UN Secretary General Scolds Japan, Draws Criticism
Ban Ki-moonThe South Korea-born UN secretary general has unsettled Japan by making comments about the Second World War. Ban Ki-moon told a news conference in Seoul that Japanese politicians should reflect deeply about their country's history. Recent statements by Japanese politicians to downplay, or even deny, Japanese aggression against its neighbors before and during World War Two have angered China and South Korea. And Japanese media jumped all over Ban's comments. Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, aired the following report on August 26.

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Reporter:
Ban was speaking to reporters in Seoul on Monday during a visit to his homeland of South Korea. A reporter asked about the deteriorating relations between the East Asian neighbors due to conflicting interpretations of their shared history. Ban responded by saying the tension over historical and political differences is regrettable. He then asserted that the problem lies with the Japanese side.

Ban Ki-moon:
The Japanese government and political leaders need to reflect deeply. They need to have an international and future-oriented vision.

Reporter:
Ban's predecessor Kofi Annan once commented on the issue but simply said that history cannot be erased. Analysts say Ban may now face criticism for a lack of neutrality.
 
 

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Kimonos Today: A Dying Tradition?
 
 

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Japanese Honor War Dead at Controversial Shrine

Yasukuni ShrineAugust 15th marks the 68th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two. It's also the day when Japanese honor their war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Yasukuni is controversial because it also commemorates fifteen men convicted for war crimes. So, paying respects at the shrine angers many in Japan and abroad, because they view the shrine as a memorial to Japanese militarism. This year, many notables, including members of the Japanese government, stayed away from Yasukuni. Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, reported from the shrine.

 

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Reporter:
Many Japanese observe this rite year after year. They head to Yasukuni shrine which honors the war dead. They stop and pray for those who died for Japan.

Shrine visitor 1:
I'd like to come here as long as I live and pray that my father's soul is in peace.

Shrine visitor 2:
My father died in the war. I come here to feel close to him, even at my age.

Reporter:
This shinto shrine was constructed in the late 1800s to honor those who sacrificed their lives in the process of building Japan. The shrine commemorates two and a half million people. In the 1970s, officials here decided to enshrine wartime military and political leaders. Some have been convicted of war crime by the international military tribunal after World War Two. A number of Japanese lawmakers visit every year on this day. About one hundred came today, including members of the cabinet.

Yoshitaka Shindo, Japanese Official:
I came here today to pay my respects to those who devoted themselves to protect the country and their loved ones.

Reporter:
Chinese and South Korean leaders have criticized their Japanese counterparts for going to the shrine. Four South Korean lawmakers tried to get in to protest in person, but police blocked them to prevent trouble. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said other members of his cabinet were free to visit on the anniversary. He chose not to go. He says he will not disclose whether he will visit the shrine in the future, noting that it could cause diplomatic difficulties.

 
 

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'Regrettable' Actions Raise Tensions Between Japan and South Korea
We're getting close to the anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific. And, nationalists in both Japan and South Korea are creating incidents. The first happened  in Seoul during a soccer game between the Japanese and South Korean national teams. Some spectators unveiled a banner attacking Japan for not making amends for its occupation of Korea before the war. That's brought a flurry of finger pointing from both countries. Here's Japan's public broadcaster, NHK.

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Reporter:
During the East Asian Cup final in Seoul, South Korean fans raised a banner that read, "A nation that forgets history has no future." The Japanese Soccer Association said the act violated a ban by world football governing body FIFA on political statements at matches. But South Korean officials say that Japanese fans had waved a rising sun flag. The flag was used by the Japanese military during World War II. they say the rising sun flag symbolizes past suffering of South Koreans, and calls to mind acts of the former Japanese imperial army. Japan's sports minister, Hakubun Shimomura, caused a further stir with his comments.

Hakubun Shimomura:
Such an incident shows the cultural level of a nation. I hope South Koreans will watch sports games in a fair manner.

Reporter:
South Korea's foreign ministry called the remark "rude" and "deeply regrettable."
 
