Public Lands Ranching: Supporting Welfare Ranchers over Wildlife. I have just recently read Lynn Jacobs classic 1981 book, Waste of the West that provides nearly 500 pages of detailed and convincing critique of public lands ranching in the West. The book documents how public lands ranchers have destroyed the quality of Western public lands with the herds of cattle that deprive the lands of biodiversity. He cites data to show that the U.S. public subsidizes these ranchers who get support from the government for “developing” their leased lands. He cites statistics how these public ranch operations consume a huge quantity of water. Most striking, he shows how unproductive these ranches are for cattle-raising—it takes hundreds of acres of these Western public lands to support one cattle while cattle in Midwest and eastern states are far more productive. Thus the beef raised by the western public lands ranchers is a very small percentage of the overall U.S. beef supply. Moreover, the numbers of public lands ranchers are very small and consistently becoming a smaller and smaller portion of their states populations. Despite this fact, somehow these public lands ranchers have been able to continue to get the Federal government and its agencies (primarily the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service) to subsidize their non-economic operations such as by having ridiculously low fees—it is totally irrational policy from every one’s point of view (except the ranchers’). It is no wonder that any challenge to public ranching brings threats from the ranchers to anyone who dares to challenge them. They know they are on weak ground. When I finished Jacobs’ book, I checked to see if there had been any major developments since then but it appears that the situation is status quo. One would hope that the Trump Administration in its desire to cutback domestic spending would at least do some good here by cutting support for public lands ranching. But the Department of Interior’s Ryan Zinke has proven to belong to the cult of the “cowboy”—Jacobs points out that somehow many people including Easterners buy into the myth of the cowboy despite the fact it has no basis in reality—they write trucks and ATVs to their “public ranches.” Zinke made a big point of riding a horse to his office—and he has shown that he cares nothing at all for wildlife diversity as a priority—he is no Teddy Roosevelt Republican despite his pretense. The wastefulness and threat to wildlife continues to this day a recent article proves. It discusses how the State of Washington is going to kill wolves in order to protect public lands ranches. The article points out that these ranchers (as Jacobs has proven) “operate on slim financial margins, and have had to make unwelcome adjustments in their practices to continue ranching in what has once again become wolf country.” The point is that public lands are not fit for ranching and yet state and Federal government continue to toady to this small group of entitled welfare ranchers. Why? When, if ever, will rationality prevail and the public stop supporting this this small, unproductive group of ranchers? Check out the article by Linda V. Mapes at Washington state to kill more wolves to protect livestock http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/washington-state-to-kill-more-wolves-to-protect-livestock/
Another Anthropogenic threat to species: Pet Trade leads to pathogen threat to salamanders. Science magazine published an article (July 21, 2017) concerning a pathogen that is threatening European salamander species that is caused by pets being traded into Europe from Asia. The article has excellent photos of the species. The researchers who identified the problem say the solution is to prevent future introductions of the pathogen especially to North America where the world’s largest population of salamanders exists. Tbey don’t support a total ban on trade in the species but instead would allow trade in captive-raised salamanders that have been tested because, they argue, a complete ban would push the trade underground with no controls. Read the article: Saving Europe’s Salamanders: Belgian couple discovered a lethal new threat to amphibians. Now, they wonder: Can it be stopped? By Erik Stokstad, Science, July 21, 2017 v357, #6348 242-245
Example of Why the State Role under the Endangered Species Act should not be changed: The state role in preserving wildlife diversity especially for predators such as the Mexican wolf is crucial. As has been documented in the agonizingly slow Mexican Wolf recovery effort, lack of state cooperation can derail plans of the USFWS even when that organization is run by administrations such as Clinton and Obama that theoretically support the recovery of wolves. The Mexicanwolves.org NGO has released an eye-opening report on the role of states in the recovery of Mexican wolves---its review covers Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. It details how each of these states has acted to oppose and/or undermine wolf recovery despite the fact that a large minority of their populations support wolf recovery—even in areas where the wolves would reside. It shows how the revised plan for Mexican wolf recovery of the USFWS has been affected by states—the USFWS plan diverges from the “best available science” and instead sides with the states on the following crucial issues:
Comparison of “Best Available Science” versus State position versus USFWS draft plan:
This document and discussion is especially important as the Republican-dominated Congress is pushing to “update” (i.e., weaken) the Endangered Species Act and all of the Republican proposals give priority to states in making decisions about endangered species and listing (and delisting) especially of controversial species like wolves. If these “updates” to ESA pass, science will been undermine and the threats to species such as Mexican wolves will doom the recovery effort. Check out the report:
Four States’ Efforts to Derail Wolf Recovery: Whose side are they on? Four States’ Efforts to Derail Wolf Recovery Mexican Wolves are in real trouble. http://mexicanwolves.org/uploads/Four_States_Derail_Wolf_Recovery.pdf
