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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."

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.

Wolf killed by vehicle at Snoqualmie Pass; wolves suspected at Mount Spokane

PREDATORS — More and more evidence indicates wolves are gaining ground across the state.

A gray wolf was struck and killed by a vehicle Monday on Interstate 90 between North Bend and Snoqualmie Pass.

"It's one of the first gray wolves confirmed killed west of the Cascade Crest since the state's first wolf pack was confirmed in 2008," said Dave Ware, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf policy lead.

Closer to home, wolf tracks and scats have been documented on Mount Spokane over the past few months by a man who says he contracts with Defenders of Wildlife. He also says he has recent video of what may be a pair of wolves, but has not turned it over to Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officials.

"Now we apparently have one more reason for people to keep their dogs on leashes when they bring them up here," said Steven Christensen, Mount Spokane State Park manager. 

"The other reason is that it's the law.  But if there are wolves up here, they are known to be aggressive to dogs they perceive as a threat to their territory."

State Fish and Wildlife officials say they have no confirmation that wolves are on Mount Spokane, yet.

However, state live-trapping efforts to tag and radio collar more wolves for monitoring are starting up.

"This is when pups are emerging from their dens, and the older members of the packs are making regular hunting trips into adjacent areas to bring food back to rendezvous sites," Ware said. "This makes the adult wolves vulnerable to our trapping efforts, which is important to our ability to monitor wolf population growth and minimize conflicts with livestock."

State biologists likely be watching Mount Spokane, and trappers also will be looking for more sign near Snoqualmie, where the discovery of a wolf pack would be big news and a game-changer in wolf policy.

Wolves can be delisted from state endangered species protections after a specified number of breeding pairs are in each of three areas of the state. So far, none has been documented in Western Washington.

The wolf killed on I-90 could be the harbinger of wolf packs to come.

"This is pretty good evidence that wolves are probably moving into and around western Washington, although we have not yet documented a pack," Ware said.

Since wolves are still under federal Endangered Species protections on the West Side of the state, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating. DNA tests will be used to confirm that the animal is a wild gray wolf and not a hybrid.

Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman magazine points out in his blog that if the Snoqualmie canine is confirmed a wild wolf, it would be at least the fourth that’s been struck and killed by a vehicle in Washington.

Others include one near Tum Tum west of Spokane in 2008, another on the north side of Blewett Pass in 2013 and the other Ruby Creek female in Pend Oreille County last year.

Losing the Snoqualmie wolf to a vehicle collision isn't likely to seriously set back wolf recovery, Ware said.

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.

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.”

Montana reports decrease in wolves, attacks on livestock

PREDATORS — Gray wolf numbers in Montana declined 12 percent last year and livestock attacks by the predators took an even sharper drop after four years of regulated hunting and trapping.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said a minimum 554 wolves were counted statewide at the end of 2014, down from 627 wolves verified in 2013. The actual number of wolves is estimated to be 27 percent to 37 percent higher than the minimum count, officials said.

Montana verified 134 wolf packs, down from152 the previous year, while verified breeding pairs increased to 33 from 28 counted at the end of 2013. The numbers are reported in the agency's annual wolf conservation and management report released this week as required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Livestock attacks by wolves declined 46 percent from 2013, reaching an eight-year low. Officials said 35 cattle, six sheep and one horse were killed.

Montana's gray wolf population peaked at 653 verified animals in 2011. That same year, Congress lifted federal protections for the animals across much of the Northern Rockies, opening the door to licensed hunting and trapping for the first time in decades.

Hunters and trappers killed 206 wolves in Montana during a winter harvest that ended last month.

Overall, FWP Director Jeff Hagener said Montana's wolf population continues to be very healthy and far above federal recovery goals while the state takes action to reduce livestock losses.

The total number of known wolf mortalities during 2014 was 308, down from 335 in 2013, with 301 of these mortalities being human-related, including 213 legal harvests, 57 control actions to further reduce livestock depredations (down from 75 in 2013), 11 vehicle strikes, 10 illegal killings, 6 killed under the newly-enacted Montana State Senate Bill 200, 2 capture related mortalities, 1 euthanized due to poor health and 1 legal tribal harvest. In addition, 1 wolf died of natural causes and 6 of unknown causes.

"Montana’s wolf management program seeks to manage wolves just like we do other wildlife—in balance with their habitat, with other wildlife species and with the people who live here," Hagener said.

The recovery of the wolf in the Northern Rockies remains one of the fastest endangered species comebacks on record. In the mid 1990s, to hasten the overall pace of wolf recovery, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 66 wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Montana and Idaho began monitoring the wolf population, and managing livestock conflicts in 2004. After several court challenges wolves were successfully delisted from Endangered Species protections in 2011.

The delisting of wolves in 2011 allows Montana and Idaho (also Wyoming, to a lesser degree for lack of cooperation) to manage wolves in a manner similar to how bears, mountain lions and other wildlife species are managed, which is guided by state management plans, administrative rules, and laws.

Wolf bills still lurking Washington Legislature

WILDLIFE — Several of the wolf-related bills introduced in the 2015 Washington Legislature are still alive. 

