Yellowstone Grizzlies Must Be Fully Recovered Before Federal Protections Are Removed

Grizzly USFWSPhoto courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Last week I attended the biannual meeting of the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee (YES) of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. YES is composed primarily of representatives from federal and state agencies charged with grizzly bear recovery and management. This was a pivotal meeting, as the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team revealed results of its long-awaited analysis of grizzly bear foods. The Study Team began the analysis nearly two years ago, after a court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had not adequately justified its conclusion that the steep decline of whitebark pine throughout the Yellowstone ecosystem would not adversely affect the survival of the grizzly bear, when the agency removed the Yellowstone grizzly from the Endangered Species List.

Over the past 18 months, the Study Team has conducted research to determine what foods grizzlies may be substituting for whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout (two of four major grizzly foods rich in protein that have steeply declined in the past decade) and how the bears are faring. A key question is whether those alternative foods pack the same kind of calories and nutrition that the bears need to maintain healthy reproductive and survival rates. The Study Team's preliminary conclusions are that grizzlies are finding comparable foods and that the leveling off of the growth rate over the past decade is not so much due to the decline of whitebark pine but because we've reached the carrying capacity of the ecosystem for grizzly bears.[1] Based on these preliminary findings, federal agencies are gearing up to again propose removing federal protections from Yellowstone grizzly bears.

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A Real Climate Commitment Needs to Address Public Lands

WY mining_BLMPhoto courtesy Bureau of Land Management

Last week, the White House took a significant step toward addressing climate disruption when President Obama issued an executive order on climate preparedness. The order calls for the federal government to take steps to help American communities, families, and businesses prepare for the reality of the climate crisis and increasingly erratic weather events. This order comes on the heels of the ambitious climate plan laid out by the president earlier this summer. That plan included new energy efficiency standards for federal buildings and appliances, doubling of clean energy production by 2020, and using the full authority of the Clean Air Act to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.

The executive order also makes clear that in addition to promoting programs that foster greater climate resilience, federal agencies shall “"focus on program and policy adjustments that promote . . . reductions to the sources of climate change." If the administration is serious about combating climate change, reframing how we use our public lands would be a good place to start. According to a recent report by Stratus Consulting for the Wilderness Society, 23 percent of the nation's greenhouse gases and 27 percent of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions can be directly attributed to fossil fuels extracted from public lands and waters.

Unfortunately, not all agencies have gotten the message. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently engaged in a coal leasing program that practically gives coal away for approximately $1 per ton. That not only cheats American taxpayers, who own both the land being stripmined and the coal that sits underneath, but also sets up a disastrous climate situation that is completely at odds with the administration's stated commitment. 

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Saying Goodbye to a Bad Bush-Era Folly in Utah

Canyonlands NP_NPSCanyonlands National Park, courtsey National Park Service

We've all heard the saying, "All good things must come to an end."  In the world of protecting majestic landscapes for future generations, we like to believe that "All bad things must come to an end."

Such was the case recently when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a petition brought forth by three Utah counties and three energy companies over a controversial oil and gas lease sale by the Bureau of Land Management of Utah in the waning days of the Bush administration in 2008. Many of these leases were in special places such as Monitor and Merrimac Buttes, both iconic red rock sandstone regions close to Moab, Utah, and Canyonlands National Park. It also included a lease immediately adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument in northeastern Utah.

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Bringing Wolves Back: Snatching Victory From the Jaws of Defeat

gray wolf

One of my most important outdoor experiences was spending a week backpacking on Isle Royale National Park, in Lake Superior, as a teenager. Early one morning, as I sat by the shore of a pond on the island, I spotted a gray wolf on the other side of the pond. I swear it looked me in the eye, as we shared in the beauty of the beginning of the day. That wildlife encounter stuck with me and, years later, I knocked on doors to gain support for reintroducing wolves to suitable areas in Colorado. 

In the mid 1990s, I was the head of a statewide Wyoming conservation organization when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. In Yellowstone, wolves quickly reestablished a natural order to the park, culling out weak deer and elk and out-competing coyotes. Areas that were once overgrazed by elk and deer have recovered, and birds, beaver, and other wildlife are bouncing back. The return of the wolf has pumped new tourism dollars into local communities around Yellowstone, as people come from all over the world to see and hear wolves in the wild.

Unfortunately, the hatred for wolves from a small, yet politically powerful, group of Western state leaders in Wyoming prompted efforts to establish a state-funded wolf bounty and eventually categorized wolves as essentially "vermin." Such state "predator" status means that wolves are regarded as pests outside of Yellowstone. No longer protected as an endangered species outside of park boundaries, hundreds have been trapped and shot, ensuring that they will not recover as a viable species in most of the West.