Grazing and Wildlife Diversity: U.S. and India: How similar are the issues! I have been reading Lynn Jacobs “Waste of the West” which provides a very detailed and convincing critique of ranching in the U.S. West. Then I read an article by Abhishek Ghoshal concerning the Snow Leopard: Ecology and Conservation Issues in India and I was struck by the many similarities in the ecological issues in these two very different countries. Jacobs, as I have discussed in a previous post below, shows how wasteful ranching is in the U.S. West with its arid climate and how ranching consumes great resources in terms of water and forage that otherwise would support a diverse and rich habitat that used to support rich biodiversity. Ghoshal shows on snow leopards are being threatened despite the fact that they live in remote areas of the Indian Himalayas. Areas that used to be good habitat for the leopards are now being affected by “agro-pastoralism,” “market-driven agriculture,” human population growth, and “excessive livestock grazing.” Development with road construction is opening up formerly “remote…undisturbed areas” and the consequence is the new inhabitants do not have a “traditional tolerance” for the snow leopard. A side effect of the development is more garbage which has support the rise of a large feral dog population which also is depriving the leopard of its traditional prey. As in the U.S. West, the growing livestock grazing is having harmful effects—it to is characterized by “low productivity” and has resulted in deteriorated pasture quality “through lowered…biomass and plant cover” that have resulted in the “displacement of wild prey….” There has been a rise in tourism related to viewing of the snow leopard but the author says that the impact of roads and other infrastructure “improvements” are reducing and fragmenting habitat outweighing any positive effects. Check out the article at: http://www.ias.ac.in/article/fulltext/reso/022/07/0677-0690
Population Extinctions versus Species Extinctions & the Time Factor of Determining the Seriousness of the Current Threats to Species
Population Extinctions versus Species Extinctions & the Time Factor of Determining the Seriousness of the Current Threats to Species. An article just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents what they refer to as the “Sixth Mass Extinction” currently going on. The article is titled “Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines” and the authors are Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Rodolfo Dirzo. The article makes a point that the number of species extinction in the past century may not seem large (estimated to be about 200 in the past century) but local populations of a large percentage of species have become extinct—the species exist in other locations but in these locations their numbers are also declining. Moreover, past major extinctions have taken millions of years so the 200 lost is actually very significant—given the rate of previous extinctions—the authors say that it should have taken about 10,000 years to lose that many species to extinction. The article is available online at: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/07/05/1704949114.full.pdf
From Vermin to Protected Species: The Social Construction of Wildlife in England.
One of the points that becomes clear in studying the Politics of Wildlife is that human attitudes towards wildlife change radically through time. This point is reinforced by Roger Lovegrove and his book (Oxford University Press, 2007) titled “Silent Fields: The Long Decline of a Nation’s Wildlife.” He summarizes the changes in attitudes towards wildlife as going through 4 phases with the first 2 phases lasting up to World War II involving “vermin control” and “an indiscriminate war of attrition against predatory species.” As I show concerning the U.S. in my Wildlife Politics book, the last 70 years has engendered a complete reversal in general perceptions of many wildlife species. Loveridge states that “The 19th and early 20th century acceptance of UNRESTRICTED vermin killing has essentially been REVERSED to a new climate in which the predominating ethic is the recovery and return of lost or diminishing species” (p. 292). Of course, this change in attitude did not occur until many species were entirely eliminated (e.g., bears, wolves) and others were near extinction in England (e.g., otters). The turnaround was due in large part to the formation of interest groups that acted on behalf of wildlife—especially birds—Loveridge notes that The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has more than 1 million members. Books, Videos and Media also have a big impact on changing attitudes—especially in the case of mammals like otters---he notes that books about Tarka the Otter and Ring of Bright Water, together with their film adaptations” had a big impact. I note in my book that similar impacts in Canada occurred due to books and films about wolves. His account of the control of “vermin” defined as “any animal of noxious or objectionable kind’ shows that two major human factors affected perceptions: (1) Loss of economic benefits such as agriculture to species (e.g., moles); (2) Interference with sports game-hunting such as fox hunts and shooting of pheasants. However, Loveridge begins the book by noting that the chief causes of decline lie in agriculture (cutting of forests, draining wetlands, introduction of livestock, cultivation of crops” and later after the Industrial Revolution with consequent pollution, population growth and urbanization of the country. The importance attached to sports and game-hunting is attested by the occupation of gameskeeper which dates back hundreds of years in England. He points out that some species such as fox engender a “schizophrenic attitude”—the fox was viewed as vermin and its population greatly declined so much so that rural countries in need of foxes for gaming purposes contributed to money to support their population. He notes that many species (e.g., moles) have positive as well as negative impacts on the environment but their positive effects are often ignored and thus they are viewed as vermin. He cites the role of religion that views humanity as to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowls of the air and over every living thing.” He thus notes how the 21 century attitude represents a big change in humanity’s values, with a “new climate in which the predominating ethic is the recovery and return of lost or diminishing species.” He provides some interesting examples of recent politics of wildlife concerning the sports of pigeon racers. Scottish groups representing the group have sought to be able to take sparrowhawks and peregrines that prey on pigeons but have so far failed—Loveridge notes that such groups has succeeded in passing such laws in Denmark. Likewise, Loveridge cites the many economic benefits to small rural communities obtained from the sport of fox hunting lost due to its banning. Loveridge argues that there is no urban-rural divide on the issue—that both pro and con (as to fox hunting) sides are fairly represented in both urban and rural areas. Based on my analysis of the U.S. wildlife history, I am sure that he is correct that overall attitudes may not differ so strongly. However, in the U.S., the big difference is that influential forces (ranchers and hunters” have dominated politically in western states and the wildlife policy differences between these and urban-dominated states is stark.
