Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Trump’s Letter to Joe Biden

It’s a modern Inauguration Day tradition for outgoing presidents to write a letter to their successors and leave it on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. 

Barack Obama wrote to Donald Trump, in part, “Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it's up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them."

George H.W. Bush wrote to Bill Clinton, “I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country's success. I am rooting hard for you."

Attached is what Donald Trump left for Joe Biden.  

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Return

He wasn’t sure if it was his snarling hungry stomach that awoke him or the crackling of spruce turned to ember, releasing one last gasp of expanded gas while travelling from tree to ash. His head remained clear enough to recognize irrepressible shivers, and carefully and precisely note to the various stages of hyperthermia. Or is it hypothermia? It troubled him knowing he should know, while simultaneously intriguing him that his mind was still capable of knowing there’s a difference; knowing he ought to know what he doesn’t. Then, as if to prove to himself his level of awareness, his brain delivered a few words of caution: Do not remove your clothes! It then obnoxiously repeated it, over and over, like an earworm, or is it a brain worm? Or a cognitive itch?

Then he imagined himself prancing naked in the snow, making clotheless snow angels, then jumping in the frigid ice hole his father had cut into the lake with a chainsaw when he was a child, then rapidly climbing out, running and submerging himself in the hot springs, skin tingling, friends laughing, sun shining, snowflakes stinging against his bare naked face. He laughed out loud and thought he heard himself. Then he thought he heard others, maybe, or perhaps just the wind howling through bare limbs of larches around him. Or it might have been wolves singing in the distance, wailing like he imagined the sounds of native women mourning the deaths of their children, or at least how it’s portrayed in the movies, and then he thought of Robert Redford and Jeremiah Johnson and Hatchet Jack’s final note, “I, Hatchet Jack, being of sound mind and broke legs, do leaveth my rifle to the next thing who finds it, Lord hope he be a white man. It is a good rifle, and kilt the bear that kilt me. Anyway, I am dead.”

Ha! He remembered! And he laughed again. Longer. Louder.

Sound mind, he thought. Do not remove your clothes!

Doused by increasing heavy snowfall, the fire gave off one last tiny flicker of orange and red then turned black as the forest around it. He wondered, if you can’t see the forest, is it still there? He laughed again.

He knew he had to do something. Anything. But he had no energy, no desire, no inclination to gather wood, though he knew he should, but he also thought how difficult and tiresome it might be to yet again build a fire, a thought that brought to mind Jack London, and again he laughed hard and loud as he envisioned a bucket’s worth or two of snow falling upon him from spruce boughs above and burying him in a thick blanket of warmth.

And there was his father, cutting though the thick, hard ice with a chainsaw to reach the warm water below.

He turned slowly around towards the lichen-covered ledge behind him that, until now, had served as a fine backrest, for which he would forever remain grateful, and said so to the rock, before forgetting to. He couldn’t see it but could feel it, solid as a brick house. Indestructible. Immortal. Invincible. Or is it invisible? 

He remembers confusing those very words whenever reciting the Pledge of Alliance as a school kid. Why should he know the difference now? At least he knew that he ought to know, he thought.

Sound mind, he thought. Do not remove your clothes!


So he dug.

He knew he needed claws, sharp claws, claws as sharp as his mind. And he needed strength, physical strength, the physical strength of a grizzly. He was aware he possessed a sufficient and effective quantity of both. 

So he dug.

He dug deep through layers of soft snow and frozen crust. He dug deeper through a layer of dead and decaying duff. He dug deeper and deeper through roots and dirt and rock towards the fiery center of mother earth, deep down past the early stages of warmth until it grew increasingly, almost uncomfortably hot. 

Then he stopped.

Although he greatly appreciated and applauded the mind’s well-meaning counsel and advice, and such warnings made perfect sense at the time, considering previous and precarious circumstances, he knew that his once dire situation had now significantly changed, thanks to claws, strength and soundness of mind. All had suddenly taken a turn for the better. Everything was going to be just fine. It was hot. So he removed his clothes, then crawled quickly down into his cozy hole. It was beyond perfection, like “being in God’s pocket” as his mom liked to say. Then he heard her say it, again, and tell him how tremendously proud she was of his unwavering determination, fortitude and presence of mind in the face of adversity. It felt richly satisfying to have pleased his mother enough to receive such high and unusual praise. He couldn’t remember when he had last felt so content. He curled into a fetal position, and thought he could recall the warmth and comfort of his mother’s womb.

He drifted warmly into a deep, deep sleep and dreamt of bright golden glacier lilies in a lush, green meadow where all seemed to be slowly sliding down, slipping towards the precipice, down towards the edge of a warm and welcoming silence.

