What do you call a war waged on unarmed opponents? Considering the rate and frequency of shooting I’m hearing out there now, there’s a massacre going on. If the victims being slain were human, it would be called mass murder. A pre-dawn ambush. All-out insanity. Evil incarnate.
But to the hunters on opening day annihilating ducks and geese, it’s tradition; harvesting nature; business as usual.
Someone must have signaled “charge” to an entire platoon waiting to attack at dawn, and a mindless barrage of semi-automatic shotgun fire shattered the morning air. Now it’s 7:30 a.m. and only the random explosions break the stillness. The blitzkrieg has been going on steadily for over forty-five minutes—since before first light (sunrise today is officially at 7:35, according to the NOAA weather radio).
I wasn’t sure if the “enemy,” no, “opponent,” no, victims were the elk herd who occasionally visit the neighbor’s hayfield, the stray black-tail deer who keep themselves mostly out of sight around here for fear of poachers, or the ducks and geese who are starting to gather on their customary wintering grounds. Judging by the constant rapid gun fire, the victims must be the “waterfowl” whose “season” started today.
What fresh hell is this? Armageddon for avian kind? Or just another opening day for sport hunters?
A trip to town yesterday was pretty amazing, wildlife-wise. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera. From the north side of the Astoria bridge we saw the humpback whale who’s been seen hanging out around in the lower Colombia River for a few days.
Then, after visiting the sea lions who reside on the East Moring Basin docks, we went to Hammond, by to Fort Stevens State Park, and watched a friendly herd of elk close up in a scene reminiscent of Mammoth Village in Yellowstone National Park.
For a grand finale, we stopped to walk the dog at the “Dismal Niche”* rest area (*a name indicative of Lewis and Clark’s lack of appreciation of the area), and saw a group of around 30 harbor seals just offshore in a channel of river. They were treading water, popping up and going under, probably looking for fish though we never saw them catch any). Perhaps they were just enjoying the gentle current in the eddy they found there.
Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River at the top of the Oregon Coast, Astoria, can be a nice small town to visit, if you like sea lions. If not, it can be a cold, heartless and otherwise pretty boring place.
The entertaining pinnipeds lounging, cavorting and guarding their tiny spot on a couple of the docks in the town’s East Moring Basin are a must see for anyone who enjoys connecting with the wildlife close-up.
Unfortunately, a few of the locals are more fulfilled by hating and shooting the friendly, comical sea lions despite the steady draw they bring to this depressed and rather depressing town which makes a temporary living through extraction of dwindling natural resources, such as fish and trees (many of which are shipped to China on giant, diesel carbon-spewing container ships). Not unlike so many other instances in society, it’s really only a few local people, claiming all for humans, who want the sea lions evicted, but they don’t mind ruining it for everyone else.
A similar situation is going on in nearby Gearhart, just north of Seaside, Oregon. A herd of Roosevelt elk recently moved into the quietish town (after being crowded out of their former home by development, including a Home Depot, Petco, Staples, Dollar Store, a couple of auto dealerships, and a relocated, expanded super-Costco, with more to come soon—all, ironically—on “Dolphin” Lane). For now they enjoy the dunes along the beach, but that could all change if the few who resent wildlife in their proximity have their way…
For Immediate Release, April 16, 2015
Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
250 Native Elk Die Inside Fenced-in Area at Point Reyes National Seashore
Despite High Mortality, Park Service Considering Plan to Remove or
Fence Free-roaming Elk at Behest of Ranchers
POINT REYES, Calif.— The National Park Service has acknowledged that that more than 250 tule elk died inside the fenced Pierce Point Elk Preserve at California’s Point Reyes National Seashore from 2012 to 2014, likely due to lack of access to year-round water. While nearly half the elk inside the fenced area died, free-roaming Point Reyes elk herds with access to water increased by nearly a third during the same period.
The news comes as the Park Service considers a ranch management plan to either remove or fence in some of the free-roaming elk herds, while extending park cattle grazing leases for up to 20 years.
“Tule elk need room to roam, and native wildlife in our national park should not be fenced in or prevented from finding water and food,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The loss of nearly half the Pierce Point elk herd highlights how important it is that the Park Service not cave to commercial ranchers who want free-roaming Point Reyes elk fenced in.”
