The Wildlife News http://www.thewildlifenews.com News and commentary on wildlife and public land issues in the Western United States Tue, 27 Sep 2016 19:23:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 23667551 Failure to list Yellowstone Bison generates lawsuit by 3 conservation groups http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/09/27/failure-to-list-yellowstone-bison-generates-lawsuit-by-3-conservation-groups/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/09/27/failure-to-list-yellowstone-bison-generates-lawsuit-by-3-conservation-groups/#comments Tue, 27 Sep 2016 19:23:27 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32571 The Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), Friends of Animals (FoA) and the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) have filed a lawsuit against the US Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) for failing to provide Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the distinct population (comprised of at least two herds) segment of bison in [...]]]>

The Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), Friends of Animals (FoA) and the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) have filed a lawsuit against the US Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) for failing to provide Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the distinct population (comprised of at least two herds) segment of bison in Yellowstone National Park in response to two citizen petitions.

“What an insult to the American public that the wild bison, who was named our first national mammal in May, continues to be slaughtered because of pressure from the meat industry and ranchers grazing their doomed cattle and sheep,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “These herds are obviously in a place where they should already be protected.”

The 4,500 bison in Yellowstone National Park are the only genetically pure bison herds of that size in America. But hundreds are slaughtered every year when snow and ice cover the bison’s food and hunger pushes them to lower elevations across the park boundary in Montana. When they cross this arbitrary line, the buffalo enter a zone of violent conflict with cattle and sheep ranchers.

“Protection under the Endangered Species Act is needed to counter these management inadequacies and to get state and federal agencies to address the threats these bison face,” added Michael Connor, California director of Western Watersheds Project and author of the listing petition. “Instead of allowing these bison to behave like bison and move with the seasons, government agencies are practicing indiscriminate killing that is reducing their genetic diversity.”

The lawsuit states that in issuing a negative 90-day determination on the petitions to list the bison as threatened or endangered, USFWS failed to rely upon the best available science, applied an incorrect legal standard to the petition and ignored the plain language of the ESA, which requires that any species threatened by one or more of five factors shall be designated as endangered or threatened.

Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program, points out that USFWS failed to consider that the curtailment of habitat has already resulted in placing the Yellowstone bison at risk of extinction. USFWS deems the population status to be stable, however under the ESA, the agency is required to not only look at the current numbers of bison, but how much of the bisons range has already been destroyed. Bison historically occupied approximately 20,000 square kilometres and presently only 3,175 square kiometres within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park serve as principal bison habitat.

“There were millions and millions of acres that were available to the bison that are no longer available to them because of cattle and sheep ranching. Their range has been curtailed by 90 percent, and that alone should be enough to warrant a listing,” Harris said.

“America’s national mammal, the wild bison, is threatened with extinction because of the actions of the agencies entrusted with protecting them,” added Dan Brister, executive director of Buffalo Field Campaign. “The Department of Interior should base its decisions on the best available science, not political pressure from the livestock industry.”

– – – –
Here is the petition itself. “Petition to List the Yellowstone Bison as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act” by Western Watersheds Project and Buffalo Field Campaign. It was presented in November 2014.

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How livestock “damage” wolf packs http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/09/12/how-livestock-damage-wolf-packs/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/09/12/how-livestock-damage-wolf-packs/#comments Mon, 12 Sep 2016 18:51:16 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32563 Today I received an inquiry from one of the employees of a conservation group that is supporting the killing of the Profanity Peak wolf pack trying to understand some of the assertions I made in a recent post on the issue of wolves and public lands.

The employee was questioning my statement from a previous [...]]]>

Today I received an inquiry from one of the employees of a conservation group that is supporting the killing of the Profanity Peak wolf pack trying to understand some of the assertions I made in a recent post on the issue of wolves and public lands.

The employee was questioning my statement from a previous post (http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/09/06/the-profanity-peak-pack-lost-of-wolves-and-academic-freedom/) where I stated that livestock anywhere within a dozen miles of a wolf pack was essentially on top of the pack.

The writer suggested I “seem to be making two different and seemingly contradictory points. On the one hand you state that “There is no correlation between distance and depredation,” but then you also suggest that the presence of livestock anywhere within a wolf’s territory, whether 4 miles or 12 miles or 20 miles or 30 miles of wolves, poses a problem.”

They then went on to note that most of the packs in Washington live in proximity of livestock without conflicts, suggesting that livestock and wolves using the same lands are compatible.

The writer’s observations are correct up to a point. Just because there is livestock in a wolf territory does not automatically lead to wolf killing of livestock. But it does still cause conflicts for wolves in ways that we can surmise, but may be difficult to prove.

The presence of livestock affects wolves in more ways than if they are shot due to depredations.

First, domestic livestock consume the grasses and other plants that would support native prey like elk, thus reducing the overall fitness of elk, and perhaps even reducing their total numbers.

At least in some places during the summer, the vast majority of all forage on public lands is “allotted” to domestic livestock. A meadow that is grazed to putting green height, a common occurrence where livestock are on public lands, offers little food to wild ungulates.

Secondly, the mere presence of livestock can socially displace elk and other ungulates. When cows move in, the elk move out.

Even though wolves would prefer to eat native ungulates like elk and deer, they will choose to eat domestic livestock if the availability of these native species are more limited or difficult to locate in their territories. Wolf packs with pups are particularly vulnerable as the biomass needs of growing pups puts a real strain on the ability of the pack to provide sufficient food, especially in the summer months when native prey like elk are widely dispersed in the first place.

Here’s an analogy. I’m basically a vegetarian. I avoid eating meat. However, if I am visiting someone’s house and they serve up a meat dish or sometimes when I am traveling, it is so difficult to get a good salad or other vegetarian food that I will eat a chicken sandwich or something like that. I don’t always do this, of course. I sometimes suffer with the lousy iceberg lettuce salads you get in rural cafes. I.e. if I could get good vegetarian food, I would not eat meat. But if it’s too difficult to get vegetarian food, I consume chicken or fish sometimes. It’s the same for wolves. They prefer to eat elk and deer, but if for some reason there are not good choices for elk and deer, then they will resort to livestock, especially if they are trying to feed pups.

