The Wildlife News http://www.thewildlifenews.com News and commentary on wildlife and public land issues in the Western United States Tue, 24 May 2016 23:02:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Owyhee Canyonlands and Livestock Economics http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/24/owyhee-canyonlands-and-livestock-economics/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/24/owyhee-canyonlands-and-livestock-economics/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 23:02:13 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32359 I attended a legislative hearing in Salem on proposed wilderness and/or national monument status for the Owyhee Canyonlands. While my motivation for protecting land has little to do with economic growth, the major rationale given for opposing increased land protections is that it will harm the local economy, particularly the livestock industry. But the reality is [...]]]>

I attended a legislative hearing in Salem on proposed wilderness and/or national monument status for the Owyhee Canyonlands. While my motivation for protecting land has little to do with economic growth, the major rationale given for opposing increased land protections is that it will harm the local economy, particularly the livestock industry. But the reality is that land protection generally creates a more diverse and interesting economy, and in some ways, with less direct degradation of the land as with ranching.

Numerous opponents of any increased safeguards asserted that ranching would be jeopardized by increased protective measures and would have dire consequences for Malheur County since ranching, they declared, was a “major” industry.

Notwithstanding, the fact that wilderness and/or national monument designation does not preclude livestock grazing, the implied message was that wilderness and/or national monument creation would hurt Malheur County’s ranching industry, and thus Malheur County’s economic prospects.

Despite claims that ranching is a “major” industry, livestock and farming combined, only provide 6% of the county’s personal income. While non-farm income is responsible for 94% of the county’s personal income.

Indeed, only 2039 jobs (2011) of the county’s employment were farm/ranch-related. Worse for Ag boosters, from 1970 to 2011 in Malheur County, farm and ranch employment, experienced a 40% decline. So counting on Ag to provide for the county’s future economic growth is certainly questionable.

However, there is even more to consider. Farm and ranch jobs, on average paid far less than the county average. So even if this long-term trend of industry decline were to reverse, it would not provide much new economic wealth to county residents.

By contrast, non-farm employment in the service industry would likely see a boost if a major new national monument or wilderness area were established in the county.

Numerous studies show that county with protected lands tend to have higher incomes, more rapid job growth, and a greater influx of new businesses. Why? Because people like to live near protected lands.

Better yet, many of these non-farm jobs are not directly dependent on taxpayer welfare. Ranchers get massive subsidies from the federal and state government. Everything from below cost grazing fees on public lands, to subsidized water irrigation projects, to many other programs like emergency livestock feed, livestock forage disaster program, and other indirect and direct payments.

According to the Environmental Working Group database, Malheur County is the number one county in Oregon for federal livestock subsidies! So at least some of that 6% of county income attributed to Ag is a direct result of welfare provided by the rest of the taxpayers of this country. If federal subsidies were eliminated, the contribution by Ag to county income would drop substantially.

In terms of economic development, one of the best business incubators around is to designate protected lands. The future economic growth in the county is not in beef or other farm commodity production—despite wishful thinking on the part of livestock advocates.

It’s time for Malheur County residents to stop looking in the rear view mirror and begin to embrace a new paradigm. In today’s economy, protection of land is one of the best ways to stimulate new economic opportunities.

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Selfies out of control and menace wildlife, scenic beauty http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/21/selfies-out-of-control/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/21/selfies-out-of-control/#comments Sat, 21 May 2016 21:52:01 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32351 By now it’s a joke or maybe black humor how many people have been killed while taking unduly exciting selfies to impress their friends. Instead of a like, they get a nomination for the Darwin Award.  There is now even a web page that gives the details of the weirdest selfie induced death in each [...]]]>

By now it’s a joke or maybe black humor how many people have been killed while taking unduly exciting selfies to impress their friends. Instead of a like, they get a nomination for the Darwin Award.  There is now even a web page that gives the details of the weirdest selfie induced death in each country. Besides killing or injuring themselves, these selfie narcissists (competitors?) harm others, and not just other people. Wildlife and natural scenic beauty are at risk and being marred.

Most recently rangers in Yellowstone National Park learned via social media that three from the group “High on Life SundayFundayz” had walked well off the boardwalk at Grand Prismatic Spring. They tramped across the delicate mats of colorful algae and bacteria to pose themselves. Walking across these mats leaves discolored footprints that take a long time to heal. This huge, colorful hot spring is regarded as one of the most beautiful natural features in the world. Last year in the Park a mother was gored by a bison while taking a selfie with her child just a few yards in front of a wild bison.

A former ranger and friend of mine tells me that it is becoming common with foreign visitors, especially the Chinese tourists, to walk or even drive out onto the geothermal features for selfies. Pretty Chinese girls are fond of selfies while waving colorful silk scarves with a wild animal in the picture.
Early this year in Argentina a baby dolphin was pulled out of the sea by a crowd of people and passed around so that they could take selfies. The dolphin died. In the Florida Keys the rare, tiny Key deer are being harmed by selfie takers who draw them to the busy roadside and feed them, erasing their natural fears of humans.

Some might say this about honoring and respecting wildlife. I think it is only about putting forward themselves.

