A transcription of a roundtable discussion from 2000 on the status of predators in the Rocky Mountains. Hosted by the Predator Conservation Alliance. Not sure if they are still active.
PCA ANNUAL MEETING 2000
Plight or Progress:
The status of America’s Predators
Ed Bangs – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Dave Gaillard – forest predator activist and PCA staff member
Doug Honnold – attorney, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund
Steve Pilcher – Montana Stockgrowers Association
Chris Smith – Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Ed Lewis – Environmental consultant and former executive
director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition
Opening remarks: by Ed Lewis:
…is on how predators are doing in the Northern Rockies, how they should be doing, what kind of vision do any of us have in terms of what predator populations ought to look like 30, 40, 50 years out in this region and what are we doing or should we be doing to address whatever your perspective is, the plight or the progress that predators are making. There are lots of conflicting views on issues surrounding predators. Just a couple of examples: there are those who will tell you — and you will read it in the press — that grizzly bears are now everywhere in the Northern Rockies, they are all over the place, they are in everyone’s backyard. And then you’ll also hear others who will say that the grizzly bear in the Northern Rockies and Greater Yellowstone is still teetering on the brink of extinction and that the habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate and that the prospects for the future are quite bleak.
With respect to wolves you hear some of the same things: “Wolves are everywhere,” we hear, “they’re reproducing like crazy. We’re going to have far more than we know what to do with and they’re going to create lots of problems.” And you have other folks saying “Isn’t this wonderful. This is the greatest success story in the history of North American wildlife. But that there are so many control actions on the part of the agencies that we are never going to get to a fully recovered population.”
There’s a lot of conflicting information and ideas in terms of depredation on livestock, whether its wolves or grizzly bears. There are those who say its quite a problem and there are others who say “look at the other causes of mortality to livestock. These predators are just a blip on the screen. It’s the harsh winters, it’s disease, it’s dogs that are killing a heck of a lot more sheep and cattle than wolves or grizzly bears. There are also disputes about what’s happening to the elk herds. We’ve heard in earlier presentations today about some of these issues. Again, some very conflicting points being made in terms of the wolf populations now decimating the Northern Yellowstone elk herd, or others saying “Isn’t it great what the wolves are doing in terms of naturally controlling the Northern Yellowstone elk herd, eventually improving the condition of the Northern Yellowstone range.”
There are also lots of conflicts about what our underlying values and perspectives on these issues are. Do we really want predators here over the long term? Do we really want all of these predators? How many do we want? Where do we want them? Should they be showing up on main street in Bozeman, Gardner or West Yellowstone or not? And what do we do if they do? What is the role that we all play in this story? We have a lot of different kinds of players here at the table today. What is the role of the landowners and citizens of the Northern Rockies in these issues and in the future of our predators? What is the role of the ranching and agricultural communities? What is the role of the state and federal agencies? What is the appropriate role of the conservation community and what is the role of the scientist? And then of course, we all want to know, what’s the role of the lawyers? We’ll get to that in a few minutes.
I’m going to briefly introduce our panelists. We’ve asked them, believe it or not, to take 3 minutes (let’s see if any of them can stick to that) to provide just a brief perspective on where they or their institution are coming from on these issues, but we’re going to spend most of the time on interchange and questions, and going back and forth among the panelists and involving all of you as well. So hopefully most of the 90 minutes will be unstructured and will include your participation. We have a microphone here for you to come up and ask questions of the panelists. I’ll try to be the traffic cop and control the discussions, so it doesn’t get too out of hand. Please think about any questions or issues you’d like to see addressed.
OK, a very brief introduction of our panelists and we’ll ask them to make their opening presentations:
Ed Bangs: he’s a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service located in Helena. He’s the gray wolf recovery coordinator for the Northwest U.S. and he helped direct the wolf reintroduction into Yellowstone and into central Idaho.
Dave Gaillard: who works for Predator Conservation Alliance. He’s the forest predator protection program coordinator. He’s been with PCA since 1997 and he works on a full suite of forest carnivore issues for the organization and advocates on behalf of wolves, grizzly bears, black bear, lynx, mountain lion, northern goshawk, fisher, marten and wolverine. I hope David will interject some discussion of some of these other predators that are not such high visibility creatures during the discussion this afternoon.
Doug Honnold: the managing attorney of the Northern Rockies office of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund located in Bozeman (it used to be called Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund). He’s been litigating public interest environmental cases for nearly 20 years, and in the Northern Rockies he’s litigating cases to protect grizzly bears, wolves, westslope cutthroat trout and their essential habitat.
Steve Pilcher: The natural resources coordinator for the Montana Stockgrowers Association. He’s located in Helena. Prior to joining the SA he worked for a government relations firm and he had 15 years of experience working for the Montana Department of Health and Environmental Sciences on a lot of water quality issues.
Chris Smith: The deputy director of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. He’s been in that position for the past two years. Prior to coming to Montana he spent 22 years in Alaska with their Department of Fish and Game in a variety of research., management and administrative positions.