Even if wolves do not choose to eat livestock, and are not killed by state or federal agencies, they are still suffering. In other words, their overall fitness is reduced.

The wolves may have to wander further to find food–i.e. if elk have moved in response to livestock.. That means they may be traveling further and thus more exposed to poaching and accidents (crossing roads where they are hit by cars/trucks).

Because they have less native food to eat, they may go into winter in poor health and thus be more susceptible to disease like mange.

Or some of the pups may not get enough to eat and not survive and/or be weaker in the winter, and less able to contribute to the pack’s overall fitness.

Or they may have to “trespass” into the territory of other packs and suffer mortality from interpack conflicts.

Or due to their lowered fitness, they may not be able to defend their territory against other packs.

These are only a few of the ways that livestock presence can negatively impacts wolves–whether they consume livestock or not.

Worse, when groups put out range riders or people to scarce wolves away from livestock (a well-intended idea) and otherwise affecting their normal movements, this is wrong.

Imagine what would happen if I were to choose to harass the cows and chase them away from the wolves to reduce predation opportunities, I would be arrested. But ranchers can chase or harass our wolves? To me, this is backwards.

Supporters of the ranching interests should not get hung up on distances like Washington State University did when it discredits wolf researcher Rob Wielgus by trying to make a point that cattle were released four miles from a wolf den instead of “on top” of the den. The mere presence of domestic livestock is damaging wolf habitat, not to mention all the other impacts that occurring–cattle are hammering riparian areas, polluting water, spreading weeds, compacting soils, etc.

It would seem that any environmental group would see that domestic livestock grazing is damaging and degrading our public lands. Should not conservation organizations be a supporter of the public–not private businesses using our public lands for their personal profit? Ask yourself that question.

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Anthropocene Boosters and the Attack on Wilderness Conservation http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/09/12/anthropocene-boosters-and-the-attack-on-wilderness-conservation-2/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/09/12/anthropocene-boosters-and-the-attack-on-wilderness-conservation-2/#comments Mon, 12 Sep 2016 15:31:42 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32561 (Note that this article originally appeared in the Independent Science News)

A growing debate has serious consequences for our collective relationship to Nature. Beginning perhaps twenty years ago, a number of academics in disciplines such as history, anthropology, and geography, began to question whether there was any tangible wilderness or wild lands left on Earth. [...]]]>

(Note that this article originally appeared in the Independent Science News)

A growing debate has serious consequences for our collective relationship to Nature. Beginning perhaps twenty years ago, a number of academics in disciplines such as history, anthropology, and geography, began to question whether there was any tangible wilderness or wild lands left on Earth. These academics, and others, have argued that humans have so completely modified the Earth, we should give up on the notion that there is anyplace wild and instead recognize that we have already domesticated, in one fashion or another, the entire planet for human benefit.

These individuals and groups are identified under an umbrella of different labels, including “Neo Greens”, “Pragmatic Environmentalists” “New Conservationists” “Green Postmodernism” and “Neo-environmentalists” but the most inclusive label to date is “Anthropocene Boosters” so that is the term I will use in this essay.

White Cloud Mountains, Idaho, George Wuerthner

WHITE CLOUD MOUNTAINS, IDAHO, GEORGE WUERTHNER

The basic premise of their argument is that humans have lived everywhere except Antarctica and that it is absurd to suggest that Nature exists independent of human influences. Wilderness was, just like everything else on Earth, a human cultural construct—that does not exist outside of the human mind (1). With typical human hubris, Anthropocene Boosters suggest we need a new name for our geological age that recognizes the human achievement instead of the outmoded Holocene.

Not only do these critics argue that humans now influence Nature to the point there is no such things as an independent “Nature”, but we have a right and obligation to manage the Earth as if it were a giant garden waiting for human exploitation (2). Of course, there are many others, from politicians to religious leaders to industry leaders, who hold the same perspective, but what is different about most Anthropocene Boosters is that they suggest they are promoting ideas that ultimately will serve humans and nature better.

From this beginning, numerous other critiques of wilderness and wildness have added to the chorus. Eventually these ideas found a responsive home in some of the largest corporate conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy as well as some think tanks like the Breakthrough Institute  (3), Long Now Foundation (4), The Reason Foundation (5), and others.

The Anthropocene Boosters make a number of assertions.

1.    Pristine Wilderness never existed, or if it did, is now gone. Making wilderness protection the primary goal of conservation is a failed strategy.
2.    The idea that Nature is fragile an exaggeration. Nature is resilient.
3.    Conservation must serve human needs and aspirations, and do so by promoting growth and development.
4.    Managing for “ecosystem services”, not biodiversity protection, should be the primary goal of conservation.
5.    Conservation efforts should be focused on human modified or “working landscapes” not creating new strictly protected areas like national parks, wilderness reserves and the like. Wildlands protection is passe.
6.    Corporations are key to conservation efforts, so conservationists should partner with corporate interests rather than criticize capitalism or industry.
7.    In order to garner support for these positions, conservation strategies like creation of national parks and other reserves are attacked as “elitism” or “cultural imperialism” or “colonialism.” (6)

Many holding these viewpoints seem to relish the idea that humans are finally “masters of the Earth”. They celebrate technology and the “path of progress” and believe it will lead to a new promised land where Nature is increasingly bent to human desires, while human poverty is alleviated. For instance, Stewart Brand, of Whole Earth Catalog fame, embraces the idea of altering evolution with genetic modifications of species by “tweaking” gene pools. (7)

These trends and philosophical ideas are alarming to some of us who work in conservation. The implications of these goals and observations imply no limits upon consumption that is destroying the planet’s ecosystems and contributing to a massive Sixth Extinction of species. Whether intentional or not, these ideas justify our current rapacious approach that celebrates economic and development growth.

These ideas represent the techno-optimism of a glorious future, where biotech, geoengineering, nuclear power, among other “solutions” to current environmental problems save us from ourselves.

