A gray wolf is captured by a remote camera on U.S. Forest Service land in Oregon in 2017.Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife/AP
Gray wolves, a species that has long been vilified and admired, will no longer receive federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in the Lower 48 U.S. states, the Trump administration announced Thursday.
The long-anticipated move is drawing praise from those who want to see the iconic species managed by state and tribal governments, and harsh criticism from those who believe federal protections should remain in place until wolves inhabit more of their historical range. Gray wolves used to exist across most of North America.
“After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, announcing the delisting, which will revert management of wolf populations to local wildlife agencies.
Federal wildlife officials are hailing the move as a success story, similar to endangered species recovery stories such as the bald eagle and American alligator.
After being nearly wiped clean from the contiguous U.S. by the mid-20th century, there are now more than 6,000 gray wolves in the Lower 48 states, largely clustered in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Western Great Lakes region.Article continues after sponsor messagehttps://f5581fa88159aeabf2406214dd563910.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Critics are calling the move premature, though, and are already promising to sue.
“This is no ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice.”Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast.”
Some critics are portraying the move as another environmental attack by the Trump administration, which has rolled back dozens of environmental regulations, including protections for endangered species and migratory birds. But wolves have a complicated history that doesn’t fit cleanly into the bipartisan rancor that now dominates U.S. environmental policies.
After being hunted, trapped, poisoned and harassed to the point of near extirpation in the contiguous U.S., all gray wolves south of Canada were given federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in 1978.
In 2013, the Obama administration also proposed to delist gray wolves, saying that the species had rebounded to the point where they were no longer at risk of extinction and should be managed by state and tribal governments.
A couple of years earlier, wolf populations in Montana and Idaho were delisted by a congressional budget rider, authored by a Democrat and Republican senator in each of those states who were pressured by agricultural and sportsmen groups. Wolves are an apex predator that, at times, kill livestock. Subsequent lawsuits saw gray wolves get delisted, relisted and delisted again in Wyoming.
Today, state wildlife agencies manage wolf populations in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, and hunting of the species is permitted.
Similar hunting seasons are expected in some Midwestern states if the national delisting survives the anticipated court challenges, and wildlife groups contend that hunting seasons will limit wolves’ ability to repopulate other parts of the country.
Randy Johnson, a large carnivore specialist for Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, told Wisconsin Public Radio this month that if wolf management fell back to the state, it would use all of the tools available to find a balance “between a healthy and sustainable wolf population, but also addressing those social concerns and livestock concerns when and where needed.”
WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service finalized a rule removing protections for all gray wolves in the lower-48 states except for a small population of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.
The rule, proposed last year, outraged Americans, with approximately 1.8 million comments submitted by the public opposing delisting. Additionally, 86 members of Congress (in both the House and Senate), 100 scientists, 230 businesses, and 367 veterinary professionals submitted letters opposing the wolf delisting plan. Today Dr. Jane Goodall released a video in response to the decision. Even the scientific peer reviews commissioned by the Fish and Wildlife Service itself found that the agency’s proposal contained numerous errors and appeared to come to a predetermined conclusion, with inadequate scientific support. Despite this public and scientific outcry, the rule issued today removes all federal protections from gray wolves.
The following are statements from a coalition of organizations that work toward wildlife conservation:
“This is no ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery,” said Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice attorney. “Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast. This delisting decision is what happens when bad science drives bad policy – and it’s illegal, so we will see them in court.”
“Wolves are too imperiled and ecologically important to be cruelly trapped or gunned down for sport,” said Collette Adkins, Carnivore Conservation Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration is catering to trophy hunters, the livestock industry and other special interests that want to kill wolves. We’ll do everything we can to stop it.”
“The decision to remove critical protections for still-recovering gray wolves is dangerously short-sighted, especially in the face of an extinction crisis. We should be putting more effort into coexistence with wolves instead of stripping critical protections still needed for their full recovery. The science is clear that we need to be doing more to protect nature and wildlife, not less.,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.
“We are disappointed in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s final determination to remove federal protections for the gray wolf in the lower 48 states,” states Angela Grimes, CEO of Born Free USA. “With current gray wolf habitats spanning states that are hostile towards the species, gray wolves still teeter on the verge of recovery. Delisting this American icon appeases a small percentage of the American public and will surely damage the viability of future populations.”
“Without the protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act, gray wolves would never have recovered in the places where they are now,” said Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “By removing protections across the country, the Trump Administration is abandoning efforts to restore this iconic American species to millions of acres of wild habitat.”
“Protecting and restoring the iconic call of the wolf is our duty to not only the populations of wolves that continue to be persecuted to this day, but to the ecosystems that depend upon them. Removing protections for wolves under the Endangered Species Act ensures that these much-maligned creatures will continue to struggle for their rightful place in the natural world, ” stated Louie Psihoyos, Founder and Executive Director of Oceanic Preservation Society. “As we confront the 6th Mass Extinction, we must work to defend every living component to maintain nature’s complex and delicate balance.”
