Posts Tagged ‘wolves’

Mar21

Where’s the science? Fish and Wildlife Service must rewrite proposal to strip endangered species protections from gray wolves (an excerpt)

By Paul Paquet and Bob Ferris 
Special to the Mercury News
 
about.paul
Silicon Valley embraces science and loves innovation. Sadly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently shown contempt for both when it comes to the recovery of gray wolves — particularly in the wilds of Northern California where a lone wolf recently visited for the first time in more than 80 years.
 
Our unflattering assessment derives from the peer review of the service's 2013 proposal to strip Endangered Species Act protections from most wolves in the West. The service's recommendation to "delist" wolves was judged to have ignored and misrepresented the "best available science," which is the unambiguous standard for species listing decisions. We wholeheartedly agree with the peer reviewers' troubling conclusions, and we are disappointed that the service pursued political expediency rather than abiding by the lawful provisions of the ESA.
 
Bob TalkingThat choice was encouraged by state wildlife commissions and agencies blatantly promoting the extremist views of some ranchers and anti-wolf hunting groups. In doing so, these agencies ignored scientific principles and the intrinsic value of species by portraying wolves as needing lethal management and fostering policies that treat them as problems rather than as respected members of the ecological community.
 
Paul Paquet (right) is an internationally prominent wolf scientist and senior scientist at Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Bob Ferris (left), executive director of Cascadia Wildlands, has been a leader in wolf advocacy for two decades.
 
Click Here to Read the Full Piece on the San Jose Mercury site.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Mar06

Trophic Cascades: A Video Worth Watching and a Species Worth Saving

By Bob Ferris2019372475
 
Nearly 20 years ago—before the Yellowstone and central Idaho wolves hit their habitats in 1995—I was asked to write a speculative piece on what impacts could be expected in Yellowstone with returning wolves.   I remember using the phrase “wolf smorgasbord” a lot during those hopeful days.  And many of my discussions with colleagues and in classrooms at that point started with dialogs about elk, carrying capacities, and the crash elk would soon experience having been uncontrolled since 1968 and saved from a precipitous tumble by the Yellowstone fires and the creation of acres and acres of emergent vegetation.  
 
In my piece I talked about the elk and their peril as well as how wolves would likely impact forest-edge and stream-side vegetation.  My sense at the time too was that coyotes would stop trying to act like wolves and that foxes and ravens would benefit from carcasses.  
 
Most of us who talked about this at professional meetings had some sense that the impact of wolves would mean much more than just a reduction of elk numbers and distribution.  Collectively these top-down impacts are known today as “trophic cascades.”
 
The world of wolf conservation in the West has more than its fair share of conflict at this point.  And dealing with bad science and bad actors certainly takes up much of our time at Cascadia Wildlands, but part of what sustains us as we wrestle with these issues is watching recovery unfold.  We learn so much by watching the wolf.
 
Along these latter lines, I spent some time at the recent Public Interest Environmental Law Conference here in Eugene talking with our friend Dr. Cristina Eisenberg who is a researcher and writer specializing in wolves and trophic cascades.  It was great to catch up on details and start the process of understanding the nuances of these cascades and what might trigger them or not.  Density of predators is obviously one factor in the equation and that need for numbrs argues against many of the control actions that we see today.
 

Shortly thereafter we received this video about work in Washington State that is really worth a watch.  Biologist Aaron Wirsing is examining how wolves might change the feeding behavior of deer.  I particularly like the use of video cameras in this way.  Being an old school deer biologist, I can really see where it takes the guess work out of what is eaten and when.  
 
Eisenberg’s and Wirsing’s research reminds us of the importance of having wolves and other apex predators in our wildlands and the need to take actions that will help get them in more ecosystems faster and safer, such as maintaining federal protections.  Their studies also emphasize the importance of research on apex predators and the pressing need for federal, state and private dollars to support research that further defines how these predator-prey relationships function as well as how the presence wolves affects populations of other predators such as mountain lions and bears.  Part of all our efforts to bring reform to state wildlife agencies should include work to increase and focus funding on these investigations.  Interesting and important stuff, because we like it wild.
 
 

Mar01

Updating Roosevelt: Teddy and the Wolves

By Bob Ferris
 
I have frequently observed that some of the folks who wrap themselves most tightly in the American flag are those who take some of the most un-American actions.  I think the same is true about those Teddy-Roosevelt-Was-the-Toughest-Person-Everwho worship Teddy Roosevelt without really understanding historical context, what he actually stood for, and why he was so remarkable (please see) .
 
"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 
 
Don Peay Jeff Foxworthy Ted B. LyonThis applies particularly to trophy hunters who are attracted to Teddy because of his fabled hunts and his less than loving comments about wolves. A perfect example of this phenomenon happened in 2012 when the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo presented Teddy Roosevelt Conservationist of the Year awards to Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife founder Don Peay (left), Texas personal injury lawyer and anti-wolf fabulist Ted B. Lyon (middle), and comedian Jeff Foxworthy (right).  Mr. Peay’s group organized the event so he was basically giving himself an award and the other two’s conservation accomplishments consist mainly of making public and notorious statements about the dangers of wolf recovery.   
 
