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Unintelligent Tinkering

This post is by Dr. Julie Gorte, a member of the Endangered Species Coalition Board of Directors.

Throughout most of human history, Nature was a place that was by turns helpful, scary, dangerous, and unknown.  We know a lot more about it now, but not enough, apparently, to remember that it is what sustains us, and that protecting its value is in our economic interest, not to mention just simply sensible. 

The Administration has recently suspended a rule that would make a species of bee, the rusty-patched bumblebee, an endangered species, and that would mean that we are legally obliged to protect its habitat. I’m going to create a trans-species metaphor and mention that this bee is a miner’s canary. 

Bees are pollinators. Pollinators do jobs that most humans can’t, or when they can it’s laborious to the point where our population would not be supportable if we had to replace the humble services of animals that move pollen from plant to plant, allowing them to grow and reproduce. 

Insect pollinators—not counting birds, or any other kind of animal pollinator—contribute $29 billion to U.S. farm income.  That’s just the U.S., and that’s just insects.  The Nature Conservancy (TNC) reports that one-third of the world’s agricultural output depends on animal pollinators.  Moreover, TNC says, “Native bees are twice as effective as managed honey bees at pollination.” 

Hey, but this is just one small species, and it’s already endangered.  Can’t we afford to do without this one?  That’s dangerous thinking.  We don’t know enough about the functioning of natural ecosystems to understand the exact tipping point that renders a previously healthy system a failing and frail one.  But we do know that pollinators are disappearing, or threatened, all around the world. 

What’s happening to the rusty-patched bumblebee is not an isolated instance of “oh, too bad.”  It’s a symbol of a much wider problem.  Many native bee species are “sliding toward extinction,” according to a new report from the Center for Biological Diversity.  That decline is alarming at many not-intuitively obvious levels.  Loss of pollinator services could exacerbate malnutrition and vitamin deficiency, and substantially lift the incidence of preventable diseases globally. 

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the bits.  Delisting endangered species without solid analytical reasons to do so, and for that matter dismantling the protections of the Endangered Species Act, qualifies as unintelligent tinkering.

One of my friends once decided, in the vortex of a curiosity whirlwind, to take his family’s air conditioner apart to see how it worked.  He had every intention of putting it back together.  He was, however, 12 years old, and being a normal 12 year old didn’t pause to label and catalogue every piece that got loose.  He also lived in Phoenix.  It was also July.  It turned into the start of the worst week of his life. 

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the bits.  Delisting endangered species without solid analytical reasons to do so, and for that matter dismantling the protections of the Endangered Species Act, qualifies as unintelligent tinkering.  It’s fun, maybe, for some to caricature people as bunny-huggers for wanting to protect Furbish louseworts and snail darters, but when we think of these things as integral parts of a finely tuned machine, it changes the calculus.  These pieces have a great deal of value as parts of a working machine.  And occasionally, we find that they also have other economic value as themselves:  the compound Taxol, which has been used to treat advanced ovarian cancer, came originally from the bark of the Pacific yew, a threatened species; the drug can also be made with yew species from the Himalayas, but it too is considered endangered.

There are many other examples of specific contributions to economic value that were developed in nature’s R&D lab.  And it’s also worth mentioning that every one of them is part of an ecosystem that depends on many other organisms and natural systems—like clean water, soil, and air—to thrive.  The planet’s health and our economic well-being aren’t two separate things, and they’re certainly not antagonists.  If we think of them that way, and view environmental protection solely as a crimp on short-term pursuit of profit, we’re taking apart the air conditioner on a hot day in Phoenix. 

 

What Does International Polar Bear Day Mean for Bears’ Future?

Today (February 27) is International Polar Bear Day. This year’s observance of the day is especially significant as polar bears continue to be an indicator species for the health of the Arctic and the planet generally. 

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recently released a new plan for protecting polar bears finding that, “the single most important achievement for polar bear conservation is decisive action to address Arctic warming.”

Polar bears depend on sea ice to catch prey and for denning. This ice is declining at a staggering 13.3 percent per decade. Without changes that slow or stop that melting, polar bears will suffer.

You can email President Trump here and ask him to take climate change seriously. He has made public statements and taken actions that indicate he has not arrived at a science-based conclusion around the impacts of global climate change, and your email could help push his administration in a more productive direction. 

You can also learn more about polar bears and encourage others to by sharing this infographic

36 facts about polar bears

Learn more from Travel Manitoba.

