Monthly Archives: October 2006

Wolves, cowboys and the truth

John Wayne, the most iconic cowboy of our time, once said, “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.” Wise words, indeed.

When it comes to wolves, the cowboys running Wyoming’s government apparently believe the wisdom of yesterday is best gained by acting as if it still is yesterday – or, more precisely, that it is 1906, not 2006. Recently, Wyoming sued the federal government over the government’s rejection of Wyoming’s plan to allow unregulated killing of wolves outside of the state’s two national parks. Notably, the federal government still protects wolves as an endangered species, meaning that the territory outside of the national parks is integral to wolf recovery. Undeterred by such legal logic, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal clicked his spurs together and said of the decision to sue, “We’d been kicked around the barroom enough, and now it’s time to fight back.”

Unfortunately, Wyoming’s tantrum drags the taxpaying public into a frivolous and prohibitively expensive legal quagmire where nobody but the lawyers survive – and to what end? Well, Wyoming officials insist that their wolf management plan will protect wolves (granting them safe haven inside the national parks) while also protecting the state’s livestock industry, by allowing anyone with a gun to kill wolves that roam into other areas of the state. The state’s livestock lobby insists that anything less would allow wolves to eat them out of house and home. Moreover, they contend that coyotes, mountain lions and bears already threaten to drive ranchers out of business in the Cowboy State.

In the spirit of learning from yesterday, it’s worth looking at some of the evidence that supports (or refutes) the fear of wild carnivores that grips Wyoming’s cowboy caucus. Particularly useful is data gathered by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) regarding livestock killed by various wild carnivores. For cattle, data from 2005 indicate that wild carnivores and dogs killed 0.18 percent of the nation’s cows, while 4 percent were lost to other causes including disease, birthing problems, weather and theft. Notably, of the cattle lost to wild carnivores in 2005, wolves killed only 0.02 percent.

Wild carnivores and domestic dogs take a larger bite out of America’s sheep inventory, partly due to the profoundly defenseless nature of domestic sheep, and partly owing to lackadaisical husbandry practices including turning bands of unguarded sheep out on open range. The most recent NASS data (2004) indicate that wild carnivores and domestic dogs killed 3 percent of the nation’s sheep, while 5 percent were lost to other causes. Although sheep are more vulnerable than cattle to wild carnivores, the loss rate is far from alarming. Most industries suffer some loss during the course of production and shipping, yet few insist that they are entitled to government-funded protection from the sources of such losses.

In retaliation for the relatively minor damage that wild carnivores inflict upon the bottom line of the livestock industry, the federal government dumps tens of millions of dollars each year into killing tens of thousands of these wild meat-eaters, including endangered wolves. This multibillion-dollar war with no end wreaks an ecological toll of staggering proportions, and scientific evidence suggests this war may do little to actually reduce livestock losses.

Sadly, Wyoming’s leaders remain entrenched in a different century, deliberately blind to any evidence suggesting that wolves are not a significant threat to the livestock industry – and they steadfastly deny that wolves are critical to the health of wild America. Wolves, however, are vital to the balance of nature. In the absence of wolf packs chasing the West’s burgeoning herds of elk and deer, these animals are eating aspen trees and willows to extinction. In the wake of the resulting decline of aspen and other wetland plants follows the beaver, which needs these plants for food and building material. As goes the beaver, so goes the wetland.

This profound ecological decline all traces back to the eradication of wolves, and the insistence of one industry that wolves not be welcomed back to the hunting grounds of their ancestors.

Hopefully, our neighbors in Wyoming will learn from the past. If the past shows us anything, it is that keeping the wolves at bay is a terrible legacy to hand to future generations.

Rob Edward and Wendy Keefover-Ring are wildlife policy advocates for Sinapu, a carnivore conservation group based in Boulder.

Guest Commentary,  The Denver Post
By Rob Edward and Wendy Keefover-Ring

October 28, 2006

View original article here. 


Comeback Wolves Earns the 2006 Colorado Book Award

Black wolf in YellowstoneThe Colorado Endowment for the Humanities recently awarded the Colorado Book Award to my friend and colleague Gary Wockner, and co-editor Sue-Ellen Campbell, for Comeback Wolves: Western Writers Welcome the Wolf Home. Congratulations!

I was honored to have been able to contribute a piece to Comeback Wolves, alongside an impressive slate of renowned writers. The anthology has definitely earned its praise, and stands as a worthy addition to the growing body of work that considers the evolution of the American West. To purchase a copy, visit the Tattered Cover Bookseller’s website at this link.