And there are those in the environmental and conservation arena who have trouble embracing the former President fully for exactly the same reasons.  I wrestle constantly with both sides of this coin and feel that there are reasons that I should not have to justify my respect for Roosevelt to either side.  
 
In my mind, Roosevelt was a catalyst, convener and glue for the early conservation movement in the United States.   We would not even be having an opportunity to have debates about the management of old growth stands in the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest had Teddy not side-stepped Congress with multiple executive orders.
 
The same is true about discussions and arguments about federal wildlife refuge use and access—without him we probably would not have the refuge system as it now exists.  So I embrace Teddy, but I do so by looking at his conservation accomplishments and then imagining how his character and actions would have been modified by current scientific understanding and contemporary conditions. Through this artificial lens Teddy comes out pretty well, but I wondered how others felt about Roosevelt’s legacy—particularly as it applies to wolves—and how his considerable legacy worked in their own interpretation of his current relevance and value.  So I asked.
 
Here is how a broad list of folks responded to my request:
 
Douglas Brinkley (voice mail)
 
 

DOUGLAS BERINKLEY

In his voicemail Dr. Brinkley referenced his book on Roosevelt (see below) as well as his book on Alaskan conservation called “The Quiet World: Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom, 1879-1960” A photograph of the letter written to Aldo Leopold and the text appears below and he also mentions William Temple Hornaday who was responsible in part for saving the American bison from extinction.   

 

 

 

Leopold letter from Teddy Roosevelt

Text from body of Leopold letter:
 
My dear Mr. Leopold:
 
Through you, I wish to congratulate the Albuquerque Game Protective Association on what it is doing.  I have just read the Pine Cone.  I think that your platform is simply capital, and I earnestly hope that you will get the right type of game warden.  It seems to me that your association in New Mexico is setting an example to the whole country.
 
Sincerely yours,
 
Theodore Roosevelt
 
Douglas Brinkley is a renowned historian and award-winning author who wrote a masterful tome about Teddy Roosevelt called “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America.” Dr. Brinkley is currently a Professor of History at Rice University and a Fellow at the James Baker III Institute of Public Policy.  While a professor at Hofstra University, Dr. Brinkley took his students on numerous cross-country treks where they visited historic sites and met seminal figures in politics and literature this is documented in Dr. Brinkley's 1994 book, "The Majic Bus: An American Odyssey." 
 
Reed Noss
 
Noss-295x420It is easy to condemn past figures for statements they made that sound highly prejudiced today. Teddy Roosevelt was a smart man, one of the very few presidents of the United States who knew much of anything about science (the primary other one being Thomas Jefferson). Yet Roosevelt clearly displayed the predator prejudice that was virtually universal in his time. I believe that, had he lived a decade or two longer (he died in 1919) he would have joined the many other scientists who changed their views about predators almost completely between the 1910s and the late 1920s and early 1930s. Aldo Leopold, and his story about watching the green fire die in the eyes of a wolf he had shot, is the most famous of the scientists who underwent this powerful transformation.
 
By around 1930, Leopold, Victor Shelford (the first president of the Ecological Society of America), George Melendez Wright, and Ben Thompson (the latter two with the National Park Service), among others, were strongly advocating protection and restoration of populations of large predators across North America, at a time when most sportsmen, politicians, and the general public still hated these animals. Given Roosevelt’s intelligence and predilections, I have to believe he would have joined these visionary men. Still, one must wonder why the realization that predators are ecologically important took so long to manifest itself – it seems to obvious today.
 
This problem is not unique to predators. Wildfire, for example, is still feared and hated by most foresters, land managers, and the general public. Yet, in the beginning of the 20th century there were prominent botanists and ecologists, especially those working in the southeastern Coastal Plain, who recognized the valuable role of fire in keeping ecosystems healthy and diverse.  Why do we have to wait so long for everyone else to catch up?
 
Reed Noss, PhD, is professor of Biology at the University of Central Florida. His latest book is “Forgotten Grasslands of the South: Natural History and Conservation.”
 
Cristina Eisenberg
 
In the 1880s when he was a North Dakota rancher, while giving a speech about wolf depredation as an impediment to the Western Cristina Eisenbergcourse of empire, Theodore Roosevelt placed his hand on the Bible and called the wolf “a beast of waste and desolation.” The ensuing fusillade of government-sponsored predator control wiped out wolves in the contiguous United States, with the exception of northern Minnesota. Yet in the 1880s, Roosevelt, an avid hunter, also founded the Boone and Crockett Club, an organization that implemented widespread environmental reforms. Concerned about the onslaught of species extinction our nation was experiencing, Boone and Crockett Club members, many of whom were members of Congress or influential businessmen, created the first environmental laws. The Lacey Act of 1900 and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 effectively stopped market hunting and prevented extinction of many species. And in 1903 Club members also established the National Wildlife Refuge System, a program that set aside lands for protection to restore fish, wildlife, and their habitat. 
 