Moderator: That’s our panel. I’m going to turn it over to Ed now to open with his introductory remarks, we’ll proceed down the table and then get into some discussion.
Ed Bangs: To start out with, the panel really should be named “Charismatic megafauna: how are they doing” in terms of predators. The predators overall encompass such a large group. We’re not here to talk about coyotes or skunks or raccoons they’re everywhere. Probably most of my experience here is with wolves. If you look at how public attitudes have changed about predators in the last hundred years, it’s pretty dramatic. Sixty years ago we’d be all talking about saddling up and loading up and getting some poison and go out and getting rid of them. That would be the only discussion of predators.
Today, we’re actually talking about restoration, how important they are to us in wild places, that kind of thing. Basically, wolves are doing great, wolves are here to stay. There’s going to be wolves in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, quite a few areas. My guess is there’ll be wolves in other states. And that all is dependent on human attitudes. There’s an old saying, might makes right. And like it or not, people are all powerful right now. We can decide to do anything we want. We decided to get rid of wolves, we decided to get them back and that’s all public attitudes. So the future of predators is going to be determined on how we as a society view them and can live with them. There have been some countries, I think I heard, where Poland, has gotten rid of wolves three times in the last hundred years. They get rid of them, they have a change of attitude, they let them come back. They think “boy this is a pain in the butt,” they get rid of them again. Everybody forgets what it’s like to live around them, they get them back again, they have reality checks and want to get rid of these things again. Hopefully we won’t do that. I think if you go long and slow and have the animals back within the human tolerance level, and that is a difficult thing to measure, that’s a much longer term perspective then simply getting them back only to have somebody jump in a helicopter and shoot them all in a couple of years.
I think overall wolves are doing great, they’re here for the long term. I think over time our society is going to evolve to be more and more predator-friendly, in some areas. I think that wild spaces are certainly the rarest things on the planet, they are even going to get rarer and it will be interesting to decide, we as a society, how many wild areas we’ll let come back.
Dave: I do want to go a little beyond wolves and bears and cover the broad suite of predators, at least the forest predators that we’ve been focusing on during this conference so far. To go back to the title of this panel: it is “Plight or Progress.” Where are we at? I guess the best answer I can give to that question is both, we’ve seen plight and we’ve seen progress, but I have to say we’ve seen far too little progress. And we have far too much plight out there for our predators. I want to look at that question biologically and politically. I cannot go over all the predator species that Ed mentioned in his introduction, but I want to go over three groups of predators. I will start with the big ones: the griz and the wolf.
Plight or progress biologically, you’ve heard from Doug Smith this morning and saw a film last night, we’ve seen much progress with wolf recovery restoration here in Yellowstone. We’ve seen some gains with grizzly bears along the same lines, but where are we really? Well, 1 to 2 % of what was formerly wolf range and grizzly bear range here in the Western U.S. and as far as numbers go, maybe 1000 grizzly bears in all of the American West and fewer than 500 wolves, by all accounts. Those may seem like enough but when we hear from conservation biologists, the people who specialize in extinction, it is by no means enough. Especially when you consider the slides that Dave Foreman showed earlier today about the fragmentation issue and that those numbers are scattered among smaller isolated populations.
Politically? Again, we have made some progress with the bear and the wolf. We have one of the stronger laws on the planet: the Endangered Species Act, and we have been able to grant protection to those two species which now have enjoyed those protections for a few decades. However, is that really translating to improvements on the ground? Its a hard reality that when the hard decisions have to be made, it’s often the developers that get their way and it’s more lip service. There’s increasing clamor to delist these animals before the time is ripe. Before these animals clearly are out of the woods, out of their imperiled status.
I do want to spend some time on the lessor known smaller predators: the wolverine, the lynx, the fisher. The key with these guys, again I can’t go into any details on what they are like and what they need, but its not just the bears and wolves that are suffering from how we’ve treated predators, how we have treated the habitat over the last 200 years. It’s the whole community of forest predators that’s on the brink of unraveling.
OK, where are they are? Historically they were from the Canada border south along all of our major mountain ranges: the Rockies, the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada, as far south as Arizona, New Mexico, for the wolverine at least. Today all we have left are isolated pockets, little fragments of their former range. And their numbers? Even worse than grizzly bears, on a par with wolves with far lower reproduction rates. So 500, maybe 800 individuals of lynx, of wolverine, of fisher, in these little pockets in our Northern Rockies. Things are not looking so good biologically.
Politically? With the lynx we did have some success. We had them get protections this spring under the Endangered Species Act. It took seven years of effort to get that to happen. Wolverine, we filled a petition this summer. The Fish and Wildlife Service is in charge of ruling on those petitions. Ed, please tell me its not going to take seven years to get those protections for the wolverine. [Ed: Not everything happens that quickly, we are dealing with the federal government.] As far as the state regs that govern the species before they are under the Fish and Wildlife Service, we’ve seen some progress. We’re not poisoning these animals across the landscape with strychnine and compound 10-80 the way we did historically. We’re not trapping them nearly as much. But Chris knows we do have trapping for wolverine, lynx and fisher in the state of Montana. [Chris: Not lynx.] Not lynx anymore, thanks for the correction. Progress!
