Wolves Being Booted Back to the Brink

by Jim Robertson

Although “From the Brink of Oblivion and Back Again” was the title I gave to one of two chapters I devoted to the plight of wolves in my book Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport, I still hadn’t fully realized just how apt that title would soon be. At that time, wolves were federally protected and their removal from the Endangered Species List was just someone’s bad idea that had yet to see its dark day. Frankly, I thought we would be a little more evolved as a species by now.

But over and over states have proven themselves unworthy by declaring open seasons on wolves, without regard for the species’ future or for the welfare of individual wolves. Indeed, the ongoing warlike attack on wolves is anything but sporting or humane, with kill methods ranging from traps and snares to aerial hunting, running them down with dogs or luring them in and sniping at entire packs with semi-automatic rifles—depending on a given state’s predilection.

At the same time, many hunters and trappers go out of their way to express their hatred for wolves through horrific acts of overkill. Taking sick pleasure in further degrading their victims by glibly posing in morbid photos of trapped or bloodied wolves, they spread their snuff shots across the internet fishing for praise, while taunting wolf advocates.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

For thousands of years, wolves played a central role as keepers of nature’s balance across the American landscape. Wolves are the personification of untamed wilderness; their presence is a sign of an ecosystem relatively intact.

But bigotry toward wolves has thrived across the country since colonial times and wolves have long been the object of unwarranted phobias. Today’s wolf-haters panic at the thought of natural predators competing for “their” trophy “game” animals and loath anything that might threaten their exploitive way of life. They view the federal government as the enemy in their ongoing combat against wilderness, and grasp for local control of species like wolves, who, until recently, were all but extinct in the continental U.S. Far from being their foe however, the federal government has actually been a fervent ally.

The contentious removal of wolves from the federal endangered species list—long before they were truly recovered—was a coldly calculated course set in motion by the Bush Administration, dutifully followed by the Obama Administration and rendered the law of the land through an underhanded act of Congress in 2011. This crooked covenant, conjured up for the sake of ranchers and trophy hunters, left the wolves’ fate in the custody of hostile western states…and fits right in with a centuries-old, historic norm.

In 1630, Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony—known for holding the first Thanksgiving Day celebration…and Salem witch hunts—felt biblically impelled and duty-bound to “subdue the earth.” Hence, they were the first to establish a bounty on wolves. Soon the other colonies followed their example and set bounties of their own, and a systematic genocide of wolves in America spread west with the “settling” of the land.

In 1818, Ohio declared a “War of Extermination” against wolves and bears. Iowa began their wolf bounty in 1858; in 1865 and 1869 Wisconsin and Colorado followed suit. State by state wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned to extinction. As the demand for wolf pelts increased, “wolfers” began killing grazers like elk or bison and poisoning the meat as bait, decimating whole packs of unsuspecting canines in one fell swoop.

By 1872, the year President Grant created Yellowstone National Park, 100,000 wolves were being annihilated annually. 5,450 were killed in 1884 in Montana alone, after a wolf bounty was initiated there. By the end of 1886, a total of 10,261 wolves were offered up for bounty (sixteen times Montana’s 2011 population of 653 “recovered” wolves). Wyoming enacted their bounty in 1875 and in 1913 set a penalty of $300 for freeing a wolf from a trap.

Not to be outdone, the US government began a federal poisoning program in 1915 that would finish off the rest of the wolves in the region—including Yellowstone. By 1926 wolves had been completely extirpated from America’s premier national park.

Having no more regard for wolves than those who originally caused their extinctions, willfully-ignorant wolf-haters in the tri-state area of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have not received their reintroduction with open arms but rather with loaded arms, hoping to turn the clock back to the dark ages of centuries past. The posture they assume on the subject of wolves is as warped and ill-informed as any Massachusetts witch hunter’s.

With the wolf population in the tri-state area at only a fraction of its historic sum, the federal government unceremoniously removed them from the endangered species list (and consequently from federal protection) in 2009, casting their “management” (read: re-eradication) into the clutches of eager states that wasted no time implementing wolf hunting seasons. Montana quickly sold 15,603 wolf permits, while their confederates in Idaho snatched up 14,000 permits to hunt the long-tormented canids.

For its part, Wyoming has stubbornly held to a policy mandating that wolves be shot on sight anytime they wander outside Yellowstone, allegedly to safeguard range cattle (who are actually 147 times more likely to fall prey to intestinal parasites). Wolves have killed a grand total of only 26 cows (out of 1.3 million head of cattle in the state). Still, the livestock industry is in control of their wolf management decisions. Though hunters there have killed 74 wolves this season, as of March 1st the state of Wyoming has expanded and extended its season indefinitely, declaring an open, year-round hunt on them. Winter, spring and summertime hunts are particularly harsh since this is when wolves are denning and raising their newborn pups.

On the other side of Yellowstone, the disingenuously but suitably named “Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition,” backed by a well-funded trophy elk hunting industry, filed and circulated an initiative petition in 2008 calling for the removal of “all” wolves there “by whatever means necessary.” Fortunately, even in the state famous for potatoes, militias and neo-Nazi compounds, they failed to gain enough public support to move forward with their avaricious initiative. Even so, the Idaho government has been quietly carrying out the “whatever means” approach by adding aerial hunting, trapping, snaring and baiting to their wolf devastation arsenal. In just one season, 169 wolves were killed by trophy hunters in Idaho, while trappers there claimed the lives of 76.