“Wolves are just beginning a tentative recovery in states like Washington, Oregon, California, and Colorado, and the howl of the wolf is completely absent from their natural habitats in states like Nevada and Utah,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Removing Endangered Species Act protections before wolf populations are secure, and before their recovery is complete, is ecologically irresponsible.”
“By turning over gray wolf management to the states, the Fish and Wildlife Service is relying on local management regimes that often undermine gray wolf recovery efforts,” said Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute. “Many of the states’ wolf management plans are vague and unenforceable, lack sources of funding, and prioritize recreational hunting interests over the maintenance of viable wolf populations. Gray wolves are apex predators who play a vital role in ecosystems, contribute to a multibillion-dollar outdoor tourism industry, and are a beloved symbol of our nation’s wildlands.”
“Where wolves are unprotected, they are mercilessly persecuted, as we’ve already had a glimpse of in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, ” said Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “Now they are defenseless across their range, which is bad news for wolves, but good news for people who want to shoot and trap them. The Trump administration is once again destroying our shared natural resources for the interests of a few.”
“Stripping protections for gray wolves is premature and reckless,” said Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark. “Gray wolves occupy only a fraction of their former range and need continued federal protection to fully recover. We will be taking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to court to defend this iconic species.”
“If we want to save wolves, we need a national plan, if not a continental one,” said Environment America’s Conservation Program Senior Director Steve Blackledge. “Wolves need plenty of space to roam, and it just doesn’t make sense to create arbitrary boundaries for them. Do we really want to lose the hearty howl of the gray wolf on our watch?”
“You cannot have a national wolf recovery without putting forward a national wolf recovery plan. This still has not happened, so eliminating federal protections for gray wolves is a huge setback in recovery efforts,” said Sylvia Fallon, Senior Director, Wildlife for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Wolves are still missing from much of their remaining habitat in the West and throughout the Northeast. As we face a biodiversity crisis of global proportions, now is the time to restore species to the landscape – not dial back efforts. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has decided on the exact opposite.”
“The many threats that caused wolves to become endangered still exist,” said Nancy Warren, Executive Director National Wolfwatcher Coalition. “States have shown over and over again, that wolf management is based on politics rather than science. The cumulative effects of interpack strife, aggressive hunting and trapping practices, legal and illegal killings, car collisions and disease impact not only wolf populations but also the social structure of packs well beyond the extent of each individual threat.”
“Once large carnivores lose federal protections, the states often open liberal hunting and trapping seasons, purposely depleting populations,” said Garrick Dutcher, Research and Program Director for Living with Wolves. “History shows this to be especially true for the gray wolf, whose recovery is underway, but nowhere near complete. There is no biologically sound reason to lessen or remove protections for wolves.”
“The return of the wolf reflects more fully functional and wild ecosystems,” said Wolf Conservation Center Executive Director, Maggie Howell. “While we agree that wolves cannot be recovered everywhere they used to be found, there is still plenty of suitable habitat left in areas where wolves have yet to recover. Vast swaths of existing, highly suitable habitat in the Southern Rockies, parts of West, and the Northeast will now remain forever impoverished by reduced biological diversity and impaired ecosystem health.”
“Wolves are only recovered in 15% of their range at best,” stated Camilla Fox, Founder and Executive Director of Project Coyote. “Only anti-wolf bias, and certainly not credible science, would conclude that 15% constitutes a significant portion of wolves’ historic range. This completely contravenes the notion of evidence-based policy or science-based wolf recovery.”
“Given that gray wolves in the lower 48 states occupy a fraction of their historical and currently available habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service determining they are successfully recovered does not pass the straight-face test,” said John Mellgren, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “On its face, this appears to be politically motivated. While the Trump administration may believe it can disregard science, the law does not support such a stance. We look forward to having a court hear our science-based arguments for why wolves desperately need Endangered Species Act protections to fully recover.”
“Restoring endangered species is much more than a minimum population numbers game”. stated David Parsons, Carnivore Conservation Biologist at The Rewilding Institute. “The first purpose of the ESA is to restore ecosystems that are critical to the recovery of endangered species. Gray wolves are keystone species in their ecosystems, and removing their protection under the ESA will forever preclude them from re-inhabiting significant areas historically occupied habitats, leaving these areas ecologically impoverished.”
“Until all wildlife voices are weighted equally and the state agencies inhumane and unscientific management plans are changed to reflect real Wisconsin values on wolf conservation and independent research, then the wolf hasn’t truly recovered. Endangered species conservation begins and ends with managing and educating people. Delisting would essentially throw the wolf back into the hands of the very same attitudes and practices that caused their extinction in Wisconsin,” said Melissa Smith, director of Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance and Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf & Wildlife.
