Northern Rockies Wolves

Jan06

Cascadia Files Petition to Extend Wolf Monitoring

Legal Petition Seeks Extension of Federal Monitoring for Northern Rockies Wolves
New Study: Hunting Likely Spurring Harmful Declines in Northern Rocky Wolves
 
VICTOR, Idaho — Five conservation groups filed a petition today requesting that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue monitoring northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves for another five years. The existing monitoring program, which is required by the Endangered Species Act after protections are removed for a species, is set to expire in May. The monitoring is crucial to ensure that the wolf population doesn’t slip to levels at which Endangered Species Act protections are again needed.
 
The groups based today’s request in part on a new study in the journal Science that found the Fish and Wildlife Service and states of Montana and Idaho have underestimated the impacts and risks of aggressive hunting policies for gray wolves instituted since protections were lifted. Since federal safeguards were first stripped in 2009, more than 2,300 wolves have been killed by hunters or trappers in the two states.
 
“This research confirms what many scientists have been saying all along,” said Andrea Santarsiere, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Aggressive hunting of wolves is harming the gray wolf population in the northern Rockies. Left unchecked, the numbers will continue to decline — a sad fact for an animal that we fought so hard to bring back from the brink of extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service clearly needs to continue to keep an eye on this situation.”  
 
In first removing Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service said that the required post-delisting monitoring period would be extended for an additional five years if any one of three criteria are met. One criterion requires an extension if a significant change in state law or management would significantly increase threats to the wolf population. Both Idaho and Montana have repeatedly increased hunting and trapping quotas in an effort to substantially reduce wolf populations, which according to the new study are almost certainly resulting in population declines.
 
“Antagonism towards wolves is one of the main threats that put them on the endangered species list in the first place. This has hardly changed, and the states have further demonstrated their continued aggression towards wolves by increasing killing efforts and liberalizing hunting and trapping of wolves” said Ken Cole, Idaho director for Western Watersheds Project.  “The Fish and Wildlife Service should extend their oversight of wolf management by the states to ensure stable and viable wolf populations”
 
“As a backcountry elk and deer hunter myself, I find it appalling that in Montana hunters and trappers can legally kill up to five wolves annually, including deep within our Wilderness areas,” said Matthew Koehler, director of the Montana-based WildWest Institute. “Essentially this allows hunters or trappers to legally wipe out an entire wolf pack.”
 
Idaho has been especially aggressive in trying to reduce the wolf population. In 2014 the Idaho Legislature created the Idaho Wolf Control Board, allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars to killing wolves. Idaho has also contracted with the federal Wildlife Services to hunt, trap and aerially gun down wolves in the Lolo Zone and hired a professional trapper to eliminate two wolf packs in the Frank-Church-River-of-No Return Wilderness last winter. The agency has also turned a blind eye to an annual predator derby contest, in which participants win cash and prizes for killing wolves and coyotes, despite an agency policy condemning predator hunting contests as unethical.
 
“Idaho has been waging a war against wolves in the Lochsa and North Fork Clearwater basins, one of the wildest areas in the lower 48 states,” said Gary MacFarlane, ecosystem defense director of Friends of the Clearwater. “Further monitoring of this ill-advised program is needed.”
 
“The primary threat to wolves is active eradication efforts occurring throughout the Rocky Mountain distinct population segment,” said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands.  “Continued monitoring of this still-fragile population is without question necessary and critical to the wolf’s recovery in the United States.”
 
The Fish and Wildlife Service has argued that the wolf population has stayed relatively constant despite hunting, but according to the new study this conclusion is questionable. Among other problems, Montana has changed its counting methodology after delisting, and Idaho continues to rely on a convoluted mathematical equation that is likely to overestimate the wolf population, making it difficult to accurately determine population trends.  
 
“Idaho and Montana aren’t safe places for wolves right now,” Santarsiere said. “This is no time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to walk away from its duty to ensure this population survives and thrives. We know these wolves have been hammered by hunting and aggressive state policies and still need help.”
 