A progressive Republican known for radical reforms, Roosevelt served as US president from 1901-1909. During his tenure, our nation experienced astonishing progress on all fronts, from economics to social justice to environmental stewardship. While nobody will ever know what Roosevelt would do about wolves if he were alive today, it is likely that best science would guide his decisions. 
 
Best science clearly demonstrates that wolves benefit whole ecosystems. This science shows that wolves do not wipe out elk populations, and indeed benefit their prey by culling weak and sickly individuals. Best science indicates that wolves create healthier, more biodiverse and resilient lands via their keystone role in ecosystems. A landscape that contains wolves present in healthy numbers will contain better habitat for many species than one without wolves. With wolves present, elk must stay on the move, thereby reducing their impacts on plants. This improves habitat for many other species, such as songbirds. Wolves even improve fish habitat, by enabling streamside vegetation to grow taller, shading streams, and keeping the water cooler so that endangered species of native trout can thrive. Ecologists call such food web relationships trophic cascades.
 
Were he alive today and serving as our president, a progressive leader such as Roosevelt would incorporate scientific knowledge about the wolf’s keystone role and trophic cascade effects into decisions about wolf management. Given his track record as a natural resources pragmatist who embraced the sustained yield principles espoused by his colleague and friend, Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt would likely support wolf delisting in distinct population segments such as the Northern Rocky Mountains, with management by the states that included wolf hunting. However, it is unlikely that he would support the intensive management program being carried out in the West, where states are attempting to reduce wolf numbers as much as possible, or that he would support delisting wolves throughout the contiguous United States, as has been proposed.
 
Dr. Cristina Eisenberg is a Boone and Crockett Club professional member, and a Smithsonian Research Associate. She teaches at Oregon State University and is the author of two books: The Wolf’s Tooth: Keystone Predators, Trophic Cascades and Biodiversity, and The Carnivore Way: Coexisting with and Conserving America’s Predators, both published by Island Press.
 
Roger Di Silvestro 
 
Roger Di SilvestroTheodore Roosevelt's comment about wolves as beasts of waste and desolation has a nice, lyric ring to it, but no accuracy in modern scientific terms, something that Roosevelt would have rued mightily–he was nothing if not determined to be accurate in his texts about wildlife. But Roosevelt lived in a time when knowledge about wildlife was rudimentary, leading him to engage in some inexplicable behavior under today's value system. While working actively to save bison in Yellowstone National Park, where the last truly wild bison south of the border with Canada survived in a population of three or four dozen individuals, Roosevelt still hunted bison immediately outside park boundaries and killed a bull, with great pleasure for himself. Around his ranches in what is now North Dakota, he more than once shot an elk that he thought was the last of its kind in the area, and shot a bear with the same thought in mind–in his era, even people who wanted to protect wildlife competed to kill the last of a species, wanting to get their specimens before the animals were all gone. The Smithsonian Museum sent out a party of scientists and hunters in the late 1800s to bag 20 some bison, including cows, bulls, and calves, for their collection before the animals were all gone. Roosevelt as late as the early 1900s held out hope that someone would find woolly mammoths in Alaska so he could rush up there and hunt them. When he visited Yellowstone in his presidential years, he wanted to hunt mountain lions there, but changed his mind when told that the image of a president hunting in a national park would be unseemly. A very different time, and a very different way of thinking. 
 
But Roosevelt sought facts about wildlife, and if he had the database about wolves that we have today, he could not possibly have seen the wolf as a beast of waste and desolation. What would he say today? Who knows? He had a tendency to shoot from the hip, to express what was in his mind at the moment with, apparently, little concern for consistency in what in said and did. But if he shared the knowledge that biologists enjoy today, would he differ from the consensus among biologists that wolves are a critical part of their native ecosystem and important to ecological balances within those systems? It would scarcely seem possible that he could disagree. He was far too smart and reasonable. Were he alive now, he probably would believe that wolves, like all top predators, have a role to play in the natural world and should be allowed to fulfill that role, and any comments he made about wolves or other predators would reflect that knowledge and that belief.
 
Roger Di Silvestro is an author, journalist and conservationist who has written extensively on Roosevelt including "Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands: A Young Politician's Quest for Recovery in the American West." For more information about his works please visit:  www.theodorerooseveltinthebadlands.com
 
Jim Posewitz
 
I am sure Theodore Roosevelt would cut the wolf a little space in today’s period of significant wildlife abundance. In fact, as early as 1918 he and Grinnell exchanged letters relative to the over-Jim Posewitzabundance of elk in Yellowstone Park because of the “… protection afforded them.”  And adding at the time that “… their numbers must be kept down by disease or starvation, or else by shooting.” 
 