It should come as no great jolt that Idaho hunters felt they could get away with asking for the renewed obliteration of an entire species—their governor, “Butch” Otter, publicly proclaimed he hoped to be the first to shoot a wolf as soon as they lost federal ESA protection. Failing that, Otter used his gubernatorial powers to declare his state a “wolf disaster area,” granting local sheriffs’ departments the power to destroy packs whenever they please.

“Meanwhile,” according to Defenders of Wildlife’s president, Jamie Rappaport Clark, “the federal government is sitting idly by as Idaho almost singlehandedly unravels one of our nation’s greatest wildlife conservation success stories. This is totally unheard of—never before has a species climbed its way back from near extinction only to be quickly decimated once again.”

Montana started out seeming to be the sensible state, appearing almost tolerant of wolves. But between their state legislature and their wildlife policy makers, they’ve made an about face and quickly caught up with their neighbors, displaying a total disregard for the public trust doctrine which holds that wildlife, having no owners, are res communes, belonging “in common to all of the citizens.” They’ve recently passed bills barring any protected zones outside Yellowstone Park, while legalizing silencers for wolf hunting and the use of recorded calls to attract wolves, as well as allowing five wolf tags per hunter, 12 years and older. (And a new state bill is proposing lowering the legal age of hunters to nine years old.) Legislators also proposed a cap of 250 on their state wolf population. Last year’s wolf hunt kill totals for Montana were 128 wolves shot to death and 97 killed in traps.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Since Congress stripped wolves of their Endangered Species status, an estimated 1,084 wolves have been killed in the Northern Rockies. Again, that’s ONE THOUSAND AND EIGHTY-FOUR living, breathing, social, intelligent wolves killed by scornful, fearful, vengeful and boastful hunters and trappers, often in the most hideous ways imaginable.

Thanks to a federal judge’s 2010 decision, the wolf was granted a one-year stay of execution. But in 2011 our federal legislators on Capitol Hill attached a rider to a budget bill circumventing that judgment. This serpentine, backbiting end-run around science and public opinion played right into the hands of anti-wolf fanatics in Idaho and Montana and cleared the way for the bloodiest butchery of wolves in almost a century. Case in point: the opening week of Montana’s nascent hunting season on wolves saw sportsmen set up just outside the park boundary gun down every adult in Yellowstone’s well-known and much-loved Cottonwood pack, leaving their dependent pups to starve. In just two years nearly 1,100 wolves have been ruthlessly murdered by hunters and trappers eager to relive the gory glory days of the 1800s.

All this is going on in spite of well-documented proof that wolves are beneficial to a given environment, and despite the fact that the majority of Americans, including most visitors to Yellowstone and the tri-state area, want to see wildlife unmolested. They are not there to hunt—the money they spend reflects their strong interest in the quiet enjoyment of nature.

Biologists studying the Yellowstone ecosystem have found that since their reintroduction to the park, wolves have kept elk herds on the move, thus allowing over-browsed streamside riparian habitats to regenerate. Among the species that rely on a healthy riparian zone—and therefore benefit from the presence of wolves—are moose, trumpeter swans, warblers, wrens, thrushes, beavers, muskrats and the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Everywhere they’re found, wolves play an important role in maintaining the health of ungulate herds by preying primarily on infirm or diseased animals, ensuring a healthy gene pool. And the remains of their kills provide a welcome relief for hungry scavengers, from bears to ermine to wolverines to bald eagles.

But rather than stepping back and allowing wolves to solve their elk “problem,” “game” “managers” want to reduce the number of both elk and wolves. Their policies are not scientific; they’re downright kill-happy. As the late Canadian naturalist and author, R D Lawrence, stated in his book, In the Presence of Wolves: “Killing for sport, for fur, or to increase a hunter’s success by slaughtering predators is totally abhorrent to me. I deem such behavior to be barbaric…”

The 1996 reintroduction of wolves to the northern Rocky Mountains in Yellowstone and wilderness areas of Central Idaho as mandated by the Endangered Species Act–along with protections against hunting and trapping all too briefly afforded them under the ESA–gave the wolf a temporary reprieve and allowed Nature to reign again over some of her sovereign lands.

Yes, wolves are spreading out, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there are more of them; each time they find a given habitat hostile to them, they continue to branch out in search of someplace safer and more hospitable. The total wolf population of the tri-state area has fluctuated, reaching a high of around 2000 individuals. An impressive figure perhaps, unless you consider that 1,089 were killed this year (not including those killed by federal “Wildlife Services” agents); or that 10,261 wolves were destroyed between 1884 and 1886 in Montana alone; or even that 380,000 wolves once roamed the country.

While all this is going on, the Great Lakes states have been racking up a high wolf body count of their own. Wisconsin in particular seems to be bucking for a most merciless award—the cruelties they’ve unleashed on wolves are the stuff of nightmares. And even states, such as South Dakota, that don’t even have wolf populations are hastily re-classifying wolves from the status of protected to “varmint,” in the event that any lost wolf happens by.

With the return of widespread wolf hunting, it will take today’s anti-wolf bigots only a few years to boot this misunderstood embodiment of wilderness back to the brink of oblivion.


