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California to consider listing wolf endangered

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  A state board is considering endangered species status for the gray wolf endangered species status, giving it a chance at returning to California in significant numbers after a decades-long hiatus.

Just one wolf from Oregon has been tracked in recent years crossing into Northern California, renewing interest in returning the species to a thriving population. The California Fish and Game Commission will vote on giving the wolf legal protections at a meeting in Ventura.

Advocates such as Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity are hopeful for the wolf’s return.

“There’s already one wolf here,” Greenwald said Tuesday. “It’s not going to be long until there’s more.”

Ranchers remain opposed to the wolf’s reintroduction.

“Wolves directly kill livestock and in addition to that they can cause disease and other harm from stress,” such as weight loss in animals, said Kirk Wilbur, director of government relations for the California Cattlemen’s Association.

The last gray wolf in California was killed in 1924, clearing mountain ranges for cattle herds and other valuable livestock that fall prey to wolves.

Yet if the gray wolf is listed, ranchers not only couldn’t kill animals on their property, they couldn’t even chase them off, Wilbur said.

“If I see a wolf attacking one of my calves, I can’t do anything about that,” Wilbur said.

Nationally, wolves were near extinction not long ago. They were reintroduced with federal protections in the 1980s and ’90s, Greenwald said.

Wolves now occupy large parts of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and the Great Lakes.

Federal protections have ended in those two regions, and there is a pending proposal to lift protections across much of the remaining Lower 48 states.

In 2008, a pack started moving into Oregon. That’s when the wolf now drawing interest for hopscotching into California became known as OR-7 — he was the seventh Oregon wolf fitted with a GPS tracking collar. 

Video: motorist sees elk herd from wolf’s perspective

UPDATED April 10 with background about video, which went viral after the initial posting. 

WILDLIFE — Watch this video of a massive elk herd crossing a road near Bozeman, Mont., and envision which of these critters you'd zero in on if you were a predator.

Read on for the story behind the video.

 

 

Top illegal wildlife dealer in state gets slap on wrist

POACHING — Mercy. The value of wildlife seems to have gone down the tubes with a relatively light sentence in Western Washington last week.

"A Tacoma man described as 'one of the largest illegal wildlife traffickers in Washington state history' was sentenced Friday to 30 days of community service and 60 days’ home detention for selling deer, elk and sturgeon in violation of state law," the Tacoma News-Tribune reports.

See the story, and shake your head.

Counting wolves expensive; there must be a better way

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Under the endangered species regulations governing gray wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies, states must monitor wolf numbers and file annual status reports on wolf populations and packs.

  • See stories about the latest wolf status reports for six states, including Idaho, Montana and Washington.

Federal authorities review the reports to ensure wolves are being properly managed above standards that could trigger relisting as an endangered species. 

Monitoring and reporting wolf status an expensive task that's been funded mostly by the federal government.  But as the federal funding dries up, state's are looking at how to bring monitoring into fiscal reality.

Researchers from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the University of Montana on Friday released preliminary results of a new technique for estimating wolf numbers to produce a less expensive and more accurate population assessment.

The typical method used to document the state's wolf population focuses on ground and aerial track counts, visual observations, den and rendezvous confirmation and radio collaring to count individual wolves as required by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Montana's new approach: From 2007 through 2012, a team of 11 researchers to determine the number of gray wolves in Montana by estimating the:

  1. Areas occupied by wolves in packs;
  2. Number of wolf packs by dividing the occupied area by average territory size; and
  3. Numbers of wolves by multiplying the number of estimated packs by average annual pack size.

For instance, population modeling for Montana's wolves in 2012—where actual counts verified a minimum of 625 wolves and 147 packs—predicted that 804 wolves and 165 packs inhabited the state. Similar estimates are not yet available for 2013.

The typical method used by states produces a minimum number of wolves that can be verified, leaving biologists to say they believe there are actually more wolves in the field.  The new Montana method seeks to give a more accurate number.