5 things you can do to help protect the Endangered Species Act

Just weeks into the new legislative session, Congress and the Trump administration have begun attacking the Endangered Species Act through legislation and deregulation. More attacks are likely to follow and public opposition is our best hope to maintain the Act.

You can fight these attempts to weaken protections and dismantle the Act by making your support for conservation and the Endangered Species Act known loudly and often. A few steps you can take right now are below:

1: Submit a letter to the editor of your local newspaper(s). Members of Congress are particularly responsive to letters in their constituents’ local papers. There may be no easier way to make a public statement of support for the Act than a letter to the editor. We have a tool to help draft the letter and locate your nearest newspaper. 

2: Call your senators and representative. The value of a phone call to a member of Congress is hard to top without going to a meeting in person.  Enter your number on this page and we will patch you through to their offices and even help out with what to say.

3: Sign our pledge to defend the Endangered Species Act. There is power in numbers and we will keep you updated on other ways to defend the Act.

4: Move from online activist to offline action taker. Sign up as a state species guardian or member of the team and we will invite you to training calls, help to arrange meetings, and otherwise do everything we can to assist and empower you as an endangered species activist.

5: Learn more about advocating for endangered species. We have downloadable materials you can study or take with you to meetings with decision makers to help to educate them on the need to protect endangered species and the Endangered Species Act.

Please follow the Endangered Species Coalition on Twitter and Facebook and join our Activist Network to learn more about ways you can help to protect endangered species and the Endangered Species Act.

Senate Committee Aims to Weaken Endangered Species Act

Endangered Species Advocates Vow to Protect Landmark Conservation Law

Washington, DC – On Wednesday, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) kicked off the latest Republican-led attack on one of our nation’s most important laws for protecting wildlife and habitat. The Endangered Species Act was the target of a Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee hearing this morning, led by Sen. Barrasso, and included a former Governor and the president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau as witnesses. Former Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe spoke in favor of the Endangered Species Act, and highlighted the need for more funding and resources.

The hearing comes after Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) recently announced he would like to “repeal” the Endangered Species Act. An advisor to President Trump has also expressed a desire to overhaul the Act.

“In poll after poll, huge majorities of Democrats and Republicans Americans across the country have consistently confirmed they support the Endangered Species Act, and they want wildlife decisions based upon science, not politics.”

“In poll after poll, huge majorities of Democrats and Republicans Americans across the country have consistently confirmed they support the Endangered Species Act, and they want wildlife decisions based upon science, not politics,” said Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “We know that Americans want to ensure this safety net for wildlife, birds, plants, and fish stays intact to protect our wildlife heritage for future generations.”

Scientific consensus indicates that we are in the sixth wave of extinction. The main tool in the United States to battle this human-caused crisis is the Endangered Species Act, which has been very effective in keeping species from sliding into extinction.

During the last Congress, there were more than 100 bills or riders introduced aimed at weakening the Endangered Species Act or the species it protects.

“If wildlife opponents in Congress or the Trump Administration want to try to gut our nation’s safety net for imperiled wildlife, they will have a huge fight on their hands,” added Huta. “We will spare no effort to protect the law that protects endangered species and the special places they call home.”

Coalition of Great Lakes Advocates Promote Positive Benefits of Wolves with “Big, Not Bad” Campaign

Madison, WI –The Endangered Species Coalition, along with Wolfwatcher, Nature 365, Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf & Wildlife, among others, have launched a year long campaign in the Western Great Lakes to help demonstrate that wolves are a public asset, beloved by the citizens who live here. The majority of citizens, including those living amongst wolves, representing all walks of life including hunters, hikers, naturalists and farmers of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan believe that wolves belong on the landscape and understand the vital role wolves play in the ecosystem. 

The goal of the campaign is to engage and educate others about the benefits of wolves.  “As individuals learn more about wolves, we hope they will turn their knowledge into action by sharing their new information,” said Nancy Warren, U.P. resident and Director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition.

This yearlong campaign around wolves will focus each month on a theme showing values, science, art, photos, traits, stories and experiences wolves provide to Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, as well as outlying states without wolves. Melissa Smith, Great Lakes Representative for the Endangered Species Coalition stated that the purpose is “we know that the media inherently reports on conflict, but there is another side to wolves. We are launching our campaign on St. Valentine’s Day, because we hope to give the public an opportunity to participate and express their love and support for wolves in a meaningful and positive way. We want to support the cultural views of indigenous people, the best available science and the values of all our citizens.”

