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Utah condor chick lost; AZ chicks soaring

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Endangered California condors appear to be two-for three this year in efforts to recover the endangered species to historic range in Arizona and Utah.

While no carcass has been spotted or found, biologists following the first documented California condor chick hatched in Utah have reluctantly conceded that the rare raptor has died, reports Brett Prettyman of the Salt Lake Tribune.

“The loss of Utah’s first chick is a hard reminder that critters have a tough go of it in the wild. It’s just a shame that we weren’t able to recover a carcass to examine what might have provided clues as to the cause of death,” said Chris Parish, condor program director for The Peregrine Fund.

National Park Service, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Peregrine Fund biologists also confirmed the existence of the chick without actually seeing it this past spring, based on the behavior of the adult pair.

Here are details from Prettyman's report:

Condors 337 (male) and 409 (female) displayed enough courtship and chick feeding behavior in the spring to give the biologists enough confidence to say a chick had hatched in a remote nest cave high on a cliff in Zion National Park.

Behaviors the adults are displaying now are a major reason the biologists elected to declare the chick as deceased. The adults remain in Zion National Park, but are not returning to the nest or delivering food.

The chick was expected to leave the nest for its first flight sometime in November. Condors have the longest fledging period of all North American birds, roughly six months.

The cause of the suspected death remains a question and will likely remain a question.

“How it happened is speculation at this point. It could have been a number of things,” Parish said.

The chick could have attempted to fledge and perished, but no body has been discovered in the area below the cave nest. The body could have been consumed by another animal.

This was the first chick for condors 337 and 409 and it is possible they failed to provide the care required to get the young bird to fledging stage.

Lead poisoning, according to Parish, has led to 50 percent of deaths of the experimental population of California condors released in the Vermillion Cliffs area of Arizona in 1996. Officials have confirmed 29 condor deaths related to lead poisoning since 2000.

Lead is ingested by the condors scavenging on the remains of wildlife or domestic livestock killed with firearms. Efforts in Utah and Arizona to get ranchers and hunters to use lead-free ammunition and to remove gut piles from the field has helped reduce condor mortality in recent years.

It is possible the chick could have perished from lead poisoning, but it is highly likely that the parents ate the same carrion and they appear to be healthy.

Even condors that learn to fly face a 60 percent chance of dying within the first year, according to Parish.

While biologists are disappointed to declare the Utah chick a loss, they are excited that two other chicks born in the wild in Arizona are flying and appear healthy.

The condor breeding season is just getting underway and biologists will be watching the Utah parents closely. “They can start laying eggs as early as February,” Parish said. “It is possible this pair may try again.”

It is also possible they may choose the same nest cave.

Biologists had considered trying to reach the nest to see if they could confirm the chick’s death, but storms have made it dangerous.

As time has gone by, the likelihood of determining the cause of death has dropped, even assuming the carcass is still in the cave.

“Ravens may have already cleaned out the cave,” Parish said.

Idaho man convicted of killing grizzly bear

An Idaho man has been sentenced to 2 years' probation after Idaho Fish and Game officials said he illegally killed a grizzly bear, the AP reports. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game announced the conviction on Monday, saying it was the first time the state has successfully prosecuted such a case since grizzly bears were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. Normally the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service handles those types of cases. Idaho Fish and Game says 23-year-old Kenneth Tyler Sommer, of Newdale, Idaho, was hunting for black bears in eastern Idaho when the grizzly was shot. Sommer told conservation officers he shot the grizzly after it charged him and his wife, but Idaho Fish and Game investigators said they found no evidence that the bear had ever charged.

Wolf kills sheep near Whitman-Spokane county line

Updated12:10 p.m. on Dec. 9 with clarification about when sheep are being moved and quotes from sheep farmer involved.

PREDATORS —The first sheep kill attributed to a wolf in Whitman County is being investigated by Washington wildlife officials.

One ewe in a flock of about 1,200 was killed Friday on private land about five miles northeast of Lamont near the Spokane County line, said Joey McCanna, Department of Fish and Wildlife conflict specialist.

“We’ve ruled it a probable wolf kill,” McCanna said, noting that the investigation didn’t come up with all the evidence needed for a confirmation.

Location of the wounds, canine teeth punctures and a broken femur indicated wolf, he said. “But a lot of the rump was eaten, taking away some of the evidence we use, and we could not find viable tracks in the hard ground of the stubble field,” he added.

The dead ewe was one of several sheep that had strayed from the flock where there was a break-down in their enclosure of three-strand electric fence, he said.

Wolf sightings had been reported in the past three weeks in the Lamont area, but no one witnessed the attack, he said.

Two wolves were confirmed in the Lacrosse area last winter.

In October, a wolf was shot about 15 miles southwest of Pullman by a man Fish and Wildlife police described as a Whitman County farmer. Gray wolves are protected by state endangered species laws.

Whitman County Prosecutor Denis Tracy is investigating the evidence turned over by Fish and Wildlife police on Nov. 19. Tracy’s staff said Monday that no decision has been made on whether to prosecute the case.

Fish and Wildlife officers will be working with the livestock producers when they move the Lamont sheep back to a fenced area near their homestead later this month, McCanna said.

“We are not forcing anyone to move livestock in this situation,” said Madonna Luers, department spokeswoman. “The sheep are being moved on a normal schedule.”

Meantime, the fenced area has been surrounded with blinking lights. In addition, lights and electrified flagging, called turbo fladry, is being added to the fence where the sheep are being moved as a deterrent to wolves, McCanna said.

The department is lending assistance to make sure any compost areas for livestock carcasses are properly covered with soil to avoid attracting wolves and coyotes, he said.

“We’re going door to door in the area to alert other producers,” he said.

“We'll be trying to find more sightings and sign and if we see that a wolf is using an area we may try to trap it,” he said.

From the Lewiston Tribune:

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say a wolf is probably responsible for killing a sheep near Whitman County Commissioner Art Swannack’s ranch last week in Lamont.

Swannack reported the kill shortly after discovering the sheep on Friday.

“My wife saw the wolf,” he said. “We have an electric fence around 300 acres of stubble. The fence went down during the ice storm Thursday, and the sheep got into our neighbor’s stubble. We were herding them back when my wife saw the wolf. We found the sheep up a draw after that.”

Swannack said he hadn’t seen the wolf again since Friday.

“We’re doing what we can to discourage it from coming back,” he said. “We have guard dogs with our sheep. The department is also supplying some stuff.”

WSU study: Shooting wolves increases wolf attacks on livestock

PREDATORS — Livestock growers are likely to disagree, to put it politely, with the findings of a wolf study just released by Washington State University. But here's the scoop:

It is counter-productive to kill wolves to keep them from preying on livestock, according to the analysis of 25 years of data.

