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Nearly toothless Idaho grizzly bear, 25, euthanized after series of cabin break-ins

WILDLIFE —  A 25 year-old male grizzly bear that had been breaking into buildings in search of food was euthanized Monday by Idaho Fish and Game Department biologists.

The grizzly bear had previously been captured as part of routine scientific monitoring, so its age and health status was known to biologists, the agency reported in a media release.  

“This bear started getting into trouble around buildings at the end of last season and given that fact that some of his teeth were missing and the others were pretty worn down, which is typical for a bear of this age, continuation of this type of behavior could be expected," said Curtis Hendricks,  regional wildlife manager.

While this bear had made no direct threats to humans, it habituation to human-related foods and decreasing ability to forage naturally increased the potential for physical conflict with humans and required immediate action, he said.

Elsewhere in Island Park, another younger grizzly bear who had become overly comfortable around humans and whose antics playing with a sprinkler had appeared on local television news,  was hazed with rubber bullets. 

About 1,150 grizzly bears are roaming the Yellowstone Ecosystem, a number that exceeds all Endangered Species recovery goals, the agency says. 

While the Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears remain listed, all management actions such as this, are first approved by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. 

Idaho Fish and Game and other recovery effort member agencies have requested that the USFWS once again remove the Yellowstone grizzly population from the Endangered Species list.

Photos confirm California’s first wolf pack in nearly a century

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Oregon wolf, OR-7, first explored the landscape in California in 2011-2012 and now the first settlers have moved into Siskiyou County.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife released remote camera images last week as evidence of five gray wolf pups and two adults in Northern California.

The first wolf pack documented in California in nearly a century has been named the Shasta Pack for its proximity to the prominent Cascades volcano.

After trail cameras recorded a lone canid in May and July, CDFW deployed additional cameras, one of which took multiple photos showing five pups, which appear to be a few months old and others showing individual adults. Because of the proximity to the original camera locations, it is likely the adult previously photographed in May and July is associated with the group of pups, officials said.

“This news is exciting for California,” said agency Director Charlton H. Bonham in a statement. “We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state and it appears now is the time.”

Indeed the news was greeted with enthusiasm by wildlife advocates, but also with concern by hunters and livestock producers:

  • “This is an Endangered Species Act success story in the making,” Pamela Flick, with the Defenders of Wildlife conservation non-profit, told the San Jose Mercury Times.
  • “If the public wants wolves maybe they should support the people that are helping feed the wolves,” Jim Rickert, who owns a ranch nearby, told the Sacramento Bee.

Wild wolves historically inhabited California, but were extirpated. Aside from these wolves and the famous wolf OR7 who entered California in December 2011, the last confirmed wolf in the state was here in 1924. OR7 has not been in California for more than a year and is currently the breeding male of the Rogue Pack in southern Oregon.

In June 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list gray wolves as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The gray wolf is also listed as endangered in California, under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. Gray wolves that enter California are therefore protected by the ESA making it illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect wolves, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct in California.

State wildlife officials are completing a Draft Wolf Management Plan and will release it soon on its Gray Wolf webpage. It's being hammered out with participation of many stateholders, as was the case with Washington's 2011 Gray Wolf Management Plan.

Though wolves rarely pose a direct threat to human safety, CDFW is recommending that people never approach, feed or otherwise disturb a wolf.

The state is posting on its website answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

Trail cameras first spotted a suspected gray wolf in May and June and biologists set out to retrieve scat samples and set up additional cameras, wildlife authorities said. Two adult wolves were then captured on film. The whole pack was confirmed on Aug. 9.

The adult wolves are suspected to be from Oregon but wildlife authorities do not believe they are descended from OR-7, the one that wandered into California in 2011. DNA samples have been sent to a lab in Idaho to determine the clan's origin.

“We’re very interested in where did these wolves come from and who did they descend from,” Kovacs told the Sacramento Bee.

Washington State wildlife plan open to public comment

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Washington's State Wildlife Action Plan, which identifies 268 fish and wildlife species with the greatest conservation needs, has been updated and state officials are taking public comment through Sept. 11.

The plan describes key risks to those species and conservation measures designed to ensure their long-term survival.

The draft plan is available on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website, along with instructions for submitting comments.

WDFW staff will provide an overview of the plan via webinar on Aug. 20. Registration information on the webinar is available on the website noted above. 

“This updated plan is designed to guide agency priorities, research efforts and conservation actions over the next decade,” said Penny Becker, WDFW’s wildlife diversity manager. “It will also qualify our state to continue receiving federal grants aimed at conserving fish and wildlife species at risk of decline.”

States are required to develop wildlife action plans and update them every 10 years to qualify for State Wildlife Grants (SWG), administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

WDFW developed Washington’s first plan – then called a Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Plan – in 2005, Becker said. Since then, the state has received $1.2 million in SWG funding for conservation activities each year, she said.

Projects supported by those funds range from restoring habitat for the greater sage grouse in Eastern Washington to reintroducing the native fisher on the Olympic Peninsula.

“A major goal of the federal wildlife grants is to help states keep common species common,” Becker said. “That is also a key goal of our state action plan.”

Another wolf sniffs out the digs in California

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced today that wildlife biologists have been tracking a gray wolf that has likely dispersed from Oregon into Siskiyou County in northern California.

The presence of this new wolf – whose sex and specific origins have yet to be determined – is another hint that gray wolves are on the verge of returning to California.

After nearly a century without wolves being present in the state, this new wolf is the second in the last four years known to cross the border into the Golden State.

In recent years, wandering wolf OR-7 —named for the tag it received when captured and collared by Oregon biologists — was made famous for several trips into the California. Last year, OR-7 found a mate, bred and started the Rogue Pack in Oregon’s southern Cascades. The pack has produced another litter of pups this year and roams not far from the California border.