Friday, October 23, 2020

"The Emperor Is Wearing Nothing At All!"

“THE EMPEROR IS WEARING NOTHING AT ALL!” — It doesn’t take a child to see it. It’s not just liberals opposed to Trump. It’s not just Democrats concerned. Numerous prominent Republicans see and are speaking out about the obvious: Trump is an incompetent, dangerously divisive, lying narcissist who behaves like a child. The opposition is unprecedented. Everyone can see it except the thoroughly brainwashed and blind.

Retired Marine Corps General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis has denounced Trump, calling him “a threat to our Constitution,” and recently wrote: “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.”

Retired Marine Corps General and former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly agreed with General Mattis, and has called Trump the “most flawed person” he’s ever met in his life, adding: "The depths of his dishonesty is just astounding to me. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it's more pathetic than anything else . . I think we really need to step back. I think we need to look harder at who we elect. What is their character like? What are their ethics? Are they willing, if they're elected, to represent all of their constituents, not just the base, but all of their constituents?”

A group of 489 generals, admirals, senior noncommissioned officers, ambassadors, and senior civilian national security leaders recently signed on to a letter endorsing Joe Biden. The letter reads, in part:

“The current president has demonstrated he is not equal to the enormous responsibilities of his office; he cannot rise to meet challenges large or small. Thanks to his disdainful attitude and his failures, our allies no longer trust or respect us, and our enemies no longer fear us.”

Former Chairman of the National Republican Committee Michael Steele has assailed Trump, saying that Trump does not represent Republican values, and says he’s voting for Joe Biden, who he calls “a good man.”

“This ballot is like none ever cast,” Steele says. “I’m a lifelong Republican and I’m still a Republican, but this ballot is how we restore the soul of our nation.”

To those still supporting Trump he says: “So, all y’all want to play this little game that Donald Trump is like you, you’re stupid. You’re being played. You’re getting punked. But what’s so bad about it is you’re complicit in your own punking.”

Republican Senator Ben Sasse recently criticized Trump for “the way he kisses dictators' butts. I mean, the way he ignores that the Uyghurs are in literal concentration camps in Xinjiang right now. He hasn't lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong Kongers. The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership. The way he treats women and spends like a drunken sailor. The ways I criticized President Obama for that kind of spending, I've criticized President Trump for as well. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He's flirted with white supremacists."

Sasse also slammed Trump's response coronavirus — which has sickened more than 7.9 million Americans and killed more than 217,000 — saying that Trump’s leadership has not been "reasonable or responsible."

"The reality is that he careened from curb to curb,” Sasse says. “First, he ignored COVID. And then he went into full economic shutdown mode. He was the one who said 10 to 14 days of shutdown would fix this, and that was always wrong. So, I don't think the way he's led through COVID has been reasonable or responsible or right."

Other prominent republicans who oppose Trump: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell; former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel; former Secretary of Defense William Cohen; former Special Assistant to the President Peggy Noonan; former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge; former EPA Director Christine Todd Whitman . . .

The list goes on, and on.

More than 70 former senior Republican national security officials and 60 additional senior officials have signed on to a statement declaring, "We are profoundly concerned about our nation's security and standing in the world under the leadership of Donald Trump. The President has demonstrated that he is dangerously unfit to serve another term."

A group of former senior U.S. government officials and conservatives—including from the Reagan, Bush 41, Bush 43, and Trump administrations have formed The Republican Political Alliance for Integrity and Reform (REPAIR) to, "focus on a return to principles-based governing in the post-Trump era."

A third group of Republicans, Republican Voters Against Trump was launched in May 2020 and has collected more than 500 testimonials from Republicans opposing Donald Trump.

They’re all pointing out what is painfully obvious. It’s time to get rid of Donald Trump and start healing our nation.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

That Time I Brought A Neo-Nazi On Meth To A Poet House Party

Photo illustration by Sarah Rogers
I sat aside a welcoming warm bonfire the other night in the backyard of the Poet House -- an old Victorian-style home in Missoula occupied by fellow creative writing students -- and drank my fill of wassail, which is remarkably good. (It’s like drinking apple pie, if the apple pie you drank had a lot of Captain Morgan spiced-rum in it.) 

Several of us swapped stories about disastrous dates, and I was reminded by fellow students about the time I brought a neo-Nazi on meth to a Poet House party. 

I met him at Charlie Bs, where I had consumed one or two too many pre-Poet-House-party beers, which might explain why, at first, he seemed nice, and kind of cute. He told me his name is Dylan. I told him I was headed for a party and invited him along.

(Why not?) 

I introduced him to my fiction techniques instructor, a visiting professor from Oregon named Justin. 