Finally, the more common animals out there. The mountain lions that we heard about this morning, the coyotes. Now these animals may have actually — coyotes anyway — one of the few cases where they have benefited from our activities, at least as far as our eradicating other predators that are their competitors. Bringing back the wolf has seemed to restore some of that balance and get the coyote numbers more in check.
Mountain lions: we’ve seen tremendous comeback in recent decades, since the 70’s, but remember the 1970’s were a historic low for lion numbers. And what we’ve also seen since that time is a tremendous increase in killing them: 15 times as many lions are killed today in Montana than were in the 70’s. From 50 a year to about 800 a year, is that sustainable? That lion photograph we saw this morning from Jackson Hole, Tom Mangelsen’s beautiful image [a raffle prize]. The quota there has been increased exponentially without good biological justification.
Just to wrap it up. We have still got this war on predators alive and well, unfortunately the US Department of Agriculture is out there killing nearly 100,000 predators at tax payers’ expense every year. A quarter of those are killed by sodium cyanide traps, a third of them are killed by air, where they’re not even targeting depredating animals, they’re just killing coyotes out there on the landscape. We’ve got a long way to go to reverse these biases. In closing, whether we are talking about the dog family: the canids, the cat family: the lions and lynx, the weasel family: the wolverine and fisher, or the bears, if we think it’s stressful and difficult making a living in today’s world raising our kids, imagine being a mother trying to raise your kittens, your kits, your cubs, all the dangers out there, how things are changing so fast in this region, about how things are lying ahead. What we need to do is have a place for these animals to be unmolested by people and where there are going to be people and animals together some non-lethal ways that the two can get along.
Doug: I would like to start by thanking PCA and to say that it’s an honor to appear both with the panel assembled here and also with the other speakers. It’s really a phenomenal group and I think you’re off to a bang-up start and I’m privileged to serve with the other panelists and speakers.
First, I’d like to address the question “How do you define success?” Basically, the way the agencies have defined success for endangered species is at variance with what the biology tell us. Michael Soule, oftentimes referred to as the father of conservation biology, developed a rule of thumb for what we should be shooting for as a minimum population that could withstand the kinds of problems that small populations or remnant species face. And that rule of thumb was an effective population size of 500. Effective population means only those individuals within a population that are active breeders and contributing to the genetic pool. So, with a species like grizzly bears, at a minimum, if you’re talking about 500 grizzlies who are participating in the breeding, you’re probably talking at least 2-3000 grizzly bears. And with wolves, where a smaller percentage participate in breeding, you are talking about a much larger number than 2-3000.
Why do we need these kinds of numbers? We need that kind of population size so that a small in number species can withstand the problems of environmental catastrophes, like a massive forest fire, that species can withstand what’s called demographic stocasticity, where you may have an unusual string of males or females and that it has enough genetic diversity so that it can sustain itself over the long period of time.
I’d like to put one more framing notion out on the table and that is: where we are today, sitting in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone National Park is sometimes referred to as “the greatest idea that America has ever had”. And the thing that is noteworthy about that idea is that is was a radical departure from the long, robust history that the United States had had of disposing of our federal public lands. And a lot of times, when we start thinking about these predators, we assume that what we have here in Yellowstone and elsewhere, is the best habitat. As I was reflecting on Jonathan Proctor’s description of the PCA grassland ecosystem last night, I was thinking: “well, it’s missing the big critters, it’s missing the bears, it’s missing the wolves”. And if you go back in time and ask yourself: “where were bears, wolves and other predators?” and this is a further embellishments of David’s point, that we’ve lost 99% of the historic range of those species. For a moment, reflect back on what it was like in the days of Lewis and Clark where the species were abundant. And these predator species would not have been in their most robust abundance in the lands that we have left, because those are the lands that are sometimes referred to by the historians as ” the lands that nobody wanted.” They are the lands that Western settlers could not claim using Homestead Act and 1872 Mining Act as the last example of a law that is a disposal statute. Now I would contrast with that setting the stage, with the way that state and federal agencies have gone about defining success in an endangered species context. There was a seminal article that was developed by a biologist who is a federal biologist, looking at recovery plans for endangered species and assessing how the federal agencies defined success. (Fear?? et al) And the most remarkable thing about that assessment was that in almost all cases the bar was set either below the population levels at the time the species was listed, or at about the same level. So we allow the population of the species to crash exponentially and then if we can just hang on to that remnant population we are going to define success in that manner. The obvious reason for this is the social implications of doing something additional that would benefit the species.