“Entrusting states with gray wolf management is a brutal and failed experiment,” said Kimberly Baker, Executive Director of the Klamath Forest Alliance. “Idaho serves as a horrific example, where 60% of the state’s wolf population, including dozens of pups, were exterminated in a single year, destroying decades of wolf recovery efforts.”
“Delisting will cause wolves to fall prey to the whim of state governments, led by boards disproportionately represented by hunting/trapping interests,” said Karol Miller, President of The 06 Legacy. “This conflict of interest is without consideration of the positive role of wolves or the need for sufficient populations to fulfill their role as a critical keystone species in a healthy ecosystem.”
“The northeast has been totally ignored by state and federal governments despite the fact that it contains tens of thousands of square miles of potentially suitable wolf habitat, abundant prey, and is as near as sixty miles to existing wolf populations in Canada,” according to John Glowa, President of The Maine Wolf Coalition, Inc. “Furthermore, recent evidence indicates that wolves have returned to the region. This keystone predator is an essential part of the ecosystem in the northeast where deer populations are exploding and where moose are lacking natural predators. Stripping federal protection will doom natural wolf recolonization and will ensure that the ecosystem is never returned to its natural state.”
“Wolves are one of the most highly persecuted species in North America, and the humans that came before us did a remarkable job of eliminating these carnivores from our landscapes,” said Wildlands Network Conservation Director and Interim Executive Director Greg Costello. “We now recognize the ecological need for wolves, and must continue to uphold the inherent right of this species to coexist in the world.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has once more shown its blatant disregard for the values of the majority of Americans who care deeply about wolves and don’t want to see them killed for the pleasure of a few trophy hunters,” said Sara Amundson, President of Humane Society Legislative Fund. “ This politicized decision by the Trump Administration throws away decades of science-based recovery efforts and is based on the same fearmongering and hate that caused the extirpation of wolves a hundred years ago. We’ll never give up fighting to secure their permanent protection from such wanton cruelty and destruction.”
“Wolves are among the essential wildlife for healthy, resilient ecosystems, especially during these times of chaotic climate change. In addition, wolves are also valued by many Americans for their intrinsic worth as co-inhabitants of the Earth’s wildlands.” Kim Crumbo, Wildlands Coordinator, The Rewilding Institute.
“Removing protections for gray wolves amid a global extinction crisis is short-sighted and dangerous to America’s conservation legacy,” said Bart Melton, Wildlife Program Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Rather than working alongside communities to support the return of wolves to parks and surrounding landscapes including Dinosaur National Monument, North Cascades and Lassen National Forest, the administration essentially today said, ‘good enough’ and removed Endangered Species Act protections. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal ignores the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, science, and common sense.”
“The gray wolf is a keystone species that plays a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems across its historic range,” said Danielle Kessler, U.S. Country Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “Wolf populations are far from recovered in much of their native territory. Removing federal protections now and placing wolves in the hands of state managers only threatens already fragile gains. No state has the breadth of vision to oversee recovery efforts for species that range beyond its boundaries. For the sake of our shared environment, as well as the health and survival of gray wolves themselves, federal protections remain essential for this iconic American species.”
“Howling For Wolves is adamant in our opposition to wolf trophy hunting and trapping. We have witnessed how wolf hunting and trapping harms the wolf population. Human wolf killing destroys the individual wolf, which is a magnificent and social animal, and these killings cause other secondary wolf deaths. Research shows that human wolf killing disrupts wolf packs, causing unstable and unpredictable effects including increased wolf-livestock conflicts,” said Howling For Wolves President and Founder Dr. Maureen Hackett.
by GENE JOHNSON Associated PressWednesday, July 15th 2020AA
FILE – In this May 26, 2020, file photo, a grizzly bear roams an exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo, closed for nearly three months because of the coronavirus outbreak in Seattle. Grizzly bears once roamed the rugged landscape of the North Cascades in Washington state but few have been sighted in recent decades. The federal government is scrapping plans to reintroduce grizzly bears to the North Cascades ecosystem. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
SEATTLE (AP) — A conservation group is threatening to sue the Trump administration over its sudden reversal of plans to restore grizzly bears in the North Cascade mountain range of Washington state.
The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter Wednesday giving notice that it intends file a federal lawsuit in 60 days unless the Interior Department resumes its efforts to reintroduce the apex predator.
The group said the Endangered Species Act mandates the bears’ recovery.
The administration scrapped the plans this month, saying local residents made clear they opposed having more grizzlies in the region.