The project was launched with help from Mindfruit Studios and world renowned photographer, Jim Brandenburg, who lends his voice to the campaign launch video about wolves titled, Big, Not Bad. Brandenburg’s work has always shown the wolf in a positive light, in addition to his Nature 365 project connecting people back to Minnesota’s wild nature.

To learn more about the campaign visit, www.endangered.org/big-not-bad

Why the Latest War on Wolves? Three Reasons You May Not Know

My son always roots for the predator. He says they have to eat too. As someone who has a science background and as a conservationist, I know that I should agree with him. Or at a minimum, I should probably be neutral. But I can’t help it. When I’m sitting on my couch watching a nature documentary, I root for the prey. Go rabbit!

When it comes to managing wildlife though, I root for the predator. Why? Because wildlife policies inevitably favor the prey. Predators are the underdog—by a long-shot. And we’re seeing evidence of that yet again. The day that we feared is here: Congress dropped its War on Wolves Act. And the war on wolves continues.

Wolf in Snow

Wolf at Winter

Great Lakes democratic Senators Klobuchar and Baldwin, both facing 2018 elections, joined republican Senators Barrasso and Enzi from Wyoming as cosponsors on the Senate’s bill to kick wolves off of the endangered species list. If it and its companion bill in the House pass, Wyoming, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin wolves will lose Endangered Species Act protections and these states will decide how to manage wolves. That will mean a swift start of trophy hunting and trapping in some states and even unsportsmanlike baiting and hounding of wolves in Wisconsin.

Not one, but two federal courts have said these states’ wolf plans are so bad, that wolves need to stay protected under the Endangered Species Act. The War on Wolves Act isn’t just bad news for wolves, it’s also bad news for the Endangered Species Act. The last thing that nature needs is a bunch of politicians picking and choosing which species get protected and which ones are left behind. As we all know, Congress and science don’t always go together, especially when it comes to our natural world.

Back to the question: why this unrelenting war on wolves?

Some believe that ranchers and wolves can’t coexist. And yes there are individual ranchers and ranching groups that oppose wolves. But the truth is that only a fraction of one percent of cattle are killed by wolves. Things like weather and disease are the real dangers. Ranchers from Michigan to Idaho who follow best practices for ranching in wolf country have few conflicts with wolves.

So what is really going on here?

For starters, state fish and wildlife agencies have historically received the bulk of their funding from hunting and fishing license sales, as well as ammunition tax revenue. So hunters often have an outsize influence on the agency decisionmaking (so much so that, in many parts of the country, these agencies are called fish and game—not wildlife). And some hunters don’t want anyone but humans killing deer and elk. Or they are trophy hunters who want to kill wolves. In any event, agencies tend to be protective of their budgets, which translates into a desire to maximize both ungulate populations and the quantity of hunting licenses available for sale.

Additionally in many states, the agriculture lobby is a powerful political force, leading the fish and wildlife agencies to decisions that often protect livestock interests—even at the expense of wildlife.

Second, wolves aren’t just seen as one cog in the wheel of nature. They’re seen as a symbol of the federal government. Since wolves were reintroduced by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service into Yellowstone and managed by FWS in other regions, they’re deeply associated with “the feds” and deeply despised by those who hate all things federal.

Third is mythology. Wolves are smart, family-oriented, and communicative. Their personalities are clear. There was Romeo—the wolf who loved the dogs of Juneau and visited them every fall for five years. There was ‘06, the beloved Yellowstone badass who went without a mate for much longer than scientists anticipated, because it turns out, she didn’t need a pack to bring down an elk. She could do it all by herself, even just days after giving birth to pups. There is Journey, unknowingly making history with thousands “watching” when his adventures took him to California and back to Oregon where he settled down and started a family.

But we treat wolves differently than all other species. It isn’t about science. It’s about the mythology—the stories we tell ourselves. As children, we read Little Red Riding Hood. And we haven’t let go of our childhood fears. We continue to tell ourselves this same story as adults: wolf as our enemy, our killer—just see Amanda Seyfried in the horror movie, Red Riding Hood or Liam Neeson in The Grey. Actually don’t see those movies. Please don’t.

Stop the War on Wolves Act

But we must hold congress to a higher standard. They need to follow the science and follow the law, not mythology. Join the Endangered Species Coalition in telling decision-makers, when it comes to wildlife management, they need to protect predators too. Join us in telling Congress to stop the War on Wolves Act.