This post includes excerpts from Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved


US to allow imports of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe, Zambia


(CNN)US authorities will remove restrictions on importing African elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

That means Americans will soon be able to hunt the endangered big game, an activity that garnered worldwide attention when a Minnesota dentist took Cecil, perhaps the world’s most famous lion, near a wildlife park in Zimbabwe.
A US Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman said the move will allow the two African countries to include US sport hunting as part of their management plans for the elephants and allow them to put “much-needed revenue back into conservation.”
Critics, however, note the restrictions were created by the Obama administration in 2014 because the African elephant population had dropped. The animals are listed in the US Endangered Species Act, which requires the US government to protect endangered species in other countries.
“We can’t control what happens in foreign countries, but what we can control is a restriction on imports on parts of the animals,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
The number of elephants in the wild plummeted 30% overall between 2007 and 2014, despite large scale conservation efforts. In some places it has dropped more than 75% due to ivory poaching.
In 2016, there were just over 350,000 elephants still alive in the wild, down from millions in the early 20th Century.
Iconic African elephant population on the brink

 Iconic African elephant population on the brink 05:49

Pacelle, who opposes the decision, told CNN it means “elephants minding their business are going to be gunned down by rich Americans.”
Safari Club International, a worldwide network of hunters, cheered the announcement.
“We appreciate the efforts of the Service and the US Department of the Interior to remove barriers to sustainable use conservation for African wildlife,” SCI President Paul Babaz said in a statement.
Attenborough: Poaching 'will rest heavily' on humanity

Attenborough: Poaching ‘will rest heavily’ on humanity 01:11
But the decision was met with outcry from animal-rights advocates, including Chelsea Clinton, a longtime proponent for elephant conservation. The daughter of former President Bill Clinton and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton once called elephants her “great passion” in a 2016 Politico profile and, together with her mother, unveiled a $80 million partnership through the Clinton Global Initiative in 2013 to help end the ivory poaching crisis.
“Infuriating. Will increase poaching, make communities more vulnerable & hurt conservation efforts,” she tweeted Thursday, linking to a report from the Humane Society of the United States.
President Donald Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric are themselves big game hunters. Photos posted in 2012 by the website Gothamist show Donald Jr. holding an elephant tail. The website says the photos were from a 2011 hunt in Zimbabwe.
When Donald Jr. addressed the photos at the time, he did not deny their authenticity or where they were taken. “I can assure you it was not wasteful,” he posted on Twitter, adding, “The villagers were so happy for the meat which they don’t often get to eat.”
Pacelle, of the Humane Society, noted that corruption in the Zimbabwean government was a concern when the US banned trophy imports from the nation in 2014.
Zimbabwe is currently in a leadership crisis, after the military seized power this week and placed President Robert Mugabe under house arrest.

Grizzly bear killed near Pendroy ran toward hunters


Nov 06, 2017 8:03 AM PST

A hunter shot and killed a grizzly bear near Pendroy on Saturday after the bear ran toward him and a fellow hunter.

According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, two men were pheasant hunting when a female grizzly bear approached them with three cubs.

The bear charged at a hunting dog, which prompted one of the men to shoot in the air and yell at the bear.

The bear then ran towards the men and one of the hunters shot and killed the grizzly.

The hunters were not injured and they contacted authorities.

FWP Bear Management Specialist Wesley Sarmento said the hunter shot the bear in the chest and the face.

Under Montana law, it is illegal to shoot a grizzly bear unless it is in self-defense.

Hunters can face a $3,000 fine or six months of jail time if they are charged.

FWP is investigating the incident and Sarmento urges hunters to use bear spray, make noise, and look for bear tracks while hunting.

The three cubs-of-the-year are still alive and had left the area by Sunday morning, according to the Montana FWP Prairie Bear Monitor page on Facebook.

Captain Paul Watson Responds to the VaquitaCPR Release On the Death of a Vaquita

VaquitaCPR team: SAN FELIPE, BAJA, MEXICO — The entire VaquitaCPR team is deeply saddened to report that during field operations to rescue the world’s most critically endangered marine mammal, a vaquita porpoise has died. With less than 30 vaquitas left on Earth, the entire rescue team is heartbroken by this devastating loss.

Captain Paul Watson: The entire Vaquita CPR team may indeed be deeply saddened but they can’t say they were not warned and if they continue this foolhardy plan, another Vaquita will die. This team just contributed to the possible extinction of this extremely rare endangered species. This project should be called Vaquita RIP and it is now a contributing factor the possibility of extinction.

VaquitaCPR team: Extreme precautions and significant planning have gone into every aspect of the VaquitaCPR rescue plan. VaquitaCPR assembled many of the most experienced marine mammal experts in the world to determine if human care could rescue them from extinction. No conservation project like this has ever been done before, and the operation comes with significant risk. However, scientists agreed that the risk of extinction in the wild was still far greater than the risk of rescue efforts.

Captain Paul Watson: We warned them that the animals were shy, elusive and easily stressed. The death of this Vaquita and the stress recently inflicted to a Vaquita calf has most likely stressed the entire remaining population. What scientists agreed that the risk was worth undertaking? From the looks of the supporters of the VaquitaCPR Project, the majority of the scientists are working within the captivity industry. There is a better and safer approach and that is the approach that Sea Shepherd is presently doing with the Operation Milagro Project and our approach is to physically defend the Vaquita Refuge from poachers.

