The Wildlife News http://www.thewildlifenews.com News and commentary on wildlife and public land issues in the Western United States Tue, 30 Aug 2016 14:57:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 23667551 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.

Granite - Split - GMCA 060

“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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Colorado Parks and Wildlife targets predators http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/15/colorado-parks-and-wildlife-targets-predators/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/15/colorado-parks-and-wildlife-targets-predators/#comments Mon, 15 Aug 2016 21:05:03 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32488 Colorado Parks and Wildlife is proposing a study whereby they will kill mountain lion (cougars) and bears in the northwest portion of the state to see if it can help boost mule deer populations.

It must be noted that mule deer have been on the decline around the West for decades, and no one has [...]]]>

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is proposing a study whereby they will kill mountain lion (cougars) and bears in the northwest portion of the state to see if it can help boost mule deer populations.

It must be noted that mule deer have been on the decline around the West for decades, and no one has really been able to pin point the reasons. Colorado’s highest population estimate occurred in 1983, when deer numbers reached an estimated 625,000 and today the population is under 400,000.

In the case of northwest Colorado, some suggest that on-going oil and gas development could be the cause in the recent deer decline.  In 1989, there were 5,000 oil and gas wells in the state, and by 2014, the number had risen to 32,000.

Each of those wells requires a pad, and access roads, plus power lines, pipelines and other industrial support. All of this fragmenting mule deer habitat, blocking migration corridors, as well as creating human activity in what were formerly remote lands.

Research in other states like Wyoming have concluded that energy development does indeed harm mule deer. http://wyomingpublicmedia.org/post/addressing-decline-mule-deer

Add in livestock grazing on public lands—especially in drought years when cattle and sheep can graze all forbs, grasses, and many shrubs to the ground– and you have an additional stress on mule deer.

Other factors affecting the sagebrush sea where mule deer reside such as the record droughts which can reduce the nutritional quality of forage as well as the spread of cheatgrass facilitated both by livestock grazing and on-going energy development. Cheatgrass can increases the fire frequency in sage brush areas leading to excessive losses of sagebrush, an important winter food for deer.

Past high mule deer numbers, encouraged by state wildlife agencies, may also be a factor in today’s decline. The heyday for mule deer meant some important forage species were heavily grazed/browsed to the point where the habitat’s ability to support mule deer has declined. In some cases, it has not recovered, especially when drought conditions preclude good vegetation growth.

Finally, to add insult to injury, in some parts of Colorado, rural housing tracts are gobbling up winter range and increasing human activity in critical mule deer habitat.

All of these combined means you have a perfect storm for mule deer decline.

Indeed, one would have to wonder mule deer haven’t declined given these factors.

Yet predators are being targeted as the culprit. This scapegoating of predators has gone on for more than a hundred years, and what study after study has already previously concluded is that predators are seldom the ultimate factor in ungulate declines.

For instance, if habitat quality declines say from drought, then mule deer fawn may be born under-weight or have less security or simply are displaced from traditional winter range and therefore more vulnerable to predators. But ultimately it is drought, cheatgrass, cows, or energy development which are the ultimate factor that creates predator vulnerability.

Predators may be the proximate cause of ungulate decline in some places for a short time, but keep in mind that predators are ultimately determined by the availability of prey. If mule deer decline, and there are few alternatives, predator numbers will fall in line with their food resources.

Some may wonder why a state wildlife agency like the Colorado Parks and Wildlife is targeting predators when all these other factors are involved. The obvious answer is that they are afraid to attack the energy, livestock and housing industries, and their political supporters like rural county commissioners.

But why is a decline in mule deer even an issue? Mule deer in Colorado are by no means endangered. There are hundreds of thousands of them. The issue is that the numbers have fallen below “objectives’. “Objectives“ is a code word for desired production. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife has set a target for mule deer it believes can be sustained, and still hunted. If the population falls too low, the Department will have no choice but to cut hunting seasons or make other adjustments that will be unpopular with hunters.

The problem is that all state wildlife agencies depend on the sale of hunting tags and licenses to fund their bureaucracies. Thus, these agencies are not going to “bite the hand that feeds them.”  Even if there is the perception that predators are responsible for mule deer declines, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife will develop its management strategy in part based upon these perceptions.

If Colorado Parks and Wildlife sincerely cared about the future of mule deer, not just the future of its bureaucracy, it would be far more aggressive in going after the factors that are causing the long-term decline in mule deer habitat quality. Those factors are energy development, livestock grazing, and rural housing sprawl

As a state agency fearful of attacking and antagonizing any major industries, the Colorado Parks and Wildflie picks on the one thing that does not have a major lobby and political influence—predators. Sadly, this is the same situation throughout the country.

