Doug's Blog

Rants from a renegade naturalist

Don't Delist the Yellowstone Griz (nor believe everything you read)

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Two contrasting news stories about bears in the West were published on April 2, 2017. The first is a credible six-year scientific study of black bears by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The second is a report from the Yellowstone Ecosystem subcommittee meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team in Jackson, Wyoming, featuring the head scientist spouting familiar political bullshit about too many grizzlies ever expanding their Yellowstone range.


The Colorado study documents rising temperatures, fewer days spent in the den, increased human conflicts, and dramatically decreasing female black bear populations in southwestern Colorado. Rising conflicts with bears eating human garbage does not mean the bear population is rising. Garbage, they conclude, is not addicting; bears go back to natural food when it is available. The key to bear populations is the carrying capacity: how much food is there, which is directly related to soil moisture and plant production that is, in turn, directly related to climate change and (by correlation) to drought and rising temperatures in the American West.


On the other hand, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team in Yellowstone doesn’t believe climate change matters, writing in the Federal Register: “Therefore, we (The Fish and Wildlife Service) conclude that the effects of climate change do not constitute a threat to (the Yellowstone grizzly bear population) now, not are they anticipated to in the future.” Frank van Manen, head scientist of Study Team, says the grizzlies are expanding their range by 11 percent every couple years. Why? He says it’s because there are too many bears: “We are packing more sardines in the sardine can.” Van Manen thinks they are overflowing from the can into new territory where conflicts with livestock abound, and that today we are seeing the largest Yellowstone grizzly bear population size since listed as a threatened species in 1975.


This is bullshit. Climate change has already decimated key Yellowstone grizzly foods, especially whitebark pine nuts (which is now functionally extinct as a food source for bears), and has lowered the carrying capacity of the habitat through drought and rising temperatures (for a scientific discussion, click on the Grizzly-Sardine-Can link below).


Bears are ranging out of the Yellowstone core area, but it’s because there’s not enough food there. Hence, the density of grizzlies has decreased. The population of Yellowstone bears has not increased for 15 years and has probably declined since 2007—coincidentally the date of the tipping point for methane release in the Arctic, the commencement of abrupt climate change, and the sudden death of whitebark pine trees in Yellowstone. Is there any chance these events could be related? You bet your ass.


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Help Save Yellowstone's Bears

Dear friends-


As you probably know, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to strip Yellowstone’s grizzly bears of protection under the Endangered Species Act, and open the population up to hunting. The FWS states, astonishingly, that climate change does not constitute a threat now, or in the future, to grizzly bears.


I would greatly appreciate it if you would join me in sending comments to FWS opposing this delisting. Comments are most valuable when they raise questions about the substance of the agency’s proposal. It is not enough to simply state, “I oppose delisting the Yellowstone grizzlies.”


You might consider commenting about the effects of climate change on grizzly food sources, or on the foolhardiness of hunting the second-slowest reproducing land mammal in North America, or the uncertainty inherent in the vague triggers the agency has proposed to protect the bear in case of excessive mortality.


If you’d like to get some ideas, you can read my article on delisting that was published last month the Daily Beast: Grizzlies in the Crosshairs.


The agency is taking public comments on this proposal through Tuesday, May 10. Comments are being accepted electronically, Click Here


Comments are also being accepted via mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2016–0042, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.


Thank you for your help.


For the wild,

Doug Peacock

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Interview with the Wildernist

Just skip the "how I met the griz" stuff.

Interview with Doug Peacock - The Wildernist

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Scott Carrier talks to Doug on Home of the Brave

A broad-ranging discussion about extinctions, then and now:

Home of the Brave

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A Death Sentence for Wolverines in the Northern Rockies


A witless remark by regional director Noreen Walsh of the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service may have sealed the doom of our wolverine population south of Canada. The specious crack, buried in an obfuscated and recently leaked memo by the Rocky Mountain Region director of the FWS, denies climate change models and claims that global warming predictions of reduced snowfall are merely “speculative.” This bureaucratic ignorance overrules prior recommendations of government researchers to list wolverines south of the border as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. These scientists, the 17-page letter says, have been ordered to reverse their own conclusions. A final announcement is due from agency Director Dan Ashe on August 4, 2014.