“Are you a writer?” Dylan asked him. 

“Yes, I am,” Justin replied. 

“That’s pretty cool,” Dylan said. “Do you know any of those people . . . not the people who write books . . . but the people who actually make them into books and sell them?” 

“Do you mean publishers?” 

“Yes! Yes, that’s it! Do you know any publishers?”

“Yes, I do,” Justin said.

“That’s awesome!” Dylan replied. “Because my grandmother is writing a book, and she needs a publisher. Could you help her find one?” 

I hated to walk away from such a stimulating discussion, but I needed to use the bathroom. When I returned, Dylan was on the loose, engaging with fellow students. It wasn’t until the next day I learned more details about his conversations. Two of my classmates said they were certain he was on meth. 

Apparently, he was pontificating his philosophies on the superiority of Caucasian Homo sapiens over other diverse varieties of our species and other related topics -- but not in such elegant, academic terms. In other words, he’s a fucking asshole. 

(That's why.

I promptly returned him to Charlie Bs, even without yet knowing his white supremacy views of the world. If I had known, he might have become a missing person -- though I doubt anyone would miss him. 

As for the recent wassail bonfire gathering: My date was my sweet, beautiful chocolate lab Pika. She slurped some stagnant water from an old bucket, peed in the yard a few times and almost wagged her tail into the fire once or twice, but she didn’t embarrass me -- not even once. And she loves and accepts all people, as it should be.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

A Slow Stroll Through Camp Town

The walk across and under the Reserve Street bridge isn’t written up in any Missoula hiking guides, Chamber of Commerce pamphlets, Office of Tourism Brochures or in the flood of “Come Visit-and-Fly-Fish-Montana” magazine articles. If it were, there’d likely be a warning about the putrid stench of the Dailey’s rendering plant, where bacon is processed (“Premium Meats Since 1893”) and how, if the breeze is drifting towards you, as it was towards me that day (gusts of wind up to 100 miles-per-hour, and 60-degrees, in February, in western Montana!), it won’t take long before you feel nauseous. Or maybe it’s the sights under the bridge that made me nauseous. . . and queasy, and uneasy, and guilty, and a bit ashamed, and fortunate.

I walked on the sidewalk south across the bridge, away from the giant American Flag behind me, flying above the old Perkins restaurant (soon to be yet another brew pub), serving as a welcoming gateway of sorts to the homogenistic stretch of anywhere-in-America mega super stores -- Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, CostCo, Best Buy, Target, Barnes and Noble -- built on the former ranchlands where I used to hunt.

Beyond the railing to my left, about 50 yards below, was the Clark Fork River, flowing rapidly underneath me and west from the direction of downtown. The tallest of the buildings -- the historic Wilma theatre, the First Interstate Bank, the recently-opened Residence Inn by Marriot where the Mercantile used to be -- are all visible in the distance from the bridge, as are the tall, snow-capped mountains above the University and framing Hellgate Canyon beyond. I was both surprised and concerned to see no ice. None. In February!

Just a dozen feet away, across the rusty railing to my right, between sidewalk and traffic, were hundreds of people sitting in a seemingly endless line of cars and trucks and SUVs, bumper to bumper, for as far as I could see, with nothing better to do as they crawled along, so it seemed, than watch me walk across a bridge. I felt a bit self-conscious, wondering – dressed as I was in dirty tan cargo pants, torn grey flannel shirt, old green wind parka and worn baseball-style cap adorned with the Marine Corps Eagle, Globe and Anchor -- if any or all of these people behind their steering wheels and in passenger seats wondered if I was one of them, a citizen of the camps below, and then I wondered if and why it would even matter what they wondered?

On the northeast side of the bridge, in a dead dull golden field of invasive knapweed, close to Dailey’s meats, is a large billboard with a photo of an inviting, modest-looking home for sale by Christies International Real Estate, “On Foothills Drive in Florence, $699,900.”  Across the street, on the southwest corner of Reserve and Mullan, a man wearing a black hoodie and red MAGA hat waved a bright red, white and blue banner: “TRUMP 2020, No More Bullshit.”

When I reached the south side of the bridge, I hopped over the metal railing to my left and, while carefully and clumsily walking and sliding down a steep, muddy hillside littered with garbage and shopping carts, down towards the little town of camps, I met two Missoula police officers who were on their way up. One of them, who introduced herself as Detective Brueckner, told me they had recovered a body from one of the tents earlier in the day. “He likely died in his sleep,” she said. “Apparently, he died a while ago.”

