The Wildlife News News and commentary on wildlife and public land issues in the Western United States Thu, 13 Oct 2016 10:37:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 23667551 Western Watersheds lawsuit to curb abusive grazing in White Clouds Wilderness and East Fork Salmon River Wed, 12 Oct 2016 19:24:42 +0000 Forest Service does nothing to clean up awful grazing in spectacular Wilderness-

Boise, ID – More than a decade after a federal court ordered the Sawtooth National Forest to create a plan to improve grazing management on the Upper and Lower East Fork public grazing allotments in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Advocates for the West has filed [...]]]>

Forest Service does nothing to clean up awful grazing in spectacular Wilderness-

Boise, ID – More than a decade after a federal court ordered the Sawtooth National Forest to create a plan to improve grazing management on the Upper and Lower East Fork public grazing allotments in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Advocates for the West has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Western Watersheds Project to challenge the agency’s status quo grazing decisions. These have continued to allow heavy grazing and repeated violations on these public lands.

“The White Clouds are so spectacular that Congress recently protected them as Wilderness,” said Kristin Ruether, senior attorney for Western Watersheds Project. “These high elevation public lands are the last place that heavy cattle grazing belongs. We’re asking the Forest Service to manage them the way they deserve—for wildlife.”

The East Fork of the Salmon River and tributary creeks on these grazing allotments are important but sensitive habitat for spring and summer Chinook, Snake River steelhead, Columbia River bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout. After being sued previously, the Forest Service acknowledged in 2003 that grazing was causing significant harm to resources on these allotments. The Service promised that careful monitoring would in the future adequately protect habitat from grazing impacts. Management adjustments were supposed to be made to stop impairment of the watershed. However, even after additional repeated grazing violations, the agency refused to reduce grazing use or impose any penalties for non-compliance. In 2012 and 2013 the agency issued new ten-year permits, but their annual cattle grazing authorizations issued every year since have failed to meaningfully correct the problems.

The Forest Service itself has documented repeated overgrazing and cattle trespass into unauthorized areas that degrades the streams on these allotments. “Violations have escalated in recent years” said Laurie Rule, Senior Attorney with Advocates for the West.  “The agency’s perpetual authorization of grazing in the face of such widespread problems violates the law and pushes these imperiled fish closer to extinction.”

From trespass cattle at popular Frog Lake

In addition to providing important habitat for fish species protected under the Endangered Species Act, the two allotments are within the acclaimed Sawtooth National Recreation Area and overlap into  the White Clouds Wilderness. This area should provide outstanding recreational opportunities and access to unique alpine environments. The grazing challenged here has impaired these opportunities, particularly around popular lakes such as Frog Lake and Little Redfish Lake.

“Many Americans care deeply about the special lands of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area,” said Ruether. “It’s time for the Forest Service to start showing that it cares too,” said the groups.

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Photos of the upper East Fork of the Salmon River taken this year 2016 by Ken Cole showing the grazing abuse.


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A Chapter of Conservation History All Americans Should Know: How And Why “The Greater Yellowstone” Matters Thu, 06 Oct 2016 21:47:11 +0000 Franz Camenzind

Originally published in the bullseye

12 minutes (3070 words)

It Takes More Than A Park, Even The Mother Of All Parks, To Protect The Grizzly Bear And Other Animals.  It Takes AnEcosystem

SOME PEOPLE MAY BELIEVE OTHERWISE OR WALLOW in the nonsense that ignorance is bliss, but history matters.  Today, we dwell near [...]]]>

By Franz Camenzind

Originally published in the bullseye

12 minutes (3070 words)

It Takes More Than A Park, Even The Mother Of All Parks, To Protect The Grizzly Bear And Other Animals.  It Takes AnEcosystem

SOME PEOPLE MAY BELIEVE OTHERWISE OR WALLOW in the nonsense that ignorance is bliss, but history matters.  Today, we dwell near ground zero for for many pivotal achievements in American conservation history.

For nearly 150 years, the Greater Yellowstone County has been the inspiration of some truly monumental milestones. From the designation of Yellowstone as the world’s first national park in 1872 to the establishment of the Shoshone Forest Reserve as our nation’s first national forest in 1891, this landscape has inspired conservation achievements never before witnessed in the history of the world.

Decades later, this same landscape inspired residents to help write and urge Congress to pass laws that remain as visionary beacons of natural resource protection throughout the world.

