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Cougar kittens evade coyotes at Elk Refuge

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Where's a good tree when you need it?

Two cougar kittens used their climbing skills and a wooden fence to evade five coyotes on the National Elk Refuge near Jackson, Wyo., as shown in a series of photos by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Outdoor Recreation Planner Lori Iverson.

Iverson witnessed a spectacular standoff between two juvenile mountain lions as the coyotes let the cats know they weren’t welcome in the area. The mountain lions sought safety on a buck and rail fence for over an hour while the coyotes lurked in the background.

Here, one of the coyotes has moved in closer. Notice the flattened positions of the mountain lions.

Click here to see the rest of Iverson's photos.

Wolverine, lynx, fishers studied in Montana

WILDLIFE — Montana's big Crown of the Continent wilderness areas are providing fertile ground for research on wolverines, lynx and fishers, as you can read in this Missoulian story.

This research eventually will blend with similar efforts in Idaho and Washington to help get a better profile of the life and needs of these off-the-radar creatures.

Ticks: tiny wolves at work on area moose

WILDLIFE — Hans Krauss, a Spokane Valley wildlife enthusiast and photographer, shot these photos of a bull moose in the Ponderosa neighborhood a few days ago. 

What first caught his eye are the bases of where antlers had fallen off, and where the new antler growth soon will be sprouting.

But my first reaction was, "That poor bugger is infested with ticks."  If the grayish look, and the hair rubbed off in patches including the ears aren't an obvious clue, the engorged ticks on the moose's rump are graphic.

Indeed, Krauss's email with the photos came while I was on the phone conducting an interview with Rich Harris, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist in charge of special big-game species, such as moose. I was researching the decline of moost published for stories published in the Sunday Outdoors section:

I forwarded the photos to Harris, who in turn forwarded the photos to Kristen Mansfield, the state's wildlife veterinarian.  Here are their comments:



…. Would appreciate your ideas. Rich Landers sent me these photos yesterday, nice close up of a bull photographed yesterday. He looks somewhat emaciated to me, and I wonder if this amount of grey color is shedding, old age, ticks, normal end of winter condition, or other? What do you think?

— Rich Harris



The whitish-grayish coloring of the legs is normal.

The thin hair and whitish-grayish coloring in the saddle area, neck, and rump are where he's been scratching at winter ticks. I think you can even see several ticks in his perineal area.

He does look thin, but not really emaciated to me. Kind of what I'd expect this time of year in an animal that appears to have had a miserable winter dealing with lots of ticks.

— Kristen Mansfield

Deer poacher soothes conscience with $6,000 donation

WILDLIFE ENFORCEMENT — Saying he’s been burdened with guilt, an anonymous man has mailed Washington wildlife officials $6,000 to compensate for deer he said he killed illegally – more than 40 years ago.

The man visited one of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department’s Eastern Washington offices a few weeks ago and confessed to an officer that he had killed three whitetail does illegally between 1967 and 1970, officials said Wednesday.

Penalties for poaching antlerless deer can range from $200 to $2,000, but the man’s crimes are well past the statute of limitations.

An officer told the man he could sign up with the agency for volunteer jobs to soothe his conscience, but the man said he lived out of the area.

Last week, a $6,000 check was delivered to the department’s Olympia Headquarters as a donation to the enforcement division, confirmed Mike Cenci, deputy chief.

“This doesn’t happen,” Cenci said. “We do get donations, but if any were related to misdeeds or conscience, we’re not aware of it.”

In a letter with the check, the man, identified only as Roy, wrote:

“My conscience has not allowed me to put this sin to rest until now. I know that God has forgiven me and hope that WDFW will as well.”

Cenci told Northwest Sportsman editor Andy Walgamott that he remains curious:

“I’d like to meet the man, frankly. We all repent in different ways…. I’d ask him, ‘What made you turn the corner?’”

2013-14 Wash. wolf costs estimated at $2.3 million

UPDATED at 3:20 p.m. with clarification on costs provided by WDFW.

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The cost of managing protected wolves in Washington is likely to increase by more than 200 percent from the past two years to about $2.3 million in 2013-14, a state wildlife official told legislators in Olympia this morning.