"This new approach is not only good science, it's a practical way for Montana to obtain a more accurate range of wolf numbers that likely inhabit the state," said Justin Gude, FWP's, chief of research for the wildlife division in Helena

Montana wolf population estimates were derived for the years 2007 through 2012 via a mix of rigorous statistical evaluations; wolf observations reported by recreational hunters during the annual hunter-harvest surveys; and Montana's annual wolf counts.

Results generally estimate a Montana wolf population 25-35 percent higher than the verified minimum counts submitted over the six-year period.

Rockies wolf packs holding strong despite hunting, trapping

UPDATED: 5:20 p.m.

PREDATORS — Gray wolves are maintaining a strong presence in Idaho despite stepped up hunting and trapping seasons plus other measures to control their numbers, according to the 2013 Idaho wolf status report released today by the state Fish and Game Department.

In addition, Montana reported its 2013 population of at least 627 wolves remained statistically unchanged from the 625 counted in 2012.

Washington as well as Oregon already have reported expansion of their wolf populations.  

A minimum of 1,691 wolves roamed the six-state region at the end of 2013, according to figures compiled and released today by state and federal agencies. That’s little changed from the prior year despite continued political pressure from hunters and ranchers who want the population significantly reduced to lower management goals.
 
Highlights from the Idaho report documenting wolf status as of Dec. 31, 2013, include:\
  • Number of wolves:  At least 659.
  • Documented packs:   At least 107, down from 117 at the end of 2012 but still the second highest number since reintroduction.
  • New packs: At least seven.
  • Border packs: At least 28 documented border packs overlapping with Montana, Wyoming and Washington.
  • Reproducing packs: At least 49. Of those, 20 qualified as breeding pairs at the end of the year.
  • Pack size: 5.4 (mean), down from 8.1 average during the three years prior to the 2009 opening of hunting seasons.
  • Wolves killed: 356 by hunters and trappers and 94 by control efforts in response to wolf-livestock depredation. At least 16 wolves died from other human-related causes and 7 were found dead from unknown reasons.
  • Confirmed wolf depredations: 39 cattle, 404 sheep, four dogs and one horse. Another seven cattle, nine sheep, and one dog were considered probable wolf kills.

Idaho posted its report on the deadline required of Northern Rockies states involved in the federal endangered species recovery programs.

Read on for an Associated Press story, April 4, 2014, on the regional wolf status reports with reaction from various groups and experts.

Wildlife biologists fly with “six pack” of bighorns

WILDLIFE — Wildlife researchers captured and tested about 40 bighorn sheep in Asotin County in February for an ongoing study into diseases that can cause dieoffs in the species.

Wildlife biologist Paul Wik captured this image, which shows the efficiency of minimizing the number of helicopter trips to get t he sheep to the testing site for processing before they were released.

Bird dog club invites public to training day

HUNTING — The Spokane Bird Dog Association is inviting hunters to bring their dogs to a training day, which includes expert help for all breeds, starting Saturday at 8 a.m., at the Espanola training grounds managed by the club west of Medical Lake. 

This session will be geared more to pointers, but retrievers are welcome. Pointers and retrievers will be split into separate groups.

The public is invited to bring hunting dogs of any age or level of training. Cost: $5.

Unleashed dogs pose threat to winter-weary wildlife

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Deer and elk will need another few months to regain their strength from the rigors of surviving the winter, and they don't need any setbacks from loose-running dogs.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is reminding pet owners that dogs must be on a leash in Idaho wildlife management areas.   

A recent check found 80 percent of visitors to the 53-square-mile Boise River Wildlife Management Area violate a 4-year-old law requiring dogs to be on leashes while in the state's wildlife management areas.  
 
Agency spokeswoman Krista Mueller says now is a critical time for mule deer, elk, pronghorn and their young to survive to the end of the winter and early spring.  
 
She says wildlife forced to move out of the area because of roaming pets use up fat reserves needed to get them through the next several weeks.
 
  • Shed hunters also pose a threat of disturbance to deer still on their winter ranges.

Is Idaho wolf policy inviting court challenges?

PREDATORS — Last week, on the last day of the 2014 Idaho legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill to create a state Wolf Depredation Board that will work to control the growth of wolf populations in the state.