VaquitaCPR team: A mature female vaquita, not pregnant or lactating, had been caught and transported successfully late in the afternoon on Saturday in the Northern Gulf of California and was taken to a specially-modified floating sea pen known as ElNido, or The Nest. From the moment of capture, the vaquita was under constant care and observation for its health and safety. Marine mammal veterinarians monitoring the vaquita’s health noticed the animal’s condition began to deteriorate and made the determination to release. The release attempt was unsuccessful and life saving measures were adminsitered. Despite the heroic efforts of the veterinary team, the vaquita did not survive.

Captain Paul Watson: How can they say that the Vaquita was ‘caught and transported successfully,’ when the Vaquita died within 24 hours. This is like saying ‘the operation was successful but the patient died.’ To describe this effort as ‘heroic’ is delusional. This Vaquita died because of the arrogance of this capture team.

VaquitaCPR team: Every member of the international rescue team is a leading expert in their field and deeply committed to saving the vaquita from imminent extinction. The rescue operation was considered a great hope for the continued existence of this rare and elusive porpoise which is at severe risk of extinction due to entanglement and drowning in gillnets in Mexico’s Gulf of California. Hundreds of vaquitas have been lost since 1997 despite significant efforts by the Mexican government to ban gillnet fishing throughout the vaquitas’ range and establish strong enforcement of conservation measures. Illegal gillnet fishing continues.

Captain Paul Watson: Most of these teammembers are employed in the captivity industry. If the problem is entanglement and drowning in gillnets, the solution is to remove and prevent gill nets from being deployed. Sea Shepherd has removed over 400 illegal nets while working with a minimal budget. With more funding, more nets could be removed and more interventions against poachers can be undertaken. Instead of funding being directed towards intervention against the real problem, this VaquitaCPR project is simply another lethal threat to the survival of the Vaquita.

VaquitaCPR team: With so few vaquitas left, this consortium of international conservation and animal care experts was assembled at the request of the Mexican government and scientific community to develop an unprecedented rescue and relocation operation that is widely recognized as the best hope for vaquitas’ existence. The risk of losing a vaquita during field operations was always acknowledged as a possibility, but it was determined that it was unacceptable to stand by and watch the vaquita porpoise disappear without a heroic attempt at rescue.

Captain Paul Watson: The best hope for the prevention of the extinction of the Vaquita is enforcement and intervention. Sea Shepherd has never acknowledged that the death of a Vaquita was a possibility. We stated from the beginning that the project would 100% kill these animals from stress. What is unacceptable is that these ‘scientists’ are indeed standing by and refusing to support intervention. Calling themselves ‘heroic’ is arrogantly inaccurate. Heroic is confronting poachers and working long hard hours to remove illegal nets. There is nothing heroic about capturing and stressing these extremely shy marine mammals. The VaquitaCPR project is now very much a part of the threat to the survival of the Vaquita.

VaquitaCPR team: Vaquita Conservation, Rescue, and Recovery (VaquitaCPR) scientists in collaboration with an independent review panel established for this purpose and the Mexican government, will carefully review the events of the past 24 hours and determine how best to proceed. A necropsy has been performed and tissue samples have been collected to inform in this review.

Captain Paul Watson: Captivity scientists love their necropsies. This is one thing they are really good at because they do so many of them for all the animals that continuously die in captivity.

This ill conceived project must be shut down before another Vaquita dies.

VaquitaCPR team: Update information will be provided as it becomes available.

Captain Paul Watson: There are two ways this can go – abandon the project or the next update will be another death.

VaquitaCPR: VaquitaCPR is an international conservation program led by SEMARNAT in coordination with the National Marine Mammal Foundation, The Marine Mammal Center, and the Chicago Zoological Society. Key collaborators in Mexico include Instituto Nacional de Ecología and Climate Change (INECC), Asociación Mexicana de Hábitats para la Interacción y Protección de Mamíferos Marinos (AMHMAR), Museo de la Ballena, and Baja Aqua Farms. United States collaborators include Duke University and the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contributing technical support. World Wildlife Fund is contributing with acoustic monitoring and the retrieval of lost or abandoned “ghost” nets from vaquita habitat. European collaborators include Dolfinarium Harderwijk, Aarhus University, and Fjord&Baelt. Additional support and expertise has been offered from Dolphin Quest, SeaWorld, and the Vancouver Aquarium. VaquitaCPR operates as a private and public partnership, relying on both individual donors and government grants. VaquitaCPR has received generous financial support from the Mexican government, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Global Wildlife Conservation, Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums, Africam, International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association, Waitt Foundation, Disney Conservation Fund, YAQU PACHA, and the Firedoll Foundation. For information about the plan, visit http://www.nmmf.org/vaquitacpr-espanol.html

Captain Paul Watson: The VaquitaCPR Project refuses to acknowledge the net retrieval operations by Sea Shepherd or Sea Shepherd’s successful interventions against poachers. They act like Sea Shepherd does not exist and our ships have not actively been in the Vaquita Refuge for the last few years successfully removing. This is most likely due to Sea Shepherd’s anti-captivity policy.

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outsmart the Neanderthals. We just outlasted them.

