Posts Tagged ‘public lands grazing’


Editorial From May 1922 Field and Stream


Below is an editorial from the May 1922 issue of Field and Stream Magazine by Le Grand T. Meyer.  His closing line speaking of western federal lands exposed to public lands grazing was: MAKE THESE PLAYGROUNDS OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, INSTEAD OF STINKING DESERTS.  

This editorial was in defense of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and argued on behalf of the hunting community and others.  He was defending the agency against attacks from the livestock industry–particularly the sheep growers.  He recognized that the interests of the livestock industry are markedly different than those of wildlife conservation.  So what would Mr. Meyer say today about the trophy hunting community's tight ties to the livestock industry, the agency’s acquiescence to the desires of the ranchers (including those that use public lands), and elements of the hunting community’s willingness to re-activate the livestock industry’s anti-wolf campaign (see 1, 2)?

It is important for us to take time to see where we were to understand where we are.


We Need to Address Wolf Myths and Hatred Head On–Stand with US

By Bob Ferris
There are some clever television commercials circulating of late that feature prankster cows taking steps to convince folks they should eat more chicken.  The inferred hope of these often belligerent bovines is that they will not be eaten, if people would just eat more fowl.  Setting aside the fact that the featured cows are dairy cows and not beef cattle, the ads remind me—more darkly—of the western livestock industry and their allies’ efforts to sink wolf recovery by directing public attention away from their own myriad sins by creating myths and legends about the impact of wolves.  In essence they are manufacturing wolf hatred.
The arguments raised by the livestock industry and their allies like Jim Beers and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are generally of three types:
1) Wolves cause economic damage;
2) Wolves impact wildlife populations; and 
3) Wolves pose a threat to humans.
The interesting thing about these three claims is that all three of them could also be made about cattle and the livestock industry.   More importantly—the level of all three of these impacts for livestock are orders of magnitude above those posed by wolves.  So why do folks not grasp this? And why is there only limited public outcry?
Perhaps it is John Wayne’s fault because cowboy movies and the ranchers themselves have created a myth of rugged independence and self-made wealth that conveniently forgets about the Louisiana Purchase, the wars waged against Native Americans (and the subsequent cost of the Reservation system), the generosity of the Homestead Act, the obscene incentives given the railroads, the campaign against the wolf waged by the Biological Survey (precursor to the US Fish and Wildlife Service) and a whole host of other taxpayer financed programs that have materially made their “independence” and the current situation possible.
Setting all of this past economic, biological and human insult aside, we are still left with considerable ongoing impacts in all of these arenas and it is disingenuous of the anti-wolf forces to suggest otherwise.
Take the economics (please).  Cattlemen, particularly public lands grazers, cannot honestly make an argument about the cost to them of wolves without also looking at the approximately $120 million annual loss to the US Treasury that is associated with the public lands grazing programs in the West.  And that number does not take into account the difference between what they are paying and what they should pay for the public lands they treat as personal kingdoms or the considerable ecological costs associated with chronically overgrazed lands as well as the direct services provided them by USDA Wildlife Services in their jihad on predators.
The best and freshest instance of the above is that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recently spent $77,000 to kill the Wedge Pack in northeastern Washington State.  They flew those helicopters and shot that complete pack to protect a single, recalcitrant public lands rancher who pays around $1000 a year to graze his cattle on a federal forest allotment.  On what planet is this considered justifiable or reasonable?  Thinking the best defense is a good offense, the rancher in question also has an attitude.  
And then there are the wildlife impacts…  Here I think the cattle industry should take a moment and remember the bison and wolves that flourished before influential ranchers cried for their virtual extermination in North America.  How dare they follow that history with pointing an accusatory finger at wolves on behalf of wildlife?  And then there are our current circumstances.  
Idaho seems home to a lot of hysteria and on a lot of fronts.  Of particular relevance is wolf hysteria.  Wolves ate all our elk.  Wolves ate all our deer and elk.  Wolves ate our homework.  The last one was hyperbole but it is in scale when you think that Idaho has roughly 600 wolves, 100,000 elk and 2.2 million cattle and yet folks claim vehemently that wolves are driving the system.  I would suggest that their attention is misdirected by rhetoric coming from the very industry that would rather you look at wolves than cattle and sheep.  Cattle compete directly with deer and elk, particularly during the season when deer and elk need to gain weight to get themselves through the winter.  Add to all this to the damage done to fishable waters by the big and indiscriminant hooves of millions of milling and thirsty cattle and you have some serious wildlife consequences.  
In fact, a few decades ago the National Wildlife Federation published a study called Grazing to Extinction.  In that work they made the defensible claim that roughly 25% of endangered species in the US at that time owed at least part of their endangerment to grazing—one in four imperiled species.  On their worse day wolves are not doing anything remotely approaching this.
And then there is the issue of human health and safety.  Anti-wolf forces claim that wolves will hide in trees near bus stops and prey on your children.  This rhetoric seems almost surreal given the actual numbers on the scoreboard.  During a 4 year period last decade, livestock killed 108 people in 4 states and this does not include people killed by vehicle and cattle interactions.  During this same time period, wild wolves in the lower 48 states killed no one.  
And perennial fibber and flabbergaster Jim Beers is making the rounds of livestock meetings and shovel brigade love fests hammering the “wolves carry disease” mantra never stopping once to look at the nearly complete overlap between many of these diseases such as brucellosis and Mad Cow Disease and their original vectors—livestock from Europe.  
In his nearly clinically paranoid fashion Mr. Beers catalogs a number of diseases (28) that potentially infect wolves along with a recounting of transmission mechanisms.  All these have a basis in fact, where he jumps off the sanity rails and employs the “Chick-fil-A” strategy is when he attempts to push disease transmission risk from wolves to the forefront of concerns.  This is specious on two counts.  

