Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Gray Wolf: Myth vs. Fact

 Wolves are extremely dangerous to human beings.
Fact: According to Yellowstone wolf biologist Doug Smith, the danger to humans from wolves is vastly overestimated. Smith said that, whereas a bear or a mountain lion will attack a human on first contact, wolves are naturally fearful of humans and pose very little danger unless they are conditioned to overcome this natural fear.
Myth: Wolves kill livestock “for the fun of it.”
Fact: According to Smith, the large majority of wolf hunts are unsuccessful, and because they take large prey, such as elk, deer and moose, they are risking their lives with each attempt. Smith said many wolves are seriously injured or killed in their attempts to bring down large prey.
Myth: Wolves kill large numbers of cattle and sheep.
Fact: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 6 million head of cattle live in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the three states where the majority of wolves in the West live. For those states in 2014, wolves killed 136 head of cattle, or 1 cow out of every 44,853. In the same three states, where 820,000 sheep live, reports show wolves killed 114 sheep, or 1 in every 7,193, in 2014. However, because these losses are unevenly distributed, they can take a toll on a single producer.
Myth: The wolves that were reintroduced to Yellowstone and central Idaho in the mid 1990s were non-native Canadian wolves.
Fact: While some of the wolves released into Yellowstone and central Idaho did originate in Canada, the wolves that historically ranged much of North America are of the same species, Canis lupus, as “Canadian” wolves.
Myth: Reintroduced wolves are killing all the elk and deer.
Fact: In Montana, one of the largest wolf recovery areas in the nation, the elk population, while variable, has, on the average, held steady through the 20 years since reintroduction. And while some elk herds in Wyoming have experienced decline, the reintroduction of wolves is likely only part of the reason. A three-year study conducted by the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming, which concluded in 2013, found evidence that the Wyoming elk decline was based on a complex set of variables, including habitat, weather, hunting, bears and wolves.

Monday, May 25, 2015

An Experiment in Privatizing
Public Land Fails After 14 Years

High Country News by Tom Ribe Published Feb 15, 2105

It is no secret that some state legislators in the West want to boot federal land management agencies from their states. They argue that agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service cost too much and are too detached from local values, and that states could make money by running our vast open spaces like a privately owned business.
The Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based libertarian think tank, is of that opinion and has developed models to replace federal agencies with private interests. What many people don’t know is that Congress implemented one of the Cato Institute’s ideas in 2000, on the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico. For some critics of the federal government, this was the experiment in land management that would signal the end of the BLM and Forest Service in the West.
The Cato experiment in New Mexico, however, failed, chewed up by the friction between monetizing the “services” that landscapes provide — recreation, timber, grass, wildlife — and fulfilling citizens’ expectations for public access and protecting natural resources. For example, New Mexicans had very little tolerance for paying high fees to visit public property that had already been paid for using federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars.
The Valles Caldera experiment began after a Texas oil family expressed interest in selling its large property atop a dormant volcano near Santa Fe. A reluctant Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., agreed to federal ownership, but only if the property was not managed by traditional federal agencies. The Valles Caldera Preservation Act, which was passed in 2000, was designed to create an alternative model of management.
Under this act, the Valles Caldera National Preserve was managed by a “Trust” and mandated to become “financially self-sufficient” by 2015. The Trust was authorized to replace federal appropriations with income from recreation fees, resource extraction, and any other means that could be found. A mostly private-sector “board of trustees” made decisions and supervised the staff. 
At first, Congress instructed the Trust to pay for all wildland fire operations at the preserve out of its own budget. A later congressional amendment made firefighting once again the responsibility of the Forest Service. Soon after, two large fires burned 53,000 acres in the preserve and cost the federal government $56 million dollars in suppression costs alone.
Despite the efforts of many trustees and the staff for 14 years, the preserve never managed to earn enough money from hunting, grazing and tourism to pay even a third of its bills. Heavy logging and overgrazing had depleted forests and grasslands well before the preserve became public land. High fees and restrictions on public access kept the income from recreation low, and to a large extent, the public continued to perceive the preserve as private land. Elk hunting paid well, but the preserve broke even on cattle grazing only by charging ranchers more than seven times what other federal agencies are charging.
Privatization supporters may say that if Congress had waived all federal natural and cultural resource protection laws for the Trust — as Sen. Domenici had urged back in 2000 — the staff could have been a fraction of its size, and the Trust could have made money developing lodges and putting thousands of cattle on the high-altitude meadows without public review or bureaucratic process.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., however, refused to excuse the Trust from environmental laws. The National Environmental Policy Act, for example, requires federal agencies to study the impacts of proposed development and to consult with the public before decisions are made. Complying with these laws may be expensive, but without them, publicly owned land is public in name only.
For more than a decade, the Trust labored at becoming solvent before it admitted to Congress that it would never achieve “financial self-sufficiency.” For many critics of the experiment, the statement was a long time coming.
“We just wanted to access our preserve without all the restrictions and fees and without being called customers,” said Monique Schoustra, who works with a group called Caldera Action. 
Ultimately, many factors led New Mexico’s congressional delegation to dump the “experiment” last December and transfer the Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service. What have we learned from this failure of privatization? For those who want states to take-over federal lands, there are certainly questions that must be answered first: Will states shoulder the costs of fighting large fires? Will states obey the wishes of ranchers and continue to subsidize ranching? Will states charge the public to visit once-public lands, and will states protect and restore archaeological sites, watersheds and wildlife habitat?
Then there’s the real question: How will states manage the public frustration of Westerners who live in a region where our public lands are at the heart of our cultures and economy?
Tom Ribe is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News. He is a writer, fire manager and outdoor guide based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Return of the Public-Land Privatizers