——
Suggestion. Do a web image search for “Yellowstone selfies.”

The Grand Prismatic spring story. “Tourist Bros Stomp On Yellowstone National Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring.” Huffington Post.

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Do you have some interesting wildlife news? May 21, 2016 edition http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/20/do-you-have-some-interesting-wildlife-news-may-21-2016-edition/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/20/do-you-have-some-interesting-wildlife-news-may-21-2016-edition/#comments Sat, 21 May 2016 03:28:50 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32346 It is time to create a new page of “Interesting Wildlife News.” Please put your wildlife news in the comments below. Do not post copyrighted material.

Here is the link to the “old” wildlife news of April 5, 2016.

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

Here is the link to the “old” wildlife news of April 5, 2016.

It's springtime on the sagebrush steppe. SE Idaho. Copyright Ralph Maughan

It’s springtime on the sagebrush steppe. SE Idaho. Copyright Ralph Maughan

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Soda Fire Recovery Not Going as Well as Portrayed in the Media http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/10/soda-fire-recovery-not-going-as-well-as-portrayed-in-the-media/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/10/soda-fire-recovery-not-going-as-well-as-portrayed-in-the-media/#comments Wed, 11 May 2016 00:21:28 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32325 Last week a Associated Press article proclaimed that the rehabilitation taking place after the Soda Fire, which burned 225,953 acres along highway 95 on the Oregon/Idaho border in August, was going well. Not so fast. According to a report from Roger Rosentreter, a retired PhD botanist who worked for the BLM for 38 years, things aren’t going [...]]]>

Last week a Associated Press article proclaimed that the rehabilitation taking place after the Soda Fire, which burned 225,953 acres along highway 95 on the Oregon/Idaho border in August, was going well. Not so fast. According to a report from Roger Rosentreter, a retired PhD botanist who worked for the BLM for 38 years, things aren’t going so well. Dr Rosentreter submitted his report to the BLM on April 25th after attending a tour of the Soda Fire recovery area sponsored by the Society for Ecological Restoration on April 12th. The tour was attended by staff from the USGS as well as the BLM. The tour consisted of stops at three areas, the Wilson meteorological/erosion station, the Blackstock drill seeding area, and the Upper Blackstock area.

At the beginning of the report, Dr. Rosentreter states:

Based on observations at these sites is possible that BLM caused more damage than good on the Soda fire rehabilitation. Many of these actions caused damaged forbs and biocrusts. These disturbances destabilized the soil and will encourage the colonization by invasive species including cheatgrass.

This is startling because much of what caused the Soda Fire to burn so hot and quickly over such a large area was the combination of extreme conditions and dry cheatgrass, an annual grass that thrives in this area due to the disturbance of soils and biologic soil crusts caused, to a large extent, by livestock grazing. Cheatgrass germinates in the fall and goes to seed in late spring and early summer and then dies and dries out to become a fine fuel source that can rapidly carry a fire. Once a fire burns through an area, there is generally a rehabilitation effort that is often politically influenced by ranchers who would rather have livestock forage planted instead of native grasses, forbs, and sagebrush. That is what appears to have happened here.

Large areas of the Soda Fire have been replanted with Siberian and crested wheatgrass, a non-native grass species that ranchers like for its livestock forage value. It has little value as wildlife habitat and is difficult to get rid of once it has been established. In one unburned area visited by Dr. Rosentreter, the BLM had used rangeland drills to disturb the soil and plant seeds. According to Rosentreter, this area did not need rehabilitation but, unfortunately, the drills overturned the soils in the unburned area and little was growing in the  newly disturbed soils. These disturbed soils are now prime habitat for cheatgrass and medusahead rye, another invasive annual grass that has gained a foothold in this area and that is just as bad for fueling fires but even less palatable for wildlife than cheatgrass.

In this same area, the BLM had planted what they thought was Wyoming sagebrush (A. tridentata ssp. wyomingensis) which was found in the unburned areas nearby along with early sagebrush (Artemisia longiloba). Unfortunately, the sagebrush that had been planted was of two species that aren’t as preferred by sage grouse, mountain big sagebrush, (A. vaseyana) and basin big sagebrush, (A. tridentata ssp. tridentata).

In another area, herbicide had been applied at high concentration to an area that did not have cheatgrass or medusahead rye. It was applied much later than would have been effective had these invasive grasses been present. The result was the death of most of the native forbs preferred by sage grouse, most of the native annual plants, and some of the native grasses. However, death camas, which is toxic to livestock, remained on the site because it sprouts from deeper in the soil and later in the season. A rangeland drill was also pulled through islands of unburned sagebrush and forbs causing damage to the plants.

To summarize, Dr. Rosentreter says:

The BLM project personnel may not have consulted with a broad cross section of their own experienced resource personnel and, instead, relied on less ecologically knowledgeable fire, operations, and local range staff for planning this apparently ill-fated rehabilitation operation. An oversite review by BLM soil scientists, botanists and more experienced wildlife personnel could have provided valuable recommendations for adaptive management. Future review by non-agency scientists might help to improve future fire rehabilitation plans and actions. This rehabilitation did not utilize the knowledge gained from recent science on fire rehabilation nor on the vegetative needs of sage grouse.