Turning that now to where we are with bears and wolves. With respect to how the many, how big a population size, for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, the population targets that the Service has developed for delisting, are in the neighborhood of 2-300 wolves. What’s remarkable about that is two things: one, it comes up incredibly short of what the biology tells us it ought to be, and secondly, in the Midwest, the population level there for recovery is roughly in the neighborhood of 2-3000. So we’re off by an order of magnitude of where we should be, in order to protect the species in the Northern Rockies.
Similarly, with respect to recovery plans, in many cases the Fish and Wildlife Service has never bitten the bullet and said “this is how much habitat we need to protect, and this is the status that the habitat needs to maintained.” So with respect to the recovery plans for both bears and wolves, the Service never did define habitat. It never said “this is how much habitat we need.” Instead, they developed a recovery zone, and the recovery zone was where they wanted to promote recovery. Not surprisingly, they wanted to promote recovery in the National Park and in the Wilderness areas where the impacts on any kind of human economic development would be minimal. So the bottom line message I want to convey with this broad context, is that both with respect to the population size targets and with respect to habitat, what we have at this point in time is really defined by historical accident. It has not been defined by biology. And the primary impediment to returning the whole process to its proper place, where if we are going to try to deal with the critter it has to be based on biology, is human imagination and human commitment.
What we need to do is start with this effective population size of 500, say 2000-3000 grizzly bears (and a whole lot more wolves) and then figure out how we can get there in order to achieve that objective. A few things pop up immediately when you pose that question: one is the obvious importance of connecting Yellowstone to Central Idaho, Northwestern Montana, and also to address the areas that lie between. Whether they are treated as travel corridors on the map that Dave Foreman showed about Reed Noss’ theoretical model or if they are treated — with grizzly bears — more as occupied habitat, which it will need to be because bears are not the migrators that wolves are. We need to have these lands be occupied habitat and not a wasteland for predators and not a killing grounds. So, in sum, where we really stand today is that success should not be defined as the agencies have defined it, as getting wolves out of the graveyard and into the emergency room. And success is not defined as maintaining bear populations at the 1975 levels when they were listed at the same time that the habitat is being slowly eroded, so that there we are just maintaining the grizzly bear in the emergency room, always on red alert and always with the IV’s plugged in. The goal has to be to establish self-sustaining wild populations. And I think that means that we strive to attain, not a zoo population where are the animals are handled and tethered and trained by humans, not a population that is governed by radio collars and aerial gunning and constant trapping and relocation, or death at the first site that the bear or wolf doesn’t comply with human rules. It’s a big challenge, but we can’t there unless we dream the dream and then begin the positive steps of getting to that dream.
Steve: Good afternoon. As strange as it might sound, coming from a representative of the livestock industry at a gathering like this, I am really pleased to be here today, and I very much appreciate the invitation from the Predator Conservation Alliance to be a part of this first annual conference. I noted with interest, however, that the program that was sent to me still listed me as the only panelist that was still “just invited,” possibly assuming that I wouldn’t be foolish enough to venture forth into this lion’s den. Anyway, that aside, I think we have to start out with the recognition that, while we will no doubt disagree on many of the aspects of the status of America’s predators today, I remain firmly convinced that the predator is going to be better served by our willingness to continue the dialogue even among those of us who agree to disagree in cases.
Now if you are looking for me to fuel the fire of controversy by taunting you with some kind of brash statement calling for the elimination of all predators or something like this, you are going to go away sorely disappointed. While you won’t hear from me calling for any kind of support for the elimination of any species, you will hear me make a very strong plea on behalf of the Montana livestock industry, that we not have our hands tied behind our back as we try to conduct our business and to protect our livelihood. I think the bottom line is, is that there is room for balance and I contend that we are moving in that direction. I am not going to get into the specific numbers, saying this quota is adequate or that quota. I’m sure some that will come up. Dave has already mentioned some of that. But one cannot talk about predators in a setting like Yellowstone National Park without some of the focus naturally gravitating towards wolves. Now, I’m going to avoid the temptation to reopen the old wounds of wolf reintroduction, that’s all history as far as I am concerned.
The focus today ought to be on managing the species that are here and doing a better job of addressing those issues. Likewise I am hopeful that we can avoid getting sidetracked into a discussion of this debate of grazing on federal lands. With 63% of Montana in private ownership, we need to address the predator conflicts that are bound to occur as our predator numbers begin to increase over time.
The Montana Stockgrowers Association’s policy on wolf recovery I think is very reflective of our attitude towards all predators. And I know that we will find people in our industry who have much stronger and much more varied opinions, but the policy as set forth by the Association is that we need to proceed toward delisting as soon as possible, and while Dave and I may disagree as to when that appropriate point is, the key is to turn management of the species over to the local people — Chris and his people with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. You shouldn’t expect a rancher to sit idly by while predators steal their income. And that’s in many cases unfortunately what it boils down to. The loss of a calf to predators is the same as me taking 4 or 5 $100 bills out of your billfold, and I don’t know how well that would sit with any of you if you happened to walk around carrying 500 bucks in your billfold, but that is basically the situation that exists with ranchers and I would offer that seems hardly fair.