The bill creates a $400,000 fund and establishes a five-member board that will authorize the killing of wolves that come into conflict with wildlife or livestock. The money comes from the state's general fund, and will be augmented by fees on sportsmen and the livestock industry.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is expected to sign the bill into law. Otter had sought $2 million in the wolf fund.

"We are of one mind, that Idaho wants to manage our wolves and we want to manage them to a reasonable number so that the species don't get endangered again and the feds don't come in and take it over again," Otter said Friday.

Conservation groups opposed the bill, saying it will lead to the killing of hundreds of wolves.

The board will be appointed by Otter and will include representatives of the agricultural, livestock and hunting communities. The bill does not require any members of the board to represent the wolf conservation community, noted said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Idaho Statesman columnist Rocky Barker covered the first court-related setbacks to wolf management in Idaho a few years ago, and he's wondering if the state's tough-guy actions regarding wolves might trigger another confrontation with a federal judge that's tough on the law: 

Idaho's recent actions provide basis for groups' request to again protect wolves
Recent actions of the Idaho Legislature and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter appear to put the state on the path to a goal of 10 breeding pairs or 150 wolves, and national groups are gearing up for a court challenge to get wolves put back on the federal protected list. A column —Idaho Statesman

Wolves biting Twisp dog not considered ‘attack’

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  A pet bulldog was injured by two wolves Tuesday morning outside a home at Twisp.

A resident heard her dogs barking, went outside and saw the two wolves on her bulldog. They ran away when she yelled.

State Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Dan Christensen tells The Wenatchee World the dog suffered bite marks to its neck and back.

Christensen says the wolves were forcing the bulldog to submit. If it had been an attack over food or territory, the wolves could have easily killed the dog.

Lawmakers pressure Jewell to keep wolf protections

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Federal lawmakers pressed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Wednesday to drop the administration’s plan to end federal protections for gray wolves across most of the Lower 48 states.

Seventy-four House members signed onto a Wednesday letter to Jewell that cited a peer-review panel’s recent conclusion the government relied on unsettled science to make its case that the wolves have sufficiently recovered.

Gray wolves were added to the endangered-species list in 1975 after being widely exterminated in the last century. The wolves repopulated the Yellowstone Park region as well as into Idaho, Wyoming and Montana faster and in greater numbers that federal biologists had predicted.

 Protections already have been lifted for rebounding populations of the predators in the northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have said wolf recovery is complete and turned over management of the wolves to states, such as Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. These states have begun "managing" the wolves by allowing hunting and trapping seasons to reduce wolf numbers and balance them with the amount of available prey.

Read on for a version of the story coming from the Associated Press.

Liberal hunting rules barely boost Montana wolf kill

PREDATORS — Here's a Montana wolf hunting status report:

Montana's changes to wolf hunting season don't raise success rate
Despite higher limits for wolf hunters and an extended hunting season in Montana this winter, hunters and trappers in the Big Sky State took just five more wolves this past season than the year before, with hunters bagging 144 wolves, trappers taking 86, and federal wildlife officials and private landowners killing 70 wolves.
— Billings Gazette 

Idaho approves scaled back wolf-control measure

PREDATORS — Although it's down from the initially proposed $2 million plan to protect livestock and reduce the number of wolves on Idaho's landscape, the state legislature has just voted to earmark $400,000 to the cause.  

See The S-R's Eye on Boise blog by Betsy Russell.

Wolves hot topics, targets this week

PREDATORS — Wolves are in the news and on the agenda this week

In Idaho today:

Idaho’s Senate Resources and Environment Committee scheduled a hearing of House Bill 470, legislation authorizing Gov. Otter’s “Wolf Control Board,”  today, March 14, at 1:30 p.m. (MDT).  Today, the committee will vote on whether to send HB 470 to the Senate Floor.  Stream the hearing LIVE Here.

In Montana:

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission on Thursday adopted regulations to implement a law that allows landowners to shoot threatening wolves on sight, without a hunting license. Senate Bill 200, which passed last year, allowed landowners to kill wolves that threaten their property without having to buy a permit or hunting license. Commissioners determined wolves were a “potential threat” when they were threatening people, pets, or livestock on private property. Landowners have 72 hours to report such kills to the agency. 

