Friday, March 30, 2012

The Perverse Logic of Wolf Hunts

The Predator Persecution Complex


The hysteria that surrounds wolf management in the Rockies has clouded rational discussion. Wolves are hardly a threat to either hunting opportunity or the livestock industry.


For instance, the Wyoming Fish and Game reports: “The Department continues to manage to reduce Wyoming’s elk numbers. The total population of the herds with estimates increased by 16 percent in 2009 and is now 29 percent above the statewide objective of 83,640 animals.”

Things are similar in Montana. Populations have grown from an estimated 89,000 animals in 1992 prior to wolf recovery to 140,000-150,000 animals in recent years.

In Idaho we find a similar trend. According to the IDFG 23 out of 29 elk units are at and/or above objective. Hunter success in 2011 was 20%: one in five hunters killed an elk.

Wolves are clearly not a threat to the future of hunting in any of these states.


Ranchers are equally irrational. In 2010 Wyoming livestock producers lost 41,000 cattle and calves due to weather, predators, digestive problems, respiratory issues, calving and other problems. But total livestock losses attributed to wolves was 26 cattle and 33 sheep!

Last year Montana livestock producers lost more than 140,000 cattle and sheep to all causes. But total livestock losses attributed to wolves was less than a hundred animals.

In 2010 Idaho cattle producers lost 93,000 animals to all causes. Respiratory problems were the largest cause accounting for 25.6 percent of the cattle lost. Next came digestive problems, accounting for 13.4 percent of the cattle deaths. Total cattle losses attributed to wolves was 75 animals.

To suggest that wolves are a threat to the livestock industry borders on absurdity.


Worse yet, the persecution of predators does not work to reduce even these minimum conflicts as most proponents of wolf control suggest.

The reason indiscriminate killing does not work is because it ignores the social ecology of predators. Wolves, cougars, and other predators are social animals. As such, any attempt to control them that does not consider their “social ecology” is likely to fail. Look at the century old war on coyotes—we kill them by the hundreds of thousands, yet ranchers continue to complain about how these predators are destroying their industry. And the usual response assumes that if we only kill a few more we’ll finally get the coyote population “under control.”

The problem with indiscriminate killing of predators whether coyotes, wolves, cougars or bears is that it creates social chaos. Wolves, in particular, learn how and where to hunt, and what to hunt from their elders. The older pack members help to raise the young. In heavily hunted (or trapped) wolf populations (or other predators), the average age is skewed towards younger age animals . Young wolves are like teenagers—bold, brash, and inexperienced. Wolf populations with a high percentage of young animals are much more likely to attack easy prey—like livestock and/or venture into places that an older, more experience animal might avoid—like the fringes of a town or someone’s backyard.

Furthermore, wolf packs that are continuously fragmented byhuman-caused mortality are less stable. They are less able to hold on to established territories which means they are often hunting in unfamiliar haunts and thus less able to find natural prey. Result : they are more likely to kill livestock.

Wolf packs that are hunted also tend to have fewer members. With fewer adults to hunt, and fewer adults to guard a recent kill against other scavengers, a small pack must actually kill more prey than a larger pack. Thus hunting wolves actually contributes to a higher net loss of elk and deer than if packs were left alone and more stable.

Finally hunting is just a lousy way to actually deal with individual problematic animals. Most hunting takes place on the large blocks of public land, not on the fringes of towns and/or on private ranches where the majority of conflicts occur. In fact, hunting often removes the very animals that have learned to avoid human conflicts and pose no threat to livestock producers or human safety. By indiscriminately removing such animals which would otherwise maintain the territory, hunting creates a void that, often as not, may be filled by a pack of younger, inexperienced animals that could and do cause conflicts.


We need a different paradigm for predator management than brute force. As Albert Einstein noted, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Unfortunately insanity has replaced rational thought when it comes to wolf management.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist with among others, a degree in wildlife biology, and is a former Montana hunting guide. He has published 35 books.


Monday, March 26, 2012

"Let us hold fast our hands..." - E. Dickenson

Our good friends at Oregon Wild are sponsoring an open vote on Oregon's favorite wild places. Here at HCPC we are delighted that both the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area and Hells Canyon are in the running! We know they are very special places, and we work every day to protect and restore these areas. It is nice to hear someone else wax eloquent about their beauty and their incredible value for wildlife.

Oregon Wild points out, "The Wilderness also provides refuge for some of the state’s most endangered wildlife. Megafauna include bighorn sheep, elk, bear, cougars, eagles, and mountain goats." They go on to talk about how the Eagle Cap Wilderness, "Oregon’s largest Wilderness area," provides a special haven for wolves and wolverines. They also acknowledge that "Some of Oregon’s oldest trees – thousands, not hundreds of years old – survive in the Wallowa Mountains that make up the heart of the Wilderness."