S-R Olympia Bureau reporter had this update.

A day later, the Wenatchee World ran this update moved by the Associated Press:

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers in both the house and senate passed bills dealing with wolves that are sponsored by Republicans from northeastern counties, where the rapidly increasing wolf population is taking its toll on domestic sheep and cattle.

If they become law, the bills would direct the state to reconsider parts of the state’s wolf recovery plan, examine the impact of wolves on deer, elk and other game animals, and allow endangered species - including wolves - to be removed from the state’s endangered status on a regional instead of a statewide basis.

Sponsors of the bills include Reps. Joel Kretz and Shelly Short, Sen. Brian Dansel, who represent counties in Northeastern Washington, where 12 of the state’s 16 wolf packs live.

Kretz said the bills unfortunately don’t address the immediate problems of livestock owners who have had the largest burden of helping wolves recover. Two of the bills he and Short sponsored got unanimous votes by the House on Tuesday. Kretz said when he first approached Democrats for support early in the session, "They would not even talk to me. To get a unanimous vote on something, it was a long pull on that," he said.

Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest’s executive director, said his group initially opposed Kretz’s bill that calls for reopening the states’ wolf recovery plan, because they believe that plan is solid. But, he said, the House agreed to some changes in the bill which enabled them to support it. "It’s not perfect. Nobody got everything they wanted, but there’s something in it for everybody," he said.

The Senate version lacks key compromises contained in the House bill, and Conservation Northwest does not support it, he said.

Both bills require the state to take another look at its wolf recovery plan and use the most updated available science to recommend changes.

Those changes could include:

Whether recovery should be based on the number of wolf packs instead of breeding pairs.

More options for removing wolves from endangered status.

Whether the three recovery zones should be changed, reduced or consolidated.

Finding reasonable prevention measures for livestock owners.

Reviewing current conditions that lead to killing wolves that have killed livestock.

Whether the current enforcement and penalties for poaching wolves are sufficient deterrents.

Friedman said the added language about poaching - which is not in the Senate bill - is among the reasons Conservation Northwest now supports it.

Legislative support for these bills comes less than a week after the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced a 30 percent increase in the number of wolves it believes are now living in Washington. Four new packs were also discovered.

The agency says at least 68 gray wolves now roam the state. There are 16 wolf packs and at least five successful breeding pairs.

The number of confirmed wolves in North Central Washington actually dropped slightly, from 13 to 11. The Wenatchee Pack remained stable at two wolves, the Lookout Pack near Twisp dropped from five wolves to four, and the Teanaway Pack south of Wenatchee dropped from six wolves to five.

Fish and Wildlife spokesman Craig Bartlett noted those are only the wolves the agency managed to confirm, and tracking was difficult this winter due to low snow levels.

Under the state’s current wolf plan, wolves can be removed from the state’s endangered species list when 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years, distributed among three wolf-recovery regions.

Despite the increase in the number of wolves, the number of documented breeding pairs has remained at five for the last three years, all in either the North Cascades or Eastern Washington area. No wolf packs or breeding pairs have yet been documented in the South Cascades and Northwest Coast recovery region.

Idaho reauthorizes fund to control wolves

PREDATORS  — Idaho lawmakers have approved spending $400,000 to control wolves where they threaten livestock, pets or public resources.

The Spokesman-Review's Betsy Russell reports that the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved the money Tuesday for the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board.

The vote maintains the operating budget at the same level as the previous year for the five-member board created last year and operated under the governor’s office.

Last year the board spent about $140,000 to kill 31 wolves between July 1 and Jan. 1.

Authorities recently announced the killing of another 19 wolves in February in northeastern Idaho in an attempt to revive the decimated Lolo elk herd.

Report: Washington’s wolves increased 30 percent in 2014

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The wolf population in Washington grew by more than 30 percent and formed four new packs last year, according to an annual survey conducted by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Field biologists documented at least 68 gray wolves in the state through Dec. 31, up from a minimum of 52 wolves counted in 2013, the agency said in a preliminary report released Friday.

The number of confirmed wolf packs increased to 16 with at least five successful breeding pairs, the report says. At the end of 2013, the agency had confirmed 13 packs and five breeding pairs.

“While we can’t count every wolf in the state, the formation of four new packs is clear evidence that wolves are recovering in Washington,” said Donny Martorello, department carnivore specialist. “Since 2011, the number of confirmed wolf packs has more than tripled in our state.”

The scarcity of winter snow made tracking wolves more difficult for this survey, he said, adding the survey likely underestimates the number of wolves, packs and breeding pairs.

Gray wolves, extirpated from western states in the early 1900s, have been declared recovered and delisted from federal endangered species protections in Montana and Idaho and are being managed by the states.

Wolves are protected under Washington law throughout the state and under federal law in the western two-thirds of the state.

The annual survey, required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are conducted using aerial surveys, remote cameras, wolf tracks and signals from seven wolves in Washington fitted with radio-collars.

