New MT Guv signs bad wolf bill – Even though he signed off on a bill that makes it easier for Montanans to kill wolves, we’re still hopeful that Steve Bullock, Montana’s new governor, will be a strong proponent of science-based wildlife management. He indicated as much by saying biologists, not politicians, ought to be managing wolves (read more from KPAX). Bullock has also asked the state wildlife director “to make sure that we are educating hunters about collared wolves around the parks and also to reengage the wolf management council that used to be part of our state in the past.” Both are excellent ideas that we fully support.
What’s troubling, however, is that the bill’s sponsors are perpetuating the same-old wolf fallacies. In an op-ed published by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, they contend that “as our state’s wolf population continues to grow, so do the problems for Montanans.” Yet in 2012, Montana’s livestock loss board compensated ranchers for just 122 animals. With about half a million head of cattle and 30,000 sheep in western Montana, those wolf impacts seem pretty minor. Far more animals are lost to other causes including other predators, and ranchers don’t get reimbursed when cows get struck by lightning or sheep get eaten by coyotes. Then there’s the tired complaint about wolves decimating big game populations, even though Montana still reports having about 150,000 elk – double the number of elk Montana had 30 years ago when there were no wolves at all. Elk populations need to be held in balance with habitat needs, which wolves help promote.
Unfortunately, this bill does prevent Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks from closing wolf hunting and trapping zones around national parks, nixing the creation of buffer zones around Yellowstone National Park. So we’ll have to focus our efforts now on making sure the state sets a low quota in these areas to limit the risk to wolves that leave the park.
Sign on to save wolves –Reps. Peter DeFazio (D – Oregon) and Ed Markey (D – Mass.) are fighting to protect wolves in the West, and they need your help! The congressman are sending a letter to Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, asking him to maintain federal protections for wolves where they are not yet recovered. This applies particularly to wolves in the Pacific Northwest, where they have only recently returned, and places like Colorado and Utah, where there are currently no known wolves. These are important parts of the species historic range that should not be written off. Unfortunately, the Service conducted a scientific review last year of wolf populations and is expected to strip federal protections across much of the West later this year – maybe as soon as March. This could be our last chance to make a difference before the delisting proposal is released. Tell your congressman to help protect our wolves!
A fount of wolf wisdom – Norm Bishop knows a thing or two about wolves. He spent 36 years working as a national park ranger, serving as a naturalist and interpretive guide at Yellowstone National Park leading up to the reintroduction in 1995. Since then, he has remained engaged as a wolf advocate and diligent researcher. In a talk this week in Bozeman he pulled together some of the latest studies on wolf biology, interactions with prey species, and the future of wolf conservation it the West. His review serves as one-stop shopping for a scientific rebuttal of the wolf myths that we hear over…and over…and over again.
Gibbon pack in Yellowstone. Photo courtesy of U.S. National Park Service.
More wolf kill bills on the way in the West – Western state legislators are stepping up their efforts to ensure that more wolves get killed. Montana is considering giving away free wolf tags to elk and deer hunters and allowing silencers to be used on rifles late in the season. The state legislature is also fast-tracking a three-pronged bill that would (1) prohibit wolf hunting and trapping buffer zones around Yellowstone and other national parks, (2) increase the number of wolves an individual can kill, and (3) permit the use of electronic calls. Meanwhile, Washington state ranchers are supporting a bill that would allow any private landowner to kill wolves or other predators at will without permission or oversight from state wildlife managers. Only Oregon is moving forward with responsible legislation that provides more emphasis on nonlethal strategies to prevent conflicts between wolf and livestock .
Good news, bad news for Mexican wolves – The good news is that the overall number of wolves counted in New Mexico and Arizona climbed to 75 this year – the highest total in 15 years and a big improvement over last year’s count of 58. At least 20 new pups were born and survived through the end of the year, and 13 different packs were identified. The bad news is that there are only three breeding pairs. The lobos are facing a genetic crisis that puts their recovery at risk. That’s why Defenders continues to call for the release of additional wolves, as a first step toward genetic rescue of this rare subspecies. Listen to what Arizona State University biology professor Philip Hedrick had to say about the latest numbers on PNS radio:
Wolves alone can’t restore ecosystem — By now, most wildlife enthusiasts understand the important role that wolves play in dispersing elk and deer herds away from young aspens, cottonwood and willow trees. However, nature is a complex system and the interdependence of multiple species is vital to sustaining a healthy ecosystem. Researchers at Colorado State University found that restoring wolves alone cannot fix all the damage that occurred due to the loss of wolves and that beaver are necessary to help restore the water tables and plants that are the foundation for biodiversity. The researchers conclude that predators should never be eliminated from their habitat because of the significant impacts that follow their loss.