In the end, this strategy is going to lead to the demise of the state wildlife agencies themselves because even if you remove predators temporarily from the picture, the habitat qualify is continuing to decline and so will deer numbers. If these agencies were interested in preserving mule deer, much less even their weak-kneed bureaucracies, they would be outspoken in their condemnation of the industries that are the real reasons for mule deer declines everywhere.

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Killing wolves on public lands is no longer acceptable http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/11/killing-wolves-on-public-lands-is-no-longer-acceptable/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/11/killing-wolves-on-public-lands-is-no-longer-acceptable/#comments Thu, 11 Aug 2016 22:19:40 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32485 The recent decision by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to kill members of the Profanity wolf pack because they have killed a few cattle grazing public lands in NE Washington is more than sad. That any wolves are killed merely to benefit the profit margin of private businesses utilizing public resources is an [...]]]>

The recent decision by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to kill members of the Profanity wolf pack because they have killed a few cattle grazing public lands in NE Washington is more than sad. That any wolves are killed merely to benefit the profit margin of private businesses utilizing public resources is an outrage. The real tragedy is that this slaughter of wild predators is repeated over and over throughout the West is reprehensible.

Keep in mind that alien domestic livestock have been imposed upon our wildlife. The real crime is that these wolves will be killed to benefit the bottom line of ranchers grazing livestock on public lands. Shouldn’t a prerequisite for ranchers getting subsidized forage on public lands be the minimum requirement that they must accept any losses to predators? If they don’t want such losses, they can take their cattle and sheep home.

Rather than killing wolves for doing what wolves do—preying on large ungulates—we should be eliminating the source of the problem whenever there is a conflict—that is removing livestock.

If you leave your cooler on the picnic table in Yellowstone, or food accessible to wildlife in many backcountry areas, you can be fined for potentially introducing wild animals to human food sources.

Yet we allow ranchers to place four-legged picnic baskets across our public lands—typically without any supervision. Worse, if these predators, whether bears, cougars, coyotes or wolves, have the audacity to snack on these movable food treats, we kill the predators instead of holding the ranches accountable.

Keep in mind that the mere presence of domestic livestock compromises the habitat quality for public wildlife, including wolves in many ways. For instance, when domestic animals are released on public lands, it socially displaces wild ungulates like elk. In other words, when ranchers place their private animals on the public land they are creating a natural conflict because wolves have fewer wild prey to hunt.

Wolves raising pups cannot merely move to other lands to find prey.  So when elk and other prey are socially displaced, they often resort to the only other available food source—which can domestic livestock.

There is no free lunch (though admittedly public lands ranchers do pay almost nothing for the forage their cattle consume). When domestic animals consume grass and other plants on public lands there is that much less to support native grazers like elk and deer. Since the vast majority of forage on public is routinely allotted to domestic livestock, this reduces the overall carrying capacity of the land to support native ungulates.

Domestic livestock also can transmit diseases to wildlife that can reduce prey for predators as well. For instance, domestic sheep can transmit pneumonia and other diseases that can ravage wild herds, again reducing potential prey for predators like wolves.

In effect, domestic livestock are essentially appropriating and limiting the natural food of native prey that sustains wolves, bears, cougars and coyotes.

The idea that our public heritage and patrimony should continue to be sacrificed for the private profit of individuals is no longer acceptable. By not challenging this paradigm, we all perpetuate the continued slaughter of public wildlife at the behest of private businesses.

 

George Wuerthner is an ecologist, author of 38 books, and on the board of the Western Watersheds Project. He divides his time between Bend Oregon and Livingston Montana. 541-255-6039

 

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Montana senators use wildfires to pump for more logging http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/08/montana-senators-use-wildfires-to-pump-for-more-logging/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/08/montana-senators-use-wildfires-to-pump-for-more-logging/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 16:39:28 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32473 It is now wildfire season in Montana and in the rest of the western states. It is similar to recent years. This means quite a few wildfires in August. The year-to-year differences are almost entirely accounted for by the weather (forest dryness, the temperature, thunderstorms, and presence of wind). August is the prime month because [...]]]>

It is now wildfire season in Montana and in the rest of the western states. It is similar to recent years. This means quite a few wildfires in August. The year-to-year differences are almost entirely accounted for by the weather (forest dryness, the temperature, thunderstorms, and presence of wind). August is the prime month because that month is hot, dry, and has more thunderstorms than the rest of the summer.