Dave Ware of the Department of Fish and Wildlife gave the figure for the biennium in his testimony during a public hearing on wolf-related legislation before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

In November, Ware had estimated the state had spent $376,000 by that time in 2012 on wolf management, including $76,500 to eliminate the cattle-killing Wedge Pack in northern Stevens County.

But this morning, Ware said the full-year total from all wolf efforts for 2012 was $750,000.

With the population of wolves growing rapidly — doubling in a year under endangered species protections — the costs will increase as the state is obliged to work with livestock producers, investigate cases of domestic animals and livestock attacked or killed by wolves and dedicate more staff in the field to trapping, researching and monitoring wolf packs.

  • See the report from today's hearing by S-R Olympia Bureau writer Jim Camden, detailing a wolf attack on a dog in a Twisp family's yard.

Lawmakers are considering two bills that would raise funds for wolf programs by creating a wolf-themed vehicle license plate or tapping a surcharge to all personalized license plates.

The agency hopes to avoid robbing money from other wildlife programs to manage the rivival of wolves, Ware said in an interview after his testimony.

“There’s not a lot of support from the hunting community for subsidizing wolf management, at least while wolves are still protected as an endangered species and not open to hunting,” Ware said.

Budgets for big-game programs are larger than the wolf management budget, but the agency is struggling to catch up with big-game monitoring that gives a clear picture of how much the growing wolf populations is impacting their prey base of deer, elk and moose.

See another recap of today's hearing by Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman.  

The NW Sportsman post notes — as many of us have while we observe and report on the historic re-entry of wolves to the region— that conservation groups continue to oppose the killing of wolves. They continue to ignore wolf experts who say wolves must be killed in some situations to help ease the impact to rural people and the social tension, a necessary step that will work in favor of wolves in the long run.

Wolves targets of legislation, bullets, traps, rumors

PREDATORS – Here’s a lengthy update on gray wolf news, issues and activities in the region, including bills being considered this week:


Still alive in Olympia is a bill that could let landowners kill wolves caught in the act of attacking pets or livestock.

Senate Bill 5187, introduced by Sen. John Smith, R-Colville, is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday morning (March 20).

While some conservation groups oppose most measures that involve killing wolves, which are listed as endangered in Washington, state Fish and Wildlife officials tend to support the bill.

Wyoming, Montana and Idaho had similar laws in place between 1995 and 2003, and only three wolves were shot by landowners during those years, said Nate Pamplin, the state’s wildlife division director.  

“There are some positive aspects of this bill,” he told the Seattle Times. While the impact to wolf populations would be negligible, “It can help reduce animosity between ranchers and the government because people will feel like they can protect their property.”

Senate Bill 5193, also introduced by Smith and supported by WDFW, would designate up to $50,000 a year in department funding to compensate ranchers for livestock losses from wolves and tap special license plates receipts for some of the funds.


A bill that could tap a sportsman-funded Idaho Fish and Game Department account and raise money to compensate ranchers and help control wolf damage has been sent to the House floor with a "do-pass" recommendation from the Agricultural Affairs Committee.

House Bill 278 was introduced by Rep. Judy Boyle, a Republican rancher from Midvale.


Among the many wolf sightings reported in the region, some are more credible than others, including the black wolf wearing a collar and running with another wolf west of St. John, Wash., in recent months. The collar was not attached in Washington. It could be from Idaho, but the collar apparently is no longer transmitting so there’s been no confirmation.

The responses I received from Washington and Idaho wildlife biologists offer a little insight into the vaguery of research tools.

“The wolf could be from either Idaho or Montana (or even B.C. I guess),” said Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game Panhandle Regional wildlife manager.

“All of us have plenty of collars that have gone off the air, or dispersed.”

Wolves get around, he said, noting a collared wolf seen in Washington could have originated from Idaho, Oregon, Montana or even British Columbia.

“I did get a call several weeks ago now from a Washington bio about this wolf.  We have not collared any black wolves in this region, but a couple days prior we had reports of two wolf tracks near Windy Bay, on the west side of Lake CDA, so that lends credence to the theory that those two wolves came from/through Idaho. 

“We have four collars active in the Panhandle, three south of I90 and one north of the corridor.”

Glen Hickey, Idaho Fish and Game in Lewiston, emphasized Hayden’s point about wolves getting around.