The bottom of the hill leveled out onto a flat, rocky floodplain, near a small grove of cottonwoods, about 100-yards or so from river’s edge, with mostly calf-high grasses and weeds in between, and round, fist-to-bowling-ball size rocks, exposed and polished by hundreds of years of spring flood currents, with an occasional dead or dying cottonwood here and there, some already fallen to the ground, where plastic shopping bags and other garbage and woody debris from previous flooding accumulated on the windward and upriver sides. Separated by maybe 50-300 yards, on either side of the bridge, were a series of small camps, close to a dozen, constructed of cheap tents, tarps, pallets and cardboard boxes. A small town of sorts, mostly out of sight and out of mind, with a fluctuating population of 10-20 people. On this day, on this particular walk, I only saw a handful of residents, but more may have been sleeping or resting in their shelters, or off doing their best to gather food, water or money. I saw a lot of blackened fire rings, built from river rock, and wondered if it was mostly a nocturnal town. I made a mental note to visit sometime after dark. Maybe. 

I felt intrusive walking from camp to camp, skirting close to the edges, like an American tourist visiting a poverty-stricken third-world county, feeling fortunate for my own circumstances while pondering the plight of those who call this place home; Mental illness? Addiction? Bad choices? All of that and other things? It’s complicated, I know, but I couldn’t help but think about the mostly-celebrated groundbreaking currently underway a few miles upriver, near the heart of downtown, for yet another new $100 million hotel and events center being built by a millionaire who has been granted millions by the City Council in Tax Increment Funding because, well, it’s good for the economy.

Scattered everywhere were shopping carts and shopping bags from Target and Walmart and Albertsons; empty Pepsi and Coke cans; Nacho and Cheeto bags and an old, empty box of It’s It ice cream cakes. I saw a large, stuffed-animal black bear in a fire ring with its head ripped off, and a used syringe laying on the dirt nearby.  Somebody nailed a “Beware of Dog” sign on one of the cottonwoods, but I neither saw nor heard any canines to beware of. In one of the camps, I found two wet, moldy paperbacks sitting on a log: “How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life,” by the Dali Lama, and “The Leader’s Handbook: A Guide to Inspiring Your People and Managing the Daily Workflow,” by Peter R. Scholtes. I stepped in a hole and took a fall, spooking some magpies from their nearby perch of dead cottonwood branches and noticed fresh deer tracks in the mud in front of me.

Years ago, before the camps started popping up in 2000, I sometimes came here in the spring to photograph bald eagles, during that time of year when the river rapidly rises, filling up with freshly melted snow from the Mountains of western Montana and rushing it west towards the Columbia and Pacific.  I remember once wading through frigid, knee-deep water where some of these camps now sit, seemingly high and dry and safe during most of the year. Last May the river rose right into the tents and carboard shelters, washing most everything, and even a few people, into the river. Local news reported that the folks living here “lost everything,” which might not seem like much, but was indeed everything to them.  People expressed understandable concern about the garbage washed away and floating towards Idaho. Every now and then I’ll read about bodies recovered from the river. 

On the night of July 31, 2014, a fight broke out between three of the men living in these camps. One of the men, 38, was viciously beaten and shot to death, then dumped in the river. His body was found a week later, and several weeks after that they caught the killer, who was 28, down in Louisiana. He’s serving a 40-year sentence.

Word quickly spread that this place is dangerous. Or can be. I didn’t sense any danger while walking around there, not in the middle of a warm, windy February day. I imagine the incident serves as a metaphor of sorts to the danger residents of this camp may pose towards themselves – a danger of self-destruction, the danger of being caught in a devastating cultural, economic and social whirlpool, swirling and swirling ever downward, into the depths of mental illness and addiction and unpaid bills and stigmas and judgements and bad choices and circumstance and -- who knows what else?-- struggling to keep afloat, or perhaps giving up, or maybe enjoying the ride in an “I don’t give a shit” sort of way, all fed and fueled and powered by numerous complex factors I can’t and won’t pretend to fully understand. Many or most or maybe all of these factors, no doubt, are out of their control, though I was recently called a “dumb liberal piece of shit” for thinking so. I will say this: I’ve ventured to the precipice of that vortex. If not for a remarkable, loving ex-wife and a wonderful, caring physician at the Veteran’s Administration I’m not sure how far down I’d have fallen. I know I wouldn’t be walking around these camps as an outsider with the luxury of contemplating such things. 

A guy named Joseph approached me from one of the camps, a good-looking  young man, perhaps 30, wearing a yellow North Face hoodie, blue jeans and gray tennis shoes. He asked me what I was up to, requested I not take photos of any people living there, and told me that his friend, a seemingly shy quieter man standing nearby, said I looked just like his pastor. “Same build, same walk, same look,” he said.

“He must be a handsome pastor,” I replied.

They both laughed.