From their home in Moose, Wyoming, Olaus and Mardy Murie, two of Jackson Hole’s early conservation leaders, were deeply involved in the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. And the brothers Frank and John Craighead, also residents of Jackson Hole, were the driving force behind the writing and passage of the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Both of these landmark pieces of conservation legislation were, in part, inspired by the untamed nature of the Yellowstone country.

Developing the concept of a “Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem”

Though often overlooked, another environmental milestone has its roots in the Yellowstone country:  the inclusion of the word “ecosystem” into the name and conceptual framework of this large, specific landscape.

The addition of a single word to a name may appear insignificant, but it represented a crucial turning point in American conservation history, for how we view and should manage wide-ranging wildlife. The inclusion of this one word came about as a result of the Craighead brother’s study of Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population from 1959 to 1970. By marking and radio collaring hundreds of bears, they were able to follow their life-long movements and estimate that the bear population was using about 5 million acres of the greater Yellowstone country. An area that spilled well beyond Yellowstone Park’s 2.2 million acres and included nearly every habitat type in the region, from mountain top to lower river valley and everything in-between.


At first the Craigheads simply referred to the 5 million acres as the Yellowstone grizzly ecosystem, but soon the name evolved into The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, though there was resistance to accept the term from some of the federal agencies and politicians.  Why? Because it challenged them to think bigger too, to contemplate the humbling lessons of nature that do not conform tidily to artificial human-made surveyor’s lines and bureaucratic silos.

How fitting it is that the world’s first national park should be at the heart of one of the first and most well known landscape-wide regions to be identified by name as an ecosystem. And how fitting it is that the grizzly bear was the catalyst for this grand concept.

Through their research, the Craigheads came to understand that it would take more than the park to sustain the region’s grizzly bear population. They recognized that it would take a much larger landscape, one with all its varieties of plant life, soils, microorganisms, renowned distinction as a geological hotspot, and accompanying animal species interacting in the timeless flow of life. It would take a complete and functioning ecosystem, a landscape not defined by political boundaries but by the needs of the Great Bear.

With the Craighead’s findings, the ecosystem concept, then only a few decades old, began taking hold on the ground—where it belonged. As a consequence, the old practice of managing wildlife based upon political boundaries was challenged and began eroding, albeit very, very slowly.

It was only a few decades earlier that North American wildlife management was largely dominated by the old European attitude of needing to provide more targets for hunters in order to generate more funds for game and fish agencies. And unfortunately, a great deal of effort was misdirected toward killing predators—responding to the age-old impression expressed by the acclaimed father of wildlife management, Aldo Leopold: I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise.” (Leopold later recognized his error and became a life-long advocate for keeping wolves on the land.)

Only two sizable populations of grizzlies remain in the Lower 48 and Greater Yellowstone’s still exists as a biological island.  Island populations are not only vulnerable to unexpected outbreaks of disease, genetic in-breeding and disturbance by natural and human events but history has shown they have higher probability to being extirpated over time.  Map courtesy Humane Society of the United States

In those early years, state game agencies didn’t fully understand nor respond to wildlife’s year-round, complex habitat requirements, nor the important role predators played in maintaining ecosystem function and health. And neither did Yellowstone Park when it set out on a successful campaign to eliminate the wolf from within its boundaries.  The great bear too was almost lost during that period, not so much due to direct persecution, but more through neglect, habitat loss and over-hunting, plus a lack of fully understanding its ecological needs.

New realms of scientific inquiry introduce new questions

As the Craighead’s were completing their research, the new science of population genetics was emerging and it began grappling with the question: what is the minimum number of animals necessary to maintain sufficient genetic variability to ensure a population’s long-term viability? And subsequently, the correlate question: how are a population’s genetics impacted by isolation from or connectivity with other populations?  And specifically, what role can movement corridors play in augmenting the genetic diversity of isolated populations? These questions remain front and center for many of today’s wildlife populations, but nowhere more so than for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzlies – a relatively small population isolated from other grizzly populations.

It is possible that if Yellowstone’s grizzly population were allowed to grow, it might eventually contain sufficient genetic diversity to sustain itself far into the future, thereby minimizing the need to mingle with other populations.