This careless political statement also reveals the heart of the flawed relationship between American environmentalists and the Obama administration: the urban-based Obama White House remains unresponsive when it comes to the rights and welfare of iconic animals like grizzly bears, bison, wolves or wolverines and, secondly, the Federal Wildlife Service remains in large part a bureaucracy left over from the Bush administration, which twice denied protection for the wolverine and has failed to confront the considerable and urgent threats presented by global warming.

This simple inaccuracy by a single high level Obama bureaucrat could put wolverines in the Northern Rockies on a cattle train to extinction.

What are the facts about wolverine critical habitat and survival?  Snowfall is indeed the key to wolverine survival.

The most credible scientific data on wolverine behavior documents an absolute habitat dependence on “persistent spring snow habitat.” A study of 562 wolverine denning sites demonstrated that wolverines denned in areas of spring snow 100 percent of the time. Persistent spring snow habitat has been defined as the snow that lingers from April 24 to May 15, a period that encompasses the end of the wolverine’s denning period. This data comes from satellite images and telemetry sites. During summers, 95 percent of telemetry locations of wolverines during summertime were in areas of persistent snow and 86 percent of winter locations also fell in these habitats. This study (Copeland, 2010) records satellite photographs from 2000 to 2006. The proxy of persistent spring snow for critical wolverine habitat is as close to a perfect wildlife management indicator that we have for any large mammal in the Continental United States. Snow is what wolverines need to survive.

Climate warming can be charted as a long term rising trend with variation. The winter temperatures where wolverines live here in Montana have been on the rise since 2002. But there are bumps in the straight-line graph. For example, in October 2009, a cold snap caused a temporary hiatus in the mountain pine beetle epidemic in whitebark pine forests; that lethal outbreak resumed in spring of 2013. During the winter of 2013-2014, snowfall was heavier than average. This anomaly may be what spurred Regional Director Wash to consider global warming, and resultant decreased snowfall, “speculative.”

Here’s the nub: Does anyone think global warming is waning or going away in the near or distant future? The polar caps are melting at a frightening rate. The U S Navy predicts summer Arctic sea ice will be gone by 2016. Up in the Yukon, along the Beaufort Sea, he permafrost is breaking up along coasts and riverbanks; that crumbling, eroding permafrost is belching huge gasps of methane. In the Amazon, warming of 2 degrees C, which we are rapidly approaching, would cause a 20-40% collapse of the rainforest, irreversible damage, which would significantly amplify worldwide warming.

The highest density of wolverines left south of Canada is in Glacier National Park.  The well-studied glaciers, for which the park was named, occur when more snow dumps on the mountains in winter than melts during summer—accumulation exceeds ablation. Today, the opposite is happening; researchers now predict the park’s glaciers will disappear by 2020. This is not “speculative” science. The glaciers are melting because snowfall is decreasing and temperatures are rising--bad news for wolverines.

On July 2, 2014, the National Park Service released a comprehensive climate warming report in the journal PloS ONE. Global warming is happening in 235 of the 289 parks they studies. In northeastern Yellowstone, snowpack has declined 22% since 1975. Apparently, Regional Director Wash has not read that study either.

The wolverine is indeed the Northern Rockies polar bear.  As the polar bear drifts towards extinction because of melting polar ice, so will wolverine populations disappear as warming weather shrinks our Rocky Mountain snowpack. The wolverine’s only chance is total protection under our Endangered Species Act. And that’s merely a chance: None of us on this mysterious blue planet will escape the affliction we call global warming.

Please tell the USFWS to reverse this deadly decision:

Director, Dan Ashe: Telephone 202-208-4717, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Address: U.5. Fish & Wildlife Service, 1849 C. Street, NW, ROOM 3331 Washington, DC 20240

Read the USFWS wolverine memo.

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