Yes, there is a compensation program by the Defenders of Wildlife, it is a very noble gesture, we work with Hank Fisher and those people a lot, but it’s effectiveness is limited by several factors. Ranchers aren’t looking for a handout. All they are really seeking in this whole process is the fact that they’re looking for the ability to protect their private property. They don’t seek the authority to kill every predator on sight, just the ability to respond when a problem exists, that has to be our ultimate goal. Ranchers don’t just have an opinion on wildlife management and issues, the observation and the study of wildlife and natural resources are by necessity a way of life for them. They live it everyday. They do not enjoy taking an animal’s life, despite what you might think and what maybe some have done to contribute to that feeling, as evidenced by their dependence and by the fact that their dependence exists on their ability to keep animals alive. That’s how they live. We all have a place on the earth, and I think we have to focus back on what I said earlier: achieving some sort of balance where there is room for all or us to continue. And I look forward to the discussion this afternoon. Thank you.
Chris: Thank you. Like Doug, I’d like to thank Predator Conservation Alliance for inviting me to come here and speak. This is one of the rare opportunities I get to come back to a place I feel somewhat more at home in, here in Yellowstone. As Ed indicated I lived most of my life in Alaska. I know live in Helena which seems like a horribly civilized place and the State of Montana is incredibly claustrophobic for me. I am used to such wide open spaces. Most of my life I lived in close association with predators, much of my life I spent in rural Alaska. I had the good fortune of doing research as a biologist on wolves in southeast Alaska, managed grizzly bear populations on the Alaska Peninsula, and enjoyed for about 30 years the opportunity to exist as one of the other species of top predators that we haven’t talked about today, and that is humans. I raised my kids on salmon, moose and caribou and was very proud to be able to do that. And I think perhaps my experience in living and working with predators in Alaska was what made me attractive to Pat Gramlin (?) when he was looking for a deputy director a few years ago to come to Montana. Because I think he recognized, as many of you already know quite well, that dealing with predators and management of predators, particularly bears and wolves, is going to be increasingly a part of the responsibility of a state agency which, at least in recent history, has had relatively little involvement in that.
Based on my experience, both in Alaska and, to a lesser extent, here in Montana, I think the key question that faces all of us, and it’s been eluded to by all the previous speakers, is can we live with success? I think, with the exception of the black-footed ferret, when we look at the list of species that are on the list of Predator Conservation Alliance’s brochure, most of those predator populations are actually doing quite well. Many of them are certainly not at secure levels yet, but really the black-footed ferret is the only species that is critically endangered. We have made tremendous strides in the last twenty years in changing land management policies on public land that have secured the habitat quality, by and large, for most predator populations on public lands. But as the map showed so well this morning, public lands aren’t going to cut it. They are nothing but islands. And unless we develop a way to manage and conserve predators across the landscape, we won’t succeed.
Based on my experience in Alaska where there is an abundance of wild, native habitat and predators we will still find managing predators a very challenging business. Here in Montana it will be even more so. Predator management challenges invariably involve deep core value conflicts. Those are the toughest to resolve, but there are ways to get around them and to work constructively through them. My experience again, in Alaska in the latter years that I was there, initiating a number of collaborative planning processes was critical to getting through some tough issues there. I think that is the crossroads we are at here in Montana. Friends asked “are the states ready to take on this responsibility?” just before lunch. I think we are. And in the comments and the discussion today, I will try to elaborate in greater detail on some of the things Fish, Wildlife and Parks has already done. Just briefly, by way of example, I’ll mention that the state is now engaged in grizzly bear planning. For the first time in 25 years, we not only have permission from the Governor, we have direction from the Governor in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho to talk about where and how to let grizzly bears live beyond the bounds of the recovery zone. We are initiating wolf planning for the state of Montana. The fundamental goal stated by Mark Racicot for that process: ensure the perpetuation of a viable population of wolves that is not in need of listing under the Endangered Species Act. I think we need to find ways to move beyond the Endangered Species Act. I agree with Doug, we need to get animals out of the emergency room and the state is certainly ready to move in that direction.
Moderator: Tom wanted me to point out that, if you saw an earlier versions of the agenda, you noticed that there is one panelist listed originally who was invited and is not here, that is a representative from the Friends of the Northern Elk Herd, a group that is pushing for wolf control to boost elk numbers. But we weren’t able to get anybody from that group today. They are all out hunting apparently. We tried.
Let me pick up on something that was said by David on one hand and Chris on the other hand, that seemed to be kind of contradictory as a way to kick off this discussion here. David basically said that we have a lot more plight with respect to the suite of predators that he alluded to, there’s a lot more plight than progress and pointed out that a number of them are, from PCA’s stand point, in pretty bad shape. And then, Chris in his opening remarks said that most predators are doing quite well. Those don’t seem to line up. I’d like to throw it to both of those guys, David you want to react to Chris’ comment and then Chris come back with your reaction. Can both of you be right? Can they be doing quite well and can they also be in a deep hole as David seems to indicate?
