Commentary: WDFW’s deadly experiment

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is conducting an experiment that threatens not only domestic animals and livestock, but may increase risk to rural residents. Because no ethical authority would approve its experimental design, WDFW relies on untested anecdotal methods to further its experiment.

For more than 30 years, some researchers hypothesized that hunting of cougars —mountain lions — leads to increased livestock conflicts. With advanced research technologies enabling tracking the behavior of America’s lion, a picture of social organization emerged showing resident cats had well-defined territories with little or no overlap among resident males, but with males encompassing multiple female territories.

When a territory becomes vacant, several transient cats will move in to contest and take over the area. When adjoining areas lose resident cats, the resulting “social chaos” by the arrival of typically less-experienced cats may lead to an apparent increase in the cougar numbers and ensuing conflicts as those cats may take chickens, goats or pets for an easy meal.

Research in Washington, as in other states and British Columbia, shows a high correlation between cougar mortalities and verified conflicts. Studies suggest if adult cat deaths remained below about 14% of the adult cougar numbers in an area, cougar society remained stable, with minimal conflicts. Initially, WDFW decided to adopt a hunting paradigm that would maintain cougar social stability.

Rather than conservatively limiting harvest to 10% of the adult cats in a Game Management Unit (GMU) as recommended by WDFW biologists at the 10th Mountain Lion Workshop, administrators elected to set the harvest guidelines to target 16%, including juvenile cats even though juveniles and kittens suffer high natural mortalities of about 50% per year. WDFW created an unrestricted season, September through December, with no GMU limits on cougars killed.

In addition, WDFW extended cougar hunting season to seven months, Sept. 1 to April 30. Last season WDFW recorded a record 379 cougars killed. At the halfway point of this accounting year, Washington has 220 recorded cougar mortalities.

Initiative 655, passed by 63% of statewide voters in 1996, banned the use of hounds to hunt cougars, lynx, bobcats and bears. Since, some have argued that the cougar population has exploded. WDFW does not publicly dispel that conjecture, even though cougar mortalities are higher now than during any previous decades, the result of increasing cougar-tag sales more than 40-fold.

“Conventional wisdom,” advocated by some, and apparently by WDFW, would tell us that if we kill more cougars, we’ll have fewer problems. Several recent investigations of up to three decades of data show that hunting cougars correlates with increasing conflicts.

However, correlation does not imply causation. The only way that research biologists can show a causal link is to design a medical-style experiment with controls. What community would volunteer to be part of an experiment to kill more cats to test for an expected increase in conflicts? WDFW’s current policy surreptitiously has been doing just that!

In several eastern regions, WDFW allows harvest above management guidelines, and aggressively kills cougars when responding to complaints. WDFW is also allowing county sheriffs to call out hounds to kill cougars when someone calls in a cougar sighting.

The results are clear: more complaints. Will the complaints change when there is a real emergency, but law enforcement is unavailable because officers are out chasing a cat someone saw?

In 2011, while biologists were publishing results from millions of dollars of research, WDFW removed the goal “Promote development and responsible use of sound, objective science to inform decision-making” from its mission and goals statement. WDFW chooses to “manage” cougars with conventional wisdom and political expediency rather than best consensus science. The outcome is increasing complaints from residents in over-hunted areas, and record deaths in our cougar population.

Now, WDFW plans to increase cougar harvest to respond to complaints in the over-hunted regions. Instead of helping people coexist with cougars, WDFW increases turmoil by killing cougars.

Enough, WDFW! Use the science taxpayers paid for; quit aggravating conflicts!

Bob McCoy is an advocate for science and apex species. For the past decade he has volunteered for the Mountain Lion Foundation, and was recently elected to chair the board of directors. He lives in Sammamish and has lived in Washington state since 1962 other than seven years he served in the U.S. Navy as a naval aviator.

New Zealand begins genetic program to produce low methane-emitting sheep

‘Global first’ project will help tackle climate change by lowering agricultural greenhouse gases

Sheep outside the city of Christchurch.
 The New Zealand livestock industry has begun a ‘global first’ program to breed low methane-emitting sheep. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

The New Zealand livestock industry has begun a “global first” genetic program that would help to tackle climate change by breeding low methane-emitting sheep.

There are about six sheep for each person in New Zealand, and the livestock industry accounts for about one-third of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

The livestock industry’s peak body, Beef and Lamb New Zealand, already uses a measure called “breeding value” to help breeders select rams with characteristics they want to bolster within their flocks. Within two years breeders will be able to select rams whose traits include lower methane emissions.

“Farmers are more interested than I anticipated,” said a stud breeder, Russell Proffit. His family has been producing rams for more than 40 years.

“I’ve undertaken the [methane] measurements because I believe an animal that is healthy and doing well should produce less methane and I wanted to test that.

“I don’t know if that’s the case yet, but either way breeding for less methane complements what we are working to achieve on our stud. That is, more robust rams that require [fewer] inputs and make less demand on the environment.”