Meanwhile in Oregon, Department of Fish and Wildlife officials today announced two new Areas of Known Wolf Activity (AKWAs). The new areas are a result of two dispersing radio-collared wolves. 

  • OR25, originally from the Imnaha Pack, traveled through the Columbia Basin, Southern Blue Mountains, and Northern and Central Cascade Mountains and has been in the Klamath County area (Sprague wildlife management unit) since May.
  • OR30, originally from the Mt. Emily pack, crossed I-84 and has been resident in the Starkey and Ukiah wildlife management units (Union County) since May.

Official Puget Sound orca census: 81 whales, including 4 babies

MARINE MAMMALS — Researchers have counted 81 killer whales, including four babies born since last winter, in the annual July tally of endangered Puget Sound orcas.  

Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research, which keeps the official census of Puget Sound killer whales for the federal government, says they have photo confirmation of each whale.  

Balcomb says it’s good news that the four baby orcas have passed “the dangerous part,” though they’re not in the clear yet.  

The population of 81 orcas is higher than last year’s count of 78 whales in July. But it’s still dangerously low. Listed as endangered in 2005, the whales are struggling because of pollution, lack of food and other reasons. 

Endangered species initiative to be on ballot

OLYMPIA — Washington voters will decide this fall whether the state should crack down on people who traffic in endangered animals.

Initiative 1401 has more than enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot, the Secretary of State's office said Wednesday afternoon. Supporters had turned in about 100,000 more signatures than the minimum needed to qualify for the ballot, and the random check of signatures chosen by a computer showed an error rate of about 14 percent, which is lower than the average of 18 percent in recent years.

If approved by voters, the initiative would outlaw the sale of a wide array of protected animal species, or their parts, including elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers and other large felines, marine turtles, sharks and rays. Sale of the animals or their parts would be a gross misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances. 

The campaign committee has raised some $2 million, most of it from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and spent $1.5 million so far, mostly on paying people to collect signatures.

 

Wolf-killed cow confirmed near Cle Elum

Updated 6:15 p.m.

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A cow on a grazing allotment near Cle Elum, Washington, was killed by a wolf, federal officials say. It's the first confirmed case of livestock depredation in that area during wolf recovery in the state.

The cow’s carcass was discovered last Thursday by a Washington State University graduate student doing research on wolves. The kill was in the range of the Teanaway pack.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife experts found gnawing and bite marks on the yearling Angus that were consistent with a wolf kill. Tracks, scat and hair were found in the area and GPS collar locations confirmed that a wolf had been at the site.

The livestock producer operates under a grazing permit issued by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and a livestock damage prevention agreement with the state that’s designed to reduce the risk of wolf kills through the use of range riders and other measures.

The producer is one of seven Washington ranchers currently partnering with Conservation Northwest to implement range riders, which are herd supervisors that help deter depredations as the region’s wolf population recovers and their territory.

"The Teanaway ranching operation is currently in its third season partnering with Conservation Northwest’s Range Rider Pilot Project," says Chase Gunnell, commications manager for the  Western Washington-based conservation group in a media release. "Up to this point, neither the rancher nor any other Washington ranchers participating in the program had experienced any wolf depredations despite ranching in the area of six different wolf packs. Nor have they had to call in the authorities to lethally remove wolves."

In Washington, the gray wolf (Canis lupus) is federally listed as endangered west of U.S. Highway 97, State Route 17, and U.S. 395. Gray wolves are also listed as endangered by the State of Washington throughout the state.

The incident was reported today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, which has jurisdiction over wolf cases in the western third of Washington.

Four cattle near Chewelah were confirmed killed by wolves from the Dirty Shirt Pack between July 5 and July 10.

"We have not documented any depredations since July 10, when we began implementing additional preventive measures," said Donny Martorello, the WDFW wolf policy lead in Olympia.  He continued:

"WDFW staff will continue to provide daily updates to the producer and range riders about the location of the pack based on data we obtain from the collared wolf. Range riders will continue working the area, and our staff are actively hazing wolves detected in the vicinity of the livestock.

"If another depredation occurs and we confirm that livestock was killed after July 10, WDFW will offer a permit to the producers with a Forest Service grazing permit within the Dirty Shirt pack territory to kill up to two wolves, in total from the pack, in the vicinity of livestock.  That kill permit authority would extend to the producer’s family and hired employees.  Department staff working in concert with the producers and range riders would also be instructed to carry out the permit if they encountered a wolf. However, this permit would not authorize the hunting or baiting of wolves by the producers, their family, or WDFW staff.

Stevens County has been Washington's epicenter of wolf pack activity and livestock depredations. Over three years, wolves have attacked and killed livestock in all four corners of the county, from the Canada border near Laurier to the south end of the county near Springdale as well as in the Colville Valley and most recently near Chewelah.

Report wolf sightings or evidence of wolf activity in Washington State to help wildlife manages monitor the recovering species.
  

Montana governor, federal agency sign sage grouse deal

THREATENED SPECIES — Gov. Steve Bullock signed an agreement today with the U.S. Department of Agriculture pledging cooperation on efforts to protect declining populations of greater sage grouse — and, in turn, avoid the economic and political turmoil should the grouse be listed for protections under the Endangered Species Act.

The agreement signed at the Capitol in Helena calls for state, federal and local officials to meet annually to discuss sage grouse conservation. It includes no new spending or regulations, the Associated Press reports.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller said the agreement should help streamline and coordinate sage grouse conservation efforts on private land in the state. Seventy percent of sage grouse habitat in Montana is on private or state lands.

“It sets up the structure for really accelerating action on the ground,” Weller said of measures to help farmers and ranchers in the state voluntarily protect sage grouse habitat while maintaining grazing lands.