Will the “silent majority” of the Public who support wildlife conservation ever stand up to ranchers and extractive industries who dominate public lands?
Will the “silent majority” of the Public who support wildlife conservation ever stand up to ranchers and extractive industries who dominate public lands? I just read a book titled “Waste of the West” by Lynn Jacobs—he published it in 1991. The book is an indictment of the abuse of Federal public lands by ranchers whose livestock graze and destroy habitat with their hooves at low cost. It cites the regular violation of rules by the ranchers and also indicts the agencies governing these lands—the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service for not enforcing regulations. It points out that these lands are supposed to be multiple use but the agencies as encouraged and directed by western-dominated congressional committees devoted most of their energies to keeping ranchers (and extractive industries) happy. The book overlooks changes that have occurred to these agencies especially since the Clinton Administration. The BLM has had to adapt to the environmental groups who have brought pressure on these agencies. For example, the notorious Bundy confrontation in Nevada concerned BLM’s enforcement of restrictions on grazing near threatened species. The dry unproductive nature of the western land requires that cattle trample hundreds of acres to forage--Jacobs cites statistics that show that while cattle in Iowa only require 1 acre per year to forage, cattle on BLM and FS public lands require an average of 185 acres to forage (230 in Nevada) (p. 29). Although the Jacobs book is dated and one-sided, the wasteful dominance of the ranchers on Federal lands is still true and the movement to a more balanced approach and emphasis on protection of endangered species will be under attack from the Trump Administration.
One point that Jacobs makes and that others have made (including myself in my Wildlife Politics book) is the strong dominance of the ranching industry over western natural resources politics despite the fact that they make up only a tiny portion of the population and despite the fact that the amount of meat derived from the Federal livestock herds is a small percentage of the overall meat trade. Jacobs cites statistics that show that the 30,000 public ranchers represent less than 2% of the nation's cattle and sheep producers (p.25). Jacobs provides details: “Only 3% of Wyoming’s residents are employed in all agriculture, yet they—mostly ranchers-make up 30% of the state’s legislators…About 1% of Montana’s 1 million residents are ranchers, yet stockmen compose approximately one-third of the politicians in the state.” How can this be the case? Jacobs describes the key reasons. They are the best organized political group in the West. They have dozens of formal associations that represent their interests in states and at the Federal level. The list of such groups is impressive: National Cattlemen’s Asso, Public Lands Council, American Farm Bureau fed, Asso of National Grasslands, National Wool Growers Asso, Society for Range Management, National Inholders Asso, People for the West, Multiple Use Land Alliance, National Livestock Producers Asso., Western Livestock Producers Alliance, Western States Meat Asso,, Agricultural Council of America, American Meat Institute, American Sheep Producers Council, American Sheep Industry Asso, National Council of Farmer Cooperative, National Farmers Union, and National Livestock and Meat Board. Of course, there are now many groups representing various aspects of environmental and wildlife concerns too and they have exerted some influence, helping to bring some pressure on BLM, USFWS, and FS. As I point out in my book, they are able to bring to the public notice information about actions that affect wildlife that in the pre-environmental movement era would have been invisible to the public. However, these organizations do not have the financial resources nor inclination to contribute to political campaigns. For most, they rely on small contributions from individuals who have an interest in wildlife but, of course, does not influence their livelihoods and their support is a “avocation”-not a vocational interest for them. As discussed in the book and in previous blog posts, surveys show that the general public is supportive of biodiversity and more restrictions on the exploitation of ranchers of public lands but their mild interest in these issues has been consistently outweighed by the rancher-extractive industry coalition that dominates so many western states. In states such as California and Oregon, the rancher coalition is not dominant but in less developed and populous states, ranchers-extractive industries reign supreme. They remain consistently dominant in Congress too due to our electoral set-up. Jacobs cites Malachowski’s description of this reality: “With 17 western states holding 34 seats in the Senate, there will always be enough votes to guarantee that the livestock industry’s interests are not overlooked.” My own and others had hoped that the trends in many of the western states movement to a more varied economy with services and ecotourism and migration of people from other states to the west that these “new westerners” would upset the rancher-extractive coalition’s dominance. But this has not happened and it is not obvious that it will happen in the near future.