Breeders who want to produce low-methane rams will need to measure a portion of their flock in an accumulation chamber, where their gas emissions are measured. Sheep spend 50 minutes in the chamber, and must be measured twice with an interval of more than 14 days.

The resulting data is used alongside other genetic information to calculate a “methane breeding value”.

The pastoral greenhouse gas research consortium, which is jointly funded by the agricultural sector and the government, said the concept was to take advantage of variations in levels of methane emissions and research that found the differences were passed on to the next generation.

“This is a global first for any species of livestock,” the consortium’s general manager, Mark Aspin, said.

“Launching the methane breeding value gives New Zealand’s sheep sector a practical tool to help lower our agricultural greenhouse gases. This is significant. Up until now, the only option available to farmers wanting to lower their greenhouse gas emissions has been to constantly improve their overall farming efficiency.

“This takes us a step further – towards actually lowering sheep methane emissions, in keeping with the sector’s commitment to work towards reducing its greenhouse emissions.”

Progress via breeding could be about 1% a year, but it would be cumulative and have no negative impact on farm productivity.

Aspin said amounts of feed were the biggest factor that contributed to methane emissions, and the consortium was working on three technologies that aimed to reduce amounts of methane generated by feed.

“So by breeding sheep that produce less methane per mouthful eaten – as other methane-reducing technologies come on stream – the influence of these sheep on the national flock’s methane production becomes compounding.”

Beef and Livestock New Zealand’s chief executive, Sam McIvor, said recent research of 1,000 farmers found that information about reducing greenhouse emissions was among farmers’ top five priorities.

Inside the Outdoors: The wolves of Washington

An ever more interesting conversation, this discussion of wolves and their status, behavior, and management here in our state. There seems almost no action ranchers in now-wolf-country, and the wildlife managers of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), can propose or take to deal with livestock depredation that doesn’t trigger protest and a court battle. The conflict over DFW policy has been bubbling over the past decade and more.

Over the years since the 2009 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), titled “Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington” was released, a number of wolves and entire packs have been killed after persistently preying upon domestic livestock. Nearly all of the lethal removals have been in and around the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington. The removals took place following one or another DFW policy — each of which required that stockmen carry out some extensive level of non-lethal means of separating livestock and wolves over some time period. The latest removal in the Colville area was in August, just before a restraining order was issued in a Seattle courtroom.

As a geographer and lifelong wildlife nut, the management goals for wolves in our state — in the context of other western state wolf recovery goals — seemed to me so unrealistic that conflicts were inevitable. Consider the following bit of western state geography (areas suitable wolf habitat are from the Federal Register (02/08/07, Vol. 72, Num. 26), and the human populations are from the 2007 U.S. Census Bureau.

Thus, in Washington we have a human population of four to thirteen times the other “wolf” states, a population density of five to nineteen times theirs, and “suitable habitat” only eleven to 15 percent of theirs. Yet, in each of the other states, the goal for delisting was 100 wolves (10 breeding pairs), while Washington’s goal was 15 breeding pairs/packs of wolves (about 150 animals) before delisting. The clock has been ticking ever louder over the past decade.

At last 2018 population survey, DFW biologists estimated Washington’s wolf population at a minimum of 126 individuals, 27 packs, and 15 successful breeding pairs.

The number of wolves across the state has reached a point that many are pushing for delisting of wolves from any statethreatened or endangered list, and turning wolf management over to DFW — similar to management in other western states. To that end, DFW officials have begun a broad public outreach effort.

In late summer wildlife officials scheduled a series of 14 open public meetings across the state to begin assessing possible changes to the state’s wolf-management policy. Within a week or two, officials changed those meetings to online discussions, citing a fear of violence rising from a number of unspecified threats of both violence and disruption.

After the Nov. 15 deadline, your next opportunity will come once the agency drafts an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in late 2020. That draft will evaluate actions, alternatives, and impacts related to long-term wolf conservation and management.

Want to know about the wolves here in Paradise? This coming Monday evening (Nov. 11) Steve Wetzel (DFW Wildlife Conflict Specialist), with DFW Statewide Wolf Biologist Ben Maletzke will be speaking of the Wolves of Kittitas County. This is the program for the monthly meeting of the 100-year-old Kittitas County Field & Stream Club, at the Hal Holmes Center, 7:00 p.m. You and your friends are welcome for what promises to be a very interesting Veteran’s Day evening.

Jim Huckabay is retired from the Department of Geography at Central

Experts project 72 grizzlies will die due to cattle conflicts

‘Really tough decision’ to authorize grazing where there’s chronic conflict, forest ranger says.

Federal wildlife officials foresee and have approved growing grizzly bear bloodshed on a sprawling complex of Bridger-Teton National Forest cattle grazing allotments recently permitted for the long haul.