 “One wolf collared in a study in Unit 10 north of Orofino and was killed by a hunter in unit 39 south of Lowman – third of the wat acorss the state, he said. “Another one collared in the same study area was harvested in Montana near Helena. Given that backdrop, it’s anyone’s guess where that wolf in Washington came from.”

Wolf OR7 came back to Oregon on March 12. The wolf, born and fixed with a GPS collar in Oregon, crossed into California on Dec. 28, 2011.  It was a rock star as the only known wolf in the state.  Back home after more than 14 months, it joins at least 53 other wolves documented in Oregon.


The potential impact of wolves on northeastern Washington game species such as deer and elk will be discussed in a public meeting set by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Wednesday (March 27) in Colville.

The meeting is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Colville Ag Trade Center, 317 West Astor Ave.


The Idaho Clearwater Region’s last wolf trapper education course of the season will be held March 30 in Lewiston. 

Fires planned to boost wildlife habitat

WILDLIFE — Starting as early as Monday, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to ignite controlled burns on parts of two wildlife areas in northeast Washington to reduce wildfire risks and enhance wildlife habitat.

Depending on weather conditions, controlled burns are set for parts of state's Sherman Creek Wildlife Area on the west side of Lake Roosevelt in Ferry County and at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in Okanogan County.
The controlled burns – planned for March, April and May – will cover about 600 acres, and will be conducted on parcels ranging from 15 acres to several hundred acres, said Dale Swedberg, manager of WDFW’s Sinlahekin Wildlife Area. Additional burns are planned for next fall and the spring of 2014.
Swedberg said the burns in both wildlife areas were delayed from last fall, when burn bans followed by heavy rain prompted WDFW to wait until this year, he said.
Read on for more details.

39-year-old black bear ready to emerge from den

WILDLIFE — Minnesota wildlife biologists have a long history with the oldest wild black bear known to be roaming free in the woods (videoed in her den, above).

Tagged No. 56 by researchers in 1981, the the 39-year-old sow is still in her winter den in the Chippewa National Forest.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, No. 56 has outlived virtually all of the 550 black bears the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources collared and tracked in the past four decades.

In addition to the research data, she's also produced about 28 cubs in her lifetime, with her last litter at the twilight age of 25. Nowadays, the old girl is no longer in the mood for parenting or exhaustive courtships, researchers say.

In the summer before denning this winter, No.56 mostly meandered around the forest and took a lot of long naps.  Although she had recently lost some weight and a few teeth, biologists say she’s still in pretty good health.

March is the month bears normally begin emerging from their dens In the Rocky Mountains. Males generally are the first to come out. Sows with cubs usually emerge weeks later.

Video: Take a moment to relax with wildlife

WILDLIFE — Before you launch into another week, pause for a soothing couple of minutes with wintering wildlife accompanied by Kenny G's tenor sax: Courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

IFG offers rules, tips for “shed” hunters

WILDLIFE — It's the shed antler-horn scavenging season.  I hope people who are out hunting for them realize this is a stressful time for wildlife. Moving big game off their wintering areas this time of year can be as deadly as giving them a slow-acting poison.

Some wildlife areas have special access restrictions during late winter and spring.

Here's a shed-hunting Q & A from Idaho Fish and Game:

Q. I want to collect shed antlers, what sort of license do I need and what sort of restrictions are there?

A. You don’t need a license, and the only restrictions are on access and travel on the land. Horn hunters, like other outdoor recreationists, must secure permission to cross or look for antlers on private land, and they must abide by transportation restrictions on federal and state public lands.

Horn hunting typically starts in early spring. Deer, elk and moose shed their antlers over the winter, following the mating seasons.

Pronghorn is the only species with horns to annually shed its horn sheath. Just after mating season, the pronghorn sheds its horns and only the permanent core remains. The horns of bighorn sheep that have died of natural causes also may be recovered but may not be sold, bartered or transferred to another person without a permit from Fish and Game.

Bighorn sheep horns must be permanently marked with a metal pin at an Idaho Fish and Game regional office within 30 days of recovery.

Horn hunters are asked to avoid disturbing animals during winter while they are conserving their resources trying to make it through to spring.