For the young (or young at heart) who want to have some fun and learn more about the role of wolves in Yellowstone, check out this episode of “Fetch” from PBS Kids. An interview with Doug Smith, the park’s lead wolf biologist, starts at the 6 minute mark.
The Hidden Life of Wolves – Want to get up-close and personal with a wolf pack in the comfort of your own home? Check out a new book from National Geographic, documenting the lives of wolves in central Idaho.
1,000 wolves dead and gone – It’s sad, but true. In just a year and half at least 1,000 wolves have been killed by hunters and trappers in the Northern Rockies. That doesn’t include hundreds more that were removed by state and federal wildlife agents in response to reported livestock losses and to boost elk and deer herds. Nor does it count dozens more that were illegally poached.
While we’ve yet to see estimates of how many wolves still remain in the region, the numbers could be falling fast. According to state officials, more than 400 wolves died in Idaho in 2012 from all causes—more than half the 2011 year-end count. At this rate, the regional wolf population could plummet quickly.
Wolves in Idaho and Montana lost their federal protection less than two years ago, and in Wyoming it’s been just five months. Yet overly aggressive management by all three states is once again putting the species at risk. To make matters worse, anti-wolf legislators in Montana and Idaho are already pushing to escalate wolf-killing efforts even further. Idaho legislators want to let people bait wolves with other dead wolves – really! – and Montana legislators want to give away free wolf licenses and ban hunting and trapping closures near Yellowstone National Park. That’s why we need you to help us fight these short-sighted bills at every turn. Stay tuned for more details to come in the weeks ahead.
IDFG approves $50K for Wildlife Services – Wolf supporters voiced strong opposition in Boise this week to Idaho Fish and Game Commission’s plan to eliminate more wolves in order to boost elk herds for hunters. But the commission voted to approve the measure nonetheless. See what our wolf expert Suzanne Stone had to say about the decision on KTVB-Boise:
By the state’s own count, more than 400 wolves were killed in Idaho in 2012—more than half the 2011 year-end estimate for the total number of wolves living in the state (746). Yet the commission still approved the transfer of $50,000 from their coyote control program to pay USDA’s Wildlife Services to kill more wolves. In the past, Wildlife Services has removed entire packs via aerial gunning, and the state is also considering paying seasoned trappers to increase their efforts to kill wolves in certain parts of the state. The silver lining on this dark cloud is that the commission was open to hearing more about nonlethal methods of reducing conflict with livestock and willing to explain their approach to wolf and ungulate management.
Meanwhile, the state legislature continues to entertain new bills that make it easier to kill wolves, including one that would allow dead wolves (and other animals) to be used as bait. Read more in the Idaho Mountain Express.
“It’s exploiting the wolves’ sense of family bonding… It sounds like what they’re proposing is using members of the pack to bait other family members. [Wolves] keep very close track of each other. They worry if a member is gone, and they would go looking for it.” –Suzanne Stone, Idaho Mountain Express
Lopsided wolf meetings show difficult road for wolves in eastern Washington – The house was packed in Spokane this week for one of three public meetings hosted by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to learn more about the state’s wolf management efforts. Wolf advocates raised serious concerns last fall after the entire Wedge Pack was removed in response to reported livestock losses. Wildlife managers said they will continue to explore nonlethal management options, including range riders and guard dogs, but lethal removal will remain an option. While there was much discussion about how to deal with problem wolves and the challenges facing wolf recovery, there was almost no discussion of the myriad benefits that wolves can bring to the ecosystem and the economy. From public questions it was clear that anti-wolf rhetoric is alive and well in eastern Washington. Improving social tolerance and understanding of wolves will be critical to wolf recovery in this region.