Dec19

Lethal Control of Predators: Of Science, Scapegoats and Icebergs

By Bob Ferris
 
I have been looking at the issue of lethal predator control for many, many years and the longer I look at it and 2019372475the more science I read and assimilate, the more convinced I become that lethal control of predators is more punitive than practical.  It is an activity and a supporting attitude that simply does not wash in the light of what we know and have tested. 
 
I know some will argue that lethal control is still needed for situations of chronic livestock depredation and where predators are dampening prey or endangered species recovery.  But even in these instances our opting for trigger, trap or poison is really more about our inability to admit that we are often raising the wrong animals in the wrong way in the wrong places and also our reluctance to recalibrate our expectations in regards to our ability to harvest, destroy and neglect our natural resources at unsustainable levels without consequence. 
 
Three wolf examples come to mind when I think of prime illustrations of the above: the Huckleberry pack control action, continual calls for wolf control in the Lolo National Forest to save elk and the killing of wolves in Alberta to save caribou. 
 
With the Huckleberry incident in eastern Washington—which we have written about repeatedly (1,2,3)—you  basically have too many of the wrong animal (i.e., sheep including rams) placed in poor habitat with little or no supervision near an area of known wolf activity.  Certainly livestock losses are regrettable and we have sympathy for the rancher who has to move his or her animals to alternative pasture, but the question hovers: Was this choice of stocking levels, location and inattention to non-lethal alternatives prudent given the situation?  One thing to think about in this context is the idea that anyone can leave roughly $180,000 worth of assets on any landscape without providing some measure of presence or protection from mishap.  In any event, this set of circumstances seems to not be a compelling argument for lethal control of a species recently released from federal protection and still under Washington State protection. 
 
The elk population decline in the Lolo has been offered up far too often as the poster child for the need for wolf control regardless of the fact that the decline started long before wolves came on the scene.  And biologist after biologist has pointed to this decline being associated with habitat succession (i.e., open areas transitioning to brush land and then to forests).    Certainly wolves are causing this decline to linger longer but at the end of the day this elk population is still habitat limited and will remain so as the availability of early seral habitat continues to decline.  Elk are creatures of disturbance and when the logging is done or fires put out the ticking clock of transition from good elk habitat to bad starts.  The State of Idaho is pursuing lethal control of wolves in this area but they are unlikely to get any awards for sound science or innovative management out of this endeavor (see here).  
 
Woodland caribou in Alberta are in terrible shape and getting worse (1,2,3).  The main reason for this decline is the explosion of tar sand development as well as tradition gas and oil development in the province.  Yet when searching for solutions, the province did not look to restrict fossil fuel operations, set up refugia or restore habitat they felt the “logical” approach was to cull wolves.  I suppose on some level this illogical of wolf culling is easily dwarfed when looking at the totality of this tar sands lunacy where wilderness is being sacrificed so we can accelerate climate change, ocean acidification and a host of other ills that compromise our ecological support systems.  
 
Alberta’s wolf cull strategy is not only wrong-headed but it may turn out to be an ironic choice as wolf biologist Robert Hayes reported in his excellent book Wolves of the Yukon that smaller packs had to kill more prey per capita because they lack the numbers to effectively protect their kills from crows, ravens and other scavengers.  Hayes’ observations are illustrative of the problem faced by lethal control proponents who only look at the obvious iceberg tip of predator-prey relationships and do not see the more important aspects below the surface that are not seen by the casual observer.  
 
The latest nail in the coffin of the lethal control illogic is Rob Wielgus’ recent findings that culling wolves likely does more harm than good.  This is solid and well-reviewed work, but it is by no means unique in sending the message that lethal control is generally a flawed approach.   In 2012, for instance, the American Society of Mammalogists issued a strong letter to USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service—where USDA Wildlife Services is housed or hidden—heavily criticizing the program’s overdependence on and use of lethal control.  And investigative journalist Tom Knudson of the Sacramento Bee wrote an excellent set of articles examining problems with USDA Wildlife Services as well as lethal control in 2012 (1,2,3,).
 