I assured him I respected others enough to not take photos of them without permission, and was just checking things out, and would likely write about my visit. He didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he gave me his phone number and asked me to give him a call if I wanted to chat more. He was a life-long Montanan, he said, who “fell on hard times.” He recently moved to these camps from another along the Yellowstone River near Bozeman (“now THAT crazy river floods!” he said), and he hoped to help organize this camp a bit better, clean it up, make it more acceptable and livable.

“I’m a religious man,” he said. “I believe in the Ten Commandments. Do unto others. Thou shall not steal. Thou shall not kill. All of that. Unfortunately, not everyone lives by that, but we all need to.”   

I looked above, atop the massive concrete structure nearby, where lines of congested traffic slowly moved north, and south, to and from the big box stores, the economic heartbeat of America, beating faster and faster and faster.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Cascade Grizzly Recovery: Conservation Northwest Director Accuses Wilderness Watch of "Mental Illness"

I don’t know much about Conservation Northwest, a Seattle-based nonprofit dedicated to “protecting, connecting and restoring wildlands and wildlife” from the Washington Coast to the British Columbia Rockies. I like what I do know. I know it’s an affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, a good organization I used to work for and continue to support. The organization’s founder and executive director, Mitch Friedman, seems to be a smart guy who passionately fights for a lot of important, worthwhile causes. Some folks might even consider him an extreme fundamentalist. I don’t. I’ve got a hunch he and I likely see eye-to-eye on most things.

He doesn’t handle disagreement so well. I was disappointed to read a harsh, erroneous rant he recently posted on his organization’s blog site unjustly ridiculing and attacking Wilderness Watch, a Missoula-based nonprofit I’ve supported since its inception in 1989.

In addition to other allegations, Friedman wrongly accuses the folks at Wilderness Watch of making “uninformed” statements and writes, “Such behavior, whether it’s out of laziness, ignorance, unbridled idealism, or any other cause, should be called out." In a Facebook post, he calls it “Fundamentalism. No different than evangelicals. It’s a mental illness.”

I’ve suffered from mental health issues. It’s not fun. It’s nothing to make light off. There exists a lot of stigmas related to mental illness; Friedman’s comments don’t help. I mentioned that in a reply to his Facebook post, and wrote, “Insinuating others have mental illness because they don’t agree with you is childish, rude and insulting.”

His response, in part: “I’m sorry to have offended you. But I wasn’t being glib. . . there is plenty of academic writing on how fundamentalism acts like a mental disease to impair clear thinking.” Apparently, Dr. Friedman arrogantly sees himself as the expert who gets to diagnose such things. Here’s what he sees as the symptoms:

Wilderness Watch recently took a position that differs from his organization’s regarding a plan by the U.S. Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to translocate grizzlies into the North Cascades in Washington. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement considers a range of alternatives – a “no action” alternative (A) and three action alternatives (B, C and D) that entail various levels of translocating captured bears from elsewhere, such as British Columbia and Montana, and releasing them in the Cascades. The ultimate goal is to establish a sustainable population of 200 grizzlies within the Northern Cascades Ecosystem where few, if any, grizzlies currently exist.

Like Friedman, and Conservation Northwest, I prefer Alternative C, known as the “incremental restoration” alternative, which would move 25 grizzlies into the ecosystem over the next 5-10 years.

My friends at Wilderness Watch disagree. Although they support the recovery of grizzlies in the North Cascades, they oppose the alternatives in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the following reasons: The use of helicopters (anywhere from 50 to 400 or more landings, they say) within designated wilderness areas, which violates the intent of the Wilderness Act of 1964; The stress, discomfort, disruption and possible death that could result from capturing, drugging and handling grizzlies; Bears would be removed from populations that are endangered, and because there is no “natural recovery” alternative being considered that would encourage and allow grizzlies to move in on their own.

Friedman responded to these reasonable, legitimate concerns like Donald Trump on a childish Twitter rage. He called Wilderness Watch’s concerns “so uninformed and ill-founded that it made me a bit embarrassed for the conservation movement as a whole . . . While Wilderness Watch’s argument may read well on paper and feel righteous to whoever wrote it, it is ill-informed.”

Then Friedman goes on to ‘refute’ Wilderness Watch with an argument that may read well on a blog, and make him feel righteous, but is ill-informed and packed with falsehoods. Friedman’s behavior, whether it’s out of laziness, ignorance, unbridled idealism, or any other cause, should be called out:

He correctly points out that individual incidences of capture-related mortality are rare, but either dismisses or ignores other concerns, backed by research, about the biological and ethical implications of frequently capturing, drugging, collaring and handling grizzlies.