Shooting and trapping lead to more dead sheep and cattle the following year, not fewer, the researchers say in a WSU News online release.

Writing in the journal PLOS ONE, WSU wildlife biologist Rob Wielgus and data analyst Kaylie Peebles say that, for each wolf killed, the odds of more livestock depredations increase significantly.

The trend continues until 25 percent of the wolves in an area are killed. Ranchers and wildlife managers then see a “standing wave of livestock depredations,” said Wielgus.

That rate of wolf mortality “is unsustainable and cannot be carried out indefinitely if federal relisting of wolves is to be avoided,” they said.

John Pierce, the department’s chief wildlife scientist, said the research isn’t making the agency re-think its actions.

“If his findings are true – and I think of them more as hypotheses – our typical understanding of how animals react to lethal control is not intuitive for wolves,” he said. “By removing the resident animals, you might exacerbate the situation” in the long-term.

But that doesn’t reduce the short-term value of killing wolves to halt ongoing livestock attacks, Pierce said.

Here are more details and background from the WSU media release:

Study analyzes 25 years of data

The gray wolf was federally listed as endangered in 1974. During much of its recovery in the northern Rocky Mountains, government predator control efforts have been used to keep wolves from attacking sheep and livestock. With wolves delisted in 2012, sport hunting has also been used. But until now, the effectiveness of lethal control has been what Wielgus and Peebles call a “widely accepted, but untested, hypothesis.”

Their study is the largest of its kind, analyzing 25 years of lethal control data from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Interagency Annual Wolf Reports in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The researchers found that killing one wolf increases the odds of depredations 4 percent for sheep and 5 to 6 percent for cattle. If 20 wolves are killed, livestock deaths double.

Work reported in PLOS ONE last year by Peebles, Wielgus and other WSU colleagues found that lethal controls of cougars also backfire, disrupting their populations so much that younger, less disciplined cougars attack more livestock.

Still, Wielgus did not expect to see the same result with wolves.

“I had no idea what the results were going to be, positive or negative,” he said. “I said, ‘Let’s take a look at it and see what happened.’ I was surprised that there was a big effect.”

Three breeding pairs in state

Wielgus said wolf killings likely disrupt the social cohesion of the pack. While an intact breeding pair will keep young offspring from mating, disruption can set sexually mature wolves free to breed, leading to an increase in breeding pairs. As they have pups, they become bound to one place and can’t hunt deer and elk as freely. Occasionally, they turn to livestock.

Under Washington state’s wolf management plan, wolves will be a protected species until there are 15 breeding pairs for three years. Depredations and lethal controls, legal and otherwise, are one of the biggest hurdles to that happening.

Wolves from the Huckleberry Pack killed more than 30 sheep in Stevens County, Wash., this summer, prompting state wildlife officials to authorize killing up to four wolves. An aerial gunner ended up killing the pack’s alpha female. A second alpha female, from the Teanaway pack near Ellensburg, Wash., was illegally shot and killed in October.

That left three known breeding pairs in the state.

Non-lethal interventions encouraged

As it is, said Wielgus, a small percentage of livestock deaths are from wolves. According to the management plan, they account for between .1 percent and .6 percent of all livestock deaths—a minor threat compared to other predators, disease, accidents and the dangers of calving.

In an ongoing study of non-lethal wolf control, Wielgus’ Large Carnivore Conservation Lab last summer monitored 300 radio-tagged sheep and cattle in eastern Washington wolf country. None were killed by wolves.

Still, there will be some depredations, he said. He encourages more non-lethal interventions like guard dogs, “range riders” on horseback, flags, spotlights and “risk maps” that discourage grazing animals in hard-to-protect, wolf-rich areas.

“The only way you’re going to completely eliminate livestock depredations is to get rid of all the wolves,” Wielgus said, “and society has told us that that’s not going to happen.”

Redfish sockeye salmon recovery could provide model for preventing other extinctions

The recovery of Redfish Lake sockeye salmon from the brink of extinction could become a model to prevent other extinctions, the AP reports; two fisheries biologists have a report in the journal Fisheries laying out how. A key strategy has been maintaining genetic diversity that has resulted in a greater number of sockeye with better survival skills, resulting in more fish returning to Redfish Lake, the scientists found. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Keith Ridler.

Gray wolf news updates 11-26-2014

PREDATORS — It's been a quiet week in the region some people would like to call Wolfbegone.

But here are a few notes about the species as wolves continues to recover their native range in the Northwest.

A Whitman County wolf shooting case is in the hands of county prosecutor Denis Tracy.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife turned its evidence over to the prosecutor on Nov. 19 with the possibility that the man who shot a wolf around Oct. 12 could be charged with a misdemeanor for killing an animal that's protected in far-Eastern Washington by state endangered species laws. The agency turned over the evidence after receiving DNA lab results that confirmed the animal was a wolf and not a wolf hybrid.
 
Tracy's office staff said today that the prosecutor is still investigating the case before making the decision on whether to prosecute the case. The identity of the shooter has not been released although WDFW officers described the man as a county farmer. The original WDFW report said the man chased the wolf in a vehicle and shot it in a Palouse farm field about 15 miles southwest of Pullman.
 
“We're not recommending anything,” said Steve Crown, Fish and Wildlife Department chief. “We're simply referring the facts of the case in our report. It's up to the prosecutor to examine the facts and the case law and decide whether to bring charges.”
 
Making the decision to prosecute is a big deal.
  • Although exemptions are made for killing a wolf to protect life or livestock, unlawful taking of a state endangered species is punishable by sentences of up to a year in jail and fines up to $5,000.

  • The only wolf-killing case to be prosecuted in Washington resulted in Twisp ranching family members being ordered to pay fines totaling $50,000 in 2012 for killing two Lookout Pack wolves in 2008.

A Kittitas County wolf-killing case remains under investigation. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Brent Lawrence said Tuesday no arrests have been made in the October shooting of an adult breeding female belonging to the Teanaway Pack near Salmon la Sac. Conservation groups have offered a $15,000 reward in the case.

The wolf was found by state and federal wildlife officials Oct. 28 in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The female was wearing a telemetry collar and was shot in the hindquarters. Investigators say she likely was killed around Oct. 17.

USFWS is leading the investigation because the shooting occurred in the two-thirds of the state in which wolves are federally protected. Wolves also are protected state endangered species laws.

An unlawful taking of a federal endangered species is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

A hunter was cleared for shooting at stalking wolf on Oct. 30 in Stevens County.The animal ran way, but the hunter reported to officials that he thought it had been hit.

A Smackout Pack wolf was found dead Feb. 9 near Cedar Lake in northeast Stevens County. Conservation groups joined with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to offer a $22,500 reward for information about the case. However, the case still has not been solved.

An anti-wolf group called  Washington Residents Against Wolves has initiated an billboard campaign in Spokane.

