The Wildlife News http://www.thewildlifenews.com News and commentary on wildlife and public land issues in the Western United States Sat, 13 Feb 2016 13:58:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Do you have some interesting wildlife news? Feb. 13, 2016 edition http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/02/13/do-you-have-some-interesting-wildlife-news-dec-17-2015-edition/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/02/13/do-you-have-some-interesting-wildlife-news-dec-17-2015-edition/#comments Sat, 13 Feb 2016 13:57:32 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32110 It is time to create a new page of “Interesting Wildlife News.” Please put your wildlife news in the comments below. Do not post copyrighted material.  Here is the link to the “old” wildlife news of December 17, 2015.

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Grizzly near Madison Junction. Yellowstone. Copyright IdahoSal

Grizzly near Madison Junction. Yellowstone. Copyright IdahoSal

It is time to create a new page of “Interesting Wildlife News.” Please put your wildlife news in the comments below. Do not post copyrighted material.  Here is the link to the “old” wildlife news of December 17, 2015.

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Wolves in Idaho’s ‘Lolo Zone’ Being Gunned Down by Government http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/02/08/wolves-in-idahos-lolo-zone-being-gunned-down-by-government/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/02/08/wolves-in-idahos-lolo-zone-being-gunned-down-by-government/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 23:53:06 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32105
Moscow, ID– Aerial gunning of wild wolves is underway in remote and rugged areas of the Clearwater National Forest, conducted by the federal “Wildlife Services” agency at the behest of the Idaho Fish & Game Department. The government is using helicopters to kill wolves in the so-called ‘Lolo Zone,’ which covers portions of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and stretches north across the North Fork Clearwater drainage. Approximately 50 wolves have been killed from the air in the Lolo Zone since 2011, despite the low wolf population in the area and throughout the state.

Aerial gunning operations are occurring in remote areas of the Clearwater National Forest. The North Fork Clearwater contains close to 1-million acres of roadless public wildlands that qualify for wilderness designation. These wildlands offer some of the best habitat for large carnivores in the entire Lower 48. Despite this, the IDFG seems to be trying to sanitize the wild landscape for game animals.

“The Idaho Fish & Game Department is wrongfully blaming the decline of elk populations in the Lolo Zone on native carnivores, including gray wolves,” said Gary MacFarlane, Ecosystem Defense Director of the Friends of the Clearwater. “Everyone, including the Idaho Fish and Game Department, knows the decline is due to long-term habitat changes in that area. Targeting predators like recovering gray wolves is unscientific, won’t work to boost elk numbers and violates the wildness of these public lands.”

“Excellent habitat for native predators like gray wolves, lynx, wolverines, and fisher exists throughout the Clearwater National Forest, including in the Lolo Zone,” said Ken Cole, Idaho Director of Western Watersheds Project. “But the Idaho Fish & Game Department wants to turn this wild country into an elk farm and that’s ridiculous and inappropriate.”

Conservation groups are especially concerned by the precedent of the wolf killing in the Lolo Zone that uses radio collars to track the packs, because earlier this year, the Idaho Fish & Game Department landed helicopters in the iconic Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to collar elk and “accidentally” collared a number of wolves, too.

“The collaring of wolves appears to be one strategy that Idaho Fish & Game uses to track down and kill wolves in the Lolo Zone,” said Gary Macfarlane. “It is likely that the department collared the wolves in the Frank Church area so that they would eventually know the location of those individuals and their entire packs. We suspect that the wolf collaring that took place in the Frank Church may end up being used to kill wolves there too.”

Money from the Idaho Wolf Depredation Board funds the aerial gunning operations in the Lolo Zone. The fund is a combination of fees collected from hunting licenses and state taxpayer dollars.

“It’s important for the citizens of Idaho to realize that their hard-earned tax-payer dollars on being spent on helicopter wolf gunning operations,” said Ken Cole. “Governor Otter should be spending that money to fund public schools, highways and other important services, not on the killing of Idaho’s native wildlife.”

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Bundy Gang Won For Now http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/02/04/bundy-gang-won/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/02/04/bundy-gang-won/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 18:40:31 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32098 One result of the Bundy Gang take-over has been the abundant media attention to their assertions of government “overreach” and “aggressive enforcement“ of environmental regulations that, according to Bundy and Gang, has driven ranchers, miners, and loggers from the land. Unfortunately the media have been slow to counter such assertions.

The reality on the ground [...]]]>

One result of the Bundy Gang take-over has been the abundant media attention to their assertions of government “overreach” and “aggressive enforcement“ of environmental regulations that, according to Bundy and Gang, has driven ranchers, miners, and loggers from the land. Unfortunately the media have been slow to counter such assertions.

The reality on the ground is much different from the delusional version put forth by Bundy and associates. Most federal and state agencies are lax in their enforcement of environmental regulations. Though many local people in Harney County where the Malheur Refuge is located decry the use of armed intimidation and threats, a sizeable minority or perhaps even majority agrees with the Bundy gang assertions that local people should control management of these public lands.

The irony of such claims is that local people already have a disproportional control and influence on national public lands. They can attend meetings, go on field trips, communicate their views through local media and use their connections with local and higher level politicians to promote their economic and other interests.