Field and Stream by Hal Herring Published May 20th, 2015

Not more than a million years ago, in the spring of 2001, I wrote my first story for Field & Stream about the movement to privatize America’s public lands, chiseling the words onto an old granite slab by the light of a buffalo fat candle. 
The land grabbers seemed to have the world by the tail then. Gale Norton, a veteran of the anti-environmental law firm Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), had been appointed the Secretary of the Interior. (James Watt, Reagan’s controversial and short-lived Interior Secretary, best remembered for his dislike of the Beach Boys, had been Norton’s boss at MSLF.) Norton’s colleague, Terry Anderson, had published his 1999 study “How and Why to Privatize Federal Lands.” Anderson had also been an advisor to George W. Bush on public lands issues, which was a bit like hiring a fox to consult on chicken coop management challenges. 
For those who had their hopes pinned on public land profiteering, 2001 was a heady, optimistic time, and much was accomplished--if not actual privatization, then at least the near-wholesale conversion of some of the West’s public lands into single-use energy fields, with exemptions from the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, and from regulations meant to protect wildlife.  
The privatizers had been fairly quiet during the Clinton years, after raising a ruckus during the 1980s. The Sagebrush Rebellion burned hot and then fizzled out during the Reagan years when the leading rebels, faced with possible success in their goal of privatizing public lands in Nevada, suddenly realized that they were not the ones who would be buying or being given the lands; in fact, many of them were about to exchange self-employment based on one of the world’s cheapest grazing rates for a quick ticket to a scary job market, and a much smaller landscape on which to air their grievances against the “feds.”
The anti-public lands movement has never been about giving average American citizens more land or more access or more timber or gold or grass. From day one--as soon as the first lands were set aside—the movement has been about getting as much of the commonwealth as possible into the hands of the best connected and the most well heeled. But the land grabbers have learned a lot since the Sagebrush Rebellion and Anderson’s how-to paper on privatizing public land. It’s a high-stakes chess game now, where nobody says what they really mean, a game ruled by sleight-of-hand tactics backed with more money (some of it probably yours) than ever before. 
The latest tactic is a smooth bit of word-jujitsu: “We would never sell your lands to the Chinese or to these software billionaires that fund our campaigns,” they assure anyone who will listen. “We just know for a fact that the states can manage these lands better than that big awful federal gubmint that we all hate so much. Now, isn’t that right?” It’s a good move, one that resonates with a lot of people who don’t have a lot of time to really think about it. So let’s take a few minutes and see how that would play out. We’ll leave out the fact that such a transfer would require a majority vote by Congress to divest the American people of their holdings once and for all (which those rascals did, just a month or so ago) and would open up a Pandora’s Box that would fundamentally change our nation. Let’s pretend that the grabbers are sincere, and really do want the land to remain in the hands of the states. What would change? Luckily for us, the National Wildlife Federation took on the task of analyzing that very question, basing the answers on current state land management. Here is a link to the report, which is illuminating. 
Among the findings: 
• In many Western states, state lands are not considered public lands at all. 
• In Colorado, 82% of existing state lands are completely off limits to hunting, fishing and camping. 
• In Idaho, recreation is allowed, with a permit, as long as it does not interfere with revenue generating activities. 
• In New Mexico, camping on state lands is allowed only with written permission from whoever is leasing them.
• Firewood cutting is prohibited in state lands in New Mexico and Montana. 
• Access to state lands in Montana, Arizona and New Mexico requires the purchase of a permit.
• Montana requires a special-use permit for trapping, or to camp for more than two nights. 
Western states have been selling their lands since they were awarded them at statehood. New Mexico has sold off 4 million of its original 13 million acres. Nevada, awarded 2.7 million acres at statehood, has 3000 acres left. Montana has sold 800,000 acres of state lands so far. Idaho has sold 1.2 million acres. Colorado has sold 1.7 million acres. Arizona has sold off 1.7 million acres. 
The report also compares the current management of federal public lands with the management that can be expected if the lands were under state control. And when you read it, you will see that the difference is very similar to the difference between being a citizen and being a subject (with a nod to Machiavelli, who allegedly uttered the truism that the armed man is a citizen and an unarmed man is a subject). 
Right now, we Americans own one of the most valuable assets on the planet. We are free to argue about their management, while we luxuriate in freedoms that most people on the planet can only dream of. In my 2001 Field & Stream story,  I wrote this, about the conflict over public lands management: “As when toys are taken away from children who won’t stop fighting over them, there are plans afoot to solve the conflict over the public lands by simply getting rid of them.” 