Unfortunately, that future looks highly unlikely since the three states harboring Greater Yellowstone’s grizzlies—Wyoming, Montana and Idaho—seem hell-bent on reducing the population by implementing trophy hunting seasons once grizzlies come under their control. In essence, it means a regressive retreat from the promise of recovery. It is a situation contrary to what is best for the population and one, if allowed to play out, will greatly increase the need for safe movement corridors between Yellowstone’s grizzlies and the nearest population located in northwest Montana.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem spans more than 34,400 square miles and resides at the converging intersection of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Map courtesy Greater Yellowstone Coalition

Simply stated, absent a sufficiently large population and protection of movement corridors between populations, the long-term survival of the population, given human development pressure and the effects of climate change, raises many doubts about the ability of a viable population of grizzlies to persist. Ideally, we should have both a large number of bears spread out across the public lands that are their rightful home and a northern pathway for them to connect with others of their kind.

Although the Craigheads were the first to use science to argue that it would take more then Yellowstone Park to save the grizzly bear, they were not the first to understand that the park’s boundaries were not near enough to protect the region’s wildlife.  In 1882, while on a tour of the Yellowstone country, General Philip Sheridan recognized that the national park was not large enough to protect its wildlife populations, particularly its iconic Rocky Mountain elk. He vigorously pushed to nearly double the size of the park by extending the eastern and southern boundaries. Due to prevailing anti-park politics, his efforts failed.

The park’s original boundaries were drawn with one primary intention: to encompass and protect all thermal features in the region. The straight lines drawn on the map had little to do with larger landscape values or the needs of wildlife. They formed a perfect rectangle drawn within a much larger, habitat diverse, geologically active, volcanic, eroded and living landscape. A landscape whose vast ecological values this simple rectangle could not begin to embrace. (In later years, the boundaries were adjusted to protect the headwaters of certain park streams.)

Currently, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, as stated without protest in the May 2016 special issue of National Geographic, consists of approximately 18 million acres. The physiographic features have changed little over the decades, but the area now delineated as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is a combination of several factors including the reality of the limited amount of wild lands remaining, the prevailing politics, and a landmass generally sufficient to provide year-round, long-term habitat for most, but not all of the ecosystem’s widest-ranging land animals.

Ecosystem science has advanced…management practices, not so much

In recent years we have come to learn how more and more species use the ecosystem. Researchers have identified migration routes for mule deer, antelope, elk and moose that literally crisscross the ecosystem. We also know that the wolf population inhabits much of the ecosystem with the territories of many packs straddling the boundaries between the national forests and both national parks and our wildlife refuges, and of course portions of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. And yet each state has its own plan to manage “their” wolves, meaning limiting their numbers through liberal trophy game hunting seasons. By striking contrast, the refuges’ and the parks’ approaches are to allow wolves the freedom to roam within their jurisdictions with very limited human interference.

We are also familiar with the decades-long controversy that exists between Montana and Yellowstone Park due to the annual migrations across their shared boundary by native buffalo. And we know that deer, elk and antelope routinely cross hydrographic divides from one watershed to another and from one political jurisdiction to another. And we know too that while making these journeys, some individuals join other groups, thus contributing to the all-important genetic mixing within the greater populations.

There are currently an estimated 717 grizzly bears occupying roughly 80 percent of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The occupied area includes portions of all the national forest, both national parks, swaths of private lands and the three states comprising the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Although the grizzly bear population and its occupied range has expanded three-fold since the Craighead era, a sound argument can be made that the current population may not be sufficient to maintain the genetic diversity necessary to carry the population far into the future.

I submit that one of our generation’s greatest challenges is to assure that when we pass forward management authority for this or any other ecosystem, that the resource is in as good or better condition then when we inherited it. We can do this if we stop acting provincially and begin thinking like an ecosystem.

In 1983, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee was formed to address grizzly bear recovery and conservation at the population level and across agency and state boundaries. This represented a very respected effort to address the bear’s wellbeing at the ecosystem level. But like so many efforts involving so many differing jurisdictional missions, the results (Final Draft 2016 Conservation Strategy for the Grizzly Bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem) ended up being a compromise driven by the various missions and not what is particularly best for the species.  What began with noble intentions, has fallen victim to jurisdictional mission conflict. Boundaries and politics still trump grizzly bear science.

