Five Midterm Votes That Could Have an Outsize Impact on Climate Change

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A rally in support of Initiative 1631, which would establish a carbon tax in Washington State, in Lacey, Wash., this month.CreditCreditTed S. Warren/Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — This is the era of deregulation in the nation’s capital: President Trump is rolling back Obama-era climate change regulations that would have cut planet-warming pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes, and he has vowed to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, the 2015 accord under which nearly every nation pledged to limit greenhouse gas pollution.

At the state level, though, advocates and lawmakers around the country are fighting back.

In some states, questions of climate change policy are on the ballot. While advocates generally agree that national programs, rather than state and local efforts, will be required to tackle global warming, there are a handful of policies on five midterm ballots that could have an outsize impact on the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution, and the direction of national policy.

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Gov. Jay Inslee, left, gathered signatures for a carbon tax proposal in Seattle in June.CreditPhuong Le/Associated Press

Voters in Washington State will decide next week whether to pass the country’s first tax on carbon dioxide pollution.

Passage of the measure, known as Initiative 1631, would be seen as a bellwether that could resonate around the country and even the world, as climate scientists and economists push a carbon tax as the central solution to climate change.

Its rejection would most likely be seen as a sign that carbon taxes are not politically viable in the United States.

“If it passed, it would be the first time voters in the U.S. approve a price on carbon,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. “That would be unprecedented, and it would be huge.”

The Washington governor, Jay Inslee, has already tried and failed twice to pass the nation’s first tax on planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions. But both backers and opponents of the idea see his current push as more likely to gain traction, partly because, this time, the plan includes specific guidelines on what to do with the revenue. Funds from the tax would go toward programs to reduce global warming, like the development of wind and solar energy.

“It’s definitely got momentum,” said Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a pro-fossil-fuel think tank that opposes carbon taxes and that supplied the Trump administration with its energy policy blueprint. “If it passes, it will give advocates a glimmer of hope that they can replicate it.”

The measure would impose a tax of $15 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution in Washington starting in 2020, with the cost increasing $2 a year after that, until the state meets certain emissions targets.

Opponents of the measure, including oil companies like BP and the industrial conglomerate Koch Industries, have poured $28 million into the fight, the most money that has ever been spent to campaign on a ballot initiative in the state, according to data compiled by the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

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Aubrey Dunn, the departing New Mexico land commissioner. His successor will regulate methane leaks from oil and gas operations. CreditKris McNeil/New Mexico State Land Office, via Associated Press

In New Mexico, a race to become the state’s next public lands commissioner is drawing attention from national environmental groups and one of the country’s largest oil companies.

At stake is a job with the authority to regulate the emissions of methane, a powerful planet-warming greenhouse gas that leaks from oil and gas operations and is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere.

In New Mexico, methane leaks are a big deal. Leaks from oil and gas operations in and around the state have created the nation’s largest methane cloud, about the size of Delaware, over the state’s Four Corners region.

Voters will choose between Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat who has vowed to crack down on leaks of methane, and Patrick Lyons, a Republican who was commissioner of public lands from 2003 until 2010. He has the backing of the oil industry, including a $2 million contribution by Chevron to the political action committee supporting his campaign.

The winner will oversee the use of New Mexico’s nine million acres of public land that have been designated for generating revenue for the state, largely through the leasing to oil and gas companies.

“The New Mexico land commissioner is the most powerful land manager in the country,” said Demis Foster, executive director of Conservation Voters New Mexico. “They oversee more lands like this than anywhere else and we have the largest methane cloud possibly on Earth.”

“And the oil companies that leak that methane want Pat Lyons to be their landlord,” Ms. Foster added.

Mr. Lyons’ campaign manager, Deborah Bransford, pushed back on that criticism. Mr. Lyons has pledged to rein in methane leaks on oil and gas wells, she noted. He has not endorsed the tougher measures, notably fines for methane leaks, proposed by Ms. Garcia Richard.

Regarding donations to Mr. Lyons’ campaign from national oil companies that oppose methane regulations, Ms. Bransford said: “We can’t control where they donate the money. But they certainly understand that Commissioner Lyons is supportive of the industry and is willing to work with them.”

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The Boulder Solar project in Boulder City, Nev.CreditDavid Walter Banks for The New York Times

Voters in two of the nation’s sunniest states will vote on whether to ramp up the use of renewable electricity sources, particularly solar power. In both states, the ballot initiative would require electric utilities to produce 50 percent of their electricity from wind and solar by 2030, up from current requirements of 25 percent by 2025 in Nevada, and 15 percent by 2025 in Arizona.

Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C., already have such programs, known as Renewable Portfolio Standards, although only a handful — those in California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey and Vermont — are as ambitious as those proposed in Nevada and Arizona.

Passage of the initiatives is far from certain. Last year, Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada vetoed a bill that would have increased the state’s renewable energy mandate to a less-ambitious 40 percent by 2050. And in Arizona, electric utilities have campaigned against the measure, citing the cost.

Some policy experts say the mandates for more renewable power will drive down the cost, leading to a market-driven spread of cleaner energy.

“When you get this kind of ambitious investment from states, it drives down costs across the country,” said Dallas Burtraw, an expert in electricity policy at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan Washington research organization focused on energy and environment economics. “We’re already seeing this as a result of the state programs in place, and growing the club of states with these very ambitious mandates will take this further.”

In Colorado, the boom in fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has led to a surge in oil and natural gas production and millions of dollars in new tax revenue. It has also raised fears that the process has poisoned residents’ water.

Next week, Coloradans will vote on a regulation designed to scale back how much fracking would be permitted. While the proposed rule would not go as far as the outright bans on fracking in Maryland, New York and Vermont, oil and gas companies fear that, if enacted, the Colorado proposal could spread to other states, curtailing the national oil and gas boom that was precipitated a decade ago by breakthroughs in fracking.