Tule elk are native and endemic to California. There were once 500,000 tule elk in the state but by the late 1800s impacts from cattle ranching and hunting had reduced them to only 28 elk. From one surviving herd, tule elk were reintroduced throughout the state and there are now 4,300 elk in 25 herds. Tule elk were returned to Pierce Point at Point Reyes in 1978, and a free-ranging herd was established in the park in 1998. Point Reyes Seashore is the only national park with tule elk.
The Pierce Point herd declined from 540 elk in fall of 2012 to 286 elk by 2014, a drop of 47 percent. There are no natural year-round fresh water sources on Pierce Point and the elk in the preserve are prevented from migrating by a large, elk-proof fence. During the same drought period, the free-roaming Point Reyes elk herds — which had access to water — increased by 32 percent. The Limantour herd grew from 94 to 120 elk and the Drakes Beach herd increased from 66 to 92 elk.
Cattle ranchers who enjoy heavily subsidized cattle grazing leases on public lands within the national seashore are lobbying the Park Service toremove or fence out the free-roaming elk from ranching areas, because elk are eating grass they believe should be reserved solely for their cattle. The Park Service is considering evicting the free-roaming elk under a planning process initiated for 28,000 acres of leased dairy and beef cattle ranches within the park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area lands in Marin County administered by the national seashore. The Park Service is also proposing extending ranching leases for up to 20 years, and may allow ranchers to expand their operations to animals other than cattle, which would create more conflicts between livestock and native wildlife.
“The reintroduction of elk to the Point Reyes peninsula is a success story for conservation of native species, but the elk are in jeopardy of eviction to benefit a few lease holders,” said Miller. “The Park Service already prioritizes commercial cattle grazing in Point Reyes. Now these subsidized ranchers want to dictate park policies that could eliminate native elk and harm predators and other wildlife.”
There are 13 cows for every elk in the national seashore, with nearly 6,500 dairy and beef cattle and only 498 elk. One-quarter of the national seashore is devoted to commercial cattle operations, with grazing on nearly 18,000 acres under 39 leases. Ten ranching families were paid $19.6 million by the public from 1963 to 1978 for the purchase of ranch lands added to Point Reyes National Seashore. Many of those same families still enjoy heavily subsidized grazing lease rates within the park, paying one-half to one-third the cost they would pay for non-federal grazing land in Marin.
The Park Service is required under its enabling legislation to manage the seashore “without impairment of its natural values” and for “maximum protection, restoration, and preservation of the natural environment.” Restoring native wildlife and ecosystem processes is supposed to be one of the primary missions of the Park Service.
Elk graze on grasses and flowering plants and also browse shrubs and trees. Unlike cattle, elk move around to take advantage of seasonal food sources. Elk can reduce fire danger by browsing brush that is unpalatable to cattle, without impacts to water quality. Extensive studies have documented the negative environmental impacts of overgrazing cattle, including erosion and soil loss, water pollution, degradation of wetland and stream habitats and spread of invasive plants.
Cattle-ranching requires excessive amounts of water — each beef and dairy cow drinks 12 and 35 gallons of water per day, respectively. Accounting for all water use, a typical dairy farm with around 700 cows can use over 3 million gallons of water every day; and every pound of California beef requires about 2,464 gallons of water to produce.
Point Reyes ranchers raise the specter of Johne’s disease as a reason for evicting the Point Reyes elk.Johne’s is a wasting disease of domestic livestock that is spread from confined cattle to wild ruminants such as elk and deer. It is documented that Point Reyes cattle infected the Pierce Point elk herd with the disease. The disease takes 3 to 4 years to produce symptoms. By that time, milk production of most dairy cows peaks and they are removed for slaughter, but infected elk begin to waste away. The Park Service reports that more than 200 recent testing samples show no evidence of the disease in the free-roaming elk. Despite previous high rates of cattle infection in Point Reyes dairies, the Park Service does not require testing or reporting of the disease.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Public Overwhelmingly Supports Free-ranging Tule Elk Herd at Point Reyes National Seashore
Ranchers Lobbying Park Service to Remove or Fence Out Native Elk
POINT REYES, Calif.— The vast majority of 3,000 public comments on a ranch-management plan for Point Reyes National Seashore support allowing a free-roaming tule elk herd to stay at Outer Point Reyes rather than being fenced in or removed. The comments were released today by the National Park Service as part of a planning process initiated for 28,000 acres of dairy and beef cattle ranches within the national park.