The Politics of Mexican Wolf Recovery Plans. In Chapter 5 of my Wildlife Politics book titled “Charismatic Animals, Carnivores, and the Politics of Wildlife,” I discuss in detail the difficulties that have beset attempts to recover the Mexican wolf in the Southwest U.S. In contrast to the recovery of wolves in the Yellowstone ecoregion, the recovery has been slow and suffered many setbacks with at least one wolf expert I cite in my book suggesting that the effort was futile. In their 1982 recovery plan, the USFWS set 100 as the goal for the number of wolves but they admitted that this was a “starting point”—not a scientifically determined number. On June 29, 2017, the USFWS released an updated recovery plan. The plan sets a total goal of 320 Mexican wolves in the U.S. (and an additional 170 wolves in Mexico). The plan focused its goal around wolves near Mexico and below the Interstate 40 as desired by state officials (Arizona and New Mexico)—the latter point being due to their threat to livestock and wildlife game populations. Conservationists criticized the wolf population goals as being too low—they point out that a draft plan in 2012 (never approved) had 750 as the total for wolves. They also argue that wolves need to be recovered North of I-40 so that they can connect with northern population of wolves to support their genetic diversity and because much of the best Arizona habitat for them is in these areas. The revised plan won the support of the state wildlife departments—an Arizona official termed it “a very fair document.” This support is undoubtedly the critical element in the USFWS key decisions about the numeric goals and the decision to keep them south of I-40. The Arizona and New Mexico wildlife departments have been generally resistive to the Mexican wolf recovery efforts and achieving their support outweighs the opposition of conservation groups and science that support greater numbers and more connectivity. In my book, I discuss how Mexican wolves generally achieve good general public support in surveys. For example, a 2013 survey conducted by Tulchin Research found strong support in both states—72% and 69% respectively for Arizona and New Mexican support establishment of wolves in the northern areas of their state including majorities of Republicans in both states! This type of support is not unusual in western states—as I point out in my book, majority support for recovery of wolves is strong in many supposedly conservative states such as Montana and Idaho. However, in these states, leadership of the wildlife policymaking groups (their state departments overseeing wildlife and policymaking bodies such as commissions) have consistently opposed recovery efforts or have tried to minimize any efforts in these areas. This anomaly of popular support of carnivores coupled with anti-carnivore policy is due to the strength and intensity of opponents such as ranchers and hunters—they have an intense antipathy for carnivores that take their livestock or their game. Although they are distinctly a numerical minority, the intensity of their feelings and the traditional dominance of institutions governing wildlife by these groups has been sufficient to result in anti-carnivore policies. Thus the position of the USFWS in their latest Mexican wolf plan makes sense politically to the agency. Even if the presidential administration were favorable to wildlife (e.g., if Hillary Clinton had been elected), the USFWS would proceed with extreme caution as it did during the years of the Obama and Clinton Administrations in their policies concerning carnivores and the Endangered Species Act generally. With the election of Donald Trump, the new leadership of the Department of Interior, and with Congress actively moving to revise the ESA with likely more control by states, the USFWS undoubtedly feels as though this new plan is the best possible conservation result.
The USFWS latest recovery plan is available at http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-science/2017/06/29/mexican-gray-wolves-federal-recovery-plan/439856001/
The Tulchin survey concerning Mexican wolves is available at: https://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/pdf/20170630_FR_NOTICE_FWS-R2-ES-2017-0036.pdf
A critique of the plan by conservationists is available at: http://mexicanwolves.org/index.php/news/1770/51/Press-Release-New-Lobo-Recovery-Plan-Puts-Politics-Before-Science-Risks-Recovery-of-Highly-Endangered-Mexican-Gray-Wolves
During my research for the book, I noticed that there was no blog available for sharing informaton on wildlife conservation and thus I set up this blog to accomplish this purpose. Please share any informaticoncerning issues related to wildife policy and politics. I welcome feedback from users concerning this blog and website.