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.

Coral Davenport covers energy and environmental policy, with a focus on climate

PLANS FOR CARIBOU SOW CONFLICT IN NORTHWEST

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS PROPOSED TO DESIGNATE 600 SQUARE MILES IN IDAHO, WASHINGTON AS CRITICAL HABITAT

https://www.cdapress.com/archive/article-61e00162-7b30-5487-8c45-b48fb0108abe.html

Plans for caribou sow conflict in Northwest

FILE – In this November 2005 file photo provided by the British Columbia Forest Service are part of a Southern Selkirk caribou herd moving north through the Selkirk Mountains about three miles north of the Washington state border into Canada. Woodland caribou are struggling to survive in the United States, precariously occupying one remote area of the Northwest. The federal government has proposed designating about 600 square miles in Idaho and Washington as critical habitat in an effort to save this last U.S. herd. (AP Photo/British Columbia Forest Service, Garry Beaudry, File)

COOLIN – Woodland caribou, rarely-seen creatures that with their antlers stand as tall as a man, are struggling to survive in the United States, precariously occupying one remote area of the Northwest as a final toehold in the Lower 48.

The federal government has proposed designating about 600 square miles in Idaho and Washington – roughly half the size of Rhode Island – as critical habitat in an effort to save this last U.S. herd of fewer than 50 animals.

But the plan has touched a raw nerve in this deeply conservative region, where the federal government is already viewed as a job destroyer because of restrictions on logging and other activities.

A recent public meeting on the habitat proposal drew a crowd of 200 angry people, several of whom excoriated government officials for allegedly trying to destroy their local lifestyle.

“Please leave northern Idaho alone,” Pam Stout, a local tea party activist, told federal biologists.

“We belong here too, not just the animals,” added resident Scott Rockholm.

Other speakers were less polite, accusing government officials of a land grab, raising allegations of United Nations conspiracies or telling the federal government to get out of a region that is mostly federal land.

But it’s not that simple.

Federal endangered species law requires that critical habitat be set aside for the caribou, and environmental groups went to court to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to comply.

This is one of the few places left in the United States that still contains all of the species that were present when Lewis and Clark traveled through 200 years ago, including caribou, said Terry Harris of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance.

“I don’t think we want to lose that,” Harris said.

Under the proposal, 375,000 acres of high-elevation forest land in the Selkirk Mountains, including portions of Bonner and Boundary counties in Idaho and Pend Oreille County in Washington, would be designated as critical habitat. Nearly all of the land is already owned by the federal and state governments, with about 15,000 acres in private hands in Idaho.

Under a critical habitat designation, any activities that require federal approval or money would be scrutinized for their impact on the caribou.

This has alarmed residents who snowmobile, hunt and chop wood in the thick forests of northern Idaho’s lake country, or who have businesses that rely on forest access.

“Our economy revolves around that national forest,” said resident Lee Pinkerton. “Without it, we have to find a new way to make a living.”

Snowmobiling is a particularly popular activity here, drawing lots of tourists in winter. Operators worry that the region’s trail system will be reduced to help caribou.

Bob Davis, a resort owner and 30-year resident of the area, said previous restrictions on snowmobiling already cut that business by 70 percent.

“Snowmobilers don’t go where they are not wanted,” Davis said. “These people will ride someplace else.”

Federal biologists Ben Conard and Bryon Holt spoke at the public meeting, telling the crowd that the critical habitat designation would be mostly unnoticed.

“To the average person, you are not going to see a difference,” Conard told the audience, drawing guffaws from skeptics.

Federal approval has already been required for many activities ever since the mountain caribou were first listed as an endangered species in 1984. The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to designate critical habitat at that time, fearing that would help poachers locate the animals. Those concerns have now faded.

But while the designation won’t immediately lead to road closures or land restrictions, the federal officials acknowledged that some activities could ultimately be curtailed if they are found to hurt the caribou.

“We are trying to re-establish an animal that is native to the United States,” Holt said.

Coolin is located on the shores of Priest Lake, about 80 miles north of Spokane, Wash., in the thick, wet forests of the southern Selkirk Mountains. Such forests produce the lichen that are the animals’ only food source in winter.

Woodland caribou used to be found across the northern tier of the United States, but these days are found only here and in Canada.

The southern Selkirk herd moves across the border between the U.S. and Canada. But only one or two caribou are typically spotted each year on the U.S. side. Last year none were spotted.

“Why do we need 375,000 acres of critical habitat if we have no caribou?” wondered resident Pat Hunter.

Locals also complain that the caribou are being eaten by grizzly bears and wolves that are also protected species in the area.

Environmental groups say the designation is long overdue.

Harris said people who argue that there are too few caribou to warrant the designation are missing the point.

“The issue of too few caribou is precisely the reason for the critical habitat designation,” Harris said. “That’s the problem this is intended to solve.”

There is no evidence that reintroduced wolves are eating many of the animals, he said.

Instead, the Fish and Wildlife Service blames the caribou decline on the loss of contiguous old-growth forests due to logging and wildfires, plus the building of roads and recreational trails that fragment habitat and help predators move into caribou range.

But many local leaders are determined to prevent the critical habitat designation.

Bonner County Commissioner Cornel Rasor told the crowd that his goal in calling the meeting was to start the process of derailing the proposal.

“We’re trying to change the direction of the ship of state,” he said.

After a public comment period, the federal government will announce its decision on the critical habitat proposal this fall.