The Bridger-Teton’s Pinedale District ranger, Rob Hoelscher, signed off in early October on a decision OK’ing the continuation of a historic grazing operation on 267 square miles of forestland that falls in the Upper Green and Gros Ventre river drainages. That decision instituted a number of minor changes, like giving the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association more flexibility in rotating its cows, tweaking utilization standards for vegetation heights and authorizing some new fencing.

A larger shift, however, is outlined in an accompanying document called a biological opinion, which estimates the federal action’s impact on a threatened or endangered species — in this case, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bears. The updated overall estimate of grizzly bears that will be “incidentally taken” as a result of the Upper Green grazing, the April 2019 document says, is 72 bruins between the 2019 and 2028 grazing seasons.

Upper Green grazing

Phil McGinnis looks for cattle in one of the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association’s Bridger-Teton grazing allotments in 2016. Federal wildlife officials have authorized the incidental taking of up 72 grizzly bears in the area over the next 10 years.

“We had a number of conversations with the grizzly bear recovery coordinator and also with Wyoming Game and Fish,” said Nathan Darnall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s deputy supervisor for Wyoming. “When we start talking numbers this large, we all have to pause for a second and ask if this number is sustainable.

“In looking at the grizzly population and looking at the future expansion of the population … we decided that this number, in concert with everything else, was sustainable,” he said.

The Greater Yellowstone grizzly population is estimated at around 700, though an undetermined number of Ursus arctos horribilis dwell on the fringes of the region outside where the species is carefully monitored.

“This is not going to jeopardize the population of bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem,” Darnall said. “We’re not going to see numbers dipping below recovery levels, and we would still expect the population to increase.”

Darnall and his colleagues at Fish and Wildlife, who oversee grizzlies because they’re currently classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, produced the biological opinion.

The document points out that not all bears in the Upper Green cause trouble and that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has documented bears with territories in the allotments that haven’t killed cattle.

“Nonetheless, bear conflicts with livestock increased an average of 10 percent each year,” the opinion says. “We believe this trend is likely to continue within the action area. Within the last nine years 37 grizzly bears were lethally removed from the action area due to conflicts with livestock.”

The all-time high mark for lethal action taken in response to dead cows came in 2018, when Wyoming had jurisdiction over the species during the grazing season, didn’t need Fish and Wildlife authorization, and opted to kill eight depredating grizzlies.

The 72 grizzlies authorized for removal over the coming decade is a large increase from the most recent estimate, in 2014. That year the “take” was set at a maximum of 11 bears over any rolling three-year period.

Grizzly bear removals
Capture locations of grizzly bears removed due to livestock conflicts within the Upper Green Allotment Complex.

The 69-page document puts numbers to the rising rate of ursine-bovine conflict that led to the higher estimate. Although ranchers reported a relative lull this summer in the slaughter of both cattle and bears, since the turn of the century conflict has soared in the Upper Green as grizzly range has expanded and filled in that portion of the Bridger-Teton.

Between 2010 and 2018, Game and Fish and federal wildlife managers confirmed 527 conflicts, almost exclusively cattle that were killed or maimed. The majority, the document says, occurred in the last five years, and they took place “throughout the action area.”

The 1,112-square-mile “action area” assessed in the document is much larger than the actual allotments, taking into account grizzlies estimated to inhabit areas up to 7.5 miles away from the allotments. The more than 9,000 cow/calf pairs and few dozen horses permitted to graze the expansive rangeland have proven a big attractant, according to grizzly bear GPS collar data cited in the opinion. One bear captured after killing cattle on the allotments, grizzly No. 499, denned clear across the mighty Wind River Range, 24 miles away on the Wind River Reservation. Another Upper Green grizzly captured for research, bear No. 754, denned 29 miles away near the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park.

This iteration of Fish and Wildlife’s biological opinion for the Upper Green did not estimate the grizzly population in the “action area” surrounding the allotments. In 2013 the agency put the number at somewhere between 51 and 60 grizzlies.

Fourth-generation Upper Green stockman Albert Sommers, who helps run the Cattlemen’s Association, has tried and failed to change his grazing protocols in a way that reduces grizzly conflict. The operation pencils out, he’s told the News&Guide, only because of Wyoming compensation programs. In 2016 and 2017 Sommers worked with the conflict-reduction group People and Carnivores to test a herding technique that bunched up his bovines at night. It had “no effect on depredation,” the Fish and Wildlife’s opinion said, and was discontinued.

“I still go to conferences,” Sommers told the News&Guide this summer, “and listen to ideas.”

Not all parties paying attention to the chronic conflict in the Upper Green are satisfied with a gruesome status quo that’s forecasted to worsen. Center for Biological Diversity employee Andrea Santarsiere, of Victor, Idaho, said that the Bridger-Teton grazing complex is “good habitat” that’s turned into a “population sink” bound to continually attract more bears, resulting in more conflict.

“It’s just a cyclical problem that they’re not going to be able to resolve without taking some conservation measures on the ground,” Santarsiere said.

