News

June 19, 2014

Mobile science – Wolverine research brings together unlikely groups

Missoula News/Independent Publishing

Three months ago at a trailhead in eastern Idaho’s Centennial Mountains, wolverine research technician Kyle Crapster eyed two snowmobilers from across the parking lot as they pulled avalanche safety gear from a sticker-emblazoned truck. He suspected they were heading for the steep, open slopes that help make this area west of Yellowstone National Park, known as Island Park, an international snowmobiling destination.

Wolverines share the snowmobilers’ affinity for isolated alpine terrain with deep snow, and Crapster was part of a research team tracking the movements of both to learn if the traffic impacts the animals. He approached the two men to ask them to take a GPS along on their ride. One of them noticed his clipboard and cut him off before he could start: “I’m not carrying one.”

Fortunately, such rejections are rare. About 90 percent of snowmobilers and skiers approached have taken the GPS units into the mountains. Since 2010, researchers have collected roughly 10,000 GPS tracks in the area. They’ve fitted 23 wolverines with radio-collars in those areas, including two in the Centennials. Eventually, they’ll compare the two datasets to see if the presence of people affects how the animals behave, reproduce and where they choose to live—things that could ultimately affect their survival.

Wolverines are scrappy scavengers, generally weighing between 20 and 60 pounds, with stout legs, snowshoe-like paws and sharp claws that equip them for travel near the treeline. When a three- to four-foot dump overwhelmed the researchers’ snowmobiles in 2011, a GPS-collared wolverine cruised the stormy slopes and ridgelines as briskly as a human striding down a flat, dry trail.

“They are just like a little super animal,” says Kim Heinemeyer, a biologist with Round River Conservation Studies, a research nonprofit co-leading the study with the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station.

But wolverines are also vulnerable. So far, their remote lifestyle has protected them from most of the pressures that other charismatic carnivores face, like development, livestock and logging. That, and their natural rarity, has also kept them relatively understudied. While there are thousands of wolverines in Alaska and Canada, plus more in northern Europe and Asia, the Lower 48 probably hosts fewer than 300. But no one knows for sure.

It’s clear that climate change threatens their snowy habitats, so they’ll be considered for endangered listing this August. Yet the effects of increasing numbers of snowmobiles, helicopters, snowcats and skis in wolverine territory are uncertain.

Surprisingly, the Idaho State Snowmobile Association endorses the study. The potential for a listing has raised the stakes for everyone: Snowmobilers hope the study’s findings will prevent large closures, while managers and scientists are optimistic that getting the recreation community involved early on could help wolverines remain relatively uncontroversial, even if listed.

“My hope is that regardless of the results, recreationists take ownership of this animal and become largely self-policing, and we don’t have to force regulations upon them,” says Jeff Copeland, a Forest Service researcher who started the project before retiring to direct the Idaho-based Wolverine Foundation.

Copeland started the project because he wanted to maintain wildlife management’s credibility by avoiding arbitrary closures. He also recognized a rare opportunity to improve the adversarial and often litigious relationship between snowmobilers and the Forest Service. The snowmobile association, in turn, saw that Copeland didn’t have an anti-motorized agenda.

That trust has been crucial. When the project began, researchers weren’t sure how snowmobilers at trailheads would respond. But the ISSA encouraged its members to participate, and some snowmobile rental companies helped distribute GPS units. Local businesses provided beer and pizza discounts to riders that returned GPS units (as opposed to dropping them in pit toilets, which once happened). Yurt and helicopter skiing operators and ski areas have also begun equipping customers with GPS trackers.

Though Heinemeyer is encouraged by early results, the study needs to include more animals to justify policy decisions, and the wolverine’s rarity makes accumulating a large sample tough. A preliminary analysis revealed some snowmobile impact: Wolverines seemed to move more during high-traffic weekends than during the quieter workweek. But it’s not yet known if that creates difficulties finding food, burns too many calories, or hinders survival and reproduction.

“My sincere hope is that if there are any impacts, that we have this group of folks that continue to work together and figure out ways to sustain both winter recreation and wolverines on the landscape,” Heinemeyer says.

There is another problem that makes the study even more relevant. Most researchers agree that female wolverines, which dig snow tunnels to birth kits in late February and March, need deep snowpack lasting until late April and early May, likely to protect their denning kits. “Where you don’t have those (cold, persistently snowy) conditions, you don’t have wolverines,” says Shawn Sartorius, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist based in Helena, who is overseeing the endangered species listing decision.