The Fort Collins Weekly just did a nice write-up on the award, which you can read by visiting this link.

Wealthy Weekend 'Amenity' Ranchers Taking Over the West

A new study suggests that in many parts of the American West, the grizzled, leathery rancher riding the range to take care of his cattle and make a buck is being replaced by wealthy “amenity” owners who fly in on weekends, fish in their private trout ponds, and often prefer roaming elk to Herefords. They don’t much care whether or not the ranch turns a profit.

And many of them think that wolves are neat.

Wolves confronting bison in YellowstoneIn a 10-year survey of ranchland ownership change on private lands around Yellowstone National Park, scientists found only 26 percent of the large ranches that changed hands went to traditional ranchers, while “amenity buyers” snapped up 39 percent of the properties, and another 26 percent went to investors, developers or part-time ranchers.

The study was done by researchers from Oregon State University, the University of Colorado and the University of Otago in New Zealand, and published in Society and Natural Resources, a professional journal. It was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Yellowstone Heritage.

This phenomenon, scientists say, is a reflection of forces affecting many parts of the American West, in which ranchlands become getaway retreats for the rich, or vehicles to fulfill a childhood fantasy. Livestock production often takes a back seat to scenic enjoyment, fishing and solitude. In a number of cases, wealthy owners are experimenting with restoration of native ecosystems, large scale conservation projects, and innovative approaches to blend conventional ranching with non-lethal predator control.
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Cougar predation key to ecosystem health

CougarCORVALLIS, Ore. — The general disappearance of cougars from a portion of Zion National Park in the past 70 years has allowed deer populations to dramatically increase, leading to severe ecological damage, loss of cottonwood trees, eroding streambanks, and declining biodiversity.

This “trophic cascade” of environmental degradation, all linked to the decline of a major predator, has been shown in a new study to affect a broad range of terrestrial and aquatic species, according to scientists from Oregon State University.

The research was just published in the journal Biological Conservation – and, like recent studies outlining similar ecological ripple effects following the disappearance of wolves in the American West – may cause land managers to reconsider the importance of predatory species in how ecosystems function.

The findings are consistent, researchers say, with predictions made more than half a century ago by the famed naturalist Aldo Leopold, often considered the father of wildlife ecology.

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Global ecosystems 'face collapse'

Current global consumption levels could result in a large-scale ecosystem collapse by the middle of the century, environmental group WWF has warned. The group’s biannual Living Planet Report said the natural world was being degraded “at a rate unprecedented in human history”.

Terrestrial species had declined by 31% between 1970-2003, the findings showed.

It warned that if demand continued at the current rate, two planets would be needed to meet global demand by 2050.

Click here to read more on the report from from BBC News.

Missoulian Opines on Wolf-Frightened Forest Service Employees

Talk about crying ‘wolf!’

When it comes to potential for wolf attacks, fear can override fact.

Two U.S. Forest Service employees were so frightened by howling wolves that the agency sent a chopper to evacuate them from Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness Area in late September.

Gifford Pinchot must be spinning in his grave. Some of you may be appalled about such cavalier squandering of your tax dollars. We’re mostly amused but also reminded that irrational fear of wolves persists for no good reason. And while fear of man-eating wolves could not derail restoration of wolf populations to the Northern Rockies – one of the more notable triumphs of endangered species recovery – the long-term prospects for people and wolves to coexist likely will require ongoing educational efforts to enable people to separate fact and fancy.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Notably, the editorial concludes with a bit of outdated information. Last year, a man was apparently killed by wolves in northern Saskatchewan, though it appears that the wolves had been habituated to human food at a mining camp.

Update: Ralph Maughan reports on an new editorial by the Idaho Farm Bureau that (not surprisingly) arugues that the evacuation was justified. Click here to read Ralph’s take on it.

Report dubs 5 state areas 'too wild to drill'

Two areas in western Colorado are among 17 across the West dubbed “too wild to drill” in a report released on Wednesday by the environmental group The Wilderness Society.

The Roan Plateau and another area that includes part of the White River National Forest called Clear Fork Divide were included in the report, which also lists well-known natural spots considered for oil and gas drilling, including Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Wyoming’s Red Desert. Five of the 17 places identified in the report are in Colorado.

The “Too Wild to Drill” report warns that city watersheds, wildlife habitat, roadless lands and potential wilderness areas are being threatened as the region experiences a surge in energy production. It criticizes the Bush administration for the pace and scale of energy development and its impacts on remote areas.

Click here to read the story in the Aspen Daily News.