For Hells Canyon, Oregon Wild writes, "Hells Canyon Recreation Area has been the stage for some of Oregon’s most exciting wildlife stories. Most notably, of course, is the return of gray wolves to our state." They go on to talk about Journey, the area's famous wolf, "Starting from the Imnaha pack adjacent to Hells Canyon, Journey’s search for a mate has taken him over 1,000 miles." They agree with us that " there’s no debate over its worth as one of Oregon’s most special places. Each and every gray wolf polled agrees." THANK YOU OREGON WILD!

Another group of friends, Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) just announced their 2012 Desert Conference. The conference will take place in Bend, Oregon from the evening of Thursday, September 20th through Saturday, September 22nd. Keynote speakers include Ursula Leguin and Kathleen Dean Moore. Workshops cover topics from Sage Grouse conservation to Beaver recovery, from NEPA to Energy Development.

HCPC is active in a number of forest collaborative groups that bring together diverse points of view from the Forest Service, the timber industry, local county government and conservation voices such as ours. While we value the opportunity to share and communicate with other stakeholders in the area, we sometimes need reminding to also value our opportunities to share and communicate with those who understand not only what we are doing, but why we are doing it - groups like ONDA and Oregon Wild, BARK and Friends of the Clearwater, the oh-so-wonderful Friends of the Badlands (FOBBITS) and so many more!

Thank you all for the work you do, the love you have for wild places, and the wonderful conversations we have had and look forward to having in the future!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

HCPC Press release on the Wallowa Whitman National Forest Travel Management Plan Decision

We would like to acknowledge the efforts of the Forest Service for taking on this difficult issue. We are pleased to see that the Travel Management Plan Decision will provide some benefits to wildlife and fisheries and end cross country travel and the associated destructive impacts. However, the Decision does not adequately protect Inventoried Roadless Areas, designating 70 miles of motorized routes through these wild lands.

The Decision does not go far enough to protect elk from motorized vehicle disturbance. Of the 17 critical elk habitat areas identified in the project area, six will see no measurable increase in elk habitat security. Measureable reductions in road densities in these areas would prevent elk from leaving the National Forest for nearby private lands.

The Decision designates 75 miles of motorized trails within riparian areas, a threefold increase over the original proposed action (Alt. 2 in the DEIS). Within old growth forests the Decision designates 69 miles of motorized routes, 16 miles more than the Natural Heritage Alternative, the alternative based on HCPC’s comments (Alt. 6 in the DEIS). These sensitive areas warrant a greater emphasis on protection from the negative impacts of motorized vehicles.

Moreover, although the Forest Service Decision acknowledges that the Natural Heritage Alternative is the best choice for the natural resources of the Wallowa Whitman National Forest (e.g. wildlife, fish, forests, air and water quality), the Decision still designates 492 more miles of motorized routes on the Forest than the Natural Heritage Alternative.

While there are certainly some positive parts to this Decision, we would have preferred a greater level of protection for the incredible natural resources of the Wallowa Whitman National Forest and opportunities for non-motorized recreation and solitude as outlined by the Natural Heritage Alternative. The Decision designates 3,065 miles of open motor vehicle roads, enough miles to drive from La Grande to Miami, Florida to enjoy some Cuban cuisine and catch a Dolphins football game. And this does not include the roads in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and other areas that add another 1,235 miles for a grand total of 4,300 miles of roads open to motor vehicles within the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. This is more than enough roads to provide sufficient access to our Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator,

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Morning Thoughts

I woke up this morning to a fierce windstorm, with blowing rain that turned to snow. It's March, that most variable of months. The view out my window at work has changed every day - heavy gray clouds to blue skies, bare hills to snowy white. Every week I think it's time to take off the winter studded tires, every week there's some day that I'm grateful I didn't get around to that chore.
As always with the heavy snow, I worry about the wildlife. This back and forth weather is so difficult for everyone from robins to bluebirds, elk to cottontails.

Elk here in the Grande Ronde valley have lost most of their low elevation winter and spring grazing and loafing grounds to development. On the Zumwalt Prairie, rifle shots keep the elk herds moving off pastures claimed for cattle and fields claimed for wheat, and the wolves, that would keep the elk moving along, are likewise chased away or shot. This morning under gray-white skies, it seems like wildlife is everywhere on the run.

I worry about the lack of red-wing blackbirds ... I've only heard one by the ponds on Cricket Flats, and only seen two in the Grande Ronde Valley one day - and none since then. The morning should be a cacophony of birdsong, and usually the red-wings would be mobbing the sunflower seed bird feeder. I know that populations of migratory birds can be wiped out by pesticide and herbicide poisoning on their long journeys and in their southern wintering grounds. I wonder if that is what has happened to our local red-wings. I have close friends who think that the cost of organically grown food is too high and not worth paying. What is the price of a red-wing blackbird's song in the spring?

I also miss the evening songs of the little spring peeper frogs. I've witnessed the decline of these little frogs over the past twelve years, and think we have made some pretty poor trades lately as a society.

Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring" back in the 1960's. We organized, marched, passed laws and regulations, banned some of the worst offenders like DDT. The bald eagles and ospreys began to return. It seemed like we had responded in time.