It is important to remember that before he was a hunter, TR was a naturalist with both a passion for adventure and an insatiable curiosity that produced an appreciation for nature. That appreciation attracted him to the outdoors and remained with him his entire life.  The last letter he wrote was on the taxonomy of pheasants.  Of an estimated 150,000 letters his first and his last were about birds.  If you can find Paul Russell Cutright’s book “Theodore Roosevelt the Naturalist” I think it will reveal someone who would very likely, in today’s world, cut the wolf a little space.  
 
It would be good to remember that TR’s first year in the West coincided with the last years of the buffalo slaughter and he literally hunted through the rotting carcasses of that carnage – carcasses littering the landscape missing only their hide and occasionally their tongues.  It was a wildlife ecosystem in collapse and the wolves were both temporarily sustained by it and then victims of it. 
 
Jim Posewitz is a hunter and wildlife biologist who worked for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks for more than 30 years.  He is also a leader in the hunting and conservation communities as well as a renowned author of such works as “Inherit the Hunt: A Journey into the Heart of American Hunting” and “Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethic and Tradition of Hunting
 

 

 

********
There is a funny kind of relief that I feel when I listen to and read all these responses.  That relief comes primarily from a consistent validation of my assumptions about a Theodore Roosevelt projected roosevelt readinginto the future.   But it also comes from knowing more about the connections and strength of message carried from Teddy Roosevelt to Aldo Leopold and beyond.  That feeling was also reenforced recently when the Union of Concerned Scientists named Mr. Roosevelt the most science-friendly president ever.
 
That relief compliments similar feelings that I had when the gray wolf delisting proposal peer-review team findings were released on February 7th.  Science spoke in a clear voice that echoed the sentiments of more than a million who commented on this indefensible, premature and illogical delisting proposal.  My sense is that it was heard too in some manner by Roosevelt, Leopold, Hornaday and other visionaries who fully embraced science, conservation and an abiding love of wildness.  
 
Please keep them in mind when you comment again and ask the US Fish and Wildlife Service to remember that science not political expedience must drive wolf recovery.  Click below to send this message to the Service and Secretary Jewell before March 27th at midnight.

 

 

 

Feb28

Time to Throw a Science Penalty Flag at Idaho

By Bob Ferris
 
As a scientist there are times that I wish that science had a “penalty flag” much like the ones we see in professional football.  Big, Idaho wolf science penalty2weighted rags thrown when things simply get out of hand in big, visible ways or in subtle but significant ways. 
 
Then I would be able to write: Dear State of Idaho, please understand that there is a huge yellow science flag sitting right next to the Lolo Forest and your recent, secret actions to limit wolf populations in the name of game management

Idaho elk_bull_graph_t470

In fact, I can see the science referee walking towards the sidelines, turning on his microphone and in a clear voice saying: Idaho Fish and Wildlife Commission committed a flagrant disregard of science by laying the blame of the elk decline in the Lolo units mainly on the shoulders of the wolves.

lolo-elk-numbers

Why would I say this?  The State of Idaho wanted to manage wolves in the Lolo in 2009 and therefore sent out requests for a peer-review of their plan and justifications because it would have required federal approval.  Four out of five of the professional biologists consulted faulted the plan because it lacked rigorous and defensible elk population objectives, failed to adequately address the issues of habitat and did not make the case that wolves were the root of the issue of with elk in the Lolo (see above graph–decline predates wolves).  The only dissenting voice was that of Val Geist who wrote a weak, cheerleading, "let’s kill the wolves" type letter that should have drawn its own flag.  
 
“However, throughout the document, it should be stated clearly that wolves are not the cause of the decline, but a factor maintaining elk at low levels. The elk decline occurred prior to 2002 based on population estimates in the plan, but wolves did not become a major source of mortality for elk cows until 2005 per research results provided in the plan.” February 4, 2009 peer-review letter from Layne G. Adams Research Wildlife Biologist with Alaska Science Center, USGS, Department of Interior. 
 
“Second, because of the controversial nature of wolf control, the specifics of the data are likely to be thoroughly scrutinized and challenged. At present, the material presented in the proposal does not make a particularly convincing case that wolf predation is having an “unacceptable impact” on wild ungulate populations. Methods for establishing elk population objectives appear highly subjective and it seems plausible that the current demography of the elk herd is largely a consequence of habitat conditions. The proposal notes that historically 35-45% of the landscape was in early seral stages whereas only 14% is currently. Although there have been recent attempts to increase prescribed fire, the area burned is a small fraction of the landscape. The proposal fails to provide specific targets for forage:cover ratios or acreage necessary in early seral stages to ensure sufficient high-quality habitat to achieve elk herd objectives. The rule of thumb is usually 40:60 forage cover ratio for elk, and 14% in early seral stages is far from a reasonable habitat target. Surely we should expect that habitat targets would be met first, before using wolf control.” February 4, 2009 peer-review letter from Dr. Mark Boyce, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta.  
 