The four new packs – Goodman Meadows, Profanity Peak, Tucannon, and Whitestone – were discovered east of the Cascades, where all of the state’s other wolf packs roam. The state’s wolf management plan defines a pack as two or more wolves traveling together in winter.

Ten Washington wolf deaths were documented in 2014. Three were killed by poachers, three died of natural causes, two died of unknown causes and one was killed in a vehicle collision.

A breeding female was shot last summer as state wildlife officials tried to stop the Huckleberry Pack from preying on a rancher’s sheep in Stevens County.

A record number of wolf-related livestock deaths also was confirmed in Washington’s annual report. The Huckleberry Pack accounted for 33 of the 35 sheep killed or injured by wolves. The report says actual losses were surely higher.

Four cows and a dog were attacked by wolves from other packs last year, the report says.

Wildlife officials say they will continue to emphasize the importance of prevention practices to minimizing wolf attacks on livestock.

Martorello said the number of packs would have been even higher if not for the loss of the Ruby Creek pack last spring. One of its two members was struck and killed by a vehicle. The other was accepted for care by Wolf Haven International in Tenino after it was found living among domestic dogs in a small town in Pend Oreille County.

Stephanie Simek, a department wildlife conflict manager, said the agency is working on:

  • Expanding partnerships with ranchers to avoid conflicts with wolves. The department has stationed wildlife conflict specialists in communities where wolves are recovering to work with individual producers.
  • Expanding its “range rider” program, where ranchers can turn for help if they need assistance guarding their livestock. Range riders have been used by several producers, and the state program will provide an increased human presence in grazing areas.
  • Informing livestock owners of the availability of a new carcass pit in Ferry County where they can dispose of dead livestock and other attractants.
  • Continuing to offer cost-sharing agreements for ranchers who seek help in funding preventive measures to protect their animals.

In a preliminary media release, Martorello notes several times that the official minimum estimates very likely is short of actual wolf numbers and packs. 

“Given the continued growth of the state’s wolf population, there’s a good chance that we have breeding pairs east of the Cascade Range we haven’t found yet,” he said.

No wolf packs or breeding pairs have yet been documented on the South Cascades/Northwest Coast recovery region.

Under the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, wolves can be removed from the state’s endangered species list once 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years among the three designated wolf-recovery regions.

WDFW’s wolf survey for 2014 will be available on the department’s website at by April 3.

Enviros sue to prevent wolf control in Washington

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Turning a cold shoulder to the social and economic issues of wolf recovery, five environmental groups including The Lands Council based in Spokane say they have filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program. The groups are challenging the federal agency's authority to kill endangered wolves in Washington.

A similar suit was filed Feb. 11 in Idaho by a different group of five environmental organizations.

  • Despite hunting, trapping and predator control, Idaho has up to 10 times more wolves than the 100 minimum established by the federal government in the 1987 Northern Rockies wolf reintroduction plan.

Wildlife Services assists ranchers, farmers and state wildlife agencies in doing the dirty work of trying to minimize production losses to predators and other wildlife ranging from starlings to bears.

From my perspective in the middle ground on the wolf issue, the media release (see attached) from the Western Environmental Law Center is full of overstated charges that will be counterproductive for wolves politically and on the ground.

“Wildlife Services’ activities related to wolves in Washington have been extremely harmful,” said John Mellgren, attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center.

Where's the proof? Wolf numbers, range and packs are increasing in Washington, according the state wildlife officials.

Northeastern Washington ranchers also would disagree the the action is unwarranted or "extremely harmful." 

In Washington's worst of two cases, the state Fish and Wildlife director made the difficult call to request Wildlife Services' assistance to eliminate the Wedge Pack in 2012 after the seven wolves zeroed in on cattle in at least 16 confirmed attacks. 

Bottom line: That action ended the immediate nightmare for the ranchers, and within a year the Wedge Pack was reforming and making a living off natural food sources.

The environmental groups' media release continues:

Washington has experienced Wildlife Services’ recklessness firsthand. Last August, Wildlife Services’ snipers mistakenly shot and killed the Huckleberry wolf pack’s alpha female during a helicopter gunning operation. The killing was in direct violation of explicit instructions from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) to not kill either of the pack’s alpha members. The death of the Huckleberry pack’s breeding female threatens the future of the entire pack.

There's no proof the future of the pack is threatened by that mistake.  The media release does not mention that the sheep ranchers were using a range rider and guard dogs to protect their flock. It doesn't mention that dozens of sheep were killed and ultimately they had to pull about 1,600 sheep out of the grazing area on private timber company land and move them to another private pasture. That's costly to a producer.

“The science tells us that killing wolves does not actually reduce wolf-livestock conflicts," Mellgren says, "but Wildlife Services is continuing its brutal assault on this iconic animal and it needs to stop.”

There is no brutal attack on wolves in Washington except from the point of view that no wolf shall be killed. That attitude is not in the best interest of wolf recovery because it won't fly socially in this state or any other Northwestern state.

The "science" Mellgren refers to is a Washington State University study that found killing wolves in some cases increased wolf attacks on livestock in the long run.