You can read the entire report here:acrobat pdf Soda Fire Report April 2016

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Government Urged to Round Up Bundy’s Cattle http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/09/government-urged-to-round-up-bundys-cattle/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/09/government-urged-to-round-up-bundys-cattle/#comments Mon, 09 May 2016 19:34:28 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32322  

Ongoing harm to Mojave desert tortoise is unacceptable

Hailey, IDAHO –A coalition of conservation organizations today pressed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to stop Cliven Bundy’s cattle from continuing to trample Mojave desert tortoise habitat in southeastern Nevada in accordance with the agency’s commitments under the Endangered Species Act and as authorized by [...]]]>

 

Ongoing harm to Mojave desert tortoise is unacceptable

Hailey, IDAHO –A coalition of conservation organizations today pressed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to stop Cliven Bundy’s cattle from continuing to trample Mojave desert tortoise habitat in southeastern Nevada in accordance with the agency’s commitments under the Endangered Species Act and as authorized by a court order explicitly ordering the U.S. government to seize and impound these trespassing cattle. A letter to BLM from nine organizations demanded that Bundy’s cattle be removed by the end of this summer.

“We recognize that the cattle round-up of 2014 failed due to real threats to agency personnel,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “Those ‘threats’ are now mostly imprisoned and awaiting trial, but the crimes against desert tortoise continue. The BLM cannot wait any longer to comply with the law.”

Livestock trample, crush, compete for food with, and degrade the quality of desert tortoise habitat. Bundy was told in 1993 to reduce his herd to reduce the risk posed to the species. Bundy refused to do so. He then stopped paying his grazing fees, and his supporters ultimately succeeded in stopping the round-up of his illegal cattle in 2014. The herd remains scattered across and enormous area and the BLM has publicly stated that it has no immediate plans to resolve the trespassing issue.

“These cattle are competing with native wildlife in the area for food”, said Rob Mrowka a senior scientist working for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Whatever vegetation the cattle eat is vegetation that is not available for desert tortoise and other native wildlife for nourishment of for cover from predators. I am very familiar with wildland grazing, and ranchers are generally required to rotate their grazing herd to give the land a rest and to allow the grasses to regrow; neither is happening on Gold Butte.”

The impacts of the cattle grazing extend to illegally constructed water tanks and pipelines to serve livestock water sources. Bundy’s cattle are allegedly starving on the range, which means there is even less forage for the native wildlife. The current situation is cruel to all of the animals that make the area their home.

“While these cattle do not share Bundy’s criminal culpability for their actions, they are still degrading fragile habitat every day they remain on the Nevada range. It is time for them to be rounded up and sent to greener pastures.” Kirsten Stade, Advocacy Director with Public Employees for Responsibility.

“This has been an effort by a radical fringe group to seize public lands for their own personal use, and it’s well past time that it comes to an end” said Greg Dyson, Wild Places Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “Public lands are an American birthright, they belong to us all. The BLM has received a lot of pressure to allow these cattle to continue to trample the land, and now the public is fed up. We are turning the tables and taking the land back for the public and for the wildlife, and to put an end to this blatantly illegal activity.”

The nine organizations include Center for Biological Diversity, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Los Padres Forest Watch, Pacific Biodiversity Institute, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Ventana Wilderness Alliance, Western Lands Project, Western Watersheds Project, and WildEarth Guardians.

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May 10 is end of Yellowstone grizzly delisting comment period http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/08/may-20-is-end-of-yellowstone-grizzly-delisting-comment-period/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/08/may-20-is-end-of-yellowstone-grizzly-delisting-comment-period/#comments Sun, 08 May 2016 21:53:32 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32313 Folks can make their grizzly bear delisting comments at Regulations.gov until 11:59 pm on May 10. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave 2 months to comment on “Removing the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Population of Grizzly Bears From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.”

The issue has been heating up. It [...]]]>

Folks can make their grizzly bear delisting comments at Regulations.gov until 11:59 pm on May 10. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave 2 months to comment on “Removing the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Population of Grizzly Bears From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.”

The issue has been heating up. It seems to me that the biggest objection friends of the Yellowstone grizzly are making is the potential for large numbers of grizzlies to be killed in hunting seasons that will be set in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho after delisting. While Wyoming is playing coy on whether it will even have a grizzly season, statements from Wyoming public officials leave no doubt. No grizzly bears have been hunted since 1975.

There was hope that the area where grizzlies would be hunted would lie outside the primary conservation habitat zone. Instead it appears that hunting will take place deep in the backcountry and even in the most remote designated wilderness.

There will also be no protection for the grizzly bears such as n0. 399 that have become famous due to their visibility in Grand Teton National Park. There will be no hunting inside GTNP, but that Park is small and the bears den outside it on the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s Teton Wilderness. Already some Wyoming residents are publicly bragging how they will blast away famous bear 399 and her offspring in particular. People might want to go to this article in the Jackson Hole News and Guide by Todd Wilkinson and read the comments to the article at its bottom by someone named Bill Addeo.