Many Anthropocene Boosters believe expansion of economic opportunities is the only way to bring much of the world’s population out of poverty. This is a happy coincidence for global industry and developers because they now have otherwise liberal progressive voices leading the charge for greater domestication of the Earth. But whether the ultimate goals are humane or not, these proposals appear to dismiss any need for limits on human population growth, consumption, and manipulation of the planet.

Many of those advocating the Anthropocene Booster world view either implicitly or explicitly see the Earth as a giant garden that we must “steward” (original root from “keeper of the sty” or caretaker of domestic livestock) the land. In other words, we must domesticate the planet to serve human ends.

But the idea of commodifying Nature for economic and population growth is morally bankrupt. It seeks only to legitimize human manipulations and exploitation and ultimately is a threat to even human survival.

Our book, Keeping the Wild—Against the Domestication of the Earth, explains why this is so. It advocates a smaller human footprint where wild Nature thrives and humans manage ourselves rather than attempt to manage the planet.

However let us take these assertions one by one.

Pristine wilderness

First is the Anthropocene Booster’s assertion that “pristine” wilderness never existed, and even if it did, wilderness is now gone. Boosters never define what exactly they mean by wilderness, but their use of “pristine” suggests that they define a wilderness as a place that no human has ever touched or trod (8).

That sense of total human absence is not how wilderness advocates define a wild place. Rather, the concept of a wilderness has much more to do with the degree of human influence. Because humans have lived in all landscapes except Antarctica does not mean the human influence is uniformly distributed. Wilderness is viewed as places largely influenced by natural forces, rather than dominated by human manipulation and presence. Downtown Los Angeles is without a doubt a human-influenced landscape, but a place like Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge is certainly not significantly manipulated or controlled by humans. Though certainly low numbers of humans have hunted, camped, and otherwise occupied small portions of the refuge for centuries, the degree of human presence and modification is small. The Alaska Refuge lands are, most wilderness advocates would argue, self-willed.  By such a definition, there are many parts of the world that are to one degree or another largely “self-willed”.

Nature is resilient

Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy’s  former Chief Scientist, is one of the more outspoken proponents of the idea that Nature is not fragile, but resilient.  Kareiva says “In many circumstances, the demise of formerly abundant species can be inconsequential to ecosystem function.” He cites as an example the loss of the passenger pigeon, once so abundant that its flocks darkened the sky, whose demise, according to Kareiva, had “no catastrophic or even measurable effects.”

Stewart Brand also sees no problem with extinction. Brand recently wrote “The frightening extinction statistics that we hear are largely an island story, and largely a story of the past, because most island species that were especially vulnerable to extinction are already gone.” (10)

Indeed Brand almost celebrates the threats to global species because he suggests that it will increase evolution, including biodiversity in the long run.

Such a cavalier attitude towards the demise of species, and the normalizing of species declines, undermines the efforts of many conservation organizations to preclude these human-caused extinctions.

Many biologists disagree with Brand and the authors he references. They believe we are on the verge of a Sixth Mass Extinction. There have been other extinctions, but this is a preventable mass extinction. We know it is occurring and the cause of this extinction spiral is human-domination of the Earth and its resources (11).

There is something callous and morally bankrupt in asserting that it is OK for humans to knowingly drive species to extinction.  There seems to be no expression of loss or grief that we are now pushing many species towards extinction. Humans have survived the Black Plague, the Holocaust, and many other losses over the centuries, but one doesn’t celebrate these losses.

Conservation must serve human needs

Another pillar of the Anthropocene Boosters platform is that conservation’s main purpose must be to enhance and provide for human needs and desires. Of course, one consequence of conservation is that protected landscapes nearly always provide for human needs—contributing clean water, biodiversity conservation (if you think that is important), moderation of climate change, to name a few.

However, the main rationale for conservation should surely be much broader and inclusive. Despite the fact that most conservation efforts do have human utilitarian value, the ultimate measurement of value ought to be how well conservation serves the needs of the other species we share the planet with.

The problem with Anthropocene Boosters promotion of growth and development is that most species losses are due to habitat losses. Without reigning in population and development, plants and animals face a grim future with less and less habitat, not to mention changes in their habitat that makes survival difficult if not impossible.

Even when species do not go extinct, the diminishment of their ecological effects can also lead to biological impoverishment, for instance, when top predators are eliminated from ecosystems.

Conservation should focus on “working landscapes” not creation of more parks and wilderness

The term “working landscapes” was invented by the timber industry to put a positive spin on their rapacious operations. Americans, in particular, look favorably upon the “work ethic” and industry coined the phrase to capitalize on that affirmative cultural perspective. Working landscapes are typically lands exploited for economic development including logging, livestock grazing, and farming.

While almost no conservationists would deny that there is vast room for improvement in these exploited landscapes, the general scientific consensus is that parks, wilderness reserves and other lands where human exploitation is restricted provide greater protection of ecosystems and biodiversity.

For this reason, many scientists, including such eminent biologists as Harvard biologist, E.O. Wilson, are calling for protecting half of the Earth’s terrestrial landscapes as parks and other reserves.

Conservationists should stop criticising corporations

Some Anthropocene Boosters believe conservationists should stop criticizing corporations and work with them to implement more environmentally friendly programs and operations.

Almost no conservationist would argue that corporate entities should not adopt less destructive practices. However, it is overdevelopment that is the ultimate threat to all life, including our own. Implementing so called “sustainable” practices may slow the degradation of the Earth’s ecosystems and species decline, but most such proposals only create  “lesser unsustainable” operations.

At a fundamental level, the promise of endless growth on a finite planet is a dead end street, and it is important for conservationists to continuously harp upon that message. To halt criticisms of corporations invites greenwashing, and precludes any effective analysis of the ultimate problems of development and growth.

National parks and reserves are a form of cultural imperialism

Many Anthropocene Boosters, in order to validate their particular view of the world, go beyond merely criticizing environmental and conservation strategies. They seek to delegitimize parks and other wild lands protection efforts by branding them with pejorative terms like “cultural imperialisms”, “colonialism” and other words that vilify protected lands.