Our national parks are simply not large enough to support some of our nation’s most iconic and free-ranging native wildlife. We have long known this but seem reluctant to recognize that these are not simply “Yellowstone’s buffalo”, “the parks’ elk” or “the forests’ deer” or “the states’ moose” or the “Teton’s or Yellowstone’s antelope”. And we know that they do not exist in isolation from one and another. Each and every one is an integral part of the larger ecosystem.

Thinking like an ecosystem

We have accumulated sufficient information to support the ecosystem approach to wildlife management. So why are agencies and government bodies so reluctant to work closely to establish long-range plans for entire populations regardless of jurisdictions?

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is the largest nearly intact ecosystem of its kind in the world.  It is the largest, but it is not large. It is nearly intact, but it is not completely intact. Nevertheless, it is the best and the last of its kind that exists anywhere. It is ours to steward and it is ours to pass forward to future generations. I submit that one of our generation’s greatest challenges is to assure that when we pass forward management authority for this or any other ecosystem, that the resource is in as good or better condition then when we inherited it. We can do this if we stop acting provincially and begin thinking like an ecosystem.

How will we do this: shall we allow our native wildlife to roam as free as possible, utilizing every acre of available habitat within the ecosystem, or will we limit them with arbitrarily drawn boundaries, each representing different management visions? Shall we manipulate their numbers based on differing agency preferences or shall we free them to nature’s intricate balancing mechanisms?

How – and for what – shall our stewardship be judged?

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem provides the best and largest stage remaining within the contiguous United States where all of its native species can live and die mostly by their own wits and not by some politically compromised management plan. This is one region where the fittest can survive, where the process of natural selection can play out nearly as it did hundreds of years ago. It is this process of nature selecting that has given us the amazing assortment of finely fitted wild species that we all have come to enjoy, to depend upon for our soul’s serenity, and even for our economic wellbeing. This process of natural selection is in every way as important to protect as it is to protect the characters necessary for this drama to continue playing out.

Will we allow this ecosystem to function as time and nature designed, or will we continue to manipulate its components to our desires? Will we continue the proud conservation achievements recorded during the past century and a half and manage this land and its wildlife at the ecosystem level, or will we remain stuck in the past?

We have here in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem the essence of a living museum, and we are its curators. Its future is in our hands.

And yet, believe it or not, there are those who still think that grizzly bears, along with wolves and buffalo should be kept within the confines of Yellowstone National Park. Herd them, haze them, fence them- whatever it takes, keep the s. o. b’s in the park! In effect, build a fence- virtual or real around the park. It will be a huge fence, a beautiful fence, one that the grizzly, the wolf and the buffalo clans will happily pay for (with their lives). And while we’re at it, lets reduce their numbers so they “fit” in the park with no need to leave in search of food. Manage them according to our politics and prejudices, damn the ecosystem approach.

This outrageous idea represents the very antithesis of what is best to insure that the generations a century from now will have the same opportunity to enjoy the true wilds of the Greater Yellowstone country.  If we confine the grizzly, the wolf or the buffalo to constricted political boundaries we have failed as stewards. If we leave habitats vacant of their rightful occupants, we will leave a museum with empty galleries.

If we confine the grizzly, the wolf or the buffalo to constricted political boundaries we have failed as stewards. If we leave habitats vacant of their rightful occupants, we will leave a museum with empty galleries.

It would be a crime against the future if we reverted back to the pre-Craighead era of wildlife management “by the boundaries”, or if we managed with the anti-predator prejudices of the past. What the Craigheads began with their application of the ecosystem concept to bear management would be forever tarnished if we did not allow the grizzly to inhabit every available corner of this one-of-a-kind ecosystem. What a terrible legacy for today’s stewards if we saved the land but imprisoned the grizzly, or the wolf or even the buffalo to the confines of our parks. How unforgiving it would be if we restricted our wildlife to minimum numbers driven by our unwillingness to accommodate instead of yielding them to the ecosystem’s intrinsic ability to support.

Clearly, it takes much more than a park to protect the grizzly bear and its fellow wide-ranging species. And just as clearly, it will take more then inserting the word ecosystem into the Greater Yellowstone name- it will take a clear conservation vision relentlessly pursued with commitment and action.

What a wild idea. Or is it?

