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.
The hunt continues – Nearly 300 wolves have been killed by hunters and trappers in the Northern Rockies since the end of August, including the first four wolves that were trapped in Montana. Wyoming’s season will end in ten days while the season in Montana continues through February. Most hunting districts in Idaho are open through the end of March, except two that close on Jan. 31 and two that remain open through June.
Here’s the breakdown of wolves killed so far this year:
Wyoming – 39 wolves hunted; 20 killed in predator zone
We will continue to closely monitor wolf losses, including those wolves being killed once they leave the relative safety of Yellowstone National Park. Defenders applauded Montana commissioners and the governor last week for instating a temporary ban on hunting and trapping near the park, and we’re urging Idaho and Wyoming to do the same. The Bozeman Chronicles agrees with us that creating a buffer zone around the park to protect these iconic animals is the right thing to do:
“If we are to successfully negotiate a coexistence with these predators, knowledge of their behavior is key. It’s in everyone’s interest to understand these animals as much as we possibly can and to minimize wolf-human conflicts. Preserving the Yellowstone National Park population of wolves is critical to achieving that goal.” — Bozeman Daily Chronicle editorial
Don’t forget our senior staff attorney Jason Rylander is scheduled to be on HLN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell show tonight (4:30 p.m. Pacific/7:30 p.m. Eastern) to talk about the loss of Yellowstone wolves. Be sure to check your local cable listings and tune in! The segment will be posted online soon after it airs.
Wolves in Vegas? – Science Daily reports that scientists have discovered evidence that prehistoric wolves once roamed parts of Nevada. Researchers found the foot bone of what appears to be a dire wolf, an Ice Age species that roamed much of the continent until about 10,000 years ago. Dire wolves lived alongside other large mammals like mammoths, camels and saber-tooth cats. The species disappeared for unknown reasons leaving room for modern gray wolves to take over.
’06, a.k.a. 832F, “Queen of the Lamar” was killed by a hunter in Wyoming last week.
Reprieve for YNP wolves in Montana – At least someone out West is listening to the concerns of wolf supporters. Montana wildlife commissioners voted 4-1 this week to temporarily halt hunting and trapping north of Yellowstone National Park. Montana’s decision followed public outcry from wolf enthusiasts and scientists alike, after at least 10 Yellowstone wolves were killed by hunters outside the park. The most recent victim was the alpha female of the Lamar Canyon pack. Known to researchers as 832F and to avid wolf watchers as ’06 (“oh-six”), she was highly visible in one of the most popular areas of the park and became famous worldwide (see tribute from photographer Jimmy Jones). She also wore a GPS-tracking collar that allowed scientists to study her movements and better understand her pack’s behavior.
Unfortunately, wolf opponents are already complaining about efforts to protect Yellowstone’s wolves, so we are encouraging Montana wildlife supporters to thank the commission and Governor Schweitzer for establishing these important closures. Please call or write:
Governor Brian Schweitzer. Governor@Mt.gov Tel: 1.406.444.3111 Fax: 1.406.444.5529
Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks Deputy Director Mike Volesky at 1.406.444.4600
We hope you will join us in thanking the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission for creating a buffer zone around Yellowstone, and we need your help urging them to make it permanent. We’ll also be working with our colleagues in the region to push Idaho and Wyoming to do the same. These wolves are too valuable and important to continue losing them.
Listen to an NPR interview with Yellowstone Wolf Project leader Doug Smith and our own expert Suzanne Stone as they discuss the significance of losing America’s most iconic animals:
Click here to listen to an extended interview about Yellowstone wolves with a panel of experts and advocates that aired on KCRW’s To The Point.
Also, be sure to tune in next week to the Jane Velez-Mitchell show on the HLN network to see our senior staff attorney Jason Rylander talk about the latest developments! The show starts at 4 p.m. Pacific/7 p.m. Eastern, and Jason will be on in the second half hour.
Feeling the heat from all sides – USDA’s Wildlife Services agency continues to receive harsh criticism for its lethal approach to managing wildlife—this time from FOX News and a Republican lawmaker from California. Rep. John Campbell, along with his colleague Peter DeFazio (D-OR), has accused the agency of refusing to cooperate with an investigation of animal abuse. The incident in question involved an employee of Wyoming Wildlife Services who allegedly allowed his dogs to attack a coyote caught in a leg-hold trap he had set. Campbell and DeFazio have called such practices inhumane, and have said taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be spent to kill native wildlife for the benefit of ranchers.
“We believe there’s kind of a pattern here that this has become almost sport to put out these traps,” Campbell continued. “We think there are a lot of non-lethal ways to protect livestock. But instead, they use these leg holes, which are extremely cruel. The animal takes a long time to die.”
Campbell also said he has “increasing evidence” of taxpayer money being used for “private purposes,” including protecting the livestock of four private ranchers.
“I have cattle myself,” Campbell said. “I don’t think it’s the taxpayer’s responsibility to protect my cattle. That’s my responsibility.”