Sage grouse numbers fell dramatically across the western U.S. during the past several decades because of oil and gas drilling, residential and agricultural development and disease.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a Sept. 30 deadline to decide if the chicken-sized grouse needs federal protections, although Congress has blocked additional spending by the agency to put those protections in place.

Montana and other states want to demonstrate that sweeping federal protections aren’t needed.

Montana is the first state to sign such an agreement with the USDA regarding sage grouse. In addition to Bullock, the agreement was signed by representatives of the Agriculture Department and Montana’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

“Our economy, and our Montana way of life depends on all of us working together to ensure a bright future for the grouse and a continued thriving economy,” Bullock said. “The best possible outcome: the management of the bird is to stay within the state of Montana.”

Since 2010, the Natural Resources Conservation Service through a sage grouse program has invested nearly $300 million to conserve more than 4.4 million acres of sage grouse habitat in 11 western states in which sage grouse are found.

Weller said Monday that the conservation service plans to spend another $200 million throughout the 11 states, which was announced earlier this year. He did not say how much would go toward efforts in Montana, but he said officials are currently finalizing an investment strategy.

Bullock last year ordered restrictions on future oil drilling and other activities blamed for driving down sage grouse numbers, aligning Montana with other states rushing to head off federal intervention for the ground-dwelling bird. He also created a sage grouse oversight team in addition to the Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program.

The legislature earlier this year passed the governor’s bill to establish a fund that in part will be used by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to hire at least five new employees to manage the program.

Wolf livestock kills near Chewelah increased to 4

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The number of cattle killed by wolves in the Chewelah Creek area of Stevens County in the first half of July has been increased from two to four, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said today.

No cattle have been reported killed since the first two adult cows were reported killed and range riders were deployed to protect the cattle on July 10, said Nate Pamplin, the agency's assistant director.  The increase in number comes from two carcasses found shortly after the first attack was reported.

All if the kills have been attributed to the Dirty Shirt Pack, one of which had been previously trapped and is wearing a GPS monitoring collar.  Here's more from today's announcement from Pamplin:

On July 10, Pamplin announced that the agency had confirmed wolf depredations on two adult cows. 

On July 14, WDFW received a report of a suspected wolf depredation on another adult cow, which was investigated that evening and confirmed by staff on July 15 that it was a wolf depredation. 

Also that day, WDFW received a report of a dead calf, which has been confirmed as a wolf depredation.

The investigation on the depredations indicates that all four confirmed livestock depredations occurred prior to July 10, when staff and additional preventive measures were mobilized to the area. 

To help prevent additional attacks, we are working with the livestock producer to secure and/or remove the dead livestock from the area. The adult cow carcasses were surrounded by fladry since each necropsy was conducted, and we are trying to locate the necessary equipment to remove them from the landscape either later today or tomorrow. The calf carcass was already removed. 

The two range riders who arrived Monday are continuing to work the area on horseback through today. Members of WDFW’s Wildlife Conflict Staff will provide additional presence this evening through this weekend.  We are continuing to share locations of the collared wolf with the producer on a daily basis.

See the "Latest Updates" on wolf actions in Washington.

Condoms for humans could mean salvation for critters

ENDANGERED SPECIES — An environmental group is handing out free condoms in Washington to save endangered species.

No, these are not special condoms for northern pike in an attempt to ward off a threat to struggling salmon stocks.

The condoms are ordinary "rubbers" in packaging that stresses the impact human population growth has in crowding species off the planet.

On Saturday, as part of World Population Day, the Center for Biological Diversity says it distributed 10,000 free Endangered Species Condom in 27 states where the group says species featured on the condom packages are most endangered.

I've personally made a more permanent commitment in this regard, but I welcome the effort to highlight the pressure human population growth puts on local wildlife.

Volunteers in Washington distributed packages featuring the sea otter.

It also could have featured, say, the woodland caribou or pygmy rabbit.

“Sea otters along the Washington coast, once nearly wiped out by the fur trade, today face threats from fishing gear, oil spills and a changing climate,” said Leigh Moyer, the Center’s population organizer. “The fate of these charismatic animals is linked to our growing human population and demand for resources.”

The Endangered Species Condoms are wrapped in colorful packages featuring six different endangered species and information to help volunteers start the conversation about the impact of runaway human population growth on polar bears, monarch butterflies and other imperiled wildlife. The Center says it has given away 600,000 free Endangered Species Condoms since 2009.

 “Human population growth and increased consumption are driving extinction rates 1,000 times higher than the normal background rate,” said Moyer. “These condoms are a great way to get the conversation started about a serious issue.

"When we have dedicated volunteers distribute condoms in their neighborhoods and explain that extinction isn’t just a problem somewhere else but a problem everywhere, including in our own backyards, individuals can make better decisions for their families and for all wildlife, including local species.”

Scientists say Earth is undergoing its sixth mass wildlife extinction. While previous extinction periods were driven by geological or cosmic factors, the current crisis is caused by human activities.

World Population Day was designated by the United Nations in 1989 to raise awareness about global population issues. More than 7 billion people inhabit the planet, with the United States ranked as the third-most populous country in the world.

Does restricted wolf management put sights on cougars?

PREDATORS — Is there some science behind it, or are Washington wildlife managers stepping up lethal pressure on mountain lions simply because they have limited options for controlling wolves?

The question is explored in a story by Sandi Doughton, Seattle Times science writer:

Conservation groups are challenging new rules that expand cougar hunting in some parts of the state, arguing that the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission disregarded scientific studies that show increased harvests don’t reduce cougar populations and can actually lead to more conflicts between the big cats and their human neighbors.

A petition filed June 30 by the Humane Society of the United States, Conservation Northwest and seven other groups says the commission also adopted the change with no opportunity for public comment.

In some areas, the new rules would nearly double the number of cougars that could be killed, said Gary Koehler, former director of carnivore research at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and a party to the petition.