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In California, a group of Korean Americans unveiled a statue to represent Korean women drafted as so-called "comfort women." That's a euphemism for tens of thousands, mostly Koreans, forced to work in brothels during the war to serve Japanese soldiers. Here's NHK again.

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Reporter:
About 500 people attended the unveiling in the city of Glendale, including one woman who claims to be a former comfort woman. The statue is a replica of one in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. It's the first such statue in the US West Coast. Korean-Americans have helped put up at least three on the East Coast.

Kim Bok-dong, former comfort woman:
Japan should quickly admit to its mistakes and apologize.

Reporter:
Some Japanese who live in the area and Japanese-Americans have complained about the statue, as has Japan's top government spokesman.

Yoshihide Suga, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary:
The government's stance regarding the issue of so-called comfort women is to avoid making it into a political and diplomatic issue. We cannot reconcile our way of thinking with the building of this statue.

Reporter:
The Japanese Consulate general in Los Angeles issued a statement. It said, the erection of the statue is "extremely regrettable."
 
 

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Dispatch from Washington: Vietnam's President Makes Rare US Trip
Truong Tan SangThe Obama administration came into office vowing to strengthen ties with Southeast Asia, and this week's rare visit by Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang signals greater cooperation ahead. President Obama met with President Truong at the White House today. Truong's trip to the United States is only the second visit by a Vietnamese president since the two countries resumed relations in 1995. 

On Wednesday, I had the privilege of attending a luncheon in Washington, DC hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry in honor of Vietnam's President. I came there not only as a guest, but as a journalist and an immigrant who fled Vietnam in 1975 with my family as Saigon was falling to the communists. 

As Secretary Kerry and President Truong stood next to each other, I was struck by the imagery. It was yet another step in reconciliation. Kerry, a Vietnam veteran who once fought against the communist regime represented by President Truong, was now his political ally. Kerry thanked the Vietnamese government for its help in finding the remains of US servicemen. "They voluntarily dug up their rice paddies to help us answer our questions," he said. 

"From conflict to friendship," said Kerry, "Today, when people hear the word Vietnam, they're able to think of a country, not a war." 

President Truong did not talk about the war. He spoke of the US as a valuable military partner in a region that feels threatened by the growing dominance of China. "Vietnam wants to be a responsible partner with the international community," he said. Vietnam has pledged to participate in UN peacekeeping operations in 2014. It's also seeking to boost economic relations. Trade between Vietnam and the US has grown to US$26 billion since a trade deal was signed in 2001. 

President Truong barely touched on the thorny issue of human rights, saying simply "Vietnam has been continually making progress on human rights." 

Thuy Vu and Truong Tan SangThose who feel Vietnam has not done enough on the issue have heavily criticized his visit. According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is jailing a growing number of dissidents, bloggers and religious leaders for crimes such as "conducting propaganda" and "disrupting the unity of the state." The visit leaves a bitter taste for many Vietnamese Americans who have lingering resentment over losing their homeland to a regime that they view as abusive.

For me, it's sometimes a challenge to report on Vietnamese issues because I straddle two worlds -- journalism and the Vietnamese American community. As an immigrant, many Vietnamese Americans expect me to side with them in my reporting. I have to remind them that my role as a journalist is to be fair, not to advocate. Sometimes I win them over.  Other times I don't. As a Vietnamese American, I will always face expectations from my own community that aren't leveled at other journalists.

I understand their pain. Communists took my grandfather away for being a landowner. My uncle fought against communist forces during the Vietnam war. My brother was jailed by the communist regime. It is part of the Vietnamese American experience: struggle, heartache, survival. This is our story. 

My duty as a journalist, though, is to tell all stories with balance and insight. It's my own journey of reconciliation between my professional obligations and perceptions in the Vietnamese American community. That journey is still unfinished.
 
 

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China's Top 5 Whistleblowers: How Does Edward Snowden Measure Up?