“Point Reyes tule elk are highly beloved by visitors, photographers, naturalists and locals alike. The public doesn’t want these elk relocated, fenced into an exhibit, shot, sterilized or any of the other absurd proposals from ranchers who enjoy subsidized grazing privileges in our national seashore,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is the only national park with native tule elk — it’s not a ‘national ranch’ or a zoo exhibit, and it shouldn’t be managed that way. If the park takes any steps toward fencing or relocating elk, it will create a legal and public-relations fight that it will lose.”
The Park Service is considering extending existing ranching leases for up to 20 years. The management plan will address concerns about alleged conflicts between tule elk and ranch operations. The Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association, Marin Supervisor Steve Kinsey and Congressman Jared Huffman are demanding that the Park Service remove free-ranging tule elk from the “pastoral zone” or build an extraordinarily large, environmentally damaging elk-proof fence to keep elk out of ranching areas. Many ranchers claim that elk cause economic impacts by eating grass they believe belongs solely to their cattle.
“Tule elk are an ecologically important part of the landscape of Point Reyes National Seashore, while cattle grazing permits are a privilege and certainly not a free pass to try to dictate Park Service policy that harms park wildlife,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Ranching and wild elk herds can coexist at the seashore, but if ranchers want to manufacture a fight over cattle versus elk, they are likely to quickly learn that the vast majority of Americans rightly choose wildlife over cows in our parks.”
The ranchers in the national seashore enjoy heavily subsidized cattle grazing lease rates on public lands within the park. They bizarrely characterize native tule elk as “invasive” because they were extirpated in the 1800s when ranchers and market hunters eliminated them from the Point Reyes peninsula and most of California. Tule elk were reintroduced to Point Reyes in 1978, and a free-ranging elk herd was established in the park in 1998.
Tule elk have been grazing the Point Reyes peninsula for about 10,000 years, except during from the late 1800s, when they were eliminated from most of California. They returned in 1978 when the National Park Service reintroduced elk to Tomales Point. Tule elk have taken well to reintroduction, and the Tomales Point herd is one of the largest of the 22 herds in California, with a stable population of 450 elk, which are fenced in on the remote point.
The Park Service last prepared an elk management plan in 1998, with an environmental assessment considering alternatives for managing elk on Tomales Point, and decided on a plan to establish a free-ranging herd within the park. The Park Service reintroduced 28 tule elk to the Limantour wilderness area in 1998. The Limantour herd has grown to 65 elk, and a sub-herd established itself near Drakes Beach, now numbering 55 elk, nowhere near the park’s stated management limit of 250-350 elk. The 1998 reintroduction plan allowed capture and relocation of wayward elk, contraception of elk in the event of the herd surpassing 250-350 elk, and even killing aggressive elk that had conflicts with cattle ranches, which has only happened once.
The Park Service is required to manage Point Reyes National Seashore “without impairment of its natural values” and for “maximum protection, restoration, and preservation of the natural environment.” The reintroduction of elk to the Point Reyes peninsula is a success story for conservation of native species and restoring ecosystem processes, one of the primary missions of the National Park Service. Free‐ranging elk, as browsers, play an important role in reducing fire danger by reducing brush that is unpalatable to cattle, and without negative impacts to water quality.
Some of the ranchers at the national seashore routinely violate their lease conditions by stocking excess cattle, allowing cattle to trespass out of the pastoral zone (where they are eating forage needed by wildlife) and raising animals not allowed in their leases — with no consequences. Public-lands ranchers at the seashore pay less than half of the grazing rent they would pay outside the park on private lands ($7 to $9 per animal unit month inside the park compared with $15 to $20 outside), which already more than compensates these livestock operators for any wildlife impacts.
A group from Mayfield claims that Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game has been unable to protect their livelihoods from elk herds which they say are trampling their fences, crops, and causing other problems. The department currently allows a small group of hunters to participate in “depredation hunts,” in which the hunters are allowed to kill animals while hoping to drive the herds away.
Elk hunters have actively encouraged thinning the wolf population. Some have established co-ops to shoulder the cost of trapping wolves that are eating the prized trophy animals. Wolf trappers are paid up to $500 per kill.