The grizzly bear delisting seems to be taking on the character of the wolf delisting that ended with a year round hunting season in Idaho and a big decrease in wolf numbers inside Yellowstone Park as the packs were shot when they briefly left the Park. As if the grizzly delisting is a cue to take another swipe at Yellowstone Park, now Montana is planning an increase in wolf hunting along the boundaries of the oldest national park.

Other concerns about the delisting are availability of food for the bears, a multi-year (too long) period needed to verify and take action on the grizzly population drop, a primary conservation zone that is way too small, poor grizzly genetic diversity and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to improve the bears’ genetics by bringing in an outside grizzly like they said they would do. Finally, removing grizzlies from the fringes will have negative impacts inside the primary zone for dispersal and bear cubs when a large boar is killed (new grizzlies move into his vacant territory and try to kill the bear cubs).

There are many sophisticated comments being submitted and you can do a web search to find them posted on-line for comment ideas. It is my view that comments that just say “delist the grizzly” or “don ‘t delist” are useless. At least a bit more should be written, but it does not have to be a lot more.

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It’s not biology: controversy about wolves is cultural politics http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/07/its-not-biology-controversy-about-wolves-is-cultural-politics/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/07/its-not-biology-controversy-about-wolves-is-cultural-politics/#comments Sat, 07 May 2016 21:42:56 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32302 Except for the uninterested, and there a quite a few of them, the 21-year old controversy over wolf restoration in the West is not really about wolves. Unfortunately instead, it has become another “values” contest. To some degree it has also become another red versus blue dispute.

When wolves were first reintroduced in 1995, with [...]]]>

Except for the uninterested, and there a quite a few of them, the 21-year old controversy over wolf restoration in the West is not really about wolves. Unfortunately instead, it has become another “values” contest. To some degree it has also become another red versus blue dispute.

When wolves were first reintroduced in 1995, with a second batch in 1996, there was some genuine debate whether this was the best way to restore them to their native range in Idaho and Wyoming, or whether it was best that they slowly come back to the Northern Rockies on their own by southward migration from Alberta and British Columbia.

Experts and average folks alike discussed whether a wolf reintroduction would take hold or wither and die, whether or not the wolves would reduce elk and deer populations. Would they kill thousands of cattle and sheep each year? Would they be a threat to people in the woods?

Much knowledge has now been gained. There are at least a hundred scientific studies about the reintroduced wolves. I thought about making this a summary but this would have to be expanded into at least a small monograph.

At the outset, there were those dead set against wolves no matter what. They came mostly from public land ranching and some agricultural related interest groups like the Farm Bureau Federation.

Other people were completely in favor of the new wolves right from the start, but many folks seemed genuinely open to new information. The militant anti-wolf narrative didn’t develop and spread until about 5 years had passed.

Politicians played an important role spreading this opposition narrative. In 1995, a Republican Senator from Montana, Conrad Burns, predicted the wolves would kill a child within a year. It didn’t happen, nor did anything like it happen in the wolf recovery zone in the next 20 years. However, in the U.S. Senate Burns was able to cut off funding for the scheduled second wave of reintroduction in 1996.

The wolves were brought south that year anyway using some departmental excess funds, donations from non-profits, and volunteers. The Democratic Governor of Wyoming Dave Freudenthal repeatedly told the media that the 30 or 40 wolves then in the state were doing the impossible — literally destroying Wyoming’s economy. Soon other politicians, almost all from Western rural areas took up the anti-wolf cause, increasingly using militant language.

This rural geographic base of political support for anti-wolf gives it a political advantage because localities can elect people. In fact, all American elections except for the President come out of geographic districts. Pro-wolf opinion is often the majority nationwide and this is true even in Western states. It comes mostly from the cities of the West and is distributed around the country with much less geographic clustering. It is rarely concentrated enough to win elections.

Those familiar with politics will recognize the political logic of having a concentrated local viewpoint in opposition to a widespread, more numerous, but nowhere densely clustered view in the other direction. The concentrated view or interest is likely to win. This breakdown is common in political issue after political issue. This is one of the most important lessons to be learned about practical politics.

Besides the unfortunate political logic faced by pro-wolf groups, the wolf advocates have also been taken to task by some of their friends for making mistakes both tactical and strategic, but there is a good reason to believe that the current situation of a slowly declining wolf population due to human mortality coupled with very unpleasant anti-wolf rhetoric would have happened regardless of any tactics the pro-wolf groups used.

For example, from the beginning pro-wolf groups gave financial compensation to livestock owners who lost animals to wolves. Public opinion surveys have shown this tactic in no way improved rural perceptions of wolves nor did it change the belief that wolves drive owners of livestock to the wall financially. The non-violent demeanor of wolves toward humans — no dead children, no attacks on people period — made no difference either.

In fact, the wolf issue was fit into the quiver of anti-government arguments at large that emerged after 2008. Wolves served as a scapegoat to take some folk’s minds off the real causes of the terrible economic disruptions of the Great Recession.

The pro-wolf argument was and remains about the beauty of wolves, the need to restore natural ecosystems, and that wolves have few negative impacts and many positive ones.