 
 

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A Devi Diva at the Highline Ballroom

I first heard Falu at a concert in a yoga studio, about 6 years ago. There was a buzz about her then, but her presentation was quite different. Falguni Shah (Falu) seemed bird-like, fragile and shy although her voice was strong and assured. Over time, I was sent a CD and I kept track of her in an oblique way, as her various publicists kept me informed. Everyone knew she was talented, but I personally never felt that the package was quite right. Now, with the release of the independently produced Foras Road, I think she has found a production sound that fits her artistic explorations, and is the right setting for her fine voice. Kudos to producer and bass player Danny Blume for that.

 

Not that Falu hasn't had her triumphs in the intervening years; she has done her share of high-profile gigs playing with her band for the Dalai Lama, President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. She has collaborated with the likes of A.R, Rahman and Yo-Yo Ma. She emerges now as a sleek, confident performer with a devoted following both within and outside of the Indian community.

 

Her sound, as you will hear, is a mix of different worlds. In this song "Ghumar," for example, a Dhol drum pounds out a bhangra beat, while a Givson (no that's not a misprint, it's not a Gibson) mandolin provides the textural ear candy as Falu's sinuous voice hovers and dips through complex, compelling melodies. The lady has chops, for sure, honed by a lifetime of rigorous study with various Indian vocal gurus.

 

 

The Highline Ballroom was packed, and this video was taken from the balcony, so I was thankful for the zoom on my camcorder. And besides "Ghumar" there were several real standouts from the show as well; "Savan" was a deeply sensuous song of longing accompanied by the versatile Mark Tewarson on dobro, injecting a languid, country blues feel. In "Eastbound," Falu utilized the taan technique, a kind of scatting, in a rapid-fire exchange with the tablas of Deep Singh. For "Bahaar" Falu brought out an actual string quartet to perform on stage with her, and it worked beautifully. The band itself was tight and spirited, rounded out by the excellent David Sharma on kit drums, Soumya Chatterjee on violin, and Gaurav Shah on harmonium and vocals.

 

I had invited my niece Rachel to the concert, whose ears are quite open, but whose contact with Indian vocal music has been minimal. On the way home she asked me "Why is it that when we hear a voice singing, we feel such a direct physical and emotional connection?" While the answer to this question may seem axiomatic, the fact that she raised this issue speaks volumes about the caliber of Falu's performance.

 

The performance at the Highline was co-sponsored by the Indo-American Arts Council, a not-for-profit 501(c)3 arts organization whose mission is to showcase and build an awareness for performing, visual and literary arts from/of/about the Indian subcontinent. 

 

For more information about Foras Road the CD, and Falu, visit: falumusic.com


For more information about the Indo-American Arts Council visit: iaac.us


For more of Michal's world music videos visit inter-muse.com.

 
 

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Living with Cystic Fibrosis: The Importance of Community

 
 

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Shades of Gray: Living with Wolves
Reviled by ranchers and fawned over by conservationists, the gray wolf has cut a controversial wake in the American landscape ever since it was reintroduced from Canada in 1995. UK investigative journalist Jim Wickens journeys into the heart of the American wolf debate today. Read his full-length report here, which accopmanies the exclusive Earth Focus report of the same name, Shades of Gray: Living with Wolves, now online!
 
Photo by Jim Wickens
The elk carcass glints in the overhead sun, its ribs picked clean, poking out of a tangled mess that lies buried beneath the blood-stained snow. It is a wolf kill, a bloody spectacle that is playing out with growing regularity across the Rockies, and dividing Americans in its wake. 
 
We are on a Yellowstone park patrol crunching over fresh packed snow with Dr. Dan Stahler, a leading wildlife biologist and renowned wolf expert employed by the National Park Service, who has been following their introduction since 41 wolves were introduced into Yellowstone in 1995-6.
 
Wolf kill sites in Yellowstone are regularly analyzed, providing the park with data that is helping to decipher the ecosystem impacts caused by the reintroduction of a predator into the Rocky Mountain landscape. Clutching the jawbone of the fallen elk, Dan explains the role that wolves are having on the park ecosystem.
 