Grizzly conflict map
The map compares grizzly bear/cattle conflicts in the Upper Green Allotment Complex between 2010-14 and between 2015-2018.

Mandatory conservation measures in the Bridger-Teton’s decision, she said, are “lacking terribly.”

“Pretty much everything that we asked for was ignored or significantly watered down,” she said.

During the “objection process” with the forest in early 2018, Santarsiere tried to make it mandatory for range riders to carry bear spray, but the language was turned into a recommendation. It was a similar story, she said, with carcass removal requirements that the conservation community sought.

“They have to move carcasses under the new decision if they are too close to roads where the public might be, which protects the public,” Santarsiere said. “But that’s not doing a lot to protect grizzly bears, because all they have to do is move them a little ways from the road.”

Hoelscher, the Bridger-Teton district ranger, said authorizing the mostly business-as-usual Upper Green grazing plans was a “really difficult decision.” He acknowledged that the regulations relating to grizzly conflict are largely unchanged.

“The permittees as well as the state have done a lot of trying to figure out what works, and what doesn’t,” Hoelscher said, “and they’re pretty much already doing about all they can do.”

“I feel it’s very important to maintain the lifestyles and the industry here locally for the permittees,” he said. “We’ll wait and see what comes out of this all.”

Santarsiere, who is an environmental attorney, said she’s considering her options.

Rogue Pack wolves strike again


Wolf OR-7 is pictured in southwest Oregon. AP Photo / USFWS

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed new kills by a group of Southern Oregon wolves called the Rogue Pack.

A 300-pound calf was found dead by a ranch hand last Friday, and a second 300-pound calf was found dead Saturday in the Rancheria area of Jackson County near the border with Klamath County, according to a press release issued by ODFW.

The Rogue Pack, which includes the famous wandering wolf OR-7, is suspected of killing more than a dozen livestock animals in western Jackson and eastern Klamath counties, according to ODFW.

The calf found dead at about 9 a.m. Friday was in a grass pasture on private land. Most of the muscle tissue from the hind legs as well as most organs had been consumed. The 5-month-old calf was estimated to have died within 12 hours of being discovered dead, ODFW said.

The calf had bite wounds on its legs, abdomen, shoulders and back. Bite marks, bleeding and muscle tissue trauma were similar to injuries observed on other calves attacked by wolves, the agency said.

“This depredation is attributed to wolves of the Rogue Pack,” ODFW said in a summary of its investigation.

The second calf was about 7 months old and was also in a pasture on private land. A ranch hand found its body at about 7 a.m. Saturday, and ODFW believes it also died within 12 hours of being found.

Unlike the first calf, the second calf’s carcass was largely intact, with about 95 percent of the muscle tissue and hide still remaining, ODFW said.

ODFW’s report attributed the second killing to the Rogue Pack, as well.

Ranchers in the Rogue Pack’s range have used a variety of tactics to try and fend off the wolves, including guard dogs, electric fences, lights, bright flags, noisemakers and a flailing, inflatable dancer like those sometimes used to attract people’s attention at car dealerships.

The devices have scared off wolves at first, until they become used to them.

Fixing Livestock Emissions Metrics

Are we looking at the livestock industry's GHG emissions holistically—and can a new framework help turn livestock into a solution for climate change?

IN IOWA, POLITICIANS PROTECT THE MEAT INDUSTRY BY MAKING ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS CRIMINALS

This video includes graphic images some readers may find disturbing.

The meat industry depends, more than anything else, on walls. The walls of farms and slaughterhouses prevent consumers from seeing what the production of their food really looks like. They prevent journalists and activists from exposing unethical, even criminal acts within. They enable corporations to paint happy, bucolic pictures of their operations that bear no resemblance to the reality of modern-day factory farming.

To get inside those walls, over the last two decades, dozens of activists have gone undercover, finding employment on factory farms and wearing concealed cameras, shooting hundreds of hours of footage over the course of months on the job. They have documented the routine acts of mistreatment and abuse of animals that are an inherent part of raising livestock for slaughter with maximum profit in mind.

The videos they have produced have made an enormous impact on the industry, grabbing headlines, pushing consumers away from meat, compelling retailers to pull products from shelves, and even causing government regulators to temporarily shutter some farms.

In Iowa, an ag-gag law passed in 2011 was struck down earlier this year by a federal judge. But thanks to the political power it wields in the state, the meat industry did not have to wait long to see the law resurrected. Just two months after the court’s decision, Iowa’s legislature passed a brand new ag-gag bill, and its newly elected governor, Kim Reynolds, signed it into law.

Our short documentary tells the story of one undercover investigator whose footage is at the center of Iowa’s ag-gag backlash.

Washington State Kills Wolf Mother to Protect Cows

Friday, October 4, 2019 – Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officials announced today that they killed a female member of the Grouse Flats wolf pack on September 25. She was believed to be the mom.