David: Shall we arm-wrestle over this?
Chris: As long as we keep at the level of Lieberman and not É..
David: That’s false. I think Ed, part of what we are wrestling with is that there is uncertainty with all these predator populations. And how you deal with that uncertainty may factor in here about the wide discrepancies of perspectives on how well they are doing. But even bigger than that might be our scale. Going back to what Doug was trying to get at: how do we define success? If we define success at how we are doing now compared to the turn of the century, I’d say in some cases we are doing quite well, we have made some great strides. Again, that was when we had poison across the landscape. We had wolverines reduced to, as far as we can tell, just Glacier National Park itself. Wolves were not quite eradicated then, but well on their way. Many other species as well. So depending on your reference point, where we are now could be good news and something to take pride in or we could still see that the real work lies ahead of us. And I think the best way that PCA, and I in my work, have resolved this question of how you define success, how you gauge how well you are doing, is to say “what do the animals need?”
We cannot go back to Lewis and Clark times, however much we might want to, but we sure don’t want to just give up and say “this species extinction stuff is inevitable. Sorry. Some animals can survive, if they can find a way around us and others, too bad.” Because ultimately we affect our own quality of life and survival, I believe. And when you ask that question, again, there is uncertainty, no one really knows , but the best we can figure is that you need a lot of animals, you need them well connected across a large landscape especially for the wide ranging animals. And that’s where I’m pretty terrified when I look out there and see what we have left for lynx, what we have left for wolverine. And even the wolf, as great a reproducer it is, we are looking at quite a bottleneck that population has been through and it is still very likely to go the way of decline. So that’s where I’m coming from when I have my austere, grave, fearful message.
Chris: I guess at the risk of offending probably half the audience, I’ll cite an old, I think it was maybe a Bennie Goodman (??) quote. Somebody asked him “how’s his wife” he says “compared to what?” I think Dave’s point is right on, it is a matter of perspective. When I say that I think that the predator populations are doing very well, or that we have succeeded, my frame of reference is, as I’ve said previously, with the exception of the black-footed ferret, I don’t see the predator populations that we have listed here as being in grave danger. I’d agree with Dave that that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods or that we can rest on our laurels and say “we’ve got wolves back in Yellowstone, we’ve got wolves back into the Central Idaho wilderness, so we have done our job.”
I think from the state’s perspective, the direction that we are heading now, and I’m very pleased to see that the Citizens Planning Group, the direction they are taking with respect to wolf management, wolf conservation in the state is not to try to define some boundary in Montana beyond which wolves would not be allowed to live. Or trying to set some upper limit on the number of wolves that will be allowed to live in Montana. That is the approach that is taken in Idaho and I think is fundamentally wrong. I don’t doubt, in fact I will be very surprised, if twenty years from now there are not wolves in the Missouri River Breaks. I suspect some of Steve’s folks would be quite concerned if that’s the case. But I think if we have wolves living in the Missouri River Breaks or in Eastern Montana, as we do have now mountain lions, and we’ve developed effective ways to live with and conserve those populations over the landscape, that’s going to be further success. I think the challenge that we have now is finding ways to get beyond the rhetoric and the constant head butting and move into constructive dialogue among all the competing interests, all of whom have legitimate values with respect to conservation of predators.
Moderator: Steve, I’ve got a question for you. The livestock industry and those in the agricultural community really have fought long and hard to keep wolves out of the Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Rockies. You eluded to that and you said today that you didn’t want to reopen those wounds “We are here today and they are here, let’s now look to the future.” And that’s great to hear, but does that truly reflect the current position of your organization and your colleagues? There is still litigation ongoing with the Farm Bureau and others that are aimed directly at undoing this great success. Can you confidently say that it is time to just look forward in terms of the future of the wolf and not to look back to undoing the reintroduction and recovery programs of the last ten years?
Steve: The only thing I can attest to with any confidence is the statements and the opinions that I myself might have. I’m here today representing the Montana stockgrowers and I do feel they are in a transition phase. They are beginning to hopefully turn the corner, we are not a part of that continuing litigation. I think we have accepted the fact that, as I said, the wolves are here, we need to focus now on how we can live in harmony with their existence and with what is likely to be significant expansion of those populations. I just think that you have to recognize where the livestock community was coming from initially when there was that opposition and concern, because much of this balance takes a toll on the livestock industry and the private property owners. But I cannot for Farm Bureau, I don’t have any influence on their policy but I do feel that the Montana Stockgrowers Association is looking ahead instead of looking behind.
Ed: Just a quick comment. The litigation is essentially over, it did go through the circuit. The circuit has made a decision, no one has appealed that and so I think the wolves are here to stay. Period. The only ongoing litigation involves the question of taking private property on a ranch in Wyoming and the judge hasn’t made a decision whether the Service is liable for wolves killing a person’s livestock that they may not be compensated for. We all know that there are livestock killed by wolves that nobody ever finds. The question “is that a lot of livestock or a little livestock?” hasn’t been resolved yet, but even the compensation program does not fully compensate livestock producers and the court may rule that actually the Service may be liable for some of that. That litigation is the only stuff going on.