BLM has denied a permit for a predator derby based out of Salmon, Idaho. Organizers say they'll hold the derby on national forest land.

The first gray wolf in northern Arizona in more than 70 years was confirmed by wildlife officials this week. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Jeff Humphrey said Friday that analysis of the animal’s scat shows it’s from the Northern Rockies population at least 450 miles away. It was first spotted by a tourist in early November.

Report: sage grouse need large buffer from drilling

WILDLIFE — A government study with significant implications for the U.S. energy industry says the breeding grounds of a struggling bird species need a 3-mile or larger buffer from oil and gas drilling, wind farms and solar projects.

The Associated Press reports that’s a much larger protective zone for the greater sage grouse than some states and federal agencies have adopted as the Obama administration weighs new protections for the bird.

The ground-dwelling bird ranges across 11 Western states. Its population dropped sharply in recent decades due to disease, pressure from the energy industry, wildfires and other factors.

Here's the rest of a still-evolving story by AP writer Matthew Brown:

Monday’s finding from the U.S. Geological Survey comes as state and federal officials scramble to come up with conservation measures to protect the grouse ahead of a court-ordered September 2015 decision on protections.

The USGS report represents a compilation of scientific studies aimed at seeing what it takes to protect the bird.

It was requested by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that oversees millions of acres of sage grouse habitat and also regulates the energy industry across much of the West.

It said a buffer of at least a 3.1-mile radius around sage grouse breeding sites known as leks would provide considerable protections for the bird. That radius would equal a circle around the leks covering 30 square miles.

By comparison, Montana and Wyoming have adopted management plans for the bird that call for a buffer of six-tenths of a mile around leks in key sage grouse habitat. That’s an area of less than 4 square miles.

The USGS did not recommend specific management recommendations. But survey scientists said it should help the Interior Department as it crafts a conservation strategy for the birds.

Carol Schuler, USGS senior science adviser, said that land managers also need to take into consideration local conditions across the grouse’s sprawling, 257,000-square-mile habitat.

“The buffer distances in this report can be useful in developing conservation measures, but should be used in conjunction with conservation planning that considers other factors,” she said.

A related bird, the Gunnison sage grouse of Utah and Colorado, received federal protection as a threatened species on Nov. 12.

Study: Polar bears decline 40 percent in a decade

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The heat is on this indicator species. Who's next?

Study finds 40% decline in polar bear numbers in E. Alaska, W. Canada
A study done by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Environment Canada, as well as other groups, followed polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea from 2001 to 2010, and found that numbers declined 40 percent during that decade.
—Los Angeles Times

Anti-wolf group initiates Spokane billboard campaign

PREDATORS — A newly organized anti-wolf group says it's targeting Spokane with a billboard campaign “to inform  residents about the reality of an increasing number of wolves in Washington State,” according to a media release posted today.

Four billboards featuring a snarling wolf are being put up, according to Washington Residents Against Wolves, an activist group that says it's promoting “sound management of the predator.”

Billboards are up at Lincoln Road and Division Street and Lincoln Road and Market Street.

“The aim of the billboard campaign is to encourage people to ask more questions about what having wolves in Washington really means,” said Luke Hedquist, WARAW member.

“People need to consider the challenges associated with wolves. Wolves can and will attack people, livestock will be killed and maimed, private property will be compromised and local economies will be impacted. We want to make sure people thoroughly understand the issue, so we started by trying to get people’s attention with the billboards.”

The initial billboard message features a photo of a wolf, teeth bared, and the text: “Endangered? No. Deadly? Yes. Good for Washington? Absolutely not.“ A total of eight billboard posters are planned to be up by the end of the month, Hedquist said.

“One of the key items not being discussed is how quickly wolves will deplete wildlife herds in the state,” Hedquist says in the media release.

Washington has about 14 identified wolf packs and had a minimum of 52 wolves before this year's breeding season.

“We know by watching wolves in other states that it is common for the population to increase by 38 percent on average each year,” said Hedquist.

This is bad news not only for predators who must compete for available prey in the affected ecosystems, but also for the communities that depending on seasonal hunting revenue, he said.

“As the elk and other ungulates are impacted by wolves, we will see fewer animals for other predators like cougar and bear; a decline in the number of animals available to hunt and significant impacts to local economies as hunters go elsewhere,” Hedquist said.

“It’s also important to remember that at this point, wolves are not moving across Washington and WDFW is making no moves to either reduce the number of wolves or translocate the Eastern Washington excess to other parts of the state. So we should be prepared for Eastern Washington to bear the full brunt of the cost. Frankly, that cost is unacceptable.”

$15,000 reward offered in Washington wolf shooting case

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  Conservation groups announced today a $15,000 reward for information that helps convict a poacher who killed a federally protected wolf near Salmon la Sac.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials confirmed this week that a female gray wolf from the Teanaway pack in Upper Kittitas County died last month from being shot.
 
The public is being asked to report any information or sightings from Oct. ​17 to Oct. 28 dealing with the case. Information can be reported by phone at (425) 883-8122.  Tips also can be reported on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recorded poacher hotline, (877) 933-9847.

Groups contributing to the reward include Conservation Northwest, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Woodland  Park Zoo and the Humane Society of the United States.

  • After a wolf from the Smackout Pack was found dead Feb. 9 near Cedar Lake in northeast Stevens County, conservation groups joined with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to offer a $22,500 reward for information about the case. However, the case still has not been solved.
  • The investigation continues into the October shooting of a wolf in Whitman County.
  • Twisp ranching family members were ordered to pay fines totaling $50,000 in 2012 for killing two Lookout Pack wolves in 2008.

The carcass of the breeding female recovered Oct. 28 in the Teanaway Pack’s habitat area was found on the north side of the Paris Creek drainage in the Salmon la Sac area north of Lake Cle Elum, says Brent Lawrence with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland. The area is within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

  • The person who killed the Teanaway wolf could set back state de-listing of wolves from endangered species protections. Washington's wolf management plan sets a goal of having wolf packs in three areas of the state. The Teanaway Pack ranges very close to the last of the three zones — the southern Cascades — which is still unoccupied. Wolves ranging out of that pack could be the ticket to de-listing.

The wolf was fitted with a radio telemetry collar and was recovered by federal wildlife officials and those with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Gray wolves in the western two-thirds of the state (with U.S. Highway 97 the boundary) are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and a similar state law, Lawrence said.

The Teanaway River valley and the area north of Lake Cle Elum is in the part of the state where wolves continue to be under both state and federal protection.

East of the highway, wolves have been taken off the federal endangered list but continue to be protected by state law. The federal agency is the lead investigator of wolf mortalities in the western two-thirds of the state.

