National Monument Lands Collapsed – WHY?


by Capt. William E. Simpson II
12-11-2017
OPINION

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By now many people have heard or read that along with some other National Monuments, which had been created and managed arguably via the influence of various NGO organizations, such as KS-Wild, Western Watershed Project, Friends of The Monument and Soda Mountain Wilderness Council (Wildland Defense), the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (CSNM) is likely to be shrunk-down considerably. If the rollbacks in the Utah Monuments (Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante) are any indication of what we might expect (85% reduction of Monument area in Utah) to happen in the CSNM, it seems possible that the CSNM will be reduced to at least the pre-Obama land area of about 66,000 acres, and possibly smaller. Why?

I have a theory, which I think should be taken into serious consideration and it is supported by both science and human nature. For many years now, even decades in some cases, various NGOs who are and have been taking time and money from supporters to ostensibly look-out for the wilderness and nature, have instead paid more attention to politics than the wilderness, its forests and animals. It seems they have become more interested in becoming activists and lobbyists than good-stewards of the ecosystem.

Case in point: A complete failure by any of these organizations to make and publish the now obvious connection between the emergence of catastrophic wildfire and the acute depletion of west-coast deer populations, as is cited here: horsetalk.co.nz/2017/10/13/ecological-imbalance-wildfires-us-rangelands/

And here: freerangereport.com/index.php/2017/12/08/california-predator-policies-devastate-grazing-wildlife-exacerbate-wildfires/.

The foregoing case in-point as it relates to the connection between the evolution of unnaturally hot catastrophic wildfire in and around forests and grasslands and the decline in cervid (mammals in deer family) populations is not theory. The cause and effect between grazing ungulates and catastrophic wildfire (which is not 'normal' wildfire) is based-upon well-established settled (‘best science’) science, as we can read here: According to Science Magazine: “By altering the quantity and distribution of fuel supplies, large herbivores can shape the frequency, intensity, and spatial distribution of fires across a landscape. There are even unique interactions among large herbivore populations that can influence fire regimes. For example, facilitative interactions between white rhinoceros and mesoherbivores result in reduced fuel loads and fuel continuity, and consequently fewer large, intense fires. Other factors can influence the frequency and intensity of fires, particularly in locations where the total area burned is strongly related to ungulate population size.

As supposed guardians of the wilderness, this cause and effect evolution between cervids and wildfire should have been a glaring blip on the radar of these NGOs over the past many years. But it was arguably overlooked out of necessity because by addressing the severe decline of deer in California these organizations would also have to come face-to-face and admit their failed predator management policy views. Of course how can they now make that 180-degree reversal of course after already spending donated money to bring litigation seeking to stop the control and growth of predator populations? Maybe that also explains why they are also doubling down on a ‘let it burn’ narrative for forest management? But as we see, admitting the truth earlier as opposed to later prevents such cascading and compiling synergistic failures of policy…

Some NGOs will try to ‘educate’ you using their ‘best available science’ pitch (code for skewed science they happen to like?) about subjects like predators, which some seem to love maybe more than forests and the health of millions people now suffering from catastrophic wildfire (LA is being incinerated as I write this); where the toxic smoke kills more slowly than the flames that burned dozens of people alive in Sonoma California.

For instance we can easily find statements from the leaders of some NGOs suggesting that apex predators like mountain lions and wolves don’t affect the populations of ungulates (deer, elk, etc.).

Case in point: Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, which seems associated to Wildland Defense, recently posted on their Facebook page that; “It's long been known that predators don't do much - if anything - to impact big game numbers.” (facebook.com/wildlandsdefense/posts/1991425711075729)

However the ‘best science’ tells us otherwise, as does this report from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which contradicts much of what these NGOs claim, and includes a photo of a pack of wolves that just killed a bull elk weighing at least 600 pounds: conservation/gray_wolf/big_game/wash_wolf-ungulate_2015.pdf

Of course after reading what the real experts (WDFW) in their report have to say, how can these NGOs proffering contrarian positions be trusted? Who shall we believe?