"To me wolves mean wildness and wild nature... I think that what we see here in Yellowstone with the presence of wolves now, is a leaner, meaner elk population... The elk out here in the landscape, there's fewer of them and there's less competition between the elk for resources such as good forage. And so I think we have a a healthier elk population now..."
 
Many in Montana, however, disagree. From an initial recovery plan of 300 individuals and ten breeding pairs across each state of the Rocky Mountain range, today over 1500 wolves call it their home, thanks to prohibitions on hunting and an ample supply of game and ranch animals to devour. 
 
The wolf reintroduction program is a conservationist success story, but one that has alienated many.  
 
Photo by Jim Wickens
Hunting under threat
 
Mike Mullinix is a prize-winning taxidermist based in Montana, and like many he is dependent on a healthy hunting industry for his income. We meet in the quiet of his workshop, a cornucopia of half-painted moose heads, trophy elk antlers, and a snarling bear that hangs off the wall.
 
"Hunting is a big part of our economy out here and it's gradually gotten bad. Well the intake I'm doing locally around here on my animals has probably dropped over fifty percent. Everyone has noticed the big drop. I think it's down almost seventy-five percent from what it was back in the eighties... and it doesn't take common sense to figure out what's happening here with the animals," he says.
 
Mike talks while he delicately paints the finishing touches to the side of a moose jaw.
 
"I am competing with them and they need to be regulated just like every other animal. It's gotten way out of control. Our wolf season should have started ten years ago... Everybody across the country's complaining about our wolf seasons out here, but we've got to live with what's happening, they don't."
 
In the archery range outside of the state capital Helena, I track down Joelle Silk, president of the Montana Bowhunters Association to put these questions to her.
 
A sharp intake of breath. The bow tightens. A momentary silence and then a whip-like crack as she lets slip a silicon-tipped arrow, hammering into a tree trunk 30 meters distant with a determined thud. Joelle eases her bow.
 
"Montana falls at the bottom of the median-income scale in the nation. So hunting is a very important way in which to put food on the table for many families. A good-sized elk can feed a family of four throughout the year, so it's very important... a very economical and simple way to feed the family," she says." Wolves have had an interesting impact to the prey and predator relationship in Montana. I hear ordinary people saying, "we used to have tons of elk on our doorstep to go and hunt. Now there are fewer. It's almost like there's a localized impact but statewide there may not have been much overall reduction in population."
 
Photo by Jim WickensIn 2011 wolves were finally delisted from the Endangered Species Act, quietly pushed through the halls of power in Washington by a democratic senator facing re-election in a marginal Montanan seat. "Wolves were definitely thrown under the bus for political reasons," says Mike Leahy from Defenders of Wildlife, a powerful conservation advocacy group that strongly opposes the delisting of wolves." I think the Obama administration responded to the politics of the situation. Never before had a Secretary of the Interior taken a step to undermine the Endangered Species Act like this... the democratic leadership in the Obama administration all went along with that. We were really disappointed in how the politics played out there."
 
Delisted and now fair game, 220 wolves in Montana alone can now be shot, trapped, or bow-hunted each year. 
 
For Joelle and many hunters like her in Montana however, the delisting of wolves is viewed positively. "People felt outside the management picture as long as they remained listed, and so that did create tension within Montana certainly... Since the hunts have started up, we've regained that sense of empowerment, self-sufficiency, involvement in the process... that's really important for us as a state that has the hunting traditions that we have," says Joelle.
 
Yellowstone wolves in the firing line
 
In recent months the wolf hunt has been dramatically thrust once again into the limelight, this time with the high-profile killing of a particular wolf that spent much of her life within the protected confines of Yellowstone Park. Known as 832F, the Lamar Valley pack alpha female was known to tourists the world over. "She was extraordinary... she was one of the best hunters we've ever seen... the American public and the whole world was drawn to her," says Dan Stahler, the biologist who painstakingly followed her radio-tracked movements for six years, before she was shot dead 15 miles outside of the park this winter.
 
