Emily, Snake River, Umatilla River, Walla Walla, and Wenaha. And here is a shot of the Mt. Emily pups. These represent more tangible dividends from our Oregon wolf lawsuit. Enjoy!
by Josh Laughlin, Campaign Director
It has been nearly 20 months since Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and Center for Biological Diversity were granted an injunction against the state killing wolves in Oregon. Prior to filing the case, two things became clear: 1) the state of Oregon was becoming more comfortable killing endangered wolves, and 2) not enough was being done on the ground to prevent conflict between livestock and wolves. So we litigated and stopped the lethal control, protecting the approximately 14 wolves in Oregon at the time.
On May 23, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild settled the case after 17 months of significant negotiation with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Governor John Kitzhaber’s office and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. This agreement will have positive and lasting implications for wolves and expedite their remarkable recovery back into Oregon.
The settlement agreement is profound for Oregon wolf recovery in a number of ways:
1) It incentivizes responsible livestock husbandry. In order for a livestock depredation to qualify toward the “chronic depredation” threshold, which can trigger lethal control, the new plan requires livestock producers to use pro-active and non-lethal techniques to reduce conflict between wolves and livestock. Examples include removing wolf attractants such carcass and bone piles, using electrified fencing, employing human presence while livestock grazes on the open range, and protecting herds at their most vulnerable times, like during birthing, and nursing. It also requires the creation of an area-specific conflict deterrence plan by the state and livestock producers that best fits the particular depredation situation. Prior to the injunction, there was not a clear action plan to be followed to reduce conflict.
2) It redefines “chronic depredation.” “Chronic depredation” is now defined as four depredations by the same wolf or wolves reasonably believed to be responsible for the incidents within a consecutive six-month period. Prior to the settlement, “chronic depredation” was defined as two livestock depredations over an unspecified period of time in an undefined area.
3) It requires public accountability. Unlike prior to the injunction, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife must now make information readily available to the public at least on its website, including maps of “areas of known wolf activity” and “areas of depredating wolves,” livestock depredation investigations, non-lethal and proactive techniques used by livestock producers in each incident, area-specific conflict reduction plans, and lethal control requests. Prior to the injunction, we were met with resistance trying to obtain this kind of critical information, and when public information requests were made, released information was incomplete.
In addition to these notable gains, the agreement sets the stage for gray wolf recovery in the rest of Oregon and the region because this new rule governs the western recovery zone of Oregon (west of Hwy 97/20/395) even after recovery objectives are met in the eastern recovery zone (east of Hwy 97/20/395). This transition from Phase I to Phase II of Oregon wolf recovery is expected by 2015 when we will likely have at least four breeding pairs of gray wolves for three consecutive years in the eastern zone. (Per the Oregon Wolf Plan, a breeding pair is defined as a pack with at least two pups that survive through the calendar year.) Having this new rule in place in the western recovery zone of Oregon will be critical to ensure wolves advance into the Cascades, Coast Range and Siskiyous, and ultimately, California.
Some will ask why we opted to lifted the stay on wolf killing and settle the case. The answer is fairly simple: It is our job to do what is best for wolf recovery in the state and region, and to do this, we keep as informed as possible, read the politics, and then make decisions. All indications pointed to legislation likely to pass into law in Salem that would moot the stay and reinstate the plan we originally challenged. This outcome would mean more dead wolves more often and take us back to square one. Instead, we leveraged the stay against killing wolves as much as reasonably possible in the negotiation to get an outcome that is profoundly better for wolf recovery. Moreover, the new agreement garnered buy-in from the livestock industry, and now all the stakeholders know exactly what is expected on the ground in order to get to the newly defined “chronic depredation” threshold.
Today, there are approximately 50 known wolves in Oregon across seven packs clustered in the northeast portion of the state. When this year’s crop of pups emerge from their natal dens in the next few weeks, this new historic agreement is expected to be locked into place and will likely provide a management template for other states who are beginning to see wolves return. As a consequence, we believe this agreement will help reduce conflict on the ground and predict the wolf population in Oregon will expand sooner into places like the John Day, Three Sisters, Crater Lake, Klamath Basin, Kalmiopsis and other famed landscapes that evolved with wolves for millennia.