EDITOR’S NOTE:  With pride, The Bullseye welcomes Franz J. Camenzind to its stable of columnists Camenzind is a widely-respected Greater Yellowstone conservationist.  He received an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, (where he recently was honored as a distinguished alumni), a masters in zoology from Brigham Young University, and a PhD from the University of Wyoming with his dissertation focused on the natural history of coyotes around Jackson Hole.  Camenzind is an award-winning wildlife cinematographer and was the first to film wild pandas in the wild in China. Among the subjects of his many other films besides coyotes and pandas: gray wolves, grizzly bears, pronghorn antelope and black rhinos, For several years, he was executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance in addition to being among the core individuals who pushed for creating the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

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Water is owned by citizens not irrigators Thu, 06 Oct 2016 15:54:12 +0000 A recent article about the low flow on the Yellowstone River (Oct.6h) missed an opportunity to inform Montana citizens about water in Montana.


What is not well-known is that water in Montana (as in the rest the West) is public property owned by the state’s citizens. Like the air, water is considered a [...]]]>

A recent article about the low flow on the Yellowstone River (Oct.6h) missed an opportunity to inform Montana citizens about water in Montana.


What is not well-known is that water in Montana (as in the rest the West) is public property owned by the state’s citizens. Like the air, water is considered a public resource. Water can only be removed from a stream if the state’s citizens feel this is a good use of that water.


Nearly all water (97%) diverted from our streams is used for irrigation–primarily growing hay and other forage for livestock. Ranchers have used this water for free–at no cost–and to the detriment of our aquatic ecosystems. It may have made sense 100 years ago to give all of OUR water to ranchers, but today there are many other people, as well as wildlife, that depend on the water in our rivers for their enjoyment as well as their survival. Fishing guides, rafting company, hotels and cafes that cater to tourists, and just the many people in Montana who love seeing a free-flowing river are all “dependent” on adequate river flows. .


The term “water right” is misleading. It is a legal way of divvying up water–if, and only if–the state’s citizens want to give away their water.


Times have changed. We need to reconsider how we allot water. Our rivers and the aquatic ecosystems should get first shot at the water. Only after enough flows exist to support fisheries, river recreation, and other activities should any water be diverted to irrigators. And even if this does occur, maybe it’s time for the state’s citizens to benefit by charging for the use of its water.

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Forest myths drives bad legislation Wed, 05 Oct 2016 17:48:53 +0000 The timber industry and its advocates continue to promote a number of myths designed to garner public support for increased logging. These myths are being repeated by many in Congress, including all western Republicans and some western Democrats who are advocating new legislation that would weaken environmental protections, reduce public review of the Forest Service timber [...]]]>

The timber industry and its advocates continue to promote a number of myths designed to garner public support for increased logging. These myths are being repeated by many in Congress, including all western Republicans and some western Democrats who are advocating new legislation that would weaken environmental protections, reduce public review of the Forest Service timber sales (called variously vegetation management, restoration, fuels reduction) and significantly increase money-losing logging on public lands.

Myth: Restoration of our forests is needed to recreate historic conditions

Truth: There is growing debate about whether most forest ecosystems need any restoration. First nearly all higher elevation mixed conifer and subalpine forests grew in dense stands that tended to burn at medium to long intervals (often at intervals of hundreds of years) with large patches of mixed to high severity mortality so they are well within historic conditions.


Low elevation ponderosa pine forests were considered different from the moister, higher elevation forests and characterized  as open and park-like, burned by frequent low severity surface fires. However, new science is questioning this long held perspective, demonstrating that many pine stands historically experienced occasional high severity stand replacement blazes. As result, even our low elevation pine forests may not be significantly outside of their historic condition.


For instance, one recent review paper concluded: “whereas current attempts to ‘‘restore’’ forests to open, low-severity fire conditions may not align with historical reference conditions in most ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests of western North America.”


Myth: Logging reduces large wildfires.

Truth: Large wildfires burn under extreme weather conditions. Under extreme weather, wildfires burn through, over and around clearcuts, thinned forests, and areas that have been prescribed burned. Such fires are “controlled” when the weather changes to more moderate conditions.


Logging may even increase fire spread and fire severity.


The conclusion of the Sierra Nevada report to Congress had this to say: “Timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure, local microclimate, and fuels accumulation, has increased fire severity more than any other recent human activity”


“Logged areas generally showed a strong association with increased rate of spread and flame length, thereby suggesting that tree harvesting could affect the potential fire behavior within landscapes. In general, rate of spread and flame length were positively correlated with the proportion of area logged in the sample watersheds.”