Conservationists unsuccessfully attempted to stop the wolf hunts and predicted an explosion in the elk population if the wolf, an apex predator, was hunted. Tim Preso, an attorney representing the conservationists said of the wolf hunting efforts last week:
There is every reason to believe that this is not going to be a one-off, they have set a goal of inflating the elk population by removing wolves. According to their own plan that’s a multi-year undertaking. So I see every reason to believe that this is going to be a recurring activity.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, almost 900 wolves have been killed since they lost federal protection.
One of the proposed solutions to Mayfield’s problem is to move the herds closer to the areas where wolves roam.
It may be a given that for many (if not most) American ruralites, hunting season is their favorite time of year. Like pumpkins at Halloween or colored lights at Christmastime, camo, orange vests and empty beer cans are symbolic of the season. But don’t let the PR puff about self-sufficiency or sustainability fool you, this celebration is strictly motivated by the thrill they get from killing.
Few, if any, western hunters actually need to “harvest” wild “game” to survive in the modern world. It’s all about the “sport” these days, and perhaps for some, outdated “tradition.” It’s never made more clear than when you pull up to a gated logging road in your muddy, decades-old light pickup to look for mushrooms and find yourself parked between a pair of shiny new $50,000.00, ¾ ton mondo trucks, just off the showroom floor—their owners out for a day of hunting. That $50 grand would go a long way toward feeding a hungry family, if that was really the reason for their vicious exploits.
Want more proof that they don’t really need the deer or elk meat to survive? For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to get ahold of the local construction company to have a load of gravel delivered before the rainy season makes my driveway impassable to anyone without a 4×4. Finally, the owner of the company returned my call and sheepishly confessed that he’s been away on “vacation” (no second guesses doing what) and since returning, hasn’t been able to reach any drivers. “They’re all out hunting,” he explained, expecting me to understand.
Well, the problem is, the elk and deer are the only neighbors I consider my true friends. Sorry, but I’m not too understanding when I hear that folks can afford to take time off from high-paying trucking jobs to go on weeks-long trips to murder my friends.
It’s clearly just a sport to them, not a matter of survival.
Blam…..Blam….Blam…Blam, blam, blam, blam, blam, blam….(and on and on…). That’s the sound of a hunter on the last weekend of elk season, frustrated because he hasn’t yet made a kill. We heard it all afternoon and although it was annoying, it was nice to know that no elk died at the hands of this particular bozo.
He must have shot off 500+ rounds—one right after another—sometimes 3 or 4 per second, just trying to use up all the shells he bought for the season. Never taking time to aim at even a bottle of a paper target, this was the antithesis of the mythical “ethical hunter” who wouldn’t dream of pulling the trigger unless an animal’s kill zone was in his sights. No, this was just the regular ol’ standard American hunter.
The funny this is, despite all the noise he was making, he was probably wearing camo so the elk wouldn’t see him.
It’s unbelievable to me that in the year 2014—going on ’15—the media still does hyperbolic backflips every time some celebrity gets pregnant or decides it might be fun to become a daddy, as if human reproduction is some mysterious miracle we should all be awed by. Well, there’s only so much awe I can take before something becomes truly awful–especially in light of the fact that every new human born equates to less biodiversity for everyone.
That’s something I’ve known for a long time. Now, recent studies have officially confirmed that in the forty-six years since human overpopulation was first recognized as a serious problem, our numbers have more than doubled, while the number of naturally occurring animals is half of what it was then.
I’ve seen countless distressing instances of human “success” negating that of the rest of Earth’s creatures. The most vivid recent example pitted a new Costco, Home Depot and the site of a soon-to-be future Walmart against an elk herd’s migration corridor. Where stately Roosevelt elk once freely travelled between protected park lands, a lit-up strip mall and associated blacktop parking lots now spell the sad end for wildlife and wilderness alike.
In a scene played over and over across anywhere USA, more land is taken up by more lanes of highway so more people can visit more superstores. More and more road-kill results finally in fatality for a few humans, and before you know it, a “cull” is implemented on whatever wild species dares to stand in the way of human “progress.”
Throughout the land you can hear the battle cry: “Out of the way, animals, we’ve got diapers and baby carriages to buy.”