Plans for caribou sow conflict in Northwest

FILE – In this November 2005 file photo provided by the British Columbia Forest Service are part of a Southern Selkirk caribou herd moving north through the Selkirk Mountains about three miles north of the Washington state border into Canada. Woodland caribou are struggling to survive in the United States, precariously occupying one remote area of the Northwest. The federal government has proposed designating about 600 square miles in Idaho and Washington as critical habitat in an effort to save this last U.S. herd. (AP Photo/British Columbia Forest Service, Garry Beaudry, File)

Six caribou in North Idaho and Washington – the last in the continental U.S. – will be relocated to Canada

Sat., Nov. 3, 2018

 (Shutterstock)
(Shutterstock)

Caribou, the Grey Ghosts of Idaho and Washington’s forests, will no longer roam the Lower 48.

After decades of work reintroducing the large ungulates into Idaho and Washington, Canadian wildlife officials decided to relocate the six remaining survivors in the United States farther north into Canada.

There, Canadian biologists hope to breed the animals in captivity at a pen north of Revelstoke, British Columbia, deep in the Canadian brush, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported Friday.

Bart George, a wildlife biologist for the Kalispel Tribe, hopes the breeding project is successful and that the caribou population grows to a point where it could “spill over into the U.S.”

In 2009, George said the South Selkirk caribou herd had 46 animals and was “climbing at a pretty good rate every year.”

But wolves started to filter onto the landscape about that time, George said.

“That’s been our primary source of mortality that we’ve known about,” George said.

Logging roads and increased snowmobiling access also played a role . But in terms of direct mortality, cougars and wolves were the primary culprits.

“Predation is obviously the No. 1 factor,” George said. “That was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back at this point. All those other issues are concerns, but we don’t really understand how snowmobiling would affect the animals in the long term, other than we know it disrupts animals in the winter.”

He added, “Of the six collared animals that we collared in 2013, two were killed by wolves, one killed by cougars and one by an unknown mortality.”

In April, an aerial survey of the South Selkirk Mountain caribou herd found only three surviving members, all female. Over the summer one of those animals was killed by a cougar, George said.

Biologists and managers have known the animals were in trouble since 2012, George said. However, little was done.

“We really didn’t mobilize until it was too late,” he said.

Other herds in the range have “blinked out” in recent years. Full-scale recovery efforts began only recently, with Canada starting to control its wolf population in 2014 and maternal pen projects and population augmentation efforts starting only a year ago.

Canadian wildlife agencies have removed about 20 wolves since 2014.

Deep snow delayed the Kalispel Tribe’s maternal pen project and the enclosure was never used.

“We could potentially use that site in the future as a release site,” George said.

Although mountain caribou were listed as an endangered species in the U.S. in 1983, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the states of Washington and Idaho are not actively involved in the maternal pen project or controlling the caribou predators even though the caribou range extended south into Idaho and Washington.

“This is what extinction looks like, and it must be a wake-up call for wildlife and habitat managers in both Canada and the United States,” said Joe Scott, Conservation Northwest’s international programs director, in a news release. “While it comes as no surprise given the long decline of the only caribou herds that still roamed into northeast Washington and northern Idaho, today’s news marks the tragic end of an era.”

The South Selkirk caribou herd was the only one living in both the United States and Canada. It ranged through the high country along the crest of the Selkirk Mountains near the international border. The remaining 14 or so herds are all in Canada. It’s estimated that fewer than 1,400 mountain caribou are left in North America.

Known as Grey Ghosts because of how rarely they are seen, the South Selkirk caribou differ from caribou that wander the tundra farther north. These caribou use their wide feet to stand on top of deep snow and eat lichen that grows high in old-growth forests.

The mountain caribou have struggled as old growth forests have been thinned by logging and other industrial activities, George said. With thinner forests, the caribou have become more susceptible to predation.

Thinned forests have led to other problems, including vehicle strikes on Highway 3 in British Columbia.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote its first recovery plan for mountain caribou in the early 1980s and it was reworked in 1994. Working with Canadian agencies and First Nations, caribou from other regions were trapped and released in the area with some positive results.

But those positive results didn’t last, and, despite the Kalispel Tribe’s efforts, starting in 2012 the population has only declined.

“We talked about it, and we did a bunch of hand-wringing for the next six years until we ended up this position,” George said.

Seven new rules every Washington hunter should know this fall

 

Thhttp://www.spokesman.com/stories/2018/sep/20/seven-new-rules-every-washington-hunter-should-kno/u., Sept. 20, 2018, 5 a.m.

Paul Degel, 39, fires his 54-caliber Leman Trade Rifle, a common flintlock from the early 1800s, in early Oct., 2005, near his home west of Sheridan, Montana. Degel killed his first deer with a muzzleloader at age 14 and was hooked. Twenty-five years, nearly a dozen elk and more than two dozen deer taken with a flintlock later, Degel said his passion for the only type of weapon he hunts big game with has only grown. (NICK GEVOCK / AP)
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New rules. New regulations. A new fall hunting season.

Each year the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife examines its hunting rules and regulations and makes changes. Making sense of those changes can be hard. We’re here to help. Below are seven important changes every hunter should know. Changes include increased deer opportunities in Northeast Washington, new black powder primer options, more fall turkey opportunities (and regulations) and new requirements for black bear hunters.

Turkey hunters must wear orange

Turkey hunters must now wear hunter orange while hunting during a modern deer or elk firearm season.

In the past, turkey season did not overlap with the modern firearm season. An extended turkey season now means there is considerable overlap. With all other species, hunters must already wear orange when hunting during a modern firearm season.

Not including turkey hunters on that list was an oversight, said Kevin Robinette, WDFW regional wildlife manager in Spokane

Of the hunters who commented on this change, 37 supported it while 21 opposed. Those who opposed worried that the bright color would make it harder to successfully hunt the keen-sighted birds.

