In 2015, WildEarth Guardians, Alliance for the Rockies, and Friends of the Wild Swan—represented by attorney Matt Bishop at the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC)—entered into a settlement agreement with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MTFWP) to ensure that appropriate protection measures would be implemented to avoid the incidental killing of Canada lynx in the state.
Notably, the settlement agreement provided that snares should not be permitted in two designated lynx recovery zones, areas that represent a significant chunk of western and southwestern Montana, including areas outside of Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park.
In August 2021, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission—clearly ignoring the terms of the settlement—issued new regulations for the killing of wolves that not only expanded trapping in the state but, for the first time, allowed for the use of snares to kill wolves throughout the state.
In late September 2021, our attorney from WELC sent a letter to the state of Montana informing it that its new regulations on wolf snaring were in defiance of this lynx legal settlement. We also threatened to renew litigation if changes were not made immediately. In response, in late October, the Montana Fish and Commission was forced to update its wolf regulations and not allow wolf snaring on public lands in two large regions of Montana where wolves reside, generally the expansive public lands south and west of Glacier National Park and north of Yellowstone National Park (see map below). This late re-convening of the Commission and issuance of the new rule came about as a direct result of our 2015 settlement and our threats to sue the state of Montana for its clear breach of settlement terms.
As a result of our 2015 settlement, and tenacity in ensuring its terms were continued to be followed by the state, Guardians and our allies were able to secure a huge, impactful win for wolves on the ground in Montana right now. Distribution maps indicate that many of the wolves in Montana live in the “designated lynx recovery zone” areas.
As snaring is one of the easiest (and cruelest) ways for hunters to kill wolves, the late regulatory change—a month in advance of trapping season—will, undoubtedly, save the lives of hundreds of wolves this year. While we continue to fight on multiple fronts to relist wolves in the Northern Rockies, thanks to the creative strategic decisions made by WELC, in partnership with Guardians, Alliance for the Rockies, and Friends of the Wild Swan, we are able to have some on-the-ground impact for wolves this year.
This is just another example of how we are leaving no stone unturned to save the gray wolf. And we can’t do this work without you. We’re extremely grateful that over 8,700 Guardians members and supporters spoke up this summer when the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission was accepting public comments. You and your fellow Guardians have also given generously to our Wolf Defense Fund, providing us with the critical resources needed to wage this battle for wolves in the courts, in Washington, D.C., and at the state level across the West. Together, we will save wolves.
My activist side made its first strong appearance in my life after I learned about industrial fishing as a senior in high school in Littleton, Colorado. As I researched ocean conservation for my senior project, I couldn’t believe what I was learning. For example, a longline, which is one method of large-scale fishing, stretches for two or three miles and is covered in thousands of hooks that kill non-target species like dolphins, turtles, seabirds, and sharks as it is dragged through the open ocean. Shark finning (imagine a shark being hauled out of the water and having its fins sliced off and then being tossed back into the water to drown or be eaten alive) accounts for up to 100 million sharks killed annually. Fin meat fetches a high price (at least $300 or $400 per pound), making it economically disadvantageous to lug an entire body back to land when one can just cut off the fins. I didn’t know much then, but I knew at a gut level that this wasn’t right.
Learning about the need for environmental advocacy as a teenager changed the entire course of my life. Getting involved in advocacy at a young age gave me direction and purpose; it connected me more to my community, from the people down my street to the people across the world. In my family, I earned the nickname “captain environment.” At the time, I had no idea that ten years in the future I would be a lawyer with WildEarth Guardians, using the law to give a voice to the voiceless and protect our wildlife, our wildlands, our water, our atmosphere, and our air.