On September 24, in accordance with the agency’s controversial Wolf Plan and 2017 wolf-livestock interaction protocol, Director Kelly Susewind authorized the incremental “removal” of wolves following livestock depredations in Grouse Flats territory on both private lands and state wildlife areas in southeast Washington.

The announcement of the killing comes after Governor Jay Inslee expressed concern over the state’s Wolf Plan:

“We must find new methods to better support co-existence between Washington’s livestock industry and gray wolves in our state. The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable.”

Since 2012, WDFW has killed an estimated thirty one endangered wolves and pups, has obliterated entire wolf families (including the Old Profanity Territory pack in August), and has caused countless packs to fragment as a result of targeting individual wolves.

Moreover, peer-reviewed research demonstrates that employing lethal action to deter depredation on cows can even result in increased attacks.

Enough is enough.

Please contact WDFW Director Kelly Susewind and respectfully ask him to stop the assault on Washington’s wolves.

Inslee asks Washington wildlife agency to kill fewer wolves, pursue new management methods

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 1, 2019, 9:05 p.m.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee heads out after speaking with reporters, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Seattle. Inslee is seeking changes in how the state deals with problem wolves in Ferry County, in an effort to reduce the number of gray wolves that are being killed. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee heads out after speaking with reporters, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Seattle. Inslee is seeking changes in how the state deals with problem wolves in Ferry County, in an effort to reduce the number of gray wolves that are being killed. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

Kill fewer wolves.

That was the message Gov. Jay Inslee sent to Washington’s wildlife management agency in a letter, Monday.

“We must find new methods to better support co-existence between Washington’s livestock industry and gray wolves in our state,” Inslee said in the letter. “The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable.”

Inslee acknowledges that in most cases Washington’s wolves are existing peacefully with livestock and people. According to agency statistics 90% of Washington’s wolves aren’t causing problems. He also praised the state’s Wolf Advisory Group, which has members representing cattle, conservation and business interests.

However, in northeast Washington it’s been a summer of conflict with wolves killing and injuring cattle, prompting the state and, in some case, ranchers to kill wolves, in turn prompting environmental groups to sue the state.

In response to the state-ordered killings, Inslee urged a reexamination of policy and procedure in parts of northeast Washington where WDFW has repeatedly killed wolves charged with attacking cattle.

“For reasons that are not entirely clear, numerous conflicts with livestock producers have occurred in a handful of federal grazing allotments,” the letter states.

He also asked WDFW to work more closely with the U.S. Forest Service to work to reduce such conflicts with wolves, “including changes in allotment policies for public lands that are prime wolf habitat, the addition of more intensive range riding, and other proven or promising methods.”

Inslee requested WDFW respond to his requests by Dec. 1.

WDFW responded to the letter by issuing a statement that said reducing wolf kills “ is a top priority” for the agency and that the repeated depredations in the Kettle Range is “greatly impacting” all involved.

“The forest conditions and livestock operations in this particular landscape make it extremely challenging, and unfortunately, has resulted in repeated lethal removal actions,” WDFW’s statement said. “We all share the perspective that something has to change to reduce the loss of both wolves and livestock in this area. WDFW believes this is consistent with the Governor’s request.”

In an email, WDFW spokeswoman Staci Lehman said no immediate changes have been made and “there will be discussion in the coming weeks to see what/if anything changes.”

WDFW killed all members of the Old Profanity Territory wolf pack this summer, after repeated cattle attacks on public land. That pack inhabited the geographic area formerly occupied by the Profanity Peak pack until the state killed seven pack members in 2016.

Wolf advocates and others have questioned whether that land, which is particularly thick and steep, is suitable for grazing. A lawsuit filed by three individuals and supported by a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group alleges that the cattle ranchers and the state did not use nonlethal deterrents prior to ordering the killing of the OPT pack.

WDFW has also ordered the killing of wolves in the Togo pack and the Grouse Flats pack, although as of Tuesday the state hadn’t killed any of those wolves.

Inslee’s letter was greeted enthusiastically by Chris Bachman, wildlife program director at the Spokane-based Lands Council.

“It’s been pretty amazing and pretty emotional,” he said. “I think that’s a huge success for conservation and for the wolf.”

Bachman has written Inslee a number of letters questioning whether non-lethal deterrents were being used and if the thick, steep terrain is a suitable place to graze cattle.

Inslee’s letter, Bachman said, gives his group and others “leverage” to push change in WDFW policy and procedure.

Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, also supported the letter and its message.

“Our core position is that the collaborative process and nonlethal deterrents are the answers,” he said. “As long as the governor and other political, elected officials are making statements in line with that, I’m happy.”

More money is already being funneled into nonlethal measures this year after passage of a new law that directs the state to spend nearly $1 million over the next two years on nonlethal deterrents in northeastern Washington.

The letter comes after several out-of-state groups have publicly campaigned Inslee and the state to change how it manages wolves.

The Center for a Humane Economy, an animal-welfare group based in Washington D.C., ran a full-page ad in the Seattle Times July 21 protesting the state’s handling of wolf-cattle conflicts.