If they disapprove of federal management activities, local people often exercise social manipulation against federal administrators. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (FS) managers and staff that live in rural areas. Federal employees, like people everywhere, want to be accepted in their local communities. Any manager or staff who initiates management action that upsets the local people or local business interests like ranchers, miners, or loggers, will quickly find themselves socially isolated, their kids mocked or verbally abused in local schools, and at times employees and/or their families are even subject to physical violence or death threats.

I fear that in the aftermath of the Malheur event, no matter how it is resolved, we will see federal administrators even more “cowed” by local hostility to national interests. What BLM or FS manager will be willing to restrict or otherwise control activities that damage public resources if he/she knows that local communities like Burns, Oregon, as well as county, state and sometimes even Congressional members are opposed to the laws or regulations these agencies are supposed to uphold?

Several years ago a friend of mine who is high up in the BLM attended a meeting of BLM state directors and district managers convened by Department of Interior lawyers. The purpose of the meeting was to inform the managers that Department of Interior legal teams were losing law suits over and over because they, the people on the ground, were continuously violating the law. The lawyers were young and naïve. They thought, according to my friend, that they were telling these managers something they did not know. The BLM field staff sat stoically, with arms crossed, and listened.

Finally one of them quipped, “Yes I know I am violating the laws. I do it all the time. You know why? Because if I followed the law I’d have every county commissioner, state legislator, the governor and the state Congressional delegation on my ass–and you know what? You’re not paying me enough to take that kind of abuse.”

Then another manager followed up and said, I don’t follow the law either. I count on being sued by the environmentalists so that I can tell the delegation or the loggers or the ranchers that I had no choice in the matter. The court is telling me I must do this.” He went on to acknowledge that unless he was sued and had that political cover, he would not follow the law.

According to my friend, there were a lot of other people in the room nodding their heads in agreement.

With the recent empowerment of militant groups around the West, particularly militants with guns and other weapons, what rational field manager, especially one living in a small rural community is going to challenge the local “custom and culture?” As one of the field managers said, “You’re not paying me enough.” And indeed, we are not.

If I were a BLM or FS official, I would be loath to challenge a rancher or a miner using public resources. To do so may invite an armed occupation or worse. And those employees know that it’s easier and far less dangerous to simply overlook  violations and to avoid enforcement actions, except perhaps in most egregious abuses.

Unless these field managers get strong backing from the highest levels of the administration, we are not likely to see this change. However, instead of standing up to the local bullies, usually, it seems the general policy has been of appeasement.

A good example occurred recently in Nevada when the BLM backed down from throwing Cliven Bundy in jail for failure to pay fines, resisting and interfering with government employees attempting to capture his trespass cattle. Bundy remains a free man, and worse his cattle are still ravaging our public domain.

Even after the Cliven Bundy debacle, the BLM backed down again in another northern Nevada incident. Because of the long drought that has engulfed much of Nevada, the BLM closed some areas to further grazing destruction. Ranchers in the Elko area intimated the local BLM officials. In this they were aided and abetted by Senator Dean Heller and Congressman Mark Amodei who cheered them on. The ranchers even denied there was a drought—though that did not stop them from receiving profligate federal drought disaster relief payments.

In the end the BLM caved. Not only did they reinstate grazing to the detriment of our public lands, but John Ruhs, a cowboy friendly BLM manager who negotiated the reversal in grazing management, was appointed the Nevada state director.

Unfortunately such incidents are not isolated, and such intimidation and accommodation has occurred for years.

In the aftermath of the Malheur stand-off, we will see more capitulation to local control and our public patrimony will suffer accordingly. We may remain the “owners” of these federal lands in name, but the defacto control will shift even more towards local economic and political interests. No matter what legal consequences the Bundy Gang suffers, they have succeeded in advancing their agenda of increasing local control of our public lands.

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Malheur was taken over by ranchers long before the Bundys came along http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/02/03/malheur-was-taken-over-by-ranchers-long-before-the-bundys-came-along/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/02/03/malheur-was-taken-over-by-ranchers-long-before-the-bundys-came-along/#comments Wed, 03 Feb 2016 23:10:35 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32077 Casual readers of news coverage of the recent armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge might reasonably assume that the Refuge is strictly protected from livestock grazing. After all, that’s one of the things the vigilantes were protesting, right? The big, bad federal government locked up the lands from grazing and they were there [...]]]>

Casual readers of news coverage of the recent armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge might reasonably assume that the Refuge is strictly protected from livestock grazing. After all, that’s one of the things the vigilantes were protesting, right? The big, bad federal government locked up the lands from grazing and they were there to take it back?

Sadly, that yarn is far from the truth.

In fact, much of the wildlife refuge is grazed by private cattle, and even “hayed” for livestock feed, despite these activities’ dubious legality and harmful impacts on wildlife.

2013-05-26_16-35-03

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge ©Ken Cole

The Refuge is Grazed and Hayed

According to a recent High Country News article, grazing was first allowed decades ago to placate local ranchers:

During the Depression years of the 1930s, the federal government paid the Swift Corp. $675,000 for ruined grazing lands. Impoverished homesteaders who had squatted on refuge lands eventually received payments substantial enough to set them up as cattle ranchers nearby.