“When it comes to turkey hunting, if you sit still, if you’re doing what you’re supposed to do as a turkey hunter, it shouldn’t matter,” said Matt Mimnaugh, a board member of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council and the chairman of the big game committee. “And on the bright side of that very small inconvenience, we are now able to hunt turkeys all fall.”

Turkey season extended

Which brings us to the next change. The fall turkey season now runs Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, Robinette said. That’s significantly longer than in the past, when the season ran from Sept. 23 to Oct. 31.

The extended season is partially in response to continued conflicts between turkeys and farmers and an ever-increasing population, Robinette said.

“This will be an opportunity for sport hunters to actually help out with that problem,” he said.

Antlerless deer opportunities in NE Washington

Archers and black powder hunters now have early- and late-season opportunities to hunt antlerless deer in Game Management Units 101 through 121 (Northeast Washington), Robinette said.

Although it’s too late to apply this fall, modern rifle hunters are now able to apply for an antlerless deer tag.

“That’s something we haven’t had in a long time,” he said.

Montana, Mississippi added to list of CWD-positive states

In the ongoing effort to halt the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, the WDFW has banned the importation and retention of “specific parts of dead nonresident wildlife that could contain CWD” from Montana and Mississippi.

Specifically, hunters may only bring meat that has been deboned, skulls and antlers from which all soft tissue has been removed, and hides or capes without heads attached.

The rule change comes on the heels of Montana confirming the existence of the deadly neurological disease in 2017. WDFW received 20 comments supporting the change. Five hunters opposed the change.

“I think any restrictions they put on that (CWD) is a good thing,” Mimnaugh said. “We obviously don’t want to see that spreading into our state.”

Modern primers allowed on muzzle-loaders

More modern primers will be allowed during black-powder season. The WDFW Commission requested that the agency survey hunters on the proposal. The majority of hunters who responded favored the change.

Hunters will now be allowed to use primers for modern centerfire cartridges during muzzle-loader season. Those primers are more moisture-resistant, Mimnaugh said. Although some purists believe a more modern primer goes against the spirit of a primitive hunt, Mimnaugh doesn’t see it that way and believes it could help hunters make cleaner, more ethical kills.

He imagines a situation in which a hunter shoots, but does not kill, an animal. With a traditional black-powder primer, it may not be possible for the hunter to get another shot off and cleanly finish the kill if it’s raining or damp out.

“I don’t think it’s giving them an unfair advantage,” he said.

Of those hunters surveyed, 148 supported the proposal, 77 opposed it and five were neutral.

Grizzly bear ID test required

Starting in 2018, black bear hunters will need to take an online grizzly bear identification test if they want to hunt in Game Management Units known to have grizzly bears.

Idaho and Montana require black-bear hunters to take the short test, Robinette said.

After successfully taking the test, hunters must print out a card certifying their completion and carry the card during their hunts.

Although some might grumble at the increased regulation, Mimnaugh said the new rule is nothing but good.

“I fully support that,” he said. “Any time you’re given an opportunity to educate yourself, and someone is willing to give you that information and make you a better hunter, why not do that?”

Drones added to list of prohibited aircraft

WDFW added drones to the list of aircraft that hunters are not allowed to use during a hunt. Using aircraft, boats or other vehicles to assist in a hunt is already prohibited under Washington’s administrative code.

Drones are now added to that list. WDFW may still authorize certain individuals or organizations to use drones.

Eighty-two hunters supported the change in written comments, while 14 opposed it.

Amendment Defunding Grizzly Transportation To Washington Passes House

This undated file photo provided by the National Park Service shows a grizzly bear walking along a ridge in Montana.

This undated file photo provided by the National Park Service shows a grizzly bear walking along a ridge in Montana.

National Park Service

An amendment to prevent the relocation of grizzly bears to Washington’s North Cascades has passed the U.S. House. The move is opposed by conservation groups, which say more grizzly bears are needed in the state.The amendment, proposed by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., would deny funding for the U.S. Department of Interior to transport grizzly bears into Washington. Newhouse said this amendment was important to his constituents who are concerned about the possibility of another predator so close to home.

“We saw that (Interior) was determined to move forward, regardless of what the opinions of the people who would be most impacted,” Newhouse said.

Newhouse said he felt it was necessary to “take positive action” to make sure that the Interior Department was not able to bring in grizzly bears.

“I’m hearing from an awful lot of people that are expressing grave concerns about having grizzly bears literally in their backyards,” Newhouse said.

To that end, he said he’s working with officials in the Interior to schedule more public comment opportunities in the Okanogan area. These would be in addition to earlier public comment periods around the state that focused on options the federal government could take to reintroduce grizzlies to the North Cascades.

There are fewer than 10 grizzly bears in Washington’s North Cascades. Biologists say if something isn’t done now, grizzlies will soon be gone from the area. They say grizzlies are important to the area’s ecosystem.

Records from the Hudson’s Bay Company indicate there were once thousands of grizzlies in the state. In the mid-1800s, records indicate trappers traded nearly 4,000 grizzly hides through forts in the area — although all of those pelts may not have come from the North Cascades. Biologists say there was a healthy population of grizzlies at one time. The bears were wiped out from fur trading, hunting and habitat fragmentation.

The federal government is in the middle of drafting options for restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades. The controversial plans range from doing nothing to transporting varying numbers of bears from areas like Canada and Montana.

“(The North Cascades) is the only place outside the Northern Rockies that wildlife officials have said is wild enough for grizzly bear restoration in the Lower 48 — the only place,” said Chase Gunnell, spokesman for Conservation Northwest. “If we’re going to have grizzly bears into the future, we can’t just have them around Yellowstone or Glacier National Park. We need to diversify the population. And the Cascades are it.”