GREAT EGRET (CASMERODIUS ALBUS) CREDIT: JOHN CANCALOSI

The creation of parks and protected areas began with Yellowstone National Park in 1872  (or arguably Yosemite, which was a state park earlier). The general Anthropocene Boosters theme is that this model has been “exported” and emulated around the world and that Western nations are forcing parks upon the poor at the expense of their economic future.

Notwithstanding that nearly all cultures have some concept of sacred lands or places that are off limits to normal exploitation, to denigrate the idea of parks and wildlands reserves as “Imperialism” because it originated in the United States is crass. It is no different than trying to scorn democracy as Greek imperialism because many countries now aspire to adopt democratic institutions. Western countries also “export” other ideas, like human rights, racial equality and other values, and few question whether these ideas represent “imperialism.”

Of course, one of the reasons protected areas are so widely adopted is because they ultimately are better at protecting ecosystems and wildlife than other less protective methods.

But it is also true that strictly protected areas have not stemmed the loss of species and habitat, though in many cases, they have slowed these losses. When parks and other reserves fail to safeguard the lands they are set aside to protect, it is typically due to a host of recognized issues that conservation biologists frequently cite, including small size, lack of connecting corridors, lack of enforcement, and underfunding.

To criticize parks for this is analogous to arguing we should eliminate public schools because underfunding, lack of adequate staffing, and other well publicized problems often result in less than desirable educational outcomes. Just as the problem is not with the basic premise of public education, nor are the well-publicized difficulties for parks a reason to jettison them as a foundation for conservation strategies.

Another criticism is that strictly-protected parks and other reserves harm local economic and sometimes subsistence activities. In reality that is what parks and other reserves are designed to do. The reason we create strictly protected areas is that on-going resource exploitation does harm wildlife and ecosystems or we would not need parks or other reserves in the first place.

While park creation may occasionally disrupt local use of resources, we regularly condone or at least accept the disruption and losses associated with much more damaging developments. The Three Gorges Dam in China displaced millions of people. Similar development around the world has displaced and impinged upon indigenous peoples everywhere. Indeed, in the absence of protected areas, many landscapes are ravaged by logging, ranching, oil and gas, mining and other resource developers, often to the ultimate detriment of local peoples and of course the ecosystems they depend upon. In the interest of fairness, however, people severely impacted should be compensated in some way.

Nevertheless it should also be recognized that the benefits of parks and other wildlands reserves are nearly always perpetual, while logging the forest, killing off wildlife, and other alternatives are usually less permanent sources of economic viability.

Summary

The Wild does have economic and other benefits for human well-being. However, the ultimate rationale for “Keeping the Wild” is the realization there are intangible and intrinsic value to protecting Nature. Keeping the Wild is about self-restraint and self-discipline. By setting aside parks and other reserves, we, as a society and a species, are making a statement that we recognize that we have a moral obligation to protect other lifeforms. And while we may have the capability to influence the planet and its biosphere, we lack the wisdom to do so in a manner that does not harm.

Keeping the Wild: Against the Domestication of the Earth is a new book edited by George Wuerthner, Eileen Crist, and Tom Butler. In bringing together essays in one volume, we seek to examine and challenge the assumptions and epistemology underlying the Anthropocene Booster’s world view. We seek to offer another way forward that seeks to preserve wildness, wildlands, and Nature and ultimately a co-existence that emphasizes humility and gratitude towards this planet—our only home.

References

(1) Cronon, William The Trouble with Wilderness in Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature (1995)
(2) Marris, Emma (2011). Rambunctious Garden. Bloomsbury NY.
(3) Breakthrough Institute
(4) The Long Now Foundation
(5) Ronald Bailey 2011 The Myth of Pristine Nature.
(6) Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier and Robert Lalasz  Conservation in the Anthropocene.
(7) Steward (Brand 2015) Rethinking Extinction.
(8) Interview with Emma Marris.
(9) Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier and Robert Lalasz  Conservation in the Anthropocene.
(10) Stewart Brand (2015) Rethinking Extinction.
(11) Brian Miller, Michael Soulé, and John Terborgh, The “New Conservation’s” Surrender to Development.

George Wuerthner is the former Ecological Projects Director of the Foundation for Deep Ecology

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The Profanity Peak Pack: Loss of wolves and academic freedom http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/09/06/the-profanity-peak-pack-lost-of-wolves-and-academic-freedom/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/09/06/the-profanity-peak-pack-lost-of-wolves-and-academic-freedom/#comments Tue, 06 Sep 2016 23:10:02 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32550 The recent killing of six members of the Profanity Peak  wolf pack in NE Washington in retribution for the loss of a few cattle is emblematic of what is wrong with public land policy. As I write, trappers are out to kill the remaining pack members.

What is significant about the destruction of this pack [...]]]>

The recent killing of six members of the Profanity Peak  wolf pack in NE Washington in retribution for the loss of a few cattle is emblematic of what is wrong with public land policy. As I write, trappers are out to kill the remaining pack members.

What is significant about the destruction of this pack is that the Profanity Peak wolves roamed national forest lands. These are our lands.  They belong to all Americans and are part of our national patrimony.

Even if the Profanity Peak Pack were not being slaughtered, it’s important to note that the mere presence of livestock negatively impacts wolves whether they are shot or otherwise killed—something that many livestock supporters are loath to acknowledge.

Domestic livestock consume forage that would otherwise support the native prey of wolves like elk. More domestic animals, means fewer elk.

In essence, domestic livestock grazing public lands are compromising the food resources of public wildlife so that ranchers can turn a private profit.

Worse for wolves, especially wolves confined to a den area because of pups as was the case in the Profanity Peak Pack, when domestic cattle are moved onto our public lands, it creates a social displacement of elk. In other words, elk avoid areas actively being grazed by livestock. If the livestock are grazing lands near a den site, then the wolves automatically have fewer elk to take and must travel further to find their dinner.