Climate change is the main threat motivating the proposed listing, but the study could help managers if dwindling snowpack means that winter recreation adds stress to wolverines. “Winter recreation is one of the areas where we have more control,” says Ana Egnew, a wildlife biologist on the Payette National Forest. “Climate change is a bigger issue than the Forest Service can take on alone.”

Back in Island Park, Crapster prepares to approach the next truck that pulls in. The driver, a sunburned construction contractor with two teenage boys, is curious about wolverines: where they live, what they eat, etc. He accepts a GPS unit.

“If we’re harming anything, I wouldn’t go there,” he says. “I’m glad that (wolverines) are here.”

This story originally appeared in the June 9 issue of High Country News (hcn.org).

March 20, 2014

Michael Soulé is presented the Paul Shepard Conservation Award.

PS_Knife

On Tuesday evening, before Dr. Soulé’s lecture at the Westminster College/Round River Conservation Studies Common Lands Lecture Series, Michael was presented Round River’s Paul Shepard Conservation Award for his conservation achievements.  With Flo Shepard in the audience, Michael accepted an engraved Ruana knife in his honor.  Below are several comments from others honoring Michael.

Michael Soule is up there on the A Team for wildness, wildlife and wilderness. Look around and you only find a hand full of his equals. What could be more fitting than Michael getting the Paul Shepard award.  — Doug Tompkins

Michael possesses a far-sighted vision and an unrivaled ability to translate that vision into leadership. Michael created the field of conservation biology when he organized a symposium under that title in 1978. The symposium brought together scientists who hadn’t appreciated that they shared common intellectual ground. This was the awakening. Then, six years later, Michael organized a second symposium at the University of Michigan. I remember it well. He called a group of us together and by the meeting’s end, the Society for Conservation Biology had come into being.—  John Terborgh

No wonder they call you the father of conservation biology. You truly are. As a long time Nature Conservancy employee, I want to thank you, in particular, for your landmark essay “The Faith-based, Trickle-down Model of Conservation 4.0” questioning the so-called “new conservation”. It was just what was needed, and I hope your questioning continues.— Dave Livermore

Michael, by your love of the Earth and love of life, you encouraged generations to work and dream bravely and selflessly for the Wild.  You have been … and remain … an inspiration, showing us all that, with respect to the Wild, a scientific life and a passionate life are not at odds with each other.  In fact, you have shown us that both must be manifest to meet our true responsibilities as humans.  Thank you always for your vision, wisdom, and righteous determination.

With deepest gratitude, Steve Trombulak

Nobody has contributed more to conservation biology and the conservation ethic!— Thomas Lovejoy

Michael Soule integrates the science of conservation biology with the soul of creation.  He and Paul Shepherd are blood brothers in intellect and spirit. Michael’s leadership is that of a warrior with wings, not to be confused with an angel but a human being rising to meet what threatens us with integrity, conviction, and in the end, compassion.

I love you, Michael.— My Deepest bows, Terry

Michael’s ideas of science at the service of wild things are an inspiration to people all over the world, they transcend language and culture and serve as a beacon when we get tangled up in the nitty-gritty details of professional conservation work. They will ultimately play a visionary role in connecting our landscapes and our communities.— JC

Michael’s commitment to the protection of Nature, coming from a place vastly deeper than most conservationists, fuels his passion for understanding and communicating about Life on Earth, in all its intricacies and mysteries. His leadership has inspired and motivated thousands to follow his example in an endless struggle to save the Wild. It is with great joy and gratitude that I join others in honoring his accomplishments and devotion.— Barbara Dugelby, Ph.D.

 

March 5, 2014

Round River Accompanies Navajo Nation to Washington, DC.

Representatives from the Navajo Nation, Utah Diné Bikéyah (UDB) and Round River spent the week of February 24th in Washington, DC. The purpose of this trip was to seek support for the Diné Bikéyah Conservation Plan developed by the Navajo Nation and UDB with help from Round River. Representatives met with staff from the Department of Interior, US Department of Agriculture, White House Council of Environmental Quality, White House Advisor for Indian Affairs, House Democratic Natural Resources Committee and members of the Utah Delegation.