By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson July 10, 2020Entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes are largely to blame for the decline in right whale populations, as is climate change. Photo by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationIn late June, the body of a dead North Atlantic right whale calf was found floating off the coast of New Jersey—a victim of two boat strikes, according to a preliminary analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While this would have been a sad story no matter what animal was involved, it is particularly concerning that this was a young right whale with many reproductive years ahead of him. There are just 400 of these mammals surviving in our oceans, and the death of even one could have deadly ramifications for the entire species.Yesterday, the International Union for Conservation of Nature escalated the urgency around saving right whales by uplisting their status on its red list from “endangered” to “critically endangered”—meaning that these animals are now just a step away from extinction.The numbers are indeed alarming. Since 2017, only 22 North Atlantic right whale calves have been born. At the same time, 31 North Atlantic right whales have died and an additional 10 have been presumed dead due to the serious nature of injuries they’d sustained, bringing the total to 41 dead right whales in the past three years.This plight of North Atlantic right whales is entirely attributable to human actions. These native American marine mammals make their home along the eastern shores of the United States and Canada, and the reason their numbers went down in the first place is because they were easy targets for whale hunters for centuries. These mammoth animals are slow-moving and live close to the coast, which made them the “right” whales to hunt.While whaling is now banned in U.S. and Canadian waters, it has been replaced by new threats. As the IUCN said in its release announcing the uplisting, entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes are largely to blame for the decline in right whale populations, as is climate change, which pushes the whales’ main prey species further north during summer where they are more exposed to accidental encounters with ships and are also at high risk of entanglement in fishing gear.The Humane Society family of organizations has been sounding the clarion call to these countries for many years now on saving right whales. We’ve taken the fight to court, and in April we won a lawsuit in federal court, brought along with our coalition partners, that challenged the U.S. government’s failure to protect right whales from deadly entanglements in fishing gear. In 2013, as the result of a legal petition we filed, the United States mandated that large ships slow down while passing through key right whale habitats. This resulted in reducing deaths from lethal ship strikes, which until recently was the leading cause of death for the species. We also successfully petitioned to expand their designated critical habitat protections in key feeding areas and in the southeastern United States where female right whales birth their young.The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International have exhorted Canada to close more risk-prone fisheries during months of high use in order to protect right whales from dying after getting entangled in fishing gear. Last year, Canada announced comprehensive protections, altering fishing season dates and designating specific shipping areas with a seasonal slow speed requirement. This year, the country announced further restrictions regulating fishing and shipping in a larger area after a whale has been spotted nearby. But given that most right whales are killed in Canadian waters, the country needs to do more to prevent unnecessary deaths.We also need the United States to take more concrete steps if we are to save this important species. We need NOAA to urgently issue overdue regulations that would restrict and regulate where and how fishing gear could be set along the U.S. coast. This will help ensure less risk-prone rope is in the water during right whales’ migration up and down the coast. And we desperately need to ensure that funding for conservation efforts makes it into Congress’s Fiscal Year 2021 spending package.As Congress works in coming weeks on its annual appropriations process, the Humane Society Legislative Fund is pushing for additional funding for vital research for monitoring right whale populations. We also continue to urge Congress to provide funds to the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue assistance grant programs, which funds the country’s marine mammal stranding response network. This network responds in emergencies to injured marine mammals, including entangled or injured right whales, and could make a crucial difference in helping this species survive.We continue to press for the passage of the SAVE Right Whales Act (S. 2453/H.R. 1568), introduced by Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., former Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga, and Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass. and John Rutherford, R-Fla. The bill authorizes $5 million per year for research on North Atlantic right whale conservation over the next 10 years.Your support to help save these North American marine mammals is crucial. Please contact your Senators today and urge them to support this important bill. The IUCN uplisting of right whales is a grim reminder that there is no time to lose.Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.The post Right whales are now ‘critically endangered’—just a step away from extinction appeared first on A Humane World.Related StoriesSpending bills move up in Congress, with provisions for gray wolves, non-animal testing methods and ending wildlife marketsSpending bills move up in Congress, with provisions for gray wolves, non-animal testing methods and ending wildlife markets – Enclosure
Trade in CITES-listed snakes is dominated by commercially purposed pythons.•
Live snakes are mainly exported by Ghana, Indonesia, Togo and Benin, and imported by China and the USA.•
Traded snakes are increasingly reported as being sourced from captivity rather than the wild.•
Potentially invasive snake species are heavily traded as pets.•
Traded venomous snakes are mainly wild-caught, potentially increasing snakebite risk.
Trade in venomous and non-venomous snakes can negatively impact wild snake populations and may drive snakebite risk for people. However, we often lack sufficient trade data to identify where the potential risks for snake population decline and snakebite are highest. Currently, the legal, international trade of 164 snake species is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). We analyzed CITES-listed snake trade from 1975 to 2018 using the recently released shipment-level CITES Trade Database to identify spatiotemporal trends of snake trade and generate insights regarding snake conservation and potential public health risks from snakebite. Commercially purposed pythons dominated the global snake trade, comprising 38.8% of all traded snakes. Live snakes were mainly exported by Ghana, Indonesia, Togo, and Benin, and imported by China and the USA. Venomous snake trade comprised 10.8% of all traded snakes, and over 75% of wild-sourced venomous snakes came from Indonesia. Although traded snakes in recent years are increasingly comprised of captive-bred animals, the majority of snakes are still wild-sourced (> 60% between 2015 and 2017), including IUCN-listed species, with potentially detrimental impacts on conservation status. Further, the CITES Trade Database reveals geographic regions where venomous snakes are sourced from the wild, posing potential risks to snake catchers, traders, and pet owners. The database also documents the movement of non-native snake species through trade, with implications for conservation of native species. This study represents the first global analysis focused specifically on CITES-listed snake trade using the CITES Trade Database.