If you place cattle within a dozen miles of a wolf pack you are essentially putting the livestock “right on top” of the wolves.  And if the presence of cattle forces native prey like elk to abandon the area, can anyone blame the wolves if they resort to killing a domestic animal once in a while?

The loss of the Profanity Peak Pack  begs the question of whether any livestock grazing should be permitted in this area. It is obviously good wolf habitat—except of course for the presence of domestic animals.

What is particularly egregious about the on-going slaughter of the Profanity Peak Pack is that it was essentially a preventable conflict. Had the rancher, whose cows invaded the wolf pack’s territory, been required to use other public lands, or better yet, simply lease private pasture, there would have been no livestock losses, hence wolf deaths.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM IS ALSO BEING SLAUGHTERED

But the loss of the Profanity Peak Pack as terrible as it may be, has had an additional effect upon the public’s right to understand the circumstances behind the wolf slaughter.  Washington State University has sought to silence one of its researchers, Associate Professor Robert Wielgus.  Wielgus is a much respected and published predator ecologist whose on-going research has challenged traditional ideas about predator management.

Wielgus had been studying the Profanity Peak pack and cattle interactions. There were  radio collars on both wolves and livestock, so he had a pretty good notion of their locations.  In an article published by the Seattle Times on Aug. 25, 2016, Dr. Wielgus stated that a particular livestock operator had “elected to put his livestock directly on top of (the wolves’) den site; we have pictures of cows swamping it…”

This caused an immediate uproar from Washington State University and the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resources Sciences and an attempt to discredit Dr. Wielgus. The University declared in a press release: “Some of Dr. Wielgus’ statements in regard to this controversial issue have been both inaccurate and inappropriate. As such, they have contributed substantially to the growing anger and confusion about this significant wildlife management issue and have unfairly jeopardized the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wolf Advisory Group’s many-months long stakeholder process. Moreover, the statements do not in any way represent the views or position of Washington State University or the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resources Sciences. These statements are disavowed by our institutions.

WSU then tried to dismiss Dr. Wielgus observation by stating that “In actuality, the livestock were released at low elevation on the east side of the Kettle Crest more than 4 miles from the den site, and dispersed throughout the allotments based on instructions found in the Annual Operating Instructions (AOI).”

However, Donny Martorello with the Washington Fish and Wildlife recently validated Wielgus assertions. In an email September 2nd, Martorello wrote: “Based on field reports of the 13 wolf depredations on livestock since July 8, three were within about a mile of the pack’s activity centers (den or rendezvous sites) and ten ranged from 2 to 10 miles away from wolf activity centers.” Martorello went on to say “As cattle continued to disperse through the allotment they inevitably crossed paths with the den site and later with rendezvous sites.” Martorello also confirmed that salt blocks were even placed near rendezvous sites, thereby attracting livestock to areas utilized by wolves.

This is diving into the weeds over definitions. Whether the cows were quite literally “on top” of the den or four miles away is irrelevant to the wolves. What such statements demonstrates is either the Ag school’s ignorance of wolf biology or a not so-veiled attempt to confuse the public. If you are a wolf where regular daily hunting excursions of 20-30 miles are common, four miles is a short romp. Cattle grazing four miles from a den site is essentially “right on top” of the wolves.

The attempt to muzzle Wielgus is not unusual when academics challenge traditional industries like livestock grazing, logging, or wildlife agencies. They often covertly and not so covertly support (read control) the academic agenda at natural resource schools.

For instance, a few years ago, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks threatened to withdraw its funding of all research at Montana State University in retaliation to a peer reviewed paper written by Dr. Scott Creel that challenged the agencies wolf hunting limits. http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/fwp-warns-msu-over-scientist-s-wolf-study/article_0d470f22-fff8-11df-85de-001cc4c002e0.html

Or consider how the Dean and some professors at the Forestry School at Oregon State University attempted to suppress the publication of a peer reviewed paper that then graduate student, Dan Donato wrote that found that post-fire logging of the Biscuit Fire harmed forest regeneration. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biscuit_Fire_publication_controversy

I had my own experience with this kind of censorship. I had applied for entrance to a Ph.D. program at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman and was accepted. I had helped to write a grant proposal to a foundation to fund my research and had obtained financial support for four years.

Prior to admittance into the program, I was well known in Montana as a critic of public lands grazing. So once the Montana Stockgrowers learned that I would be attending MSU, they put pressure on the university to rescind the financial grant offer (which I had written) and they also threatened the professor who was to be my advisor that he might not get tenure if he continued to work with me.

Rather than see this individual lose his opportunity for tenure, not to mention, the idea of attending a program that was hostile to my presence, I “voluntarily” withdrew my application.

The Wielgus character assassination is merely the latest a long sordid history of natural resource interests interfering with, and attempting to suppress research that challenges their hegemony and control of public resources.

It’s important that media, citizens, and others “follow the money.” Whether as blatant as the effort to discredit Dr. Wielgus or subtler, these industries make it clear there are sidebars to your research and what you can say or publish.

To believe that agency “professionals” whether wildlife biologists working for state wildlife agencies or foresters working for the Forest Service or range conservationists working for the BLM are presenting complete objective information is naïve.

However, it goes beyond the agencies since they often fund academic researchers. So if you are a forestry professor at Oregon State University, you know that it is not wise to criticize logging or the Forest Service policies. If you are a wildlife professor you had better not challenge hunting and state wildlife agencies. And if you are a range professor, well you know that cows are God’s gift to mankind so what else do you need to know.

The point is that one must follow the money. As Upton Sinclair noted long ago, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

I don’t mean to imply that all foresters, range cons, wildlife biologists, academics, etc. are doing the bidding of commercial interests. But all are well aware of the parameters of their jobs. There are certain questions that don’t get asked, certain research that is not initiated, and careful omission of specific facts that could change public attitudes or perception. These are the compromises that many make to maintain their employment.