The debate today sounds just like it did back then, only much louder, and more the sound of a flood building upstream in a canyon. But the more things change--we’ve added 34 million people to the U.S. population since I wrote that story--the more they stay the same. Right? 
Wrong. When citizens forget what it is they fight for, things do change. They change big time, and for the worse. Transfer of America’s public lands to state control will be awful for hunting and fishing and access, not to mention the end of federal water and grazing rights for Western farmers and ranchers. It will be the short prelude to privatization. And that, my fellow American outdoorsmen and women, is the ultimate goal of some very unpleasant characters in our world today. That much has not changed since the very first day President Benjamin Harrison set aside the first forest reserve in 1892.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Nat'l Park Service to take over management
of Valles Caldera Preserve
Albuquerque Journal
By T. S. Last / Journal Staff Writer
PUBLISHED: Friday, December 19, 2014 - 
With a stroke of the President’s pen, management of the Valles Caldera National Preserve is expected to soon shift from a trust that has been overseeing the preserve since it was created by an act of Congress in 2000 to the National Park Service.
But will the change make any real difference to the visitor?
Supporters say yes, contending it will bring more attention and better programs while safeguarding preservation of the 89,000 acres of high country in the Jemez Mountains.
Critics are more skeptical, especially those who want to be assured of hunting access to the property, which is rich in elk and other wildlife. Mountain streams also attract anglers there.
The management change is part of a Congressional compromise, embedded in the defense spending bill that has passed both chambers and awaits the President’s signature.
The bill also designates the Columbine-Hondo area within the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico as wilderness, and establishes the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Los Alamos and other sites.
The package has been pushed by New Mexico’s Democratic delegation.
Sen. Martin Heinrich said in a news release that it “will help grow our economy in the energy, tourism, sporting and recreational sector.”
Heinrich and Sen. Tom Udall sponsored the bill to shift authority of the preserve to the Park Service, picking up on an effort initiated by former Sen. Jeff Bingaman before he left office.
Not only does the act transfer the management of Valles Caldera from the trust to the Park Service, but it also assures hunting and fishing will be maintained (a huge concern for sportsmen), along with grazing rights for ranchers.
While Jemez Pueblo still lays claim to the land, the property was given to the Baca family in return for a terminated land grant in 1876 and, for more than a century, was known as the Baca Ranch. It changed hands several times before the federal government bought it in 2000.
In recent years, the Valles Caldera has offered recreational opportunities, such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and mountain biking, and has hosted tours, workshops and special events, drawing about 100,000 visitors a year.
People stop along N.M. 4 to take in some of the views of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
People stop along N.M. 4 to take in some of the views of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Smooth transition promise
The Valles Caldera Trust said in a statement last week that it was committed to a smooth transition to the Park Service, an event that will take place within six months of the President signing the bill.
Jorge Silva-Banuelos, executive director of the trust, said he was proud of what the trust accomplished in the face of budget cuts and recovery from two major wildfires. The trust’s management was set up under 2000 legislation to be financially self-sustainable within 15 years, or come up with a solid plan to do so, which Silva-Banuelos said was probably an untenable goal from the start.
“That being said, I think the trust’s legacy will set the stage for the Park Service to come in and build on our successes,” he said, pointing to science and education programs, and forest and watershed restoration projects. “I think we’re handing it off in much better shape than we received it.”
Though the original act included a sunset provision that opened the door for the U.S. Forest Service to take over management of the preserve in 2020, a spokesperson with the Santa Fe National Forest said there were no hard feelings.
Julie Anne Overton said, “The Santa Fe National Forest’s working relationship since the ranch was purchased has been really positive. We plan to continue that positive relationship, both assisting with the transition to the National Park Service and after the transition, as well.”
Silva-Banuelos expressed hope that most of the trust’s 50 or so staff members would keep their jobs.
“Generally speaking, the trust employees work at Valles Caldera for a reason: They are passionate about it and want what’s best for the preserve,” he said.
Unanswered questions