The Diné Bikéyah Conservation Plan, for the greater Navajo San Juan Basin, includes a proposed Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area with federal land designations, co-management priorities, a access travel plan, and mapped areas for cultural and resource uses. This plan is the vision statement and negotiation position by the Navajo Nation for land planning negotiations and for consideration by the Obama Administration.

 

March 3, 2014

Study Looks at how Wolverines React to Recreation — San Francisco Chronicle

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Researchers are studying the effects of winter recreation on wolverines in northwest Wyoming.

The research project headed by Round River Conservation Studies is being done in the Teton Range and is part of a larger study that has been going on for about five years.

Officials plan to continue the study through next winter.

Conservation science director Kim Heinemeyer tells the Jackson Hole News & Guide (http://bit.ly/1cqr5mC ) that researchers are attempting to determine how wolverines respond to winter recreation, including snowmobiling and backcountry skiing.

Heinemeyer says northwest Wyoming was chosen for the study because of the popularity of backcountry skiing in the area.

About a year ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was recommending that North American wolverines be managed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.___

Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide,http://www.jhnewsandguide.com

 

February 26, 2014

Study eyes wolverines and skiers in Tetons

Aim is to determine how recreation influences rare mustelid, researcher says.

By Mike Koshmrl | Jackson Hole News&Guide

Biologists have selected the Tetons as the site of a multiyear study of wolverine habitat, in part because of the amount of human-powered winter recreation in the range. Now in its fifth field year, a research project headed by Salt Lake City-based Round River Conservation Studies is attempting to determine how wolverines respond to winter recreation, including snowmobiling and fast-growing backcountry skiing.

Researchers with the project moved into the Tetons this winter. The Tetons are one of two sites — the other being the McCall, Idaho, area — where the research is continuing. Field efforts in five other parts of Idaho have ceased.

Round River plans to continue studying wolverines on the west flank of Jackson Hole through next winter, conservation science director Kim Heinemeyer said.

“It’s only winter recreation that we’re looking at, and to date we haven’t really been able to get [good information on] backcountry skiing,” said Heinemeyer, who leads the project.

“The Tetons will be really important to help us fill that data gap, because there’s such a great backcountry skiing culture in that area.”

Data collected from the Tetons so far is too preliminary to make any judgments about impacts to local animals, Heinemeyer said. However, across the entire study area biologists are starting to better understand how winter recreation influences wolverines.

“We found that movement rates notably increase when animals are found within higher-recreated areas of their home range,” a 2013 “progress report” for the study says. “Additionally, we have found that increased movement rates in these popular recreation zones are highest on the days of the week when recreation levels are high (i.e., weekends).

“Depending upon the amount of time a wolverine spends in these recreated portions of their home range and the relative amount of high-quality habitat that is affected,” the document said, “there may be significant additive energetic effects on wolverines during the critical winter months and denning periods.”

Round River researchers have not yet found any displacement-level effects from winter recreation, Heinemeyer said.

In the McCall area, where there’s lots of snowmobiling, for instance, “the animals don’t appear, in that landscape, to be alienated,” she said.

In order to complete the study, researchers collared 18 wolverines through the winter of 2012-13, according to the progress report. To assist with the study’s recreation portion, snowmobilers, skiers and other over-snow travelers volunteered to temporarily carry GPS tracking devices that were distributed at trailheads.

Round River is working with at least a dozen partners, including the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Caribou-Targhee and Bridger-Teton national forests and Grand Teton National Park, The Teton Range supports only about four adult wolverines, biologists estimate.

“That would be pretty typical,” Heinemeyer said. “They have huge home ranges.

“That’s why we keep going to different landscapes: because we can’t get the sample size that we want in any one spot,” she said.

Weighing 20 to 55 pounds, the wolverine is a large cousin of the weasel. Wolverine home ranges can encompass more than 500 square miles.

About a year ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was recommending that North American wolverines be managed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

The proposed listing is still being reviewed and is subject to public comment through May 6.

 

February 26, 2014

Wolverine study uncovers worries, sparks debate

Scott Stuntz – Teton Valley News

A study to explore the impact of winter recreation on wolverines drew concerns about losing recreation opportunities during a public discussion in Driggs on February 20.

The meeting mainly focused on the possible impact that recreation would have on female wolverines as they create dens and birth their young. Study researcher Dr. Kim Heinemeyer of Round River Conservation said this is especially important for wolverines because of how spread out the population is and how slowly they reproduce.