The first is simply one of scale, wolves are pinnacle predators and as such there will always be way fewer wolves than prey species.  And at this particularly point in time and for the foreseeable future the numbers of cattle, sheep, elk and deer vectors and disease reservoirs are at least three orders of magnitude greater than wolf populations will ever be.  More ungulates (cloven footed critters) mean more disease risk from those sectors.  For example, in Idaho right now there are 600 or so wolves, 100,000 elk and 2.2 million cattle—all potentially disease vectors or reservoirs.  How other than in the most illogical mind could the smallest by far group pose the most risk?  
Mr. Beers second mistake is likely an artifact of his age and the age of his educational grounding.  He became a wildlife biologist before population ecology, genetics, and biochemistry were regularly taught or required.  Had he been exposed to these sub-disciplines, he would realize that wolves carry diseases such as chronic wasting disease generally when they have consumed an animal infected with the disease.  In short they are a selective force against the disease.  For instance, if a wolf eats ten infected animals a year the end result is one infected wolf, but a total reduction of nine infected animals from the landscape.  This positive impact of wolves is supported by experience and modeling with mule deer and chronic wasting disease.
Of further note here is that the prevalence of these diseases correlates nicely with the overall density of these ungulates and with artificial density created by programs such as supplemental feeding endorsed by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.  Keeping deer and elk populations high and chronic overstocking of livestock leads to disease transmission.  
I am not a psychologist but it strikes me as edging towards some bizarre form of transference when someone like Mr. Beers continually channels their unfounded anger relating to being forced out of the US Fish and Wildlife Service more than a decade ago towards a species he has never worked with and knows relatively little about.   If he is really so angry at the federal government and wants nothing to do with his former agency, he could always refuse his government retirement checks.  (Question to the organizers of these gatherings—is this un-credentialed and discredited angry old man really the best you can do?)
Normally I would find this rhetoric and the clowns peddling it amusing on some level but my sense of humor evaporates and my tolerance for this ends abruptly when this translates into dead wolves and a trampling of logic and science.  When someone takes up a rifle, sets traps or considers poisoning wildlife because selfish, ignorant and politically driven yahoos gin up hatred, people of principle need to act and put an end to this foolishness.  
Action in my mind includes three logical courses:
1) Continued and enhanced protection for wolves in the lower 48 states.  This could be done under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) but would probably be more effective under free-standing legislation that dealt with permanently protecting the species and the ecological function they perform and requiring professional management where proven needs have been scientifically demonstrated (sign our petition here).
2) Public lands grazing reform.  We cannot for economic, ecological or climate threat prevention reasons continue to offer ecologically damaging, below cost grazing on our public lands.  
3) Wolf education.  Provisions under the ESA or some free-standing wolf legislation need to be created to deal with the wolf myths and fears (i.e., intellectual environment) purposely promulgated by anti-wolf forces.
We hope that members of our Cascadia community and beyond support us and will work with us to pursue these goals and others.  We simply cannot allow this type of rhetoric and unbridled hatred for wolves forwarded without response and action.

Can We Really Afford Cattle as King Any Longer?

–By Bob Ferris

Over the past several months I have written several pieces on wolves and public lands grazing.  I have written about the ecological impact of cattle.  I have written about the economic impact of cattle.  And I have written about the undue influence of the livestock industry on conservation organizations and public agencies–it should not be lost on folks that the Department of the Interior is run by a rancher.  But none of those pieces seems to hit as hard this piece from King 5 in Seattle.  Why indeed should we pay $80 for a parking pass when cattle pay $1.35?  Why should we invest $75,000 of tax payer dollars to protect $1000 in revenue?  