Photo by Jim WickensThe loss of 832F was felt around the world, but also, surprisingly, in the midst of Montana itself. Nathan Varley and his wife, Linda, are a couple whose economic survival is intricately intertwined with that of the wolves. But unlike those in the elk hunting industry, Nathan and Linda need wolves alive. Growing up within the park community Nathan knows Yellowstone better than most, working first as a wolf biologist and then seven years ago setting up a wolf watching eco-tourism company, one of several to have sprouted up in the wake of growing national and international interest after wolves were reintroduced. Today Nathan and Linda take small groups of tourists on foot into the park, relying on expert knowledge and careful reading of conditions to guide paying members of the public to witness the spectacle of wolves in the wild. 
 
"We do look at the livelihood debate a little differently because we do feel like there is such a big economy based around the wolf. So it is not just the livestock producer's livelihood or the elk hunting outfitter's livelihood that we are talking about in this Western wolf debate. There are a lot of tourism livelihoods at stake here too."
 
Nathan quotes Montana University economist data which suggests that visitors who come to see wolves, are spending somewhere on the order of $35 million every year in the communities around Yellowstone.
 
"The main things people want to see are wolves... A lot of the big fans of Yellowstone wolves are following the lives of the actual individuals. They are the attraction. These become the stars of the show... and to have them hunted is even harder for our guests to understand... If that individual is important enough and so many people care about it, then it does have an influence on whether they want to come back to Yellowstone and it could influence their decision to visit the park in the future." he says. 
 
The iconic value of individual wolves versus the indiscriminate nature of the Rocky Mountain wolf hunt quota is a conundrum that Montanan authorities are yet to settle on. Fearful of a PR backlash at home and abroad, it has put outgoing Montana Governor Schweitzer in an awkward position.
 
"How do we run a hunt in Montana and Idaho and Wyoming and say to people 'well you have a license to shoot a wolf in order to control the population at a sustainable level... Then say to that same hunter, unless you see that pretty girl that often times lives in Lamar Valley and so many tourists love seeing her around, and she even has a name.' How's the hunter going to deal with that? It is called wildlife. These are not pets. Just because somebody recognizes one of these wolves does not make it a pet," he laments.
 
"I get thousands of emails per year castigating me as a terrible human being, because we allow hunting of wolves in Montana. Many of these emails are from Europe or Latin America or Asia. People who have never come to Montana and who will probably never come to Montana and what they need to understand it that there are only a few places on the planet that have made accommodations for wolves, and we are one of them. We are actually getting the job done," he says.
 
Trial by media
 
Carter Niemeyer is a veteran wildlife service trapper, wolf expert and best selling author, who played a central role in the early struggles around wolf reintroduction. We meet on a windy mountainside on the edges of the state capital Helena, to hear his expert views on how the wolf issue has become so divisive in recent years. 
 
"The media is definitely guilty of keeping it polarized, because killing wolves whether we are hunting them, trapping them, or removing a problem wolf periodically, it really shouldn't be news anymore. We don't announce every time someone shoots a coyote or someone kills a mountain lion or a bear. Wolves are not weapons of mass destruction."
 
As the government-sanctioned necropsy expert in the Rocky Mountains, for many years Carter's job was to inspect suspected wolf kills on livestock, so that ranchers could pocket compensation that they were entitled to if their animals had been lost to wolves. Using forensic tools and methods unused in the past, Carter made a startling discovery that has earned him few friends from the ranching community he knows so well. "In the early years maybe five out of every hundred livestock that I looked at were actually killed by wolves.
 
"Once the media started putting out the information that wolves were in the landscape, nearly all the reports coming in were assumed to be wolf damage and so the assumption was that wolves were causing a lot of problems... But there are many things that killed them besides wolves; you have disease and birthing problems and a multitude of things that kill livestock. I would say death loss by wolves on sheep and cattle, it is well under 1%, I think you are talking a quarter of 1% at the current kill rates that we are looking at... there has been a dislike in the whole concept of putting wolves back on the Rocky Mountain landscape, so part of the problem I think to having wolves back were that people anticipated and almost wanted them to be a problem."
 