“It’s a totally political decision,” he said. “The commission is ignoring the science.”

Wolves kill cattle in Stevens County near Chewelah

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Wolves killed two adult cows near Chewelah this week, state wildlife officials confirmed today.

The cattle were found dead on Thursday and today in the upper portion of the North Fork of Chewelah Creek in the Dirty Shirt Pack territory, said Nate Pamplin, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife assistant director.

Wildlife officials and the Stevens County Sheriff’s department investigated the case, since wolves are protected as a state endangered species.

The producer runs 83 cow/calf pairs on the Colville National Forest allotment, Pamplin said.

"Staff will contact the producer on a daily basis to share the location of the collared wolf from the Dirty Shirt Pack," Pamplin said. The wolf fixed with a GPS collar can be tracked by satellite to help the rancher track the pack and deter further attacks.

"We have conflict staff deployed for the weekend and range riders will be mobilized soon."

Before the announcement of the wolf kills, the Fish and Wildlife Department issued a media release noting that the agency has stepped up proactive measures to prevent livestock depredations.  Here's some of the information:

Since 2013, WDFW has offered cost-sharing arrangements to livestock producers who invest in non-lethal deterrents such as range riders, guard dogs, “fladry”(fencing), and carcass disposal. During the past year, WDFW signed 41 cooperative agreements with ranchers, committing more than $300,000 in financial assistance to help them adopt measures to protect their livestock.

Other conflict-prevention strategies employed by WDFW in the past year include:

  • Range riders: WDFW contracted with five range riders that state wildlife managers could deploy to help ranchers monitor their livestock, remove sick and injured animals and haze wolves away from active grazing areas. In addition, all livestock owners with cooperative agreements qualify for cost-sharing arrangements for range riders.
  • Radio collars: State, federal and tribal biologists have captured 11 wolves and fitted them with radio collars since January. There are now 14 active collars on wolves distributed among 10 of the state’s 16 known wolf packs.
  • Wildlife conflict staff: WDFW now employs 11 wildlife-conflict specialists to work with livestock producers in areas with active wolf packs. In all, there are 27 members on WDFW’s wildlife-conflict staff, including specialists working statewide on other issues, including deer and elk damage

A Wolf Conflict-Deterrence Update on the agency's website describes how proactive strategies have been applied to specific areas occupied by wolf packs.

Prior to spring pupping season, a survey conducted by WDFW found a minimum of 68 gray wolves in Washington, up 30 percent from the previous year. The number of confirmed wolf packs also increased to 16 from 12 the year before.

As the state’s wolf population continues to rise, ranchers in Eastern Washington have reported losing an increasing number of livestock to wolf predation.

On two occasions – in 2012 and 2014 – WDFW took lethal action against wolf packs involved in persistent attacks on livestock. Both actions occurred in the eastern third of the state, where wolves are no longer listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Still in his first year as WDFW Director Jim Unsworth has extensive experience with wolf management from his work in Idaho, a state with nearly 10 times as many wolves as Washington.

Noting that Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan provides guidance for both lethal and non-lethal wolf-deterrence strategies, Unsworth said he plans to emphasize preventive measures to reduce conflicts with wolves.

“Washington needs to chart its own course in wolf management,” Unsworth said. “I think the proactive strategies we’ve pursued over the past year have put us on the right path and reinforced the importance of working with livestock producers to minimize conflicts with wolves.”

Washington has 14 wolves collared, working for science

ENDANGERED SPECIES — As reported last week, Washington has trapped and radio-collared at least five gray wolves this spring, adding to its pool of wolves that are transmitting data about their individual movements as well as their associated packs.

This information is valuable to the recovery of wolves and their eventual delisting from endangered species protections.

That brings the number of collars being monitored by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife researchers to 14 individuals in 10 packs.

  • Ten of those collars are expensive units sending daily GPS data.
  • Four of the collars are transmitting VHF signals that give more general information on location and movements.

The Colville Tribe, which runs its own wildlife program on packs within the reservation,has not confirmed how many collars tribal biologists have put on wolves. 

Packs managed by WDFW with collars include Salmo, Goodman, Diamond, Smackout, Dirty Shirt, Huckleberry, Profanity, Lookout, Teanaway and Tucannon. 

Wolf update: Packs moving; big-game populations holding steady

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A just-released update on wolf management in Washington indicates that wolf packs are shifting territories somewhat and that they are not having significant detectable impacts on the state's big-game herds.

Following is a portion of the update from Dave Ware, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf program leader:

Summary of capture and monitoring efforts for the spring and summer to date.

  • WDFW staff placed two collars on yearlings in the Smackout Pack.
  • WDFW staff placed a collar on what we think is the breeding female in the Profanity Peak Pack.  This collared wolf is spending its time north of where we thought the Profanity Peak Pack was located, which may mean that it is either a different pack or that the pack has shifted to the north.
  • Wildlife Services staff placed a collar on an adult female wolf from the Dirty Shirt Pack.
  • WSU placed a collar on what we think is the breeding female from the Lookout Pack.

"We are pleased with our success to date, but would like to know more about the Huckleberry Pack and Profanity Peak Pack.  So we will be looking for recent activity and setting traps to collar additional wolves in these areas over the next few weeks.  The collared wolves in both of these packs appear to be spending their time this summer well north of where they had been in past years.  Therefore we will be looking in the area of their historic locations to the south of the currently collared wolves. 

"We are also planning to get back into the area of the Carpenter Ridge Pack.  We have already set traps in this territory without success and it is time to get back in there to see if we can find current activity. We will trap other pack territories opportunistically where we do not currently have collars deployed and look for new packs when we verify recent wolf activity."