James Doyle, chief of communications and legislative affairs for the intermountain region of the National Park Service, said staffing levels have yet to be determined. That is among a number of unanswered questions that will be decided in the coming months.
“This legislation was just enacted Friday and there are a lot of moving parts,” he said. “All the affected parties are still trying to understand what all this means to them.”
Doyle noted that the appropriation bill keeps operation of the preserve in the hands of the trust through fiscal year 2015.
Until then, “we’re working in collaboration with the trust and the Forest Service,” he said. “We’re all kind of working frantically to figure out how this transfer will occur. I can tell you it’s not something that will happen overnight.”
The Valles Caldera National Preserve is expected to become part of the National Parks. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
The Valles Caldera National Preserve is expected to become part of the National Parks. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Not everyone happy
Not everyone is thrilled with the Park Service takeover.
Kerrie Romero heads the New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides, a nonprofit groups she says works on behalf of the 250 outfitters and 1,500 guides working in the state, as well as the interests of 25,000 hunters and anglers.
While there are those among them who support the transfer to the Park Service, Romero said the majority don’t.
“From our standpoint, we want to see the hunting and fishing remain intact,” she said. “While the Park Service does many other beneficial things across the country, they have not always been super-supportive of hunting.”
Romero said she is grateful that hunting will remain intact for the foreseeable future, but “the concerns I have are things that have taken place in the Grand Teton (National Park) – ammunition restrictions, the whittling down of hunting opportunities and generally more stringent restrictions.”
She said as many as 25 sportsmen organizations went on record with a letter to Congress expressing opposition to Park Service management.
The state Game Commission also opposed the Park Service taking over management of the preserve, making its own bid to do so.
The Game Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, presented a plan it said would turn an annual $2 million to $3 million deficit into positive revenue of up to $1 million per year.
The commission, which sets policy for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, expressed concern that language in the Heinrich-Udall bill could negatively affect wildlife management, as well as hunting, fishing and trapping opportunities on the preserve.
In response to the concerns of sportsmen groups regarding hunting, Silva-Banuelos said, “The legislation mandates that hunting, fishing and grazing continue, and the National Park Service has a pretty good record for hunting at these preserves.”
Ducks take off from a small pond on the Valles Caldera National Preserve on December 16, 2014. The Preserve is expected to become part of the National Parks System. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Ducks take off from a small pond on the Valles Caldera National Preserve on December 16, 2014. The Preserve is expected to become part of the National Parks System. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Everyone wants what’s best
One group that is happy about the switch to the Park Service is Caldera Action, a citizens group advocating for the long-term protection of the preserve.
“This is exactly what we wanted,” Tom Ribe, the group’s executive director, said. “It’s good for the place and it’s good for the New Mexico economy.”
Ribe, himself a guide, said the preserve can probably expect an increase in visitors under Park Service management.
“When you see something that’s managed by the Park Service, you know it’s special and worth a visit,” he said.
Its proximity to Bandelier National Monument, one of the top tourist attractions in the state, should stimulate tourism at both sites, he added.
Ribe pointed out that Valles Caldera would become the 19th preserve managed by the Park Service.
“The Park Service is experienced with managing places like this,” he said. “I would say the biggest thing from my perspective is the Forest Service is a multi-use agency, dealing with grazing, logging and mining. It’s utilitarian about using resources, whereas the Park Service has a tradition of valuing cultural properties and the landscape.”
Ribe pointed to a 2011 study by Harbinger Consulting Group that concluded: “The National Park Service is more likely than the U.S. Forest Service to maintain a high and consistent level of funding, staffing, visitor service, and resource protection.”
Ribe said he doesn’t expect hunting opportunities to decline. One of the current issues, he said, is the elk are staying in the high country and feeding off aspen shoots, stunting regeneration.
“The Park Service wants to see that area recovering and the best way to do that is reduce the elk herd,” he said.
Time will tell what impact the Park Service taking over management of Valles Caldera National Preserve will have. What’s sure is everyone is hoping for the best for one of New Mexico’s treasures.
“… I think that sportsmen and environmentalists agree it’s a special place and neither one of us wants to see anything negative come of it,” Romero said.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nevada Rancher Has No Claim to Federal Land and Grazing