To an outsider driving through the vast snowy uplands of Montana, the scale of this sparsely populated landscape drowns the senses. A state the size of France with just two million residents, Montana's enormity is in itself an obstacle to discussion, a barrier that restricts face-to-face communication around the wolf; further heightening the acute power of the mass media in determining the narrative around wolves.
 
Watched from afar through news columns and evening news bulletins, the complexity of the Rocky Mountain wolf debate seems to have been reduced to bite-sized chunks of polarized hysteria. Wolf haters vs Wolf lovers, 'crazies' the lot of them. But it is a position that frustrates many in Montana who belong to neither camp; individuals who are quietly seeking to build bridges within the entrenched battleground over the rightful place and number of Rocky Mountain wolves. 
 
Steve Primm is a biologist and predator consultant who works with ranchers who are keen to mitigate potential wolf problems with livestock. "Why aren't the middle ground voices heard? I think that's a good question... I think there's a lot of drama associated with the conflict... The stories we have to tell about trying to live with wolves is far more complicated than one about do not kill any wolves or kill all of the wolves. I think it comes down to us not having tidy sound bytes."
 
Rancher Becky Weed agrees. "It's incredibly frustrating because there really isn't any very good data on what the grass roots individual ranchers feel. All we read about in the newspapers is what the mouth pieces say to the media and I think it's a gross oversimplification of what's really happening out on the landscape," she says in her ranch outside Bozeman, talking as she busily spins out a roll of hay for her sheep from the back of a tractor.
 
An enormous dog sits close to Becky's feet; 'Max' a cross of several European breeds that she uses to protect her flock from predation. He is part of a new method of ranching that enables her to sell 'predator friendly' certified wool to markets at home and abroad. 
 
"He's unbelievable, he's our main tool... We also use pasture management strategies, we don't just let the sheep wander all love the place... so it's really a matter of vigilance and adaptability. If there's anything consistent in this whole carnivore game, it's that it changes from year to year... Wolves to me are really one part of a much larger package and I tend to feel somewhat allergic to this oohing and aahing over a single species... Wolf predation is not the biggest problem that ranching in Montana is facing right now."
 
The Blackfoot challenge
 
It's 4am and a siren on the coal train screams as it races by, a thundering percussion of endless carriages brimming with Montanan coal on a passage west to Pacific ports and then on to the power stations of China. Our home for the night is Drummond, 'population 338'. Across the road from the motel a ghostly specter of a giant longhorn skull lights up in passing headlamps; it is a used cow lot, last port of call for ranch animals sold for a steal, that await the butcher's knife. 
 
Ranching is everything here, modest family farms form a patchwork of fencing amidst the forests and mountain peaks that surround the town. And today 50 wolves have made their home around this 800,000 valley known as the Blackfoot, a mixture of Canadian, Idaho and Yellowstone-descended wolves thriving in these elk and livestock rich lands. But where the wolves go, so do the problems. The chuckling fondness with which a resident regales how a wolf was shot dead and strategically hanged under a stop sign on the highway here, speaks volumes about the recent history of wolf relations in these parts.
 
Photo by Jim WickensBut what makes this places special is the way in which ranchers have grouped together to learn to live with wolves. This is the Blackfoot challenge, a community-centered initiative using science, sound management and a healthy dose of common sense, to help ranchers co-exist as best they can with grizzles, and in recent years, with the wolf.  
 
Tracey Manly points wearily to the ditches on the edge of his ranch. "Most of the time they come right down these draws... they won't just come charging right in... they're going to wait until one kind of chooses itself by being behind the rest of the herd and that's the one they'll get. One will grab the top of the back and the other one will grab the throat... once they have it down, it's done pretty much," he says, describing the premature fate that has befallen many of his cattle over the last decade.
 
"You were helpless. Your hands were tied and there was a lot of shoot, shovel, and shut up type deals because you are talking about your livelihood," he says, describing the frustration felt by many ranchers at not being able to shoot problem wolves for so many years. 
 
