Bringing Wolves Back: Snatching Victory From the Jaws of Defeat

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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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Continue reading "Secretary Jewell Moves to Increase Storm Resiliency on Sandy Anniversary" »

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

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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 

The Government Shutdown and Public Lands: For the People...?

A closed Grand Canyon National Park trail
Grand Canyon National Park is closed. Photo by Blayne Brown.

"-- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Sound familiar? This is the last sentence of one of the greatest speeches in history --- Lincoln's Gettysburg Address -- which next month marks its 150th anniversary. Sadly, today Gettysburg National Park, along with hundreds of other national parks, monuments, and forests, is closed to the public. Hundreds of national wildlife refuges, closed. Opportunities for the public to comment on important conservation issues, such as the proposed removal of wolves from the endangered species list, dirty fuels projects on public lands, and proposed timber sales, have been suspended. Government websites that provide transparency and accountability have been locked down. Looks like those we elected to run our government have forgotten that they are in office as public servants...to ensure government is...for the people!

October is typically one of the greatest times for Americans to experience nature on our federal lands. From wildlife viewing, to hunting, fishing and hiking, the dreams of many families to explore and enjoy the natural beauty of our federal public lands have been taken away from them this fall. I recently spoke with two of the many people currently feeling the effects of the government shutdown.
Grand Canyon North Rim_Sandy Bahr
Photo by Sandy Bahr.

One of them was Ron, a college professor in Virginia who had made plans to join his son's church group in Arizona to hike over 21 miles from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Ron spent months training for such an arduous yet rewarding journey, but now the Grand Canyon is closed, putting an end to his plans. Ron is disappointed and dismayed by the partisan bickering that now holds our public lands hostage. Ron also expressed concern for the local outfitting business in Arizona that was to support the group of 50 hikers. October is one of the biggest months for that company, and the closure of the Grand Canyon is a major hit to their livelihood.
Grand Tetons_Juan Martinez
Grand Teton National Park. Photo by Juan Martinez.

I also chatted with Doug, manager of the Angler's Inn in Jackson, Wyoming, next to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. What normally is a busy time for him and other hotel owners has been replaced by scores of empty rooms. He told me stories of international travelers from Asia and Europe who planned for years to see Yellowstone, arriving only to find the national park closed and our country's political system in shambles. How embarrassing for us as Americans! At this point, the 2013 season is over, with a number of hotels and businesses closing shop for the winter.

Ultimately, our elected officials are still accountable to all of us. Please join me in reminding them that they have a responsibility to all of us to make sure our national treasures are opened up once again for all of us to explore and enjoy. And that means fully funding the government, not continuing to pursue ill-conceived piecemeal funding approaches put forward by the House Republican leadership. A fully open, fully functioning government is needed to open and protect all of our nation's public lands.

-- Dan Chu, Director of the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign.

It's not me, it's you: The states' confused love of federal lands.

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Just 10 days prior to the shut-down, Utah Governor Gary Herbert said “The growth of Utah's tourism industry over the past decade has improved rural economies, stimulated entrepreneurship and small business development, in turn, strengthening our rural communities,” in response to new numbers from Utah’s Office of Tourism.  What the Governor didn’t say in his statement, but certainly knows, is that this growth, which reached $7.4 billion in traveler spending in 2012, is a direct product of the federal parks, monuments, and public lands hosted in the red rock state.  

In the wake of the government shutdown and the closure of our nation’s parks, monuments, forests and other public lands Governor Herbert expressed outrage to the President, calling the shutdown of the parks and “other federal facilities” “unwarranted” and “devastating.”  Well, the Governor’s half right.   The economic losses to local communities are estimated at $76 million per day, now that millions of visitors have been turned away. 

Unfortunately what Governor Herbert and some of his colleagues from other states, who are similarly demanding the federal government re-open their public lands to visitors, neglect to see is the pure irony of their request.  In Utah, some counties, while aggressively attacking President Obama for the federal shutdown, are declaring “states of emergency,” which would trigger federal support. It’s like a bad break-up.  “I hate you, but I need you.”