Another study done by fire ecologists at the Missoula Fire Lab concluded:” Even extensive fuel treatments may not reduce the amount of area burned over the long-term and furthermore, reduction of area burned may actually be an undesirable outcome.”


They go on to conclude: “Treating fuels to reduce fire occurrence, fire size, or amount of

burned area is ultimately both futile and counter-productive.”

A new study soon to be published found that reviewed 1500 wildfires between 1984 and 2014 found that actively managed forests had the highest level of fire severity. While those forests in protected areas burned, on average, had the lowest level of fire severity. In other words, the best way to reduce severe fires is to protect the land as wilderness, not “manage” it.


Myth; Thinning national forest lands will protect homes.


Truth: One only needs to reduce the flammability within 100 feet of homes to protect them. Reducing fuels more than 100 feet beyond the home confers no additional protection. As one study concluded: “It may not be necessary or effective to treat fuels in adjacent areas in order to suppress fires before they reach homes; rather, it is the treatment of the fuels immediately proximate to the residences, and the degree to which the residential structures themselves can ignite that determine if the residences are vulnerable.”


Myth: Beetle outbreaks increases the chances of wildfire.


Truth: Any number of research studies has documented that beetle outbreaks has little effect or even reduces the chance of large wildfire for a period of years. Dead trees do not burn as well as live trees with flammable resins. For example, one study concluded “we found no detectable increase in the occurrence of high-severity fires following MPB outbreaks. Dry conditions, rather than changes in fuels associated with outbreak, appear to be most limiting to the occurrence of severe fires in these forests”


Myth: Large wildfires have increased.


Truth: If you start with the middle of last century when the climate was cooler and moister—a climatic condition that reduces fire spread—one might conclude there are more large fires, but if your starting point is earlier in the century or even over the last thousand years, there is no increase in large fires. Any number of studies have concluded we have a deficit of large fires, and as a result of the snag forest and dead wood habitat that such fires creates. For instance, a 2016 study concluded that “area burned at high severity has overall declined compared to pre-European settlement.


Myth: Dead trees are a sign of a forest health problem.


Truth: Dead trees are critical to healthy forest ecosystems. Some 250 scientists recently sent a  letter to Congress affirming “snag forest habitat” are “ecological treasures comparable to old growth forests. Many species depend on dead trees. Some 45% of birds rely on dead trees for food, nesting/cavities and roosting. Mammals from mice to bears use dead trees for hiding cover or feeding sites. When dead trees fall into creeks, they provide habitat for aquatic insects to fish.


Unfortunately, as result of logging and other forest management, we have a deficit of dead trees in our forest ecosystems. Episodic input of dead woods results from wildfire, beetles, and disease. These natural processes help maintain ecosystem health.

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Yellowstone Bison Petitioned Under ESA Mon, 03 Oct 2016 01:26:44 +0000 A number of environmental organizations, Western Watersheds Project, The Buffalo Field Campaign, and Friends of Animals, have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Yellowstone bison under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Some may be baffled why any bison deserve listing under the ESA when there are at least 500,000 bison found [...]]]>

A number of environmental organizations, Western Watersheds Project, The Buffalo Field Campaign, and Friends of Animals, have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Yellowstone bison under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Some may be baffled why any bison deserve listing under the ESA when there are at least 500,000 bison found in North America.

However, the Yellowstone Park sub-population of bison has been subjected to severe slaughter and culling as part of an effort to prevent transmission of brucellosis, a disease that can cause abortion in cattle. There is a lead wall (meaning bullets) that attempts to bottle bison up in Yellowstone Park when they migrate to lower elevations outside of the park in search of food during harsh winters.

In addition to the direct killing of animals by Montana Department of Livestock, park rangers, and hunters, bison have also been captured and slaughtered.

In recent years, more than a thousand bison have been killed near the Park borders as the bison attempted to migrate out of the park.  In 1996-1997, culling of Yellowstone bison removed 57% of the entire Northern subpopulation and 20% of the Central subpopulation.


The proposed listing would use a feature of the ESA called a Distinct Population Segment (DPS) designation. DPS permits the FWS to protect unique populations of a species that may have special conservation significant.