In Idaho/Oregon

Collared wolf OR-17 leaves Oregon, where it was protected, crossed into Idaho and was legally shot by a hunter. See story

In Washington

State biologists spays wild wolf after romp with loose dog. See story.

Photos: River otters thriving in Kettle River

WILDLIFE WATCHING — "I had a rare treat today (March 13)," says J. Foster Fanning of Curlew. "Came across a family of four river otters enjoying the warm, late winter's afternoon and nearly ice-free Kettle River upstream from Curlew, Wash.

"While they were curious about the photographer, they were also shy. Took a bit to get a few good images.”

Click "continue reading" to see his treat multiply. 

Oregon releases wolf status report: numbers up, packs down

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has documented a minimum of 64 wolves in eight packs, including four breeding pairs for 2013, compared with 46 wolves in six packs with six breeding pairs in 2012.

The survey results are in the just-released final 2013 Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Annual Report , which includes the 2013 update for Oregon’s Wolf Population

Oregon has added a research section to the wolf webpages. Wolf photos from 2013 and 2014 have been added to Oregon's wolf photo gallery.

  • On Saturday, Washington's 2013 wolf status report was released citing a minimum of 52 wolves in 13 wolf packs with five successful breeding pairs. 
  • Idaho has not yet released its annual report.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires the state reports to be filed on the recovery of the endangered species by the first week of April.

 

NYT op-ed writer pleads for balance on assessing impact of wolves

WILDLIFE WATCHING — In the past week, readers have forwarded me several stories and videos, such as the one above, glamorizing the benefits gray wolves have provided in restoring the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park since the species was reintroduced in 1995.

The information has been well reported for years and the video is basically correct, according to scientists. And for the record, I am fascinated by wolves, too.

But when the glorification of the wolf is digested alone without the salad and the side dishes of other research and realities, it can lead to indigestion, regurgitation and a less than healthy oversimplification in the public arena.

So let's thank the New York Times for giving another scientist a chance this week to call time out and feed all of us who are interested in wolves from one angle or another some food for thought

Associated Press gets C-minus grade for wolf status reporting

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Seattle Bureau of the Associated Press copied a line from a Defenders of Wildlife news release into the lead of a Saturday story that robbed the public of balanced reporting on wolf recovery  — a hot topic — in Washington.

Shortly after Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officials announced on Saturday that they'd confirmed "four new wolf packs" and "steady growth" of the state's wolf population, the Defenders of Wildlife issued a press release referring to the WDFW announcement. The Defenders twisted the state's survey and called Washington's wolf population "stable."  

The animal rights group correctly pointed out that the wildlife officials had CONFIRMED 52 individual wolves in the state.

But then the Defenders invented the phrase, "an increase of one individual wolf," which the WDFW officials did not say, but the Associated Press used in the story lead as though it were a fact from the state.

What wildlife officials DID say is that they cannot count every wolf in the wild so they're no longer going to try, as they did last year when they estimated the population at 50-100 wolves.  

The number 52 is a minimum figure they could confirm at the end of 2013.   But to say 52 is "an increase of one" from last year's estimate is fabricated by the Defenders, an organization that benefits politically and financially from convincing the public that wolf recovery is slow or not happening.

AP Seattle Bureau writer Phuong Le further confuses the issue later in the story by pointing out CORRECTLY that WDFW in 2013 had estimated the wolf population at 50-100 individuals.

So why did she say this year's estimate is an increase of 1?  Because Defenders did.

God only knows why the reporter used the material from a special interest group in her lead rather than the information from the WDFW. There was PLENTY of information the state biologists released regarding the status of wolves in Washington to make an good story — which The Spokesman-Review published, but the AP ignored.

Perhaps the worst part about the story is that it goes on to quote reactions from two out-of-state-based pro-wolf groups — Defenders and the Center for Biological Diversity — without a single mention of in-state livestock or sportsmen's groups that might have balanced the story a bit.

The reason:  The two pro-wolf groups sent press releases (I got them, too).  