So, while Governor Herbert has offered state, local, and private funds to reopen the parks in his state, nine of his counties have declared states of emergency, giving most the impression that they don’t quite have the resources it would take to effectively and safely manage open parks.  If the Governor really wants the keys to the parks and monuments closed due to the shutdown, then he would need to assume the burden of joy and responsibility that comes with that luxury.  It costs $2 million to run our national parks.  In addition, there is a $11.5 billion maintenance back log for the national parks, half of which is roads and bridges-- essential for public safety.  And speaking of public safety, in addition to addressing road and bridge repairs, opening closed parks without sufficient personnel to manage them, puts hikers, campers, and other visitors at risk.

Our own Tim Wagner said it best in Utah’s Deseret News, “It’s OK to continually blame the federal government for all of our state ills with rhetoric about 'federal control.'  [But] It's that federal control that came from the people of Utah and every state that resulted in those federally owned parks, monuments and wilderness areas that have benefited generations of Utahns.” 

So, let’s skip all the “it’s not you, it’s me” lines of this bad parting of ways and call it like it is:  Utah’s public lands are thriving economic engines, thanks the protection and safe keeping of our federal government.  The shutdown, due to the uncompromising few, has sacrificed that momentum, but the assumption of state control is both unreasonable and unrealistic. 

--Ani Kame'enui, Washington Representative

Salvaging an ancient gem?

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The first day of the government shutdown, October 1, 2013, was Yosemite National Park’s 123rd birthday.  No big wall attempts on The Road to the Nose, no views from Glacier Point, no slumber parties in the Ahwahnee Hotel. It’s possible though that you would have seen surveyors, park personnel, or US Forest Service staff that hadn’t yet gotten the furlough memo checking out the remains of the now infamous Yosemite Rim Fire.  The Rim Fire, which started in August, burned nearly 260,000 acres in this crown jewel of our National Parks system and the Stanislaus National Forest.  Hot spots for the fire persist, but with government workers furloughed, concerns remain about putting those out. 

Of potentially greater concern is the urgency with which some lawmakers want to remove the estimated 1 billion board feet of salvage timber.  Salvage timber is just what its name suggests—timber that is reclaimed after a natural disaster, such as a flood or fire.  In the case of fire, the burned trees only hold their timber value for a few months—after which damage from insects, fungus, or other natural habitat circumstances devalue the potential product.  The urge to act fast from conservative lawmakers like Congressman McClintock, who represents California’s 4th District, is not necessarily in keeping with the best available science, the protection of the remaining or new wildlife habitat, or the preservation of nearby watersheds.  Salvage logging is never done to improve the health of a forest post-fire.  It is done to ensure economic rewards are gained from the affected forest.   

Just days into the shutdown and Yosemite’s 124th year, Rep. McClintock’s bill, HR 3188, aimed at fast-tracking salvage logging in Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest was heard in the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation of the House Natural Resource Committee.  HR 3188, the “Yosemite Rim Fire Emergency Salvage Act” mandates damaging logging with no notice, public input, or environmental protections, and waives all administrative and judicial review.  This bill effectively suspends every federal law, including the National Forest Management Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and laws related to the management of timber within Yosemite National Park.  The Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other critical federal laws are also waived under the broad brush of HR 3188.  In addition, the bill would allow logging in designated Wilderness areas, Inventoried Roadless Areas, Wild and Scenic River corridors, threatened and endangered species habitat, streams and riparian areas, or other ecologically sensitive areas.