My friend and Canadian wildlife biologist Kevin Van Tighem, former supervisor of Waterton and Banff National Parks, wrote this: “With regard to concerns about the dangers of transplanting bears: one of Alberta's leading grizzly experts documented a case where a healthy large male grizzly died of capture-related myopathy several days after having been leg-snared for research and he tells me he now suspects that there are more cases of this than believed. Grizzlies are powerful animals after all -- they can do a lot of harm to themselves fighting a snare but then, being tough survivors, also carry on with life (or a slow death) with little sign of the damage they've suffered. So concerns about handling risk etc. are completely valid.”

Whether or not you agree with the statements and concerns expressed by the folks at Wilderness Watch, they don’t seem so fundamentalist, or derived from mental illness to me.

Friedman insinuates that the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population has been recovered. It hasn’t. Translocating bears into the area might be helping, but the population is barely hanging on and faces a lot of threats from continued human expansion and fragmentation of habitat. (Wilderness Watch is helping with the fight to protect critical grizzly habitat in the Yaak.) 

Friedman states that grizzly populations in northern Montana and British Columbia are “robust.”

They’re not.

Many scientists – and those of us who spend tons of time out among wild grizzlies, and have dedicated much of our lives to protecting wild grizzlies – know that, although we’ve come along way, our populations in Montana continue to face numerous threats and challenges from climate-change related alteration in habitat and diet, causing bears to expand more in search of alternative foods, which put them more in conflict with a growing and expanding human population. Grizzlies occupy less than two-percent of their historic ranges. More than 100 have been lost over the past 24 months to various human-caused factors. They are still listed as endangered. And because grizzlies are an apex predator that did not evolve with predation, and have slow reproductive rates, the loss of even a few grizzlies – particularly breeding-age sows and mature boars -- can have detrimental and long-term impacts to territorial and breeding behavior, the rearing and learning-periods for cubs and the overall long-term health and viability of populations. It can also result in increased conflicts between bears and humans.

Whether or not you agree with the statements and concerns expressed by the folks at Wilderness Watch, it doesn’t seem so fundamentalist, or derived from mental illness to me.

Friedman also accuses Wilderness Watch of a “falsehood” that “reveals lazy research” for stating that “information is lacking on the status of grizzlies on the Canadian side of the border.” Friedman states that “researchers have very good estimates of the state of grizzly populations in southern B.C.”

I talk to researchers in British Columbia about grizzly bears on a regular basis. Estimates of grizzly numbers in British Columbia vary, ranging from 6,000 to 17,000. Most biologists I talk to put the number at 15,000. “The non-precise population numbers in BC are reflective of low government funding for research and inventory,” states a report from the British Columbia Wilderness Committee. According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, “estimates of populations sizes are based mostly on expert opinion, or extrapolation of estimates from small study areas to larger geographic areas, and are therefore considered uncertain . . . with no scientifically rigorous research to confirm numbers.” 

Van Tighem writes: “The NCDE population, which we share, has been expanding for several years and we now have bears resident in areas where they hadn't been seen for a century. Yes, they continue to face a variety of risks but human caused mortality, which is the most critical one, is way down. So I do believe we could spare the bears without a negative conservation consequence here.”

Whether or not you agree with the folks at Wilderness Watch, based on my non-lazy research their statements and concerns don’t seem so fundamentalist, or derived from mental illness to me.

Friedman also claims that the folks at Wilderness Watch “grossly exaggerate” the number of helicopter runs needed to transport bears into the North Cascades. They don’t. In fact, they understated it. Wilderness Watch claims that “anywhere from 50 to 400 helicopter trips could be made.” But according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, alternative C would require “up to 4 flights per release” with “5-7 releases per year for 5-10 years” resulting in “at least 100 flights.”  Alternative D would require up to “672 flights.”

“With regard to the Wilderness Watch concerns about protecting the integrity of protected wilderness, that's another legitimate concern,” Van Tighem writes. “For decades I observed (and was sometimes guilty of), and came to fervently oppose, the ways in which insiders like agency staff and holders of research permits give themselves exemptions from rules that apply to everyone else. Helicopter access being a case in point. Heli-hiking is not permitted in Canada's mountain national parks, but the air is full of helicopters transporting staff, researchers, their gear and food and their excrement to and from everywhere. When I was responsible for producing the current Banff management plan, I made sure there was direction there that operational use of helicopters would be restricted to emergency purposes only. Then I retired -- and the helicopters continue to buzz everywhere.”

Whether or not you agree with the statements and concerns expressed by the folks at Wilderness Watch, they don’t seem grossly exaggerated, fundamentalist, or derived from mental illness to me.