Lawrence said the wolf’s telemetry collar signaled that it wasn’t moving, which led to the search and recovery of the carcass. The preliminary necropsy revealed the wolf was shot in the hindquarters. He had no additional information to share about the investigation or a possible suspect.

Video: research camera catches cougar killing deer

PREDATORS — A camera fixed on a deer's neck to study what it eats also gave University of Washington researchers a glimpse of how the deer was eaten — by a mountain lion.

The short video below shows the whitetail feeding in the snowy woods as a mountain lion attacks and takes the prey down for the kill. The real-time action is quick. A 1/4-speed slow-mo replay in a YouTube post by American Hunter offers viewers time to clearly see the predator.

Experts say most cougar attacks are ambushes, as this video shows.  But it's also notable that the attack is head-on rather than from the side or rear.

Justin Dellinger, a PhD candidate at the University of Washington, has been conducting the research that seeks to document the impacts Washington's growing wolf population has on deer.

  • Dellinger currently is fundraising on his website to keep the research going through 2017.  His online effort, which already has raised more than $12,000, ends Saturday, Nov. 15.

As gray wolves are naturally recolonizing Washington State, Dellinger's project is taking advantage of the rare opportunity to study ecosystem responses when a top predator returns.

So far, the project has placed neck cams on 48 deer and GPS collars on 43 deer.  Dellinger's goal is to collar another 280 deer for the research.

Although the project has been on the ground for only two years, it's generated considerable interest among scientists and the public.  Public TV already has zeroed in on the study with a documentary, “Wolves and the Ecology of Fear.”
Click here to watch the video

$15,000 reward offered in Washington wolf shooting case

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  Conservation groups announced today a $15,000 reward for information that helps convict a poacher who killed a federally protected wolf near Salmon la Sac.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials confirmed this week that a female gray wolf from the Teanaway pack in Upper Kittitas County died last month from being shot.
 
The public is being asked to report any information or sightings from Oct. ​17 to Oct. 28 dealing with the case. Information can be reported by phone at (425) 883-8122.  Tips also can be reported on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recorded poacher hotline, (877) 933-9847.

Groups contributing to the reward include Conservation Northwest, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Woodland  Park Zoo and the Humane Society of the United States.

  • After a wolf from the Smackout Pack was found dead Feb. 9 near Cedar Lake in northeast Stevens County, conservation groups joined with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to offer a $22,500 reward for information about the case. However, the case still has not been solved.
  • The investigation continues into the October shooting of a wolf in Whitman County.
  • Twisp ranching family members were ordered to pay fines totaling $50,000 in 2012 for killing two Lookout Pack wolves in 2008.

The carcass of the breeding female recovered Oct. 28 in the Teanaway Pack’s habitat area was found on the north side of the Paris Creek drainage in the Salmon la Sac area north of Lake Cle Elum, says Brent Lawrence with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland. The area is within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

  • The person who killed the Teanaway wolf could set back state de-listing of wolves from endangered species protections. Washington's wolf management plan sets a goal of having wolf packs in three areas of the state. The Teanaway Pack ranges very close to the last of the three zones — the southern Cascades — which is still unoccupied. Wolves ranging out of that pack could be the ticket to de-listing.

The wolf was fitted with a radio telemetry collar and was recovered by federal wildlife officials and those with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Gray wolves in the western two-thirds of the state (with U.S. Highway 97 the boundary) are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and a similar state law, Lawrence said.

The Teanaway River valley and the area north of Lake Cle Elum is in the part of the state where wolves continue to be under both state and federal protection.

East of the highway, wolves have been taken off the federal endangered list but continue to be protected by state law. The federal agency is the lead investigator of wolf mortalities in the western two-thirds of the state.

Lawrence said the wolf’s telemetry collar signaled that it wasn’t moving, which led to the search and recovery of the carcass. The preliminary necropsy revealed the wolf was shot in the hindquarters. He had no additional information to share about the investigation or a possible suspect.

Hunting stresses wolves, research indicates

PREDATORS — Wolf research in the news includes a report on a study revealing indications that wolves suffer stress when heavily hunted.

OK….

I wonder if moose and elk are stressed when wolves are in the neighborhood?  Some research indicates yes.

My English setter is stressed when I leave home in the morning if I don't invite him along to go pheasant hunting — however, I'm sure some pheasants and quail are stressed when I let my dog loose on Palouse farm ground.

Seriously, I don't discount any research that might have evolutionary implications in wildlife.

On the other hand, maybe we could conclude that a little stress in our increasingly crowded world is unavoidable, and move on from there.

Feds list Gunnison sage grouse threatened

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Gunnison sage grouse will be listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today.

The listing was a downgrade from an earlier agency recommendation — and an acknowledgement of work by Native American tribes and private land owners in Colorado and Utah to cut the threats to the bird in an effort to avoid an endangered listing, according to a Salt Lake Tribune story by Brett Prettyman.

“Efforts by Utah and Colorado, private landowners and tribes have reduced the threats to the bird,” said wildlife service director Dan Ashe. “These investments and protections that have been put in place will pay enormous dividends in the future.”

Wednesday’s announcement left conservationists and state wildlife managers disappointed, but for different reasons. Utah wildlife officials want no federal protection and the wildlife conservation groups want the endangered listing.

The listing comes with an option for a special rule that allows federal officials to relax some ESA restrictions to allow ranchers, farmers and landowners in Colorado and Utah committed to grouse conservation to continue their practies without new restrictions.

Gunnison sage grouse were recognized as a separate species from Greater sage grouse in 2000 and were soon after designated as a candidate for listing under the ESA.

A small percentage of the estimated 4,700 Gunnison sage grouse population inhabits two areas in San Juan County near Monticello. The majority of the birds live in southwestern Colorado.

Conservation advocates say “threatened” status does not provide enough protection for the birds.

“Imperiled by irresponsible grazing, oil and gas drilling, residential development, roads, powerlines and the cumulative impacts of these threats, the fewer than 5,000 remaining Gunnison sage grouse need the strongest possible protections to ensure they survive and recover,” said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “The science is clear: This spectacular dancing bird is endangered and should be afforded the highest level of protection.”

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Director Greg Sheehan, however, says more can be done to protect the birds without a federal listing.

“Placing the bird under the oversight of the federal government will greatly reduce our ability to help the bird,” Sheehan said. “Putting the bird under the management authority of the federal government will create roadblocks that will make it difficult to complete work to help the species.”

While Utah and Colorado have provided impressive efforts to restore the species, Ashe said the Fish and Wildlife Service is bound to make listing decisions based on the best available science.

“The law asked us to consider the current and foreseeable future,” Ashe said. “We believe the best science points that while not facing an emminent risk of extinction, which would warrant an endangered listing, that a threatened listing under the Endangered Species Act is the appropriate conclusion.”