My journey was windy and uncertain, but my passion never wavered. Every step was somehow connected to the bigger question always in my mind: how can we protect the planet long-term? In the intervening years between the start of my advocacy at 17 and law school, I worked as a side-walk fundraiser with Greenpeace, at a few vegetarian cafés, in an analytical laboratory, traveled the world working on small farms, and became a professional scuba diver. Each adventure helped me connect to the planet in a new way, and to different people and cultures. I wanted to understand how others interacted with the natural world and figure out how to communicate with them effectively. I attended protests, created petitions, made speeches at rallies, created advocacy-based Halloween costumes (my favorite was a Zom-bee, raising awareness for the plight of bees), and talked to people in my community about the small actions we can each take every day to help.
The outrage I felt senior year of high school when I learned about the pillaging of our oceans led me to a degree in Marine Science in Hawai`i. I wanted to be an ocean advocate more than anything, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. I thought science was the way but after four years knew that was not my path—I was frustrated with where I felt science ended and where policy-making began. Three years later, I ended up at Lewis and Clark Law School getting a degree in environmental law. I had no idea what I was doing—I barely understood how the government functioned. But I used the skills I had been cultivating. I networked, I got to know the people who were doing what I wanted to do, I learned and researched, and this led me to WildEarth Guardians.
My work with Guardians started during my second year of law school. I attended an event and met the Wildlife Coexistence Campaigner for Guardians. I offered to volunteer my time, and she took me under her wing and quickly introduced me to our Wildlife program litigator. My work with them included helping with a legal complaint focused on protecting several imperiled fish in Colorado, doing research for other wildlife lawsuits, attending hearings at the state capital building, and lobbying state representatives for pro-wildlife legislation. I learned about the opaque federal agency called Wildlife Services that wholesale kills our native wildlife, reminiscent of the destruction caused by longline fishing. I read the data about our federal government killing hundreds of thousands of animals annually, and again, I felt outraged—how could this be happening?
WildEarth Guardians is suing Wildlife Services all over the west because Guardians knows that this should not be happening. Working as a lawyer with Guardians gives me the chance to be a voice for the voiceless, and that is why I came back as a legal fellow after graduating from law school. I knew when I was 17 years old that there was no path for me other than one where I stand up to the powers that be and say this isn’t right.
If you are reading this and you have ever felt the outrage I am talking about, and had the urge to scream, “this isn’t right!” I want you to know that the path of environmental advocacy does not need to be traditional, does not need to be linear, does not need to be your career, and does not require fancy degrees. Environmental advocacy can be a conversation in a living room with a friend about something that matters to you, it can be attending a protest or sharing information on social media. It can be becoming ‘captain environment’ in your household and telling someone not to leave the water running in the sink. We are environmental advocates because of what it means to each of us individually, and your unique individual contribution is what the world needs, however and whenever that takes shape.
The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) wants to build a new four-lane highway through imperiled desert tortoise habitat outside St. George. And so far, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been okay with that.
Days before leaving office, the Trump administration granted UDOT a right-of-way for the Northern Corridor Highway through Red Cliffs National Conservation Area—designated by Congress in 2009 to conserve and protect the plants and wildlife that live in this transition zone, where the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau converge. Unusual plant and animal species have evolved in this area, including the dwarf bear poppy and Shivwits milkvetch—native plants that grow nowhere else on Earth. Red Cliffs is also a stronghold of the Mojave desert tortoise, a species whose population has significantly declined despite being listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1990.
A new four-lane highway thwarts the very purpose of the national conservation area designation: conservation and preservation of the Mojave desert tortoise and other desert species. BLM must not abandon its obligation to preserve these public lands, especially since the agency’s environmental analysis offered two viable alternatives that impacted the local environment less, were better at alleviating traffic congestion, and were either equal in cost to or cheaper to construct than the four-lane highway.
In June, Guardians and our conservation allies sued BLM for failing to uphold its conservation obligations. Meanwhile, construction hasn’t started on the highway and BLM can still fix this grave mistake.
Speak up and urge BLM Deputy Director Culver to uphold the agency’s obligation to preserve the Red Cliffs by withdrawing the Northern Corridor Highway right-of-way.