By Ralph Maughan and Ken Cole
Originally published on Wildlife News 4/15/2014

In the acrimonious case of Cliven Bundy, it is important that folks understand a bit about the history of the U.S. public lands.

Cliven Bundy, the rancher whose cattle were rounded up and then released by the BLM over the weekend, claims that his family has used the land in question since 1880 but the Nevada Constitution pre-dates this by 16 years. When Nevada became a state in 1864, its citizens gave up all claims to unappropriated federal land and codified this in the state’s Constitution. The Nevada Constitution states:

“Third. That the people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare, that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States; …..”
If Bundy “owns the land then where is the deed?  Where are the records he paid property taxes?

It’s not his land.

Bundy also claims that it his “right” to graze these BLM public lands.  This is not the case. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 specifically states that the issuance of a grazing permit does not confer any right to graze or right to own the land. The Taylor Grazing Act is the granddaddy of the U.S. laws governing grazing on federal land. “Taylor” was a rancher and a congressman from Colorado, hardly someone to want government tyranny over ranching.
So far as consistent with the purposes and provisions of this subchapter, grazing privileges recognized and acknowledged shall be adequately safeguarded, but the creation of a grazing district or the issuance of a permit pursuant to the provisions of this subchapter shall not create any right, title, interest, or estate in or to the lands.
In Public Lands Council v. Babbitt the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the new grazing regulations promulgated by the Department of Interior under former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt to conform to Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) and found:
The words “so far as consistent with the purposes . . . of this subchapter” and the warning that “issuance of a permit” creates no “right, title, interest or estate” make clear that the ranchers’ interest in permit stability cannot be absolute; and that the Secretary is free reasonably to determine just how, and the extent to which, “grazing privileges” shall be safeguarded, in light of the Act’s basic purposes. Of course, those purposes include “stabiliz[ing] the livestock industry,” but they also include “stop[ping] injury to the public grazing lands by preventing overgrazing and soil deterioration,” and “provid[ing] for th[e] orderly use, improvement, and development” of the public range.
He has no “right” to graze it.

The federal courts have struck down every challenge Bundy has made about his claims, and has issued not one, but two, court orders to remove his trespass cattle. It’s not his land and he has no right to graze it.

The simple truth of the matter is that Bundy is a freeloading, welfare rancher who has an inflated sense of entitlement. It also appears that he and his supporters’ use of threats and intimidation likely violated several federal laws. Inasmuch as they used (such as pointed) weapons to cause the government back down, it can be considered an armed insurrection.

What about Bundy’s claim that his forebears bought the land he is now accused of trespass grazing upon?  This land was once Mexican land, and was won by the United States after the Mexican-American War. It is part of what is known as the “Mexican Cession.” All of Nevada, California, Arizona and most of New Mexico were part of the Cession. Much of this land was privatized under various grants and laws such as the Homestead Act and the Desert Lands Act, plus mining claims. Several million acres were granted to Nevada for state lands, but those lands that were not privatized have always been Mexican lands or United States lands owned by the U.S. government.

Before the Taylor Grazing Act, these government lands were called “the public domain.” They could be privatized, as mentioned, under the Homestead Act and such, but the acreage allowed per homesteader was limited to 160 acres. There were no 158,000 acre homestead privatizations and certainly no 750,000 acre privatizations. Livestock owners ran their livestock freely without a permit on the public domain. They didn’t even need a home base of property (a ranch). The result was disaster because the operator to find green grass and eat it first won out, promoting very bad grazing practices. That was the reason for Taylor Grazing Act — ranchers and others could see the public domain system led to disaster on the ground. Therefore, the more powerful ranchers with “base” private property received grazing permits. This got rid of the landless livestock operators.

Taylor Grazing was administered on the ground by the U.S. Grazing Service. Now, ranchers with grazing permits had to pay a grazing fee to use their permits. Bundy’s ancestors probably got one of these grazing permits, but they most certainly did not buy the land. That was not possible. The public domain was not for sale and ranchers generally did not want it. After all, if they owned it, they would owe local property tax.

In 1948 the Bureau of Land Management was created by executive order of President Truman to replace the Grazing Service. The Service had been defunded in a dispute between the House and the U.S. Senate. The BLM has since been affirmed by law rather than a mere executive order. It is supposed to manage the public lands for multiple uses and for sustained production (“yield”) of renewable resources such as grass. As before, you need a grazing permit for cattle, sheep, goats, or horses to legally graze. It is a privilege, not a right, and this has been firmly stated by the U.S. courts.

Hopefully, this explains why Bundy’s assertions are wrong. It is too bad that few citizens are taught public land law or history in high school or college. We think it is vital for everyone to know these things because these are in a real sense your lands, held in trust by the government. Yes we know the government often does a poor job. They did in Bundy’s case by letting this go for 20 years. He should have been gone before the year 2000.
End of story.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Speak for Wolves: Yellowstone 2014

On June 28-29 2014, Americans of all-walks-of-life will meet in Arch Park in Gardiner, Montana to tell our elected leaders that we need to reform wildlife management, at both, the state and federal level. Approximately 3000 grey wolves have been killed in the northern Rockies and Great Lakes region since they were delisted from the Endangered Species Act. 