In my view, the reporter of a news story on the event at hand either should have sought more than one side of the wolf recovery story, or she should have stuck with the info coming from the scientists and worked to get the broader reaction later.

Groups that weigh in heavily regarding the impacts of wolf management did not send out press releases and thus were left out — as if they're not there.  That's a poor service to the readers of the many news outlets throughout the Pacific Northwest that had access to that story on the AP wire.

Read on for the full AP story.

Map shows wide range of wolves radio-collared in Washington

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The map graphic above shows how some Washington wolves range far while others keep fairly small home ranges.

I detailed the the relevance of Ruby Creek Wolf 47, which was captured in Pend Oreille County and fitted with a GPS collar last year by Washington Fish and Wildlife Department biologists to monitor its movements.

The wolf was one of 11 wolves with active transmitters that were followed by state researchers in 2013 and provided the travel information summarized in the map graphic above.

The collared wolves, among other things, helped the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirm four new wolf packs in the state, bringing the total number to at least 13.

Wolves are protected in Washington by state endangered species rules. But several of the wolves that have taken off from Washington to range widely into Canada have been legally shot during hunting seasons authorized in British Columbia.

Recent outdoors stories in the Spokesman-Review

Video: Wolf attacks and packs away pet dog from yard in B.C.

PREDATORS — If you've ever wondered what it looks like when a wolf decides somebody's pet dog is going to be dinner, here you go.

Warning: While its not gory, the video is unsettling.

Question:  Are you comfortable with the modern world of videoing, posting and "sharing" tragedies rather than picking up a rock and trying to help the world's underdogs?

Another sign of spring: Grizzlies emerging

WILDLIFE WATCHING — If you need more reassurance that spring has sprung, Yellowstone National Park officials have reported that grizzly bears are beginning to emerge from their dens.

First bears out of the hatch usually are males.  Females with cubs born in the den during winter usually are last out, giving the cubs more chance to develop.

Grizzly bears are emerging from hibernation in the Greater Yellowstone Area, so hikers, skiers and snowshoers are advised to stay in groups of three of more, make noise on the trail and carry bear spray.

The first confirmed reports of grizzly bear activity in the Park were reported on March 4. Guides and visitors observed and photographed a grizzly bear along the road in the Hayden Valley area. The first black bear of the year was observed on February 11 near the south end of the park.

Bears begin looking for food soon after they emerge from their dens. They are attracted to elk and bison that have died during the winter. Carcasses are an important enough food source that bears will sometimes react aggressively when surprised while feeding on them.

Updated bear safety information is available on the Yellowstone bear safety Web page.

While firearms are allowed in the park, the discharge of a firearm is a violation of park regulations. The park’s law enforcement rangers who carry firearms on duty rely on bear spray, rather than their weapons, as the most effective means to deal with a bear encounter.

Visitors are also reminded to keep food, garbage, barbecue grills and other attractants stored in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof food storage boxes. This helps keep bears from becoming conditioned to human foods, and helps keep park visitors and their property safe.

Video cam captures spectrum of critters in Stevens County

WILDLIFE WATCHING — How many species of critters will pass the lens of a trail camera positioned at one spot in Stevens County, Wash.?

You'll be surprised.

Keep your eye open for the bobcat.

Idaho kills 23 wolves from helicopter this month in Lolo Zone

PREDATORS — Idaho Fish and Game, in cooperation with the USDA Wildlife Services, killed 23 gray wolves from a helicopter near the Idaho-Montana border during February in an effort to relieve predation on the struggling elk herds in the remote Lolo Zone.

The agency said in a just-issued media release that the wolf-control effort has been completed.

"The action is consistent with Idaho’s predation management plan for the Lolo elk zone, where predation is the major reason elk population numbers are considerably below management objectives," the agency said in the release.

In addition to the animals killed in this control action, 17 wolves have been taken by hunters and trappers in the Lolo zone during the 2013-14 season – 7 by hunting and 10 by trapping, officials said. 

The trapping season ends March 31, the hunting season ends June 30.

Fish and Game estimates there were 75 -100 wolves in the Lolo zone at the start of the 2013 hunting season with additional animals crossing back and forth between Idaho and Montana and from other Idaho elk zones.  Officials said their goal is to reduce that Lolo zone wolf population by 70 percent.