John Scharff, Malheur’s manager from 1935 to 1971, sought to transform local suspicion into acceptance by allowing local ranchers to graze cattle on the refuge.

Dr. Steve Herman, Emeritus Member of the Faculty and long-time ornithology instructor at The Evergreen State College, first visited the Refuge in 1966 and has been studying birds on the Refuge and taking students there ever since. He shared these recent images of cattle grazing and haying on the Refuge.

The Refuge was opened to increased cattle grazing in 2012 to accommodate cattle displaced by wildfires.

In addition to the authorized grazing, he reports that cattle regularly trespass into unauthorized areas—even the lawn of the Headquarters, which was littered with cowpies as recently as early August of 2015.

 

Trespass cattle on the Refuge, 2014. Photo Dr. Steve Herman.

Trespass cattle on the Refuge, 2014. Photo: Dr. Steve Herman.

Hay bales about to be trucked off the Refuge. Photo Dr. Steve Herman.

Hay bales about to be trucked off the Refuge. Photo: Dr. Steve Herman.

Acre after acre of Refuge lands “hayed” for cattle feed. Video: Dr. Steve Herman

How Should Refuges be Managed?

The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to “administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.” 16 U.S.C. § 668dd(a)(2).

In administering the System, the Secretary shall “ensure that the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the System are maintained for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.” Id. § (a)(4)(B).

To that end, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may only permit other activities on a refuge when it “determines that such uses are compatible with the major purposes for which such areas were established.” Id. § (d)(1)(A). In addition, regulations provide that “private economic use of the natural resources” of a refuge can only occur if the use “contributes to the achievement of the national wildlife refuge purposes or the National Wildlife Refuge System mission.” 50 C.F.R. § 29.1.

In Malheur’s case, Teddy Roosevelt’s original 1908 declaration establishing the Refuge provided that it was “set aside for the use of the Department of Agriculture as a preserve and breeding-ground for native birds.”

A 1935 order confirmed it was “a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.” Exec. Order. No. 7106.

The 2013 Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP)

Several articles have painted the 2013 management plan governing the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, known as a Comprehensive Conservation Plan, as a triumph of collaboration.

That’s one way of putting it.

Another is that the plan made deep compromises on allowing the continuation of grazing and haying on the Refuge to appease local ranchers, at the expense of the ecological integrity of the Refuge.

In 2009, the Refuge began a process of updating its CCP. It did so utilizing a collaborative process. The collaborative group included several ranchers, who proved very effective at advancing their interests.

The result was that the final 2013 plan allows for the continuation of extensive grazing and haying on the refuge. The plan states that its “tools” to manage wetlands and terrestrial habitats include “traditional late summer haying,” “autumn/winter rake-bunch grazing,” “highly prescriptive warm-season (growing season) grazing,” mowing, and farming.

In particular, the plan allows grazing on thousands of acres of wet meadows.

Sign board at the Refuge. (click for larger view) © Kristin Ruether.

Sign board at the Refuge. (click for larger view) © Kristin Ruether.

What About the Refuge’s Wildlife-Centric Mandate?

In order to justify these activities as “compatible” with the purpose of the Refuge and the Refuge system mandate—to protect birds and wildlife—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was forced to do somersaults and concoct quasi-scientific reasons to justify allowing grazing—an activity that everywhere else is well-known to cause severe damage to riparian and avian habitats.

The plan’s “compatability determination” for grazing and haying asserts that the primary reason for “treating” wet meadows with grazing is to “improve foraging conditions” for birds. It claims that grazing “treatments” “provide short-stubble habitat, which allows early warming of soil and water and early availability of new green sprouts and invertebrates for birds to eat in the spring.” It explains that, “[t]heoretically, treated meadow sites receive more solar radiation, resulting in early warming of soils and earlier availability of important invertebrates for food.” CCP Appendix B.

In other words, when a wet meadow has been denuded of vegetation by cows, the sun will warm up the ground earlier in the season and allow birds to eat invertebrates sooner. The early bird gets the worm in the grazed field!

The problem is that the plan provides scant evidence or justification for this theory. Its main citation in support is an unpublished and non-peer-reviewed prior Malheur management plan.

The compatability determination doesn’t discuss whether a lack of early-spring forage is actually a limiting factor for important or rare birds on the Refuge. It doesn’t explain why birds that have been migrating to Malheur for thousands of years now need human manipulation to make their habitat suitable.

Nor does it convincingly balance the “theoretically” warmer fields against the real harm to birds that grazing and haying causes due to loss of habitat complexity, loss of hiding cover, and an increased vulnerability to predators.

In this video, Dr. Herman explains that grazing on the Refuge causes harms including crushing eggs and removing cover that birds such as cranes need to protect their young from predators.

In other words, according to scientists like Dr. Herman, livestock and haying operations on the wildlife refuge are not compatible with the purposes of the Refuge—to serve as a preserve and refuge for birds.

Time for a New Era

In a piece this week, WildEarth Guardians’ Erik Molvar noted that in the wake of the takeover placing increased attention on the fiscally and environmentally disastrous consequences of public lands livestock grazing, a new mandate has emerged for public lands protection.

Here’s hoping that this mandate will lead to a new era of wildlife-centric management on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge itself—one that does away with the incompatible uses of grazing and haying on the Refuge.