While there's merit to looking at the overall impacts of predator control, it's unnecessary and counterproductive to restrict wildlife managers from lethally removing predators, especially in hot-spot situations.

Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officials made that clear when the WSU study was publicized. 

Jay Kehne of Conservation Northwest, who works with ranchers in non-lethal methods of avoiding wolf attacks, has confirmed that wolves will have to be targeted in some cases to make wolf recovery work. Kehne also is a Washington Fish and Wildlife commissioner.

The lawsuit filed today seeks to require USDA to prepare an in-depth Environmental Impact Statement addressing the effects of employing Wildlife Services to kill endangered wolves in Washington. In other words, they want to make it prohibitively expensive to manage wolves.

That's environmental overkill.


Documents:

Montana, Idaho wolf kill below previous levels

PREDATORS — Trappers in Montana have killed 77 gray wolves and hunters have shot 127 so far this winter — a total of 204 animals — as the season for the animals nears its end, the Associated Press reports.

The final tally for this winter’s wolf harvest is expected to fall short of the 230 wolves killed in the 2013-2014 season, said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim.

The trapping season closed Feb. 28, and Montana’s rifle hunting season for gray wolves ends March 15.  

Six of the predators have been killed by landowners, under a new state law that allows wolves to be killed if they are considered a potential threat to livestock or human safety.  

Idaho hunters have shot 113 of the animals so far this winter and trappers have killed 92.  

The state’s total harvest of 205 wolves is well short of the prior year’s total of 302 animals killed.  

Idaho’s wolf season ends March 31 for most of the state but continues year-round in some areas.

Here's more info from the AP report:

Wyoming did not have a wolf hunting season this winter. After losing their federal protections across the Northern Rockies in 2011 and 2012, wolves were put back on the endangered species list in Wyoming in September under a court order. 

 U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson sided with wildlife advocates who said Wyoming’s declaration of wolves as unprotected predators that could be shot on sight in most of the state afforded insufficient protection.  
Legislation pending before Congress would nullify the judge’s decision.  

A minimum of 1,691 wolves was tallied in the Northern Rockies at the end of 2013, according to federally required annual reports from the states.

Ruby Creek wolf caught, taken to Wolf Haven

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A wolf that had become habituated to humans, and could cause problems if left in the wild, was captured Wednesday (Feb. 11) by state wildlife officials in northeast Washington and placed in a Western Washington wolf sanctuary.

The adult female wolf, the last known member of the Ruby Creek pack, was captured near Ione in Pend Oreille County where she had spent months living near people, domestic dogs and livestock.

  • I was with state trappers when they caught and collared the Ruby Creek wolf in 2013 and later wrote this story about her value to research. At that time, she was the only known wolf frequenting the area.

Dave Ware, wolf policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the wolf’s behavior prompted concerns she would breed with a domestic dog, produce wolf-dog hybrids in the wild, and become increasingly associated with humans.

“This is a rare situation,” Ware said. “We know that placing wolves in captivity is not an option every time there is a problem. In this case, however, we believe permanent placement in a wolf sanctuary is a good match given the animal’s habituation to humans.”

Since last fall, the Pend Oreille County Commission has urged WDFW to move the wolf out of Ione, Ware said. Yet, she eluded capture and remained in the area despite the department’s efforts to trap her.

After the wolf’s capture, she was spayed and transported for permanent placement to Wolf Haven International, a non-profit wolf sanctuary and wildlife education facility in Thurston County.

“The female wolf was received last night and she’s in good health,” said Diane Gallegos, director of Wolf Haven International. “We’ve been coordinating with the department for several months now, and we are pleased to be able to accommodate this wolf.”

If the wolf does not adapt well to life in captivity, according to criteria developed by the department and Wolf Haven, she will be euthanized.

Ware said the decision to place the wolf in captivity was made after discussions with WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group of citizens, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the Pend Oreille County Commission.

“We discussed the pros and cons of possible actions, including translocation, euthanasia, or placement in captivity,” Ware said. “We appreciate the generous offer by Wolf Haven staff to take this individual into their care.” 

The Ruby Creek pack was confirmed by WDFW in 2013 when two adult female wolves were found traveling together in the area of Ruby Creek south of Ione. A wolf pack is defined as two or more wolves traveling together. Last winter, after the other female mated with a domestic dog, it was captured, spayed and returned to the wild. That wolf was struck and killed by a motor vehicle on a road this spring.

The gray wolf is listed by the state as an endangered species throughout Washington and is federally listed as an endangered species in the western two-thirds of the state. WDFW is working to recover the state’s gray wolf population, guided by a citizen-developed plan to address conflicts with livestock and other impacts.

See more info here.

Panel tackles wolf issues Thursday at Gonzaga

ENDANGERED SPECIES —Six panelists with different viewpoints will speak on the revival of wolves in the Northwest during a program tonight, 7 p.m., at Gonzaga University’s Jepson Center, Wolff Auditorium, 502 E. Boone Ave.