It turns out that these NGOs seem to also have it wrong when it comes to mountain lions (cougars) in and around west coast states where their populations are “booming” (according to the article linked immediately below) and are adversely impacting the deer populations. And Oregon has its fair share of that problem with "6,000 lions", according the Oregon Department of Fish And Wildlife (ODFW), as they clearly state in this 2015 article: heraldandnews.com/email_blast/cougar-population-booming/article_06e39f22-9961-11e4-a542-e3d3495d3c23.html

Shockingly in just the past two years the Oregon lion population has grown by 400 lions to a new historic high of "6,400 lions", according to this 2017 report: deerfriendly.com/deer/oregon/oregon-deer-population-management-and-hunting-regulations/-2017/commission-meets-oct-13-in-prineville-to-consider-cougar-management-plan-october-6-2017-oregon

And given that the ODFW believes the appropriate management level for lions in Oregon is around 2,500 mountain lions, an increase of 400 lions is very significant.

In 2016 hunters harvested a total of about 42,000 Oregon deer, which is a little more than seven-percent (7.4%) of the total herd. The herd is also subject to vehicular accidents, disease, poaching and further losses from catastrophic wildfires. But in the end, all of those fatalities combined with hunting totals is still only about 12% of the total herd population. And now with the addition of wolves, not to mention other unforeseeable issues like the recent extreme cold winter that impacted the herds, the Oregon deer population is without doubt in trouble, and soon may resemble California’s deer disaster as detailed in this article: freerangereport.com/index.php/2017/12/08/california-predator-policies-devastate-grazing-wildlife-exacerbate-wildfires/

Of course the mathematics of depredation are the easiest part of understanding how apex predators such as lions do impact and even control deer populations; where each lion kills on average 50-60 deer per year. This means that at the minimum, the Oregon lion population will kill 320,000 deer (6,400-lions X 50-deer). So if we subtract the number of deer that amounts to ‘lion chow’ from the 540,000 total deer population (est. as of 2015, lower today), the math tells us that mountain lions annually kill about sixty-percent (60%) of the Oregon deer herdthat is population control, right? As we see, mountain lions have a devastating impact on deer populations.

However, all of the foregoing reports and basic math seems to contradict a recent statement made to me by the Executive Director of the Western Watershed Project, Mr. Erik Molvar, who wrote:
“As a published cervid biologist, I can tell you that there is scant scientific evidence that predators control population numbers of cervids, and ample evidence that they don’t.”

There seems to be a disconnect between the basic facts on the ground, and what this fellow posits; as if there are varied definitions (word games) for the notion of ‘population control’. Or could it be that mountain lions are now dining on ramen noodles in place of deer?

And maybe there is a plausible reason for abstract interpretations and definitions, as we now come to learn that the Western Watershed Project was one of several plaintiffs in a recent lawsuit against the USDA to halt some forms of predator control in Northern California, where predators are a serious problem.

We now find ourselves in a world where ideologies are affecting perspectives of science, and foundational scientific precepts are sometimes viewed as if they are abstract art. This in my opinion is very dangerous ground when the health of humans and the planetary ecosystems are now at risk. Pretending that lions don’t eat deer in numbers consistent with impacting total populations and thereby effecting a form of population control is folly.

Admitting failure has never been an NGO strong suit, even when such a failure in prediction (predator-cervid-wildfire correlation) seems so empirically evident on the ground. Of course most people realize that admitting failure affects more than just egos, it hits the revenue stream from donations. Nevertheless, admitting failure is an absolute requirement for making the corrections that are needed for any positive change and effect in policy position that is clearly needed to support the proper management and protection of our natural resources. The leaders of some of these NGOs have arguably failed in their capacities to promote a balanced advocacy vision for protecting our natural resources and we must now look to them for an explanation. And if they start by deferring blame upon others all around, it is a sign they have learned nothing. In any negotiation, the result, good, fair or bad, is the end product of all the negotiators and stake-holders.

Best ‘available’ science is a travesty. It is a word-game that arguably allows some NGOs to sell a position that is inferior to one based upon the ‘best science’. History abundantly teaches that mob rule and their views are rarely correct, which is why lynching (for instance) was outlawed, and it arguably relied upon the best 'available' evidence, as opposed to holding court and collecting the 'best' evidence. Another of hundreds of examples is that regarding Galileo, who was under threat of being burned at the stake when he announced that the sun did not orbit the earth.

When NGOs engage and entertain folly by using their ‘best available science’ pitch to influence policy views and subsequent management of natural resources, we can expect that at some point the forces of economic and social logic will easily prevail and take precedence, regardless of political affiliation. So blaming President Trump or DOI Secretary Zinke, while emotionally satisfying for some, is illogical and simply continues to fuel flawed natural resources advocacy and policy.