Elk near Fairfield being chased by dog

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Wolves and cougars aren't the only critters posing a threat to the region's elk herds.

Tom and Jane Smith of Spokane Valley were driving southbound on Highway 27 toward Fairfield Tueday around 1 p.m. when Tom reports, "I saw the largest herd of elk I've ever sighted." 

Just north of the Elder Road turnoff, we saw a herd of between 20 and 30 animals—several bulls—being chased by a dog.  They were headed east toward Highway 27 then turned back west.  We lost them in the hills. 

Great to see (not the dog, but the elk).

Wash. lawmakers pass wolf bills out of committee

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Two of several gray wolf-related bills being considered in the 2013 Washington Legislature have passed out of committee and could be considred by the Senate.

Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman has this update on the status of the bills.

Washington wolf packs detailed

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Although Idaho won't be releasing its 2012 year-end gray wolf surveys report until March, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department released its federally required report last week, as we reported.

The details are posted on the agency's gray wolf webpage, but Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman Magazine has compiled this easy-to-read rundown of all the known wolf packs in Washington with updated info.

Animal tracks topic at sportsman’s breakfast

Idaho Fish and Game Department




Breakfast, $7.50 includes tax and gratuity

Lake City Senior Center, 1916 N. Lakewood Dr.

Coeur d’Alene, ID ~ Time – 6:30 AM

Beth Paragamian, Wildlife Education Specialist, will give a presentation on animal tracks.

Stop in for breakfast, have a cup of coffee, and visit with IDFG staff and other sportsmen.

Questions?  Nancy @ 769-1414

Wolf numbers doubled in 2012, Washington report confirms

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  Although the unofficial estimates have been out for weeks, the Washington Fish and Wildlife today confirmed that the number of confirmed gray wolves and wolf packs in the state nearly doubled during the past year.

Based on field reports and aerial monitoring for the annual report, the 2012 survey confirms the presence of at least 51 wolves in nine wolf packs with a total of five successful breeding pairs. The previous year’s survey documented 27 wolves, five wolf packs and three breeding pairs.

A wolf pack is defined as two or more wolves traveling together. A successful breeding pair is defined as an adult male and female with at least two pups that survive until the end of the calendar year.

“The survey shows that our state’s wolf population is growing quickly,” said Nate Pamplin, WDFW wildlife program director. “That growth appears to be the result of both natural reproduction and the continuing in-migration of wolves from Canada and neighboring states.”

Pamplin said the actual number of wolves in Washington state is likely much higher than the number confirmed by the survey, noting that field biologists currently suspect the existence of two additional packs.

In addition, lone wolves often go uncounted and those that range into Washington but den in other states are not included in WDFW’s survey, he said.

Considering those factors, and applying an estimate of the average pack size in other western states, there could easily be as many as 100 wolves in Washington, Pamplin said.

“The survey is the baseline we use to monitor wolves’ progress toward recovery,” he said. “While we’ve stepped up our monitoring efforts significantly over the past year, we recognize that it does not account for every wolf within our state’s borders.”

One of the nine packs represented in the survey is the Wedge pack, which now has two confirmed members in northeastern Washington. Last summer, WDFW eliminated seven members of the pack to end a series of attacks on an area rancher’s cattle that left six calves dead and 10 other animals injured. 

Pamplin said wildlife biologists do not know whether the two wolves living near the U.S.-Canada border in Stevens County are members of the original Wedge pack or whether they are new arrivals from inside or outside the state.

“Either way, we were confident that wolves would repopulate that area,” he said. “We really hope to prevent the kind of situation we faced with the Wedge pack last summer by working with ranchers to use non-lethal methods to protect their livestock.”

The gray wolf is currently listed by the state as an endangered species throughout Washington and is federally listed as endangered in the western two-thirds of the state. Once common, wolves were essentially eliminated in most western states during the past century because they preyed on livestock.

Under the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, wolves can be removed from the state’s endangered species list once 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years among three designated wolf-recovery regions. Four pairs are required in Eastern Washington, four pairs in the North Cascades, four pairs in South Cascades/Northwest Coast and three pairs in any recovery region.

Reports of possible wolf sightings can be made to WDFW’s wildlife reporting line, (877) 933-9847.