Colorado governor John Hickenlooper indicated earlier this week his state would sue if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the grouse as endangered or threatened.

The birds, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, were historically found in the Four Corners area of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

Gunnison sage grouse are about 1/3 smaller than Greater sage grouse and males show distinct, white barring on their tail feathers.

 

Conference seeks sage grouse solutions

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Some of the nation's top public lands officials and rangeland scientists have gathered in Boise to try to figure out what can be done to avoid an Endangered Species Act listing of sage grouse. The three-day Sage Grouse and Rangeland Wildfire in the Great Basin Conference opened Wednesday with remarks from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe and U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze. Mike Connor, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, also attended the opening. Early remarks focused on finding collaboration among federal, state and private entities as massive wildfires and invasive species threaten a fragmented sage grouse habitat. The conference is playing out as the Fish and Wildlife Service faces a deadline next year on whether the chicken-sized bird needs federal protection.

First wolf in 80 years apparently roams Grand Canyon

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A tourist photograph of a radio-collared canine is thought to be the first gray wolf to grace the North Rim of the Grand Canyon since the 1940s.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was sending a team to try capturing the animal in order to verify its species and origin, although federal biologists are assuming it is a wolf unless otherwise determined, a spokeswoman told Reuters.

The agency later issued a statement saying a collared “wolf-like” animal had repeatedly been observed and photographed on U.S. forest land just north of Grand Canyon National Park, and that wildlife officials were “working to confirm whether the animal is a wolf or wolf-dog hybrid.”

Several photos of the animal were taken over the weekend by a Grand Canyon park visitor who shared them with conservation activists and park staff, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which first made the findings public.

A few wolves that have been captured and radio-collared in states such as Washington, Idaho and Oregon have been shown to launch out on their own for hundreds and even thousands of miles.  Sometimes the radio transmitters fail or run out of battery power so no signal can be received to confirm the wolf's identity. 

Any wolf roaming northcentral Arizona would be protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. If confirmed to be a western gray wolf, it would presumably have ventured hundreds of miles south from the Northern Rockies, where the animals were reintroduced in the 1990s and are now estimated to number nearly 1,700.

Ruby Creek wolf continues to elude state trappers

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A gray wolf that was deemed too comfortable with being around rural homes and pet dogs near Ione, Wash., has eluded state trappers intending to put the female wolf into captivity at wildlife facility near Tenio, Wash.

State Fish and Wildlife officials have called off the trapping effort and will wait until snow accumulates to offer a better chance of capture.

The Ruby Creek wolf was trapped and radio-collared in 2013 and had been hazed with rubber bullets to try to keep it away from Pend Oreille County residences. Wolves learn quickly from these encounters and are much harder to capture the second time around. Wildlife managers are concerned for public safety as well as the prospect of the solo wolf being bred by a domestic dog during the winter mating season.

Here's the latest update for on the Ruby Creek wolf as well as ongoing wolf-management issues from Nate Pamplin, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife assistant director and head of the state's wildlife program:

Ruby Creek Wolf: 

To date, we have not been able to capture the Ruby Creek female for placement at Wolf Haven International.  So far our efforts have been mostly trapping with leg-hold sets; we’ve had 24 traps in the ground for 18 nights.  We have used traps with scent lure and blind sets (no scent).  We've used scat and hair as bait from the dogs the Ruby female has been mingling with, as well as walking the dog around the area to lay scent.  We've tried free ranging darting twice and pushing the wolf towards the traps. 

At this point and given this level of effort, we have pulled the traps because trapping is probably not going to be successful.  We will continue monitoring the Ruby Creek female and will be prepared to capture her using a dart gun, cougar walk-in trap, or leg-hold trap if the right opportunity occurs.  Once snow arrives, we me need to dart her from the air.   If these efforts are unsuccessful, we will re-evaluate options.

Whitman County Animal Mortality Investigation:

A man described as a farmer is being investigated for shooting a wolf after chasing it in a vehicle southwest of Pullman.

We are still conducting the investigation on the animal shot in Whitman County and sent genetic samples to a lab to determine whether the animal was a wolf or a hybrid.  We expect the investigation to be concluded in the next couple weeks.

Profanity Peak Pack:

Washington's most recently confirmed wolf pack came to light in September after killing cattle in a remote national forest allotment in Ferry County near Profanity Peak. A new depredation was reported this week.

WDFW staff responded to the Diamond M ranch and investigated a cow that had substantial injuries on October 20.   The animal was discovered during the round-up/collection efforts to move animals to the Basin and winter range.  Staff confirmed that the injuries were caused by wolves. The wounds appeared to be about a week old.  This is the third incident involving four livestock: 1) a dead cow and calf, 2) an injured calf (which was with three other calves that were observed injured, but were not able to be caught/inspected) and 3) an injured cow.  Currently, we do not have any wolves collared in this pack.

The livestock operators are cooperating to try to avoid problems with wolves, Pamplin said, noting that staffers are trying to locate the wolves for a possible capture and radio-collaring misison.

The operator is collecting the cows from the main allotment where the depredations have occurred, so human presence is high and the number of cows remaining on the allotment is lowered and getting reduced almost daily.  We know that there are cattle spread over multiple allotments in the immediate vicinity as well as private ranches on the periphery of where this pack likely ranges.  Whether this pack is attacking livestock owned by others is unknown at this time. 

Hunters tell it like it is at Lynnwood wolf management meeting

ENDANGERED SPECIES — As predicted, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife-sponsored public meeting on wolf management held Tuesday in Lynwood had a different tone than the similar meeting held Oct. 7 in Colville.

The public in Lynnwood blasted the state for killing any wolves even to protect livestock. Cattlemen and hunters in Colville were enraged by the state's reluctance to take out entire packs of wolves.

I've seen little TV or mainstream newspaper reports from the Western Washington meeting in which state wildlife managers explained their wolf management actions and took public comment.

In contrast, the Colville meeting was attended by three TV stations, reporters from The Spokesman-Review and other papers and an AP reporter.  Two different stories were on the AP wire the next day documenting how state officials got their butts chewed in northeastern Washington.

It's safe to say there weren't as many vegan-related bumper stickers on cars parked outside the Colville meeting. No vocally angry cattle ranchers ranted at the Lynnwood meeting, although a few hunters showed up to say what was on their minds.

Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman Magazine has a thoughtful report on the Lynwood meeting.

Said Walgamott, taking off on one hunter's assurance that wolves eventually would be hunted in Washington despite the arguments that no wolves should be killed:

Really, it’s a success story when you can get to the point that hunts on any species can be held, kind of like the comeback of elk that allowed for seasons in this state by the early 1900s, whitetails in Missouri by 1931 and elsewhere in the East, bandtail pigeons by the early 2000s in the Northwest.