If you violate these unwritten rules, you can suffer. I recall an Idaho BLM fishery biologist who publicly condemned livestock grazing because of its impacts on fish. He was “transferred” to Tonopah, Nevada, just outside of Death Valley and one of the driest places in the West—essentially he was sent to the fish biologist’s equivalent of Siberia.

So one needs to understand these limitations, anticipate them, and know that researchers like Wielgus who stick their heads up are risking a lot more than academic integrity. They could easily find that their schools no longer support their research or adopt other ways to punish you.

 

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Investigation Sought Over Approval to Kill 4 Wolves Near Grand Teton National Park http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/09/01/investigation-sought-over-approval-to-kill-4-wolves-near-grand-teton-national-park/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/09/01/investigation-sought-over-approval-to-kill-4-wolves-near-grand-teton-national-park/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2016 19:13:18 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32545 CHEYENNE, WY. The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project have called for an investigation and the release of more public information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s authorization to kill four members of the Pinnacle Peak wolf pack in Wyoming. The Service recently authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s [...]]]>

CHEYENNE, WYThe Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project have called for an investigation and the release of more public information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s authorization to kill four members of the Pinnacle Peak wolf pack in Wyoming. The Service recently authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to remove the wolves due to alleged conflicts with livestock on private land just south of Grand Teton National Park and four miles north of Jackson. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to provide the public with crucial information to determine the propriety of this authorization, including what, if any, nonlethal techniques were employed to avoid wolf-cattle conflicts at these ranching operations.

One of the wolves has already been killed, according to news reports.

“Killing wolves and other wildlife that leave national parks like Grand Teton has come under increasing scrutiny because of the impact such killings have on the mission of parks to maintain ecological integrity and provide opportunities to the public to view wildlife like wolves. The public has a right to know more when these animals are approved for killing by the government,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center. “There should be a heightened sense of responsibility to exhaust nonlethal techniques on lands so close to a national park, but the Service isn’t providing the public with any information to determine if nonlethal methods were used at all.”

Recent research has shown that if wolves spend most of their time inside national parks but are killed once they leave park lands, opportunities to view these wolves in the park are likely to decrease, which in turn may impact visitation and associated economic benefits to local communities, including the gateway town of Jackson. Some scientists have also found that removing wolves from the landscape can actually increase the potential for future conflicts because younger wolves are forced to provide for the remaining pack without having developed the hunting skills and knowledge necessary to do so.

“We are concerned that the Fish and Wildlife Service isn’t taking relevant science into account before ordering these removals,” said Santarsiere. “The science shows that hazing and nonlethal techniques are more effective at preventing livestock conflicts in the long run.”

Wolves in Wyoming are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act, but when wolves were reintroduced to northwestern Wyoming in the mid-1990s, the Service gave itself the authority to permit the lethal removal of wolves that pose a threat to livestock or property. Under this authority, the Service annually authorizes the killing of wolves by federal and state employees, as well as ranchers who apply for a permit to kill wolves on their property, and it is under these provisions that the Service has authorized removal of wolves from the Pinnacle Peak pack.

The Center has asked the Service to investigate the killing of wolves in the Pinnacle Peak pack, and to provide the public with information about which ranching operations were involved, the location of those operations, whether wolves may be killed on public lands, and what nonlethal techniques were used prior to authorizing lethal removal of these wolves.

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Permit retirement a solution to killing wolves http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/26/permit-retirement-a-solution-to-killing-wolves/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/26/permit-retirement-a-solution-to-killing-wolves/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 15:52:45 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32519 The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has ordered that the Profanity wolf pack in northeast Washington be killed. As of today at least six wolves have already been killed. The kill order is the result of on-going depredations of domestic cattle that are being grazed on national forest lands. The continued killing of the [...]]]>

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has ordered that the Profanity wolf pack in northeast Washington be killed. As of today at least six wolves have already been killed. The kill order is the result of on-going depredations of domestic cattle that are being grazed on national forest lands. The continued killing of the Profanity pack is emblematic of what is wrong with our wildlife policies, especially with regards to public lands.

The problem is expressed by the attitude represented in a recent quote from Donny Martorello, Fish and Wildlife wolf policy lead, said in a statement. “The department is committed to wolf recovery, but we also have a shared responsibility to protect livestock from repeated depredation by wolves.”

What about protecting wolves from repeated depredations by livestock? What about preserving the ecological role of large predators on our public lands?

The typical reaction of state wildlife agencies to any predator conflicts is to remove the predators, rather than remove the livestock. However, grazing on public lands is a privilege, not a right.

While livestock grazing is a legally permitted use of public lands, that use is contingent upon livestock production not harming other public values. In this case, the killing of a wolf pack is an obvious harm to the public’s right to have healthy wildlife populations on our public lands.

But it goes beyond simply the killing of our wolves so that a commercial business can profit from exploiting our public lands. The mere presence of livestock socially displaces the prey of predators. Elk and other herbivores avoid areas that are being actively grazed by domestic livestock.

This means that predators like wolves may have to travel further to find food or alternatively they simply take the easiest and closest prey which may be domestic animals.

Of course, by consuming the forage on public lands, domestic livestock are taking the food out of the mouths of wildlife like elk and other wildlife that support predators like wolves, cougar, and coyotes.

Furthermore, there is growing evidence that killing predators does not solve answer conflicts in the long run. Killing predators can fragment packs, or eliminate the more experienced hunters in a pack.

Indiscriminate killing of predators as is common in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana also destroys the social bonds in packs, and skews packs towards younger animals. The remaining pack members may be less experienced at hunting and may not know the territory and information like where prey may winter or migration routes that is critical for a successful pack.

In reality we should be demand that livestock be removed from public lands whenever there is a conflict, rather than killing our wildlife.

Ethically we can ask why a private business exploiting our public lands should be given preference over the public’s interest in wildlife like wolves.

A long-term solution to conflicts between private business interests and the public interest in preserving its wildlife can be accomplished through permit retirement.

Permanently closing allotments precludes future conflicts forever and provides ranchers with a golden saddle. They can use the money to retire, or buy additional private lands.