Wolves are set to return to Colorado by the end of 2023. The state has made some progress for native wildlife, but challenges remain. We need your help to ensure wolves are welcomed back to the Centennial State.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) is in the process of writing a plan for wolf reintroduction. And there are real concerns that the agency’s cultural antagonism toward carnivores will permeate the plan. So far, conversations have focused on lethal management and the concerns of outfitters and ranchers.
The emphasis instead should be on ensuring that wolves reinhabit their historic range and bring balance to their native ecosystems. Fortunately, WildEarth Guardians and our allies have done the research and collaboration to create a template for such a plan. Now we need you to tell CPW to use it.
Write a comment to CPW urging them to rely on science and public values when drafting a wolf plan for Colorado. Some key points you can use for your comment:
- The planning process needs to be equitable, inclusive, transparent, and representative of all Coloradans.
- Tribal rights and values, tribal sovereignty, and traditional ecological knowledge need to be respected.
- No recreational wolf hunting or trapping—these practices serve no ecological value, are cruel, may encourage illegal killing, and can exacerbate conflict.
- A system of proactive, non-lethal conflict deterrence that includes accountability measures and adequate oversight is essential.
- Funding for education and awareness programs must be provided.
Public comments are due by midnight on August 31, so don’t delay submit your comment today!
A federal judge has issued a win to WildEarth Guardians and our partners—rejecting crucial aspects of the Flathead National Forest’s revised forest plan that would have paved the way for increased road building and logging on the forest in northwest Montana.
This is a major victory for federally threatened grizzly bears and bull trout, whose population numbers had benefited from the prior forest plan’s more protective road management requirements.
The lawsuit challenged the Forest Service’s decision to abandon key road management requirements despite them being more protective of wildlife habitat and supported by best available science. Exiting the courthouse after oral arguments, I felt cautiously optimistic about Guardians’ chances of success. Thankfully, my gut feeling was spot on.
The judge held the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion for the U.S. Forest Service’s revised forest plan failed to justify or explain the weakening of protections for grizzly bears and bull trout, in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The court also rejected the Forest Service’s reliance on the flawed biological opinion.
This win is likely to have even broader implications beyond the Flathead. The judge ruled that the agencies must consider impacts of the revised plan to the entire grizzly bear population in the lower-48 states, not just the smaller disparate population on the Flathead. The goal under the ESA is survival and recovery of all six grizzly bear ecosystems to ensure, among other things, long-term genetic diversity.
But the fight is not over yet. We are continuing to diligently track the federal agencies’ actions in response to the court order to ensure this legal win equates to real on-the-ground results for grizzly bears and bull trout. Your support is crucial for Guardians to see the work through for the benefit of grizzly bears and bull trout.
This is a heart-wrenching story Carter Niemeyer shared on social media about the on-going persecution of wolves in Idaho at the hands of the state and federal government. Niemeyer retired in 2006 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where he was the wolf recovery coordinator for Idaho. In 2010 he wrote his first memoir, Wolfer. He published his second collection of stories, Wolf Land, in March 2016.
After you read Carter Niemeyer’s account, please take action for wolves in the northern Rockies.
I’m providing a Facebook story of ongoing persecution of a public lands wolf pack called the Timberline wolves in Idaho. This is a true account beginning in August of 2003, when I trapped and radio collared an adult female wolf and ear tagged a pup north of Idaho City, Idaho, an hour drive north of Boise.
The pack was new and I had just discovered them. I watched two adult wolves cross the road in front of my truck one evening and howled up pups that night nearby. I set traps and camped, catching the adult female alongside a Forest Service Road. The male pup was too young to radio collar so I just clipped a tag in his ear and released him.
I reported the discovery to the US Fish and Wildlife Service where I worked and also communicated with Suzanne Stone, the regional representative for Defenders of Wildlife in Boise. Suzanne had a working relationship with Dick Jordan, who taught science at Timberline High School in Boise and was an advocate for wolves and gray wolf recovery. The two contacted me to see if the new pack could be named the Timberline Pack since the school mascot was the wolf – no problem!