Outreach Efforts

"WDFW presented an update on the status of ungulate populations in areas with wolves to the Game Management Advisory Council on June 6.  A copy of the presentation is posted on the wolf web page

"At this point in wolf recovery, we are not seeing anything in the harvest or survey data that would indicate a decline in deer, elk, or moose populations."

Wisconsin hunter fined for killing Montana grizzly bear

HUNTING – A nonresident hunter has been ordered to pay more than $2,300 for mistakenly shooting and killing a grizzly bear in northwestern Montana. That's a light fine for killing a protected big-game species, likely the result of the hunter's cooperation in the case.

Richard Kutcher of Mukwonago, Wisconsin, thought the animal he shot May 16 was a black bear, not a grizzly.

Grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species and are illegal to hunt.

State wildlife officials say Kutcher reported the shooting to wildlife officials immediately and cooperated with the investigation.

Kutcher pleaded guilty in Flathead County Justice Court to killing a grizzly bear in a closed season. He was fined $235 and ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution.

Feds release plan for bull trout conservation in 5 states

FISHING — Stemming from a lawsuit won by environmental groups, a federal agency is proposing revisions to his protections for by bull trout. Here's a peak at the proposals from the Associated Press.  (The draft plan was released Monday and will be posted in the Federal Register on Thursday.)

BOISE, Idaho — Federal officials are releasing a plan Thursday to recover struggling bull trout populations in five Western states with the goal of lifting Endangered Species Act protections for the fish.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes lifting protections individually in six recovery units spread over Idaho, western Montana, Washington, Oregon and a tiny portion of northern Nevada when specific requirements are met. The agency said the areas contain distinct populations of bull trout with unique characteristics.

“We think the approach is tactical and appropriate,” said Steve Duke, bull trout recovery planning coordinator for the agency. “We think it focuses on what still needs to be done, and it lets local agencies and those with managerial oversight focus on those areas without having to look at the larger distribution of bull trout.”

Bull trout are a cold water species listed as threatened in the Lower 48 states in 1999. Experts say cold, clean water is essential for the fish.

The plan doesn’t dictate actions but looks at ways to keep water in streams habitable for bull trout. It considers warming waters due to climate change that force some populations into upper regions of river systems, Duke said.

“We expect that to continue into the future,” he said.

The draft plan stems from the agency’s settlement last year of a lawsuit by two environmental groups — the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan.

Michael Garrity of Alliance for the Wild Rockies said he’s concerned the agency is looking to define bull trout differently in different regions so federal protections could be removed in some areas while fish are still in trouble in other areas. He said his organization would be against that plan.

“We’re optimistic they’ll listen to us,” Garrity said. “But we’re optimistic because we’ve sued them on bull trout about a dozen times and won each time. If they don’t follow the best available science, we won’t hesitate to sue again.”

Besides warming waters, the bull trout’s survival is threatened by non-native brook trout. If the species mate, it creates a hybrid fish.

Bull trout occupy about 60 percent of their former range, which has remained steady since the fish received federal protection in 1999, Duke said.

Their presence is often a sign of a healthy river system because of the high water quality the fish requires, Duke said. Water quality can decline for various reasons, including logging, he said.

The agency doesn’t believe logging is still occurring in a way that harms bull trout habitat, Duke said. But the plan identifies some areas harmed long ago by logging when it was done with little regard for stream health.

Public comments will be taken through July 20, which the agency plans to use to prepare a final plan by Sept. 30.

Bowhunting for northern pike illegal in Washington

UPDATED 5:50 p.m.

FISHING — Warning: It's illegal to take northern pike with bow and arrow in Washington and Idaho.

In a post yesterday about northern pike suppression planned for Lake Roosevelt, I reported that a few bowhunters were targeting northern pike where the predators are showing up in notable numbers and sizes near Kettle Falls.

That's true, but I should have said that it's illegal, as Marc Divens, WDFW warmwater fisheries biologist pointed out by email.

While Washington fish managers don't want northern pike in the Columbia system — and there's no minimum size limit and no daily limit on them — pike are still not totally open to annihilation in Washington.

It's pretty much illegal to use bow and arrow for anything other than CARP in Washington. 

Page 12 of the 2015 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet says:

You May Not …fish for Game Fish, salmon, shad,
sturgeon or shellfish with bow and arrow or spear.

However, a devil can always be lurking in the details. Reading the fine print of the regs specific to Lake Roosevelt (page 93), it's unlawful to fish for CARP with bow and arrow in Lake Roosevelt.

Northern pike were recently reclassified from "Game Fish" to "Prohibited Species" status in Washington by the Fish and Wildlife Commission after pike numbers increased in the Pend Orielle, Divens said.

"Basically, this was a decision at the policy level to indicate that Washington State was not interested in welcoming northern pike into the state, mostly due to concerns with the possibility of moving downstream into the Columbia River where they could pose a threat to salmon and steelhead recovery efforts."

The WDFW Webpage for northern pike says:

In April 2011, public meetings were conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Kalispel Tribe Natural Resources Department (KNRD) to solicit feedback on the findings to that point and the plan going forward. Also, as a result of the numbers of Northern Pike captured, plus their spawning and predatory habits, the WDFW Commission voted to reclassify Northern Pike as a Prohibited Species in Washington.

Under this designation:

  • anglers may harvest pike under WDFW sport fishing rules, with no minimum size and no daily or possession limit;
  • pike must be killed before leaving the water in which they are caught;
  • the release of live Northern Pike into other waters is strictly prohibited.

"We want people to catch them, kill them and not move them around," Divens said.

Otter orders Idaho sage grouse plan

UPLAND BIRDS — Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has signed an executive order requiring state executive agencies to adopt Idaho’s Sage-Grouse Management Plan.

The plan demonstrates the state’s commitment to a viable sage grouse population while also maintaining predictable levels of use on public lands, Otter said in a statement today.