Gunnell said this amendment wouldn’t necessarily prevent the federal government from continuing to study the various options for grizzlies in the North Cascades — it would only prevent funding to the Interior Department for transporting grizzlies.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaking on March 23, 2018, about the restarted re-introduction process for grizzly bears in Washington’s North Cascades. Looking on is Karen Taylor Goodrich, the superintendent of the North Cascades National Park Service Complex.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaking on March 23, 2018, about the restarted re-introduction process for grizzly bears in Washington’s North Cascades. Looking on is Karen Taylor Goodrich, the superintendent of the North Cascades National Park Service Complex.

Eilís O’Neill/KUOW/EarthFix

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said during a surprise visit to Washington that he was “in support of the great bear” and moving forward with a careful process to decide what to do with grizzlies here.About that process, Zinke said, “I’m not going to make a prejudgment, but I can tell you the winds are very favorable,” Zinke said.

Gunnell said Newhouse’s amendment is skirting an open, public process, which is expected to present a draft decision by the end of this year. Gunnell said he’s concerned about the precedent this would set, with Congress members “pulling on the purse strings” of wildlife officials.

“Our Fish and Wildlife Service, National Parks Service and other wildlife professionals are the ones best suited to address endangered species issues,” Gunnell said.

The bill includes funding for the U.S. Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency and Forest Service. It also includes measures to:

– Remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List in the Lower 48 by 2019;
– Fund wildland firefighting and prevention programs at $3.9 billion, with an additional $500 million for Forest Service fire suppression operations. It also includes $655 million for hazardous fuels management;
– Urge the Forest Service to find funding for upgrades to facilities at the North Cascades Smokejumper Base in Winthrop;
– And encourage the Forest Service to better monitor grazing permits near riparian streams that could affect threatened or endangered species.

The Interior Department funding bill now heads to the U.S. Senate.

WILDLIFE OFFICIALS WANT TO MOVE SOME MOUNTAIN GOATS FROM OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — AND KILL THE REST

 

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The National Park Sevice and other agencies want to remove as many goats as possible from Olympic National Park and relocate them to the North Cascades. Under the plan, the remaining animals would be shot to eradicate them from the park.

Boaters object to trapping, killing of river otters at Kingston Marina

Port officials say the otter traps are set every year, but some in the community raised concerns about what happens to the animals after they’re caught.

Residents and boaters complained last week when they learned that river otters that frequent the area around the Kingston Marina were trapped — a process Port of Kingston officials say is standard practice.

The protests were at least partially effective. The port won’t stop trapping the critters, but the method being used now leads to a happier result for the otters themselves.

Otters are drawn to marinas because they find food there, but they can become a nuisance. They defecate on the docks, for one thing, and they can cause serious damage to vessels or boathouses.

Port officials say the otter traps are set every year, but some in the community raised concerns about what happens to the animals after they’re caught.

Mark Andresen, a Kingston resident, said he noticed a port employee with a trapper setting the snares in the water last week. When Andresen asked, the employee told him the otters would be killed.

“I said, really, you’re going to just kill them?” Andresen said.

Andresen, who has had a slip at the marina for seven years, said he was shocked that the port would kill the animals just for defecating on the dock.

“It seems like the punishment didn’t fit the crime,” he said.

Port executive director Jim Pivarnik said several people objected to the traps. He emphasized that the port isn’t setting or checking the traps — the agency contracts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program to capture and deal with otters.

“We do have a lot of damage being done, not just pooping on the dock,” Pivarnik said. “We have otters that will move into boats and have babies, we’ll have them just making terrible messes, ripping canvas and things like that.”

Trapping otters is an annual operation for the port, according to Pivarnik, and something most marinas have to deal with. He said it’s the first time anyone has complained about the practice.

“We’ve never really had an issue with it until this year,” Pivarnik said. “It just takes one person to complain and then all of a sudden it turns into, ‘We’re killing Bambi.’”

Pivarnik suspects some people may have been confusing sea otters, which are federally protected, with river otters. River otters, which are what are being trapped in Kingston, are smaller and come ashore more often than sea otters.

Under state law, river otters are “furbearers,” meaning they can be trapped during open season with a trapping license. Killing river otters is legal if they damage property, crops or domestic animals, according to the Department of Fish & Wildlife.

Trapping otters should be a last resort, according to Matt Blankenship, a wildlife conflict specialist with the state. But it can be a more reliable method in commercial areas — nonlethal methods like scare tactics or barriers don’t work as well in marinas because of the elusiveness of the animal.

“You can deploy some of these nonlethal techniques out there, but often they’ll move around and its harder to do that,” Blankenship said.

According to USDA data, 64 river otters were intentionally killed or euthanized in Washington state in 2016. Two otters have been killed at the Kingston Marina this year, according to Pivarnik.

Kingston isn’t the only marina in Kitsap that has an issue with river otters.

The Port of Poulsbo hires a private professional trapper every few years to catch and relocate them to the Olympic Peninsula, according to port manager Brad Miller.

“They just make a nuisance of themselves, they defecate all over the place, they can actually be destructive …. some of the boathouses that have the old foam flotation, they will tear that up,” Miller said.

At the Brownsville Marina, river otters are “absolutely” a problem, interim port manager Matt Appleton said. Otters have chewed holes in docks, nested in boats and chased people around the marina. At some point, it becomes a safety problem.

“They get into people’s boathouses, they do all kinds of physical damage,” Appleton said.

The Port of Brownsville also pays the USDA to trap the animals every year, but Appleton said he isn’t sure what the agency does with them once they’ve been caught.

“As long as they leave here, I’m not concerned with what happens,” he said.

In contrast, Port of Bremerton officials don’t hear many otter complaints at the Bremerton and Port Orchard marinas. The port had contracted with the USDA for a trap and release program in the past, but most boaters know that dealing with otters is part of boat ownership, port manager Kathy Garcia said.