Moderated by Rich Landers, Outdoors editor at The Spokesman-Review, the discussion about the merits and woes of wolf reintroduction will range from the perspectives of a hunter, cattleman, wildlife biologist, philosopher, conservationist and ethicist.

The audience will be invited to submit questions.

The program is sponsored by Humanities Washington and organized by the Spokane County Library District.

Wolf Advisory Group expands from 9 to 18 members

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Nine members have been added to the committee that advises the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on wolf recovery and management.

Their appointments, for two-year terms that run through 2016, bring the Wolf Advisory Group’s membership to 18.

Jim Unsworth, who assumed duties as the agency's director this month, said the new members will bring diverse personal and professional backgrounds to the group that makes recommendations to guide the department’s implementation of the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.

WDFW formed the group in 2013, with nine members representing the interests of wolf advocates, cattle ranchers, and hunters. Unsworth said the new members bring a wider range of perspectives and, for example, include a science teacher and a member of the state’s largest hiking association.

“Wolf recovery has been and will continue to be a very challenging issue, and the advisory group members will provide valuable advice on how to achieve the goals of the wolf plan,” said Unsworth.

Dave Ware, the department’s wolf policy lead, said more than 50 people applied for the new positions following the department’s announcement in October that it was seeking to expand the group. Ware said WDFW placed a priority on selecting people from diverse backgrounds who have the ability to share information about the advisory group’s discussions within their own networks of contacts.

The Defenders of Wildlife, which opened an office in Washington for the first time less than a year ago, has a new representative in the group.

Ware said the nine people who served as original members or alternates will continue to serve through 2016. Their continued presence will lend stability and continuity to the advisory group, he said.

The group’s next meeting is planned for March, with details to be announced on the Wolf Advisory Group website:
 
Washington Wolf Advisory Group members (new members in boldface) and their affiliations are:

  • Bob Aegeter of Bellingham, Sierra Club
  • Shawn Cantrell of Seattle, Defenders of Wildlife
  • Tim Coleman of Republic, Kettle Range Conservation Group
  • Dave Dashiell of Hunters, Cattle Producers of Washington
  • Don Dashiell of Colville, Stevens County Commissioner
  • Tom Davis of Olympia, Washington Farm Bureau
  • Dave Duncan of Ellensburg, Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation
  • Tom Erskine of Camas, Washington Trails Association
  • Jack Field of Ellensburg, Washington State Cattlemen’s Association
  • Diane Gallegos of Tenino, Wolf Haven International
  • Janey Howe of Colville, science teacher and part-time range rider
  • Molly Linville of Palisades, independent cattle rancher
  • Nick Martinez of Moxee, Washington State Sheep Producers
  • Dan McKinley of Spangle, Mule Deer Foundation
  • Dan Paul of Seattle, Humane Society of the United States
  • Mark Pidgeon of Bellevue, Hunters Heritage Council
  • Lisa Stone of Shelton, hunter
  • Paula Swedeen of Olympia, Conservation Northwest

Prosecutor still mum on charges for Whitman County wolf shooting

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A Whitman County man who shot a gray wolf last fall told investigators the animal did not pose an imminent threat to humans or livestock.

Officers investigating the October 12 shooting say Jonathan M. Rasmussen and his wife did not indicate the wolf posed a threat at the time of the shooting south of Pullman, according to a report released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife after a public records request by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

Fish and Wildlife police say they found evidence of unlawful taking of wildlife and recommended a misdemeanor charge be filed.

State Fish and Wildlife officials turned over the case to Whitman County prosecutor Denis Tracy on Nov. 19. The prosecutor's office confirms that the case is still under consideration and no charges have been filed.

Under Washington state endangered species protections, it is illegal to shoot a wolf unless it is attacking livestock or people.

Updated: Yellowstone elk increase as wolf numbers decline

Updated Feb. 5, noon, with info about corresponding decline of Yellowstone wolves.

WILDLIFE — Wildlife officials have tallied a 24 percent increase in the size of an elk herd that migrates between Yellowstone National Park and Montana.

But they say it’s too soon to know if the change marks a turnaround for a population long in decline.

The 2015 winter survey of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd counted 4,844 elk. That’s almost 1,000 animals more than the last count in 2013 and the highest number since 2010.

Park biologist Doug Smith says a higher survival rate for newborn calves last year likely helped boost the population.

The well-known herd peaked at almost 20,000 animals in 1994, just before carnivorous gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995.

Also taking a toll on the herd have been hunters, other predators and harsh winters.

Research has shown that the elk were overpopulated in the mid-90s and that the park's ecosystems, including aspens, have benefited to a more natural balance since wolves were reintroduced.

However, sportsmen's groups say a 75 percent decline in the area's elk herd is overkill.

Variable factors?

Wolf factor

The park's wolf population has dropped substantially since 2007. Park-wide, the number of wolves in Yellowstone declined from 171 in December 2007 to 82 in December 2012. Most of the decrease has been in packs on the northern range, where it has been attributed primarily to the decline in the elk population there. Disease, primarily distemper and possibly mange, have also been factors in the population decline. Wolves also have been killing each other in territorial contests.