What seems to trigger Friedman the most is Wilderness Watch’s preference for “natural recovery.” “Such a position is wholly uninformed by the current scarcity of grizzlies across the region, the existing barriers in southern British Columbia to grizzly bear movement into the Cascades and the reproductive and dispersal limitation of female bears,” he wrote. “To achieve the stated goal of grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades, independent and government biologists are unequivocal that bear translocations into the ecosystem are necessary.”

Van Tighem doesn’t seem to think natural recovery is so far-fetched: “I personally disagree with trying to fast-track species recovery when a species is endangered by issues related to habitat integrity,” he writes. “I don't think we should do that to them if there is already a population in the Cascades or if there is potential for bears to spread there on their own.” 

I agree somewhat with Friedman on this. It’s why I support Alternative C. If there are indeed some grizzlies remaining in the Cascades of Washington, and reliable folks say there is, there isn’t time to wait for natural recovery. The bears could go extinct by then. Like many wildlife biologists and others, I’d prefer to see more brought in fairly quickly, and soon.

But is Wilderness Watch’s statement a sign of fundamentalism and mental illness?

Couldn’t a “natural recovery” alternative have been examined in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement? The report states that the “natural recovery” option is “characterized by the no-action alternative,” and that it would be “highly unlikely” to happen and would not meet the “purpose and need” of the recovery goals. But the folks at Wilderness Watch aren’t suggesting “no action,” they are suggesting actions be taken in surrounding areas, particularly in British Columbia, to address and reduce human-bear conflicts; the related ongoing killing of grizzlies; activities that diminish grizzly habitat, and taking actions to protect, enhance and expand habitat and migratory corridors with the hope grizzlies eventually move in to the Cascades.

I don’t agree in this case, but it’s certainly not a sign of mental illness. It does trigger some déjà vu.

In 1999 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a plan to reintroduce 25 grizzlies to the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness and surrounding area as an “experimental, nonessential” population that would not be fully protected under the Endangered Species Act. The National Wildlife Federation, Defender of Wildlife and the Idaho forest products industry created and supported the plan. It had some merits. I sided and worked with the opposing side, with groups including the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Great Bear Foundation, Friends of the Bitterroot, Friends of the Clearwater, Sierra Club, the Craighead Wildlife/Wildlands Institute and Wilderness Watch. We opposed the plan for several reasons: We believed grizzlies already inhabited the area and therefore deserved (as required by law) full protection under the Endangered Species Act. We also felt that, given a chance, bears would eventually move in on their own. Before a decision was made, the plan was killed when George W. Bush moved into the White House.

But here’s my point: At the time, many experts – numerous experts -- said that bears never would, never could move in on their own. There were too many obstacles, they said. They were unequivocal that bear translocations into the ecosystem were necessary.

But the bears are moving in. Yes, it’s taken nearly 20 years or so, but it’s happening. This isn’t to say that the same would happen in the North Cascades. Even if it did, as I stated earlier, any grizzlies that may still inhabit the Cascades don’t have that kind of time.

But whether you agree with them or not, the statements from the folks at Wilderness Watch don’t seem so unreasonable, fundamentalist, or derived from mental illness to me.

Yet Friedman persists in referring to my friends at Wilderness Watch as fundamentalists with mental illness.

“I'm not going to debate this with you,” he wrote to me. “The folks at WW may be your friends, but their advocacy here is beyond misguided and uninformed, it (not for the first time) exposes a blind spot. You may not like the name I've given to that blind spot, but I'm ok with that.”

“Not for the first time,” he writes.

It’s certainly not the first time Wilderness Watch has been accused as being fundamentalists by arrogant, misguided and uninformed people like Friedman. Adhering to the principles, laws, regulations and intent of the wilderness Act doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. Anthropocentrism is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. A business mentality prevails among federal land managers (and, increasingly so, among conservation and environmental groups) that people are customers, that their every desire and whim must be served. If opinion polls reveal that 58.6 percent of respondents want more loop trails, picnic tables, lean-tos, stocked lakes and helicopter landing pads then, by golly, that’s what they’ll get, Wilderness Act be damned. Leadership—providing people with purpose, direction and motivation, explaining to people what is right, persuading them to follow—is sadly lacking, replaced instead by policies of compromise and appeasement. Those who get in the way on matters of principle are dismissed as "extremists," "purists," "elitists," "fundamentalists" . . .  "mentally ill."

One of the founders of Wilderness Watch, Bill Worf, was a friend of mine. Like me, he was a Marine. Like my father, he fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. He was instrumental in passage of the Wilderness Act, developed Forest Service regulations regarding the act, and was the first wilderness manager for the Forest Service. He died in 2011 at the age of 85. Although he went blind in his later years, I don’t believe he suffered from mental illness, although he was often called a “fundamentalist” for defending the Wilderness Act.