In the case of the Yellowstone park bison, its conservation values are both significant and unique. The bison in Yellowstone Park are free of cattle genes. Most other bison herds have some degree of hybridization with domestic livestock.

Furthermore, Yellowstone’s bison are the only known bison population that has been continuously wild (though for a few years they were fed hay in the Lamar Valley to build up their numbers). This is particularly important as Bozeman wildlife biologist Dr. Jim Bailey argues in his book American Plains Bison—Rewilding an Icon, Yellowstone’s bison are genetically unique.

There are only four sources of bison without cattle genes, the Henry Mountains of Utah (originally bison transplanted from Yellowstone), a private herd in New Mexico and in Canada. However, the largest cattle-gene-free bison herd is in Yellowstone.

Despite this obvious rarity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has denied two previous petitions to list the Yellowstone bison under the ESA. The new law suit asks the US FWS to do a full review of the bison, especially in light of new genetic and other scientific evidence suggesting the Yellowstone bison population is both genetically unique and threatened by on-going culling and slaughter.

Ironically this slaughter continues despite the fact that the bison was recently designated our “national animal.”


There are hundreds of thousands of bison being raised commercially in the United States. However, these herds are treated like livestock. That is, they are bred, artificially fed, inoculated, culled, and otherwise to one degree or another raised like domestic livestock.

There are 44 conservation bison herds in the US, numbering about 17,000 animals. These conservation herds, though more wild than commercial herds, still have a significant degree of animal husbandry. Most reside behind fences, and typically experience some artificial population control through culling or slaughter. And many herds are small and likely suffer from genetic inbreeding and genetic drift.

Even herds with as many as 2000-3000 animals will lose about 5% of their genetic diversity over a hundred-year time period according to Dr. Bailey.  Only two herds exceed 2000 animals, with Yellowstone possessing the largest number.  And we must remember that even the herds in Yellowstone have gone through a genetic bottleneck when the park’s bison numbered as few as 25 animals.


Yellowstone’s bison lives were, until recently, largely affected by natural selection. In other words, bison died from disease, predators or starvation without interference from humans. These natural evolutionary processes have produce the wild bison we have today in Yellowstone.


As most people know, for more than two decades now, bison migrating from Yellowstone National Park have been killed to prevent the spread of brucellosis.

Brucellosis is a disease that can cause abortion in the first born calf of domestic cattle. The disease was originally introduced into North America via imported domestic livestock.

Cattle primarily get brucellosis by licking an aborted fetus with active brucellosis bacteria.

The Brucella bacteria can cause what is known as undulant fever in humans. Efforts by the federal government to control brucellosis in cattle was originally justified and funded as a public health issue. However, since most humans got undulant fever by consuming unpasteurized milk, with the advent of wide-spread pasteurization, the human health threat has largely been dissipated.

Nevertheless, due to lobbying by the livestock industry, taxpayers still foot the bill for brucellosis control, even though the primary beneficiaries are those in the livestock industry.

As part of this control effort, all sources of brucellosis are considered a threat to the industry. A percentage of the wild bison in Yellowstone carry the disease, as do elk and other wildlife. The livestock industry and the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) has effectively lobbied Congress to force the control wild bison either by hunting and/or capture and slaughter.

The likelihood of transmission is exceedingly small. So small that there is not one example of bison transmission of brucellosis to livestock under natural field conditions has been documented. However, a number of examples of elk transmission have occurred.

As will be explained below, neither bison bulls, yearlings, or calves can transmit the disease, though that hasn’t stopped the Montana Department of Livestock from killing thousands of such animals. Only bison cows are likely to transmit the disease and so far, there is no documented transmission of brucellosis from wild bison to domestic livestock under field conditions.

Despite the lack of evidence that bison pose any risk to livestock, more than 6000 of Yellowstone’s bison have been slaughtered in one fashion or another since 2000.


For cattle to become infected with brucellosis a host of unusual circumstances need to exist.

Cattle have to come in contact with live brucellosis bacteria.  The proposed means of transmission typically would involve the abortion of an infected fetus by a wild bison. However, this is rare in the wild because an infected cow bison usually reabsorbs an infected developing fetus before it can be aborted.

Most abortions of fetuses in wild bison occurs between February and May—at time when domestic livestock are not found on the public lands adjacent to Yellowstone Park.