Politics and wilderness management just don’t mix. Wilderness ecosystems operate on evolutionary processes with results that were many tens of thousands of years in the making, and man’s concepts of management are risky at best, and made folly when influenced by coffee-house science and politics. We must now move past such ridiculous methods.

The results we see today, huge roll-backs of Monument lands and widespread wildlife mismanagement, are clear indicators of the desperate need for a more informed and logical leadership in the advocacy of the public’s natural resources. It seems that some NGOs need a top-end overhaul.

Some NGO organizations who are engaged in reckless policy and who have arguably been disproportionately distracted by politics have in my opinion failed their supporters when it comes to influencing natural resource management policy with good sense and logic. Simple stated, they have failed to discern the center-line of the intersection and balance between socially responsible and practical stewardship of natural resources, and the requirements of a growing society and the needs of its infrastructure. 

In physics, Sir Isaac Newton posited his ‘Third Law’; “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”

When these organizations pushed (politically) for more and more lands to be added to the Monuments, in some cases beyond any reasonable extent for honest ecosystem preservation, they pushed the pendulum far-over to the stop. Now as a result of such unreasonable ideologically driven policies, the social and economic pressures (stored kinetic energy) of having done so have powered the reverse swing of that management pendulum and of NGO influences, and now the momentum is building in the opposite.

It’s obtuse to manage our natural resources in such an oscillatory and knee-jerk manner.

Astute leaders could have easily avoided loading the equation in such a manner and thereby creating a reactionary force that would build and remain stored, ultimately resulting in the opposite and equal reaction at some point. Now the pendulum has swung back and past the center, taking lands of Monuments back to total areas that will seem by comparison as extreme minimums. This is what happens when logic is discarded and replaced with the folly of political bias influencing the scientific oversight of our natural resources.Instead of prudent scientifically driven management, we have a political tug-of-war between ideologies and egos. 

Now faced with far less lands in several Monuments and likely in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, NGOs will have to reflect upon their failed operational motives that have led to failed stewardship policy. The political landscape does not provide steady footing for the proper stewardship of our natural resources; only the best science, practical experience and logic can provide that much-needed footing and a result that is reasonable for everyone and everything.

Supporters of good stewardship for our natural resources must now call these organizations and their current and past operational motives and policies into question, as well as their leadership, who have undoubtedly had some impact in the results we now have at hand. 

The leadership of some NGOs must now accept their share of responsibility for these results, and it is up to the people who fund these NGOs to decide where and what changes should be made.

NGOs should immediately begin a process of self-examination and analysis if they are to correct their methodology, and that undertaking starts by admitting when there is a failure in their logic and the resulting impact on advocacy policy.

Nevertheless, our timeless forests and all that they encompass remain at extreme risk for extinction from catastrophic wildfires (megafire), and will continue to burn in an unnatural manner until they no longer exist, or until level-headed leadership ensues.  Political orientations and ideologies will not in any manner modify the level of risk to society and our natural resources from catastrophic wildfire; only logic and the best sciencecombined with the application of holistic and practical experience can save the day and America’s natural resources.

William Simpson is the author of Dark Stallions – Legend of the Centaurians, proceeds from which go towards supporting wild and domestic horse rescue and sanctuary.

Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Simpson has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family for years at a time. He holds a U.S.C.G. 500-ton captain’s license for commercial-inspected passenger vessels and he is also a commercial airplane and helicopter pilot.

Simpson spent his formative years growing up on the family’s working ranch in the mountains of Southern Oregon, where horses were an integral part of the daily life. William left the family ranch to attend college, which turned out to be a stepping stone into a bizarre lifestyle that led him around the world on an entrepreneurial quest. An adventurer at heart, Simpson and his best friend and wife Laura, spent many years at sea during two sailing expeditions (1991-1994 and 2008-2011) where they experienced some of the many wonders and mysteries of nature. Since retiring, Bill and Laura have changed lifestyles and are once again engaged in a new adventure; living an off-grid lifestyle in the remote wilderness of the Siskiyou Mountains, where they enjoy coexisting with herds of wild horses, along with a myriad of other wild animals. The staggering beauty of the local mountains and valleys is awe inspiring and has influenced Bill to frequently write on subjects related to wild horses as well as wild and domestic horse advocacy, rescue and sanctuary.

The opinions expressed on MyOutdoorBuddy are those of the author and do not represent the opinion of MyOutdoorBuddy or that of the author's employer unless otherwise stated.