Some in northeast Washington view suchoutside pressure as out-of-touch and provocative.

“I think it’s people from hundreds of miles away throwing hand grenades,” Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, told the Northwest Sportsman in response to Inslee’s letter.

Kretz did not respond to a call seeking further comment Tuesday.

Stevens County commissioner Don Dashiell said he sees the governor’s letter as a political move.

“He’s just gotten enough pressure from wolf advocates to think he has to say something about it,” he said.

Dashiell doesn’t expect it to change much.

“It wasn’t like the department was running around killing wolves all over the place,” he said “So how can we tell the difference?”

Friedman with Conservation Northwest acknowledged that some stakeholders may see Inslee’s letter as overreach but said hehopes it doesn’t cause critics to “disengage” from the Wolf Advisory Group’s collaborative process.

“It might bruise feelings for a bit, but it’s truthful,” Friedman said. “I think we’re all adults and we’ll play our roles, and hopefully we find solutions together to face the challenge and come through it.”

The Companies Behind the Burning of the Amazon

The burning of the Amazon and the darkening of skies from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, have captured the world’s conscience. Much of the blame for the fires has rightly fallen on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for directly encouraging the burning of forests and the seizure of Indigenous Peoples’ lands.

But the incentive for the destruction comes from large-scale international meat and soy animal feed companies like JBS and Cargill, and the global brands like Stop & Shop, Costco, McDonald’s, Walmart/Asda, and Sysco that buy from them and sell to the public. It is these companies that are creating the international demand that finances the fires and deforestation.

The transnational nature of their impact can be seen in the current crisis. Their destruction is not confined to Brazil. Just over the border, in the Bolivian Amazon, 2.5 million acres have burned, largely to clear land for new cattle and soy animal feed plantations, in just a few weeks. Paraguay is experiencing similar devastation.

Logs burn at sunset in Bolivia. Photo Credit: 2017, Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

New maps and analysis from Mighty Earth, based on data from NASA, CONAB, and Imazon and released here for the first time, show which companies are most closely linked to the burning:

Cattle

Both domestic and international demand for beef and leather has fueled the rapid expansion of the cattle industry into the Amazon. From 1993 to 2013, the cattle herd in the Amazon expanded by almost 200%  reaching 60 million head of cattle. While deforestation for cattle had been reduced thanks to both private sector and government action, the new wave of deforestation this year shows that the large international beef and leather companies and their customers and financiers continue to create markets for deforestation-based cattle.

The effects of this demand can be seen in the clustering of deforestation near slaughterhouses and roads that have access to slaughterhouses. The company most exposed to deforestation risk in the maps above is JBS,  both Brazil’s largest meatpacker, and the world’s largest meat company. JBS, like other major Brazilian meatpackers signed the 2009 Cattle Moratorium, pledging not to buy beef from cattle connected to deforestation. However,  investigations by government and NGOs have repeatedly found serious violations by JBS, including through laundering cattle.

These scandals reached their apotheosis with the Cold Meat (Carne Fria) scandal in 2017, in which the Brazilian government enforcement agencies produced extensive evidence showing that JBS was sourcing cattle from protected areas.  This and other investigations found that JBS violated both government and its own policies by buying laundered cattle that had been raised in areas linked to deforestation and then transported to “clean ranches” to evade the requirements. The two brothers who control the company were imprisoned for their role in corruption scandals in Brazil.

Aerial cattle field and forest edge. Photo credit: Jim Wickens/Ecosotrm

Soy

Soy supply chains work differently from cattle, and that is reflected in the maps above. Much of the current wave of deforestation has happened close to BR-163. Big soy farmers routinely transport their soy down Highway BR-163 to Cargill’s major port at Santarem, where it is put on ships and sent around the world to be fed to livestock in Europe, China, and elsewhere. There are similar dynamics around other highways on the map. Cargill, Bunge and other leading soy traders have participated in the Amazon Soy Moratorium in Brazil for the last dozen years, in which they committed to cease sourcing from suppliers who engaged in deforestation for soy. Overall, the Soy Moratorium has been a major success, virtually eliminating deforestation for soy.

However, the Soy Moratorium contained two major loopholes. First, the big soy traders can continue to purchase soy from farmers who engage in large-scale deforestation, as long as the deforestation is for crops other than soy. The location of the deforestation close to BR-163 suggests that farmers are exploiting this loophole to continue deforestation even as they sell soy to major traders like Cargill and Bunge. The location of the deforestation close to BR-163 suggests that farmers are exploiting this loophole to continue deforestation even as they sell soy to major traders like Cargill and Bunge.