Now it seems spring has lost not only the frogs, but the red-wings. It's not quite silent yet, but much of the music is diminished. There is clearly more work to be done.

I remember reading that when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. It was one of those sayings quoted in the 60's. It is still true.

A resilient system, able to recover from damage and abuse, and the terrible challenges of climate change, needs all its pieces ... frogs and wolves, red-wings and elk, bluebirds and beaver ...
Here, this morning, with clouds so low I can't even see the hills, I re-commit myself to the work that needs to be done to protect and restore resilience: native species, linked travel corridors, protected habitat. Call it sustainability, call it ecology, call it good science - we know what needs to be done. This place, this ecosystem, is our "household" (the meaning of 'oikos') and it is falling apart. It needs our love, our care, and our commitment, more now than ever.

- Danae Yurgel

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Toward a Sustainable Future for the U.S. Power Sector: Beyond Business as Usual

By Brian Kelly, HCPC Restoration Coordinator

Sustainability makes sense. We can provide enough electricity to meet our needs through a shift to more sustainable practices according to a recent report by Synapse Energy Economics. This report describes a scenario where fossil-fueled and nuclear-powered electric production would be reduced and renewable energy sources would be increased. Aggressive energy efficiency and conservation practices would slow the future demand for electricity. The result would be an economically viable and environmentally responsible system that would effectively power our country.

Toward a Sustainable Future for the U.S. Power Sector: Beyond Business as Usual 2011 is the name of the report that was the topic of a recent presentation sponsored by Oregon Rural Action in La Grande. At this gathering, I learned that changing to a more sustainable model would actually be less expensive over time than continuing onward with a “business as usual” model. Other benefits of this sustainable model include new jobs, healthier people, reduced water use for power plant cooling, less pollution and nuclear waste, lowered carbon emissions, and less use of natural gas.

Working for HCPC on energy issues, I’ve learned plenty about the problems of “business as usual”. Our local Wilderness areas have seen air pollution from the Boardman coal-burning electric plant. A proposed electric transmission line would affect thousands of acres of eastern Oregon including sage-grouse habitat. A local wind energy project proposal would impact important wildlife habitat affecting golden eagles, elk, deer, bats, hawks and wildlife habitat connectivity. Looking farther back in time, it’s worth noting that HCPC was born in 1965 to prevent dam building in Hells Canyon in pursuit of hydro-electric power. Our legacy runs deep for the protection of wild lands and wildlife in the face of energy development. So while we continue to protect and restore the Hells Canyon region in the face of destructive energy proposals, we can look to the Synapse report for direction toward a future where electric energy production is compatible with healthy ecosystems both locally and world wide.

According to the authors of the Synapse report, “The study does not lay out an optimized or detailed roadmap for this industry. Rather, it explores a fundamental change in direction. The intent is to challenge assumptions and inform our energy policy debate.”

It is time to challenge the assumptions upon which our current system is based.

· Nationally, about half of our electric energy production currently comes from coal. The environmental damage from the mining of coal is staggering and the pollution from burning coal is huge. Retrofitting smokestacks with pollution controls is very expensive. Coal is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions.

· The recent disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan should give us plenty of concern about the future of nuclear power.

· Natural gas is currently relatively inexpensive. However, it is a fossil fuel that emits carbon, and there is evidence that the fracking process used to obtain natural gas causes groundwater contamination.

It is time to increase energy efficiency and the role of renewable energy.

· The price of solar power has decreased and it’s projected to decline further, according to the report. Additionally, solar power that is generated locally does not need to be transported long distances. “Distributed generation” renewables do not require the huge transmission lines that are needed for centralized power plants.

· Wind energy would increase according to the model described in the report. While wind development will play an important role in the future, my experience informs me that it will be important for new wind developments to be carefully reviewed and appropriately located in order to prevent harm to wildlife, habitat and people. It’s also worth noting that the majority of the onshore wind potential in the U.S. will be found in the central states. As wind energy continues to develop, it will be important to develop adequate review processes to ensure necessary protections. Current review processes have not always been up to the task. It will also be important to research the effects of wind energy developments on birds, bats and wildlife habitat as well as the social, economic and health effects on people. Science-based research must be applied to wind proposals before they are allowed to be built in order to prevent problems. Otherwise, they will merely serve as a cautionary tale of regret.

· Conservation and energy efficiency programs would result in a net decrease in demand for electricity by the year 2050 averaging about 0.1% per year according to the report. Conservation must be an important part of the solution.

The Synapse report provides a vision where renewable energy and conservation allow us to move toward a more sustainable future. There will be a devilish amount of details to be sorted out and a tremendous amount of effort involved in bringing this vision toward reality. However, moving toward a goal of sustainability is a necessary part of the future vision for our planet.

You can read the report Toward a Sustainable Future for the U.S. Power Sector: Beyond Business as Usual 2011 by Synapse Energy Economics at the following website: