It doesn’t bring back the herds!

Let’s look at predation from the perspective of the management agencies and the funding model upon which they survive.

In a nutshell revenue comes from hunting and fishing licenses, and the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, which is an excise tax on guns, ammunition, and other firearms accessories, collected by the federal government and reapportioned to the states according to hunting activity. The Dingell-Johnson Act offers similar financial support to states for fish restoration and management projects.

Where there is a monopoly of funding, it follows that there will also be a monopoly of policy and in the case of wildlife management it helps to take a very brief look back at how it happened.

Following westward expansion and settlement, wildlife became a commodity on a much larger scale than that of the early fur trappers who were scattered about the west. Massive herds were lost to commercial endeavor, bounties were put on large carnivores. Bears, mountain lions, and wolves were vilified, persecuted and in many places extirpated by wanton destruction. No-one really cared about the role of the predators, in fact, when the realization dawned that the ungulate herds were in trouble the hatred for the predators increased.

The ‘call to action’ to try and save elk and deer was the introduction of regulated hunting. The 10th amendment of the constitution gives states jurisdiction over the wildlife within their borders, so the first iteration of the modern day state wildlife agency was born.

In return for buying a license and agreeing to be limited in their opportunity to hunt by season and number of animals that could be removed from the population, a tacit agreement of sorts was seeded, that the agency would continue to do its best to provide a ‘crop’ of wildlife at a stable and sustainable rate. It is no coincidence that even though we know the very foundation of survival is the predator/prey relationship, and that is not, by any means a bad thing, hunters do not ‘kill’ their prey, they ‘harvest’ it.

Mountain lions eat deer. Mountain lions kill deer to eat them, they are good at it. Mountain lions and deer have lived together on the north american continent for at least the last 10,000 years and lions have not wiped out their food source!

When added pressure is put on lions and other predators as a way to recover herds it is palliative and political. It is done for the optics of seeming to take an action that will pacify constituents who think there is more control over the natural world than there is.

Biologists work hard to make sure that original tacit contract of providing regular crop to hunt and harvest. In fact, no species has actually been extirpated since hunting regulations became the acceptable method of wildlife management, although, the grizzly bear came awfully close.

But the question is, is this wildlife or agriculture in the wild?

Nature actually does not work to a schedule of production, it is wilder, less predictable, a series of highs and lows, adaptations, randomness.

That is why pretending that killing more mountain lions is going to bring back the herds is disingenuous, not only to the people who mistakenly believe it, but to the grand design that has so many more threads than just the single one you think you can control.

Attitudes! Are they based on Fact or fiction?

Why does The Cougar Fund invest so much time and energy in education? We really have to look no further than a quick overview of what people already think they know about mountain lions and the impact lions have on various aspects of human lives and interests.

Let’s start with the name, or to be more specific, the names.

Mountain lions, cougars, puma, catamount, painter, ghost cat, panther, klandaghi, these are just a few of the most common nouns for the large wild cat, technically, the puma concolor, or cat of one color. It is thought that many names came into existence because lions were so widespread and community interaction, especially in indigenous times, was limited, therefore, each tribe or settlement used their own term to describe a lion. However the descriptives came about, we do know that ancient members of the wild cat family, or felidae, existed with early man on the african continent, which we now understand to be the seat of humanity, so our history sharing the landscape with this magnificent and mysterious felid is a long one.

It is interesting that how we ‘feel’ about an animal’s name and presence often drives our attitude towards it and how we anticipate the behavior, even the ‘motives’ of that animal.

Completely wild! remote videography courtesy of David Neils.

Fear and public safety

In the previous paragraph describing our co-evolution with big cats, the presence of primal fear in the human animal, with its inherent lack of strength, speed, big teeth, and long strong claws, is quite understandable. Fast forward to the cognitive revolution and our ever developing ability to enhance the creative ways we can not only protect ourselves, but also destroy threats against us. We can use our powers of deductive reasoning to adapt to our environment in ways that will reduce the risks of harm coming to us, and allow us move about in places where wildlife is trying to eke out an existence in habitat that is being carved away. You will find specific details of how to live and recreate in cougar country here. Understanding the natural history and behavior of the mountain lion through education can be empowering, and can replace paralysing fear with respect.

Situational awareness, and the ability to stay calm, focused and know what to do in the event you find yourself, however unlikely, in a conflict situation, function like a seatbelt in a vehicle. It is not a 100% guarantee, but statistics show that such tools are your best protection. That, in addition to the cold hard fact that fatal attacks by mountain lions on the entire North American continent have numbered less than 30 in over 125 YEARS. We can put that in perspective if we understand that dogs kill, on average, about 30 people a year, the most vulnerable being young children, and cows, kill 20 people per year. More information that gives context to the risks of a wild animal attack can be found in this short video

You can now see, from what we have discussed, that the actual threat presented by living and recreating in mountain lion country is actually very small. The elusive and avoidant nature of mountain lions together with the statistical evidence that attacks are indeed, exceedingly rare, shows us that the public attitude may be based on a belief system about mountain lions that is based largely on incomplete information. That is why education is a huge priority for The Cougar Fund.

In our next blog we will continue to examine how attitudes shape responses to cougars when we look at hunters, hobby ranchers, and other livestock producers.

Caring without Despairing

Oh dear, you just received another ‘call to action’ in your mail. You want to help, you really do. You have written letters in the past, you have even gone to meetings where decisions are made, but does your voice ever get heard?

Honestly, it is hard to say, categorically, that the public comment system in most of the states where regulations are adjudicated, serves the fair hearing of diverse viewpoints.

Going to the meetings is so very important, but your preparation for the meeting is even more important, and that is the purpose of this blog.

When a decision is to be made about a wildlife regulation before an agency commission, usually appointed by the state’s governor, the options that are presented to them are the result of many weeks of departmental investigation, analysis, recommendation, and sifting through of written public comments. The general disposition of those comments, although all are kept on file, is that the main points are mined and tabulated and presented. We must always remember that this is NOT A VOTE. In state comments are prioritized, while out-of-staters, unless from bordering habitat, are usually viewed as ‘outsiders’. It does not matter how many people are passionate about a particular subject, be it for, or against something, the numbers, unless coming from the traditional constituency that funds wildlife agencies, rarely have an effect. In fact, any form letters that an organization sends you, that you simply sign, will only be counted as ONE public comment, no matter how many are turned in. Commissioners are probably not going to overturn departmental recommendations at a meeting, even if it is packed to the gills with advocates, especially if the regulation comes up once every three years and that is the only time they will see you. It is still important to be there.

Is there a better path forward? Well, let’s look at why there is such lopsided willingness to listen to citizens about what happens with wildlife, afterall, it is held in the Public Trust for all of us. It’s all about the money.

The system of funding of wildlife management agencies is based on three main sources of income. Revenue from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, federal excise tax dollars from the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts and a lesser amount from grants.

(It should be noted here, that while Pittman-Robertson money is raised through a tax on firearms and archery equipment, only 20% is the purchase of guns and bows used for hunting, the other 80% is hobby shooting/archery and/or personal or home security. However it is distributed according to the number of hunters in each state.)

There are a few states that have bountiful resources of wildlife and they have seen a definite uptick in interest in hunting, although there has been resistance from within the states to an increase in out of state hunting! Other states are seeing measureable drops in interest in hunting.

Knowing all this, where the money comes from, who gets heard, who doesn’t, we understand that it isn’t always easy to step up and speak out for the animals you care about. The Cougar Fund would like to help! If you would like to know more about being prepared, understanding state policies and procedures, gaining confidence to testify or write letters without relying on a form, please email us info@cougarfund.org. When there is a deadline for comment or a meeting looming, it can be intimidating, so let us help you get prepared ahead of time. As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. We are happy to chat or zoom, or help in any way. You are important and together, the only limits are those of vision.

Enjoying without Destroying

2020 is finally behind us and, honestly, who knows what 2021 will bring? If we have learned anything from the past year, it has been that we need each other to not only face the bad times but also to bring each other through them. At a time when we have never felt more separated, it has been the one-on-one with loved ones, even if only be phone or zoom, that has got us through-together.

So, let’s start 2021 together, with a weekly look at events that shape our world and consequently shape us. Or is it the other way around do WE shape our world, and is that the event that everything then has to live with, including the habitat and animals that depend on it?

Last summer, with COVID 19 raging and people unable to travel for vacations, many decided to explore the jewels of national and state parks, and national forests, right here in the US. Those vacations ticked all the boxes, they were outside, gas was cheap, so an RV could be rented and the family isolated without having to stay in motels or eat in restaurants. Camping was an option for the fitter and more adventurous, and it all seemed, well, so wholesome, and harmless, and such a relief, from the lockdown and the fear.

And it was, and it IS!

To be in nature is like coming home. She feeds us, she nurtures us, she lifts our spirits, she instills a feeling of belonging, she launders out the bad feelings and makes us crisp and clean again. She helps us clamber to places where we can see visions for our future that are clear and hopeful. When we are in nature we are connected. Each breath pulls in what is around us and our hearts beat throughout our entire bodies and we feel truly alive.

There is a word we often use in the environmental world, it is ‘balance’. Scientists do not use this word, but it is applicable here, because what we are really talking about is cause and effect. The reciprocal aspects of what we ‘get out of’ nature and what we do to get it. Is there even a measurement for what we get out of nature? I doubt it. Sylvia Plath, in The Bell Jar, said ‘I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, This is what it is to be happy.’ But at what cost? How do we balance what we take away from the landscape with what we expect it to keep renewing? Are we anticipating too much of nature’s resilience in sustaining some species? After all, an environment will still be an environment, even if we have destroyed the fragile infrastructure of all the native plants residing there, it will just be an environment, probably filled with hardier invasives or even bare dusty or muddy areas.

An article published last year by the Citizen Times examined the damage and degradation inflicted upon parts of the Appalachian Trail and the steps taken to rehabilitate the worst of the abuse. https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2020/09/23/max-patch-residents-campers-creating-safety-hazards-mountain/5858936002/ The most important aspect of this story is that it was duplicated over and over again across the country, and while there were valiant efforts to mitigate the damage both on the AT and in other areas, there is never enough money or manpower in the federal or state or local agencies to repeatedly clean up. The negative effects of recreational use may be due to a number of factors, carelessness, inexperience, arrogance, lack of a system that regulates use, abuse of the system that regulates use, naivety about the fact that humans enjoying nature might also be destroying her.

Remember the paragraph about how wonderful it feels to ‘come home to nature’? Well, the crux of this article and the deeply meaningful point that we want you to consider this New Year’s week is that when the incredible privilege to feel you have ‘come home’ in nature happens, you really haveinto someone else’s actual home. Into the home of animals who have no alternatives, who cannot go back to another life, who are living in the only place that they can, and that place is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. Habitat loss is the single greatest threat to wildlife today. We chew away at habitat in so many different ways, we encroach, we fragment, we build roads without safe crossings and the irony is that the animals are amazingly tolerant and adaptable, if only we would be thoughtful in how we develop and recreate. People are not an AND with nature, we are a PART of nature, that is why we crave and then recognize that connection we feel when we are able to be out in it as happened last summer. Let’s all be gentle with our home so that the cougars, the bears, the wolves, the coyotes, the deer, the elk, the moose, the martens, the herons, the otters, and every other non-human housemate we share it with can live peacefully and well.

Authorities in Oregon investigate as yet unconfirmed human fatality by a mountain lion

UPDATE September 14th 2018

ODWF has now announced the removal of an adult female cougar in the area where Diana Bober’s backpack was found. There is no evidence available yet to link this cougar with the fatal attack on Diana. ODFW does, however, speculate, that the cougar’s proximity to the scene is indicative of known cougar behavior.

In an astonishing statement, ODFW has said it will continue to kill cougars in the area until a ‘match’ is found.

https://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/2018/09_september/091418d%20.asp

Prior story:

For the second time this year, the awful news has come across our devices, our TV’s or been heard on the radio….there have been not one, but two, tragic human deaths in 2018 associated with the elusive, powerful, and yes, still wild, mountain lion.

While it is true that human deaths caused by mountain lions are extremely rare, and in the last 125 years, fatal human tragedy has occurred  just 27 times, it is also true that no statistic or opinion will ease the grief of loved ones who have suffered such a loss. Our priority must always be with the families of victims, who are so in need of our compassion and respect; and with the passage of time buy valtrex 500 necessary for the professionals to do their job in discovering what might have happened.

A tragedy like this should not become a mission to apportion blame or promote any particular agenda. As more details unfold, there will be a chance for all of us to become informed based on fact and not conjecture.

We urge the authorities in Oregon to take a measured and proactive approach, that does NOT include random killing of cougars in the area, where this tragic interaction happened. Please take the time to sedate, examine, and take pathological samples from any lions you find, fit them with gps collars and await the results of all forensic investigation, before deciding which lion, and why (disease, starvation, disability, injury, poisoning, reproductive status, age and condition) was involved. Whatever decision you then make will be a response to the type of evidence your scientists hold in high regard and NOT  a reaction to appease fear and provide a false sense of security for the understandably concerned public.

Compassion and perspective are the best tools for both managers and the public when dealing with such primal events.

 

cougar_clayton_07

https://www.nwpb.org/2018/09/12/oregon-hiker-likely-killed-by-cougar-authorities-say-would-be-first-documented-fatality-in-state/

Storytelling at its best.

 

“Heart of a Lion” by Will Stolzenburg

The value of storytelling can never be underestimated. Stories are the purveyors of history,  vehicles by which facts are disseminated, and the wings that let imagination soar.

Our earliest communication, whether as a culture or as individual human babies, comes through the magic of stories. We learn of feats and failures, adoration and abhorrence,  winning and losing, right and wrong, hope and despair. Our minds attend the lessons of a well taught tale, and this tale  has all these elements. “Heart of a Lion” is the compellingly told story of a young male mountain lion, that left South Dakota in search of his own territory, commonplace for dispersing adolescents. Yet, his story will inspire you and leave you in awe of the tenacity of the natural world because this lion traveled over 1500 miles, through some of the most developed areas of the north east in search of a home, food, and love . In the same way that sagas, both ancient and modern, plot out the lives of incredible humans, so “Heart of a Lion”, by author William Stolzenburg, skillfully plots out the life of an incredible animal. Marginally unchanged in biology, from when it shared the earth with nothing but wildlife, the mountain lion has traveled through the tunnel of time, and the dark days of persecution, to emerge, singularly whole, spectacularly unique, and determined to etch out a place, not only in the wildness of our landscapes, but also in our hearts. Will’s incredible storytelling will make you care deeply about a valiant lion, who like Odysseus, would find his home only through his wandering…

You can find “Heart of a Lion” on Will’s website. It is a story that had to be told and like all classics, one which we should retell over and over again.

http://willstolzenburg.com/

Thank you Greater Yellowstone Coalition!

Thank you to Carolyn Byrd and her staff for directly addressing the disturbing downward trend that will result from state management of the grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/opinions/guest_columnists/can-we-live-with-grizzly-bears/article_799688ba-e3d8-51c8-8e30-f9436d90c170.html

Grizzly delisting gets attention from Politicians, Scientists and Celebrities

As the decision to delist grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem enters its final stages many people are weighing in on the premature rush to release the care and protection of the bears to states with a historical mandate to provide the recreational opportunity to kill them for sport.

These two letters show clearly that the doubts about relegating the great bear to trophy game status not only run deep but are heard in the highest places in the land.

http://democrats-naturalresources.house.gov/imo/media/doc/June%207%20Grijalva%20Letter%20to%20FWS%20Director%20Ashe%20on%20Grizzly%20Delisting.pdf

http://www.outsideonline.com/2088271/grizzly-letter-obama

Excellent review of the Public Trust Doctrine and how it is being violated

We would like to share this enlightening view of the Public Trust Doctrine as seen through the lens of the decisions being made by the Florida Wildlife Agency Commissioners. This is a long read but a ‘must see’ if you are at all concerned that your interests as a member of  the Public, are being ignored by those entrusted with our wildlife.

http://www.dailykumquat.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Taking-the-Trust-Text-Only.pdf

Trust faces a new challenge

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The AP headline on the recent controversy

Advocacy is often based on promoting the values that are seldom addressed in the structure, politics and administration of state wildlife management today. Objectives are built on the need for management practices that better represent a broader constituency. State agencies have long enjoyed the luxury of unilateral funding and the subsequent primary self identification as facilitators of hunting.

The story accompanying this tells the tale of an almost unbelievable error on the part of an agency that had recently come under scrutiny for requesting extensive helicopter access into a wilderness area. Several large groups filed objections to the Forest Service when the access was first applied for. The groups not only objected to motorized travel in wilderness but were also suspicious of the intentions of IGFD with regards to wolves. The Forest Service did not give permission for wolf research.

Obviously a very serious mistake was made. You can see this from the string of articles cataloguing the initial objections, the consequent litigation and then the admission by IGFD of mistakenly collaring wolves during an elk collaring exercise.

 

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IDFG’s official press release

 

There is no doubt that we ALL make mistakes, but what is most troublesome about this story is whether IDFG deliberately ignored the limited permission they had been granted to collar elk. There is no doubt that there is passionate anti-wolf sentiment in Idaho which places IDFG in the unenviable position of being attacked from all sides. There is never a good reason to engineer deception and disrespect for any constituents, whether a Federal Agency, an environmental advocacy organization or the employees who were not adequately briefed about the scope of their responsibilities.

It seems from following the thread of the tale that IDFG were, in fact, the first to admit to the error, which the Forest Service is then mandated to investigate. At a time when IDFG and the Forest Service are being challenged and closely scrutinized it would be mind-bogglingly arrogant for an agency to make a deliberate miscalculation of this magnitude.

 

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The initial source of controversy

 

We actually want to trust those who have been given the authority to be decision makers over our wildlife and our wild lands. We want to build relationships where we are recognized as participants and not antagonists. We want to be able to contribute to funding and become part of a binary system of wildlife administration.

Just as large carnivores are often keystone species, so trust is the keystone of integrity and respect. Incidents like this are not just embarrassing, they are much more serious than that. They open the door to doubt and suspicion. Grizzly bear management will probably soon be transferred to Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, just as wolf management was several years ago. Many eyes will be upon these three states, so firmly rooted in the heritage of recreational killing of large carnivores and omnivores.

There has never been a time when trust is more important or more easily fragmented than now.

 


The articles whose titles are featured in this post can be found here:

USFS Officials Scrutinize Suspicious Wolf Collaring

Mistake Made During Idaho Fish and Game’s Elk-Collaring Project in Wilderness

Groups Sue to Stop Helicopter Landings in Idaho Wilderness