Washington's wolf management plan requires 15 successful breeding pairs in three distinct regions of the state for three straight years, or 18 in any one region before wolves would be hunted in the state.

By contrast, Oregon state rules call for launching a delisting process for wolves when Eastern Oregon has four breeding pairs for three consecutive years.  That delisting from endangered species rules could start next year judging from the progress wolves are making.

Washington has a tough road to travel in the next few years as wolves continue to expand.  Walgamott let Nate Pamplin, WDFW's wildlife program director have the last word in his report on the Lynnwood meeting:

Even as a self-identified counselor gave WDFW’s crew some psychoanalysis about a little chart they put together that showed what the agency hears from both sides, Pamplin noted:

“I don’t have the easy button. We heard a lot of good ideas tonight. We’re going to recover wolves. We’re going to manage wolf-livestock conflicts. We know wolf-ungulate issues are coming. We need to do better outreach.”

 

Trail cam captures shot of Selkirk mountain caribou

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services fudges on the issue, the mountain caribou is the rarest big game species in the United States and therefore the most endangered.

So capturing a photo of a Selkirk mountain caribou isn't just a big deal, says Kalispel Tribe wildlife biologist Bart George — It's “The Holy Grail for trail cam pictures!”

That is, if Sasquatch isn't.

Wolf shot in Whitman County; charges pending

Updated 8 p.m. with response from state Fish and Wildlife police chief.

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A farmer is being investigated in the shooting of a gray wolf in Whitman County on Sunday.

The wolf was shot southwest of Pullman, said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers who responded to the scene Sunday after receiving a call.

“They determined that the wolf had been shot by a farmer who had pursued the animal for several miles in his vehicle after seeing it near his farm,” said Nate Pamplin, the agency’s wildlife program director.

Wolves are protected by state endangered species regulations.

The incident occurred west of U.S. Highway 195 on the opening weekend of the state's general deer hunting season. 

“The shooting does not appear to have been associated with a defense-of-life action,” Pamplin said.

The shooting did not appear “to take place under the statutory authority to shoot and kill a wolf that is caught in the act of attacking livestock in the Eastern Washington recovery zone,” he added. 

“No citations have been issued as this is an active investigation,” said Steve Crown, state Fish and Wildlife police chief in Olympia. “We will not be releasing the suspect’s information until the investigation is complete and the case has been submitted to prosecutor.”  

Scattered wolf sightings have been reported in Whitman County for years and wolf tracks were confirmed near Rock Lake in November 2013.

Washington has 14 confirmed wolf packs, none of which is in Whitman County.

Pamplin said he was not aware of any incidents with wolves and livestock or pets in 2014. None was confirmed in previous years.

A Whitman County Sheriff's Department spokesman said the case was being handled by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife police.

“Once the investigation is complete, the case will be sent to the Whitman County Prosecutor’s office for a charging decision,” Pamplin said. The man's name was not immediately released.

Wolves were hunted to extinction in Washington by around 1940. The animals have been moving back into the state from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia for more than a decade.

Since 2007, wolves have begun causing conflicts with Washington ranchers because the animals sometimes prey on livestock.

In August and September this year, 33 sheep and three cattle have been confirmed as killed by wolves in Stevens and Ferry counties.

Wildlife groups sue for wolverine protections

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Making it three-in-a-row posts on environmental lawsuits – a coalition of advocacy groups today challenged the government’s denial of federal protections for the snow-loving wolverine, filing a lawsuit that contends officials ignored evidence a warming climate will eliminate denning areas for the so-called “mountain devil.”

The two previous posts covered:

Here's the rest of the wolverine story filed today by Matthew Brown of the Associated Press in Billings:

An estimated 250 to 300 wolverines survive in the Lower 48 states. The elusive but ferocious members of the weasel family raise their young in deep mountain snowfields that many scientists say could be at risk of disappearing as the climate changes.

After proposing protections for the species last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in August abruptly reversed course. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe said at the time there was too much uncertainty in computer climate change models to justify protections.

Monday’s lawsuit charges that the agency acted illegally by ignoring the best available science on wolverines. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula by attorneys for Earthjustice representing eight wildlife advocacy groups.

The lawsuit names as defendants the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, agency director Dan Ashe and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said it is agency protocol not to comment on pending litigation.

Some wolverine researchers have predicted that almost two-thirds of the species’ denning habitat will disappear by 2085.

The case carries potential ramifications for other species affected by climate change — including Alaska’s bearded seals, the Pacific walrus and dozens of species of corals — as scientists and regulators grapple with limits on computer climate models.

Once found throughout the Rocky Mountains and in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, wolverines were wiped out across most of the U.S. by the 1930s due to unregulated trapping and poisoning campaigns.

In the decades since, they largely have recovered in parts of the West, but not in other parts of their historical range.

They are currently found in portions of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. Individual wolverines have been documented in Colorado and California, but there has no evidence of breeding populations in those states.

Larger populations of wolverines live in Alaska and Canada. Those animals were never proposed for federal protection.

State sets wolf management meeting in Lynnwood

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Looks like Washington wildlife officials are planning to turn the other cheek after tonight's public meeting on wolf management in Colville.

The West Side public will have an opportunity to discuss wolf management with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife leaders during a meeting Tuesday, Oct. 14, in Lynnwood, according to a media release posted late on Monday.

The meeting, which is likely to have a different flavor than that Colville meeting, is set for 6 p.m. in Room 1EF of the Lynnwood Convention Center, 3711 196th St. SW, Lynnwood.

WDFW officials will provide information on recent wolf attacks on livestock in the state, and on the packs involved in those incidents – the Huckleberry pack in Stevens County and the Profanity Peak pack in Ferry County.

WDFW’s actions to protect sheep this summer from the Huckleberry pack are described in a question-and-answer document on the department’s website.

WDFW officials also confirmed recently that wolves were responsible for killing a cow and calf at a cattle grazing site in Ferry County, within the range of the newly discovered Profanity Peak pack. WDFW wildlife conflict specialists continue to monitor that situation.

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal list of endangered species in the eastern third of the state, but the species is still protected under Washington state law. The state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and state laws set the parameters for responding to wolf predation on livestock.

The department has also established a Wolf Advisory Group that provides input to the department on wolf plan implementation.

 

Second thoughts on capturing wolf for captivity

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Pro-wolf groups praised the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department's decision to attempt to capture the Ruby Creek wolf and put it in a Western Washington wildlife park to avoid conflicts with humans in rural areas near Ione.

Even though the Ruby Creek wolf had previously been trapped by researchers and is wearing a transmitting collar, capture crews had no luck on Friday and there's still no word today.

Which gives us pause to consider:

  • Once a wolf has been pinched by a trap, it's extremely difficult to catch again.
  • Baiting options for capturing a wolf would have to be monitored constantly to avoid compromising other wildlife.
  • Tranquilizing a wolf by shooting from a helicopter is expensive and dangerous.