To see full article follow this link: http://www.tetonvalleynews.net/news/wolverine-study-uncovers-worries-sparks-debate/article_d52a7602-9f2b-11e3-ac6c-0019bb2963f4.html

 

February 21, 2014

Two Round River Board Members Named Among Utah’s Most Influential Artists

utahs-15-ecard-1024x731

On Friday, February 21st the works of Utah’s 15 most influential artist were exhibited at Salt Lake City’s Rio Gallery.  Round River board members Trent Alvey and Terry Tempest Williams were honored. This exhibition is the culmination of a project that began with the question: Who are the state’s most influential artists.

As part of the Utah’s 15 project, a book examining the influence of these fifteen artists with essays by some of Utah’s best writers, portraits by Zoe Rodriguez Photography, and examples of the artists’ work, is now available. For more information visit 15 Bytes.

 

January 22, 2014

Utah Public Lands Initiative, Utah State Capitol

Willie Grayeyes, Chairperson, Utah Diné Bikéyah

Thank you, Congressman Bishop, for organizing this event and your efforts to assist in our land planning.  We have met with many of the organizations here comparing maps and ideas.  It is an honor to be included in this very important planning and we thank you for working with us.

Contrary to the beliefs of many, southeastern Utah was not an empty place waiting to be inhabited by settlers or discovered as a playground for recreationists, but rather it has been and will remains a part of our homeland in this country. Our history with European settlers has not been a positive experience, to say the very least.  Our great-grandmothers and grandfathers were forced marched from these lands; their hogans burned and so many of our people died. Unfortunately, it did not end there. My brothers here around me, as well as myself, were forced into federal boarding schools, where attempts were made to change our character by taking our language and customs from our young spirits, minds, and bodies. Today, we come hoping that a time of healing is possibly upon us.  A time of healing created by this land planning and our own Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area.

We have long been observers in the debate over public lands in Utah. This is not because we do not care, but simply, no one ever asked us.  As you are aware, San Juan County possesses some of the largest contiguous wilderness in the western United States and a large percentage of the Utah State Trust Lands. What many may not know is that the Navajo Reservation covers over 20% of San Juan County land base; Navajo population measures over half and we have never stopped using these public lands for hunting, gathering and our ceremonial practices.

To summarize or actions to date — In response to Senator Bennett’s 2010 land planning efforts, we the Utah Diné Bikéyah and the Navajo Nation decided it was time for us to be involved.  Our actions surprised some, those that did not think of Navajos as being citizens or using and caring for public lands. Over the following two or more years, we interviewed our elderly people to identify areas of important and interest for our cultural practices, our very subsistence gathering areas and for wildlife habitats. The resulting maps, we combined to create the boundaries of the Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area.

At the end of 2012, the Navajo Nation and the San Juan County Commission entered into an agreement to participate in land planning. Since that time, regular meetings have occurred, as had field trips and attended public meetings.  In some of the public meetings, we were subjected to what can only be described as the ugliness of racism and we have to date identified little common interests with the County Commissioners, but we have hope and continue to strive to better understand one another.

The Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area is 1.9 million acres of BLM and USFS public lands. Our proposal also identifies areas for wilderness designation both within and outside the NCA, as well as a road network system throughout the public lands in San Juan County.  In 2013, the Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area was presented to San Juan County, as well as to Congressman Rob Bishop’s staff, as the official land-use position of the Navajo Nation and Utah Diné Bikéyah.

Most recently, spurred by the lack of consideration in the BLM Resource Management Plan to protect our cultural resources, we have also started discussions with the Department of Interior to formalize a process to create a co-management agreement between the BLM and the Navajo Nation within the NCA boundaries. Also, this spring we will be traveling to Washington DC to meet with other agencies and members of President Obama’s staff.

From Utah Diné Bikéyah (the Utah Peoples Land) we receive healing and nourishment for our spiritual and psychological wellness, likewise, for our physiological and sociological well-beings. Utah Diné Bikéyah and Utah Navajos people hold many memories of our forefather’s footprints on this region as Native people, to whom we raise respect and offer our thanks of prayers. Once again, we ask for your help in protecting these lands, whereby, we may continue our healing process by continue to exercise our belief and practices without interruption as we teach our children for generations to come. Thank you.

 

Jan 22, 2014

Taku River Tlingit First Nation, Ecojustice Announce Litigation

VANCOUVER — The Tulsequah Chief Mine cannot go ahead as its environmental approvals have expired, Taku River Tlingit First Nation and Ecojustice said today.  The Taku River Tlingit are also challenging the province’s failure to consult and an improper decision-making process.