November 1 at 7:00 AM

A reconstructed Neanderthal skeleton, right, and a modern human skeleton, left, on display at the Museum of Natural History in New York. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

By the standards of the Paleolithic age, members of Homo neanderthalensis were the height of sophistication. These ancient hominins ranged across Europe and parts of Asia for more than 300,000 years, producing tools, jewelry and impressive cave creations. They cared for their sick and elderly. They perhaps even performed a primitive kind of dentistry.

But then Homo sapiens showed up, and the Neanderthals disappeared. So what happened?

For decades, modern human scientists assumed there must have been something wrong with the Neanderthals — or something right with us — that led to their extinction. Maybe H. neanderthalensis had bad genes that made the species more vulnerable to disease. Maybe the climate changed quickly and they couldn’t adapt. Maybe modern humans were smarter, more innovative, better at coming up with new ways to control territory and secure food. Acres of ancient archaeological sites have been excavated and libraries of academic journals filled by scientists seeking an explanation.

“It’s like everyone is searching for ‘just so’ stories about why one species led the other to extinction,” said Oren Kolodny, an evolutionary biologist at Stanford University. But Kolodny wondered: What if there is no “just so” explanation?

In a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, Kolodny and his colleague Marc Feldman test a more basic hypothesis — that the extinction of the Neanderthals was simply a consequence of population dynamics and bad timing. In most cases, it turned out, this was enough to account for the disappearance of our hominin cousins.

Neanderthals first emerged in Europe around 400,000 years ago. After evolving in Africa, anatomically modern humans arrived in Europe. There was a brief period of time, between about 51,000 and 39,000 years ago, when H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens shared the landscape — maybe fighting, and definitely interbreeding. But at the end of that era only one species was left standing 

Among museum scientists, there’s a tension between putting specimens on display to the public and making them available for research. For the Neanderthal skeleton at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, there’s a creative solution. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

The speed of replacement led scientists to assume that modern humans had some selective advantage — a trait that made them and their offspring more evolutionarily successful than their cousins. Initially, Kolodny was interested in calculating the size of that advantage. To do so, he had to establish what’s known as the “null hypothesis.”

“It’s the simplest model that we can build without assuming any hard-to-prove claims, like selection or environmental change,” Kolodny explained. In other words, “What do I expect would have happened by default?”

Using what researchers already know about ancient hominin population sizes, migration patterns, and the way ecology works, Kolodny and Feldman built a simple computer model that would simulate Neanderthal and Homo sapiens interactions in Paleolithic Europe. At the start of the simulation, Europe is inhabited by “bands” of Neanderthals that randomly move around and die out. Every so often, a band of modern humans migrates out of Africa and joins the European fray. Bands from each species have equal likelihoods of displacing the other — neither one had an advantage from a natural selection perspective.

Kolodny knew that one species had to go extinct at the end of each simulation. It’s a basic principle of ecology: Two species cannot occupy the same niche at the same time. Sometimes, species will accommodate competition by developing some kind of specialty — for example, in parts of Israel where two similar species of normally nocturnal mice are found, one species adjusts by becoming active during the day. But hominins are generalists, not specialists, and at the time of Neanderthals’ extinction, archaeological evidence suggests their abilities and behavior were pretty similar to ours.

Kolodny and Feldman ran their simulation hundreds of thousands of times, changing the values for a number of different variables to reflect the uncertainty that scientists have about this period of human history. But in the vast majority of cases, under a wide range of parameters, the simulation ended with Neanderthals dying out within 12,000 years. They just couldn’t keep up with the slow trickle of human bands that flowed continuously north from Africa.

This result suggests that the “null hypothesis” — based solely on what we know about basic ecology principles and the gradual human migration into the continent — is sufficient to explain why the Neanderthals disappeared.

It doesn’t necessarily prove that humans didn’t have a selective advantage, or that climate change didn’t influence the Neanderthals’ fate, Kolodny cautioned. “But even if there were no selection and no climate change, the end result would have been the same. It’s a subtle distinction but it’s important.”

Scientists recruited a dentist to help them analyze teeth that belonged to a 130,000-year-old Neanderthal. Their conclusion? The poor soul suffered a lot of dental problems, and probably tried to solve them with a toothpick. (The University of Kansas)

Wil Roebroeks of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands told the Associated Press that this study fits with other research that aims to understand the Neanderthals’ demise without suggesting humans had an evolutionary leg up on our cousins.

Kolodny likened this perspective to that of a football fan who, after watching her favorite team win the Super Bowl, finds out that the game had been rigged from the outset. It doesn’t mean that her team didn’t play well, but it should change how she feels about the game.

“It’s not that Neanderthals were these brutish, wide-shouldered, sort of advanced apes that roamed the land until we came over and beat them,” Kolodny said. “It’s more that it was a companion hominin species that was very similar to us.” Indeed, it’s conceivable that their fate could have been ours.

Editorial: Conservation success story continues to soar


The United States nearly pushed its national symbol to extinction in the 20th century. Yet 10 years ago today, the bald eagle officially came off the endangered species list. John Flicker, president of the National Audubon Society in 2007, proclaimed the rescue “among the greatest victories of American conservation.”

Indeed it was. Consider how close we came to losing the bald eagle.