That’s how Andresen, the Kingston Marina boater, feels.

“You take a hose and you spray it (the poop) off. … If you have a boat then that’s part of the deal, it comes with the territory,” Andresen said.

Because of the complaints from Andresen and others, the Port of Kingston asked the USDA to swap to “live” traps earlier this week, Pivarnik said. But he said he isn’t sure what will be done with the otters once they are caught.

Some boaters voiced objections because they thought the carcasses of the otters were being wasted, but Andresen thinks they shouldn’t be being killed at all.

“I understand they’re a nuisance, I’ve had them come into my backyard,” Andresen said. “But we kind of put our stuff on top of their world.”

Grizzly bears could make a return to WA — for real this time

Grizzly bears in Denali National Park

Grizzly bears in Denali National Park (Photo by Jacob W. Frank/National Park Service via Flickr)

He said it. He really did. To everyone’s surprise, on March 23, at the North Cascades National Park headquarters in Sedro-Woolley, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — the same Ryan Zinke who had recommended shrinking Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and who had announced last June that Yellowstone’s grizzlies would be dropped from the endangered species list — declared that he was all for restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades.

“We are moving forward with plans to restore the bear to the North Cascades,” Zinke said, stating unequivocally that the stalled process of preparing an environmental impact statement for grizzly restoration there would be completed by the end of this year.

If that really happens, then — 43 years after grizzlies were first listed under the Endangered Species Act — federal agencies can start bringing them back to the Cascades.

Once upon a time, hundreds of grizzlies roamed the North Cascades, as they roamed virtually all the rest of the Western United States. But for more than a century, people shot and trapped them, and the big bears were virtually all gone by the time North Cascades National Park was created in 1968. A year before that, at least one grizzly had still roamed the mountains; somebody shot it within what soon became the park.

Eight years later, grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states were listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. A federal recovery plan subsequently designated six grizzly bear recovery zones. One recovery zone covered 6 million acres, nearly all of it national park and national forest land in the North Cascades. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came out with a North Cascades chapter to the national grizzly bear restoration plan 21 years ago, but it was never funded until late in the Obama administration. The environmental impact statement (EIS) process then began, but the Interior Department halted it last year.

Now, if the EIS gets finished as Interior Secretary Zinke promises, the feds can move ahead with restoration.

In the years after that lone grizzly was shot in 1967, people have occasionally reported seeing something that sure looked like a grizzly bear, and biologists have assumed a handful of bears at least dropped by. But for years, no one has found hard evidence. The draft EIS explains that in the previous 10 years, there were only four confirmed sightings in the North Cascades — all north of the border with Canada.

Despite extensive research, says Jack Oelfke, head of cultural and natural resources for North Cascades National Park, “we have not had a verified sighting of a grizzly bear on the U.S. side of the border in this ecosystem since the mid-1990s.” In other words, “the population is functionally extirpated. So, it is safe to say that any bears that might be seen on the U.S. side of the border are ‘tourists,’ and are not residents … but that we haven’t even verified a ‘tourist’ bear since the mid-1990s.”

No one expects that grizzlies, left to their own devices, will form a self-sustaining population in the North Cascades ever again. Washington’s current wolf packs were started by individual animals that just walked into the state. Why don’t grizzlies do the same? There are bears north of the border in British Columbia; the closest populations are endangered themselves. Besides, to get here from the north, a bear faces a number of barriers near the border: They would have to swim the Fraser River — not a big challenge for a bear — and cross railroad lines, roads, the Trans-Canada Highway. All together, the barriers are formidable.

Protesters concerned about Ryan Zinke's policies as Secretary of the Interior cheered his decision to move forward on planning for grizzly bears in the North Cascades.
Protesters concerned about Ryan Zinke’s policies as Secretary of the Interior cheered his decision to move forward on planning for grizzly bears in the North Cascades. (Photo by Scott Terrell/Skagit Valley Herald via AP)

If we, as a society, want a grizzly population in the North Cascades, we’ll have to start by hauling in bears from someplace else. Some people don’t like the idea. In 1995, just two years after the recovery plan came out, the state Legislature declared unequivocally, “Grizzly bears shall not be transplanted or introduced into the state.” That law, however, has no legal bearing on national park or national forest lands in the North Cascades. If bears are transported here from Canada or Montana, though, the law would keep state agencies from taking part in restoration efforts.

Joe Scott, international programs director for Conservation Northwest, sees a contradiction: Virtually no one objects to letting nature take its course. If grizzlies show up on their own and take up residence in the North Cascades, that’s OK. But if they get chauffeured in, it’s not so universally accepted. Still, you would have bears there either way.

Before federal agencies would move grizzlies into the North Cascades, Scott says, “They’ve got to find the right bears.” When the restoration planning process started, the national park’s Oelfke says, “we laid out criteria.” First, they’d only take bears from a population that seemed healthy enough to part with some. And they would avoid bears that had any history of conflict with human beings. A bear that already had a taste for garbage would not be a good fit. Problem bears get shot, no matter where they wind up. “Any bear that associates human beings with food is a goner,” Scott says.

The feds, it’s envisioned, would pick bears from an ecosystem that contained foods also found in the North Cascades. Then, they would pick young bears, between 2 and 5 years old. Older bears would be much more likely to pack up and leave. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Wayne Kasworm notes, “Older bears have already invested a portion of their lives in learning their home territories.” Why wouldn’t they go back? (Everyone involved in the North Cascades planning process knows the story of Winston, a grizzly from British Columbia’s Coast Range mountains that was placed experimentally in the North Cascades years ago. He was collared, so scientists monitoring him knew that he hung out for a while near Ross Lake, then headed for home, crossing roads and walking through people’s yards without being seen. They don’t want more Winstons.)