Here's a Feb. 5 story with more details from the Associated Press:

By MATTHEW BROWN

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Wildlife officials tallied a 24 percent population increase this winter for a well-known elk herd that migrates between Yellowstone National Park and Montana, but said it was too soon to know if the change marks a turnaround for a herd long in decline.

The 2015 winter survey of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd counted 4,844 elk. That’s almost 1,000 more animals than the last reliable count, in 2013, and the highest number since 2010.

A higher survival rate for newborn calves last year likely helped boost the population, according to biologists Doug Smith with Yellowstone and Karen Loveless with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The herd, which is widely known among hunters and wildlife watchers, peaked at almost 20,000 animals in the early 1990s. That was soon before carnivorous gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, helping drive down elk numbers that also took a toll from heavy hunting, other predators and harsh winters.

State wildlife officials responded by first reducing and eventually eliminating in 2011 a late-season elk hunt near Gardiner that at one point issued permits for more than 1,000 elk annually.

Loveless said this winter’s jump in the herd’s numbers is not enough to immediately justify any additional hunting.

“I’d want to see at least a few years of population stability before we were to increase the (elk) harvest,” she said.

The 2015 winter survey counted more than 1,130 elk inside the park and more than 3,700 in adjacent areas of Montana.

Wolf numbers on the herd’s range have dropped by roughly half in recent years, from 94 to 42 of the predators. Park biologists said the decline suggests wolves could be beginning to respond to fewer elk.

A study is planned next winter to gauge the accuracy of the annual elk survey, Smith said. Participants will include researchers from the park, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Certainly the news is good. The numbers are up. Is it a true indication of a trend? I can’t say,” Smith said. “We want to know what’s going on with these elk. They are iconic in this region.”

Last year’s survey was not completed because of poor weather conditions.

New Idaho board spending $4,600 per wolf in control effort

PREDATORS — Idaho’s new wolf depredation control board reported to state lawmakers today that since it was launched July 1, it’s spent $140,000 to kill 31 wolves, all of which were attacking livestock, according to a report just posted by S-R Idaho capital reporter Betsy Russell.

Rep. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, said, “That’s $4,600 per wolf. As the wolf population grows, how are we going to sustain this type of expense?”

Pray tell?

Idaho director weary of wolf-facts distortion

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Since Idaho's main wolf biologist, Jim Hayden, made a routine presentation on the status of the state's wolf population to the state Fish and Game Commission two weeks ago, the spin on the numbers has been dizzying — and distorting.

IFG Director Virgil Moore says enough already: It's time for advocacy groups to stop crying wolf.

Here 's an op-ed piece Moore has released to lay out the facts the agency has compiled about Idaho's wolf population.

By Virgil Moore/Director, Idaho Fish and Game

It’s important for state agencies to understand and respect differing points of view.  But when a few advocacy groups try to grab headlines by skewing Idaho Fish and Game scientific wolf monitoring data in ways that simply aren’t true, it’s also important to set the record straight. 

Here are the facts:

  • Idaho has more than 100 documented wolf packs and over 600 wolves.  Idaho’s wolf population far exceeds federal recovery levels of 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves.
  • After meeting federal recovery levels in 2002, Idaho’s wolf population grew largely unchecked for the remainder of the decade, resulting in increased conflicts with other big game populations and livestock. 
  • After 4 harvest seasons since the 2011 delisting, livestock depredations have declined.  Wolf predation continues to have unacceptable impacts to some elk populations, but there are signs elk populations are responding positively to wolf management.
  • Wolves in Idaho continue to be prolific and resilient.  Idaho will keep managing wolves to have a sustainable, delisted population and to reduce conflicts with people, livestock, and other big game populations.

Despite these facts, a few advocacy groups chose to take the breeding pair metric out of context to make claims that Idaho wolves are “teetering on the brink of endangered status once again.”  That’s hogwash.  And it’s the kind of polarizing misinformation that undermines responsible wildlife conservation and management in Idaho.

Confirming a pack meets U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s narrow definition of a “breeding pair” is costly and labor-intensive.  With vast reductions in federal funding to the state and Nez Perce Tribe for wolf monitoring, Fish and Game has focused our effort on demonstrating Idaho has at least 15 “breeding pairs” to comply with federal recovery requirements.  Idaho closely surveyed 30 packs and confirmed that 22 of them met the breeding pair standard at the end of 2014.  Because Idaho has shown it is well above federal recovery levels, we may rely on less intensive monitoring for the other 70 + packs as we complete our final 2014 population estimates.  One can assume these 70+ packs include some additional breeding pairs.  We will publish our annual monitoring report in March.

As trained scientists, Idaho Fish and Game stands by our data and our wildlife management plans.  We manage wolves to ensure we keep state management authority and address conflicts with people, livestock, and other big game populations.

I hope people who truly care about wildlife conservation ignore the exaggerations and misinformation and help Fish and Game focus on the real issues affecting Idaho’s wildlife.

It appears as though Moore is referring in part to the Center For Biological Diversity, which is a go-to quote source for Associated Press reporters looking for "balance" in a news report on wolf management.

As Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman points out, "Earlier this month, the Center for Biological Diversity claimed that Idaho’s wolf numbers had “dropped to levels where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said it would consider protection under the Endangered Species Act,” and that the USFWS “must step in to save the wolf population before it’s too late.” 

(Subsequently, the Arizona-based group petitioned the service to relist wolves in the Lower 48 as threatened.)

Montana tries profit incentive to boost wolf control

PREDATORS — Montana hunters and trappers aren't killing enough wolves to keep the population down to state management goals. So…

Montana hunters, trappers may now export wolf pelts
In order to keep hunters and trappers interested in wolves, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks successfully requested tags from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, that allow the export of endangered species while adhering to management practices that ensure the continuation of the species.
—Missoula Independent;

BC to kill wolves in last-ditch effort to save caribou

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Up to 24 wolves in British Columbia just north of Idaho will be shot by helicopter gunners this winter in an effort to save the 18 remaining southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou from extinction.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources formally announced the wolf removal effort on Thursday, but the planning has been underway for more than a year, said Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manager in Coeur d’Alene.

Both the predators and their prey roam across the U.S.-Canada border into North Idaho and the northeastern corner of Washington. The caribou have been listed as endangered species in the United States since 1984 and they’re also protected in British Columbia.

Idaho and Washington wildlife officials have been consulted as well as First Nations, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canada officials said.

In the South Peace region of the province, officials announced plans to lethally remove 120-160 wolves to save caribou herds threatened by predation. In the four caribou herds that roam that that region, at least 37 percent of all adult mortalities have been documented as wolf predations, Canada officials said.

The South Selkirk herd has declined from 46 caribou in 2009 to 27 in 2012, and to 18 in a survey conducted 10 months ago. Evidence points to wolves being the leading cause of mortality, officials said.

Caribou in the South Selkirk Mountains have been struggling, largely from losses of old-growth habitat and related issues, despite releases of new animals in Canada to bolster the numbers. Snowmobiling has been restricted in most of the core recovery area in Canada and the United States.

“BC considered removing wolves last year,” Wakkinen said. “We authorized them to operate south into Idaho up to 12 miles for any wolf control action to benefit caribou, but they never used it.”

Six of the South Selkirk caribou were captured last winter and radio-collared. While monitoring the animals, Canada researchers learned that two caribou – 11 percent of the remaining herd – were killed by wolves in the past 10 months.

The researchers later captured and fixed radio collars on wolves in two of the three packs in the Selkirk Caribou Recovery Zone to monitor their movements.

“The wolves were collared with the intent of a control action later this winter to eliminate those wolf packs in the caribou recovery area,” Wakkinen said.

Mountain lions also have killed caribou in the wider Purcells-Selkirk region, ministry reports say.

“Two of the wolf packs are north of BC Highway 3 and one is south of the highway and often right on the border in the northern tier of Idaho,” Wakkinen said. Wolves regularly roam the Boundary Lake area of Idaho, he said.

Last week, radio-collared caribou were in Washington “within a sling-shot distance of Canada and Idaho,” Wakkinen said.

Washington has not given Canada officials authority for wolf control, said state Fish and Wildlife wolf policy director Dave Ware.

  • Washington's Wolf Management Plan would prevent state officials from killing wolves even to protect endangered caribou, said Kevin Robinette, department regional wildlife manager in Spokane. "It would be a long process," he said today, noting that Idaho has removed special protections for wolves.

Hunting and trapping of wolves in British Columbia have not effectively reduced populations and may even split up packs and increase predation rates on caribou, officials said.

Habitat recovery continues to be an important part of caribou recovery, but cannot address the critical needs of these herds in the short term, they said.

North Idaho man cited for keeping pelt after shooting wolf

A North Idaho man who said he shot a wolf that appeared to be crouched down as if to attack his three dogs on the southern end of Rathdrum Mountain has been cited for possessing an untagged wolf.

The Coeur d’Alene Press reports in a story on Tuesday that officials also seized the wolf pelt from 53-year-old Forrest Mize, of Rathdrum.

Mize said that on Dec. 30 he was hiking with his three female Labradors when he shot the wolf with a .22-caliber weapon he carries for protection.

“I guess I’m not surprised that we are seeing wolves up there,” said Chip Corsi, regional director for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, noting the abundance of deer, elk and moose in the area. However, it’s unclear whether the wolf shot by Mize was alone or a member of a pack, he said.

Corsi declined to elaborate on the citation, saying officials are still investigating.

Officials said even if a wolf shooting is ruled to be defensive, the person isn’t allowed to buy a tag afterward to keep the pelt, which is what Mize did.

Possessing a wolf pelt without a tag is a misdemeanor.

Today: 20th anniversary of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone

PREDATORS — Today is the 20th anniversary of the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park — a day celebrated and denounced ever since.

On January 12, 1995, eight wolves from Alberta were relocated to Yellowstone National Park by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service personnel. They were the first gray wolves in Yellowstone since they were extirpated in 1926—an absence of 69 years. Wolves were released in central Idaho two days later. Another six wolves arrived in Yellowstone on Jan. 20, 1995.