The plan approved by the Idaho Land Board in April aims to protect habitat by creating enforceable stipulations in state leases, permits and easements. On private lands, the plan contains voluntary practices.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a court order to decide by Sept. 30 whether the sage grouse merits protections from the Endangered Species Act.

Idaho’s plan is meant to halt the decline of sage grouse populations without having to list the species.

Government hunters prepare to kill salmon-eating birds

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Not since the market hunting days have waterfowl gunners set their sights so high.

Government hunters reportedly are scouting an island at the mouth of the Columbia River as they prepare to shoot thousands of hungry seabirds to reduce the numbers of baby salmon they eat.

Biologists blame the cormorants for eating millions of baby salmon as they migrate down the Columbia to the ocean. Some of the fish are federally protected species.

Hunters from Wildlife Services went to East Sand Island on Thursday to look over the lay of the land before starting to carry out plans to reduce the population of double crested cormorants from about 14,000 breeding pairs to 5,600 by 2018, said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Diana Fredlund. 

An environmental impact statement calls for them to shoot adult birds, spray eggs with oil so they won’t hatch, and to destroy nests.  

  

Wolf documented between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A gray wolf was photographed in February by a trail cam between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass, state and federal biologists have confirmed.

The confirmation is another piece of mounting evidence that the wolves are advancing their recovery toward the West Side of the Cascades.

The gray wolf is still protected under state and/or federal endangered species laws in Washington. Wolves must establish a breeding presence in three regions of the state, including Western Washington, before they can be considered for delisting.

The February photos, released today, were captured by Conservation Northwest’s Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project northwest of Leavenworth. The wolf in the photos is the first officially documented in the area since wolves began to recolonize Washington state in the late 2000s.

“This exciting discovery shows that wolves are continuing to naturally regain their historic range in the Pacific Northwest,” said Chase Gunnell, Conservation Northwest spokesman.

The photos underscore the importance of educating the public on the value of wolves for healthy wild ecosystems, gathering accurate data on impacts to big game and other wildlife species and furthering collaborative efforts that are to reduce conflicts between wolves, livestock and domestic animals in Washington, he said.

Biologists believe the animal is likely a dispersing wolf that traveled into or through the area.

An established wolf pack has not been confirmed in the area, although wolves have likely moved through the region previously to establish the Teanaway and Wenatchee packs to the south, Gunnell said.

While hikers, backpackers and others recreating in wolf country should take some sensible precautions just as they would around bears and other large wildlife, including properly storing food and keeping dogs on leash, wild wolves have posed little threat to humans in North America.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife offers these tips regarding wolf-human interactions:

In the February photos the wolf near Leavenworth, a gray and white animal with a classic coat, is seen sniffing and lying in the snow at a camera station set out to capture photos of wolverines, another elusive carnivore making a comeback in the Cascades. Confirmed wolf tracks were also found within the same area.

The group's citizen-science monitoring program previously made headlines in 2008 by capturing photos of the first wolf pups born in Washington in about 80 years. The project has also photographed and documented scientific data on wolverines in Washington and Canada lynx in British Columbia.

The Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project, led by Conservation Northwest in coordination with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, Wilderness Awareness School and other partners, uses citizen-scientist volunteers to better inform conservation programs and priorities in the Pacific Northwest.

By training hikers, climbers, backcountry skiers, and other outdoor recreationists in tracking, wildlife biology and remote camera use, volunteers are able to support ongoing wildlife research efforts in the Cascades and the Kettle Range of northeast Washington and southeast British Columbia, the group says in a release.

Project efforts typically cover geographic areas outside those where professional research efforts are ongoing, adding to and strengthening the work of agencies, biologists, researchers and conservation organizations.

More information about the Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project is available from Conservation Northwest online or in a video.

Photos and full scientific reports on each wildlife monitoring season are also available.

Video: Eagle eyes guide stoop from world’s highest building

 

FALCONRY — Just how sharp are an eagle's eyes?

Good enough to find a rabbit in range land, for sure. But could an eagle pick out a single human standing on a red carpet in a major city?

Check out this video captured by a tiny camera harnessed to the back of an imperial eagle named Darshan. The eagle was launched in Dubai, capital of the United Arab Emirates, from the top of 2,722-feet high Burj Khalifathe, the world's tallest building. 

This two-minute clip is an edited version of a flight that lasted five minutes as the eagle captured breathtaking views of the city while taking cues from its trainer on the ground.

The eagle flight was arranged by the nature conservation group Freedom Conservation to draw attention to eagle conservation.  This white-tailed eagle has been critically endangered for 50 years, the group says.   

Check it out.

Studies offer grim prospects for woodland caribou survival

ENDANGERED SPECIES — In case you've developed some optimism over man's ability to live within the means of Planet Earth, here's some recent insight on our impacts to wildlife.

Researchers warn that B.C.'s woodland caribou headed for extinction
The five herds of woodland caribou in northeast British Columbia are in danger of going extinct, according to researchers from the University of Northern B.C. and the province's Ecosystem Protection and Sustainability branch. The province's efforts have not help, including a controversial wolf cull the study discounted as addressing a secondary threat to the caribou. Habitat fragmentation caused by oil and gas work, logging and other industrial development are identified the primary driver of the species' demise.
—Toronto Globe and Mail

Another report on sage grouse tangles Wyoming management of species
The results of a study commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts of sage grouse in the American West found that in Wyoming's Powder River Basin the number of sage grouse fell from 6,804 in 2007 to 1,651 in 2013, a 76 percent decline that could lead the species in the basin to extinction within the next 30 years.
—Casper Star-Tribune

Court won’t block salmon-saving plan to kill cormorants

WILDLIFE —  A judge has refused to block a plan to shoot more than 10,000 double-crested cormorants in the Columbia River estuary, the Associated Press reports.