The Timberline wolves have always lived on public lands – part of the Boise National Forest. They primarily survive by eating elk. Life for the wolves was good with the exception of one major problem—domestic sheep graze annually on Boise National Forest and wolves, along with other predators, sometimes kill sheep. A federal agency known as Wildlife Services are notified by livestock producers whenever predators killed sheep or cattle.
It wasn’t uncommon for some Timberline wolves to be killed by Wildlife Services to pay the price of preying on sheep. Wolves were removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act in Idaho and Montana in 2011. That opened the door to wolf hunting which added to the mortality of additional Timberline wolves. Then foothold trapping was permitted too. The Timberline pack has persisted for 18 years though constantly persecuted—native wolves killed for eating non-native domestic sheep on a public lands national forest.
I’ve kept track of the pack, more or less, over the years due to my personal connection to the founding members back in 2003. The wolves have been able to outsmart people and persist from one year to the next but life isn’t easy staying out of the gunsights, foothold traps and neck snares. In recent years the breeding female of the pack raised several litters of pups although she was missing one of her legs – she obviously survived a bullet, trap or snare.
Last year, she and her pack lived in the Grimes Creek area not far from Garden Valley, Idaho but were invaded by domestic sheep. Wildlife Services set traps, caught and radio collared one of the adult wolves – the capture wasn’t very professional since other wolf researchers in the area found the collared wolf along a trail laying in the hot sun on a 90 degree day – researchers saw to its welfare and it did survive.
Coincidentally, my wife Jenny and I were in the same area with out-of-town guests, the Bureau Chief for the LA Times and his fiancée, who had never heard wolves howl in the wild. The same day the wolf was trapped we unknowingly camped nearby and howled up the Timberline wolves and their puppies that night. Any night that a person can hear wolves is an experience of immense pleasure and a unique opportunity shared by few. Though the sky and forest were thick with smoke from nearby fires and the temperature unbearable, the wolves provided relief and a distraction from the discomforts of climate change. We indulged and recorded the howls with a parabolic cone.
I was distressed to know that Wildlife Services were out to destroy this pack on public land. but not surprised. I made some calls and complained – killing predators is a tradition and culture in Idaho and the institutions that promote predator control don’t respond to criticism and carry on with the support of the governor, legislature, Idaho Fish and Game and those that decry wolves eating wild prey like deer, elk and moose or killing the occasional domestic sheep or calf – business as usual.
Winter came and the Timberline wolves continued to live on the national forest lands but hunters and trappers continued to harass them even after Wildlife Services went home. The old three-legged female who led the pack for several years through all of the dangerous, human dominated terrain finally miscalculated and walked into a trappers snare – she died either by strangulation or a gunshot. The pack was at risk once more, as they have been for nearly two decades.
But Timberline rallied this spring and had another litter of pups. One big problem is that the new breeding pair were wearing at least one radio collar that revealed their whereabouts to Wildlife Services and Idaho Fish and Game. For wolf packs like Timberline who have a track record of killing livestock – those agencies mark them with collars – not for study – but for lethal removal whenever the agencies decide they want to…….
Fast forward to the spring of 2021, the wolves gave birth to at least four puppies on public land going about their business of being wolves. BUT the rules in Idaho have changed or become lax when it comes to wolves – wolves are vermin now. The state of Idaho wants wolf numbers dramatically reduced – from 1500 to, perhaps, 450……… No more quotas on the numbers a hunter or trapper can kill with traps, snares, guns, and even hound dogs or night scopes on their rifles…….. just about anything goes these days.
In fact, beginning around May 18, 2021, the powers-that-be decided the Timberline wolf pups should die at their den. A pre-emptive strike – kill the wolf pups before the adult wolves kill the sheep. Yes, Idaho has moved on from wolf recovery efforts to wolf removal – maybe the late 1800s and early 1900s all over again……. eliminate as many as possible!
At least four Timberline puppies were killed before their lives even began. They weren’t permitted to live because domestic livestock prevails in Idaho – even on public lands. These aren’t the first pups to die. Wildlife Services has been killing wolf pups in the past. And private individuals too – a litter of at least 8 pups died in their den in the Idaho Pandhandle this spring when only a few days old.