The goal was to restore balance to a landscape where wolves had been absent for more than 70 years.

The original 14 Yellowstone wolves – along with naturally returning packs and wolves subsequently released in 1995 as well as in 1996 in Idaho – exceeded biologists' expectations in prospering and recovering their ground  in the Northern Rockies.

Some groups call the reintroduction a huge success while livestock and big-game hunting groups loathe the results.

Twenty years later, wolves have been taken off the endangered species list and are hunted and trapped as a game species in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. 

At the end of 2013, about 1,700 gray wolves roamed the Northern Rocky Mountains, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

The wolves are expanding their ranges into Washington, Oregon and some wolves have been documented branching out at least for visits into Utah, Arizona and California.

Here are some quotes from an anniversary event held Sunday in Gardner, Mont., featuring some of the original reintroduction team:

Doug Smith, current project leader for the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project in Yellowstone National Park:

Wolves are a major part of Yellowstone and they have contributed significantly to the ecological and economic health of the Park. The goal of the Park Service is to restore natural conditions and we could not have done that in Yellowstone without wolf restoration. Another goal of the Park Service is to provide for visitor’s enjoyment and today, Yellowstone is the best place in the world to view wild wolves.

Carter Niemeyer, USA-Canada wolf reintroduction team member; retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf recovery coordinator for Idaho.

Wolf recovery in Yellowstone and the entire Northern Rockies region has been a phenomenal success. Wolves are here to stay and it is my hope and desire that the states that now manage America’s wolves can continue the wonderful conservation legacy we have crafted for future generations.

Meanwhile, wolves have helped crop Yellowstone's elk population by more than 75 percent, and that's not necessarily great for the wolves or wolf watchers.

Spotting a wolf inside the park might take a little more luck than usual these days. In March of 2013, officials estimated that just 71 adult wolves reside within Yellowstone’s boundaries, a 14-year low and less than half of 2007’s total. Mange, a parasitic skin disease, has contributed to the decline, as has the dwindling elk population.

Who’s winning debate on Spokane-area wolf billboards?

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Here's my humble observation regarding the dueling outdoor advertising campaigns of wolf "education" in the Spokane area:

When  taking a stand at the far extreme of an issue for shock value, you leave a lot of room for the other side to court the vast majority in the middle ground.

See more details on the battle of the wolf billboards coming  in a Sunday Outdoors story.

The latest four billboards sponsored by Washington Residents Against Wolves are located on Maple, Trent, Pines and Nevada streets in Spokane.

Locations for Defenders of Wildlife billboards:

  1. NW Blvd. NL @ Elm WF
  2. Nevada EL N/O Lincoln Rd. NF
  3. Trent & Freya SWC NF
  4. Trent NL @ Lily EF 
  5. Sprague NL W/O Farr EF
  6. Sprague & McCabe NWC EF 
  7. Sullivan EL @ Valleyway SF
  8. Nevada EL S/O Lincoln Rd. SF 
  9. Seltice Way SL 600’ e/o Wellesley EF        

Clueless Utah hunter mistakes protected wolf for coyote

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A wolf made headlines last month for roaming hundreds of miles from Wyoming to Utah. About the same time, another wolf, from Idaho, became the first in Arizona in seven decades.  But someone wasn't paying attention.

Utah coyote hunter kills wolf near Beaver
 70-pound female came from Cody, Wyoming

By Brett Prettyman/The Salt Lake Tribune

Utah wildlife officials have confirmed a protected 3-year-old female collared gray wolf was mistaken for a coyote and killed by a hunter near Beaver on Sunday. The 70-pound animal had been collared in Cody, Wyoming, in January, 2014.

The hunter shot the wolf about 5 miles east of Beaver in Beaver County on the south end of the Tushar Mountains and called Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) law enforcement officials upon noticing the collar. State conservation officers then contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We are still investigating, but it seems initially that it was a case of mistaken identity,” said DWR director Greg Sheehan.

Sheehan said it is possible the hunter could face citations for killing the animal protected as endangered by the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act in that part of Utah. The federal agency will conduct the investigation.

This is the first documented killing of a gray wolf in Utah since the animals were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in the mid-1990s.

“This is a very sad day for wolf conservation and for Utah. All competent wildlife biologists already know that coyote hunting, including our state bounty program, is ineffective, and therefore a waste of money – and now we see that is is also a threat to other wildlife and to wolf recovery,” said Kirk Robinson, executive director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, based in Salt Lake City.

A picture of what appears to be a wolf crossing Highway 14 east of Cedar City was taken by a member of the public in early December. Sheehan said there is a chance the wolf killed Sunday could be the same animal.

It is also possible that the canine killed near Beaver could be the female wolf that has been hanging around the North Rim of the Grand Canyon this year.

Wildlife officials confirmed a wolf in the Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah back in August. That animal, believed to be a large male that had been collared near the border of Idaho and Canada, has not been spotted since September. His radio collar was failing at the time and there have been no new sightings of the animal.

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.”

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.

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.