Pursuant to BLM’s multiple-use mandate, BLM lands surrounding the Refuge, and across the West, are grazed. Surely we can remove livestock from that small fraction of public lands in the West governed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under a wildlife-centric mandate.

Because Malheur really is for the birds.

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Grazing Fees Still a Sweetheart Deal for Private Industry, Agencies Abashed at Having to Raise It http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/02/03/grazing-fees-still-a-sweetheart-deal-for-private-industry-agencies-abashed-at-having-to-raise-it/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/02/03/grazing-fees-still-a-sweetheart-deal-for-private-industry-agencies-abashed-at-having-to-raise-it/#comments Wed, 03 Feb 2016 18:41:39 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32074 Boise, Idaho – Amid significant recent controversy over the national public lands grazing program, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service announced today the 2016 fee for grazing livestock on public allotments. At a mere $2.11 per cow/calf pair (AUM), it is clear that the government plans to keep up the heavy subsidies for this [...]]]>

Boise, Idaho – Amid significant recent controversy over the national public lands grazing program, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service announced today the 2016 fee for grazing livestock on public allotments. At a mere $2.11 per cow/calf pair (AUM), it is clear that the government plans to keep up the heavy subsidies for this extractive industry. Despite this ongoing giveaway, it appears this year that the agencies are trying to lay low about the fee increase and have declined to issue a press advisory announcing this year’s rates, unlike previous years when the announcement was made public in January.

“We have been hearing a lot about the problems of public lands management,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Really it’s the taxpayers who are the ones getting a raw deal regarding grazing. In addition to losing valuable ecological function, wildlife habitat, and scenery, Americans are effectively supporting a very narrow welfare program for the benefit of western livestock operations. The BLM and Forest Service charge far lower than fair rates and still seem embarrassed this year to bring them up.”

Two hundred and twenty million acres of public lands in the West are used for private livestock industry profits through the management of approximately 22,000 grazing permits. The low fee leaves the federal program at a deficit of at least $120 million dollars each year. This year, the fee was raised to $2.11 per AUM, the maximum allowed in an annual increase, but still far less than the average cost for private lands grazing leases.  The fee is calculated using a decades-old formula that takes into account the price of fuel and the price of beef, and this year’s fee doesn’t even reach the level of $2.31 per AUM that was charged in 1980. Additionally, the fee doesn’t cover the cost to taxpayers of range infrastructure, erosion control, vegetation manipulation, and government predator killing – all indirect subsidies that expand the program’s total deficit.

“The deep pockets of the federal government have kept the livestock industry’s public lands grazing program running,” said Bruner, “which is an irony that anti-government ranching zealots seem to miss when they advocate ‘giving back the land.’ But maybe the public has now had enough of supporting this ungrateful industry and enough ranchers will tear up their permits to convince the government to end the program altogether.”

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An Open Letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/02/02/an-open-letter-to-blm-director-neil-kornze/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/02/02/an-open-letter-to-blm-director-neil-kornze/#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 23:41:19 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32066 February 2, 2016

Dear Mr. Kornze,

During last month’s armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, several articles reported that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) – the agency you lead– was in negotiations to restore a grazing permit of the convicted criminals whose mandatory minimum sentencing was ostensibly the spark that ignited [...]]]>

February 2, 2016

Dear Mr. Kornze,

During last month’s armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, several articles reported that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) – the agency you lead– was in negotiations to restore a grazing permit of the convicted criminals whose mandatory minimum sentencing was ostensibly the spark that ignited the January standoff.  The Bundy bunch and their allies felt that Dwight and Stephen Hammond were unfairly treated by the court’s enforcement of the required prison sentence for setting fire to public lands to cover up their criminal wildlife poaching.

In February 2014, the BLM declined to renew the Hammonds’ expiring permit to graze on four BLM allotments. BLM’s reason for not renewing their permit was the Hammonds’ substantial non-compliance with the regulations, including the aforementioned arson that followed years of other bad acts by these permittees, including threats and intimidation of federal employees. The BLM rightly defended its decision in the Office of Hearings and Appeals when the Hammonds appealed. After an administrative law judge denied the Hammonds’ request for a stay of the decision, finding BLM’s action was justified, BLM again defended its decision before the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which has not yet ruled.

One might think that, given all the work BLM put into its decision and the subsequent legal defense, there would be no way the agency would back down now. Surely it would make no sense for the agency to negotiate away rational decisions and hard-fought legal wins in favor of placating law-breaking ranchers. Surely, in the interest of protecting competing land uses, the agency would uphold closures meant to protect imperiled wildlife habitat, prevent invasive species infestations, and limit ongoing degradation.

Slaven Creek on the Argenta allotment, Battle Mountain, Nevada. © Ken Cole, Western Watersheds Project.

Slaven Creek on the Argenta allotment, Battle Mountain, Nevada.