Second, the Soy Moratorium only applies to the Brazilian Amazon. Major soy traders have continued to drive deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon Basin, the Brazilian Cerrado, and the Gran Chaco of Argentina and Paraguay, creating a major incentive for the rapid deforestation in Bolivia in the last several weeks. Mighty Earth’s reports The Ultimate Mystery Meat and Still At It showed Cargill’s extensive links to deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon basin, and its repeated refusal to take action against key suppliers even when confronted with repeated evidence. And as much attention as the Amazon is getting, Brazil’s half a billion acre, highly biodiverse forest-savannah mosaic known as the Cerrado has been even more deforested. While 80% of the Amazon is still intact, cattle, soy and agriculture interests have destroyed more than half of the Cerrado, putting this ecosystem at even greater risk. Mighty Earth found that in the Cerrado, where deforestation has continued, two companies were primarily responsible for driving deforestation, Cargill and Bunge.

Cargill is the largest trader of soy from Brazil and the world’s largest food and agriculture company. Mighty Earth’s July 2019 report The Worst Company in the World profiled Cargill’s extensive deforestation in South America and elsewhere around the world, building on previous investigations in Bolivia, Brazilian Cerrado, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Although Bunge is a bigger player in the Cerrado, across South America – in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, Mighty Earth’s previous analyses of deforestation linked to soy animal feed in South America found Cargill most closely associated with deforestation. The company has refused to discontinue suppliers Mighty Earth found engaged in deforestation after evidence was shared with them, and has bitterly resisted efforts to expand successful industry-wide platforms for monitoring and policing deforestation to South America outside the Brazilian Amazon.

Table top mountains in the Brazilian Cerrado reduced to soy cultivation. Photo credit; Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

Sign for a Cargill silo in Bolivia reads ‘We buy soy’. Cargill is the biggest privately-held company in the U.S., and while it might not be a household name, people consume its products every day. Photo credit: Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

Five years ago, companies including Cargill, Unilever, and Yum Brands stood on stage at the Climate Summit in New York and proclaimed their commitment to removing deforestation from their supply chains by 2020. So too has the Consumer Goods Forum, whose members include Walmart, Mars and Danone.

They have yet to deliver on this commitment.

Now, with one year until their deadline and the Amazon in flames, it is far past time to act.

These companies must take responsibility for the impacts of their products. They must eliminate the market incentives that promote this reckless environmental destruction.

The Consumer Goods Forum and companies like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Ahold Delhaize – which owns Stop & Shop as well as Hannaford, Food Lion, Pea Pod, and Giant supermarkets – cannot continue to look the other way while the Amazon burns. They should instead source only from suppliers and regions that show evidence of eliminating deforestation. Not in another ten years. Not in five years. Not in one year. Now. Today.

The chart below shows the largest customers of the slaughterhouses and soy animal feed traders most associated with cattle and soy deforestation, respectively.

Brands

Several brands stand out for their contracts and relationships with the suppliers most responsible for deforestation.

Ahold Delhaize: The Netherlands-based supermarket powerhouse owns the brands Stop & Shop, Giant, Food Lion, and Hannaford in the United States and Albert Heijn, Delhaize, Etos, Albert, Alfa-Beta, and others across Europe. While consistently touting its sustainability commitments, Ahold continues selling its customers products from some of the worst companies in the world. With knowledge of Cargill’s ongoing child labor issues and its role in deforestation across South America, Ahold has simultaneously pushed Cargill to do a better job even while launching a joint venture partnership with them to provide the store-branded meat to Stop & Shop stores. In addition, Ahold Delhaize conducted business worth a whopping $113 million with JBS in 2019 through food sales and other partnerships.

As egregious as Ahold Delhaize’s actions are, they are not alone:

McDonald’s: McDonald’s is probably Cargill’s largest and most important customer. McDonald’s restaurants are essentially storefronts for Cargill. Cargill not only provides chicken and beef to McDonald’s, they prepare and freeze the burgers and McNuggets, which McDonald’s simply reheats and serves.

Sysco: With $55 billion in annual revenue, Sysco is the world’s largest distributor of food products to restaurants, healthcare facilities, universities, hotels, and inns. Despite claiming that they will “protect the planet by advancing sustainable agriculture practices, reducing our carbon footprint and diverting waste from landfill, in order to protect and preserve the environment for future generations,” they have honored Cargill as their most valued supplier of pork and beef and did $525 million worth of business with JBS in 2019 through sales and other partnerships.

Costco: Both JBS and Cargill list Costco as one of their top customers. Popular with families and small business owners, it ranks as the world’s third largest retailer. Costco states that it “has a responsibility to source its products in a way that is respectful to the environment and to the people associated with that environment.” According to their website, “Our goal is to help provide a net positive impact for communities in commodity-producing landscapes, by doing our part to help reduce the loss of natural forests and other natural ecosystems, which include native and/or intact grasslands, peatlands, savannahs, and wetland.” Nevertheless, according to Bloomberg, Costco conducted $1.43 billion worth of business with JBS in 2019.