A Piping Plover glares at Jones Beach, Long Island, N.Y. A couple of these endangered birds have reappeared in Chicago.
Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond/Getty Images
Monty and Rose met last year on a beach on the north side of Chicago. Their attraction was intense, immediate, and you might say, fruitful.
Somewhere between the roll of lake waves and the shimmer of skyscrapers overlooking the beach, Monty and Rose fledged two chicks. They protected their offspring through formative times. But then, in fulfillment of nature’s plan, they parted ways, and left the chicks to make their own ways in the world.
Monty and Rose are piping plovers, an endangered species of bird of which there may only be 6,000 or 7,000 in the world, including Monty, Rose and their chicks. They were the first piping plovers to nest in Chicago in more than 60 years.
After their chicks fledged, they drifted apart. Rose went off to Florida for the winter, and Monty made his way to the Texas coast. They’d always have the North Side, but were each on their own in a huge, fraught world.
And then, just a few days ago, Monty and Rose were sighted again, on the same patch of sand on which they met, matched and hatched their chicks last year. Montrose Beach on the North Side of Chicago. (The name predates their romance, by the way.)
“They’re both back, and it’s kind of amazing!” Tamima Itani of the Illinois Ornithological Society told the Chicago Tribune.
Leslie Borns, the steward of the Montrose Beach Dunes, told us, “Monty and Rose survived the winter and their long migration, and returned to this one place in the world. It’s so amazing.”
Louise Clemency, a field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says the couple has already picked up where they left off — or as Ms. Clemency phrased it, “engaging in courtship behavior.”
That means scraping in the sand, not sending a text message that says, “Hey, you up?”
An Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologist has placed a cage over the nest of Monty and Rose. It doesn’t afford much privacy, but does protect them and any new fledglings from predators like gulls or coyotes, or for that matter, certain members of the city council.
In these times when so much has to be closed, the care so many humans have taken to care and provide for a couple of small birds is a kind of reassuring signal. Life goes on. Love finds a way. Family sustains. The fate of two small piping plovers still amounts to something in this crazy world.
Eyewitness account plus scavenged elk carcass indicates likely presence of multiple wolves in northwest Colorado
MOFFAT COUNTY, Colo. – Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say an eyewitness report of six large canids traveling together in the far northwest corner of the state last October, in conjunction with last week’s discovery of a thoroughly scavenged elk carcass near Irish Canyon – a few miles from the location of the sighting – strongly suggests a pack of gray wolves may now be residing in Colorado.
“The sighting marks the first time in recent history CPW has received a report of multiple wolves traveling together,” said CPW Northwest Regional Manager JT Romatzke. “In addition, in the days prior, the eyewitness says he heard distinct howls coming from different animals. In my opinion, this is a very credible report.”
After learning about the scavenged elk carcass, CPW initiated an investigation which is still ongoing. At the site, the officers observed several large canid tracks from multiple animals surrounding the carcass. According to CPW wildlife managers, the tracks are consistent with those made by wolves. In addition, the condition of the carcass is consistent with known wolf predation. (Photos below)
“The latest sightings add to other credible reports of wolf activity in Colorado over the past several years,” said Romatzke. “In addition to tracks, howls, photos and videos, the presence of one wolf was confirmed by DNA testing a few years ago, and in a recent case, we have photos and continue to track a wolf with a collar from Wyoming’s Snake River pack.
Romatzke says from the evidence, there is only one logical conclusion CPW officials can make.
“It is inevitable, based on known wolf behavior, that they would travel here from states where their populations are well-established,” he said. “We have no doubt that they are here, and the most recent sighting of what appears to be wolves traveling together in what can be best described as a pack is further evidence of the presence of wolves in Colorado.”
Romatzke adds CPW will continue to operate under the agency’s current management direction.
“We will not take direct action and we want to remind the public that wolves are federally endangered species and fall under the jurisdiction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. As wolves move into the state on their own, we will work with our federal partners to manage the species,” he said.
The public is urged to contact CPW immediately if they see or hear wolves or find evidence of any wolf activity. The Wolf Sighting Form can be found on the CPW website.