Speak for Wolves: Yellowstone 2014 is about taking an important step towards stopping the wolf slaughter that is currently taking place across the United States. We must take bold measures, however, and address the root-cause(s) of the wolf slaughter, the killing of other predators, as well as bison, wild horses and other members of the animal kingdom. The status quo for wildlife management in America is broken and it must be fixed.

Read more here  . . . 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Rewilding Institute Comments on Gray Wolf Delisting and Peer Review

TRI Comments on Gray Wolf Delisting and Peer Review
Originally published March 25, 2014 - The Rewildlige Institute

Attn: FWS–HQ–ES–2013–0073
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203
The Rewilding Institute (TRI) appreciates the opportunity to comment on: Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removing the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) From the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Maintaining Protections for the Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) by Listing It as Endangered and the peer review of that document.
ACTION: Proposed rule; notice of availability and reopening of comment period.
These comments have been prepared by TRI’s Carnivore Conservation Biologist, David R. Parsons. Mr. Parsons served as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) first Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator from 1990-1999 and was the primary author of the original rule that established a Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican Gray Wolf in Arizona and New Mexico. Mr. Parsons has continued to follow the progress of the Mexican wolf recovery program from his retirement from FWS in 1999 to the present day. Mr. Parsons holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Wildlife Biology, served as a career wildlife biologist for FWS for 24 years, and has lectured nationally and internationally on wolf biology, ecology, and conservation.
We remain concerned about ongoing and potential further delays by the FWS in advancing the conservation and recovery of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi).  The FWS has acknowledged that at even the currently authorized population objective of 100 wolves in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA), Mexican wolves will remain in danger of extinction.  At a most recent population estimate of only 83 wolves with deleterious levels of inbreeding, Mexican wolves need aggressive recovery actions immediately.
Currently, the proposal to list Canis lupus baileyi as an endangered subspecies is an integral part of the proposal to remove all other presently listed gray wolves (Canis lupus) within the United States from the list of endangered species, and thusly end their protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
A FWS-initiated peer review has concluded that the science that the FWS relied upon to support their proposal to delist gray wolves is not the best available science.  This makes the proposed delisting of gray wolves in violation of the ESA mandate that decisions made pursuant to the ESA be based on the best available science.
Given that FWS has reissued for a second public review the exact same proposal found by the peer reviewers to be scientifically deficient, it is not clear if FWS plans to make any substantive changes to the proposed delisting rule before issuing the final rule.  We are assuming here that FWS will either (1) issue the final delisting rule without substantively addressing the scientific deficiencies found by the peer reviewers, or (2) further delay the release of a final rule to allow FWS biologists time to address the scientific deficiencies found by the peer reviewers.  Either scenario will have adverse consequences for the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf as we explain below.
We note, however, that the peer reviewers and the FWS are in agreement that Canis lupus baileyi is a unique and taxonomically distinct subspecies of Canis lupus deserving of separate protection and recovery actions under the ESA.  And in fact, FWS has proposed the separate listing of the Mexican wolf within this proposed rule.  The only disagreement between the peer reviewers and the FWS is over the probable historic range of the Mexican wolf.  This disagreement is essentially rendered moot by language in the proposed list rule declaring Mexican wolves to be endangered “where found.”
Disagreement over the extent of the Mexican wolf’s historic range is best addressed by the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team using the best available science and settled in a final Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, not in this proposed rule.  The work of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team, suspended since November 2011, needs to be resumed immediately.  While not procedurally necessary, it appears that FWS is waiting for the promulgation of the final rule placing Mexican wolves on the endangered species list before resuming work of the recovery team.
History has shown that proposals by the FWS to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list have always been litigated, often delaying or even reversing actions proposed by the FWS.  And history has shown that the FWS tends to suspend legitimate recovery actions for Mexican wolves in the face of litigation over proposals related to other gray wolves.
Furthermore, there is no scientific disagreement over the FWS’s proposal to list Canis lupus baileyi as an endangered subspecies of the gray wolf.  And Mexican wolves are in critical need of recovery actions that are hampered by current regulations and the lack of a current recovery plan based on the best available science (see comments submitted by TRI on the draft proposed rule for Mexican wolves dated 10/24/2013 and incorporated in their entirety here as Appendix A of these comments).
Therefore, to enhance the likelihood of survival and recovery of Mexican wolves, it follows that FWS must decouple the proposal to list Canis lupus baileyi from the proposal to delist gray wolves elsewhere.  No legitimate purpose is served by continuing link these two distinct actions into one combined process that is destined to be litigated solely over the gray wolf delisting part of the proposal.
As for the proposal to delist Canis lupus, TRI recommends that the FWS honor the independent peer review process and base its final decision on the best available science.
As for the proposal to list Canis lupus baileyi TRI recommends that FWS issue an expedited final rule completing this action separate from the gray wolf delisting proposal.  And we further recommend that the existing Mexican Wolf Recovery Team be reactivated immediately with a goal of completing a science-based recovery plan as soon as possible.
As always, The Rewilding Institute appreciates this opportunity to comment on these proposals.
David R. Parsons
Carnivore Conservation Biologist
- Read more . . .  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Yellowstone Supervolcano is Active, but Not Likely to Erupt in Near Future