FWP re-considers Yellowstone closures – Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has re-opened its public comment period on a proposal to close wolf hunting districts just outside Yellowstone National Park (see FWP news release and AP coverage on Huffington Post). The state still faces a legal challenge in court from anti-wolf groups who opposed the closures, though a second decision slated for Jan. 29 after the comment period closes could moot the case. The FWP Commission implemented the closures in mid-December to protect wolves that spend most of their time inside the park but occasionally wander beyond its invisible borders in search of food or a mate. Several Yellowstone wolves had been killed by hunters just outside the park, and a few wore tracking collars used by researchers to study wolf behavior.
You can submit comments to FWP supporting the closures through January 25th. Submit online here.
More wolves in Oregon – 2012 turned out to be a relatively good year for wolves in Oregon. Conflicts over livestock were kept to a minimum, thanks to diligent management by the state and cooperation from several ranchers who have adopted nonlethal, preventative measures. As a result, the estimated number of wolves increased to 53, including five breeding pairs (see ODFW’s news update). However, all seven confirmed packs are still confined to the northeast corner of the state. Dispersing individuals have yet to establish packs across the vast majority of the state, which means there is still important work to do.
2013 off to a rocky start – Montana’s legislature only convenes every other year, so you’d think they’d have more important business to attend to than figuring out how to kill more wolves. But you’d be wrong. One of the very first bills introduced this year aims to limit the number of wolves in the state to 250. That’s 400 less than the end of year total in 2011 (653), and only 100 more than the scientifically dubious federal minimum (150).
A female wolf follows her nose through the Wood River Valley of central Idaho.
In the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks committee hearing yesterday (find archived video footage here), bill sponsor Ted Washburn (R-Bozeman) trotted out the same old tired arguments about decimated elk herds and impacts on livestock producers that have little basis in reality. He also ignored the fact that Montana is already taking unnecessarily aggressive action to limit wolf numbers statewide. Last year, hunters killed 166 wolves. This year, the state did away with most of its quotas and added trapping to the mix as well. So far, hunter and trappers have killed 146 wolves this season and there are still seven weeks left. In addition, state wildlife managers killed another 103 wolves in 2012 in response to livestock depredations, even though only 99 confirmed losses were reported (which falls below the 5-year average). Montana should be looking for ways to better manage the wolf population that’s already on the ground, not mandating further reductions.
Meanwhile, Idaho Fish and Game Commission will be voting next week to increase funding for wolf-killing in the parts of the state where elk herds are considered “below objective.” Instead of letting nature strike its own balance between predator and prey, the state is proposing to pay USDA’s Wildlife Services to shoot more wolves to attempt to boost elk herds for hunters. Having a federal agency kill America’s native predators to subsidize hunting is not an appropriate use of our nation’s precious resources, especially when more than 400 wolves were already killed in Idaho last year. If you are in the Boise area, please consider testifying at the hearing. It starts at 7pm at Idaho Department of Fish and Game Headquarters, 600 South Walnut St., Boise, ID 83712. If you’re in Idaho and can’t attend the hearing, please contact the IDFG commissioner in your area to oppose hiring federal agents to kill more wolves.
No wolves for RMNP – So much for trying to restore wolves to Rocky Mountain National Park to keep exploding elk populations in check. Park managers didn’t even consider the option, deciding they would rather have sharpshooters do the job. Some of our colleagues in the conservation community took the National Park Service to court to try to force them to reconsider bringing back wolves instead of using sharpshooters. But a federal appeals court decided it was fine for the park to ignore the more balanced option, which also had the potential to bring ancillary ecological and economic benefits as well. As researchers have discovered in Yellowstone, restoring wolves has led to a cascade of positive changes in the ecosystem and booming business for those connected to wildlife tourism. That’s something that sharpshooters will never bring. Read more about the court’s decision in the Denver Post.
Heads up for Washington state wolf supporters – The state is hosting a series of wolf meetings next week, and it’s important that they hear from Washington state residents who support wolf recovery. This is your chance to show your support and to ask the Department to avoid losing more packs under circumstances like those that led to the killing of the Wedge Pack last summer.
January 16 – Center Place Regional Event Center, 2426 N. Discovery Place, Spokane Valley, 6-8pm
January 17 – Office Building #2, at 14th Ave. & Jefferson St., Olympia, 2:30-5pm
January 18 – Magnuson Park’s Garden Room, 7400 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, 6-8pm
Please tell the state officials:
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife needs more focus on nonlethal deterrents to reduce wolf and livestock conflicts.
