PREDATORS – The number of wolves in Yellowstone National Park declined about 23 percent in 2009, a change park biologists say is typical of natural fluctuations for wildlife species.
Yellowstone’s wolf population dropped from 124 in 2008 to about 96 in 2009. Biologists say wolves killing each other, malnutrition and mange are the likely reasons for the decline. A similar decline of 24 percent was reported for the 2007-2008 period.
However, the regionwide number of gray wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho remained stable from 2008 to 2009 at about 1,650, Montana officials say.
The regional tally was included in court documents filed in January in a case in which environmentalists are trying to overturn the loss of federal protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are still compiling wolf census figures from the Rocky Mountain states for an annual report they expect to release in early March.
Staff and wire reports
Record pygmy whitefish caught
FISHING – Russ Geldrich of Kalispell caught a Montana state record specimen from a diminuitive species on Feb. 13 in the Little Bitterroot Lake while he was fishing for kokanee.
The .36-pound (5.76-ounce), 9.84-inch-long pygmy whitefish was certified last week by the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department.
The pygmy whitefish is a native fish that lives near the bottom of northwestern Montana lakes, including Ashley and Flathead. The previous record was 0.23 pounds.
Staff and wire reports
Officials report on PDO fishery
FISHING – The Lake Pend Oreille Fishery Recovery Task Force and the Idaho Fish and Game Department have scheduled a “State of the Lake” public meeting to discuss the status of fish populations on Saturday, 9 a.m.-noon at the Ponderay Events Center near Bonner Mall north of Sandpoint.
A question period will follow the presentations summarizing the 2009 Angler Incentive Program, lake trout netting and telemetry projects and the status of kokanee and bull trout populations.
Info: (208) 769-1414.
Friends lead hikes in Scotchmans
WILDERNESS – A winter series of free guided group hiking trips continues Saturday with a moonlight trek in the Blue Creek area north of Lake Pend Oreille, led by the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.
The trips are designed to introduce people to a proposed wilderness that straddles the Montana-Idaho border.
Sign up by e-mail email@example.com or call (208) 290-1281.
For details on other hikes scheduled on weekends into April, go to scotchmanpeaks.org
Teton bighorns near extinction
WILDLIFE – Wyoming scientists say the roughly 100 animals in the Teton Range bighorn sheep herd are nearing extinction.
The herd used to migrate every winter from the high peaks of the Tetons to lower, warmer climes. But biologist Aly Courtemanch says that migration stopped after about 1950, perhaps as human development and domestic sheep grazing increased in the lower elevations.
Researchers looking for ways to help the isolated sheep are using GPS devices and recruiting backcountry skiers to help study how the herd survives through harsh temperatures and sparse winter habitat.
Sage grouse protection urged
WILDLIFE – Idaho has entered an agreement with the federal government to give landowners protection and incentive for protecting sage grouse and their habitat in a southwest corner of the state.
The agreement is hailed by federal wildlife officials as the first of its kind for a bird being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
The accord signed recently would give landowners who voluntarily adopt habitat restoration measures protection from future regulations if the chicken-sized bird is granted endangered status.
For now, the incentives apply only to landowners in four Idaho counties, but similar programs are being considered in other western states.
Bear buffer zone set in Missoula
WILDLIFE –The Missoula City Council recently approved a “bear buffer zone” requiring residents living in certain areas to use bear-resistant containers or limit the times their garbage is outside and accessible to bears.