On the other hand, the anti-wolf position hardened into apocalyptic tirades. The wolves are said to be the worst thing that has ever happened to big game with the elk and deer in an advanced state of decline. Moreover, they say the agricultural sector of the economy has been delivered a blow to the gut.

While no group is immune to believing conspiracy theories, the anti-wolf position relies on them. The nice thing (or actually the bad thing) about conspiracy theories is that they are almost immune to facts. For example, giving a clear factual rebuttal of a conspiracy theory usually just leads its believers to simply say it shows the fact giver is part of the conspiracy.

Regarding the wolf restoration, many anti-wolf people have been led to believe it is a conspiracy to bring a gigantic non-native beast to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, from the “far away land” of Canada. Instead, they say, any efforts to recover wolves should have been to restore a supposedly timid, small, and best of all, never seen, native wolf of the Rocky Mountains, canis lupus irremotus.

It is further said that wolf recovery is part of a greater conspiracy to end hunting, destroy game animals, bring in more federal control (or perhaps even United Nations control under something named Agenda 21), destroy gun rights, and the like. The motivation for the conspirators is malice, and under Agenda 21 the goal is the removal of the residents of small towns and rural areas to create a gigantic wildlife preserve.

Wolf advocates have traditionally relied on the federal government to offset what they saw as the backward policies of the Northern Rockies states toward all large carnivores.

Unfortunately for them, after friendly President Bill Clinton, there came two Presidents who were of no help or who aided their opponents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Neither President was personally involved with wolf policy, but their appointments and nominations to key Department of Interior positions ranged from being uninterested in to against wolf restoration. Obama is now about to preside over a disastrous delisting of the Greater Yellowstone area grizzly bear.

Despite these setbacks for those who support wolf restoration, the wolf population has only declined somewhat in Idaho and Montana since an amendment in Congress forced them off the endangered species list. Remarkably the wolf population in Wyoming outside of Yellowstone Park is now growing again after the Wyoming wolf hunt was stopped two years ago by a federal court decision taking wolf management away from that state. In fact, the Wyoming population is now at 383 wolves. This is its highest point since the restoration began. Wolves have also naturally spread to Washington, Oregon, and northern California. These are states that seem more favorable to the concept of wildlife that more into account than an animal’s value for hunting and trapping.

While this is very speculative, perhaps twenty years from now we might see wildlife distributed differently than now which is by geography and habitat rather than by politics. In the future, red states might have big populations of a couple kinds of large grazing animals, designated as “game,” plus varying numbers of other animals, deemed to be “varmints.” The game would be managed much like livestock, e.g., cows are privately owned “slow elk.” Actual elk are public owned quick cows, good for hunting adventure.

By then blue states might have allowed or promoted a much larger variety of wildlife, and they would be treated like wildlife as well as game. The category of varmint would be abolished.

Regardless, the issue will remain unpleasant because it is really about the cultural values of rural versus those of urban and suburban areas. Reason will not prevail. The facts be damned!
– – – – –

Note: this article is a revised version of one published in the Idaho State Journal on May 1, 2016.

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No Such Thing As Predator Friendly Beef http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/06/no-such-thing-as-predator-friendly-beef/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/06/no-such-thing-as-predator-friendly-beef/#comments Fri, 06 May 2016 16:15:40 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32296 Whenever there is discussion about the impacts of livestock production that has been imposed on native predators, someone almost always brings up “predator friendly” livestock operations.   It is a way to have your beef and eat it too.  For some people giving up meat eating is something they can’t imagine, despite the many health and [...]]]>

Whenever there is discussion about the impacts of livestock production that has been imposed on native predators, someone almost always brings up “predator friendly” livestock operations.   It is a way to have your beef and eat it too.  For some people giving up meat eating is something they can’t imagine, despite the many health and environmental costs of a meat diet, in particular, the mortality that predators suffer at the hands of livestock producers.  Some folks want to feel like it’s possible to be a meat eater and save wolves, cougars, bears, and coyotes that are persecuted by the livestock industry.

Predator friendly sounds attractive.  Ranchers promise not to kill predators are then permitted to market their meat products at premium to consumers as friendly to predators.  Sounds like a win-win. The rancher gets paid extra for his meat, and the client gets a guilt-free hamburger.

Many conservation groups promote “predator friendly” implying it’s a viable model for “co-existence’ between livestock and wildlife.  However, there is no way to raise livestock without significant impact to predators and their prey base.  Thus predator friendly provides an illusion of guilt-free meat consumption, when the reality is that consuming beef, and to a degree lamb, is the worst dietary choice you can make for a host of reasons that goes well beyond predator survival.

If you think ecologically, one realizes that no livestock operation is truly predator friendly. Just because a rancher is not shooting a predator, doesn’t mean their livestock operations are harmless.

NO SUCH THING AS ENVIRONMENTAL OR PREDATOR FRIENDLY LIVESTOCK

While shooting a wolf or a bear is definitely a loss to the predator population, the impacts of livestock production on predators goes well beyond the killing of individual animals. In fact the collateral damage from livestock operations has a far larger impact on predator populations and distribution than whether any animal is killed by a rancher or the federal Wildlife Services agency.