Every August politicians use the fires to grow political hay. Montana’s two senators are claiming the Forest Service is managing forests badly, hence the wildfires. Their solution is more logging. There are many problems with this. On the most practical level, it costs money to plan, layout and monitor a timber sale. Fighting wildfires consumes more and more of the FS budget almost every year, leaving little money for the many other things they do, including timber sales.

The senators like to focus on the dead and dying timber. Timber operators, however, don’t like to cut this because they make their money on green timber. Cutting dead and dying timber requires a subsidy. Where’s the money to do it? Too often only the valuable logs are removed. The twisted, small diameter, defective trees remain with their feet in leftover, small diameter logging debris. The result is little to no reduction in flammability due to the presence of fuel.

The truth is that while dying timber can be very susceptible to wildfire, the likelihood of wildfire declines when the trees die. The probability of fire grows less every year as the dead trees lose their flammable chemicals and the smaller branches fall off making it so the trees no longer touch each other. Large dead trees are mostly just cellulose. There are hard to ignite.

Calls for Forest Service logging usually follow a particularly dramatic fire, and the Roaring Lion Fire of early August in the Bitterroot Mountains fits the pattern. This was an amazingly rapid conflagration as this video shows. The winds in the canyon were extreme.


– – – – –
George Wuerthner just wrote a critique of Senator Steve Daines’ position on wildfire. Daines’ uses Roaring Lion as his example.

Reply to Senator Daines
By George Wuerthner

Senator Daines’s editorial on wildfire and forest policy that appeared in the IR on August 5th deserves some response.
For instance, the Senator suggested in his editorial that the Roaring Lion Fire by Hamilton was driven by accumulations of fuel created by bark beetles.
This is a common myth promoted by the timber industry, but a myth that has been debunked by scientific studies. Bark beetle-killed trees actually burn less readily than live trees.
What burns in a forest fire is the fine fuels—the needles, small branches, and so forth. That is why you have snags after a fire. Large diameter fuels don’t burn readily.
Thus dead snags created by beetles tend to be less flammable than green trees with their flammable needles, resins and small branches intact.
What the Senator neglects to mention is that winds were blowing at 50 mph or more at the time of ignition. And there is abundant evidence that high winds are the major factor in the rapid spread of any fire.
Indeed, it is extreme fire weather conditions of low humidity, high temperatures, drought and most importantly, high winds that drives all large and fast moving fires.
This brings up the next fallacy of Senator Daines’s comments. He asserts that if we only thinned (code for logging) more forests we would see fewer large fires. Again the science on thinning questions this assertion for a host of reasons.
The science surrounding the effectiveness of thinning to reduce large blazes is ambiguous at best. Given all the money we are throwing at this tactic; one might want to see more convincing evidence that it actually works.
There are a number of reasons to be suspect of thinning as forest policy.
The Senator insinuates that if we only “managed” more of our forests, we could reduce the occurrence of large wildfires. But one only has to look at the failure of “managed” lands in precluding large fires.
For instance, large wildfires burned through, over and across the former heavily logged Plum Creek lands in the Gold Creek drainage along the Blackfoot or in the Jocko Lakes Fire near Seeley Lake and in the heavily logged private and FS lands along Rye Creek in the Bitterroot NF to name a few places where logging did not preclude or even slow these large blazes.
Second, logging/thinning reduces competition for light, water, and nutrients among the remaining vegetation, which causes rapid regrowth of more flammable fire fuels like small trees, shrubs, and grasses.
Thus the effectiveness of any thinning project, even if we were to be generous and grant they might work on occasion, is short-lived. Depending on the ecosystem type this may be as little as 5-10 years, at which point you have do additional “maintenance.” Follow up fuel reduction seldom occurs once the valuable logs are removed by the timber industry.
Third this brings up the third factor. Probability. Since one cannot predict where and when a fire will occur, the vast majority of all logging/thinning projects never encounter a blaze during the short time they may be effective.
Furthermore, logging is not benign. It has its own set of collateral damage including the spread of weeds along logging roads, sedimentation from logging roads that harms fisheries, fragmentation of habitat and loss of security cover for big game species like elk, loss of biomass (dead trees) and carbon storage, and so on.
It may seem counter-intuitive to generations brought up on Smoky the Bear messaging, but large high-severity fires and the snag forests they create are critical to healthy forest ecosystems.
Finally, most thinning/logging projects in the Rockies are money losers for the taxpayer. So we are not only impoverishing our forest ecosystems by logging, but we are losing money doing it.
The most efficient and economical way to protect homes is to reduce the flammability of the home site, not logging the forest.