The Lolo elk population has declined from 16,000 elk in 1989 to roughly 2,100 elk in 2010, when Fish and Game last surveyed the zone.

The Lolo predation management plan is posted on the Fish and Game website.

This is the sixth agency control action taken in Lolo zone during the last four years.  A total of 25 wolves were taken in the previous five actions.

Fish and Game officials say they authorize control actions where wolves are causing conflicts with people or domestic animals, or are a significant factor in prey population declines.  Such control actions are consistent with Idaho’s 2002 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Idaho Legislature, they say.

More from IFG:

Fish and Game prefers to manage wolf populations using hunters and trappers and only authorizes control actions where harvest has been insufficient to meet management goals.  The Lolo zone is steep, rugged country that is difficult to access, especially in winter.

 Restoring the Lolo elk population will require liberal bear, mountain lion, and wolf harvest through hunting and trapping (in the case of wolves), and control actions in addition to improving elk habitat.  The short-term goals in Fish and Game’s 2014 Elk Plan are to stabilize the elk population and begin to help it grow.

Helicopter crews are now capturing and placing radio collars on elk, moose, and wolves in the Lolo zone in order to continue monitoring to see whether prey populations increase in response to regulated wolf hunting, trapping and control actions.

Five wolves collared this week in Eastern Washington

WILDLIFE — It's been a good week for Washington Fish and Wildlife researchers working with a helicopter to capture wolves so they can be fitted with tracking collars.

At least five wolves were captured and released from Monday through Thursday. Two were in the Ione area of northeastern Washington and three were captured Thursday on the east slopes of the Cascades.

Donny Martorello, WDFW carnivore manager, said the effort to collar more wolves so they can be monitored for wolf research will continue into next week.

Wildlife refuge cameras catch cats in the act of poaching

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A Florida research project on endangered species in the hammocks of North Key Largo uncovered an unwanted cast of video stars: Cats perched atop man-made woodrat nests.

"The cats are doing the things that cats do when they hunt," Jeremy Dixon, manager of the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge says in a story by KeysInfoNet.

"It's not the fault of the cats," Dixon said. "It's the fault of owners who allow their cats to trespass into the refuge, or people who dump cats on North Key Largo."

My stand on the issue of domestic cats that are let loose to kill birds and other critters:

Loose-running domestic cats kill for fun. These cats are not wildlife. They should be licensed and required to abide by seasons and quotas just as human hunters.

 

Girl, 11, kills cougar that trailed her brother

UPDATED: 3:15 p.m., Feb. 26 with info about increase in cougar permits.

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — An 11-year-old girl shot a cougar that was following her 14-year-old brother to their home at Twisp, in north central Washington, the state Fish and Wildlife Department said.

You've got to admire Shelby White: Not only did she have a cougar tag, but she put it to good use.

And get this: Her 9-year-old brother shot a cougar threatening their livestock the previous week.

Read the latest story here.

The female cougar killed last week was about 4 years old and weighed about 50 pounds — half of what it should weigh, said Officer Cal Treser.

It's the latest in a rash of cougar incidents in the Methow Valley this season.

Another sickly cougar was killed this month at a residence in Stehekin.

In response to an above-average number of cougar-related complaints in the Methow Valley, three hunters were issued special permits by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife last week to hunt cougars with hounds in a designated area.

The cougar removal hunt opened Feb. 15 and will continue through March 31, or until it is closed by state wildlife officials, said Donny Martorello, WDFW carnivore section manager.

Looks like one straight-shooting girl did a little of the work for them.

Click "continue reading" for more news about this unusual season of cougar issues and kills in the Methow Valley, including the saga the White family has had.

Weather prime for low-flying wildlife researchers

WILDLIFE RESEARCH — The region's wildlife researchers are flying high — and low — with this week's weather.

The big dump of snow followed by clear weather is perfect for using helicopters to locate and capture critters so transmitter collars can be attached for research.  Fleeing animals bog down in the snow giving the pilot and gunner the best conditions for capture.