The plan was released earlier this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It wants to stop cormorants from eating millions of baby salmon.

Conservation groups sought a preliminary injunction. They say hydroelectric dams — not cormorants — are the main threat to salmon. The groups filed suit in April against the Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Wildlife Services agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Corps said Wildlife Services will manage the killing.

The plan also calls for destroying 26,000 nests on East Sand Island.

The decision came Friday from U.S. District Judge Michael Simon.

Sage grouse recovery still getting mixed reviews, especially in Utah

WILDLIFE — We can get to work on adjustments to keep this country hospitable to all native species, including us, or we can dig our heads deeper into the sand.

Outdoor writer Brett Prettyman of the Salt Lake Tribune takes a look at where both inclinations meet in Utah:

Threat of listing may be enough to save sage grouse
The threat of listing of sage grouse for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act motivated the raising of $424 million for restoration efforts since 2010 and protected 4.4 million acres of sage grouse habitat in the 11 Western states where the species is found.

Meanwhile, Utah's federal and state lawmakers continue to work for a political blockade to listing, with U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop adding an amendment to a Defense bill last week that would bar the listing of the species for a decade. State legislators have set aside $1 million for the state attorney general to fight such a listing.

Peregrine falcon chicks hatch under Boise webcam

WILDLIFE WATCHING — At least three of the four peregrine falcon chicks have hatched after nesting in a downtown Boise building.

The two parent birds on the 14th floor of the One Capital Center are taking turns keeping the chicks warm.

A web camera has video streamed the falcons since they produced their four eggs for the last month.

The Peregrine Fund, which helped sponsor the web camera, says that it should take five to six weeks for them to be able to fly.

Officials with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game added that nesting on the tall building simulates the steep cliffs the falcons use in the wild.

Falcons prey on other birds, like pigeons, mourning doves and starlings in the Boise area. They can dive at speeds up to 200 mph.

Idaho on board with sage grouse conservation plan

THREATENED SPECIES — Idaho officials have approved a plan to protect habitat for greater sage grouse on state endowment lands as part an effort to avoid a federal listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act.

The Associated Press reports that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and four other statewide elected officials on the Idaho Land Board on Tuesday voted 5-0 to adopt the 82-page Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan that details conservation measures developed by the Idaho Department of Lands.

The document now goes to federal authorities who face a Sept. 30 deadline to decide whether to propose greater sage grouse as needing protections that could limit ranching and other activities in 11 Western states.

Important sage grouse habitat is found on 700,000 acres of Idaho endowment lands, about 44 percent of endowment rangeland in Idaho.

Canada kills 11 wolves to aid dwindling Selkirk caribou

PREDATORS — Eleven wolves were killed in the Southern Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia during a winter effort to reduce predation on endangered woodland caribou that range in Canada as well as in Idaho and Washington.

Another 73 wolves were killed farther north to boost caribou in the South Peace region, the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations announced last week.

The effort began on Jan. 15 and concluded this month. This is the first year of a five-year project of wolf removal that is being employed in conjunction with ongoing habitat protection efforts, British Columbia officials said.

In the South Selkirks, 11 wolves were removed from packs that range into the USA. Of the wolves targeted, seven to 10 remain and are now being monitored to track their movement. To date these wolves have not ranged into caribou areas, so are not candidates for removal.

In the South Peace, 73 wolves were removed, with the majority being in the vicinity of the Moberly and Quintette caribou herds. In one case, six wolves were removed as they were actively stalking 14 caribou.

Both the South Selkirks and South Peace herds have experienced significant losses to wolf predation.

The South Selkirk herd numbered 46 caribou in 2009, declining to 14 in the most recent survey conducted in March 2015. This is a loss of four caribou since the 2014 census. The cause of these recent losses is not known, but likely occurred prior to wolf removal actions being taken. Predation on caribou is more common in the fall and summer

In the four caribou herds in the South Peace (Quintette, Moberly, Scott and Kennedy-Siding), populations are also decreasing and wolves are a key factor. At least 37% of all adult mortalities have been documented as wolf predation.

Hunting and trapping of wolves has not effectively reduced populations and may even split up packs and increase predation rates on caribou. Habitat recovery continues to be an important part of caribou recovery, but cannot address the critical needs of these herds in the short term.

Quick Facts from B.C. government officials:

  • In 2012, the B.C. government endorsed a Peace Northern Caribou implementation plan to increase the population of seven Northern Caribou herds in the south Peace area of B.C.
  • Through a combination of measures the Peace Northern Caribou Plan will ultimately protect over 498,000 ha of high elevation winter range caribou habitat out of a total of 553,477 ha available.
  • In October 2007, the provincial government endorsed the Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan
    • Included among the Province's commitments to Mountain Caribou recovery implementation are the protection of 2.2 million hectares of habitat, including 95% of high-suitability Mountain Caribou habitat, from logging and road building and managing recreation to reduce human disturbance.
    • For the South Selkirk herd, a significant portion of core caribou habitat (61,000 ha.) has been closed to snowmobile use and almost all core caribou habitat (108,000 ha.) has been protected from logging and road building.

Web cam monitors Boise peregrine falcon nest

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Wild peregrine falcons in the process of raising a family are being monitored by a web cam in the nest box above downtown Boise.

This is the seventh year the webcam has provided a bird’s eye view of the daily activities of the nest on the 14th floor of One Capital Center, 10th and Main.

This year, the camera was started on April 6 with four eggs already in the nest. Both parents have been observed incubating and taking care of eggs.

Here's more peregrine info from Idaho Fish and Game:

Since 2003, breeding peregrine falcons have used the nest on the building that simulates the high, steep cliffs the falcons use in the wild.  When in a dive, peregrine falcons are the fastest members of the animal kingdom, reaching speeds as high as 200 miles per hour. They use that speed to prey on other birds. Downtown Boise provides a plentiful supply of pigeons, mourning doves, starlings and other species.