The Taku River Tlingit government, represented by Ecojustice lawyers, has filed a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court to stop the controversial Chieftain Metals proposed project from proceeding further at this time.

The currently proposed Tulsequah Chief Mine project could significantly harm the Taku River watershed, the largest unspoiled watershed on the Pacific shore. The watershed lies within the traditional territory of the Taku River Tlingit, who rely on it to support their culture, economy and community.

“Our government passed a Joint Clan mandate rejecting Chieftain’s proposed project on Nov. 18, 2012, because the citizens of our Nation will not approve any mining projects that are not both environmentally responsible and financially viable,” said John D. Ward, spokesperson for the Taku River Tlingit (see www.trtfn.org under “Tulsequah Chief Project” to view the mandate).  “And yet, even though this project would significantly impact our way of life, we weren’t consulted, accommodated or even notified about the environmental assessment office’s 2012 decision to let this mine proceed in perpetuity.”

Under B.C,’s Environmental Assessment Act, Chieftain Metals had until December 2012 to “substantially” start the project before its environmental assessment certificate expired.

In April 2012, Chieftain Metals wrote to the Executive Director of B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) requesting his decision that the mine was “substantially started”.  In June 2012, the EAO advised Chieftain of its determination that the project was “substantially started” — even though none of the mine’s main components, such as the underground mining or waste facilities had ever been started. The EAO never contacted the Taku River Tlingit to notify them or consult them about its decision. The Taku River Tlingit are asserting that the decision was wrong.

In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that British Columbia is constitutionally obliged to consult the Taku River Tlingit about this specific project.

“Quite frankly, I’m tiring of the words ‘consultation’ and ‘accommodation,’ especially when they seem to mean so little to the EAO,” Mr. Ward said.  “In point and fact, we are the owners and stewards of these lands, and if the EAO has legislation stating they must make decisions on our lands then, at the very least, they need to do so jointly with the Taku River Tlingit government.”

The groups seek a court ruling that would declare the proposed project’s environmental assessment certificate has expired and that consultation with the Taku River Tlingit was required.

“This case is aimed at protecting the consultation rights of the Taku River Tlingit and the integrity of one of B.C.’s most ecologically-intact watersheds,” said Randy Christensen, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “Every one of us should feel an obligation to help protect such pristine lands and waters from irresponsible decision-making processes, especially when made in the absence of those who will be most impacted by the decision.”

The Taku River watershed is three times the size of Prince Edward Island and straddles the border between northwestern British Columbia and southeast Alaska. It contains some of the richest wildlife habitat on North America’s west coast and is home to globally significant populations of large mammals like the grizzly bear, wolf, moose, and woodland caribou.  The Taku River is also home to runs of all five species of Pacific salmon.

For more information, please contact:
John D. Ward, spokesperson | Taku River Tlingit First Nation
250.651.7904

Randy Christensen, staff lawyer | Ecojustice
604.685.5618 ext. 234

 

B.C. Announces Coal Rights Deferral Deal in Sacred Headwaters Area

BY DIRK MEISSNER, THE CANADIAN PRESS DECEMBER 16, 2013

 

December 12, 2013

Court Rejects Las Vegas’ Groundwater Rights to Rural Valleys

Ruling » Nevada decision fails to protect water users, including those in Utah’s Snake Valley, judge says.
By Brian Maffly | The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Dec 11 2013 05:37 pm • Last Updated Dec 12 2013 09:29 pm

 

August 9, 2013 

Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area presentation at open house

San Juan County Courthouse, Monticello, Utah

On August 9, 2013, Navajo Nation and Utah Diné Bikéyah representatives offered their vision for Navajo ancestral and federal public lands within San Juan County. At the request of Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, the 1.9 million acre Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area that includes wilderness designations and co-managed areas was presented to an open house convened at the San Juan County Courthouse in Monticello, Utah.

“For the Navajo, to collaborate in the management of the Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area ensures that these lands will be managed in a manner that protects our deep interests,” Fred White, Executive Director, Navajo Nation Department of Natural Resources.

Download Full Press Release for the Diné Bikeyah National Conservation Area (link to DBNCA.pdf)

National Conservation Area Map
National Conservation Area Map

Download Map of Diné Bikeyah National Conservation Area.