But the BLM has been backing down, giving in, and failing to uphold its field managers’ decisions more and more frequently under your lead. One need look no further than the Battle Mountain District 250 miles south east to see the BLM’s acquiescence to other unreasonable rancher demands. There, following a well-considered drought plan, BLM temporarily closed the Argenta and the Battle Mountain Complex allotments to livestock grazing. Its decisions were upheld following litigation from the ranchers, and the District Manager survived the personal harassment documented in this recent L.A. Times story.  But when the ranchers refused to obey the closures, BLM brought in John Ruhs from D.C. to slap their greedy hands with a pittance of a fine and to ultimately let them put livestock back onto the allotments. After the BLM spent nearly $270,000 dollars on a “collaborative” process figuring out the best way to throw more taxpayer money at the parched Argenta allotment in the form of new range infrastructure, the ranchers have pledged to break the rules again this spring if the authorized grazing isn’t to their liking.

Which is why we really hope you aren’t negotiating with the Hammonds. It’s unfair to the public who expect you to protect their public lands. It’s unfair to the wildlife that shares these lands with the private profits on hooves, and to the humans that benefit from the ecological services provided by wild places and properly stewarded landscapes. It’s unfair to your staff to undermine their hard work and tough decisions in the interest of getting along with criminals. It’s even unfair to the ranchers that do follow the law. But BLM’s impotency in holding criminals accountable practically ensures that more ranchers will decide that following the law is optional.

Sincerely,

Travis Bruner, Executive Director

Greta Anderson, Deputy Director

Ken Cole, Idaho Director

Western Watersheds Project

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How about a new agency to administer our Wilderness? http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/01/27/new-wilderness-agency/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/01/27/new-wilderness-agency/#comments Wed, 27 Jan 2016 17:12:18 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32061 The national wilderness preservation system would be strengthened-

Taking a long trip into the backcountry during winter doesn’t appeal to some people. That’s understandable. But I enjoy it, and it’s something I try to do a few times a year. Winter backpacking is very different, and more challenging, compared to strapping on the pack during [...]]]>

The national wilderness preservation system would be strengthened-

Taking a long trip into the backcountry during winter doesn’t appeal to some people. That’s understandable. But I enjoy it, and it’s something I try to do a few times a year. Winter backpacking is very different, and more challenging, compared to strapping on the pack during other seasons.

For one it’s darn cold, with many trips never getting above freezing, day or night. Two, there’s usually lots of snow on the ground, which means you’re probably wearing snowshoes, and, perhaps, breaking trail too. Three, your pack is heavier because of all the extra warm gear you are carrying, including more food because you need to consume a lot of calories each day. Four, you have to work harder in just about everything you do, from setting up your shelter and trying to stay warm to melting water and attempting to stay hydrated. Five, there’s not a lot of daylight, so you have to stay motivated and keep moving if you want to cover some miles. Lastly, not too many people want to spend 5-6 days in the cold, blowing snow of the northern Rockies in January! But find someone to share the workload if you can!

My recent trip into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness was with a friend, and, perhaps more importantly, an individual with a skill set that I could trust and depend on. Once the weather report showed a high-pressure system moving across the region, Russell and I finalized our plans and set out for the trailhead. We felt confident we could cover 50 miles before the next weather front moved in.

The daily routine of building the morning fire, boiling water, drying gear, packing up, snowshoeing 10-16 miles, and then searching for a place to dig out the next snow cave was in some ways more mentally challenging than physical. But the white silence of the forest was peaceful, views of the snow-covered mountain peaks were tantalizing, and the cold, crisp air was exhilarating. With each arduous step, the wilderness boundary drew nearer.

You know the feeling. As you travel down the trail, through the forest, around the next bend or over the saddle, your heart pounds like a kid at Christmas. You anxiously await the sign that reads “…Wilderness, “…National Forest.” Yes, you say to yourself. Hope for humanity. Escape from the madness. Refuge for the plants and animals. Nature’s Bill of Rights at last. Leave me here and let me die with my true friends! And down the trail you continue.

Prior to our trip departure, Russell and I learned about the intent of the Idaho Fish & Game Department to land helicopters, and harass and collar elk, in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. We were angry, concerned, disappointed, and flabbergasted by the fact that the Forest Service gave the green light to land machines in the Wilderness, up to 120 times over a 3-month period. Of course, it doesn’t matter if it’s 1 time or 12 times, but 120 times was mind-blowing. Who the hell is running the Forest Service? Didn’t they, along with millions of Americans, just celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act not too long ago? Looks like that was lip service!

And what about the people running the Idaho Fish & Game Department? Why do they still have authority over wildlife management on federal public lands? Why are their intensive and intrusive management plans being permitted in federally designated Wilderness? When is that going to change? Why is the Forest Service continually shining the shoes of the state hook and bullet departments? Who is really administering the Wilderness?

As Russell and I descended in elevation on the third day, the sun shined warmly, the skies stretched a bright blue, and the mighty Salmon River came within view. We peered though the binoculars, and combed the south-facing slopes for herds of elk. Dozens of ungulates lay basking on the hills, while those closer leaped and bound to a more secure place. We also observed whitetail and mule deer (strangely enough together) and lots of wolf tracks. Far off in the distance, we saw what looked like two golden eagles circling a spot on the hill, as if a kill had recently occurred.

Despite seeing a number of horses by the river late that afternoon (why are horses running freely on the national forest in winter, particularly in crucial winter-range habitat?), not a human was in sight, and the frozen riverbank was ours to explore and make home. We rested and dreamily watched small pieces of ice float downstream along the sides of the quiet, rolling river.