Finally, Congress passed the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act in 1940, which prohibits “pursuing, shooting, shooting at, poisoning, wounding, killing, capturing, trapping, collecting, molesting, or disturbing” a bald or golden eagle. The act also makes it illegal to “possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, offer to purchase” any part, nest or egg of either species. (Because of eagle feathers’ religious and cultural significance, the law makes an exception so federally recognized American Indian tribes can own feathers. Note that even eligible Native Americans must first get a permit.)

Congress was serious about protecting these majestic birds, so the penalty is steep: $5,000 and a year in jail for the first offense, even for picking an eagle feather off the ground and keeping it.

Then came DDT.

From municipalities to farmers to homeowners, communities widely used the “wonder” synthetic pesticide starting in the 1940s to control mosquitoes; it entered our lakes and streams. As a result, eagles and osprey — both fish-loving raptors — started laying eggs with brittle, thin shells that couldn’t support the weight of a nesting parent. Populations plummeted.

The bald eagle population hit rock bottom in 1963, when the Audubon Society and federal ornithologists documented just 417 mating pairs in the lower 48 states.

Public outcry made DDT unpopular. The U.S. banned DDT in 1972. The eagles slowly came back and today we routinely see them flying across Goodhue, Pierce, Pepin and Wabasha counties farm fields far from lakes and rivers when just 20 years ago seeing a single eagle along a riverbank was worthy of exclamation and getting out of your car to stare in wonder.

The announcement came June 28, 2007, that the Department of the Interior would remove the bald eagle from protection under the Endangered Species Act. The date was set for Aug. 9.

This region where the Minnesota, Cannon, St. Croix and Chippewa rivers flow into the Mighty Mississippi played a key role in the bird’s survival. While residents can take some pride in that, our role in the victory was primarily one of geography. Still, residents here raised their voices loudly, collectively and effectively in the fight. Such places as Carpenter Nature Center, National Eagle Center and our state parks and wilderness areas are the result.

The eagle has been the nation’s symbol since 1782, when Congress chose its image for the country’s official seal. Today, local residents are blessed that sightings of bald eagles are almost as commonplace as the U.S. quarter.

Bill to block challenges to wolf delisting advances

Shortly after this fall’s gray wolf season opened in Wyoming, a bill that would remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming — and prohibit judicial review of the decision — jumped its first hurdle in the U.S. House.

The Gray Wolf State Management Act (H.R. 424), a bill introduced by U.S. Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., passed the House Natural Resources Committee on Oct. 4.

“For far too long our court system has been abused by radical environmental groups filing frivolous lawsuits to prevent Wyoming from managing our gray wolf population,” Cheney said in a press release. In an email, Cheney said she was pleased that the bill made it through the committee.

In testimony in front of the full House Committee on Natural Resources on Oct. 4, Peterson said that, “Gray wolves should be managed by state plans which maintained more than adequate wolf population numbers.”

Gray wolves, reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995, were originally delisted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012. That decision was overturned and protections reinstated in 2014 by a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C. However, this past April, an appellate court reversed that ruling, with Wyoming again winning the right to manage the population outside of Yellowstone National Park.

The state’s hunting season began Oct. 1.

As of Monday morning, 21 of the 44 gray wolves in the hunt management quota had been harvested. Areas 1, 4, 10 and 11 were closed while eight areas remained open for Wyoming’s scheduled three-month hunt.

The Gray Wolf State Management Act has the backing of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead.

“The bill would give us predictability and protection against litigation,” said David Willms, a policy adviser for Mead.

“I look forward to the day the state can work without the cloud of potential litigation hanging over our heads,” he said.

There currently are no lawsuits pending and Willms thinks they’re unlikely during the 2017 wolf hunt. The legislation, if passed, would protect the states from further litigation, but not from listing wolves as an endangered species, Willms said.

Wisconsin Republican congressman Sean Duffy, a co-sponsor of the bill, has had enough of the judicial system.

“Judicial activism has caused a multitude of problems in our nation, and a Washington judge claiming to know what’s best for Wisconsin’s ecosystem is another egregious example. In Wisconsin, we cherish our wildlife and work diligently to conserve our natural resources, but the Endangered Species Act has allowed courts to misuse judicial oversight to stop science-based wildlife management from moving forward,” Duffy said in a news release earlier this year.

However, Derek Goldman, field representative for the Endangered Species Coalition, sees this bill — as well as more than 100 other pieces of legislation and riders by the 115th Congress — as an attempted end-run around the ESA.

“This is one of many efforts in Congress to undermine the Endangered Species Act,” Goldman said.

Goldman points to successes due to the ESA, including the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets in Wyoming.

The Gray Wolf State Management Act will most likely move to the House floor as part of a legislative package to promote sportsmen’s activities on federal lands, Cheney said. Her goal is to provide Wyoming farmers and ranchers with the ability to protect their own livestock and livelihood, she said.

The bipartisan bill, including Democrats from Wisconsin and Minnesota, is popular with members of Congress from all four states. It’s co-sponsored by Richard Nolan, D-Minn., Tom Emmer, R-Minn., Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., Ron Kind, D-Wis., John Moolenaar, R-Mich., Tim Walberg, R-Mich., Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., and Jack Bergman, R-Mich.

In June, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., co-sponsored a similar bill with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., in the Senate called the HELP for Wildlife Act. HELP is an acronym for Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation.