Once an endangered species, the peregrine falcon was restored through the release of captive-bred young by The Peregrine Fund.  It was removed from the endangered species list in 1999, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and individual states continue to monitor peregrine population numbers.

In 2009, Idaho removed the falcon from its list of state threatened species. Like all birds of prey, the falcons remain protected by state and federal law.

Peregrines were essentially gone from Idaho by 1974.  Starting in 1982, captive-bred falcons were released into the wild in Idaho and nearby states.  In 1985, the raptors were again documented as a breeding species, and releases were discontinued.  Eight falcons were released in downtown Boise in 1988 and 1989.  Today, there are about two dozen breeding pairs scattered around the state.

Enviros haggle over Idaho wolf numbers

PREDATORS — There's no way and no reason to count every single wolf in Idaho.  But some environmental groups that need to stay in the headlines to keep the outrage and money flowing are contesting Idaho's recently released 2014 year-end wolf population estimates.

Despite the criticism and dire predictions from enviros since wolves were removed from the endangered species list, the predators have continued to propagate and maintain strong — some would say excessive — populations.

The Associated Press gives a lot of ink to one group's speculation in this story that moved on the wire Sunday:

By KEITH RIDLER/Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho officials are overestimating the number of wolves in the state for a number reasons including relying on sightings by hunters rather than using only trained professionals, a conservation group said.

“Since 2009 more than 1,300 wolves have been hunted or trapped in Idaho, and another nearly 500 have been lethally removed from Idaho’s landscape,” Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “In the face of these astounding numbers, it’s no wonder that Idaho may have experienced a nearly 50 percent drop in breeding pairs.”

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game in a 70-page report released April 3 said there were at least 770 wolves in the state, with a minimum of 26 breeding pairs, as of Dec. 31, 2014. The Center notes that’s a steep drop from the 49 breeding pairs in 2009, when wolves in Idaho reached their peak.

The Center also questions the state agency’s estimate of 6.5 wolves per pack, a key number as it’s part of an equation — when multiplied by the number of packs in the state— to tally the overall population.

Jim Hayden, a biologist with Fish and Game, defended the state report’s estimate of the minimum number of wolves in Idaho. Hayden is listed as an editor of the report.

“The 770 is a number we’re very confident with,” he said. “We know the actual truth is higher than that, we just don’t know how far higher.”

He said the agency stopped counting breeding pairs of wolves after surveying 43 packs because it’s expensive and the number had cleared the minimum as required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The federal agency could retake management control of the Idaho wolf population if numbers fall below certain criteria.

If the state fails to maintain 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves over any three-year period, or if the population falls below 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves in any year, the federal agency could take over.

Mike Jimenez, Northern Rocky Mountain wolf coordinator for Fish and Wildlife, said the federal agency reviewed Idaho’s methodology and is confident in the numbers.

“From our perspective, they are far above recovery goals,” he said. “How to manage wolves and hunt wolves — that’s a state issue.”

The wolf population has grown so much, Jimenez said, that biologists can no longer rely on using radio collars when doing counts.

“We’re way past that,” he said. “We have a very large wolf population in the Northern Rockies. We’re trying to reduce the need for radio collars.”

Fish and Wildlife estimates that a minimum of 1,783 wolves in more than 300 packs roamed the six-state region at the end of last year.

Hayden said that radio collars on 32 packs in Idaho were used by Fish and Game to come up with 6.5 wolves per pack, which is an increase from 5.4 wolves per pack the previous year.

But he said the agency is relying more on remote cameras and, this spring, will be collecting scat at wolf rendezvous sites to get DNA samples. The DNA can help determine pack size and the number of pups. He noted the wolf population is expected to jump 40 percent with the addition of pups this spring.

The DNA can also be used to help determine harvest levels by hunters.

Some groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, would rather there be no harvest.

“We don’t think wolves should be hunted at all,” Santarsiere said. “But with such aggressive killing of a species so recently considered endangered, there at least needs to be careful monitoring.”

Baby boom of orcas in Washington waters

MARINE MAMMALS — The endangered population of killer whales that spend time in Washington state waters is experiencing a baby boom with a fourth calf orca documented this winter.

The newborn was spotted Monday by whale-watching crews and a naturalist in the waters of British Columbia, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association, which represents 29 whale-watching operators in Washington and British Columbia. Here's more info from an Associated Press story:

The orca was swimming with other members of the J-pod, one of three families of orcas that are protected in Washington and Canada.

Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research on Friday Harbor, confirmed the birth to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The center keeps the official census of endangered southern resident killer whales for the federal government.

The birth brings the population to 81, still dangerously low. Listed as endangered in 2005, the whales are struggling because of pollution, lack of food and other reasons.

“This one looked quite plump and healthy,” said Balcomb, who reviewed photographs of the newborn. “We’re getting there. We wish all these babies well. They look good.”

While he and others hailed the birth of four baby orcas since December, they cautioned that the survival rate for babies is about 50 percent.

“Given where we were four months ago, it’s certainly the trend we’re hoping for,” Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said Tuesday.

“It’s still far too early to think we’re out of the woods yet,” said Hanson, who studies the orcas.

Michael Harris, executive director with the Pacific Whale Watch Association, said, “Who doesn’t love baby orcas, right?” But he, too, urged measured optimism.

“We’re going to keep a careful watch on these babies and our fingers crossed,” he added.

The newest orca was spotted Monday swimming with a calf that was born in December and a female whale. Another calf was born to the J-pod in early February, while a calf in the L-pod was observed in late February.

Balcomb said he thinks the baby’s mother could be J-16, the female whale it was swimming with Monday. But it may be some time before the relationships are sorted out, he added.