Later that evening, after a hot meal, warm fire, and the usual time-to-get hydrated routine, we dozed peacefully under a star-studded sky when suddenly we were awoken by the yips, screams, and howls of coyotes. After shaking our heads no, those are not wolves, we gleefully listened to the songs (and celebrations?) of a dozen coyotes not far from our tarp. They yipped for 3-4 minutes but it felt like a lot longer than that. The sweet music of the Wilderness had finally reached us!

When day broke and our bags were packed, Russell and I contemplated where the Idaho Fish & Game helicopters could be. Were they invading to the south along Big Creek? Were they harassing and stressing dozens of cows and calves to the east? The mere thought of these non-conforming, highly mechanized machines flying and landing wherever they want in the Wilderness made us sick to our stomachs. We both wanted to know how can the uses of helicopters, net-guns, tranquilizers, and GPS-collars be the minimal tool(s) needed to administer the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness? None of it made any sense. Little did we know that wolves were being collared too.

Which leads me to my final thoughts. What good is a National Wilderness Preservation System if the federal officials charged with administering the system, and individual areas, continues to approve projects that are incompatible with the Wilderness Act? Why are the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service repeatedly rubber-stamping proposals that harm Wilderness? How is the collaring of wildlife in federally designated wilderness representative of a self-willed landscape? Explain to me how helicopters, net-guns, and radio-collars enhance or preserve wilderness character?

This tragedy (“accident”) should serve as a lightning rod to spark a discussion, better yet, a movement, to do two things: create an independent federal department solely charged with stewardship of the wilderness system, and pressure Congress to pass legislation that forbids all state fish and game agencies from conducting any operations inside federally designated Wilderness.

To hell with the Forest Service and the other federal agencies, which continue to trammel the Wilderness and our natural heritage. We cannot keep leaving it to the attorneys to defend the Wilderness Act. We must do something bold. The status quo is badly broken and only getting worse. Ed Abbey is rolling in his grave and still screaming, “The Idea of wilderness needs no defense, just defenders.” This message needs to reach every living room in America.

 

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Bundy gets one rancher to renounce paying grazing fees http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/01/24/bundy-gets-one-rancher-to-renounce-paying-grazing-fees/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/01/24/bundy-gets-one-rancher-to-renounce-paying-grazing-fees/#comments Sun, 24 Jan 2016 07:01:49 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32049 Effort to turn ranchers into scofflaws nets just one so far-

Ammon Bundy has been trying to recruit livestock operators who have grazing permits on U.S. public lands to stop paying the rental (grazing fees) for their grazing allotment. He finally recruited one, or at least one showed up Saturday to renounce paying his grazing [...]]]>

Effort to turn ranchers into scofflaws nets just one so far-

Ammon Bundy has been trying to recruit livestock operators who have grazing permits on U.S. public lands to stop paying the rental (grazing fees) for their grazing allotment. He finally recruited one, or at least one showed up Saturday to renounce paying his grazing fees before an audience at the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Adrian Sewell of Grant County, New Mexico told a gathering that he would stop paying his rent for the 85 cattle he said he was permitted to graze on his allotment of public land. Bundy is trying to push the idea that grazing on public land is a right not a privilege. As a right no one would have to pay grazing fees.

Bundy is wrong. Grazing allotments were created out of the public domain in the 1930s after the Taylor Grazing Act became law. The law was passed to bring conservation and order to the Western public range. It was a time of drought and dust storms and an economic and environment collapse of the livestock industry due to not just the weather but overgrazing. The public domain, now managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), was at the time an unmanaged commons, a big vacant lot. Ranchers with private property (ranches) competed with transient herders who wandered the public domain year round searching for any grass that grew. No one had rights or any expectation that there would be any livestock food available at all except inasmuch as they could use local tradition and force to secure livestock forage.

A U.S. Grazing Director was hired and with a small crew. Then 80-million acres of land was divided into grazing allotments for which a permit would now be needed to graze. To get a permit, the “permittee” needed to have some “base” (private property) where the cattle, sheep, or goats could be kept part of the year. The U.S. Grazing Service came into being to administer the law, and a fee per head of livestock was installed — the grazing fee. It was not much then and it is still just a token today, but it has to be paid. A grazing permittee can lose the grazing permit for non-payment. The Taylor Grazing Act specifically says that grazing permits “convey no right, title, or interest” to such lands.

The grazing permits have “terms and conditions” specifying the details of how, when and where the grazing is to be. Over time these terms have become more detailed. A grazing permit is renewed every ten years. Ammon Bundy’s father Cliven Bundy tore up his revised grazing permit in 1992 because he said he didn’t like the new terms. The Bunkerville grazing allotment which Bundy had used was then abolished by the U.S. government. Now he runs cattle with no permit on public lands larger than his old Bunkerville allotment and in numbers that exceed the original terms. This is why he is trespassing on the public lands. He didn’t pay his fees and he disobeyed orders from U.S. district court to remove his cattle and pay his back fees.