Please watch the video and pass it along (you can use the share buttons below).  And please sign our petition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to continue federal protection for western wolves.  This is where we should be spending our time and money–keeping it wild.  


Are Cows and Sheep the Sea Urchins of the Cascadian Forests?

By Bob Ferris

I have always liked sea otters—in part—because they are the quintessential keystone species or critters that materially determine some of the character of their habitat for them and others.  And now as new research emerges about the trophic cascade effects (i.e., the side benefits of having top predators present) associated with the otter’s control of sea urchins and the resultant macro-algae (kelp) growth, we also begin to understand that they are effective and needed warriors in the battle against climate change and ocean acidification.   How?  Kelp forests—like terrestrial forests—sequester carbon and CO2 is one of the leading causes of these phenomena affecting our air and seas. 
This almost obvious finding leads me to speculate: If urchins need the otter’s controlling influence for us to have robust aquatic forests, what are the terrestrial equivalents?  To begin to answer this question, let’s look at what sea urchins actually do.  Urchins don’t just eat large kelps such as bladder, boa and bullwhip kelp, they destroy the holdfasts which are essentially kelp “roots” and clearcut themselves into the oceanic pastures—known as urchin barrens—they most like to graze.  Urchin dominated “marine-scapes” look like denuded plains.  And without the three-dimensional volume provided by these large and long kelps they lack the structure and escape habitat needed for young fish (including salmon, smelt and rock fish) and a host of other sea life.  They essentially become oceanic deserts—great for urchins but not for kelp forest denizens or overall biodiversity.  
Urchin (Noun):
1) A mischievous young child, esp. one who is poorly or raggedly dressed.
2) A goblin.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When we look at the current and past large grazing guild for Cascadian forests and wildlands we have elk, deer, bison, caribou, moose, big horn sheep, mountain goat and the two new-comers cattle and domestic sheep.  Who are the sea urchins in this equation and why?  Well, deer and elk as well as the other less plentiful native ungulates do not have a history of knocking ecosystems irreparably out of whack—particularly in the presence of wolves and other apex predators.  The same cannot be said, however, of cattle and domestic sheep. 
Why are cattle and sheep different?  For one thing it is a numbers and carrying capacity issue.  Cattle and sheep—particularly on public lands—are brought in at and purposely over-stocked at levels that could not be supported year-round.  This bovine and ovine host, therefore, eat more, faster than their natural counter-parts ever could.  They are essentially like the guests who visit in large numbers, eat you out of house and home then move on leaving you starving.  Additionally, they are critters that evolved in the Old World rather than North America in systems more prone to annual plants rather than perennials.  
Bison exhibit a stronger preference for the perennial grasses that form the prairie matrix, and they are strongly attracted to open landscapes during the growing season. Cattle include more forbs in their diet, and they use wooded areas and riparian zones more intensively.  From: Comparative Ecology of Bison and Cattle on Mixed-Grass Prairie.
Cattle grazing habits and regimes as well as the spread of European annuals through seeds in cattle droppings have altered vegetative make ups.  This annual versus perennial issue is a large one—particularly as we look at carbon sequestration.  Perennials sequester more carbon than annuals because their root structures are more substantial and longer-lasting and more roots in the ground means more below surface carbon.  Add to the root structure loss, the flatulence factor from too many cattle farting methane—a greenhouse gas—by the hot-air balloon full and you have another rationale for adjusting your dietary choices.  
And for those thinking that cattle and bison are functionally the same.  The cattle’s use of wooded areas and riparian habitats not used by bison indicates an encroachment into the elk and deer realm and a departure from the co-evolved, ecological niche separation exhibited by the bison.  This direct competition with elk and deer for space and food makes the alliances between hunters groups such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Safari Club International and ranchers all the more puzzling as the livestock industry’s interests are clearly in conflict with those of wildlife including game species and fish.  And this further impact on native wildlife species cements cattle and domestic sheep as land urchins.  
So what should we derive from all of this?  First, efforts to broaden and emphasize sea otter restoration all along Cascadia should be re-accelerated and expanded particularly along the coasts of Oregon and Washington.  We need also to open our eyes on cattle and sheep grazing—particularly on public lands—and honestly and realistically assess the benefits as well as the full spectrum of implications relating to federal ranching subsidies, wildlife impacts, and compromised ecological services such as clean water and carbon sequestration.  And lastly we need to continue to work towards ecological literacy so that more people come to understand these complex ecological relationships for a host of natural systems and critters from otters to orcas and from wolves to wolverines.  They all help us keep it wild.


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