“In reviewing that history of decline, the proposal asserts that, “..predation on elk by wolves has 
been a major contributor to the decline.” That assertion is not supported by the data presented in the proposal.” February 4, 2009 peer-review letter from Mark McNay, Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  
 
 
Now certainly these comments were written when the wolf was still protected under the Endangered Species Act’s 10{j} rule, but while the protections have changed, the science, circumstances and root causes of the decline have not.  History and population trajectories still indicate that this decline is largely driven by habitat and more recently by drought.   Pinning it on the wolf, down-playing the habitat elements, and doing it in secrecy earns Idaho a long overdue Science flag. 
 
 

Feb20

When Wolves are Truly Ambassadors

By Bob Ferris
 
Many of us who have worked with wolves are familiar with the term ambassador wolves. These are wolves taken around to various venues to get people more familiar with wolves and the concept of iranian_wolf02having them on the landscape.  But that term took on a new meaning for me this week as I got an e-mail plea from a scientist in Iran seeking information on the use of fladry to protect livestock from wolves.  Here wolves truly were acting as ambassadors.
 
Here is my response to her.  I will send the link on to her but if others want to add advice from their experience or encouragement for her efforts, please feel free to use the comment section.
 
Fladry franceDear Colleague:
 
Thank you so contacting me regarding the use of fladry to protect livestock from wolves and prevent the need for lethal control of wolves.  I am pleased that you are considering this option and hope that others around the world elect this option as an alternative to lethal response.  
 
The wolf in Iran (see above) is a little different in size and behavior than what we have in the US and I suspect that there are also significant differences in fladry_spooler_Sun_Ranch_09b_WEBSIZEhabitats as well as agricultural practices in your country.  That said, fladry has been proven effective to some extent across differing predator species and habitats so it should be an option explored particularly if used in concert with other non-lethal approaches such as livestock dogs, human presence and keeping the area clear of attractants such as decomposing carcasses.
 
While all fladry basically consists of some form of wire or rope with streaming flags attached at various distances and hung horizontally, there are a lot of variations in terms of specific designs (please see pictures).  You or your livestock partners will have to experiment and find what works best for you and your particular situation.  In addition to variations of the design of the line and flags, variations in the optimal size of enclosures, the number of animals and location of pens relative to cover and human habitation will also have to be experimented with until the right mix is achieved.  
 
In addition there has to be an acknowledgement that fladry—even with complimentary forms of non-lethal approaches—will not work all the time or with all individual animals and can be impacted fairly quickly by habituation.  My understanding is that hybridization with domestic dogs is also a problem for wolves in Iran and the presence of wild dogs could cause problems as well.  
 
fladry_windHere is some useful references both in the popular and scientific literature to help you begin you search for the most effective suite of fladry options.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Wishing you good luck in this endeavor and international cooperation in wolf protection and recovery,
 
Bob Ferris
 
P.S. And below is short film clip from our friends at Defenders of Wildlife showing a wolf visting a stock pen surrounded by fladry.  And others should feel free to comment and add advice as well.  

 

Feb10

Deer, Bears and Pigs: the Apples, Oranges and Pumpkins of Ecology

By Bob Ferris
 
In the mid-1980s I served as an ecological consultant for the University of California, Santa Cruz when they compiled their 20-year development plan.  I was making my living as a wildlife ecologist at that time and was excited by this Banana_slug_closeupdeparture from my normal set of consulting projects such as critter surveys for housing or energy developments.  I also was happy to be working both for my alma mater and on one of the wildest college campuses in America.  The campus at this point not only had live versions of UCSC’s banana slug mascot, but had habitats supporting coyotes, foxes, bobcats and an occasional mountain lion.  My job was to help keep these natural features and functions in the face of planned development.  
 
As I was writing my recommendations I received a phone call from a local reporter.  She kept asking me about deer: What was I going to do about the deer?  The 2001-acre UCSC campus is a little like a lop-sided bowtie with wildness at the top, open spaces at the bottom and a “knot” of development focused at the center.  In light of that I was most concerned about creating wildlife corridors that would allow predators to move freely from the upper campus to the lower to provide a biological counter-point to the burgeoning deer and ground squirrel populations.  
 
My frustration grew as the interview continued.  And, unfortunately, I had recently watched Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories and loved the line about pigeons being likened to hungry rats with wings.  Thinking that hyperbole would get us back to talking about fence design, light pollution, and dedicated vegetative corridors, I substituted deer for pigeons and earned one of my first memorable and controversial quotes as an ecologist. The episode taught me much about dealing with the press and educating the public about complex concepts and relationships.
 