While it is distressing to see lawmakers so blatantly suggest we sidestep federal laws, this bill and any attempt to fast track salvage of the Rim Fire, risks complete ignorance of the strong scientific research that indicates salvage logging further harms and impedes the natural recovery of post-fire landscapes and risks irreparable long-term damage to the ecosystem[1]

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Numerous scientific publications suggest that the ecology of a post-fire landscape can be important to rejuvenating habitat and promoting resilience to climate change[2].  Instead, the impacts of salvage logging include delayed tree regeneration[3], intense disturbance to the soils, an increase in surface run-off, reduced habitat for post-fire dependent wildlife, and more[4].  The USDA Forest Service’s own research confirms these impacts. A 2009 report found that post-fire logging typically: creates activity fuels, which can actually increase subsequent fire hazard;  it negatively impacts most species such as small mammals, amphibians, and birds (notably, there are over 3,000 acres of Spotted Owl habitat within the Rim Fire burn area); exacerbates erosion from building logging roads, especially right after wildfire occurs; and has significant negative impacts on riparian ecosystems due to increased erosion[5].  The impacts of salvage logging to carbon sequestration may also be significant; with tree regrowth delayed due to salvage activities, the landscape may lose its capacity to act as a carbon sink, and instead act as a source, worsening the impacts of climate change[6].                                 

The added damage caused by post-fire salvage logging also risks significant harm to aquatic systems, potentially compromising benefits to human communities that may depend on these related water resources[7]. Given that the Yosemite Rim fire raged just miles from the reservoir which supplies 80 percent of the drinking water to San Francisco, further destruction to this region from salvage logging would risk increased damage to the watershed. 

The evidence in opposition to an expedited and therefore short-sighted salvage logging plan is abundant, but local and national voices will beg for sales, some version of fiscal hope in the embers.  In addition to the ecological doubt, there are questions about currently low timber prices and whether there is the infrastructure or mill capacity to take on such quantities of potential board feet should salvage occur.  As lawmakers and staff from both parties (there are plans to consider an “alternative” bill to Rep. McClintock’s) consider how to “deal” with the Stanislaus’ post-fire landscape, we hope they will consider all the factors, not just the anticipated price tag of timber from a past era.  After all, in addition to the landscape, the market has changed, the ecology of the forest has changed, and new life has already started to reappear in the wake of one of the region’s largest fires in history. 

--Ani Kame'enui, Washington Representative


[1] Beschta, R. L., J. J. Rhodes, B. Kauffman, R. E. Gresswell, W. Minshall, J. R. Karr, D. A. Perry, F. R. Hauer, and C. A. Frissell. 2004. Post-fire management on forested public lands of the Western United States. Conservation Biology 18:957–967.

[2] United States Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. 2013. Science synthesis to promote resilience of social-ecological systems in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades.

[3] Donato, D.C.; Fontaine, J.B.; Campbell, J.L.; Robinson, W.D.; Kauffman, J.B.; Law, B.E. 2006. Post-wildfire logging hinders regeneration and increases fire risk. Science. 311(5759): 352-352.

[4] Beschta, R. L., J. J. Rhodes, B. Kauffman, R. E. Gresswell, W. Minshall, J. R. Karr, D. A. Perry, F. R. Hauer, and C. A. Frissell. 2004. Post-fire management on forested public lands of the Western United States. Conservation Biology 18:957–967.

[5] David L. Peterson et al., Effects of Timber Harvest Following Wildfire in Western North America, USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station General Technical Report PNW-GTR-776 (March 2009).

[6] P. Serrano-Ortiz, S. Marañón-Jiménezc, B.R. Reverter, E.P. Sánchez-Cañetea, J. Castroc, R. Zamorac, A.S. Kowalski. 2011.  Post-fire salvage logging reduces carbon sequestration in Mediterranean coniferous forest. Forest Ecology and Management 262: 2287–2296. 

[7] J.R. Karr, Rhodes, J.J., Minshall, G.W., Hauer, F.R., Beschta, R.L., Frissell, C.A. 2004. The Effects of Postfire Salvage Logging on Aquatic Ecosystems in the American West. 

 

 


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