Mutilated orangutan bodies discovered near palm oil plantations captivated public attention throughout 2018 in Indonesian Borneo. One hundred and thirty bullets shot from close range riddled one orangutan carcass. Seventeen bullets were found in another decapitated orangutan. Conservation workers observed signs of torture in a third body discovered near a newly opened palm oil plantation.
A video of an orangutan battling a bulldozer clearing forest in Borneo for palm oil went viral in international media last year. Months later, Iceland banned an animated anti-palm-oil ad featuring a lost, orphaned orangutan finding her way into a human home. In 2019, Norway pressured Indonesia, the world’s largest producer and exporter of palm oil, to adopt more sustainable harvesting practices by reducing its palm oil imports from the country, but did not ban palm oil itself. With the exception of Norway, the world’s countries have remained either relatively quiet, or completely uninformed about, Indonesia’s growing environmental crisis and various animal rights violations.
Deforestation and habitat destruction are rampant in Southeast Asia, mainly due to palm oil production. The region alone produces 87 percent of the world’s palm oil, which can be found in snack foods. The 18 million hectares of palm oil plantations in Borneo have destroyed more than half of the island’s rainforests, leaving wildlife (and especially orangutans) vulnerable to abuse and death.
Indonesia’s forests face varied and complex pressures. A combination of palm oil production, hydroelectric project development and infrastructure development is driving habitat loss. To slow global deforestation rates, the United Nations in 2015 dedicated Goal 15 of its Sustainable Development Goals to “life on land.” National targets for conservation in Indonesia focus on increasing biodiversity and halting illegal wildlife trafficking by 2020. As we head into 2020, considerable work remains unfinished. One clause of Sustainable Development Goal 15 explicitly calls upon all countries to “take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature classified Bornean orangutans as critically endangered in 2016. Orangutans are still being hunted as intruders on palm oil plantations, despite protective regulations being in place since 1985. An estimated 104,700 orangutans survive in Borneo today, down from a population of 230,000 in 2007.
In the last 20 years, palm oil producers have slashed orangutan habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia by more than 80 percent. The toxic, hazardous phenomenon of transboundary haze — seasonal air pollution from burning forests in Indonesia and Malaysia that crosses international borders to affect up to six countries in Southeast Asia — is a result of slash-and-burn practices to clear plantations. In 2015, the World Bank Group reported smog levels over 1,000 on the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) in Indonesian villages near the slashed-and-burned clearings. A PSI level ranging over 300 is considered hazardous for humans and animals.
Indonesia’s forests are being decimated for palm oil production at an alarming rate. The area of Indonesian forest burned by palm oil producers for clearing just in 2015 was more than 26 times the area of forest destroyed by all the California wildfires of November 2018.
A narrow strait separates Indonesia from Singapore, my home. Since the haze doesn’t respect international boundaries, schools and institutions in Singapore began distributing protective breathing masks in 2015. Throughout September and October of this year, the air pollution was so thick that simply going outside caused watering eyes and burning throats. With haze this suffocating in Singapore, I began to wonder what is happening across the water where the forests blaze. To find out why Indonesian forests continue to burn year after year and why an endangered species is still being killed, I embarked upon several months of investigative reporting to speak with Indonesian conservationists directly.
Standing at the Receding Borders of Indonesia’s Demarcated Forests
The Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP), based in Jakarta, Indonesia, works at the front lines, campaigning against habitat destruction in Borneo, rescuing and releasing orangutans, and actively protesting palm oil companies. One of Indonesia’s most dogged activist groups, COP hijacked the 2013 Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in Medan, Sumatra, by barging in on the meeting dressed in orangutan costumes. In the 20 minutes that elapsed before the police removed the activists, they disrupted the conference and paraded around a banner urging onlookers to boycott the palm oil companies present at the meeting. Leading COP’s habitat campaign efforts is Paulinus Kristianto from Kalimantan, Borneo. Deforestation is a deeply personal issue for Kristianto, an Indigenous Dayak. Kristianto, a videographer by trade, documents what’s happening in Kalimantan to educate the Dayak people and the world.
The Dayaks share the forests with orangutans; the Dayak people well understand that their fates are intertwined. “When I see the Dayak tribes, my family, lose the forest, we can’t do anything. We try to fight and the companies send us to jail,” Kristianto told Truthout. “So, I must go to fight. It comes from my heart. I must prove to the people what’s happening is bad.”
The Dayaks are witnessing the end of their way of life. Indigenous cultures in Borneo are being threatened by the deadly trifecta of palm oil extraction, hydroelectric development and commercial logging. Kristianto embraces the danger and sacrifice that his videography and activism entail. On his journey as a conservationist, he recounts, “The first year, I said, these are my adventures; the second year, I said, this is my work; the third year, I said, this is my life. When you see the eyes of the orangutan, there’s no escaping.”