Did you know that bounties are being offered and paid for dead wolves in Idaho? Wolves can be killed year round and the wolf killers can collect from $650-$1000. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Idaho Fish and Game Commission are contributing to the bounty fund (but they call it an “incentive”)….. The bounty payments could certainly be extended to wolf pups too……. no exceptions that I am aware of………. all you need to be is callous enough to crawl in the den and kill them by bludgeoning or gunshot………
The two adult wolves have lost their pups but the mother wolf still revisits her den…….. wondering where her pups have gone….. her instincts telling her she needs to feed and nurse them but only the smell of something horrible lingers at the den site…….. the stench of humans……… the kind that even kill pups that haven’t experienced life….. I’ve seen and heard it all in my career.
It’s hard to imagine a name less befitting the grandeur of the endangered grouse than “lesser prairie chicken.” Trifling grouse, maybe? Boring ground bird? It’s hard to say which is the worst. All of them fall far short in capturing the striking physical appearance and peculiar mating behavior of the prairie denizen.
Sure, the lesser prairie chicken wambles a bit in flight because of a body that looks like a partially deflated balloon. But this bird also boasts coral-colored throat sacs, bright orange eye combs, and expressive ear tufts that stand up like a headdress when the male is engaged in pageantry and droop in hangdog fashion following a rejection or a defeat in battle. In a weird way, the incongruity between the prairie chicken’s plump shape and brilliant adornments only adds to its allure. It’s nature’s equivalent of the family station wagon tricked out with racing stripes and a rear spoiler. It’s impossible not to watch as it cruises by.
The lesser prairie chicken’s mating behavior might be even more fascinating than its appearance. When lesser prairie-chickens lek (breed), a whole host of males will compete for some personal space in the sand sage so that they can entice females to view an elaborate mating display. The few females that dare enter this obstreperous battle ground are pursued relentlessly, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the human dating scene. The males will puff and stunt and grapple as they struggle for attention. Erratic clashes send peppery feathers flying through the air to get caught in the grama stalks and sagebrush. The bird becomes a blaze of sunset colors as he stamps, shuffles, and bobs among the buffalo grass. He will genuflect before a female, wings spread out on the ground, his tail lifted. Or perhaps he’ll perform a flutter jump with quick flaps of striped wings. The dance is a signal of both fitness and intelligence, and females choose the prospective mate with the smartest moves.
The sweetness of the song matters, too, and males will trill and chortle in their attempt to win a female chicken’s approval. When male chickens pin their heads forward to make a slow, seductive approach, they flare their tails and peak their ear feathers as their throats grow swollen with a booming vibrato song. A male will squeak, cackle, drum, and gobble, and his voice will rise in an excited “pike call” when he feels the time is ripe to woo a mate. His boom can travel a mile across the plains, sounding like approaching thunder. If a competitor interrupts, the birds break back into combat with stabbing beaks and swinging wings. When the feathers clear, the victor gets right back to dancing and singing.
It’s a ritual that might seem better suited to the rainforest, where the far more charitably named superb bird of paradise struts his stuff. Or maybe you’d expect such grandiose behavior from the more positively monikered bowerbird—who will adorn his tiny palace of sticks with colorful litter and show off his wing flicks when a potential mate comes to scope out his digs. But, unlike the Bowerbirds, you won’t find an Indie band calling themselves the Lesser Prairie Chickens, at least not without a heavy dose of irony. The hidden cost of such a misnomer is that those unacquainted with the lesser prairie chicken’s humble majesties find it easy to subject the bird to scorn or depict it as insignificant. After all, what’s one little chicken against the tide of economic progress?