The Fight for Women and Wolves

We will be posting three blogs in the coming days representing different perspectives of Endangered Species Coalition staff that work on wolf recovery and protections.

 

A couple weeks ago, I was in Phoenix talking to a friend.  She said, “Women and wolves…” And paused for a moment, gathering her thoughts.  “We’re like this,” as she raised her hand with her index and middle fingers crossed.  What she was describing didn’t have any other words attached, but I immediately understood and the weight of those words sunk deeply in my heart.

I grew up in a place where women are treated as pretty, little things by those who still hold onto the residual mindset of the Revolutionary War era.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, “put your legs together,” “sit down,” “be quiet,” “be nice.”  “Be nice.” That was the worst one.  Where I’m from “being nice” means to not fight back.  It means to put your head down when you hear or see injustice, because it would be rude to correct someone.  Being nice did not end enslavement.  It didn’t get white women, and later women of color, the right to vote.  It didn’t start the civil rights movement and it didn’t get us a slew of environmental laws in the 1970s, including our old-faithful, the Endangered Species Act.

When women are not “nice,” we are quietly, yet persistently, shamed and pushed to the outer rims of society or worse.  We have been so tamed, that still in 2017, men and women do not share equal rights.  We have been tricked into domestication over and over again.

Like the “not-nice” women, the “not-nice” dogs of the wild have been put in their place, shown who’s boss, and pushed to the farthest corners of suitable habitat.  In the name of human encroachment, wolves have been shot, trapped, poisoned, and blown up with explosives.  And, like our female ancestors, wolves and wildlife are treated like property by our state and federal agencies.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes explains in her book, Women Who Run with the Wolves:

“Wolves and women are relational by nature, inquiring, possessed of great endurance and strength. They are deeply intuitive, intensely concerned with their young, their mates, and their pack. They are experienced in adapting to constantly changing circumstances; they are fiercely stalwart and very brave. Yet both have been hounded, harassed, and falsely imputed to be devouring and devious, overly aggressive, of less value than those who are their detractors. They have been the targets of those who would clean up the wilds, as well as the wildish environs of the psyche, extincting the instinctual, and leaving no trace of it behind. The predation of wolves and women by those who misunderstand them is strikingly similar.”

I see it as no coincidence that as many of our elected officials are plotting to take away women’s rights, they are also trying to pass legislation to delist wolves from the Endangered Species Act in the Great Lakes Region.  The same people that devalue women also devalue wolves and the natural world. Wolves are not able to march for themselves, as many people around the world did last weekend.  So, if there was ever a time to stand up for both, women and wolves, it’s now.

Bills to delist wolves in Wyoming, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin have been introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives. These bills could move rapidly, making your email or call crucially needed.  Please contact your senators and representative today and ask that they oppose the War on Wolves Act.

Ryan Zinke is wrong for Secretary of the Interior

Donald J. Trump’s pick for Interior Secretary will be appearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today. Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) is an inexperienced and unserious choice for a position that will oversee all of our nation’s threatened and endangered species and more than 5 million acres of public lands.

In his short time in Congress (he is beginning his second two-year term), Rep. Zinke took a series of disastrous positions that has earned him a paltry 3% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters.

While representing Montana, he voted for each of the legislative attempts to kick gray wolves off of the endangered species list; he cosponsored a bill that would slash protections for highly endangered Lobos;  he railed against common sense protections for imperiled sage grouse; he even voted for a bill that would block funding for efforts to crack down on the brutal ivory trade while clearing the way for importation of sport-hunted polar bears.

In his short political career, he has taken more than $300,000 from oil and gas industry donors and has recently voted along with his GOP colleagues to make it easier to sell or give away public lands.

Ryan Zinke is unserious about extinction and wrong for Interior Secretary. Please contact your senators today and ask them to reject Ryan Zinke.

New Report Highlights 10 Species Conservation Priorities for the Trump Administration

Jaguars, Vaquitas, and Native Bees among List of Imperiled Species

Washington, D.C. – As the Obama Administration prepares to hand over the reins of the executive branch to President-elect Donald Trump, the DC-based Endangered Species Coalition released on Wednesday a “Top Ten” list of imperiled species in need of strong conservation measures. The report, “Removing the Walls to Recovery: Top 10 Species Priorities for a New Administration,” highlights some of the most significant threats to vanishing wildlife such as jaguars and elephants, and identifies important actions the next administration could take to slow their rates of extinction.