COP dispatched Kristianto to Central Kalimantan in 2015 to save animals endangered by the slash-and-burn fires blazing across palm oil plantations. Uncontrollable flames spread throughout Borneo, including to West Kalimantan where Kristianto lives. “My house was in the peat area. I was in Central Kalimantan trying to stop the fire but I couldn’t get to my home,” Kristianto told Truthout. “The same moment I was in the fire there, my grandfather called me to say, ‘Linus, your house is burning. But it’s okay; our family is okay. Don’t worry about it; I’ll stop the fire here.’ He told me we will build the house again. My battery died, and at night I finally went back into town and charged my phone — and there was a text from my mother saying that my grandfather died [in the fires], just two hours after calling me.”
When Kristianto finally reached his home, days later, there were only ashes where his wooden house once stood. He vowed to quit his conservation work to be with family, but his surviving family members and colleagues urged him to not let his grandfather’s death be in vain.
Kristianto continues campaigning against habitat destruction by palm oil plantations that encroach into the rainforest and investigating crimes against wildlife. According to Kristianto, “We’re just like firefighters. If there’s a problem, we go there. I don’t know much about the data of how many orangutans are in the forest. But if you ask me how many died there, I can tell you.”
Dayaks are committed to protecting their forests, and their own communities by extension. A misleading study claims that orangutan populations are in decline due to hunting by Dayaks. Supporters of palm oil production widely cite this dated survey, published in 2011 with the assistance of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, to justify their destructive activities. The survey, which observed kill rates by Dayaks to be higher than expected, does not align with Kristianto’s lived experiences. “In all my seven years of conservation work, I’ve never seen an orangutan killed because of hunting by Indigenous people,” he said. “Villagers are not causing the spike in orangutan mutilations and murders.” According to Kristianto, palm oil companies are killing the orangutans; their incentive is to protect their private, commercial property from “agricultural pests.”
Palm Oil Costs an Arm and a Leg — Literally
Some palm oil companies place bounties on orangutans in an effort to minimize the damage that orangutans inflict on their crops. As plantations continue to encroach upon orangutan habitats and destroy their sources of wild fruits, the primates resort to eating palm oil fruit to survive. Over the last decade, companies have been offering payments of up to USD $100 to villagers and workers who bring back a severed orangutan foot, hand or head as evidence of a killing.
Indonesian law states that it is illegal to kill an endangered species like an orangutan; doing so could result in up to five years in jail and a fine of USD $7,400. Despite some arrests of individuals, the Indonesian legal system has never handed down a full sentence commensurate with the crime. Only one notable case of a Malaysian-owned palm oil company went to trial in 2013. The company was found guilty of paying two of its workers to kill orangutans. The plantation manager and the two workers were found guilty. Despite COP campaigning during the trial for a full sentencing, the manager and two workers all spent eight months in jail and were fined less than a third of the maximum fine stated by the 1990 Conservation of Biodiversity and Ecosystems Law.
Kristianto performed the autopsy of the orangutan who in 2018 was found with 130 bullets lodged in his body. He determined that the orangutan not only was shot at extremely close range, but also suffered in this wounded condition for three days before dying. Officials found the orangutan near PT Wana Sawit Subur Lestari’s newly opened plantation. Police convicted the perpetrator, but the punishment was a mere seven months in jail.
In 2018, the federal government of Indonesia issued a moratorium on the opening of new palm oil plantations. However, local governments that ignore the moratorium and continue to allow the establishment of new plantations face no consequences from the federal government. Palm oil companies that already hold local permits can still establish new plantations. Abetnego Tarigan, former executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment and a senior adviser to the Indonesian president, has a unique perspective on the government’s stake in palm oil. “The strategy to maintain the position of Indonesia in the palm oil sector is to improve productivity,” Tarigan told Truthout. “So the moratorium is actually a way to improve the palm oil sector by increasing productivity.” According to Tarigan, the federal government is encouraging palm oil producers to focus more on regenerative agricultural practices to expand production, rather than continuing to destroy virgin forest.
Tarigan agrees that the federal government’s moratorium on new plantations by itself is not enough to curb palm-oil-driven deforestation, and says that stricter reviews of palm oil development permits are crucially needed. “It’s public knowledge that many permits are released to bribery without the support of an environmental impact assessment or disaster risk,” he said.
According to the World Bank, the agriculture industry employs about 30 percent of the Indonesian workforce, with the palm oil and pulp-and-paper industries being key constituents of the sector. Palm oil surpassed oil and gas as the biggest component of Indonesia’s Gross Domestic Product in 2016. Even Kristianto, who has seen first-hand the devastation caused by palm oil, declares himself not to be anti-palm oil. “Palm oil is still needed in Kalimantan,” he says. “So many places are isolated, and palm oil companies build infrastructure.”
Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) Director Jamartin Sihite pulls all threads of human development into the picture. “You cannot talk conservation with hungry people. Give people a way to find an alternative livelihood. It’s so complicated with poverty alleviation, rescue and release, monitoring and combating fires,” said Sihite.