A 2014 effort by the BLM to roundup Cliven Bundy’s cattle and impound them was stopped by an armed mob that was recruited at least partly by social media.
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A word about the BLM
The Grazing Service lasted about a decade. In 1946 there was a big dispute between the House and the Senate over grazing fees. The result was no appropriation for the Grazing Service. So it was paralyzed. Finally, in 1946 President Truman used his executive authority to cobble together a new agency, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to replace the old Grazing Service. The BLM had more authority than the Service because it was made from the remains of the  Grazing Service plus the Department of Interior’s General Land Office, one of the oldest agencies of government. This gave the new BLM jurisdiction also over public land minerals (worth far more than the grazing), over land transfers and disposals, and other matters.  The BLM finally got a rational, comprehensive, mission in 1976 with the passage of the “Federal Land Policy and Management Act” (FLPMA, flip ma). The Homestead Act and other land disposal laws were repealed by FLPMA, and federal policy became to keep all the remaining public lands and manage them for “multiple uses” (many uses and users) and “sustained yield” — make sure the grass grows back, etc. Old West reactionaries hate FLMPA. They have never gotten over it. Ammon Bundy is one of them.
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Despite the loud complaints by some, having a grazing lease on U.S. public land is a great benefit. The fees are a small fraction of what it would cost to buy feed or rent private grazing land.  On top of that the federal government makes many range “improvements” and a federal agency named Wildlife Services services wildlife by gunning them down or trapping them — coyotes primarily, but also bears, cougar, wolves, bobcats to make a grazing allotment safer for the permittee.  Range “improvements” is in quotes because other users of public land often do not like them. For example, bulldozing a bubbling spring and making a muddy livestock pond out of it is considered an improvement.

Losing a grazing permit is a big blow to a ranch. It can happen for non-payment of fees, the loss or sale of a ranch (the required base property), and grazing permit violations. Most common is loss or sale of base property even though permit violation is very common. Usually a new grazing permit is issued to the new owner of the base property. If this New Mexican rancher loses his permit because of willing nonpayment, the permit might well be given to another rancher. If he doesn’t yield, then local law enforcement will probably step in.

If someone like Bundy is successful destroying the established system of grazing on public lands so that none one is secure that they have food for their livestock, the old west with gun fights and force could quickly return.

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The Backstory on the Hammonds and Malheur Conflict http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/01/22/the-backstory-on-the-hammonds-and-malheur-conflict/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/01/22/the-backstory-on-the-hammonds-and-malheur-conflict/#comments Fri, 22 Jan 2016 19:34:51 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32042 Dwight Hammond and his son Steve, the ranchers who sparked the recent Harney County protests, were characterized as “responsible ranchers” by Congressman Greg Walden in a speech before Congress.

Walden sought to minimize the crimes the Hammonds have committed by suggesting they merely burned a bit more than a hundred acres, something that he tried [...]]]>

Dwight Hammond and his son Steve, the ranchers who sparked the recent Harney County protests, were characterized as “responsible ranchers” by Congressman Greg Walden in a speech before Congress.

Walden sought to minimize the crimes the Hammonds have committed by suggesting they merely burned a bit more than a hundred acres, something that he tried to compare to normal everyday range management by federal agencies. So what’s the problem?  The problem is that Walden is ignoring decades of violations and other crimes committed by the Hammonds.

Despite their bad behavior, it has been revealed that the Hammonds are negotiating with the BLM to get their grazing permit reinstated after the BLM revoked it for their numerous violations and crimes.

The Bundy gang that is holding the Malheur Refuge and Harney County residents as hostages, characterized the Hammonds as victims of government “overreach” and are demanding that the Hammonds get their permit reinstated as one of the conditions they required to leave Harney County.

The Hammonds are anything but “responsible ranchers” or victims of government “overreach.” They are criminals who have repeatedly violated the law and have frequently avoided paying the penalties.

For instance, the Hammonds set a fire that burned public land in 1999, but no charges were brought against them. Then in 2001 they set another fire to hide the fact that they had poached at least seven deer out of season with other deer wounded and limping away according to witnesses. A hunting guide who witnessed the event was forced to leave his camp and flee for his life to avoid the flames. The fire burned 139 acres of public property and destroyed evidence of their poaching.

After they set the fire, it is alleged they threatened bodily harm to a teenage relative and told him to keep his mouth shut about the fire.

Then in 2006 the Hammonds set yet another arson fire was set that nearly overcame a BLM fire crew that was attempting to quell another blaze.

The arson charges were not the Hammonds’ first brush with the law. The Hammonds were arrested in 1994 and charged with felony for interfering with federal officials. The charge had a three year maximum sentence, but they only spent two nights in jail—after then Congressman Bob Smith intervened on their behalf.

After numerous violations of his grazing terms on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Dwight Hammond had his grazing permit revoked. In retaliation, Hammond purposely disabled a bulldozer along the route of a fence line that was being constructed to keep their cows from trespassing on OUR public property. When the fence crew showed up, and called for a tow truck to remove the Hammond’s bulldozer, Dwight Hammond leaped to the levers and suddenly lowered the blade nearly killing one of the federal employees. Hammond was not even arrested or charged for this event.

After this incident, the refuge manager and others began to receive death threats over the phone. The refuge manager’s wife had to leave the area for fear of her life.

However, this was nothing new. In 1986, 1988, and 1991, Hammond made repeated death threats against refuge managers, plus frequently engaged in verbal abuses towards other federal workers.

