The Wolves to Come

This is my first time blogging here, and thanks to Ralph and Brian for sitting me down and inviting me. I’m going to try to attach a couple of photos to  this post, so you’ll know what I’m talking about here.

 

U.S. Forest Service photo, photographer Paul Gross

U.S. Forest Service photo, photographer Paul Gross

 

Here’s a picture of a bull and a cow elk.  No big deal, right? See them all the time in the Salmon River country, hardly worth wasting pixels on. But look again: look at the bull’s heavy body.  Look at the madrone tree behind the cow. These are Klamath River elk, Roosevelt elk, and they only returned to the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains about twenty years ago. So when I see this photo, I get a little verklempt.  It was taken just off the Bunker Hill Road, where I spent a lot of time doing silvicultural work in the 1970s and 1980s. In those days we never thought elk would be here again.  The conventional wisdom was that you couldn’t reintroduce elk because the flat lands near the river, where they once wintered, were occupied by people now. In the 1920s, some Rocky Mountain elk had been turned loose near Scott Valley, but they didn’t last long. So as we drove up that road — many times, struggling to make a series of clearcuts grow trees again — we didn’t think about elk.

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Re-Wilding Montana

An Event in Missoula, Montana on October 25, 2010

It never fails. Every time I find myself driving across the immense open space and undulating landscape of the front range in Montana, I puzzle myself over the absence of bison. And each time I hear about the threat posed to livestock by wolves, I wonder how different it would be if bison were out there. Just today, I was speaking to Chief Jimmy St. Goddard of the Blackfeet Nation about restoring balance to nature (versus plopping species down onto landscapes), and he stated “wolves will go where the bison are.” Humans, being lazy by nature, tend to think that given the choice between cows and bison, wolves would favor the slow, dumb ones. But we’ve never given them that choice. Since wolves co-evolved with bison, I tend to think Chief Jimmy knows what he is talking about.

Last year, WWP’s Montana office premiered “Lords of Nature” in Montana, a film documenting the importance of top predators like wolves to healthy ecosystems. Scientists were surprised to learn after reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone that there was a dramatic improvement in riparian ecosystems, benefitting fish and birds and creating a cascading beneficial effect on the food chain. Then we had a lively panel discussion that included Montana Wolf Coordinator Carolyn Syme. In arguing for management authority in federal court, Montana emphasized how “all species fit together”, with the wolf being an “integral part” of the ecosystem. But when asked why bison should not then be welcomed back to Montana, Syme refused to answer, pretending the question was a matter of opinion, not science.

This year, we are presenting two films with a panel discussion. We’re excited to show the new High Plains Films documentary on bison, “Facing the Storm.” According to the filmmakers, the film shows that “the American bison is not just an icon of a lost world, but may very well show us the path to the future.” In a second theatre, we will be showing a film that premiered at the Wildlife Film Festival last year, “The Wolf that Changed America.” It’s a remarkable story about a wolf bounty hunter named Ernest Seton who was hired in 1893 to kill America’s last wolf, a notoriously crafty and elusive wolf named Lobo, and was so changed by the ordeal that he became a global advocate for wolves and helped spearhead America’s wilderness movement. Afterward, there will be a panel discussion with George Wuerthner, author of “Welfare Ranching”, Richard Manning, author of “Rewilding the West”, FWP Commissioner Ron Moody, and Chief Jimmy. Buffalo Field Campaign Spokesperson Stephany Seay will moderate the discussion.

According to recent scientific studies by independent experts, wild bison present almost no risk whatsoever of transmitting brucellosis to livestock. So the kind of balanced wildlife management approach we intend to discuss in this public forum is socially feasible, scientifically justified, morally compelling, and economically smart. Please join the dialogue.

Tom Woodbury, Montana Director, Western Watersheds Project.

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DNA Tests Indicate Yellowstone National Park Elk, Not Bison, Most Likely To Spread Brucellosis

Don’t worry about the man behind the curtain.

In so many ways the issue of brucellosis in bison and elk is similar to the issue of domestic sheep diseases and bighorn except the rationalization for killing wildlife is just the opposite.

We now know that domestic sheep are responsible for disease issues in bighorn sheep and those who support the livestock industry want to simply deny it and continue to allow domestic sheep to use areas where there is an obvious conflict and to kill bighorn sheep if the “invade” the sacred domestic sheep allotments.

With bison the same argument is turned on its head so that bison are routinely hazed and slaughtered for being on the sacred landscape of the holy cow. Forget that there is absolutely no evidence to support the claim that bison are a truly a risk to cattle that are not even on the landscape when bison are capable of transmitting brucellosis. The bison must be tortured and killed so that the sacred cow can eat the grass that those pesky beasts are eating.

Well, now comes evidence to show that bison another species, elk, have been the culprit in spreading brucellosis to the sacred cow. Are we now going to see a new war waged against them? Forget that brucellosis came from domestic livestock in the first place. Something must be done to protect the kings and queens of the West and the taxpayer must fork over millions upon millions of dollars for a pointless and impossible eradication exercise so that the livestock industry won’t ever have to face any adversity.

Think it won’t happen? Well, it has already begun and the livestock industry will use this new study to rationalize it and to rationalize continuation of their bison policies as well.

DNA Tests Indicate Yellowstone National Park Elk, Not Bison, Most Likely To Spread Brucellosis.
Kurt Repanshek – National Parks Traveler

Beaver in our Midst

A guest article by Mike Settell

 

Beavers

Beavers

 

On June 26th, 2010, I inspected the South Fork of Mink Creek to document conditions of the Box Canyon road culvert that was being plugged by beaver.  Like many roads throughout the west, the South Fork Road parallels the creek and so problems with the road-creek interface are, at best, managed.  From its confluence with the West Fork of Mink Creek, the South Fork extends to its headwaters near the southern flank Scout Mountain in southwest Bannock County.  In the spring of 2010, I had seen no less than 25 beaver dams as far as the headwaters.   I was eager to see how the beaver were doing.

As I followed the South Fork upstream, I noticed that the dams I had seen the previous spring were failing, a sign that the beaver were no longer working in the area.  As I rode towards the Box Canyon Crossing, I observed more and more abandoned dams and receding water levels.  By the time I reached the end of the road, four out of five colonies were abandoned.

I continued riding through the canyon up to the gentle plateau that forms the upper South Fork drainage.   It was here that I hoped to see again the massive beaver ponds and the expanded willow acreage that ten years earlier was little more than dead sticks surrounding a marginal trampled, eroded stream.  Now, these colonies were also gone.   What once was a stream with approximately 35 potential cutthroat rearing ponds is now a silty, slithering stream, losing velocity and flowing muddily towards the Portneuf River.

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