BIO: George Wuerthner is an ecologist and the author of numerous articles and several books on wildfire including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. When not traveling the West, he divides his time between Livingston, Montana and Bend, Oregon.

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Some newspapers are also criticizing Daines.

Daines should focus on climate change, not trees.” Montana Standard (reproduced in the Missoulian).

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Response to assertions by FWS that livestock grazing is compatible with sage grouse recovery http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/04/response-to-assertions-by-fws-that-livestock-grazing-is-compatible-with-sage-grouse-recovery/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/08/04/response-to-assertions-by-fws-that-livestock-grazing-is-compatible-with-sage-grouse-recovery/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2016 17:22:48 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32466 Here is a positive editorial authored by Ted Koch, US Fish and Wildlife Service Nevada Field Supervisor and signed by three other state US Fish and Wildlife Service managers that recently appeared in the Elko Daily Free Press apparently in response to an editorial I wrote about how livestock grazing was harmful to sage grouse [...]]]>

Here is a positive editorial authored by Ted Koch, US Fish and Wildlife Service Nevada Field Supervisor and signed by three other state US Fish and Wildlife Service managers that recently appeared in the Elko Daily Free Press apparently in response to an editorial I wrote about how livestock grazing was harmful to sage grouse recovery.  http://elkodaily.com/news/opinion/commentary/commentary-fws-working-with-ranchers-to-preserve-range/article_52f8040a-84da-5c49-b24b-3237f17882f5.html .

The editorial asserts that livestock grazing is compatible with sage grouse and sagebrush ecosystem recovery. The editorial  appears to be based more on wishful thinking and perhaps political expediency than on valid scientific research.

Basically the authors suggest that good livestock management can benefit sage grouse recovery. While it’s true that there are better and worse ways to graze livestock, it does not follow that livestock grazing is compatible with healthy sagebrush ecosystems any more than it would be correct to imply that smoking cigarettes is healthy. Sure if you are a smoker and reduced your consumption of smokes from three packs of cigarettes a day to one pack a day, most doctors would agree this will improve your health.

But they would be remiss in their responsibility to their patients if they didn’t advise one to eliminate cigarette smoking entirely. Any doctors who did not inform the public that cigarette smoking was damaging one’s health is guilty of omission. The same is true for livestock grazing and sagebrush ecosystems, particularly with regards to recovery of the sage grouse.

For instance, while these state field directors acknowledge that the spread of cheatgrass across the Great Basin has altered fire regimes (cheatgrass is highly flammable), they do not directly connect the dots–its spread is facilitated by livestock grazing.

If you understand the ecology of cheatgrass spread, you recognize that is it virtually impossible to graze the landscape without assisting the spread of this exotic invasive species. Even moderate livestock grazing contributes to the spread of cheatgrass.

Two factors related to livestock production contribute to cheatgrass dominance. The first is the preferential grazing of native perennial grasses by livestock which gives cheatgrass a competitive advantage in the struggle to obtain water, nutrients and space for growth.

When a plant is grazed, it has to replace the loss of photosynthetic material by translocating energy stores from its roots or shifting growth from seed production or root production to replace the loss left area. So when a perennial grass is grazed, it has less energy for these other important aspects of its life cycle.

Since cattle, if given a choice of consuming a perennial grass like blue bunch wheatgrass or cheatgrass, usually choose the perennial grass, this ultimately harms the competitive ability of the native grasses to compete effectively with invasives like cheatgrass.

Second, and perhaps the most important factor contributing to the spread of cheatgrass is soil disturbance, in particular, the destruction of what are termed biocrusts. Trampling of soil crusts expedites the spread of cheatgrass and other invasive plants.

Biocrusts include lichens, algae and mosses that grow on the soil surface in the spaces between the perennial bunchgrasses. Biocrusts, by covering the soil, make it difficult for the seeds of cheatgrass to successfully germinate and grow.

Biocrusts also improve the growth of perennial grasses by reducing competition for water and other nutrients that results when plants like cheatgrass are established in the interspaces between the native bunchgrasses.

Similarly, the authors acknowledge that trampling of wetlands, riparian areas, and springs by cattle harms sage grouse. Sage grouse chicks, in particular, depend on these moist areas for feeding during the first month or so of their lives.

These moist and highly productive places in arid sagebrush landscapes that provide water, shade, and abundant forage are preferentially grazed by cattle. Indeed, in many Great Basin ecosystems, the bulk of all available forage is found in these thin slivers of green.