At this point there are likely some who are asking: If science has shown that lethal control of predators—particularly via random culling programs—is generally ineffective or often deleterious then why does it continue? The answer to this question is that livestock producers, energy developers, and timber interests want access to natural resources on public lands and the presence of predators—particularly legally protected predators—often inhibits their ability to fully exploit and derive maximum benefit from these public lands.  Yes there are groups that also support predator control, but if you scratch the surface of most of the groups with anti-wolf or anti-predator leanings you do not have to look too hard to also find connections between those groups and these industries either through funding, governance or association (see here).  
 
Moreover, for wildlife managers, scientists and politicians, there is real peril in questioning the lethal control model.  Both Rod Sando (1) in Idaho and Ken Mayer in Nevada (1,2) lost their jobs as directors of their state wildlife agencies, in part, because they took a principled and scientifically defensible position on the lethal control of predators.  Likewise Dr. Wielgus’ work—before it was even completed—was attacked and his objectivity questioned by the livestock producers’ front group the Science First Coalition (which has since taken down their website).  And Congressman Peter DeFazio who has long championed reform of Wildlife Services and wolf recovery as well as opposing predator derbies has taken considerable lumps from the above crowd.  Being principled is a perilous course and frequently comes at a price.  
SCCA Talking Science
I met with the leadership of Wildlife Services in DC roughly 20 years ago armed with a stack of literature that questioned the efficacy of lethal control actions particularly as they applied to coyotes and we also talked some about wolves.  The agency and the approach has changed some since then because of public pressure, legal actions and congressional attention, but only cosmetically such as not stenciling an airplane with a wolf silhouette each time you kill one.  Lethal control continues not because there is a lack of science or inadequate evidence of problems but because the myths and fear continue to be promulgated by the same interests and industries (see above).  
 
As you enter the holiday season and think about this coming year and those in the future, please take some time to think about how you can help all of us turn the tide on this monumental effort to bring facts and science to wildlife management and public perceptions—particularly in rural areas.  We need to break the strangle-hold and undue influence these industries have on our wildlife agencies, public lands policy and the minds of our children.   Our future and the future of what we hold dear depends on it, so please support groups that work in this area, vote for candidates who embrace science, and educate where you can with fact-based and scientifically defensible arguments.  
 
 
Nov13

Help Us Stop Senseless Wolf and Coyote Killing Contests

 

Dear Cascadia Wildlands Supporter:
 
Cascadia Wildlands needs your support in our fight against predator killing contests. (click here)
 
Coyote Derby
Predator killing contests—like the one pictured above—are not hunting.  They are cruel undertakings that perpetuate long-disproven myths about wolves and coyotes.  In truth, they keep alive a form of animal bigotry that should have disappeared with the covered wagon. 
 
HELP US STOP THIS NOW! (click here)
 
While contests emphasizing predator body counts should not be condoned anywhere, the federal Bureau of Land Management and the USDA Forest Service are moving forward to issue a five-year permit for one of these obscene killing contests on federal lands in Idaho.  That’s right, on lands owned by you and me.  Unbelievable.
 
STAND UP FOR WOLVES AND COYOTES! (click here)
 
Today Cascadia Wildlands and our allies challenged the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service decision to allow this contest on federal public lands. We aim to stop them from allowing the senseless slaughter of our wildlife. A slaughter done for profit. A slaughter on our public lands. A slaughter driven by hate and ignorance.
 
STOP THIS SENSELESS SLAUGHTER ON YOUR LANDS NOW! (click here) 
 
Please consider making a generous special gift to help us fight this wildlife travesty in Idaho.  We need your support to pursue this action and our other work to forward wolf recovery in Cascadia and elsewhere in the American West.
 bob's signature
 
 
Bob Ferris
Executive Director
Cascadia Wildlife
 
P.S.  Donate between now and the end of November through Mountain Rose Herbs Matching Gift program and your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar by our friends at Mountain Rose Herbs up to a total $5000. Give today.
 
 
 
 
May14

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

By Bob Ferris
 
June 1st marks my twentieth year as a professional advocate for wolf recovery and roughly thirty years as a professional wildlife biologist. This is not a big deal as nearly everyone eventually is somewhere for a long time, but it OR7_odfwdoes give me one very important advantage: Perspective.  In other words, I know where we started and therefore understand where we are with wolves and why.  
 
The experience had also yielded amazing memories from freezing in Fort Saint John, British Columbia (-45 degrees) during the second capture of wolves for Yellowstone and Idaho in 1996 and hearing the Crow and Sioux warriors (at left) singing the wolves back to their ancient lands in our first national park to speculating on when wolves would get to California and Crow warriors singing in wolvescelebrating the first wild wolf prints in my life time in both Oregon and California.  All good and glorious memories.
 
That is not to say that all the memories are good. Certainly not.  Getting grilled by ex-Senator Larry Craig and former Wyoming Senator Craig Thomas in a Senate sub-committee hearing on wolves was not as much fun as it could have been and watching this manufactured hysteria over wolves that is resulting in continued, unjustified killing of wolves is breaking my heart on multiple levels.  And then there are the constant insults and the veiled and not so veiled death threats.  But we did and are doing all that we can for the wolf and will continue those efforts whatever the outcome of this federal delisting exercise.  
 
But one of my favorite sets of memories was sitting in my office and being a fly-on-the-wall over the last two years watching and listening to Nick, Josh and advisory board member and former staffer Dan Kruse work with our partners (Oregon Wild and Center for Biological Diversity), agencies and the opposition on crafting legislation and rules that have led to Oregon having the best wolf management approach in the lower 48 states (see details on settlement here). 
 
This whole history—past and recent—is on my mind because this coming Saturday May 17, 2014 marks the third full year that Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has not killed a single wolf for livestock depredation. (It should be noted that the animals not killed include the previously condemned to die OR-4 who remains the alpha male of the Imnaha pack and is the father of OR-7 or Journey.) We are so proud of that.  
 
So as we look at this potentiality or eventuality of OR-7 having a mate and pups in the southern Cascades of Oregon we have to understand that we would not be celebrating and anticipating this happy outcome if some dedicated and effective groups like Cascadia Wildlands had not stepped forward now and over the past decades since Aldo Leopold and others suggested the need to protect and restore wolves.  (Folks in the Eugene area will get a little bit of a chance to kick the tires on that plan when ODFW’s wolf guy Russ Morgan speaks on May 20, 2014.)
 
Potential OR-7 mateWhatever the results observed this June or the next, when biologists go to look for a den and pups in southern Cascadia’s wild reaches, and see if a pairing between OR-7 (pictured above at right) and his “Wandering Wanda” (pictured at right) have produced pups, we know the work is not done.   We still have to be vigilant in Oregon.  We need to move the process forward in Washington State.  We need to keep federal and get state endangered species protections in California.  And we need to simultaneously maintain federal gray wolf protections in the West and continue our work to educate and erase wolf myths and hatred wherever we find them.  
 
And to do all of this we need your continued support both as wolf activists and as engaged donors.  Yes we have wolf all-stars on staff, but they are on staff because our donors keep them there.  When you go looking for wolf heroes and the figurative grandparents of OR-7 and Wanda’s offspring you might just being seeing one in the mirror.  Please help us continue this work.
 
 
May02

Going Wolfy on the Weekend

By Bob Ferris
 
Last weekend I went “wolfy.”  Portland-based Artist Vanessa Renwick invited me to come to some wolf events and view her “Hunting Requires Optimism” installation at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art here in Eugene.  It was in bike riding distance so my wife and I ventured out in the drizzle.  And we were glad we did.
 

Hunting Requires Optimism from Vanessa Renwick on Vimeo.

The evening began with a cruise through the "Hunting Requires Optimism" piece (see clip above on the evolution of the piece) which disturbed me at first as I entered into a room filled with avocado and harvest gold refrigerators and immediately thought of carbon footprints and energy efficiency.  I got over that quickly as I realized they were not plugged in and I got into the theme of the work which was wolves and their hunting success which is on the low side versus ours via our “iceboxes” which is about as close to 100% as it can get.  
 
As I travelled from fridge to fridge watching wonderful black and white film loops from film maker Bob Landis I remembered the first footage coming out of Yellowstone and watching the wolves in the Lamar Valley chase elk back and forth across a slope.  Back and forth they went showing why wolves are different than many predators in that they are “coursing” predators that test the vigor of prey.  It was almost a tedious process of watching the faster elk outpace the slower wolves in a seemingly unending “coyote and roadrunner” pattern until one of the elk developed a hitch in their giddy up and then you got it.  You understood what made them different from other predators.
 
From this we went on to watch Deke Weaver do his mixed media show called Wolf.  We sat next to Cristina Eisenberg which was a treat because we were about to talk about her new book The Carnivore Way, her upcoming interview of Bill McKibben and a little bit about the interesting and on-going debate regarding trophic cascades.
 

MAP 2014 WOLF bus/woods from Deke Weaver on Vimeo.

This presentation (see above footage to get a flavor of Deke and crew) was an abbreviated version of the barn and bus performances that he and his team performed in Illinois as part of his unreliable bestiary alphabetic journey through endangered species and habitats.  He was amazing and I am always impressed by folks who can successfully navigate through complicated sequences involving video, props and messaging without missing a beat.  I also appreciated the wry combination of science, voice and dance melded together in a bread-and-puppets-stumbles-into-Monty-Python sort of way. Hilariously insightful.  
 
The wolf piece was also moving.  As a scientist and longtime leader in the conservation field I have had to keep a tight rein on my emotions.  I frequently am called names and threatened but through it I have had to remain calm and reasoned.  The wolf piece made me realize for that moment how much I have repressed and how angry I was about the ignorance and injustice I had seen associated with the wolf.  The old and comfortable mask came down quickly afterwards but it was good for me to know that this other set of feelings was still there as well.
 
 
After Deke’s work we transitioned to Vanessa’s seldom seen film and music collaboration “Hope and Prey” (click on "post" link above for 15 second of the experience hosted by Cinema Pacific)  Unvoiced and surreal the piece takes you, again with the help of Bob Landis footage,to the reality of wolves, elk, ravens and at least one pesky bald eagle. We become absorbed in their world on three screens.  It is like spending a day at work with the wolves along with all their trials and the ephemeral nature of their successes. 
 
On Sunday I returned alone for a panel discussion involving Vanessa and Deke as well as two faculty members from the University of Oregon to talk about philosophy and art in association with the various pieces.   Vanessa also screened some footage that Carter Niemeyer of Wolfer fame had shot during the 1994 capture of wolves that eventually went into Yellowstone and Central Idaho.  It was good to see old friends from nearly 20 years ago like veterinarians Mark Johnson and Dave Hunter who taught me how to use tranquilizer darts in California as well as a host of wolf biologists such as Dave Mech, Joe Fontaine and Carter.  
 
It was also interesting to see what changed and what remained the same from the 1994 captures which were all done by government employees or contractors and the 1996 efforts during the government shutdown that were a combination of government workers like Carter and Mech along with folks from NGOs like myself and Suzanne Stone.  
 

2019372475

I hung out at the end for a while with Vanessa, Deke and his partner-in-crime and choreography Jennifer Allen who was also one of the lupine dancers in Wolf.  We talked about wolves and people until the museum staff’s non-verbal clues told us it was time to leave.  Hopefully we will all have an opportunity to meet again and howl for wolves.  If you get a chance to see any of Vanessa’s or Deke’s work, I would urge you to make the effort as it will be well worth your while.    