Nearly a decade later in 1992 Jared Diamond wrote much more sensitively about the biodiversity tragedy unfolding in the Fontenelle forest near Omaha, Nebraska.  In his seminal article he asked the question on the minds of many in the conservation community: Must We Shoot Deer to Save Nature? (Natural History August 1992).  Now some at the time rightfully debated management approaches and methodologies, but the writing was on the wall in terms of ungulates in the absence of controlling factors degrading habitat for themselves and other species.
  
Over the intervening years these problems persist.  They linger and worsen largely because they are often very complicated and they call on society to make decisions and take actions that make many uncomfortable.  Moreover, the natural manifestation of the problems themselves are much like X-rays and CAT-scans in that the “fractures” and “tumors” are obvious to the trained and practiced eye, but little more than blurred images to others who might not understand, for example, the promise of migratory geese versus the peril of resident honkers. 
 
All of this comes to mind because my wife recently told me of an article about problem wildlife in Time magazine.  In the December 9, 2013 issue award-winning journalist David Von Drehle wrote an article called “America’s Pest Time CoverLrProblem: Why the rules of hunting are about to change.”  I read Von Drehle’s piece and was happy that he raised many of these same issues once again.  But there were also parts of the article that I was bothered by.
 
“Gray wolves have rebounded so robustly from near destruction that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to removed them from the protected list of endangered and threatened species.” Von Drehle, page 42
 
My sense is that Von Drehle’s comments could have been more surgical in regards to apex predators, clearer in identifying comments about wild populations in wild places versus those in urban or suburban settings, and differentiating between native species and forms as opposed to those that are neither.  How so? First off his characterization that wolf populations are expanding so quickly that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is considering delisting the species, for instance, is problematic for anyone paying the least amount of attention.  A little research would show that wolf populations are declining in some areas, are not an urban or suburban issue because they have a low tolerance for humans and that the USFWS’s decision to propose delisting was driven more by wildlife commissions packed with agricultural interests and trophy hunters than by any population-driven imperative or crisis (please see peer review post).  
 
While we are on the topic of numbers, the piece also contains a quote from Dr. Maurice Hornocker that is a little sensational:  There may now be more mountain lions in the West than there were before European settlement.  Wow. That is a quote guaranteed to capture attention, but should it?  Right now elk populations in the West—in spite of protestations from chicken-little trophy hunters—are certainly near an all-time high and much higher than what was observed during the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  At the same time competing predator populations (i.e., wolves and grizzly bears) are seriously depressed hovering just above historic lows.  Then you take away 30-60 million migratory bison and throw in more than 20 million relatively stationary cows and a bunch of low IQ sheep and you have a recipe that results in more mountain lions.  
 
But all of this is more about the problems with predator control programs and public management of forests and grasslands than it is about exploding mountain lion populations near concentrations of humans.  Granted this quote by one of the foremost experts on mountain lions is true and there are issues with mountain lion populations near human settlements but mountain lions (panthers) are also an endangered species in Florida and missing from most of their historic habitats in the East.  My concern is that folks “reading” by looking at pictures and highlighted quotes might walk away from this piece thinking that a war on mountain lions in wild areas is justified when it is not (please also see blog about delisting peer review). 
 
“And some scientists theorize that the resurgence of grizzly bears in the wilderness helps explain why black bears are now suburbanites.” Von Drehle, page 42
 
Likewise the proffered argument about bullying grizzly bears driving black bears into settled areas seems almost silly in its insignificance and relevance in that there are so very few of these bigger bears in the lower 48 states and black bears are so readily and broadly recolonizing suburban habitats in the absence of their bigger, more aggressive cousins.  This is not to say that grizzly bears do not displace black bears and that there is not some readjustment taking place where recovering grizzly bears are reclaiming past haunts, but brown bear re-colonization happens at a relative snail’s pace so this is hardly in the nature of a black bear stampede.  
 
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881)
 
I also found the graphic on page 41 of the piece entitled “Beasts on the Rise” disturbingly simplistic to the point of being misleading.  Take the deer element of that graphic.  While some deer species in some areas such as white-tailed Time Graphicdeer in suburban areas may be on the rise and a problem, other deer species including mule deer and black-tailed deer in the West are on the decline.  
 
Also these numbers themselves—out of context—are meaningless without addition information.  The fact that wolves have increased six-fold since the 1970s is interesting, but relatively pointless unless we understand what historic populations were or what current capacity for the species remains.  The 618% increase in wolves does not, in fact, support the article’s central thesis that wildlife are superabundant in certain urban and suburban areas and therefore additional management steps—including hunting—need  to be taken.  
 