Quite a lot, actually. For one, the lesser prairie chicken’s decline can teach us important lessons about the sensitivity and interdependence of ecosystems. The deliberate eradication of bison and prairie dogs, and the suppression of naturally occurring wildfires, allowed mesquite, redcedar, and other woody plants to pervade the shortgrass prairie, disrupting prairie chicken breeding and nesting grounds. Mess with even one player in an ecosystem, and watch the rest suffer. If the losses snowball? Well, the extinction of the lesser prairie chicken could serve as a tipping point for the collapse of an iconic American landscape. Such is the peril of eliminating species that have existed on the American prairie for tens of thousands of years.
The lesser prairie chicken also serves as a herald for the precarity of its prairie habitats. When climatic and habitat conditions are favorable for the lesser prairie chicken, livestock fares well. When things are rough for the prairie chicken, ranchers and farmers can expect a hard season. In other words, the herd does as the bird does.
Despite the prairie chicken’s clear role in supporting human endeavors, we’ve responded by decimating its habitat, chopping it up with cropland, livestock grazing areas, fences, oil and gas wells, powerlines (which provide a perch for birds of prey), buildings, and roads. We’ve diminished the lesser prairie chicken’s habitat by 85%, and as a result their population has declined by as much as 99% in some ecoregions. Of the remaining habitat patches, only around .1% are sufficiently unfragmented to sustain even a minimum population of lesser prairie chickens. A decade ago, an already diminished lesser prairie chicken population declined by half in a single year. The threats to the bird are myriad. Lesser prairie chickens succumb to fungus-based biotoxins that fester in waste grains and watch their eggs get thrashed by harvesting equipment or get roasted in their nests by soaring temperatures. Lesser prairie chickens are hardy and can typically satisfy their water needs on dew and sand sage, but in times of drought, which climate change is making more frequent and severe, they seek out larger water sources, where more predators lurk in wait.
Field studies have suggested that oil and gas development could completely eliminate lesser prairie chicken populations. This is because the birds don’t just avoid the roads built to access stations or the wellpads themselves, but flee the entire oil and gas field. The birds despise the wellfield noise and oil-well-wastewater.
Rather than support a bird whose diet is primarily comprised of insects that damage crops, and whose wellbeing is a bellwether for the health of an entire ecosystem, some still argue that we should give priority to the same fossil fuel interests we’ve propped up with tax and energy policies for a century—despite the enormous profits the industry already reaps and the enormous damage it inflicts. In one year, the 1,800 largest fossil fuel companies made $500 billion in profits, yet they still received direct subsidies totaling $700 billion. That astronomical number doesn’t even include the health and environmental costs of pollution that are passed on to the public. The estimates for subsidies can climb as high as $5 trillion per year when all the damages that will occur as a result of climate-related events are accounted for. Fossil fuel companies then use those subsidies to quash environmental protection efforts.
But it’s the environmental protection efforts that work and the subsidies that don’t. Ninety-nine percent of species granted Endangered Species Act protections have avoided extinction, and concerted conservation efforts have been successful at boosting the lesser prairie chicken population levels in recent years. In contrast, fossil fuel subsidies have forever failed to improve production or create jobs. They’re so ineffective that the costs, in terms of public health and production lost due to pollution, actually exceed the value of the subsidies.
Don’t be fooled by fearmongering—the only way to gain true energy independence is to ditch fossil fuels. Endangered Species Act protections are stiff, so the proposed listing of the lesser prairie chicken as endangered in its southern range and threatened in the northern grasslands could play a huge role in shutting off the wellspring of wasted money taxpayers gift to fossil fuel executives, a gratuity that comes at the expense of taxpayer’s own health and the wellbeing of their environments.
The lesser prairie chicken is anything but trifling or boring, and a grouse by any other name would sing as sweetly. It’s past time we stopped propping up industries that pollute our prairies and started supporting the animals that lend them song and color. For heaven is here where the prairie chicken lives.
Last spring, at the height of some of the most anxiety-ridden moments of the pandemic, my father read a poem to me over the phone. He’s 89 this year, and while he’s vibrant and healthy I don’t take for granted any opportunity to hear his voice — especially when he’s reciting a poem.