The bill — which includes measures to support fishing and target shooting — includes two riders that would ensure that gray wolves will not receive protections under the ESA in Wyoming or the Great Lakes region. One section would override the 2014 district court decision and removes existing Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Another section would codify April’s recent D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that stripped ESA protections for wolves in Wyoming. The plaintiffs in the Wyoming case did not appeal the court’s decision.

Huge discovery about Global Warming shocks scientists

Huge discovery about Global Warming shocks scientists

An astonishing new study claims that there may be a ticking time bomb right under our toes, as the soil could be responsible for significant carbon emissions.

A remarkable new study published in the journal Science indicates that carbon emissions from warming soils could be a lot higher than we previously thought, and it could result in a chain of events that would greatly intensify global warming. Researchers found that there was a major uptick in carbon production in microbes found within soil at the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts.

Scientists used underground cables to heat some of the soil plots in the forest, raising the temperature by about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while unheated plots were set aside as control for the experiment. After about 10 years, scientists measured again and found that carbon emissions from heated soil had greatly increased. After a seven year period where emissions declined again, the carbon emissions went on an upward trajectory once again for six more years.

In the final three years of the study, the carbon emissions from the soil went down again. Both times there was a decline in emissions, scientists think that the microbes were simply adjusting to the new temperatures, and as a result they think that it is just the calm before the storm, as it were. The 26-year study is the biggest of its kind and could result in breakthroughs in how we study and understand global warming and climate change.

The full statement from the Marine Biological Laboratory follows below.

After 26 years, the world’s longest-running experiment to discover how warming temperatures affect forest soils has revealed a surprising, cyclical response: Soil warming stimulates periods of abundant carbon release from the soil to the atmosphere alternating with periods of no detectable loss in soil carbon stores. Overall, the results indicate that in a warming world, a self-reinforcing and perhaps uncontrollable carbon feedback will occur between forest soils and the climate system, adding to the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by burning fossil fuels and accelerating global warming. The study, led by Jerry Melillo, Distinguished Scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), appears in the October 6 issue of Science.

Melillo and colleagues began this pioneering experiment in 1991 in a deciduous forest stand at the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts. They buried electrical cables in a set of plots and heated the soil 5° C above the ambient temperature of control plots. Over the course of the 26-year experiment (which still continues), the warmed plots lost 17 percent of the carbon that had been stored in organic matter in the top 60 centimeters of soil.

“To put this in context,” Melillo says, “each year, mostly from fossil fuel burning, we are releasing about 10 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere. That’s what’s causing the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and global warming. The world’s soils contain about 3,500 billion metric tons of carbon. If a significant amount of that soil carbon is added to the atmosphere, due to microbial activity in warmer soils, that will accelerate the global warming process. And once this self-reinforcing feedback begins, there is no easy way to turn it off. There is no switch to flip.”

Over the course of the experiment, Melillo’s team observed fluctuations in the rate of soil carbon emission from the heated plots, indicating cycles in the capacity of soil microbes to degrade organic matter and release carbon. Phase I (1991 to 2000) was a period of substantial soil carbon loss that was rapid at first, then slowed to near zero. In Phase II (2001-2007), there was no difference in carbon emissions between the warmed and the control plots. During that time, the soil microbial community in the warmed plots was undergoing reorganization that led to changes in the community’s structure and function. In Phase III (2008-2013), carbon release from heated plots again exceeded that from control plots. This coincided with a continued shift in the soil microbial community. Microbes that can degrade more recalcitrant soil organic matter, such as lignin, became more dominant, as shown by genomic and extracellular enzyme analyses. In Phase IV (2014 to current), carbon emissions from the heated plots have again dropped, suggesting that another reorganization of the soil microbial community could be underway. If the cyclical pattern continues, Phase IV will eventually transition to another phase of higher carbon loss from the heated plots.

“This work emphasizes the value of long-term ecological studies that are the hallmark of research at the MBL’s Ecosystems Center,” says David Mark Welch, MBL’s Director of Research. “These large field studies, combined with modeling and an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the role of microbial communities in ecosystem dynamics, provide new insight to the challenges posed by climate change.”

“The future is a warmer future. How much warmer is the issue,” Melillo says. “In terms of carbon emissions from fossil fuels, we could control that. We could shut down coal-fired power plants, for example. But if the microbes in all landscapes respond to warming in the same way as we’ve observed in mid-latitude forest soils, this self-reinforcing feedback phenomenon will go on for a while and we are not going to be able to turn those microbes off. Of special concern is the big pool of easily decomposed carbon that is frozen in Artic soils. As those soils thaw out, this feedback phenomenon would be an important component of the climate system, with climate change feeding itself in a warming world.”

Collaborators in this study include S.D. Frey, M.A. Knorr, and A.S. Grandy of the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment; K.M. DeAngelis of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst’s Department of Microbiology; W.J. Werner and M.J. Bernard of the Marine Biological Laboratory; F.P. Bowles of Research Designs in Lyme, N.H.; and G. Pold of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.

Melillo, J.M. et al (2017) Long-Term Pattern and Magnitude of Soil Carbon Feedback to the Climate System in a Warming World. Science DOI:

The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery – exploring fundamental biology, understanding marine biodiversity and the environment, and informing the human condition through research and education. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.