Even if aborted, the bacteria must remain active. Since the brucellosis bacteria is sensitive to heat and dehydration, and/or the fetus is consumed by coyotes, ravens and other scavengers. One way or another live bacterium don’t usually last long in the environment.

Next assuming there is an aborted fetus and the bacteria is still alive, a domestic animal must come along and lick the dead fetus or birthing fluids.

For this to happen, there has to be physical geographical overlap between bison and cattle. Since bison typically migrate out to lower elevations in the winter, and move back into the higher elevations of the park for the summer, there are few cases of actual physical overlap.


The transmission of brucellosis from bison to cattle has never been documented, and as explained above, the chances for transmission, while not zero are effectively insignificant. Furthermore, there are livestock management options that further reduce the threat. For one, most of the public lands grazing allotments outside of the park are no longer used by domestic livestock as a result of permit retirement and other means. So the opportunity for geographical overlap is small.

In addition, as previously noted, neither bison bull, yearlings, or calves can transmit the disease, yet these individuals are regularly killed.

And despite the fact that all known cases of brucellosis transmission from wildlife to livestock has been attributed to elk, there is no similar slaughter or curtailment of migratory elk.

The real reason the livestock industry fears wild bison is that bison and cattle have similar diets. The industry fears that the public might demand that wild bison should have priority when it comes to grazing public lands.


The last remaining wild bison herd large enough to be evolutionarily significant resides in Yellowstone Park, yet the DOL, and state of Montana has repeatedly shown an unwillingness to accept wild bison outside of Yellowstone Park. Instead they are using artificial means of control that includes capture and slaughter, and hunting just outside of the park. Both means of population control are artificially selecting against the wild genes of the animals.

As with wolves, grizzly bears, spotted owls, sage grouse, and other species that impinge or even appear to impinge upon traditional economic interests, the state governments in the West are incapable of managing such controversial species due to the political pressure from local industry and politicians. This is why the Endangered Species Act was created, and why we need it now to save Yellowstone’s wild bison. The on-going tragedy is too reminiscent of the earlier attempt to wipe out wild bison on the plains as a means of controlling Plains Indians.

Only the courts can force the federal government to do its legal obligation to protect Yellowstone’s wild bison,and stop the shameful slaughter of an American icon.

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Failure to list Yellowstone Bison generates lawsuit by 3 conservation groups Tue, 27 Sep 2016 19:23:27 +0000 The Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), Friends of Animals (FoA) and the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) have filed a lawsuit against the US Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) for failing to provide Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the distinct population (comprised of at least two herds) segment of bison in [...]]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How livestock “damage” wolf packs Mon, 12 Sep 2016 18:51:16 +0000 Today I received an inquiry from one of the employees of a conservation group that is supporting the killing of the Profanity Peak wolf pack trying to understand some of the assertions I made in a recent post on the issue of wolves and public lands.

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

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

The employee was questioning my statement from a previous post ( where I stated that livestock anywhere within a dozen miles of a wolf pack was essentially on top of the pack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anthropocene Boosters and the Attack on Wilderness Conservation Mon, 12 Sep 2016 15:31:42 +0000 (Note that this article originally appeared in the Independent Science News)

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

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

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

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

White Cloud Mountains, Idaho, George Wuerthner


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

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

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

The Anthropocene Boosters make a number of assertions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However let us take these assertions one by one.

Pristine wilderness

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

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

Nature is resilient

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservation must serve human needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservationists should stop criticising corporations

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

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

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

National parks and reserves are a form of cultural imperialism

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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The Profanity Peak Pack: Loss of wolves and academic freedom Tue, 06 Sep 2016 23:10:02 +0000 The recent killing of six members of the Profanity Peak  wolf pack in NE Washington in retribution for the loss of a few cattle is emblematic of what is wrong with public land policy. As I write, trappers are out to kill the remaining pack members.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For instance, a few years ago, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks threatened to withdraw its funding of all research at Montana State University in retaliation to a peer reviewed paper written by Dr. Scott Creel that challenged the agencies wolf hunting limits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Investigation Sought Over Approval to Kill 4 Wolves Near Grand Teton National Park Thu, 01 Sep 2016 19:13:18 +0000 CHEYENNE, WY. The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project have called for an investigation and the release of more public information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s authorization to kill four members of the Pinnacle Peak wolf pack in Wyoming. The Service recently authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s [...]]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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