Are we going to crash a helicopter and kill a pilot and biologist before we come to grips with how many lives and how much  money we're willing to risk to make people feel good about managing wolves?

Public meeting on wolf management Tuesday in Colville

ENDANGERED SPECIES — State wildlife officials are likely to hear from angry ranchers at a meeting Tuesday in Colville to discuss wolf management.

The department says it will provide information about recent wolf attacks on sheep and cattle in northeast Washington.

The predation and the wolf-killings in response collide with plans to allow wolves to re-establish themselves in the state.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal list of endangered species in the eastern third of Washington in 2011. Wolves are still protected under state law, and the state set up a plan to respond to wolf attacks on livestock.

The meeting will be from 6-9 p.m. in the Colville Ag Trade Center at the Northeast Washington Fairgrounds, 317 W. Astor Ave.

Pend Oreille County wolf to be captured, put in zoo

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A female wolf that's become too comfortable hanging around homes and domestic dogs near Ione will be captured and put in a Western Washington wildlife park, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say.

The capture, which is planned for this week, would be the first time officials put one of the endangered species into captivity as the wolves are reintroducing themselves into the state.

The wolf had been captured and fitted with a radio collar in July 2013. I happened to be with the wildlife researchers to photograph and report on the capture. The wolf eventually found another female companion to form the Ruby Creek Pack.

Since then, the black Ruby Creek wolf's companion was impregnated by a domestic dog, caught by wildlife biologists and spayed only to be killed later in a vehicle collision. (See story). Meanwhile, the Ruby Creek wolf has generally stayed out of trouble, but has been seen playing with pet dogs.  Wildlife officials fear she will be bred by a dog during the winter breeding season.

  • See map below for GPS monitoring locations of the Ruby Creek wolf this year.

The state Wolf Advisory Group meeting last week found consensus among pro and not-so-pro wolf groups to do something about the wolf, but there was no agreement on what action to take, said Nate Pamplin, WDFW wildlife program director.

He said the agency had spent about $8,000 in efforts to haze the wolf, including shooting it with rubber bullets when it approached rural residences.

Here's a summary of Pamplin's report on the decision to capture the wolf:

 Background: Last fall, two female wolves comprising the known members of the Ruby Creek pack were getting increasingly habituated to human residences and domestic dogs.  One female was bred by a dog last winter, and was captured, spayed, and returned to the wild.  She was hit and killed by a car this spring.

The remaining female, who is also radio-collared, continued to visit human inhabited areas and increasingly exhibited habituated behaviors, including routinely hanging out with domestic animals, being chased by livestock, and running off a short distance after being shot with rubber ammunition by our staff in an attempt to haze her. 

Wolves generally exhibit avoidance of people even in fragmented habitats where they are likely to have a higher degree of encounters.  Aggressive acts toward humans is rare, however, habituation is a known condition that can lead to aggressive behavior.   

We are not aware of any aggressive acts towards humans or livestock or pet depredations by this female wolf.  However, considering the upcoming wolf breeding season and the potential for her to be bred by domestic dogs, and the increased habituation and associated human and pet safety concerns, we are concerned about this animal and the potential for more serious problems.

At our WAG meeting, the group reached consensus that this was a problem, but did not reach consensus on next steps.  We discussed the various pros and cons of possible options, including translocation, euthanasia, or placement in captivity. We appreciate your candid and constructive input.

We have also briefed the Fish and Wildlife Commission and consulted with Pend Oreille County.

Given the feedback we received and considering the unique situation, we have decided to capture this wolf and place her into captivity.  We have consulted with the staff at Wolf Haven International (in Tenino, Wash.), which has generously offered to accept her into captivity. 

We fully understand that we will not be able to place all problem wolves into captivity, because there are simply not enough facilities. Also, most wild born wolves would not transition well into life in captivity.  However, given the very rare behavior this individual is exhibiting, she is likely a good candidate.

Later this week, field staff will attempt to capture this female wolf.  It will remain property of the state, but permitted to be held by Wolf Haven.  The Department and Wolf Haven will develop a ‘quality of life’ plan.  If it is determined the animal will not be able to acclimate to life in captivity, it will be humanely euthanized.

A public meeting on wolf management in northeastern Washington has been set for Oct. 7 in Colville.

State purchasing 4,200-acres of ranch in Douglas County for wildlife habitat

WILDLIFE — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has approved purchasing 4,200 acres of a Douglas County ranch to protect shrub-steppe habitat for wildlife, especially for threatened sharp-tailed grouse, and provide public access for outdoor recreation.

It's the first phase of the state's plan to purchase virtually all 20,500 acres of the Grand Coulee Ranch, which borders 14 miles of the Columbia River including Lake Rufus Woods backed up behind Chief Joseph Dam.

The commission voted on the proposal and supported the long-range plan during its weekend meeting in Pasco.

The Grand Coulee Ranch also provides the potential for building a fishing access on the state side of Lake Rufus Woods across from the Colville Indian Reservation.

While similar huge acquisitions in Asotin County have generated controversy, Douglas County commissioners have formally supported the state's plans to purchase the Grand Coulee Ranch.

The land in the first-phase purchase, located about five miles northwest of the town of Grand Coulee is being sold for the assessed value of $1.8 million. The purchase is possible because of a grant from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.

Once the sale is closed, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will manage the land as part of the Wells Wildlife Area.

Wolf attacks kill sheep, dogs in NE Oregon

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  Two recent wolf attacks have killed eight sheep and two livestock-protection dogs in Umatilla County, Oregon officials have confirmed.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife says the attacks took place Sept. 15 and 16 on public grazing land near Ruckle Junction north of La Grande.

The Statesman Journal reports a GPS radio collar documented that Mt. Emily pack wolf OR28 was at the scene of the attacks.

Judge: BLM violated grazing laws in SW Idaho — again

THREATENED SPECIES — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management once again violated federal laws when it issued grazing permits instead of analyzing how grazing could harm sage grouse in four allotments in south-central Idaho, a federal judge ruled today.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill found that the BLM failed to consider stopping grazing in any of the proposed management plans in the agency’s Burley Field Office.

The BLM failed to analyze existing sage grouse habitat conditions in the four allotments, Winmill wrote, which he described as “particularly troubling” because the species is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

He also wrote that the four allotments are degraded by livestock grazing.

“In this case, the (environmental assessment) failed to identify reasonable alternatives,” the ruling said. “The existing grazing levels were contributing to sage grouse habitat degradation and yet the EA evaluated no alternative that would have reduced grazing levels and/or increased restrictions on grazing.”

The decision is round two of a lawsuit led by conservation group Western Watersheds Project that is challenging nearly 600 BLM grazing allotments spread across southern Idaho.