There is little doubt that the steadfast refusal of both the Federal Government and great swathes of the conservation movement, to accept delisting for so many years -- the wolf reintroduction program reaches it's official target figure of 300 wolves over a decade earlier in 2002 - has pitched ranchers even more strongly against wolves and Washington; a prickly libertarian-flavored backlash that strikes a fertile chord in this heartland state.
 
Since the Blackfoot began to quietly offer innovative solutions to reduce livestock-wolf conflicts however, attitudes have dramatically changed for Tracey and his neighboring ranchers.
 
"It's definitely thawed," says Tracey. "Even if your just damn the wolf, and they make you mad or whatever... that doesn't get anything accomplished. Your still losing livestock, so why not try to build a corral or build an electric fence around your lots and see what works... just banging your head against the wall saying 'kill them all' isn't going to happen", he says, a markedly different tone to the situation several years ago.
 
Photo by Jim WickensJim Stoner, rancher and Blackfoot Challenge Founder, crouches down on the hill side, furiously hammering away at the frozen earth to anchor in another pole with which to suspend the fladdry he has just unrolled from the back of his RV; handkerchief-sized pieces of red fabric flapping off a single electronically charged wire. "If a neighboring ranch has a problem with wolves we can load this machine up and go down and we can deploy a mile or two of this product in short of an hour... you know it's a new product and people kind of look at it and go wow that's kind of crazy... but we've seen it work ourselves. We've seen wolves on one side of it and our cows on the other," he says grinning.
 
Fladdry systems are part of a wider package of measures that the Blackfoot ranchers have taken in close co-operation with government agencies, including range riders who track wolves to keep ranchers up to date and carcass removal schemes that remove the welcome mat for wolves from ranches before they even get there. 
 
Seth Wilson is a conservation biologist who helps to co-ordinate the Blackfoot Project. "By employing these non-lethal measures we have been able to keep livestock losses fairly minimized. From 2006-12 we have documented 14 confirmed losses. When we got to other valleys we have has as many as 20 livestock killed over a two year period by comparison, and many, many wolves removed; these are the sort of collisions between livestock production and wildlife that we want to avoid," he says. He cautions against quick-fix solutions however. "This stuff takes time, and community-based conservation, building trust, earning the respect of the livestock producing community in Montana, that takes time... we act as the forum for bringing people together who normally would not potentially even talk to one another... that is the key to our success, communication in these ways that are respectful."
 
Jim Stoner reflects upon his handiwork with the Fladdry, dozens of pieces of red fabric tied to the wire in an impromptu fence line and blowing in the breeze. "Really when it comes down to it, it's about people, about bringing communities together. Wolves," he ponders, "mean opportunity."
 
After a week on the road in Montana, meeting, listening and probing discussions around wolves with people from all walks of life, it's clear that the polarized hyperbole published so often in the media either for or against wolves, is a gross distortion of reality for those who live and labor on the ground in Montana. Whilst court cases continue to rage in Washington around the fate of the Gray wolf, it is perhaps the quiet and courageous voices from communities in Montana who need to be heard the most. If the black and white can finally be replaced by a shade of gray, Rocky Mountain people may just find a way to live in balance alongside wolves for generations to come.
 
Watch the Earth Focus report Shades of Gray: Living with Wolves:
 
 
 

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Stalking Stereotypes

Wolves were once federally protected but now can be hunted again, making the fate and future of the wolf more controversial than ever. UK journalist Jim Wickens reports from Wyoming and Montana to provide his unique insight into the wolf wars of the West. His blog accompanies the exclusive Earth Focus report, Shades of Gray: Living with Wolvesnow online!

 

A sharp intake of breath. The bow tightens. A momentary silence, and then a whip-like crack as a silicon-tipped arrow flies, hammering into a tree trunk 30 meters away with a determined thud. We are with the president of Helena Bow hunters, a proud organization of local people who hunt down elk, deer, mountain lions, and even bears with just a bow and arrow. Reviled by animal rights advocates, bow hunters are a fairly cautious lot. But after a lot of effort we managed to track down the president to ask about wolves.