Moderator: Ed let me throw a question at you. From the perspective of a disinterested outside observer, looking at the actions of your agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, vis a vis wolf control actions in recent years and proposals with respect to down-listing and delisting. It seems like your agency is working pretty hard to cut off this success at the knees, perhaps pretty darned prematurely. There’s been a heck of a lot of control actions in the Northern Continental Divide and around the Yellowstone Ecosystem, packs eliminated or decimated, proposals to down-list the wolf in this part of the country and to delist the wolf basically everywhere else. I think that runs up against something you said at the outset which was that “there will be wolves in other states in the future.” You were confident of that. How is that going to happen in places where we don’t have wolves and where we are not going to give them any protection under the Endangered Species Act? How can you say that the program of your agency is going to guarantee that we have long-term viability and success with respect to wolves in the Northern Rockies and beyond?
Ed: I think that’s a good question. As everybody knows, the Service has a proposal out right now where we intend to delist wolves in about thirty states, where we don’t think the Endangered Species Act is really appropriate or wolf recovery is possible under the Act. We are going to look at down-listing wolves in areas of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington to allow more flexible management of problem wolves, a wolf that doesn’t do any thing wrong will be managed. I think the key question is, how do you move predator management forward from where it is right now? It’s my belief that the best use of the Endangered Species Act is for the emergency room patient and when we get them on a stretcher out in the hall where they are going to get better, I think that’s most appropriate for state management. I’ve made no bones about this ever since I came down from Alaska 12 years ago. I believe the best management for wolves and large predators is under the state Fish and Game agencies.
If you look at and compare the success of mountain lion recovery, because remember as a society we tried to kill all the mountain lions too, that’s been an amazing success, I think Chris was just telling me there are now mountain lions in every county in Montana. I think that is the next step and the next big leap for predators is not the federal government using the glass hammer, I think it’s for local citizen involvement, for people to learn to live with these animals. I think a lot of the success of elk and deer, which cause big time crop damage, deer alone kill about 120 people a year in automobile accidents, 20 people are killed by kicking and goring. Just deer/automobile accidents is a billion dollars a year loss, deer are the biggest cause of agricultural damage in the United States. There’s frickin deer everywhere, many places too many. I think that was done through local grass roots involvement, many times through sporting clubs which is a self interest but we all have self interests, and the state fish and game agencies. It is my personal belief that the big strides in predators are going to be not by the Endangered Species Act and Ed the Fed, it is going to be by state fish and game agencies and local people who see value in these animals. So I think it’s true: the Service, I believe, has done its job for wolves and we’re looking to get out of the picture and transition that end to the next booster stage of the rocket, which is the state fish and game agencies. And they’re highly qualified, highly professional individuals that can do a great job and I think have a demonstrated ability to do that with other animals.
Moderator: Chris you want to pick up on that wonderful endorsement we just heard of the states?
Chris: Actually, Ed took many words out of my mouth, including the specific example of the mountain lion, the species that recovered, at least Montana, without ever having been subject to the Endangered Species Act. I think there are other ways to address it. I spent many of my weekends as an EMT and ski patroller involved in the emergency medical field. And one of the things that you drive home over and over and over again, is at every level, whether it’s my actions on the slope, the ambulance crew that I transfer someone to, or the emergency room crew when that person gets to the hospital, your job is to move that patient as quickly and as effectively as you can to the next higher level of care. That’s what I see us doing with the Endangered Species Act. We can use that very effectively, we have used it very effectively in many cases as a safety net or as a means to turn around some flawed policy to protect habitat for these species. But they are ready, in many cases, to move to the next level of care, move to the next level of management. The advantage, from my perspective, and its not just because I work for the state, but in my interactions with many of the people who are opposed to or concerned about recovery of predators or expansion of bears and wolves, it’s because they bring with them all of those constraints and the threats and the control of the federal government and Endangered Species Act. I think we will find that, if we begin to work with people and talk about other ways to accommodate the needs of bears and wolves besides bringing down the hammer of the Endangered Species Act, we are going to find that landowners are much more accepting of these species on their property and we are going to be able to move conservation forward even faster.
Moderator: Doug and David seem to want to respond to the last two comments.
Doug: My blood pressure is going up! Well there are some simple answers to these propositions fortunately. First of all, there are literally dozens if not hundreds of species that qualify for listing under the Endangered Species Act and have yet to be listed. And if the state wants to do something, I suggest those are the species they could start off by protecting so that they don’t need the protections of the Endangered Species Act. Secondly, in many cases, the state when actually offered the opportunity to manage species and oppose delisting, says “we don’t have the money to manage” and specifically that is one of the issues with grizzly bear delisting in Wyoming. The State of Wyoming is saying “Yea, lets delist the grizzly bear so we can have a hunt” but at the same time they are saying “We don’t have any money to pay for the management, and we want you, the feds, to continue to pay for the management.”