Strategies like range riders, or other ideas that some organizations support to reduce conflicts does not really make the public lands safe for predators—our wildlife. Harassing public wildlife to facilitate private use of our public lands is ethically wrong in my view.

In the end, we should be working to provide safe havens for predators so they can exert their evolutionary influence on the landscape. Permit retirement is one way to help achieve this goal.

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Montana’s Regulations for Hunting Grizzly Bears is challenged as illegal http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/22/montanas-regulations-for-hunting-grizzly-bears-is-challenged-as-illegal/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/22/montanas-regulations-for-hunting-grizzly-bears-is-challenged-as-illegal/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 00:41:41 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32512 BOZEMAN, Mont.— Animal protection and conservation groups filed a lawsuit last week challenging the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission’s illegal, fast-tracked adoption of grizzly bear hunting regulations that open the door for trophy hunting once the bears are stripped of Endangered Species Act protections. A final rule removing Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species [...]]]>

BOZEMAN, Mont.— Animal protection and conservation groups filed a lawsuit last week challenging the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission’s illegal, fast-tracked adoption of grizzly bear hunting regulations that open the door for trophy hunting once the bears are stripped of Endangered Species Act protections. A final rule removing Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list is expected as early as November.

The Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity and Bozeman resident Clint Nagel filed the suit after citizens concerned about Montana’s trophy-hunting plan were denied access to the full content of the regulations, unlawfully limiting their ability to voice informed opinions on the controversial plan. Despite this violation of the rulemaking process, the Commission voted unanimously to adopt the regulations on July 13. It simultaneously ratified a tri-state memorandum of agreement with Idaho and Wyoming to divvy up quotas for grizzly hunts.

“I have two concerns over the issue of delisting of the grizzly bear: the future of the bear itself, and making sure the public understands and participates in decisions about how the bear will be managed if delisting occurs,” said Mr. Nagel, a retired U.S. Geological Survey employee and long-time advocate for Greater Yellowstone wildlife. “Because the state hasn’t provided sufficient details to the public, we just don’t know enough about how trophy hunting will be regulated, and how managers will prevent an unwanted decline in the overall population and genetic viability.”

The long-term harm caused by trophy hunting is well established in scientific literature. By specifically targeting the biggest and strongest males, trophy hunting reduces the genetic viability of a species and has cascading impacts on the social dynamics of apex predators, including increasing infanticide. And a recent study demonstrated that when states allow recreational trophy hunting of carnivores, it increases the rate of poaching by making killing more acceptable. 

“The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission has hidden the ball by proposing and adopting a regulation that was not made fully available to the public,” said Anna Frostic, senior attorney for wildlife litigation at The Humane Society of the United States. “Expecting stakeholders, outside experts and the concerned public to comment on a regulatory proposal that was not even made accessible to them makes a mockery of their constitutional right to participate meaningfully in decisions about Montana’s wildlife heritage.”

In March 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to delist grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem and turn their management over to the states. Shortly thereafter, Montana — like Wyoming and Idaho — rushed to approve a trophy-hunting season that puts the recovery of grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone in jeopardy.

“Recent polling shows Americans overwhelmingly oppose trophy hunting,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “By purposefully limiting public participation on the trophy hunting issue, Montana is trying to drown out these voices. Montana’s constitution and its laws require more.”

The plaintiffs are seeking to reopen the comment period on the regulations in order to give members of the public the opportunity to scrutinize and comment on the full content of the rule. They are represented by attorneys from The Humane Society of the United States and local counsel, Kristine M. Akland.

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Livestock a factor in Yellowstone fish kills http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/20/livestock-a-factor-in-yellowstone-fish-kills/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/20/livestock-a-factor-in-yellowstone-fish-kills/#comments Sat, 20 Aug 2016 13:52:37 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32508 The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department just closed the Yellowstone River to all water borne recreation in response to a growing epidemic that has killed thousands of fish. The culprit is Proliferative Kidney Disease which can cause up to 100 percent mortality.

The disease is exacerbated by low water flows and high temperatures.

Governor [...]]]>

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department just closed the Yellowstone River to all water borne recreation in response to a growing epidemic that has killed thousands of fish. The culprit is Proliferative Kidney Disease which can cause up to 100 percent mortality.

The disease is exacerbated by low water flows and high temperatures.

Governor Bullock is quoted in the Helena IR as saying: “We must be guided by science. Our state cannot afford this infectious disease to spread to other streams and rivers and it’s my responsibility to do everything we can to stop this threat in its tracks and protect Montana jobs and livelihoods.”

Neither MDFWP nor the Governor are willing to name the major factor creating low flows or “do everything” to stop the disease. There is a sacred cow they are afraid to name.

Neither MDFWP, nor Governor Bullock are willing to connect the dots. In naming low flows and high temperatures, they are ignoring the ultimate cause of low water and high temperatures—which throughout Montana and the rest of the West is livestock production.

Livestock trample the riparian areas along streams which are the sponges that hold and release water, especially late season flows. Throughout the West, especially on public lands, cattle grazing is the number one cause of riparian damage.

And of course, all those green hay fields one sees along the Yellowstone River—well that’s the river spread over those fields. Throughout the West, those green patches of exotic water thirty grasses are only possible by degrading our rivers through water withdrawals.

Irrigation is the number cause of stream dewatering and the reason many stream segments fail to meet state water quality standards.

When fish are crowded together it increases competition for food and resting habitat and thus is a factor in stress.

Low flows also mean any pools of water heat faster contributing to higher temperatures.

Furthermore, even if the water diverted from a stream or river is subsequently returned to the stream, it is typically much warmer, which is another factor in high temperatures.

But here’s the catch. The water in Montana rivers, as well as the rest of the West, does not belong to ranchers. It is owned by the citizens of the state. And any use, including the removal of water is subject to citizen approval. A water “right” is really a water privilege. We, the people of Montana, allow ranchers to use OUR water for their private profit. But this is subject to our approval.