Scientists have revealed that supervolcano in the Yellowstone National Park in the United States is active even though it is not going to erupt anytime soon. The volcano is known as the Yellowstone Caldera and it has not erupted in the last 70,000 years.

Scientists believe that the volcano erupts about every 700,000 years, thus it does not pose any threat of eruption in near future.

But scientists have been continuously monitoring the volcano so as to better understand its behavior just in case something was to happen.

The volcano is so big that if it ever explodes, the ash coming out of it will cover most of the United States. The volcano has not erupted yet, but it is active. Yellowstone's famous geysers, boiling rivers, and mud pits are created by it. There is immense heat below that ground and due to its rise, constant changes are caused throughout the entire park.

Geologist Henry Heasler said hydro-thermal system could be explained by the warmth from the volcano. The heat rises to the surface where the magma chamber is located at a reasonably shallow depth.

Many people have become worried unnecessarily because of the changes caused by the superficial depth. Yellowstone has witnessed its ground rising and falling in places. A large area of the park has gone up almost 1.5 inches and shifted half an inch of the ground to the south in the past few decades.

A Yellowstone volcano - operated by the United States Geological Survey - has said that there is no need to worry as it is totally normal.

"Yellowstone is the most recent system along the hot spot. There are older volcanic systems that march their way up the plains, and as they got older and older, all of those systems eventually cooled", said Lowenstern, the lead scientist at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. He added that Yellowstone will be a good place to grow potatoes one day.

Submitted by Martha Pule on Wed, 03/26/2014 - 11:59

Originally published on News Tonight Africa

Friday, March 14, 2014

Wolves and the Ecology of Fear

Video Story by  for  on Mar 06, 2014

Does “the big bad wolf” play an important role in the modern-day food web? In this video we journey to Washington State’s Cascade Mountains, where the return of wolves could have a profound impact on a vast wilderness area. We meet up with biologist Aaron Wirsing to explore why wolves and other top predators are needed for diverse ecosystems to flourish. Using a simple video camera (a “deer-cam”) Wirsing is gaining a unique perspective on predator/prey relationships and changing the way we think about wolves.