The poem, Mary Oliver’s Spring, describes the emergence of a black bear from its winter slumber. Oliver writes: “There is only one question: how to love this world.”
This spring, as bruins emerged across the American West, I found myself wondering about the secret lives bears lead. As their hunger grows, do they imagine eating trout from a Rocky Mountain stream?
Is it hunger pangs or some deeper yearning — perhaps to experience the new world – that drives bears from the comfort and warmth of their dens?
I’ve been thinking about bears and how to love their world because bear-management-practices have been in the spotlight recently, a light that intensified after two people were killed by bears, one in Montana and one in Colorado.
The death of those people was tragic. Yet, we must remember that fatal attacks remain rare. A bear does not wake up in the morning, pack a rifle, and set out to kill a human being. Bears struggle to survive in an increasingly diminishing wild that brings them in contact with humans more frequently.
Humanity’s mission, I believe, is not to kill them but to find ways to coexist.
On April 30, Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill that allows hunters to use hounds to hunt black bears in the spring, when they’re with cubs and ravenous for food. This is the same governor who illegally trapped and killed one of Yellowstone’s iconic wolves.
One of the bills’ key sponsors, state Sen. Tom MacGillivray, offered a consistent refrain about bears: “Over the last seven, eight years we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in the whitetail population, and, interestingly enough, a dramatic increase in the black bear population,” he said. “This bill helps to balance that out.”
Not a shred of science supports this contention. There’s a long-standing war on carnivores and blaming bears is a convenient excuse for what ails the deer and the deer hunter’s world. In reality, a complex host of factors including habitat loss due to sprawl, climate change and other dynamics are to blame.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, a federal judge struck down a controversial plan supported by the state’s wildlife agency, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department, to “study” whether killing black bears — and mountain lions — would benefit mule deer. Sadly, the judge’s ruling denying federal funding of the bear-killing plan came too late for the dozens of Colorado bears that were killed in the study, one the agency’s scientists had to know was laden with anti-carnivore bias.
Though Colorado and Montana are worlds apart on the political spectrum, the hostility towards bears and other carnivores is a tie that binds, whether it originates in a state legislature or in the state agency charged with managing wildlife.
At a time when the attitudes of most Montanans, Coloradans and Americans at large are shifting dramatically to favor greater coexistence with fanged creatures, those in power over the lives of wild animals are digging in their heels. Instead of figuring out how to live with them, Montana and Colorado are making it easier to kill bears.
The word poetry comes from the Greek poetes, meaning “to create.” Whenever possible, I believe we should attempt to create opportunities for all life to thrive. It pains me that often those at the state level responsible for overseeing the management of wildlife seem to take more pleasure in the destruction of bears than in figuring out better ways for humans to coexist with them.
Wildlife management needs a new reason to exist, one that isn’t based on killing. Its mission might read like this: We aim to protect wildlife, making no distinction between predator and prey. We aim to enhance that sense of wonder most of us experience when we see animals in the wild.
And instead of taking more courses in traditional wildlife management, the profession might consider including reading some of the best American poetry inspired by nature and the creatures that depend on still-wild places.
They could start with Mary Oliver’s Spring.
This piece originally was published by Writers on the Range, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West.
The rugged Centennial Mountains on the Idaho-Montana border are inhabited by grizzly bears, wolves, bighorn sheep, sage grouse, and other vulnerable wildlife.
Unfortunately, the Centennial Mountains are also home to the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, an anachronistic domestic sheep “experiment” plunked in the middle of these wild public lands, which makes it a dangerous—and too often deadly—place for imperiled native wildlife.
It’s way beyond time to stop experimenting with domestic sheep in the Centennial Mountains, so please contact Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and demand he repurposes the Sheep Station to protect wildlife.
WildEarth Guardians and our allies recently scored a victory in federal court that gives hope to the native wildlife dependent on the Centennial Mountains. The judge ruled against a U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to graze domestic sheep in and around the Sheep Station. The all-important question remains whether the federal government will now recognize that this ecologically-detrimental Sheep Station has long outlived its purpose.