 

As anyone who has ever lived abroad will attest to, the international media love to frame US hunters as a uniform bunch of tea-party, gun-toting, trophy-chasing elderly white men from Texas. Forgive the painfully simplistic stereotype, but I'm sure you get the point.

 

Photo by Jim WickensPredictably perhaps, I was in for a shock. In our naivety, we hadn't been expecting a woman, let alone a nurse in a beat-up old car, to be meeting us at the archery range on the outskirts of Helena. With a wide smile and a contagious fire in her eyes, Joelle Silk then spent the next two hours shooting down the stereotypes that cling to attitudes regarding hunting in the US. A deep knowledge of Montanan forest ecology, a passion for the outdoors and a distinct humbleness marked out Joelle from anything I was expecting to find. For the last 20 years she has immersed herself in traditional bow hunting, a past-time that requires the hunter to get within 30 yards of their quarry, requiring immense skill, patience and dedication. Joelle had got involved with hunting two decades ago when she worked for the national park service, seeing it as a way to feed herself with a limited income. And she was quick to explain that for many people in Montana who live on below average national income, the bagging of an elk or deer can keep a family fed for months. There are people out hunting for trophies, but for Joelle and indeed almost every interviewee we had met in Montana, the annual 'elk tag' fee that people buy over the counter enables people to eat a meat that is natural, hormone-free and a world-away from the factory-farm hell where the majority of meat and dairy on sale in American supermarkets comes from.

 

The problem is that wolves like elk too. A lot. Since wolves were introduced to Yellowstone the elk herd has dramatically reduced. It is, according to wolf advocates, a 'leaner but meaner elk herd' that we see today in Montana. But there is no doubt that the huge herd sizes have gone and that elk have dispersed around the state. Ordinary blue-collar folk in Montana are finding it harder to locate the elk, and so it is not surprising that they feel threatened by wolves, a species that is now competing with them for the cheapest, healthiest and arguably the most ethical source of meat in the state. Earlier on in the day I had spent time chatting with a middle-aged Montanan couple sat in the booth next to us in a diner. The lady said that when her kids were growing up, she wouldn't have known how they would have got by were it not for the free meat that wild-elk in the freezer provided.

 

However understandable these fears might be, fish and game authority figures do suggest otherwise: the elk herd in Montana is currently at or even above the desired size of 150,000 animals, and that is with a wolf pack in excess of 600 animals. But there does seem to be little doubt that wolves are dispersing elk, breaking them into smaller groups and dispersing them out of traditional grounds, basically making the chase just a little bit harder for would-be hunters and home providers.

 

Joelle doesn't seem too worried about this, but adds that her members are simply relieved that finally Montanans can begin to manage wolf numbers through a legalized wolf hunt, as they do any other species from ungulates through to bob cats or mountain lions.

 

As I have come to learn over this last week, for outsiders looking into this debate, the empowerment aspect of the Rocky mountain wolf hunts should not be underestimated. Numbers aside, and irrespective of the ethics of hunting carnivores such as wolves with traps, guns, or bows; paradoxically it seems to me that wolves may just stand a better chance of acceptance within Montana precisely because they can be legally hunted and killed.

 

Although she won't admit it on camera, I suspect that Joelle might be one of many secretly hoping that wolves remain in Montana for a long time to come.

 

Read the previous installment of Jim's wolf blog, "An Unexpected Lurch to the Left."

 

Journalist Jim Wickens

Jim Wickens is one of Britain's leading investigative journalists and the co-founder of both the Ecologist Film Unit and also Ecostorm, the environmental media agency. Jim has spend the last decade documenting unreported issues around the world, including exposing illicit whale-meat smuggling networks in Japan, filming the brutal Namibian seal hunt, documenting soya-related murders and poisoning in Argentina, breaking the story of fracking problems in the US, and filming illegal trawlers far out to sea on the Burmese border.

 
 

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