“Our native fish, plants and wildlife are critically valuable and part of the legacy we leave for future generations of Americans,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “We hope the next administration takes seriously its responsibility to protect endangered species and habitat. The fate of species is in their hands. Their actions could dictate whether species such as the vaquita, the red wolf, and others, become extinct in the wild.”

Some of the species in the report, such as the Joshua tree and Elkhorn coral are foundational species, which play a critical role as building blocks for their ecosystems, but are threatened by global climate change.

Other critically important species in the report are keystone species, such as Hawaii’s yellow-faced bee, the jaguar, and the Snake River salmon. All keystone species have a disproportionately large impact on other species and ecosystems relative to their abundance. For instance, Hawaii’s yellow-faced bee is a pollinator impacted by habitat loss.

The jaguar of the southwest United States is a keystone predator. It is particularly threatened by habitat fragmentation caused, in part, due to impenetrable immigration barriers along the U.S. – Mexican border. The report urges Mr. Trump to abandon plans to further fortify the southern border, and to make existing barriers more wildlife-friendly.

Snake River Chinook salmon, meanwhile, are among the longest and highest-migrating salmon on the planet – often swimming 1,000 miles upstream and climbing more than 6,000 feet in elevation to reach their spawning grounds. More than 130 other species depend upon salmon, including orcas, bears and eagles.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list the greater sage grouse—an umbrella species—as endangered in 2014, citing an unprecedented region-wide habitat conservation effort, tied to state and federal conservation plans. However, several appropriations riders offered in Congress in 2016 would block implementation of these conservation plans, as well as any future Endangered Species Act protections for the imperiled bird. Meanwhile, grouse numbers have declined by 90 percent from historic levels. Protecting umbrella species like sage grouse conserves habitats on which many other species rely.

The remaining species featured in the Endangered Species Coalition’s report include the African elephant, Bald cypress tree, the wolf, and the vaquita – a small endangered Mexican porpoise.

Endangered Species Coalition member groups nominated wildlife species for the report. A committee of distinguished scientists reviewed the nominations, and decided which species should be included in the final report. The full report, along with links to photos and additional species information can be viewed and downloaded from the Endangered Species Coalition’s website.

The Endangered Species Coalition produces a “Top 10” report annually, focusing on a different theme each year. Previous years’ reports are also available on the Coalition’s website.

 

 

CPW Commission Unanimously Approves Killing Studies, Despite Public Outcry

Over 180 people gathered yesterday at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Commission meeting in Fort Collins, CO, to discuss the two proposed carnivore killing studies in the Piceance Basin and the Upper Arkansas River.  Despite vocal public opposition and their questionable scientific rationalizations, the CPW Commission unanimously voted to approve the killing studies.

42 public testimonies were given at this meeting; 17 in favor and 25 opposing.

Public outcry has been pouring in for months.  Between the Endangered Species Coalition, the Humane Society of the United States, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club, just under 9,000 communications have been sent to the Commission opposing these studies.  This does not include letters sent directly from individuals to the Commission, numerous op-eds (Denver Post, Daily Camera, and the Coloradoan, to name a few), and articles (like this one: Denver Post) in local papers.

During the meeting, it was confirmed that these two studies will cost $4.5 million over the next nine years.  A curious move for an agency with a projected budget shortfall of “between $15 million and $23 million by 2023.”

Jeff Van Steeg, CPW’s Assistant Director of Policy and Planning, rationalized the studies in his presentation by saying that CPW has done predator management before, 3 times in fact – twice in 2011 and once in 2013.  When asked about the findings of these prior projects, he reluctantly said that no valid conclusions could be made whether lethally removing predators helped the prey populations.  Sound familiar?

As a result of the unanimous vote, this winter CPW will “move ahead in their experiment to use cage traps, culvert traps, foot snares and hunting dogs to immobilize mountain lions and bears. Then those caught would be shot (Denver Post).”  

Even with their shaky scientific rationalizations and strong public opposition, the Commission still approved the studies. However, let’s not forget the appointment of the 11 voting members of the Commission is not balanced to represent the values of Coloradans, both rural and urban alike.

Four people during the public comment period, all in favor of the studies, said that there is no room for emotions, that only science should be considered when deliberating the studies.  A brave woman, who opposed the studies, explained that “emotion tells us when something is wrong.”  I feel that now.  Something is wrong.  When our public agencies prioritize disrupting ecosystems and killing wildlife over sound science and public opinion, something is very wrong.

We will continue to vocally oppose these killing studies despite the vote.  We will continue to close the ideological gap separating “us” from “them.”