By grazing these sites, cattle both reduce the hiding cover for sage grouse, and compact soils which reduces its ability to hold moisture, contributing over time to an overall shrinkage of these ecologically important sites.

Yes, it is possible reduce cattle impacts to riparian areas, but this comes with a cost to the ranchers and all solutions have more collateral damage to sage grouse.

First, if you were to fence cows out of these wetlands and riparian areas you are eliminating the most productive grazing sites in the arid Great Basin and ultimately transferring cattle impacts to uplands which are also important to grouse as nesting and feeding habitat.

Second, fencing itself poses a problem for sage grouse because of high mortality due to collisions with fences, and the use of fences by avian predators.

Third, providing alternative water developments like troughs and pipelines also harms sage grouse. The troughs provide breeding habitat for mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus that has in some areas greatly increased sage grouse mortality. Other studies have shown that alternative water sources tend to increase raven populations that prey upon sage grouse.

I have only responded to the specific issues these state directors mentioned in their commentary and could add additional impacts from livestock production that harms sage grouse.

These state directors with their happy talk about “well managed” livestock benefiting sage grouse is more wishful thinking than an accurate description of the real ecological connections and impacts of livestock production on sage grouse.

These state directors would serve the public interest far more if they helped citizens understand that livestock production is not only by contributing to the impoverishment of sage grouse habitat, but negatively affecting many other species as well. In the end, like cigarette smoking, less is better than more, but none is best.

The most efficient way to help recover sage grouse, as well as improve hundreds of millions of acres of western ecosystems, is to remove all livestock production from public lands. This can best be accomplished by permit retirement.

Given the hundreds of millions of dollars we are now wasting on other programs that are marginally effective at best, a west-wide permit retirement program focused on core sage grouse habitat would bring about the most comprehensive and effective sage grouse recover, not to mention improvement for many other species currently impacted by livestock production.

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Grazing Provisions in Bishop’s Utah Public Lands Bill Are Poison Pills http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/07/30/grazing-provisions-in-bishops-utah-public-lands-bill-are-poison-pills/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/07/30/grazing-provisions-in-bishops-utah-public-lands-bill-are-poison-pills/#comments Sat, 30 Jul 2016 14:57:33 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32462 By Jonathan Ratner, Wyoming Director, Western Watersheds Project

Representative Rob Bishop’s Utah Public Lands bill isn’t just a bad deal for Utahns who want to see Bears Ears protected as a national monument, but it’s also a terrible bill for public lands in general. Included in the sweeping language is binding provisions that would [...]]]>

By Jonathan Ratner, Wyoming Director, Western Watersheds Project

Representative Rob Bishop’s Utah Public Lands bill isn’t just a bad deal for Utahns who want to see Bears Ears protected as a national monument, but it’s also a terrible bill for public lands in general. Included in the sweeping language is binding provisions that would require the federal land management agencies to maintain in perpetuity the existing levels of livestock grazing on public grazing allotments, regardless of the adverse ecological or cultural impacts the land use is causing. It’s essentially a free pass to abuse and overuse our public trust resources, and it limits the government’s ability to manage in accordance with recent science.

It isn’t just designed to tie the government’s hands on grazing management in Utah, but across all federal lands. Section 1303 of the bill guts all laws and regulations designed to protect our public lands from abuse. The bill would require the agencies to maintain the same level of grazing on all federal public lands at the time of enactment, “except for cases of extreme range conditions where water and forage is not available.” In areas on public land where grazing has been previously been reduced or eliminated due to conflicts with wildlife or other important conservation values, grazing will be “reviewed and managed to support grazing at an economically viable level.” In other words, the conservation management of the past will be undone and profit will take precedence over all other values.

For example, in areas where there are potential conflicts between disease carrying domestic sheep and bighorn sheep, the agencies would be required to maintain the same levels of domestic sheep and cattle grazing even if there is a high risk of disease transmission to vulnerable bighorn sheep populations. This means that bighorn sheep would not be protected from private industrial uses even in the wildest parts of our national forests and deserts.

This is a hostile takeover of our precious public lands by the rich and powerful, defining management in accordance with extractive interests instead of the multiple uses by the majority of Americans that include wildlife viewing, watershed health, and recreation. Though the bill doesn’t directly affect public access to public lands, entrenching unsustainable livestock levels will diminish the opportunities for other lands users to enjoy the open spaces.

Unfortunately, this hijacking of our public lands by extremists in Utah is not an anomaly. These kinds of corrupt processes that destroy our public lands are happening all around the west. The same people who organized this Utah debacle have set up similarly corrupt processes in Wyoming and other states.

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