While I will not get into other issues here, it is worth noting that livestock are one of the biggest contributors to global climate change,  damage to soils, pollution of water, and the fragmentation and destruction of wildlife habitat for pasture and forage production (hay, corn, etc.), excessive use of antibodies and pesticides,  among many other impacts.

SOCIAL DISPLACEMENT

Numerous studies have documented that the mere presence of domestic animals displaces native species.  For instance, when cattle are moved on to a public lands allotment for grazing, wild elk abandon the site. If one assumes the elk are residing in a particular because it’s good habitat, and that all good habitat is already filled by other elk, this displacement means that elk move to less productive habitat where perhaps they are more vulnerable to predators or the forage isn’t as rich. No matter what the situation, this means a reduction in elk numbers, hence native prey for predators like elk.

FORAGE COMPETITION

You simply cannot be putting the vast majority of all forage into domestic animals without affecting native wildlife populations in multiple ways.  On public lands, even in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem which has the greatest abundance of native herbivores (prey for carnivores) in the lower 48 states, the vast majority of forage on public lands outside of Yellowstone Park is allotted to domestic animals. In other words, the carrying capacity for native prey species, be it elk, deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope or moose is reduced because much of the available plant production is scarfed up by cattle and sheep.

DEGRADATION OF HABITAT

Domestic animals often have severe impacts on the landscape. For instance, most of the West’s riparian zones are damaged and degraded by domestic livestock.  Cattle trample the stream banks, consume the streamside vegetation, and cause streams to widen and become shallower.  The majority of riparian areas on public lands are not what hydrologist’s term “proper functioning condition.”

Since riparian areas are the most productive plant communities in many arid landscapes, they get a disproportional amount of use by domestic animals.  But these same riparian areas are critical for many wildlife species with up to 80% of western species dependent on riparian areas for at least part of their life cycle either providing food, water, shelter or travel corridors.

How does this impact predators? Well grizzly bears for one spend a great deal of time foraging in riparian areas consuming spring time vegetation. Degraded riparian areas provide less nutrition. Good riparian habitat also provides hiding cover for predators—bears often use riparian corridors to travel safely through the landscape.

Other predators are also impacted. Damaged riparian areas support fewer fish. So other predators from bald eagles to river otter can suffer as a consequence of “predator friendly” livestock.

Cattle and sheep spread weeds and favor the establishment of exotic species like cheatgrass. This contributes to an overall decline in the productivity of the land, and its ability to support the prey species that predators like wolves and cougar rely upon.

HARASSMENT OF PREDATORS

In order to proclaim that their domestic sheep or cattle are “predator friendly” ranchers often employ harassment techniques to keep native predators away from their domestic animals. So it’s not uncommon to have range riders and other people not only guarding the domestic animals, but actively harassing them to scare them away.

Think about this for a minute. The public’s wolf or grizzly is wandering around on the public land minding its own business, trying to make a living, and some rancher and/or some so-called environmental group is out there blowing boat horns, setting off fire crackers or otherwise harassing the native animals, so the domestic animals can have a free lunch on yours and my public lands.

If any wolf supporters were to go out and blow boat horns to scare away sheep or cattle, they would be arrested for harassing livestock, but doing exactly the same thing to public wildlife is considered a “good” predator friendly technique.

DISEASE TRANSMISSION FROM DOMESTIC ANIMALS TO WILDLIFE

Yet another way that even “predator friendly” livestock can harm native predators is through disease transmission.  For instance, domestic bighorn sheep can transmit disease to wild bighorns, severely reducing and sometimes even causing the local extirpation of a wild bighorn herd. Loss of bighorn sheep removes one potential prey item from the diet of our native carnivores.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a disease originally transferred to wildlife from domestic animals (known as Mad Cow Disease in cattle) is also spreading across the West, and infects deer, elk, moose and other wildlife.  Animals with CWD eventually weaken and die, again reducing the prey base for wild predators.  In an effort to control CWD, some fish and game departments are implementing massive kill programs of deer in an attempt to slow the spread of this disease.

There is also the danger of direct transmission of diseases to native predator.  For instance, distemper and mange (scabies) are both diseases that wild wolves can get from domestic dogs.  Since many livestock operations use dogs for herding their animals, the risk of disease transmission to native wildlife like wolves, coyotes and fox is always present.

POLITICAL POLICIES

Ranchers, whether predator friendly or not, often support legislators and legislation that favors domestic animals over wildlife. For example, the killing of bison that wander out of Yellowstone are killed as a means of controlling brucellosis. Brucellosis can cause domestic cattle to abort—but there has never been a proven case of brucellosis transmission from wild bison to domestic cattle. Nevertheless, thousands of  Yellowstone’s genetically unique bison have been slaughtered or removed to appease the livestock industry. This has reduced the food available for grizzlies, wolves and even coyotes (which scavenge bison carcasses).

SUMMARY

The idea that any livestock operations are “predator friendly” demonstrates a poor understanding of the full ecological impacts of domestic livestock on our wildlife. Beyond the fact that very few ranchers are actually interested in practicing predator friendly operations and those that do are a small minority of operations means livestock production will always be a major impact on our native predators.