Methods used include shooting tranquilizer darts directly from the helicopter to the animal in a low-flying chase or shooting a net from the helicopter before landing and administering the drug after subduing the animal.

Washington Fish and Wildlife staffers took advantage of the weather Monday to recapture a female wolf near Ione to replace a faulty collar that had been attached after the wolf was trapped in July. On Tuesday they caught another female wolf in the same area and attached a collar. The staffers are working to put collars on other wolves in these prime conditions.

Idaho is scrambling to get more collars on elk in the Coeur d'Alene River drainage this week for a large-scale study.

Sickly cougar incident at Stehekin prompts social media blitz

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The Wenatchee World story about a Stehekin homeowner who ended up having to shoot a sickly cougar acting aggressively on his porch has become the newspaper's most widely circulated story on social media.

A Facebook post that was originally put up by Robert C. Nielsen and reposted with permission by The Wenatchee World has been viewed more than 1.5 million times, with comments, likes and shares coming from around the world, the newspaper reports in a story picked up by the Associated Press.

Here's the rest of the AP version of the World story by Michelle McNiel explaining the incident and some of the reaction.

Nielsen, a resident of the remote community at the head of Lake Chelan, first posted pictures and a write-up about his encounter with the big cat last week. He said he got up to let his dog outside on the night of Feb. 10. Just after bringing his dog, Maya, back inside, he heard a thump at the door and saw a cougar jumping against the glass pane outside.

He wrote that the cougar was "all jumping up and down, snarling and growling and pawing to the very top of the glass . without exposed claws."

He got a gun and a camera, and then went upstairs and dropped a coffee cup on the cat’s head. "It didn’t flinch," he wrote.

He then fired two warning shots next to it. But it stayed. So he "switched weapons up a grade, in case it broke the window and came in," he said.

The cougar then left the door step and headed to Nielsen’s shop. He said he fired four more shots but, "It didn’t even look back."

Nielsen wrote that in his 34 years in Stehekin, he’s seen only four cougars - two sick ones and two healthy ones.

"It doesn’t take a loud noise to start a healthy cougar moving, most of the time," he said. "More like, you’d be lucky to see a healthy cougar, so fast do they disappear if surprised."

He didn’t see the cat anymore that night. But the next morning before heading to work, he went into his shop to get gloves.

"The shop door was left open to air out fumes," he wrote. "I rounded in, noticed briefly a new layer of mess on the floor, and was met by Little Miss Snarly Puss! She was hunkered down part way under a cabinet."

He continued that, "She did her best to eat through a tool bucket, destroying my knee pads, eating the rubber grip off a cordless tool, and generally not getting any satisfaction. Lots of growling and snarling going on in there while I backpedaled and slammed the door shut."

As he continued to work, he met two other Stehekin residents, who offered to kill the cat for him. After the cat was shot, they discovered that it was severely underweight, had many broken and lost teeth, and was covered in open sores on its body.

Nielsen’s story and photos have gone viral in the world of social media. In addition to the 1.5 million-plus visits, the post on The World Facebook page had 76,896 likes and was shared by 13,424 people.

One of the shares was to the social news and entertainment website, Reddit, where it had been viewed several hundred thousand times by Wednesday afternoon.

Comments ranged from astonishment about a cougar being in close proximity to people, to sympathy for the dead animal.

"Where the hell do you people live for cats like this to just show up on your doorstep," one person commented.

"As a New Zealander, this absolutely amazes me," wrote another. "The best I get is the neighbour’s cat looking like it wants a pat, and then freaking out as soon as I open the door."

One commenter wrote, "I live in Egypt. Worst I’ve ever seen is a cat-sized rat in Cairo."

Wolf baiting in Panhandle hunting proposals to be presented Thursday

HUNTING — A proposal to allow hunters to use bait in luring wolves in the Idaho Panhandle is among numerous 2014 big-game season proposals geared to reviving elk populations statewide.

The Idaho Fish and Game Department will hold an open house meeting to explain and take comment on the package of proposals 4:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 27, at an open house at the Best Western Coeur d’Alene Inn, 506 W. Appleway Ave.