Wolves in the Crosshairs:  Q&A with conservationist, Fred Koontz

Fred Koontz
Dr. Fred Koontz
Gray wolves are in the crosshairs of a heated conservation debate, with the federal government trying to strip all protections for them in the continental U.S. Dr. Fred Koontz, vice president of field conservation at Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, has worked in conservation for three decades and has studied the wolf issue. We talked with Dr. Koontz about the future of wolves in the U.S. and the role they play in maintaining healthy ecosystems.
Wolves may be the most polarizing animal in North America, more so than other large carnivores like cougars or grizzly bears. Why?The gray wolf is one of the world's most adaptable and widely distributed mammals, ranging over much of Asia, Europe, and North America. Wolves, the size of a German shepherd, are pack-hunting predators that sometimes kill livestock. Combined with wolves’ nocturnal behavior and haunting howling, this has resulted in a long history of conflict with people, especially as human numbers have increased exponentially in recent centuries and agricultural lands expanded into wolf habitat. There are, however, very few documented cases of wolves attacking people, but the rare times it’s happened it’s been sensationalized and blown out of proportion.
How have your perceptions or understanding of wolves changed over the years?At an early age, my mother read with much theatrical expression “Little Red Riding Hood,” which, like many children, left me fearing the “big bad wolf.” This negative image was reinforced with similar wolf-themed horror movies that I ashamedly spent far too much time watching in my youth. Only when I studied ecology and animal behavior in college and as a wildlife professional did I see a different image of the wolf. Wolves are important regulators of prey numbers and behavior, and as such, influence a web of ecological interactions that enrich biological diversity. I learned also that among many adaptive traits enabling their evolutionary success, wolves have a rich social life and extraordinary set of communication behaviors. The more I learned, the more fascinated I became in understanding how wolves and people might live together for their mutual benefit.
Gray wolves have been taken off the federal endangered species list in some states, such as Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. And a recent federal proposal would strip all gray wolves in the continental U.S. of their federal protection. How did this come to be? What kind of politics are at play?
Gray wolves can come in an assortment of colors, such as these all-white wolves. Photo courtesy of Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle.
Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 1974 first listed gray wolves as endangered in the lower 48 states. Now they propose to remove them from the ESA list. This idea follows from three decades of actions undertaken by federal, state, and local partners that resulted in population recovery and delisting in 2011 of wolves living in the western Great Lakes states and northern Rockies. With about 6,000 wolves residing in these two recovery areas, USFWS believes that the gray wolf population in general is well established and stable enough to warrant delisting. Many state wildlife officials welcome the move as they are eager to take back the management authority for animals within their political borders.
However, many conservation scientists and wolf advocates believe that more time on the endangered species list — and [under] federal protection — would allow wolves a greater opportunity to reclaim more of their former territory and grow the number of their populations. This is important because, despite wolf recovery success in the Great Lakes states and Rocky Mountains, there is still a lot of their former range not yet occupied. Expanded range and more populations, in turn, will provide greater species resiliency to unexpected environmental disruptions like climate change and emerging diseases and also improve long-term wolf survival in the U.S.
An independent review panel recently found that the federal government used uncertain science when it proposed removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list across the lower 48 states. What could that mean for the future of wolves?
This is important because under Endangered Species Act law the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is obligated to use the best available science. The Service claimed that new genetic research indicated that wolves living in the eastern U.S. were actually a different species, and thus should not be considered as part of the original listing or part of the historic range. The expert panel said the genetic research was uncertain and based largely on one paper. The panel’s report has reopened the debate about delisting gray wolves, and I suspect it will extend the time wolves remain listed. The final decision on delisting is yet to be determined — public comment is encouraged. [Note: deadline is March 27, 2014]
In the long run, the debate about delisting wolves invites larger questions like, what constitutes full recovery of any endangered species, and does the legal framework of the ESA reflect current conservation science and principles of sustainable living? Most importantly, there needs to be agreement at the onset about the ultimate purpose of recovery — is it simply species survival or restoring ecological function? There are no easy answers.
Mule Deer Lauren Sobkoviak
Mule Deer photo courtesy of Lauren Sobkoviak.
Is it possible for wolves and humans to coexist? What needs to change for that to happen?
I think that wolves and humans ultimately will coexist by sharing land in two key places — protected areas and rural areas managed for the benefit of people and wildlife, for example, park buffer lands, multiple-use public lands, and designated wildlife corridors. For the reconciliation between wolves and humans to prove fully successful, we will first need a broader understanding of the role that apex predators play in creating healthy ecosystems and why healthy ecosystems are needed by people. In other words, there must be a broader understanding of why saving wolves is essential to sustainable living. Greater public will to save wolves will result in increased public spending needed to conduct science and carry out sound management actions. For example, we need more research on improving ranching practices to minimize wolf predation of livestock, and insurance programs that compensate ranchers for unavoidable losses. There is already good evidence from pilot efforts that such research and management programs are possible — and that they work!
Why should people care about the fate of wolves?
The fate of wolves is tied directly to the greatest challenge facing humankind this century —  sustainable living! With more than seven billion people consuming resources at an accelerating pace, this generation of world citizens must transform our societies to sustainable ones. We must, among other things, protect a wide variety of animal and plant species — scientists call this “biodiversity.” Many conservation scientists believe that apex predators (animals at the top of the food chain), like wolves, are necessary to maintain habitats rich in life. In turn, high levels of biodiversity bring many direct benefits to people — everything from providing food and fiber to protecting water supplies and enriching recreation.
Scientist 1
Biologist Aaron Wirsing for the University of Washington (right) and graduate student Justin Dellinger (left) radio collar deer with video cameras in order to better understand predator-prey dynamics. Photo courtesy of Greg Davis.
Understanding the links between apex predators and biodiversity is a growing area of research for scientists like Aaron Wirsing of the University of Washington. Since 2008, wolves have been returning to Washington and have reestablished populations in the U.S. northern Rockies. This has provided a unique research opportunity for Wirsing and other scientists. For example, deer populations in Washington have likely over-browsed plants for decades in the absence of gray wolves. One consequence of deer eating trees along streambeds is less habitat for birds, and streams that are more likely to harbor fewer cold-water fish like trout because they are filled with sediments from soil erosion and overheated because of lack of shade. With wolves back in the state, Wirsing is leading a study to document how wolves are changing mule and white-tail deer populations, which in turn affects forest landscapes.
Why do you care about wolves?
I care about wolves because as apex predators they contribute significantly to enriching biodiversity needed by people for sustainable living. I also care about wolves because I admire them! Wolves are amazing for many reasons, but I am especially fascinated by their complex social behavior and adaptable lifestyles, two traits that they share with humans. Also, one of the most important reasons I care is that wild wolves in the U.S. are a symbolic way of keeping our American heritage of wilderness alive.