Once, while having dinner with him, he told me why he helped create Wilderness Watch. In the late 1980s, after he had retired, the Forest Service was allowing commercial outfitters and guides to build and leave permanent structures in the Frank Church River of Return Wilderness, in direct and clear violation of the Wilderness Act. Bill tried to get groups such as The Wilderness Society and Sierra Club to get involved, but they refused. They didn’t want to anger outfitters and guides, or groups like the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, because they relied on their support to help get other wild areas designated as wilderness.

I understand the need for organizations to build alliances. I have worked for the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation and Montana Wildlife Federation. I also served two terms as President of the Montana Wildlife Federation. Compromise and collaboration are important; they have their place. But what good is wilderness – how wild will wilderness remain – if the Wilderness Act is not enforced?

So Bill helped formed Wilderness Watch, to serve as a watchdog and ensure management agencies follow the spirit, law and intent of the Wilderness Act.

I have tremendous admiration and respect for the current executive director of Wilderness Watch, George Nickas. He's a smart, knowledgeable, passionate wilderness advocate who carries forth the vision of Bill Worf and the other founders. I don’t always agree with George, but as far as I know he doesn’t suffer from mental illness.

I mentioned this on Friedman’s Facebook page. A guy named David Dreher, who has worked for the National Wildlife Federation and the PEW Charitable Trust’s Campaign for America’s Wilderness, responded: “You have valid points, but don’t pretend Wilderness Watch defends the Wilderness Act. They’ve done more to erode and damage the Wilderness Act than any other group.”

I don’t pretend. I don't have to. The facts speak for themselves. Here’s just a few of the things Wilderness Watch has done to defend the Wilderness Act: They stopped the Park Service from allowing motorized sightseeing tours in the Cumberland Island Wilderness; they protected the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wilderness from damage caused by overuse of commercial pack strings; they spearheaded efforts to get illegally-built resorts removed from the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness; they stopped the Park Service from allowing off-road vehicle use on the fragile tundra in the Gates of the Arctic Wilderness; they prevented 9-miles of road from being built into the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, and they kept the Forest Service from building 129 helicopter landing zones within a dozen wilderness areas in Alaska.

I could go on.

They’ve done more than any other organization I know to protect the ecological integrity of wilderness and ensure that wilderness remains, as the Wilderness Act states, "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

I’m grateful for what the good folks at Wilderness Watch have done and continue to do to keep wilderness wild. It's a good thing. It's not a mental illness.

I renewed my membership to Wilderness Watch today; please join me in supporting their important efforts. For more information, click here: Support Wilderness Watch!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

REAL Americans Will Share This!

In the beautiful, wholesome midwestern American town of Lake Wobegon — that little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve; where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average — a young pregnant Christian woman was on her way home from church where she had been praying for the safety of her courageous husband, who is serving overseas as a U.S. Marine, risking his life and sacrificing so much for our great nation, flag and freedom. After helping an old WWII veteran across a busy street, she entered a small convenience store (where an American flag proudly hung out front) to purchase some food to offer to a homeless Vietnam veteran she had just seen outside and thanked for his service. While trying to find some whole milk and 100-percent Grade A American beef among all the strange 2-percent, tofu and organic yogurt, a group of Muslims and one Mexican immigrant with an MS-13 tattoo entered the store. After kneeling before the American flag they demanded that the store clerk increase his employee’s wages and bake a wedding cake for their gay friend. They then approached the woman and — in-between loud, disruptive, anti-Semitic chants of “Allahu Akbar” — they demanded she put on a hijab and obey Shariah law. The Mexican with the MS-13 tattoo tried to sell her meth and threatened to rape her if she didn’t buy some. About that time, a tall, lean man wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat entered the store. Fortunately, he had an open-carry permit and was brandishing an LMT CQB MRP Defender Model 16 5.56 rifle, rightfully practicing his God-given 2nd Amendment rights. After tipping his hat to the flag and removing a small stem of wheat from his mouth, he glared at the Muslims (and the Mexican with the MS-13 tattoo) with his cold, steel eyes and slowly and clearly said: “Boys, I’m afraid you Socialists done come to the wrong town. Now I strongly suggest ya’ll go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which you come from and mosey on out of here. Otherwise . . . Well, hell . . . Let’s just say a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” Needless to say, they scurried on out of there. But what if the free and the brave armed American hadn’t shown up? This is what’s happening to our great nation, folks. It’s time to wake up! If you’re outraged by this and you support this woman and her Marine husband and America and our flag and God and President Trump and the 2nd Amendment and freedom you will share this. If you don’t share this, you’re part of the problem!