Burger King/Restaurant Brands International: Burger King’s practice of selling meat linked to Cargill and other forest destroyers has earned the fast food giant a ‘zero’ on the Union of Concerned Scientists deforestation scorecard. Burger King has asked Cargill to stop destroying forests in their supply chain…but the deadline isn’t until 2030. It is also a significant customer of JBS. Burger King is part of the Restaurant Brands International (RBI) chain that also includes Tim Horton’s and Popeye’s.

Nestle: Based in Switzerland, Nestle is the largest food and beverage company in the world. Nestle was among the first companies to make zero-deforestation commitments, but only started actually monitoring its supply chains nine years later in 2019 – and only for palm oil, not for soy or pulp/paper. Recently certifying 77 percent of its supply chain as deforestation-free, Nestle continues to buy from Cargill for its pet food subsidiary, Nestle Purina Petcare. Bloomberg data also shows Nestle as one of Marfrig’s top customers.

Carrefour: The French company Carrefour is one of the world’s largest supermarket chains, the majority owner of the largest supermarket chains in Brazil, and at risk for cattle-driven deforestation. It has significant supply chain links to Cargill and JBS. Carrefour has committed to eliminating deforestation from its products by 2020, but the policy does not apply to processed or frozen beef products—which means that only around half of Carrefour’s beef distribution in Brazil is covered by its zero-deforestation policy.  According to Chain Reaction Research, 35 percent of the beef and beef products it sampled came from slaughterhouses located within the Legal Amazon including a 2.3 percent from high-risk slaughterhouses.

Casino: Casino, which owns Pão de Açúcar, is a French supermarket giant that prizes its reputation for sustainability in its home country. But as the second-largest supermarket chain in Brazil, it continues to purchase from Cargill, Bunge, and Brazil’s major cattle suppliers.

Walmart: Arkansas-based corporation Walmart is the single-largest company in the world by revenue, and also the largest private employer. Walmart also has a major presence in the UK, through its wholly-owned subsidiary ASDA. Walmart’s stated policy is “as a member of the Consumer Goods Forum, we supported the resolution to achieve zero net deforestation in our supply chain by 2020,encourage our suppliers of [beef, soy, palm oil, pulp and paper] products to work to source products produced with zero net deforestation. We ask suppliers to avoid ancient and endangered forests, to encourage conservation solutions, and to increase recycled content.” Nevertheless, Walmart conducted business with JBS worth $1.68bn in 2018 and remains a leading customer of Cargill meats and other products.

E. Leclerc: E.Leclerc is a French retail chain, with more than 600 locations in France and more than 120 stores outside of the country. Of the supermarket chains in France, Leclerc has perhaps the least robust sustainability policies. A recent report by SherpaFrance Nature Environment and Mighty Earth shows Leclerc failing on soy sustainability measures across the board. The company refuses to join industry calls to protect the endangered Cerrado, has not fulfilled legal obligations to disclose its sources, and has neither develop an alert mechanism to identify risk or follow up on deforestation alerts provided by others.  E.Leclerc’s latest sustainability report makes no commitments on meat sourcing, or any other commodity but palm oil.

By night forest fires can be seen for miles, tearing through Brazil’s Cerrado ecosystems. Photo credit: 2017, Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

A Preventable Disaster

While the rate of burning has increased dramatically in the last several months in response to Bolsonaro’s policies, these companies have been driving deforestation for years across South America. In many cases, they have bitterly resisted efforts to create systems that would allow for agriculture to expand without deforestation.

Bolsonaro’s mobilization of the army to fight the fires may help in the short term, as will Bolivian president Evo Morales’ new willingness to accept international help to fight fires. But as long as these international companies are creating a market for beef, pork, and chicken that is indifferent to deforestation, this type of environmental disaster is likely to continue.

After years of remarkably successful conservation initiatives that cut Brazil’s deforestation rate by two-thirds, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has reopened the doors to rampant destruction as a favor to the agribusiness lobby that backs him. That industry is accountable for the atmosphere of lawlessness, deforestation, fires, and the murder of Indigenous peoples that followed. According to data released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon in July 2019 increased 278 percent over the previous July. Bolsonaro responded to this news by firing the head of the INPE.

The recent fires are the latest example of the cattle and soy industries trying to take advantage of a culture of impunity in both Brazil and Bolivia. Since January 2019, more than 74,000 fires have broken out across Brazil – an 85 percent increase from the same point in 2018. In Bolivia, 2.5 million acres have burned in two weeks.

These are not wildfires. Nearly all are the result of intentional land clearing attempts undertaken by ranchers and industrial soy farmers feeding global markets and international companies. In fact, on August 10, farmers in the Amazon held a “Day of Fire” to show their support for Bolsonaro’s policies.

According to the Smithsonian Institute, these fires, which are large enough to see their effects from space, pose a significant threat to the “lungs” of the planet, one of the world’s last best defenses against climate change.

The deforestation crisis in Brazil and Bolivia wouldn’t be happening without companies like Cargill, Bunge, and JBS and their customers – companies like Stop & Shop, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Sysco – who create the market demand that finances the destruction.