Last June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed no longer protecting gray wolves as an endangered species in the vast majority of the country, threatening any chance of wolves returning to much of their former range. Putting the fate of wolves back into the hands of the Western state politicians will not keep them on the road to recovery but send them down a path to destruction.

This is also a critical time for Mexican wolves, the smallest, rarest, southernmost-occurring wolf. Although the Mexican wolf would keep its "endangered" status, the Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed changes that could severely limit recovery efforts for this wolf, one of the most endangered animals in North America. Today, only about 75 Mexican wolves live in the wild. Education efforts and increased law enforcement throughout the Mexican wolf recovery area are needed.

If you live out west, you can tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in person that wolves must be protected. The agency has rescheduled public hearings to take place on November 19 in Denver; November 20 in Albuquerque, NM; November 22 in Sacramento, CA; and December 3 in Pinetop, AZ. Each public hearing will include a short briefing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and provide the public a chance to give comments as well.

Wolf photo by Larry AllanAnd if you can't be there in person, join us in calling for more wolf protections with this online action.  Add your voice to the more than 700,000 other Americans who've urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to uphold the spirit of the Endangered Species Act and continue to help wolf populations recover in the wild.

A few years ago, in Yellowstone, my wife, 8-year old son, and 13-year-old daughter watched a pack of wolves close in on a herd of elk in Yellowstone. We shared a spotting scope with a woman from Wisconsin, a family from Spain, and a long-time Wyoming resident. Seeing that pack of wolves stalking a herd of elk, and watching the elk clump together to defend themselves against the pack, showed that the law of nature has been restored to Yellowstone. 

We must allow the recovery of wolves to continue under the Endangered Species Act. The job is far from finished. Bringing back wolves restores the  predator-prey interactions that preceded humans and have shaped the wild special places that we all love today.

-- Dan Chu, Our Wild America campaign director. Bottom photo by Larry Allan.

Secretary Jewell Moves to Increase Storm Resiliency on Sandy Anniversary

Today marks the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy's landfall across the Eastern Seaboard. Many communities are still devastated. Many families remain without homes.

On this relatively calm and beautiful autumn morning one year later, my colleague Debbie Sease and I headed to the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Virginia to hear Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announce some solutions to increase our resiliency to future storms.

Secretary Jewell launched a $100 million Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program to restore habitats and increase the resiliency of communities to storms. Joined by Senator Tim Kaine and Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia, the Secretary Jewell laid out a process that will begin to answer President Obama's Climate Action Plan.


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New video: Spirit Mountain Wilderness

As part of an ongoing series commemorating the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the National Parks Service is releasing a series of videos depicting some of our country's amazing wilderness areas. Professional photographers and videographers are collaborating with NPS to turn these videos into works of art, celebrating our nation's wilderness.

The latest video takes you to the Spirit Mountain Wilderness in Nevada. Spirit Mountain Wilderness is known as the spiritual birthplace of the Yuman Indians and is considered sacred ground by a number of Native American tribes, including the Mojave people. Explore the cultural secrets of this desert wilderness through the poetic storytelling of one Mojave elder. 

Protecting the Atlantic


It's become increasingly clear in recent years that fossil fuels contribute to climate change.  The 2013 IPCC report states with 95 percent certainty that we are warming the planet.  On top of that, America’s frenzied efforts at domestic drilling have brought more domestic spills and pollution, while leaving us dependent on foreign oil and hostage to high gas prices.   Progress towards renewables is not as robust as it could be, either.  Dominion Energy’s announcement that it won’t build a planned wind farm in Virginia anytime soon has rightly disappointed climate activists.  The U.S. is already home to more offshore drilling than any other country, and leasing in the Atlantic Ocean’s Outer Continental Shelf will do much more to pollute our water and air than it will to access an abundance of oil or decrease our fuel costs.

By the numbers, the brief history of experimentation with Atlantic offshore drilling is not a very successful one.  According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, between 1976 and 1983 there were nine lease sales held in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf; the result was 51 drilled wells.  Of these, only eight wells in the Hudson Canyon area discovered anything.  But falling oil and gas prices, a lack of efficient deep-drill technology, and complaints from residents resulted in a 1990 Congressional ban on drilling in the region.  Subsequently, the state of North Carolina bought its offshore land back for a hefty $600 million—double what energy producer Mobil Oil had paid.        

Continue reading "Protecting the Atlantic" »

As Difficult as Possible

Rep. DeFazio uses a mirror to show House Republicans who is responsible for shutdown 

Republicans in the House Natural Resources Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee today held a joint hearing bemoaning national park closures being made as "As Difficult As Possible," while ignoring the cause of the closures -- the Republican government shutdown.

But the numbers show where the difficulty of the Republican shutdown really lies.