While on the topic of “deer” it is interesting that elk were not covered in this piece.  Elk populations have gone from zero to 60 in a number of places through natural increase aided by habitat modification (e.g., timber cuts and fires) and aggressive reintroductions with significant impacts to agriculture, private property and human safety.  My sense is that most homeowners, farmers or drivers would much rather deal with a testy tom turkey occupying their backyards, visiting their fields or landing on their hoods than they would a bugling bull elk in the same circumstances.    
 
The piece and the page 41 graphic blur the lines in terms of native species and ecological function as well.  Wild pigs are not a native species and strike me as an entirely different issue than abundant or even superabundant native wildlife in urban and suburban settings.  In addition, wild pigs are not cousins to domestic pigs they are directly descended from domestic pigs that we released into the wild.
 
Moreover, while Canada geese have increased and are a problem in many areas, this is certainly not an issue of abundance or numbers, but rather one of behavior.  We have a shortage of migratory geese and an overabundance of resident geese that are polluting water systems and lowering the carrying capacity of wetlands by cropping aquatic vegetation at times and at levels that interfere with food supplies needed by migrating waterfowl during late fall and winter.  Here is where the informed lens sees peril in the US goose swimming in summer and that same heightened understanding prevents some from seeing the non-native, invasive mute swan as in any way equivalent to a migrating trumpeter swan.  
 
And beavers too.  The piece does beavers a disservice in terms of the ecological services they freely provide to characterize their increases solely as detrimental.  When we look at the drought-challenged West, restoring a critter that helps slow cascading water down on its rush to the sea so that it can sink down and recharge surface waters or even aquifers—while creating badly needed habitat for fish and waterfowl at the same time.  And as much as I like Microsoft folks, it seems of more value than some ornamental trees in Redmond.   That is not to say that I have never been angry when seeing a beaver-girdled tree in my backyard, but this is a case of making slight adjustments so that the much better benefit can be achieved across a larger landscape.  We do not live in Disneyland after all and we must take the good with the bad.
 
Now I have heaped a lot of criticism on this piece, but I am also glad that it was written.  I am glad, because we must talk and think about these issues.  Good and bad articles in this context become teachable moments in a world badly in need of teaching.  In recognition of this, we all need to recommit ourselves to education and not view environmental education, science and math as expendable as some view these important species.  
 

Feb07

BREAKING NEWS: Peer Reviewers Find Fault with USFWS Science on Wolf Delisting–comment period reopens

The US Fish and Wildlife Service just release the following press statement about the independent Peer review (see link at bottom of 2019372475page):  

Service Reopens Comment Period on Wolf Proposal
Independent scientific peer review report available for public review
 
Following receipt of an independent scientific peer review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reopening the comment period on its proposal to list the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies and remove the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List. The Service is making that report available for public review, and, beginning Monday, February 10, interested stakeholders will have an additional 45 days to provide information that may be helpful to the Service in making a final determination on the proposal.
 
The independent scientific peer review was hosted and managed by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), a highly respected interdisciplinary research center at the University of California – Santa Barbara. At the Service’s request, NCEAS sponsored and conducted a peer review of the science underlying the Service’s proposal. 
 
“Peer review is an important step in our efforts to assure that the final decision on our proposal to delist the wolf is based on the best available scientific and technical information,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “We thank the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis for conducting a transparent, objective and well-documented process. We are incorporating the peer review report into the public record for the proposed rulemaking, and accordingly, reopening the public comment period to provide the public with the opportunity for input.”
 
The peer review report is available online, along with instructions on how to provide comment and comprehensive links relating to the proposal, at www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery.
 
The Service intends that any final action resulting from this proposed rule will be based on the best available information. Comments and materials we receive, as well as some of the supporting documentation used in preparing this proposed rule, are available for public inspection at www.regulations.gov under the docket number FWS–HQ–ES–2013–0073. 
 
The Service will post all comments on www.regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept email or faxes. Comments must be received by midnight on March 27.
 
The Federal Register publication of this notice is available online at www.fws.gov/policy/frsystem/default.cfm by clicking on the 2014 Proposed Rules under Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.
 
The Service expects to make final determination on the proposal by the end of 2014.
 
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov, or connect with us through any of these social media channels:
 
– FWS –

Gray Wolf Peer Review

Dec13

Competitive hunting of wolves, coyotes in Idaho sparks outcry

Laura Zuckerman, Reuters0462_wenaha_male_wolf
December 11, 2013
 
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) – The first statewide competition in decades to hunt wolves and coyotes in Idaho has sparked outrage among wildlife conservationists, who condemned it as "an organized killing contest."
 
The so-called coyote and wolf derby is slated for the weekend of December 28-29 in the mountain town of Salmon, Idaho, where ranchers and hunting guides contend wolves and coyotes threaten livestock and game animals prized by sportsmen.
 
The tournament offers cash and trophies to two-person teams for such hunting objectives as killing the largest wolf and the most female coyotes. Children as young as 10 will be welcomed to compete in a youth division.
 