Founded over 100 years ago, when domestic sheep production had a much larger national importance, the Sheep Station is a dangerous place for native wildlife. The Sheep Station presents dangers such as domestic sheep transmitting fatal pneumonia to native bighorn sheep herds and likely hostility towards grizzly bears—such as in 2012 when an illegally killed grizzly bear’s radio collar was found tucked beneath a log in a stream on the Sheep Station.
It’s long overdue for the federal government to honestly assess the impacts to the region’s iconic wildlife against the minimal value the domestic Sheep Station provides. The Centennial Mountains are a critical wildlife corridor, connecting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to other wild public lands to the north and west, and the Sheep Station therefore threatens wildlife populations far beyond this remote mountain range.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack already in his first term under the Obama administration acknowledged that the Sheep Station no longer makes sense. Now, for the sake of the many populations of wildlife dependent on these remote mountains, it is time to stop the dangerous experiment in this important habitat.
Take action today and demand that Secretary Vilsack repurpose the Sheep Station to protect bighorns, grizzlies, wolves, and sage grouse.
After years of enduring—and fighting—federal rollbacks on America’s bedrock conservation laws and protections of public lands and waters, we are on the cusp of a much needed and inspiring change of course.
President Biden has signed an Executive Order directing the Interior Department to outline steps to achieve the president’s commitment to conserve at least 30% of America’s lands and waters by the year 2030.
The 30×30 Initiative, as it’s commonly called, is sorely needed as America—and the world—confronts the dual threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. Thankfully, thus far, over 450 elected officials from across the country, and political spectrum, have affirmed their support for 30×30.
To meet this ambitious and necessary goal we have work to do. Despite the heroic efforts of individuals, communities, and organizations, America has only permanently protected 12% of U.S. lands according to the U.S. Geological Survey. On top of having a long way to go, we’re still digging ourselves into a hole because America is losing a football field worth of land in a natural state every 30 seconds, or 2,170 square miles annually.
This decline of nature threatens our health, food supplies, biodiversity, and wildlife. Across the globe, approximately one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades, including one-third of U.S. wildlife. In the U.S. and Canada alone, bird populations have dropped 29 percent since 1970. America’s rivers and oceans remain in grave peril, and we’ve already lost over half of all freshwater and saltwater wetlands. Habitat loss and destruction of migratory corridors are pushing many species closer to the brink. Clearly, we don’t need more data to see that urgent action is required.
Achieving the 30×30 vision is essential to protecting life on earth and the initiative’s climate and biodiversity goals are inextricably linked. When we protect land, we provide the habitats needed for ecological processes to support the diversity of life while simultaneously capturing carbon. Reaching 30×30 goals will also provide and grow green jobs, protect culturally significant sites, increase access to nature for historically marginalized communities, and safeguard vital headwaters for people, communities, and wildlife.
The 30×30 Initiative presents opportunities to reinstate protections of national treasurers stripped away by the Trump administration, such as the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah and the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
But we must do more. One of the boldest ways to help reach 30×30 goals would be passage of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA). This visionary act, which was developed by leading conservation biologists, would designate 23 million acres of Wilderness for some of the wildest public lands remaining in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, and Oregon.
NREPA would also designate 1,800 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers, preserve old-growth forests that will act as a carbon sink to counteract greenhouse gas emissions, and establish biological and wildlife corridors, which are critical for the continued existence of the region’s iconic wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolverines, bull trout, sage grouse, the nation’s largest herd of wild bison, and the country’s few remaining woodland caribou.
Increasingly, Americans want to heal the scars from resource exploitation by rewilding public lands and NREPA will establish wildland “recovery areas” on federal public lands that will create sustainable jobs undoing the damage caused by destructive activities like logging and roadbuilding.
The crises of our time require bold solutions. We must protect at least 30% of our nation’s lands and waters and the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act is a solution we must grasp to help preserve life on Earth.
Please contact your members of Congress today and urge them to co-sponsor and pass the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.