While non-lethal means of protecting livestock are desirable, one should never conclude that this makes livestock production “predator friendly.” It’s like suggesting that electronic cigarettes are “safer” than smoking a regular cigarette.  The best thing that anyone can do who wants to help predators, of the environment, as well as their personal health, is to eat less meat.

Bio: George Wuerthner is an ecologist, author of 38 books, including Welfare Ranching: The Environmental Destruction of the Arid West. He is a board member of Western Watersheds Project.

 

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MDFWP proposal to up wolf killing by Yellowstone, updated http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/04/mdfwp-proposal-to-up-wolf-killing-by-yellowstone/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/05/04/mdfwp-proposal-to-up-wolf-killing-by-yellowstone/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 18:38:43 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32292 See update at bottom

Currently Montana Dept of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is proposing to increase the annual quota of wolves that can be killed near Gardiner, Montana adjacent to Yellowstone National Park.

I don’t believe upping the quota from 2-6 wolves is likely to cause wolves to disappear from Yellowstone. That is not the [...]]]>

See update at bottom

Currently Montana Dept of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is proposing to increase the annual quota of wolves that can be killed near Gardiner, Montana adjacent to Yellowstone National Park.

I don’t believe upping the quota from 2-6 wolves is likely to cause wolves to disappear from Yellowstone. That is not the issue for me. What I am concerned about is that the Department is promoting unnecessary wildlife killing.

The department apparently is unconcerned that there it is violating the ethics of wildlife management by promoting the killing of wildlife simply for the sake of killing. No one eats wolves. This is retribution not management as acknowledged in your write up that suggests the purpose of this increase in wolf killing quotas is to satisfy those who want less wolves. We all know this is a small minority of the public and across the country there is far more support for wolves than for hunters who wish to kill wolves.

Much of this management is based on false perceptions by the public about predators having a significant impact on huntable wildlife numbers and livestock. I need not remind you that since wolves were introduced into Yellowstone, the overall elk population in Montana has nearly doubled from 89,000 in 1992 to more than 167,000 by latest estimates. Many elk management units are over objectives, including many with viable wolf populations in them. While elk numbers have declined in the unit adjacent to Yellowstone, that doesn’t mean hunters don’t have plenty of other hunting opportunities. The state is overrun with elk.

Or the idea that wolves are a major factor in livestock operations. There are less than a hundred cattle losses to wolves in an average year. In 2015 for instance, there were only 36 reported cattle losses to wolves, while losses to other causes numbers well over 100,000. To suggest that wolves are a problem for ranchers is hyperbole at best. Sure an individual  ranchers might have an issue–most likely because they fail to implement good husbandry practices–but the livestock industry as a whole isn’t threatened–as much as I wish that were true.  One can deal with surgical removal of individual wolves (or other predator) without having a general hunting/trapping season.  Isn’t it time for the Department to fight those misconceptions.

Furthermore, what about the social effects of indiscriminate killing. A lot of new research shows that all predators: cougars, bears, coyotes, and wolves are all harmed by indiscriminate killing. (See some of Robert Weigus work at https://news.wsu.edu/2014/12/03/research-finds-lethal-wolf-control-backfires-on-livestock/ )  It skews the population to younger animals which are far more likely to attack livestock, and are less successful predators on native prey as well. It may even contribute to great killing of elk and deer–smaller packs cannot guard a dead elk and by the time the animal comes back to get the rest of the meat, scavengers have cleaned it up, so now that wolf has to go out and kill another elk or deer.

Since wolves were introduced into Yellowstone, the overall elk population in Montana has nearly doubled from 89,000 in 1992 to more than 167,000 by latest estimates. Many elk management units are over objectives, including many with viable wolf populations in them. While elk numbers have declined in the unit adjacent to Yellowstone, that doesn’t mean hunters don’t have plenty of other hunting opportunities. The state is overrun with elk.

Or the idea that wolves are a major factor in livestock operations. There are less than a hundred cattle losses to wolves in an average year. In 2015 for instance, there were only 36 reported cattle losses to wolves, while losses to other causes numbers well over 100,000. To suggest that wolves are a problem for ranchers is hyperbole at best. Sure an individual ranchers might have an issue–most likely because they fail to implement good husbandry practices–but the livestock industry as a whole isn’t threatened–as much as I wish that were true.  Isn’t it time for the Department to fight those misconceptions.

Trapping and hunting eliminate social and cultural knowledge–i.e. where to find elk calves in the spring or your favorite plant (bears) in the fall.

MDFWP is hiding behind some science, but ignoring the rest. For instance, the proposal do not even reference Creel et al who questioned Fish and Game policies on wolf mortality. They feel the statement that wolves can sustain up to 48% mortality annually without a drop in population to be incorrect. The Yellowstone wolf population is already much lower than it was at its height.  http://phys.org/news/2015-12-carnivore-policy-align-science.html

MDFWP defends its proposal by citing science showing that 29% annual mortality of wolves  is sustainable.  However, that is simply population stuff. I expect MDFWP to be a bit more sophisticated and look at how trapping/hunting affects individual social relationships among these highly social animals.