“It is very clear the BLM especially is not doing what’s right for sage grouse and not reversing the decline of sage grouse habitat,” said Ken Cole, National Environmental Policy Act coordinator at the Boise office of Western Watersheds Project. “We have declining sage grouse populations. We didn’t get there because of oil and gas, we got there because of grazing. Grazing is the biggest impact on sage grouse, at least in Idaho and many other places.”

Winmill agreed that the BLM is allowed to automatically renew grazing permits without conducting lengthy environmental reviews. However, it must still comply with federal laws requiring the agency to consider ongoing rangeland degradation and observe the Fundamental of Rangeland Health regulations during allotment renewal.

The BLM is currently reviewing the decision, agency spokeswoman Jessica Gardetto said.

“The BLM wants to manage livestock consistent with our standards and our multiple-use mission,” she said. “We’ll follow his decision accordingly.”

Sage grouse are a chicken-sized bird known for its elaborate mating display. Besides Idaho, the bird is found in 10 other Western states.

Tab for Huckleberry wolf pack operation $53K

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Washington wildlife officials estimate they spent about $53,000 this summer to deal with the Huckleberry Pack attacks on a flock of 1,800 sheep on a grazing allotment in Stevens County.

The costs were almost equally split between the effort to prevent attacks that killed at lest 24 sheep and the mission with a helicopter shooter to kill some members of the pack.  One wolf was killed.

Most of the costs for managing wolves in Washington are funded by $10 from each sale of a personalized vehicle license plate, a dedicated funding source approved by the Washington Legislature.

In 2013, the state spent $76,500 two remove all eight members of the Wedge Pack in northern Stevens County after they had killed more than a dozen cattle.

So far in 2014, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials have confirmed that wolves in three of the state's 13-15 confirmed packs have killed 33 sheep, two cattle and one dog.

Although a breeding female in the Huckleberry Pack was killed by a government shooter in August, the pack of at least five animals still roams the region in and north of the Spokane Indian Reservation.

To deal with the pack, agency Wildlife Program Director Nate Pamplin says the state will:

  • Continue outreach to other livestock producers in the area.
  • Try to coordinate radio collar data (a male wolf is collared) from the Spokane Tribe.
  • Monitor pack movements.
  • Attempt to collar more pack members
  • Prepare preventative measures for next grazing season
  • Continue dialogue with producer Dave Dashiell regarding compensation sheep lost this year.

And to spice up the challenge, a new Profanity Pack, has emerged into the spotlight with confirmed attacks on cattle.

A public meeting on wolf management in northeast Washington with state Fish and Wildlife officials is set for 6 p.m. on Oct. 7,  in the Colville Ag Trade Center at the Northeast Washington Fairgrounds, 317 W. Astor Ave.

After an update on wolf status and management in the area, meeting participants will be able to comment and ask questions of WDFW Director Phil Anderson, Eastern Regional Director Steve Pozzanghera and other department staff.

WDFW actions this summer to protect sheep from the Huckleberry pack are described in a question-and-answer document on the department’s website.

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal list of endangered species in the eastern third of the state, but the species is still protected under Washington state law. The state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and state laws set the parameters for responding to wolf predation on livestock.

Pamplin told the state Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday that the agency is feeling the squeeze of groups on both sides of the wolf issue. Pro-wolf groups and livestock producers have charged the agency with mismanagement of wolves in the state.

Wolf advocates — who have petitioned Gov. Jay Inslee to clamp down on any WDFW decisions to kill wolves to protect livestock — want the state to use more non-lethal tools to prevent livestock depredations. They want stock moved if they come in conflict with wolves, criticize the agency's lack of transparency on wolf control say they agency's responses have impacted the recovery of wolves in the state.

Livestock interests — and the Stevens County Commission, which has issued two resolutions condemning attacking wolves and state wolf management — point out the WDFW has the legal obligation to kill wolves that threaten livestock and should follow through in the case of the Huckleberry Pack. They are angry that wolves forced a producer to move his sheep off private property.

Wildlife officials respond to heat over managing Huckleberry wolf pack

UPDATED with link to “wolves and ranching can coexist” commentary.

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The West Side of Washington appears to be in a tizzy over the state's management of gray wolves in Eastern Washington.

State wildlife officials killed one wolf in August during a month of effort to control the Huckleberry Pack that killed at least 24 sheep grazing on private Hancock timber lands and some state lands in Stevens County.

The pro-wolf groups are focusing on claims that the rancher did not do enough to prevent the wolves from getting a taste of his sheep, especially those that were grazing on public land, and thus prompting the killing of an animal protected by state endangered species laws.

Those laws, by the way, give the state some leeway to manage endangered species to protect the public and private property.

Also, the sheep were mainly on a private land grazing allotment and open range laws apply to the sheep that strayed onto state land, WDFW officials say.

The other pro-wolf talking point — or should I say ranting point, considering a few phone calls I received today — was highlighted in an unsigned opinion piece ran last week in the The Olympian and the Bellingham Herald claiming that lethal removal of the pack's breeding female was “catastrophic” and would cause “chaos” in the pack.

That's not necessarily true and certainly hasn't been proven. (The state didn't target the breeding female, but it weighed less than 70 pounds and could not be distinguished from other members of the pack by the shooter in the helicopter.)

Stevens County officials and livestock producers also are critical of the state's wolf management for the opposite reasons.

The Stevens County Commission passed a resolution saying residents have a constitutional right to kill wolves under some circumstances to protect their property followed by an other resolution that condemned the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for its wolf management.

Today the Stevens County Cattlemen's Association demanded changes to allow Washington wolves to be managed locally rather than by the state.

WDFW director Phil Anderson, who had been responding to criticism this month through written statements stepped up his communication in the past week.

In a Sept. 18 interview filmed on TVW and with FAQs posted online yesterday, WDFW officials challenge contentions that the operation was a “another mistake” and the removal of the breeding female was “catastrophic” and would cause “chaos” in the pack. The charges are overstated, they say, pointing to research done in Alaska.

Washington was never going to be some hippy wolf nirvana nor Wyoming with its predator (free) zone, but despite the years of effort on the part of ranchers, hunters and wolf groups spent coming up with a management plan for recovering the species and dealing with their impacts, things may be unraveling.

“Frankly,” Anderson told Jenkins, “I’m very concerned that our opportunity is beginning to slip away to be successful to have the people on all sides of this issue work together toward a common outcome of making sure we have  recovery of wolves, have a healthy and sustainable population of wolves, but doing so in a way that maintains lifestyles (and) economies in rural areas … The livestock industry is huge to the employment of Ferry County, Stevens County, Okanogan County, Pend Oreille County, those areas up there, and I don’t mean to miss other areas where it is as well.”