Third, I think that this is a major impediment that none of players have really dealt with, the states don’t have the legal authority to control what federal agency actions do. Like the Forest Service. So if the Forest Service is going to go out and clearcut till the cows come in, respectfully Chris, there is nothing you can do to stop it. But if the species is listed, there is something that I can do to stop it and, I wolf and that really comes back to a fundamental issue. I’m reminded by what Senator Baucus said to me one time “When I started to run for office I went around and the first thing everybody said to me was “Oh God, we’ve got to get government off our backs” and the second thing they told me was ‘There ought to be a law against that.” And Congress has spoken for the American people. That with respect to endangered species, because of the moral imperative, we are not going to allow co-inhabitants of our planet to go extinct and we are going to have a list of what qualifies as endangered and we are going to have binding legal authority to do something.
One of the things that really disturbs me about all this happy talk, about lets turn it over to the states, if there is one thing that would characterize the way that states have gone about managing both candidate species and species that are proposed for delisting, it’s voluntary agreements. That they would prefer that there never be a point where the rubber hits the road and you can tell the Forest Service or you can tell a landowner “this is what is biologically required and we are going to do it because we are committed to protecting a species.” If a species is truly endangered, and it meets the biological standards, it shouldn’t be up to the whim of all these problems.
Dave: I’m not sure what the goal is of this panel. Unfortunately, there won’t be an election following this to decide who’s going to manage and protect the predators. Maybe we should move in that direction next year! If there is something that comes out of this, productive and further along than we are now, with more of a common understanding and agreement of where the basic principles and the facts lie and how we can start talking more of the same language, I guess I would put the question back to Chris and Ed. If you are talking about wanting to move predator management forward and getting the patient towards the outpatient ward or whatever, and then compare wolves (again fewer than 500 animals, maybe 200 in Yellowstone, maybe 200 in Idaho and fewer than 100 in Northwest Montana, those populations isolated) to white-tailed deer or even the mountain lions, where you’ve got animals in the thousands well distributed across the landscape, is that really a fair comparison?
Moderator: I see we’re going to start winding down in not too long. I want to give the audience a chance to jump in here. We’ll take a question from the audience?
My name is Lynn Fritchman and I’m from Idaho. I can’t speak to what’s going on in Wyoming or Montana, but I do know a little bit about what’s going on in Idaho. And while I would agree in principal and in theory that state management of predators — the wolf and grizzly — might be desirable, I am pretty skeptical of it because Idaho has completed the first draft of their wolf management plan. They had a seven-person board appointed by the legislature, five of those on the board were representatives of the livestock industry, there was one token biologist and one representative of our state park service. The final draft clearly indicates, that the intention of Idaho’s wolf management plan is to keep the wolf population at the absolute minimum which would prevent relisting. Under those circumstances, I really question state management of wolves in Idaho. Our legislature, our congressional delegation and our governor are all on record as saying they will have grizzly in Idaho over their dead bodies. So how can we trust Idaho state government to manage wolves or grizzlies with attitudes like that on the part of the people who are going to manage them? If any of you would like to respond to that, have at it.
Ed Bangs: Two quick comments. When we were talking about doing the reintroduction a lot of people said “over my dead body” and I said “works for me.” Secondly, under the Endangered Species Act, when you delist, the Service has to go through some legal mumbo jumbo to make that happen. And one of them is that we are assured that the laws that would be in place if federal protection is removed, are adequate to prevent the species from becoming endangered again. If we don’t meet that test, I’m sure Doug will take us to court over that, as he should. I think there are safeguards in this whole thing. I think some of the states may have to go through a little bit of pain on their own.
Moderator: Next question or comment from audience? (long pauseÉÉ) Chris did you want to briefly respond to the Idaho situation?
Chris: I recognize the situation in Idaho. I’d be willing to solve it for you if you’d take Lake and Flathead counties out of Montana and put them with Northern Idaho! We face many of the same issues there. I think one of the hopes that I have, is that by making some of the progress that we have in Montana and in Wyoming, we will set an example that the elected officials in Idaho may be willing to follow. I promoted the formation of a governors’ round table that included representatives from all three states. Idaho was reluctant to get involved with that — they are the most reluctant supporters of the outcome of that. Both Montana and Wyoming have moved very quickly to implement the recommendations of that panel. To begin talking about how we are going to conserve grizzly bears beyond the recovery zone. Idaho is going very slow and cautiously.
To come back to my earlier theme, relative to what I see as problems with the Endangered Species Act, right now it does not matter how good a job Montana, how good a job Wyoming does, if Idaho continues to behave the way they do. We are penalized. The Fish and Wildlife Service can’t say “you know Montana and Wyoming, you’ve done a good job. Bears and wolves are secure in your states, so we are going to delist them in your states….(tape ends — no recording exists of the rest of this panel.)