The scientists would also choose more young females than young males to rebuild the population. Plus, females would be less likely to head back home. The bears might come from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem around Glacier National Park or maybe from Wells Gray Provincial Park, well north of Kamloops in eastern British Columbia.

Populations of predators have certainly been introduced into habitat they had historically roamed. The classic example is Yellowstone wolves. Closer to home, you can look at fishers in the Olympics and Cascades. But grizzlies have only been introduced once —  — it is still being done — in the Cabinet Mountains of northwestern Montana, part of the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear recovery zone.

The project there appears to be successful, offering a template for restoration in the North Cascades, according to Kasworm, who has led the Montana work from the beginning. “We have taken a population that ran in the single digits and brought it back to about 25,” he explains.

It is what he calls “a slow progression.” He and his colleagues started in 1990, introducing four bears as a test between that year and 1994. It took another 10 years, until 2004, to find the first DNA evidence that the bears had started reproducing. Now, he says, they’re going on the fourth generation.

Ryan Zinke at the North Cascades National Park
Ryan Zinke at the North Cascades National Park (Scott Terrell /Skagit Valley Herald via AP)

The recovery plan Zinke backed for the North Cascades has a no-action alternative — just keep on keeping on and if grizzlies show up, that will be nice — and three action alternatives, all of which envision a population of up to 200 grizzly bears a century from now. Scott says that some people seem to have “a perception that the ultimate objectives are meant to be immediate. It’ll take a century to get to 200 bears — if all goes well.”

“The most [bears] I’ve heard of being moved in any one year is a handful,” he explains. Alternative C — which Conservation Northwest favors — would bring in up to 25 bears over the first 10 years. Not all of those bears would survive. Some would walk away. At best, the population would grow by a couple of bears each year.

The National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service received 127,000 public comments on their draft EIS. Not all were favorable. That was hardly a surprise. Ranchers who already feel beleaguered by wolf packs don’t welcome the prospect of more large predators. And, of course, the idea of a charging grizzly bear is beyond scary, even though, in reality, fewer people are killed by grizzlies than perish in avalanches, according to statistics compiled by Backpacker magazine some years ago.. The seven avalanche deaths in Washington this winter exceed the number of people killed by bears of any kind in all of North America during any year since the turn of the century.

Occasionally, (bear) shit does happen. A man I know was hiking some years ago in Glacier National Park, on a trail along which no bear activity had been reported, when he and a friend saw what they thought was a big dog out in a field. The dog ran toward them. It turned out to be a young male grizzly. It mauled the two people. There’s no way to sugar-coat that.

Oelfke with the North Cascades National Park doesn’t try. He does point out, though, that society has decided to save species, and that entails certain risks. As does spending time in designated wilderness areas.

Then there’s climate change to consider. Would climate change, the elephant in so many rooms, ultimately make the North Cascades a lousy place for grizzly bears, no matter how many are trucked in? Probably not. Officials will do more work on climate change “to pin down what the anticipated changes will be,” Oelfke says. But he says that grizzly bears are noted for their “incredible flexibility” about food. He notes “Their range before [European] settlement,” he notes, “was from the far north all the way to Mexico.” In the North Cascades, “a variety of habitats exist,” Oelfke says, “and thus a variety of food resources.” The bears are “such generalists that even with some changes in habitat, they may not become affected” by the higher temperatures, thinner snowpacks and more frequent downpours predicted for Washington, he says.

Their chances will, of course, be better if Zinke’s support represents a trend, rather than an anomaly. After Zinke’s Sedro-Woolley speech, Conservation Northwest’s executive director, Mitch Friedman,told The Seattle Times’ Lynda Mapes, “Let me catch my breath. Nixon went to China. Zinke is going to bring the grizzly bear back to the North Cascades.”

And why not? “Wildlife conservation used to be a bipartisan issue,” Scott says. “It would be nice to think that wildlife would once again become a bipartisan issue.”

North Cascades Grizzly Letter

Dear Editor,

Bushwhacking through a trail-less valley in the heart of North Cascades, I came across some enormous tracks and a huge pile of scat that, having not seen their maker, I attributed to either Bigfoot or a grizzly bear. But that was over 35 years ago and I haven’t seen hide nor hair, nor heard of many sightings of either of them since then.

I hate to tell Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, but a “conservation ethic” is something we should have before a species is hunted and trapped practically to extinction and is in need of augmentation—as is the case with Washington’s grizzly bears. Now that would be a real success story. And the few hundred specimens in the Greater Yellowstone area do not add up to a recovered species for the lower 48.

Yet, no sooner did our current Administration remove the imperiled bears from the Threatened Species List did the state of Wyoming set a plan to hunt 24 grizzlies this fall season. Meanwhile, Idaho, with an even lower population of grizzly bears, felt they could sacrifice one to five of them to trophy hunting, if only to get their goose-stepping foot in the door on the issue.

It’s worth noting that B.C. recently banned trophy hunting of grizzlies, and Montana has not yet made plans for a sport hunt on that species. The question for Washington is, which neighbors will we emulate now that the bears have lost their ESA protections?

And what’s next for the Northwest, a trophy hunt on Sasquatch? Believe me, you don’t want that smelly hominid hide hanging on your wall—not if you ever want to have house-guests.

Jim Robertson

 

Grizzly bears may soon be helicoptered into North Cascades

http://newesttech.org/2018/04/grizzly-bears-may-soon-be-helicoptered-into-north-cascades/

Ancient groves of Douglas fir trees still stand in North Cascades National Park. The little-visited park — it receives less than one percent of the annual visitation of Yellowstone — can resemble the misty, prehistoric woods before the Pacific Northwest was settled. Wolverines, cougars, moose, and hundreds of other species of animals dwell here, living among ponds and beneath towering, pinnacled mountains.