Bad day for walrus: Service Determines Pacific Walrus Does Not Require Endangered Species Act Protection

October 4,

Contact: Andrea Medeiros,
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that the Pacific walrus does
not require protection as threatened or endangered under the Endangered
Species Act (ESA). The finding follows a comprehensive review and analysis
of the best available scientific information concerning the species, as
well as local and traditional ecological knowledge of Alaska Native peoples.

The Pacific walrus is found throughout the continental shelf waters of the
Bering and Chukchi seas and occasionally in the East Siberian Sea and
Beaufort Sea. In its review, the Service paid particular attention to the
impact to the species of the ongoing loss of sea ice in the walrus’s range.

While walruses use sea ice for a variety of activities, including breeding,
birthing, resting and avoiding predators, they have shown an ability to
adapt to sea ice loss that was not foreseen when the Service last assessed
the species in 2011. Given these behavioral changes, the Service determined
that it could not predict, with confidence, future behavioral responses of
the species beyond 2060. Accordingly, that date was used as the limit for
determining whether the walrus was likely to become endangered within the
“foreseeable future,” under the ESA. Beyond that time, predicting
behavioral responses becomes too speculative to be considered best
available science for the purposes of a listing determination.

“Our decision not to list the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species
Act at this time is based on a rigorous evaluation of the best available
science, which indicates the population appears stable, and the species has
demonstrated an ability to adapt to changing conditions,” said Fish and
Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan. “If future
circumstances warrant or new information comes to light, we can and will
re-evaluate the Pacific walrus for ESA protection. In the meantime, the
species will continue to be federally protected under the Marine Mammal
Protection Act.”

Other stressors that were identified in 2011, including subsistence
harvest, have declined. The Pacific walrus population appears to be
approaching stability with reproductive and survival rates that are higher
than in the 1970s–1980s.

The Pacific walrus will continue to receive protection in the U.S. under
the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Protections afforded under the
MMPA include prohibitions on the harvest, import, and export of the Pacific
walrus or walrus products, except by Alaska Natives for subsistence and
handicraft creation and sale. In addition to monitoring the population, the
Service will continue to work with the State of Alaska, coastal communities
and other partners to conserve the Pacific walrus population and minimize
the impacts of stressors where possible.

The decision today is the Service’s final action regarding a petition
submitted to the agency in 2008 to list the Pacific walrus. For more
information regarding this decision, please visit:

Global Food Crops Also Face Earth’s Sixth Great Mass Extinction



Coffee 0927wrp optCoffee beans. (Photo: United Nations)Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

Human civilization utterly depends on our precious food supplies, but the planet’s sixth mass extinctionof plants and animals currently underway is also threatening the world’s food crops, according to a new report from Bioversity International.

“Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, wrote in an article for the Guardian.

“If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet,” she said.

According to the report, 940 cultivated species are already threatened. Tutwiler emphasized the impact on popular foods and commodities:

“Take some consumer favorites: chips, chocolate and coffee. Up to 22% of wild potato species are predicted to become extinct by 2055 due to climate change. In Ghana and Ivory Coast, where the raw ingredient for 70% of our chocolate is grown, cacao trees will not be able to survive as temperatures rise by two degrees over the next 40 years. Coffee yields in Tanzania have dropped 50% since 1960.”

Additionally, of the estimated 5,538 plant species counted as food, just three—rice, wheat and maize—provide more than 50 percent of the world’s plant-derived calories.

“Relying so heavily on such a narrow resource base is a risky strategy for the planet, for individual livelihoods and for nutritious diets,” the report states.

As the Guardian pointed out, a disease or pest can sweep through large areas of monocultures, like during the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death.

Tutwiler noted that the world’s incredible diversity of wild or rarely cultivated species—such the beta carotene-rich gac fruit from Vietnam or the vitamin A-filled Asupina banana—”can be a source of affordable, nutritious food—provided we don’t let it disappear.”

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“This ‘agrobiodiversity’ is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing,” she said. “It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”

In an interview with FoodTank, Tutwiler commented on how agribusiness and the Western diet has also contributed to the world’s loss of biological diversity of food:

“From the production side, a focus on ‘feeding the world’ rather than ‘nourishing the world’ has led to a focus on a handful of starchy staples that has contributed to an increase in land planted with maize, wheat, and rice from 66 percent to 79 percent of all cereal area between 1961 and 2013.

On the consumption side, there is a growing global tendency towards Western diets and processed convenience foods. Diets are based more and more on major cereals, plus sugar and oil. So these now dominate our agricultural production. Of the 30,000-ish plant species that can be used as food, today only three—rice, wheat, and maize—provide half the world’s plant-derived calories and intakes of pulses, fruits, and vegetables are low.

At the same time, the same pressures that are driving the sixth mass extinction of wild biodiversity are also affecting agricultural biodiversity—habitat transformation, deforestation, invasive species, and climate change. They also lead to disruption in pollinators and natural pest control. Loss of wild biodiversity can lead to erosion of genetic diversity (like the wild relatives of crops, which are a valuable source of traits for breeding), which reduces options for breeding new plant varieties better adapted to climate change.”

Bioversity International’s new 200-page report, “Mainstreaming Agrobiodiversity in Sustainable Food Systems,” highlights how governments and companies should protect and encourage agrobiodiversity to tackle wider global problems such as poverty, malnutrition, environmental degradation and climate change.