In 2011, BOSF was unable to release a single rescued orangutan, as there was insufficient suitable, safe habitat available. Sihite told Truthout that after unsuccessfully lobbying the Indonesian federal government to protect more forest to facilitate the rescued orangutans’ release, BOSF approached local governments. BOSF and local governments in Kalimantan reached an agreement to permit the group to buy the licenses of logging companies (valid for 60 years) and pay property taxes for land suitable for orangutan release. The foundation now has 557 orangutans in rescue and rehabilitation centers around Kalimantan.
Conservation Means Rebuilding Forests, Not Cages
For those orangutans fortunate enough to be rescued from habitat destruction and protected from hunters, the journey back to the forest is not guaranteed. The Wildlife Rescue Centre (WRC) in Yogyakarta (also referred to as Jogja), Java, Indonesia, supports the COP’s program to rehabilitate and release orangutans. The WRC cares for orangutans, macaques, sun bears, gibbons, eagles, monkeys, cassowaries and many more animals rescued from illegal trade or poaching.
Habitat conservation does not always lead to rescued animals’ full rehabilitation and release, however. Many of WRC’s orangutans and other animals are too old to be released back into the wild and must remain in captivity as permanent residents.
For rehabilitated animals, habitat for release is scarce. “Right now, it’s hard to find a habitat to release the animals,” said Ignatius Prasetyadi, volunteer coordinator for the WRC. “For example, most of the national parks [in Indonesia] are already full of eagles, and eagles are territorial, so we almost can’t release more [rescued animals]. The forests are overfilled and conservation centers are at maximum capacity. The solution isn’t to make more cages, but to build enclosures, sanctuaries and mini-forests.”
Sihite, the BOSF director, is motivated to get orangutans back into the trees, climbing in their natural environment. “You go to rehabilitation centers and see the big orangutans who have already spent 15 years in the cage. You see their eyes. They look empty. No hope; it’s like a loss of soul. I work so hard, not for the baby eyes, but to get these orangutans out of the cage,” said Sihite.
If these orangutans are not killed by bounty hunters, they still provide lucrative sources of income for wildlife poachers. Many of the orangutans in rehabilitation have traumatic former lives as pets or in circuses. The gruesome 2003 case of Pony, who was kept as a sex slave on a palm oil plantation, demonstrates how long these abuses have been going on.
While the global public is becoming more aware of deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade, the sophistication of wildlife poachers’ methods is also increasing. WRC Jogja Director Rosalia Setiawati is well aware of the tricks that illegal traders use, including systems of ringtone codes and burner phones, to stay one step ahead of law enforcement. Until the global demand for palm oil and exotic animals is extinguished, any real progress toward wildlife conservation goals will likely continue to be nullified by the work of poachers.
Deforestation endangers orangutans; it also affects other animal and plant species that don’t receive much or any media attention. “If you lose orangutans, you lose the 40 types of plants that are grown through their digestive systems,” Setiawati said. Sihite agrees, calling orangutans “the gardeners of the forest.”
Boycotting Palm Oil Is Not Enough
Every day spent steadfastly boycotting palm oil is a day in which 25 orangutans worldwide are still killed due to habitat destruction. Large manufacturing companies, whether compelled by government policies or not, must eradicate unsustainable sources of palm oil from their supply chains in order to save the orangutans. All countries that import palm oil need to ban the ubiquitous commodity as a first step to rehabilitate damaged forests, conserve wildlife and put an end to orangutan killings.
More than a decade ago in the U.K., Friends of the Earth campaigned against palm oil for a year. Activists protested outside storefronts to pressure Tesco and other major retailers to develop a framework for certifying sustainable palm oil production as such. Creating this distinction in the marketplace is another first step toward raising consumer awareness about the hazards of non-regenerative palm oil production.
Kristianto would be more than happy to put himself out of a job if palm oil companies radically alter their production practices to prioritize wildlife conservation. “Conservation is not about how much we rescue the orangutans,” he said. “It’s about how much people care about them. Conservation is successful when you don’t have to rescue them anymore.”
The imperative to save the orangutans presents a predicament for Indonesia’s government, which is attempting to balance frenetic economic development with a dire need for species and habitat conservation. Partnerships among government entities, industry participants and conservation groups are essential to saving the orangutan, Indonesia’s national gem, along with the hundreds of other animal and plant species endangered by habitat loss.
Sihite offered this analogy about the urgent need for cooperation: “Everybody has their own part to play. Nobody is bigger than the other,” he begins. “But sometimes it’s not about resources, it’s about the willingness. We work together like an orchestra. How can you say the violin is better than the piano? The piano is more expensive than the violin, but in the orchestra, all have the same role to play in order to make a symphony nice to hear.”
But what if the piano is not playing its part? Orangutans have yet to benefit from the harmony of a concerted, nationwide conservation effort to protect their rapidly dwindling species.