 

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.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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
 

 

 

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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. 
 
 
Feb07

Press Release: Peer Review Questions Obama Proposal to Strip Protections for Wolves

For immediate release
February 7, 2014
 
Contact: Bob Ferris, Executive Director, 805.452.4900
              Josh Laughlin, Campaign Director, 541.844.8182
 
 
 A scientific peer review released today greatly questions the science behind the Obama administration’s proposal to strip protections for gray wolves across nearly all of the lower 48 states. The report was initiated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency that proposed the delisting, and should compel the administration to maintain protections for the species in much of the US where it is currently listed as an endangered species.
 
“It is high time that the US Fish and Wildlife Service re-evaluate its questionable strategy of ignoring clear science and broad public 0462_wenaha_male_wolfsentiment to curry favor and avoid conflict with livestock users of public lands and the narrow and misguided interests of trophy hunters,” said Bob Ferris, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands and part of the biologist team that helped reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone and central Idaho in the mid-1990s. “At its very core, this is a case of the Service whittling the edges off a square peg to fit it in a round hole.”
 
The 1978 re-listing of the gray wolf under the federal Endangered Species Act justifiably listed the species as a whole, eschewing subspecies designations and acknowledging that the wolf was an important ecological component and an evolving species.  This was done because it was known that wolves disperse over long distances — freely exchanging genetic materials in the process — and therefore it was felt that the wolf subspecies designations established by historic skull measurements were no longer appropriate or at the very least changing with the movement of genetic materials.  The Services’ recent reclassification of the gray wolf ignored current science and embraced an invalidated approach that is political convenient, but not scientifically supportable.
  
“The proposed rule states that even if wolves were to recolonize parts of the PNW [Pacific Northwest] west of the NRM [northern Rocky Mountains] DPS [Distinct Population Segment] that they would not be ecologically or genetically distinct. The rule, however, also acknowledges the differing ecology in this area and the historically distinct wolves that used to occupy it (once considered their own subspecies). Additionally, recent research indicates that wolves just north of the PNW demonstrate ecological and genetic uniqueness typical of a ‘coastal ecotype’ (Leonard et al. 2005, Munoz et al. 2009, Weckworth et al. 2010, vonHoldt et al. 2011). Therefore, it does not seem to logically follow that wolves establishing west of the NRM DPS in the PNW would not be ecologically and genetically unique.” Dr. Sylvia Fallon in peer review document.
 
In addition to the wolf classification misstep in the Northwest (see above), there is also an issue relating to potential recovery areas in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast. Although the peer reviewers were not asked directly to address the issue of how many wolves in how many areas constitutes recovery, some of the reviewers questioned the appropriateness of Services’ rejection of potential recovery areas and delisting of wolves before they had a chance to recover.   
 
“Based on the peer review, there is no way the Obama administration can proceed with its premature plan of stripping protections for the gray wolf,” said Josh Laughlin, campaign director with Cascadia Wildlands. “It is time for the administration to put the politics aside and use the best available science to recover the species, just like we did with the American alligator and bald eagle.
 
The peer review has triggered another 45-day public comment period. This new round of comments will be considered by the Service before it makes its final decision on whether to remove federal protections for the recovering species. By the end of December 2013, the agency received over one-million public comments opposing its plan to strip protections for gray wolves.
 
Gray wolves were systematically eradicated across much of the lower 48 by the mid-1900s through trapping, hunting and poisoning. Gray wolves have rebounded in a few regions of the US, including the western Great Lakes and northern Rockies Mountains, to the point of having their Endangered Species Act protections removed. Packs have begun to establish in Oregon and Washington in recent years. Eastern Oregon is home to seven packs, while Washington has 10 packs, three of them as far west as the Cascade Mountains.
 
Recently, wolves have wondered into states like California, Utah and Colorado, where significant habitat and prey bases exist. Cascadia Wildlands believes it is critical federal protections are maintained in these states and others, where wolves are just beginning to gain a toehold.
 
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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

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