What about the ecological values that predator perform? Effects on population structure of other prey species? Riparian recovery? Winnowing out diseased animals with CWD?

Here’s an example of how using population as the management matrix can result in highly different outcomes.

Here’s a hypothetical situation. One can have 20 wolves. This could be one large pack or four packs with 5 members each. The four individual packs have two adults, and three pups. The one large packs has 5 pups and 15 adults and subadults. Think about how differently these demographic outcomes affects social dynamics.

If you have one large pack, and eat an elk, you can guard it from scavengers and consume the dead elk more completely. If you are one of the smaller packs with only two adults, by the time you take meat back to the den for the pups, the elk carcass might be consumed by many other animals, forcing that wolf to kill another animal.

Smaller packs also have a more difficult time holding on to territory, thus are relegated to more marginal habitat.

Smaller packs are more likely to take easy prey like livestock.

Smaller packs can more easily wink out if one of the adults is injured or at least the pups will not survive.

Finally four small packs with a total of 12 pups are likely to need more biomass than one large pack with only 5 pups. Growing pups require a lot of meat. Thus the combined predation by four small packs whether on native prey or livestock is likely to be greater than one large pack.

Not to mention there are many more people who love seeing wolves. What about the rest of the public? MDFWP has a public trust to manage wildlife for all people, not just hunters and trappers. Just this week a new paper came out showing that killing wolves adjacent to Yellowstone reduced wildlife viewing opportunities by 49%. Doesn’t the department feel any compulsion to manage wolves for someone other than people who get a perverse pleasure of killing animals they don’t even eat?

MDFWP predator management policies are stuck in the last century. Time for the agency to join the 21st Century!

Bio: George Wuerthner is an ecologist, a former Montana Hunting Guide, and currently serves on the Board of Western Watersheds Project among other organizations.
– – – – –
Update
Commission rejects tripling wolf hunting quota near Yellowstone. By Michael Wright Bozeman Chronicle Staff Writer. May 12.

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Ranching compromises Yellowstone Economic Values http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/04/29/32289/ http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2016/04/29/32289/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 19:59:08 +0000 http://www.thewildlifenews.com/?p=32289 Recently it was reported in the Livingston Enterprise that visitors to Yellowstone National Park contributed $493.6 million in spending in communities near the park. That spending supported 7,737 jobs.

And this research does not include all the jobs and income resulting from those with footloose businesses and/or retirement that they bring to communities like Livingston, in [...]]]>

Recently it was reported in the Livingston Enterprise that visitors to Yellowstone National Park contributed $493.6 million in spending in communities near the park. That spending supported 7,737 jobs.

And this research does not include all the jobs and income resulting from those with footloose businesses and/or retirement that they bring to communities like Livingston, in part, because people want to live near protected lands like Yellowstone.

This should raise some questions in people’s minds about how livestock production harms and compromises the natural and economic values that Yellowstone National Park sustains. .

For instance, we know that wolves are killed outside of Yellowstone, in part, due to pressure from the livestock community to limit predators. Yet one of the attractions for many visitors of Yellowstone are wolves. A recent scientific paper released in the past week showed that killing wolves outside of the park resulted in a 45% reduction on wolf sightings in the park. Similar killings of grizzly bears to protect livestock interests also compromises grizzly recovery.

The Yellowstone River’s premier status as a trout fisheries is largely due to the fact that the water that flows past Livingston comes pouring out of the park, while most of the river’s tributaries in Paradise Valley are sucked dry by irrigators growing hay for livestock. I can easily make the economic argument that water that stays in the streams growing trout is far more valuable than producing hay.

Another attraction of Yellowstone are sightings of bighorn sheep. But domestic sheep transmit disease to wild bighorns. A major die off of wild bighorns near Gardiner was a direct result of contact between domestic animals and wild bighorns.

And as bison are set to become the national animal, we continue to kill bison that migrate from the park. This is appalling because the park’s bison are genetically unique as the only sizeable population of continuously wild bison in the country. Yet we continue to kill them and prevent them from migrating out of the park, even on to other public lands—again to appease ranching interests.

Elk and elk viewing and hunting are a big part of the economy of south central Montana, yet studies demonstrate that when cattle are present, they socially displace elk into less favorable habitat, thereby compromising their ability to thrive, not to mention the bulk of forage on public lands is allotted to domestic animals, reducing what is available to wildlife like elk.

I haven’t even gotten into how cattle compact soils, trash riparian areas, spread weeds, pollute the water, and many other impacts associated with their presence but are regularly “externalized” to the land and other citizens.

A true cost accounting would demonstrate that ranching is a major liability for the regional economy, harming many other natural attributes that are the basis for our growing economy—based on quality of life attributes associated with places like Yellowstone.

Given the growing contribution of natural values to the economic vitality of the region, it would be wise to reconsider whether continued livestock grazing on public lands makes any sense at all. Certainly it is not sensible from an ecological perspective, but it could easily be argued that allowing livestock production to continue on our public lands degrades other important values that are the main drivers of our regional economy.

 

Bio: George Wuerthner is a Park County property owner, and an ecologist who has published 38 books. He is on the board of the Western Watersheds Project, among other organizations.

 

 

 

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