Despite their vitriol rhetoric and disdain for the federal government, the Hammonds gladly collected a minimum of nearly $300,000 in direct subsidies from taxpayers, not to mention the below-cost grazing fees they enjoyed while feeding their cattle on public grasslands, as well as taxpayer-financed predator control, and who knows what else.  Meanwhile they own 12,866 acres of land, plus other assets like homes, equipment, and other valuables making them multi-millionaires who have no shame about taking taxpayer subsidies from the very government they continuously rail against.

The Hammonds are a genuine threat to our public lands. They intimidate public employees and violate the regulations designed to protect public property. Public lands are part of our national patrimony that are being trashed for the private profit of individuals like the Hammonds. The only public property the Hammonds should have access to is the public prison where they are serving time for their blatant disregard for our public lands heritage.

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Idaho Fish and Game used helicopter landings to collar wolves inside the Frank Church Wilderness http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/01/18/idaho-fish-and-game-used-helicopter-landings-to-collar-wolves-inside-the-frank-church-wilderness/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/01/18/idaho-fish-and-game-used-helicopter-landings-to-collar-wolves-inside-the-frank-church-wilderness/#comments Tue, 19 Jan 2016 03:56:38 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32035 A mistake?

On Jan. 13 Idaho Fish and Game landed helicopters in the deep wilderness of central Idaho (Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness). There they radio collared a number of elk and also four deep wilderness wolves.

Idaho’s wildlife agency was operating under a special order from the U.S. Forest Service. Radio collaring is [...]]]>

A mistake?

On Jan. 13 Idaho Fish and Game landed helicopters in the deep wilderness of central Idaho (Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness). There they radio collared a number of elk and also four deep wilderness wolves.

Idaho’s wildlife agency was operating under a special order from the U.S. Forest Service. Radio collaring is not a routine permitted use in a Wilderness area. The Forest Service had to do an environmental analysis first. Opponents of the action, including Western Watersheds Project and EarthJustice immediately sued. Idaho Fish and Game carried out their operation so quickly that the court was left in the dust (nonetheless the case continues). The real shock, however, was the unexpected radio collaring of wolves in addition to elk. This was not part of the permit, and the supervisor of the Challis-Salmon National Forest was not pleased. Supervisor Chuck Mark said that to him it was “unbelievable.” According to Boise State public radio Mark said, “A lot of times, especially with activities on the national forest that have a certain element of controversy to them, you play out scenarios of what might happen…. This is one I hadn’t planned on.”

For many, it is especially hard to believe it was a mistake because ID Fish & Game really wants to collar wolves. They haven’t wanted a natural number of wolves, even inside a pristine wilderness where nature’s forces are supposed to proceed unimpeded.  The problem is not the mere presence of a collar on these otherwise wild animals. Much more important is that the signals can make each animal a “Judas wolf.” Such can be used to track down the pack and kill them. Two winters ago, ID Fish & Game sent a trapper deep in the Wilderness just to kill off a pack because it was thought they ate more elk than the agency preferred. As a result, wilderness and native wildlife partisans are now fearful. See the news release below.
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News Release. Jan. 13

Pocatello, ID— Today the Idaho Fish & Game Department admitted that it broke an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service and used helicopter landings to collar wolves in the Frank Church River Of No Return Wilderness. This follows less than a week after Earthjustice filed a legal challenge to the state’s plans to conduct over 120 helicopter landings as part of a program to manipulate wildlife populations in the wilderness.

The following is a statement from Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso on behalf of Wilderness Watch, Friends of the Clearwater, and Western Watersheds Project:

“The Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s admission today is egregious and adds insult to injury.  Though Idaho claimed it needed authorization for 5-10 days of helicopter landings between January and the end of March for this helicopter elk-collaring project, it rushed to complete its operations in the first three days after the Forest Service issued a permit, before the court could even consider whether that action is legal.  Now we learn that the state compounded its degradation of wilderness character by taking action that even the Forest Service did not authorize – collaring wild wolves in the wilderness in addition to 60 elk.

Idaho has made its intentions with respect to the wilderness wolf population abundantly clear:  Idaho has a plan in place that calls for killing 60 percent of the wolf population in the Middle Fork area of the wilderness to artificially inflate elk numbers to benefit a small number of commercial outfitters and recreational hunters.  Idaho is not pursuing that program this winter only because we challenged this activity in court, but we have no guarantees as to subsequent winters.  There is every reason to believe that these new wolf collars will be used by a state trapper to locate wolves for the purpose of killing them in pursuit of a program to manipulate wildlife populations that is fundamentally at odds with the concept of wilderness.

As the federal steward of the River of No Return, the Forest Service has a clear duty to protect the wilderness from degradation caused by unjustified helicopter intrusions and from IDFG’s illegal wolf collaring.  The Forest Service must not sit idly by while IDFG flouts its authority and the mandates of the Wilderness Act.

We intend to bring the Forest Service and Idaho’s actions before the federal court to ensure there are no more unjustified helicopter intrusions in one of the premiere wilderness areas in the United States.  Our view is simple:  The River of No Return country is a wilderness, not an elk farm, and we intend to restore the rule of law to the management of this premiere wild landscape that belongs to all of the American people.”

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