Idaho opened wolves to licensed hunting more than two years ago after assuming regulation of its wolf population from the federal government.
 
But Idaho Department of Fish and Game wolf manager Jason Husseman said the upcoming event is believed to be the first competitive wolf shoot to be held in the continental United States since 1974, when wolves across the country came under federal Endangered Species Act protections.
 
The wolf, an apex predator that once ranged throughout North America, had by then been hunted, trapped and poisoned to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states.
 
Wolves in the Northern Rockies, including Idaho, and in the western Great Lakes were removed from the federal threatened and endangered species list in recent years as their populations climbed and federal wildlife managers declared them recovered. The Obama administration earlier this year proposed removing most wolves nationwide from the list.
 
The upcoming derby is being sponsored by Idaho for Wildlife, a nonprofit whose aim is "to fight against all legal and legislative attempts by the animal rights and anti-gun organizations" to impose restrictions on hunting or guns, according to the group's website.
 
When contacted by telephone on Wednesday about the event, organizer and Idaho big-game outfitter Shane McAfee said media inquiries were not welcome.
 
Similar contests tied just to coyotes – allowed to be shot on sight as nuisances in much of the U.S. West – have prompted protests in recent years in states such as New Mexico, where many ranchers and hunters endorse the competitive hunts.
 
Lynne Stone, director of the Boulder-White Clouds Council, an Idaho conservation group, called the planned wolf-coyote derby "an organized killing contest."
 
"Stacking up dead animals and awarding children for killing them has no place in a civilized society," she said.
But Barbara Soper, whose 11-year-old daughter has registered to team with an adult hunter for the Idaho competition, said she and her husband are all for it.
 
"It's my daughter's first big adventure, and she thinks it's awesome," Soper said.
 
 

 

 

Nov16

RMEF: Mutiny and the False Flag

By Bob Ferris
 
I often read historic fiction about the time when big sailing ships ruled the seas.  One frequent theme of these novels is mutiny.  The more I think about the situation at the Rocky Mountian Elk Foundation, the more it reminds me of a ship where a mutiny has taken place.  But instead of those below decks rebelling and placing the officers in the brig, we have the marketing department locking up and gagging the scientists.  And these mutinous ships often flew false flags to fool the casual observer, but under close examination with spyglasses those on the quarterdeck were seen for what they truly were–pirates in the making.  
 
wolf recovery graph_final       
Northern-Yellowstone-Elk-Herd-Trends
RMEF's False Flag   The Flag the Rest of US Use 
 
I think of this analogy because I stumbled on to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's revamped “Get the Facts” page this weekend.  (I wasn’t looking for trouble, I was actually looking for…facts.)  The page is interesting for several reasons not the least of which is that the comments from their own community are largely not positive.  Though I do commend them for allowing criticism to stay on their page, my hope is that they will experience more constructive criticism and perhaps even do something about it.  
 
RMEF Comments from LIfe MemberThis page is purely orchestrated spin.  It is at its core “cherry-picked” and misleading just as the first commenter pointed out (please see RMEF graph at the top left of this piece and compare it to the longer term trends in the second graph to the right).  We see this same strategy used by climate deniers who grab a section of a graph that proves their point while ignoring the larger picture which does not. While we understand that deniers are intellectual outliers and often the minions of economic interests, we expect better from organizations like the RMEF who claim to embrace science.  
 
The intellectual slight-of-hand regarding elk numbers is fairly heavy handed and transparent in spite of RMEF's investment in graphics. It is a well painted false flag and the addition of the wolf population trends implying causation when independent research funded by RMEF does not draw this conclusion is a nice touch, but it is still what it is: False and meant to deceive.  
 
“In spite of years of litigation on wolf management, the population numbers identified by this team of highly qualified scientists has never been disputed or changed by the courts.”  RMEF “Get the Facts”.  
 
The graph ploy is clumsy but some of the other arguments they put out are crafty and nuanced such as their arguments regarding population goals (see above). This is designed to make the reader believe that the courts have reviewed the science and found it sound. The only problem is that courts are not scientific bodies and do not review or make decisions on the strengths or weaknesses of science.  In fact under the iconic Chevron Decision the courts grant nearly automatic deference to the government in terms of science. RMEF either has not followed the heated debate about these population numbers in the scientific community, does not understand the legal system or is purposely trying to mislead.  My sense is that it could be all three.
 
As we approach the final extended comment period for the USFWS gray wolf delisting proposal on December 17th it is important for all of us to stand up and take out our spyglasses so we can identify the false flags and mutinous ships that we may see before us.  We need for the USFWS to follow the course of sound science and not let these modern day pirates lead them astray or give them cover should the political faction within the USFWS elect to imprison their scientists and promulgate a similar mutiny themselves.  
 

Oct04

Teddy and the Big Assed Wolves

By Bob FerrisHunting the Grisly

"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.  

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