The state should manage wolves according to the 2012 Washington Wolf Management Plan that was created through broad public involvement.
The Plan acknowledges that wolves are a rare species, endangered in parts of the state, and deserve greater tolerance and consideration than more common species while their population level is so low.
As directed by the Plan, while wolf numbers are so low, they should be managed under the state’s Endangered Species Division and not as Big Game.
If you can’t attend in person, please call or send a note to newly-elected Governor Inslee alerting him to your concerns for wolves in Washington.
Where the Wild Things were – Watch the trailer below for a preview of a new film that our friends at NRDC have commissioned, documenting the cruel and excessive practices of Wildlife Services. We’ll be working together in the coming years to push Congress to reform this broken federal agency that appears to be stuck in the 1930s with its myopic focus on killing America’s native predators.
Anti-wolfers sue Montana commission over Yellowstone closures – As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. Less than a month after Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission voted to close wolf hunting zones near Yellowstone, anti-wolf extremists have convinced a local judge to lift the ban. The groups argued that the state did not provide proper public notice before imposing the restrictions intended to prevent more collared Yellowstone wolves from being killed by hunters. Wolf advocates, tour operators and scientists alike had encouraged commissioners to close hunting zones near Yellowstone Park in order to protect Yellowstone’s iconic and important wolves. We’re urging the state to stand by its decision and maintain the closure near Yellowstone to ensure no more of these valuable wolves are killed. For more information, see Wednesday’s story in the Bozeman Chronicle and yesterday’s press release from FWP. And here’s an op-ed from our friends at Wolves of the Rockies that appeared in the Helena Independent Record, explaining how the modest closures benefit science and tourism:
“These YNP wolves were collared at great effort and expense to provide important information to both the park and the surrounding states for ecological studies, conservation and management purposes. This invaluable data that the Yellowstone Wolf Project provides includes; tracking wolf movements, the study of the wolf-prey dynamic and the ecosystem effects wolves have, reproduction and mortality, obtaining counts, and allow both the park and the states to track the movement of wolves in areas with livestock operations. While these park wolves benefit science they also have a substantial economic effect on businesses surrounding the northern territory of YNP such as; outfitters, hotels, tour guides, restaurants and stores. These include, but are not limited to the towns of Bozeman, Livingston and Gardiner.”
Hunting season closed, predator zone still open in Wyoming – Monday was the last day of Wyoming’s first official wolf hunting season. A total of 43 wolves were killed in the trophy game area, falling short of the established quota of 52. Another 26 wolves have been reportedly killed so far across the rest of the state where they can be killed at anytime by almost any means. According to a recent story from the Casper Star-Tribune, at least 39 more wolves have been killed by wildlife managers in response to reported attacks on livestock. That means more than 100 wolves have been killed this year out of an estimated 230 that live outside of Yellowstone National Park. As biologist Franz Camenzind points out in his recent op-ed in the Casper Trib, losing a projected 62% of the population could result in a “long-term population decline” toward unsustainable levels. Such a steep drop-off could put the population below the 100-wolf threshold that triggers relisting under the Endangered Species Act, leaving wolves right back where they started.
Name: OR-7 (a.k.a., Journey, The Lone Ranger). Age: 3.5 years old. Single male wolf, seeks female companion. Likes deer hunting and long walks in the woods. Dislikes bullets and angry ranchers. Willing to travel great distances for food and mating.
Happy Cali-versary, OR7! – It’s been one year since the lone male wolf known as OR7 made headlines worldwide for crossing into California—the first wolf in the state in almost 90 years. Born in northeastern Oregon, OR7 entered California on Dec. 28, 2011 and has spent nearly all his time in the Golden State ever since. He quickly made his way south, covering hundreds of miles in just a few months. By summer, OR7 had settled into a large area near the edge of Tehama, Butte and Plumas counties, where he still remains. See map here.
While California wildlife managers have been keeping a close eye on him thanks to a GPS tracking collar, there have been very few reported sightings. Fortunately, OR7 has kept his nose clean and stayed out of trouble (i.e., no confirmed livestock attacks). But he’ll eventually need a mate in order for wolves to really recover in California.
Best of (lady) luck in 2013, OR7!
Read more about OR7’s year-long California adventure in the LA Times.