$76 Million             Daily economic losses for local communities near national parks

$4.5 million            Daily sales lost from closed wildlife refuges

750,000                 National park visitors turned away daily

21,328                   Park Service employees furloughed

$14,000                 Monthly salary House members continue to collect


But the shutdown is only the latest difficulty facing our public lands. Over the past few years, House Republican leadership has unquestionably made things for our nation's parks, monuments, forests, and other public lands as difficult as possible.


$11.5 Billion        Maintenance backlog for the national parks, half of which is for roads and bridges --                           essential for public safety

$315 million        Funding slashed from parks and public lands by House appropriations this year

3.3 million          Acres of public land House Republicans are trying to sell off during the shutdown

0                        New acres of land protected by this Congress or the last


The fact is that outside of Washington, D.C., the shutdown is having real effects on real people. Though a few parks have been reopened, most of our lands remain closed, making people's lives unnecessarily difficult.

If House Republicans are now truly concerned with reopening our wild places, they should pass routine legislation to fully fund the government.

No Celebration for National Wildlife Refuge Week

Our country's network of national wildlife refuges stretches from coast to coast.  With at least one wildlife refuge in each state and one within driving distance of every major city, our wildlife refuges are an important part of our outdoor heritage. These special places provide homes for hundreds of different types of birds, animals, fish and plants. They also provide opportunities for people from all walks of life to hike, hunt, fish, watch wildlife or just enjoy being outside.

To celebrate all our refuges have to offer, this week was recognized as National Wildlife Refuge Week.  But instead of celebrating with free entrance, special tours and other festivities, many of our refuges remain closed as a result of the Republican government shutdown.  People can't get in, for free or otherwise, and local communities are losing millions of dollars.

Fall is an important time for communities near our public lands; its more pleasant temperatures, colorful foliage, and wildlife seasons draw visitors--especially hunters and anglers-- to our wildlife refuges.  An average of 19,000 anglers will be turned away from fishing in our refuges each day that the shutdown continues.  As will more than 6,800 hunters.  Local businesses could lose $4.5 million in sales from wildlife refuges every day that the government remains closed.

While extraordinary measures have been used to open a select few national parks, many communities, including those near national wildlife refuges, are still feeling the pain from the continued closure of public lands that are so central to their economies. The only way to provide relief, restore the season, and protect the wild heritage that makes America so unique is by fully funding our government to open up all of our public lands.

Then we'll have something to celebrate. 

-- Athan Manuel, Director of Lands Protection, Sierra Club

Getting Outdoors...Or Not

Closed National Park areas near California's San Gabriel MountainsThe mission of the Sierra Club has long been "Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet." The exploring and enjoying part of that mission has been integral since John Muir and his buddies hiked through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the late 19th century. Throughout our history we have worked to connect people to special wild places with the understanding that the desire to protect them stems from those connections. Unfortunately, as the government shutdown draws into its 11th day, getting people out to enjoy those places is harder than ever. Though a few states are cobbling together funding to open a handful of select parks, the vast majority of our public lands remain closed.

As has been reported widely, the shutdown of national parks  is harming the local economies of nearby communities. That's because, despite the rhetoric of Republicans in Congress, Americans love our public lands and look forward to visiting them. At the Sierra Club, we work with people to get outdoors as much as possible. People from all walks of life visit some of our country's most spectacular places, many of which are currently shuttered, through our volunteer-led trips. We also have more than 50 groups in our Inner City Outings program, scattered across the country, that lead more than 800 outings every year and provide opportunities for more than 14,000 youth and adults, who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to experience the outdoors. Overall, some 250,000 people get outside every year with Sierra Club Outdoors, exploring and enjoying our public lands and learning the importance of protecting our environment.

Unfortunately, during the past 11 days many of those trips have become impossible. Take our San Gorgonio Chapter in southern California. Every month, groups of volunteers hike into the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness to help the Forest Service maintain trails. They provide a valuable service that thousands of Sierra Clubbers across the country are similarly providing for other public lands, free of cost, to deal with the Forest Service's enormous trail maintenance backlog. Yet due to the shutdown, the San Gorgonio Chapter had to cancel their trip. And they are not the only ones. The Forest Service has had to cancel all volunteer-related activities on the 193 million acres that they manage.

The Sierra Club's trip canoeing the Current River in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways? Cancelled. A week-long trip hiking, canoeing and exploring the waterfalls of Shenandoah National park? Cancelled. Helping the Park Service with invasive plant removal and maintenance at Valley Forge National Historic Park? Cancelled. 

These are outings led by passionate and dedicated volunteers. These are groups of citizens coming together to enjoy and protect all the natural and cultural resources that our country is lucky enough to hold in the public trust. 

Republican obstructionists, please end this and reopen our public lands to the public. It's time to abandon the ineffective and insufficient piecemeal budget solutions and fully fund the government. 

-- Matthew Kirby, Sierra Club Lands Protection Team 

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