But although these woodlands in Washington State were also once rich in grizzly bears, the park hasn’t confirmed spotting any in years. After being thoroughly hunted, there may be none left.

“Without help, that population will not recover on its own,” Frank van Manen, head of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team and an ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), said in an interview.

The nation’s top wildlife managers have been planning to recover grizzly bears in North Cascades since 1991. The process, though, is intensely bureaucratic, requiring years of evaluations, re-evaluations, and proposals (some of which are hundreds of pages long).

Now, though, after more than 20 years of research, it might actually happen.

The recovery plan recently gained a powerful supporter: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke traveled to the verdant park on March 23 to announce the restarting of recovery planning.

“The loss of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades would disturb the ecosystem and rob the region of an icon,” said Zinke.

Grizzly reintroduction planning abruptly halted in December 2017, with no clear explanation why.

Lupine blooms in a North Cascades National Park meadow.

Image: National Park Service/O’Casey

Zinke’s enthusiasm for recovering grizzlies took many people — both those who support and oppose federal conservation efforts — by surprise.

Last year, Zinke made the controversial recommendation to President Donald Trump that Bears Ears National Monument in Utah be dramatically reduced in size. Trump then proceeded to slash the size of this fossil-rich land, previously protected by former President Barack Obama, by over one million acres (an over 80 percent reduction).

But Zinke maintained that grizzly bear recovery is part of “continuing our commitment to conservation.”

He may have been swayed by the expanse and wildness of the North Cascades region. There aren’t many places left to recovery grizzly bears, and North Cascades is as good as it gets. The park is surrounded by national forests on three sides and several Canadian territorial parks adjoin the park to the north.

“It’s a tremendously wild area,” Chris Servheen, the former Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in an interview. “There’s a tremendous amount of grizzly bear habitat.”

Recovering grizzly bears in the North Cascades means transporting bears from British Columbia into the park. According to the park’s plans, the bears will be helicoptered in, as that’s the only way to access extremely remote areas in a mostly roadless place.

There are four different options on the table right now, detailed in the park’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). One option, which Zinke apparently opposes, is doing nothing. If so, the remaining few bears will die out. The other three options propose restoring grizzly bear populations to approximately 200 individuals during the next 25, 60, or 100 years.

Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park.
Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park.

Image: Andy Porter/National Park Service

Helicoptering sedated bears to their homes in the deep backwoods of North Cascades, then, isn’t just a logistical challenge. It requires a long-term commitment from wilderness managers from multiple agencies. It’s also pricey.

“A well-funded project that has a broad base of public and political support can do the job,” Stephen Herrero, professor emeritus in animal behavior and ecology at the University of Calgary, said in an interview.

“It ain’t easy — but it sure is possible,” he said.

A shining example of where successful bear recovery has occurred is in Yellowstone National Park. In 1975, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the population of 136 bears there as endangered, but the population has since grown to around 700 bears today. These bears were taken off the endangered species list last year.

North Cascades, with few bears left (perhaps none), may have a significantly more difficult hill to climb. Fortunately, decades of successful — and at times unsuccessful — bear management in Yellowstone show how it can be done.

“We have the tools in our toolbox to recover grizzlies in the North Cascades,” said Severheen. “We know how to do that.”

A critical factor, learned from Yellowstone, is keeping grizzly mothers alive.

“Ultimately, grizzly bear populations thrive or decline depending on the survival of adult females,” said van Manen.

A sow and cub in Yellowstone National Park.
A sow and cub in Yellowstone National Park.

Image: National Park service

Even into the early 1980s in Yellowstone, grizzly bear populations were declining. “There were too many adult females dying,” said van Manen. This was occurring in large part because bears were getting into garbage dumps, and they became habituated to humans, which then created conflicts with people. Many of these bears had to be killed.

But park managers solved these problems, and many others, including by encouraging cattle ranchers with allotments next to the park to voluntarily give up this leased land.

Although North Cascades and the surrounding forests provide a massive expanse of territory to reintroduce bears, some aren’t pleased with the government’s bear recovery plans.

The local Board of Skagit County Commissioners, have repeatedly opposed the grizzly introduction, citing public safety concerns. A spokesperson for the commissioners said none were available for comment.

Some ranchers are also concerned about grizzly bears in the area — and not just because bears that roam outside the park might eat some cattle.

“Reintroducing as many as 200 man-eating predators into an area already reeling from exploding gray wolf populations is anything but neighborly,” Ethan Lane, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association federal lands executive director, said in a statement.

A Yellowstone grizzly bear eating a bison carcass.
A Yellowstone grizzly bear eating a bison carcass.

Image: National Park SErvice

Coming across a grizzly in the vast North Cascades wilderness, however, is unlikely. This is especially the case during the first decade, when 10 or 15 bears might be wandering the woods.

“We’re talking thousands of square miles of country,” said Severheen. “People won’t even know they’re in there.”

Additionally, bears “are the ultimate omnivores,” said van Manen. They eat almost anything in the wild: Fish, berries, grass — but humans are not part of a bear’s diet.

Nor do bears seek out people (unless they’ve been attracted to something like a food dump).

“Anybody that spends much time in grizzly bear country recognizes that there is a pretty low probability of having an interaction with bears,” said Severheen.

The Interior Department says that the final EIS draft will be released in late summer 2018. It will consider 126,000 public comments. From there, the Park Service and its management partners will pick one of the recovery options.

Recovering a fallen icon of the American West is bold, expensive, and will inevitably have its opponents. But national parks are required to conserve these places as they naturally exist, and grizzly bears are an integral part of this environment.

“There should be recovery in the North Cascades,” said Severheen.