Wolf killed on Spokane reservation – A lone wolf was accidentally killed this week on the Spokane Indian Reservation after getting caught in a trap set for other animals. Though wolves are currently protected as an endangered species under Washington state law, the rules only apply outside of tribal lands. The wolf is believed to be from the Huckleberry Pack, which had at least five pups this summer (see clip from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife).
We’ll be keeping a close eye on wolves in Washington and hopefully working with the tribes to prevent more wolves from being killed unnecessarily.
More wolves under fire in Washington – At the end of last year, there were only five confirmed wolf packs in Washington and an estimated total of 27 wolves. That didn’t stop state wildlife managers from killing the entire Wedge Pack in September and may not stop the Colville tribes from hunting wolves either. King 5 News in Seattle reports that the Confederated tribes of the Colville Reservation are ready to approve wolf hunting on 1.4 million acres in north-central Washington in order to save elk and deer for people to hunt. There are 10 known wolves on these tribal lands, and the tribes are planning to issue permits to kill nine of them. (More here from the Spokesman Review) Killing so many wolves is unjustified, and we hope to be able to work with the tribes to come up with alternatives. With such aggressive actions to kill wolves in Washington, it will be even more important that we have federal protections in place under the Endangered Species Act to ensure long-term wolf recovery across the state.
History of Montana conservation success – Despite ongoing concerns over the recovery of wolves and grizzlies, Montana has made tremendous strides in managing wildlife over the last 50 years. The Billings Gazette reports that populations of gray wolves, grizzly bears, elk, bighorn sheep and bald eagles are all doing much better than they were several decades ago (check out their excellent infographic). Landmark laws like the Endangered Species Act and the Wilderness Act deserve a lot of credit for making conservation a national priority and funneling federal resources into protecting land and wildlife. But the story also recognizes that a grassroots environmental movement that began in the ‘60s helped inspire an entire generation of Americans who fought to defend our natural resources.
Essential, or just iconic? – The debate continued this week over the value of Yellowstone’s wolves. Doug Smith, head of the Yellowstone wolf project, told National Parks Traveler that hunting is unlikely to affect the overall population, biologically speaking. But he reiterated that the loss of collared wolves does hamper research efforts. Further, a beautiful story from Outside Bozeman reminds us that the thrill of getting to see wolves in the wild is reason enough to protect these iconic animals.
Sadly, yet another one of these well-known wolves was killed this week by a hunter 16 miles east of the park. 832F was the alpha female of the Lamar Canyon pack. She was one of the most famous and highly visible wolves in Yellowstone and wore a GPS tracking collar that researchers used to monitor the pack’s behavior. She was also the subject of a short documentary by wildlife filmmaker Bob Landis.
A blow to research and tourism – Why all the attention on Yellowstone wolves when hundreds more are being killed across the region? Yellowstone wolves are not only some of the most iconic members of the species, they have also been the lynchpin of important research studies as well as a magnet for wolf tourism. That’s why both Science magazine and the New York Times reported this week on the loss of at least 10 wolves that frequented the park and were killed just beyond its boundaries. Seven of those wolves wore radio- or GPS-tracking collars that helped biologists monitor their activity and study their behavior. Without those collared animals, researchers will have to rethink their studies or scrap them altogether. In addition, several of the hunted wolves were seen regularly by tourists in popular parts of the park and had achieved near-celebrity status. The loss of those individuals could have a negative impact on wolf watching, a thriving industry that brings tens of millions of dollars to local businesses.
While Yellowstone wolves aren’t necessarily more important to the overall health of the population than wolves elsewhere, they have incredible symbolic value in the hearts and minds of those of us involved with wolf conservation. Yellowstone was one of two sites where wolves were first reintroduced in 1995, and those animals have captured our imaginations ever since. Now, the death of their descendants is revealing the hidden costs of aggressive wolf hunting all across the Rockies. Last year, 545 wolves were killed by hunter and trappers in Idaho and Montana. Wyoming joined the fray this year, and more than 250 wolves have been killed so far with several months of hunting and trapping still to go. When will these states say enough is enough?
Advice for dog owners during trapping season – A letter in the Idaho County Free Press from Stacy Van Steenwyk reminds dog owners why they need to be careful now that trapping season is open. Last year, her yellow lab got its leg stuck in a leg-hold trap one foot off the road while she was out for a walk with some friends. They were unable to get the trap and had to rush her dog to the vet to get it removed. Her advice is that other dog owners should be prepared to do the same.
Pups from Oregon’s Wenaha Pack. Photo courtesy of Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife.
Mixing it up –Last week, Ecotrope reported that Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has evidence that wolves from the Imnaha and Wenaha packs are interbreeding. Wolves often disperse from their packs in search of mates and end up with new packs, but this is the first time the behavior has been confirmed in the state’s budding wolf population. Cool!
Federal scientists may also be ready to declare a new species of wolf, according to a story in USA Today. A survey of recent genetic evidence suggests that “Eastern wolves,” found today only in Canada, may be a distinct species rather than a subspecies of gray wolf. What’s the difference? Eastern wolves mate with both gray wolves and coyotes, whereas gray wolves often kill coyotes.