Idaho research helicopter targets elk, moose, wolves

WILDLIFE — Helicopters are getting ready to fly for a wide-ranging wildlife research effort in Idaho's Clearwater region.

Idaho Fish and Game Department wildlife biologists are gearing up for helicopter surveys and radio collaring elk, moose and wolves in Big Game Management Unit 10. In the next week or two, they are planning to place collars on 20 calves and 15 adult elk; 20 calves and 7 adult moose; and 10-15 wolves.
This effort is part of a continuing research project on causes and consequences of ungulate mortality. Results from this study will be used to make wildlife management decisions related to wolf-ungulate populations in Idaho, said Jen Bruns, IFG spokeswoman in Lewiston.

Wildlife enthusiast to tell birders why he’s a hunter

HUNTING – “I hunt therefore I am (what)?”

Everyone might have a different word to fill in the blank in that phrase: condemnable, capable, cold-hearted, complete….

Fill in he blank as you see fit, but not before you give me a shot at explaining why an animal lover and wildlife conservationist would chose to be a hunter.

I’ll be giving a program on the topic Wednesday (Feb. 13) for the Spokane Audubon Society’s open meeting, 7:30 p.m., at Riverview Retirement Community, Village Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave.

  • Click here for directions to the meeting location.

Sportsmen are among the most ardent year-round wildlife watchers and they contribute generously to wildlife conservation.

Moreover, animals are delicious.

But those are just a few of many reasons I hunt.

Requiem for Bam Bam, park’s head-butting bighorn

WILDLIFE — Bam Bam, the bighorn sheep whose penchant for butting cars made him an international star, died of natural causes in Wyoming last week.  He was believed to be 12.

Bam Bam was the last of the Wheatland-area Sinks Canyon State Park bighorn herd, surviving a plague of pneumonia that wiped out the park’s sheep population in the middle of the last decade. Friends said he loved a scratch on the ear, Doritos and a good head butt.

I don't post this to support anyone's notion that feeding wildlife is a good idea.  It's lucky no one was hurt by this ram.  But I like the rest of the story as described nicely here by Benjamin Storrow in the Star-Tribune.

Bobcat finds backyard squirrels appetizing

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A Newcastle, Wash., man got a rare daylight view of a bobcat and her kitten in action this week — through his kitchen window.

J.D. Hammerly was able to snap photos of the bobcat squirrel hunting spree in his backyard.

Newcastle is in Western Washington bettween Issaquah and Mercer Island.

Wide-ranging wolverine opened researchers’ eyes

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to list the wolverine as a threatened species is generating more insight into the elusive carnivore.  Even in modern times, wildlife biologists are just documenting the life-history suggested in this quote of the day:

"We put a GPS collar on him and released him there in the Tetons, and he just disappeared. Eventually, he came back to the Tetons and dropped his collar, and we found it. He went down to Pocatello, Idaho, and back to the Tetons in three weeks. It really opened our eyes to how these animals can travel unbelievable distances in a short amount of time."

—Bob Inman,a carnivore biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, about the travels of a male wolverine radio-collared during a decadelong study of the species in Wyoming and Montana.
- Jackson Hole News & Guide

Mountain lions keep wildlife police busy

PREDATORS — Along with citizen complaints about moose, coyotes and other creatures, Washington Fish and Wildlife police were busy responding to a number of cougar-related issues last week. Here are just a few examples from the weekly Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Spokane Region report:

— A cougar roamed Ione during daylight hours, with no fear of people or passing cars. The responding officer called a houndsman who dispatched the cougar, which was examined. It was extremely thing and appeared to be blind. The carcass is at WSU for necropsy.

—Another cougar was sighted near Tiger. The officer called in houndsmen who chased the cougar away from homes in the area. It appeared to be healthy.

— Two officers responded to a complaint and confirmed a cougar had killed a goat. Again a houndsman was called to assist with killing the cougar.

— A reported wolf attack on livestock guard dogs in Whitman County was more likely the work of a cougar, officers said. But the report was a week after the attacks and evidence was inconclusive

Here's the best one — poachers trying to get their cougar mounted as a trophy.

An officer making a routine check on the books of an area taxidermist's ledger grew suspicious of the entry by a man who brought in a large tom. The cougar had been shot in Columbia County in November. On a hunch, the officer wrote down the name of the hunter and decided to look into the details of his hunt.