When in the exercise of that privilege it begins to infringe on the rights of the rest of us, then the government should step in and protect the rights of all citizens to clean high quality water.

The citizens of Montana could decide that keeping more water in the Yellowstone river is more important to the state’s fishery and recreational industries than producing more hay for cattle feed.

Indeed, it is a Public Trust obligation for the governor and state wildlife agencies to protect the citizen’s right to fish, recreation and high quality water.

I don’t expect that the Governor or MDFWP will enforce its Public Trust responsibility. But citizens can force the government to protect their fundamental right to healthy environment by suing the state for its failure to protect the Public Trust

 

George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has written 38 books. He divides his time between Bend, Oregon and Livingston, Montana.

 

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Frivolous Wyoming Trespass Lawsuit Finally Dropped! http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/18/frivolous-wyoming-trespass-lawsuit-finally-dropped/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/18/frivolous-wyoming-trespass-lawsuit-finally-dropped/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 18:28:32 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32502 Hailey, IDAHO – Over two years after alleging that Western Watersheds Project trespassed on private property in order to collect water quality data on public lands, Wyoming ranchers dropped their lawsuit against the conservation group upon reaching a settlement that yields no new restrictions on the organization’s efforts to protect clean water on public lands.

“This suit was [...]]]>

Hailey, IDAHO – Over two years after alleging that Western Watersheds Project trespassed on private property in order to collect water quality data on public lands, Wyoming ranchers dropped their lawsuit against the conservation group upon reaching a settlement that yields no new restrictions on the organization’s efforts to protect clean water on public lands.

“This suit was never really about trespass. It has always been about Wyoming ranchers inventing a way to go after WWP and to silence critics of public lands livestock abuses,” said Greta Anderson, Interim Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Settling this case without paying a single dollar of damages and getting it off our dockets means we can go back to doing the important work of documenting the environmental abuses of cattle and sheep operations in Wyoming and around the west.”

A preliminary ruling by the judge found that since no actual damages occurred, no punitive damages could be awarded. That finding quickly caused the ranchers to reconsider pursuing their speculative claims and instead parties have signed a “consent decree” that restricts WWP from driving on private roads and on roads where federal rights of way are in doubt. These same rules apply to anyone traveling in Wyoming, but WWP’s commitment resolves any ambiguity about how the organization obtains its data. WWP admitted to having inadvertently accessed public lands via roads on private property a handful of times in the past, but has provided assurances even such minor accidental instances will not happen again.

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“Last year, in an interview with Livestock Times, Karen Budd-Falen described the lawsuit as ‘one of the funniest things’ she was doing and noted how, though the ranchers couldn’t stop researchers from taking the damning water quality data, the ranchers could try to stop us from accessing public waterways,” said Jonathan Ratner, Wyoming Director of WWP. “She also admitted that accessing WWP’s financial data was one of the goals of the suit. Well, it’s not funny. It’s was a malicious diversionary tactic by the ag industry to deflect attention away from the livestock grazing damage does to our public lands, public waters and wildlife. It didn’t work, and we’re back on the ground in Wyoming documenting these ecological harms.”

“This lawsuit against WWP was a disgrace, and that is why law professors at the University of Denver, including myself, took this effort on pro bono,” said constitutional law expert Professor Justin Marceau. “Shame on any lawyer who participates in a case that represents such a blatant suppression of speech and transparency about matters of public safety and environmental stewardship. Now I look forward to seeing WWP get back to their critical work of documenting environmental harms caused by grazing activities on public lands. Ranchers may have lawyers, but this settlement makes clear that they don’t have a right to suppress speech critical of their activities.”

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Slickspot peppergrass is threatened . . . needs protection from livestock http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/16/slickspot-peppergrass-is-threatened-needs-protection-from-livestock/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/16/slickspot-peppergrass-is-threatened-needs-protection-from-livestock/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 19:28:49 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32496 BOISE, Idaho— Western Watersheds Project applauds yesterday’s announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife that the slickspot peppergrass (Lepidium pappilliferum) will remain protected as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Political meddling from the livestock industry and its friends in the state of Idaho kept this plant from being protected for over a decade.

Slickspot peppergrass [...]]]>

BOISE, Idaho— Western Watersheds Project applauds yesterday’s announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife that the slickspot peppergrass (Lepidium pappilliferum) will remain protected as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Political meddling from the livestock industry and its friends in the state of Idaho kept this plant from being protected for over a decade.

Slickspot peppergrass is a fascinating desert plant with tiny white flowers. It is endemic to a narrow band across southwestern Idaho where it occurs only in “slickspots” or wet areas in the desert. Only 100 occurrences of the plant are known. A primary land use on its public lands habitat is livestock grazing. Cattle naturally congregate in the wet spots, trampling the plants and its habitat. This trampling, combined with weed invasions and increased fires—both of which are worsened by cattle grazing—have left the plant in dire straits. As one scientist put it, the plant is “at a tipping point in terms of its prospect for survival.”

“The slickspot peppergrass is a rare and sensitive species that merits the protections that only the ESA can provide,” said Ken Cole, Idaho Director of Western Watersheds Project. “We look forward to seeing meaningful protections, including limits on livestock grazing, that truly protect the limited landscapes where this plant occurs.”

Showing that the livestock industry in Idaho still maintains an outsized hoofprint, the new rule fails to consider livestock grazing as a major threat to the species. The Service lists invasive species and wildfires as dominant causes for concern, failing to recognize that livestock grazing and its pervasive negative influence on arid ecosystems increases invasive species infestations and, in turn, fuels the unnatural fire cycles that harm Idaho’s high desert landscape. The Service also identified Owyhee harvester ants’ impact on the seedbank of the plant as an emerging threat in light of the habitat conversion from sagebrush to grasses which increases the ants distribution.

“The land management agencies are going to have to come up with a better plan for keeping livestock off of grazing allotments in slickspot habitat or the plant is doomed,” said Cole. “It’s ironic that we can talk about the impact of ants to the species but not the effects of the sacred cow.”

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