He verified the cougar was harvested on the same day the cougar tag was bought. Two officers then contacted the subject and got a load of baloney for a while. The man held to his story that he was just a lucky guy to have bought his cougar tag and then shot a cougar just 20 minutes or so later!

But pretty the officers were chiseling away to the truth. The subject later confessed to killing the cougar before he bought his tag, using his friend’s rifle. The subject later stated his friend was paying for the taxidermy work on the cougar because he wanted the cougar in his house.

The officers smelled more problems.

The dug a little more and were able to learn that the original subject friend who shot the cougar without a tag — and he was from Oregon. So he got the original subject to go by a tag and illegally put it on the dead cougar.

The officers bagged a two-fer by pursuing this case.

Video: humorous commercial bears viewing

WILDLIFE — Bear with me on this….

The ability of computer generated animation to mix fantasy with reality is a bit alarming, but also quite humorous in the case of this creative Canadian ad for a clothes washing machine reveals.

Researcher not surprised that grizzly checked out Missoula

WILDLIFE — New kid on the block in Montana …

Data from radio collar tracks Montana grizzly's trek near Missoula

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear manager Jamie Jonkel said he wasn't surprised to learn that a female grizzly bear had traveled on the fringe of Missoula in the fall of 2011, as his department has been predicting the big bruins would be expanding into the area for years. — Missoulian

Skijorers back their dogs at Mount Spokane

WINTER SPORTS —  Learn to ski with dog power in a skijoring clinic Sunday (Jan. 27), 2 p.m., at Mount Spokane State Park.

The Mt. Spokane Skijor Group will teach basic skills and etiquette for the trails that are open to skijorers at designated times twice a week.

Cost: $10, due by Thursday (Jan. 24).

Preregister: Diana Roberts, email dianaroberts21@comcast.net or call (509)570-8242.

Idaho tax checkoff supports non-game wildlife

WILDLIFE  – Idaho residents have a rare chance to support the state’s wildlife when they file state income tax returns.

Check the square to donate any amount of your refund to the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund. State wildlife management for fish and animals is funded by license sales to hunters and anglers. No general taxes go to wildlife programs for fish, game or nongame.

The only two ways to support animals that are not hunted, fished or trapped is by donating on your Idaho income tax form or buying an Idaho wildlife license plate.

Photographer details golden eagle at mealtime

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson came across the king of the Big Skies feasting on roadkill this week.  He has some keen observations:

Did a really nice hike today. We ran into this guy along the way. This is a Golden Eagle. Goldies are often confused with young Bald Eagles.

When young, Bald eagles are also brownish. Two easy ways to determine a Golden Eagle (other than size – Goldens are larger) is the Donald Trump hairdo (notice on the neck) and the long pants.

Goldies have feathers right down to their toes. Bald Eagles wear Capri pants (shins are showing).

Another fun thing with these guys, when they gorge themselves (like this one did), they actually eat too much and can't fly. When disturbed, they scamper along the ground until they find a log or stump to sit on.

Montana debates trapping of threatened wolverines

THREATENED SPECIES — Montana is taking a controversial stand on trapping of wolverines.

Montana FWP says it will oppose federal protection of wolverines

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to propose listing the wolverine as a threatened species next week, a decision that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said they'll oppose because the state has a healthy population of the elusive member of the weasel family.

Court upholds Montana allowing bison to roam free outside Yellowstone

WILDLIFE — Montana's decision to let migrating bison roam freely across 70,000 acres outside Yellowstone National Park was upheld by a court ruling Monday that dismissed a pair of lawsuits filed by ranchers to challenge the policy.

The judge sided with state officials and conservation groups that have sought to ease restrictions on bison movements.

Thousands of bison flood out of Yellowstone during severe winters. In the past, the animals were subject to mass slaughters over fears they could spread the disease brucellosis to livestock.

The slaughters were blocked by former Gov. Brian Schweitzer. But when hundreds of bison were allowed to return to the Gardiner Basin, local officials said they posed a threat to safety and destroyed private property.

In his ruling, Phillips acknowledged the plaintiffs' struggles with bison, but said those were an unavoidable consequence of living in Montana with its abundant wildlife.