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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

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.”

Elk calves born to be prey

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Here's the latest poop on predators in the Inland Northwest:

They appear to be well-fed.

During one day of hiking north of Lake Pend Oreille, I came across two scats within five miles containing calf elk hooves. One was the scat of a black bear, the other the scat of a wolf.

This is the way it works out there.

North Idaho man convicted of killing, keeping wolf without hunting tag

HUNTING — Wolves are legal to hunting Idaho during specified seasons and with the proper hunting tags.  As with other game hunting, it's against the law to break the rules.

A North Idaho man who shot and killed a wolf on Dec. 30 found this out this week. Forrest Mize of the Rathdrum Mountain area must pay $165 in court costs and $35 in prosecution costs and was sentenced to six months on unsupervised probation.

The Coeur d’Alene Press reports that Mize, 54, was convicted by a jury Thursday with misdemeanor possession of a wolf without a tag. He can petition to remove the crime from his record if he completes his probation without violations.

In January, he opted for a jury trial.

Mize says he shot the wolf to protect his dogs while walking on Rathdrum Mountain. He later decided to keep the pelt, bringing it to a taxidermist and buying a tag.

Defense lawyer Michael Palmer says Mize thought he was killing a coyote.

Mize told the Press:

"I went to court nine times and wasted countless hours over killing one wolf - a transplanted nuisance predator that Idaho spends $450,000 a year to shoot from helicopters," Mize said. "This is not the system I suited up for every day for 20 years to support and defend."

Kootenai County Deputy Prosecutor Tony Clinger argued in court that the case came down to the fact that Mize didn’t have the required tag before he shot the wolf.

The jury of three women and three men included three hunters, the Press reports, indicating that the public isn't necessarily going to turn its back on the law to support a person's cultural biases about hunting and wildlife.

Surveys: St. Joe elk show signs of increase

HUNTING — Surveys conducted this winter showed a substantial increase in elk calf-cow ratios for elk in portions of North Idaho as the region's elk seem to be digging out of six-year slump.

Up to just a few years ago, the Panhandle Region was among the very few places in the United States that had a general either-sex elk hunt open to hunters with modern centerfire rifles. 

In Washington, Montana and most other states, hunters had to draw a "cow tag" in order to participate in controlled hunts for antlerless elk or participate hunts with weapon restrictions such as archery-only seasons. 

Two hard winters starting in 2007 delivered a blow to the region's big game. In 2012, low calf-cow ratios caused Idaho wildlife managers to eliminate the general either-sex elk hunt. 

That got hunters' attention.

"The low ratios were not caused by a single issue, but rather a combination of factors," said Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional wildlife manager. "These include declining habitat quality, predation by black bears and mountain lions and wolves, changes in the ability of people to access areas and technology that can increase hunting success rates."

Winter severity and summer drought also are factors, he said.

A mix of factors can create a cascading effect.  "For example, declining habitat quality can result in cows in poor body condition," he said. "This in turn can result in lower birth weights of calves, something that’s been shown to be an important factor in calf survival.  The condition of a cow elk can affect the ability to survive severe winters and to escape predators."

With no single cure-all prescription available for Panhandle elk woes, Wakkinen said the agency addressed the elk decline in several steps:

  • Eliminating the general season on antlerless elk.  An unpopular move, but it increased cow survival to preserve breeding stock necessary to rebuild herds.
  • Liberalizing predator seasons.  Black bear and mountain lion seasons have been lengthened and in some units hunters can use electronic calls and a second tag.  Wolf hunting and trapping seasons have been lengthened region-wide and hunters and trappers can take multiple wolves.
  • Working to improve the quality of elk habitat. 

"Elk prefer younger forests that provide nutritious browse," Wakkinen said. "The 1910 fire and large fires in the 1920s and 1930s created expansive shrubfields that were conducive to a growing elk herd.  That, coupled with widespread predator reductions, resulted in a very robust elk population starting in the 1950s."

However, those forests have matured. They don’t provide enough nutrition and in some area's they're so thick that elk become more vulnerable to predation. 

The agency is working with the U.S. Forest service and other major landowners to give moose,elk and deer more consideration in forest management, he said. Prescribed fire and well-designed timber harvest are key to the effort.

Wakkinen said he sees progress. 

"During winter surveys in the Panhandle, IDFG uses a ratio of 30 calves per 100 cows as a yardstick for a healthy elk herd.  As recently as 2008, ratios were as high as 43 to100 in Unit 7 in the St Joe drainage, but ratios declined following the harsh winters of 2007-09. 

"This isn’t unusual following a hard winter, but typically the ratio bounces back within a couple of years.  Unfortunately, calf-cow ratios remained low in Unit 7, with winter surveys finding 9, 12 and 13 calves per 100 cows in 2012, 2013, and 2014."

The elk apparently were trapped what's known as a “predator pit,” he said.

For example, Central Montana pronghorn populations devastated by bad winters and disease have been struggling for years to recover partly because of a predator pit. Coyotes apparently are keying on the fewer number of does when they're dropping their fawns. In more normal times, say, 100 does might scatter to drop their fawns. Coyotes might sniff out and kill 20 fawns during the brief period when they're worth the effort to hunt instead of focusing on rodents. But if the herd has been reduced to 30 does having fawns, coyotes may still kill 20, but it's a much higher percentage of the crop and the herd cannot grow.

In the case of North Idaho elk, numbers were reduced by the winters, but predator numbers remained high because prolific white-tailed deer recovered quickly provided enough prey to support the bears, cougars and wolves. "The high number of predators can take enough elk to keep elk numbers low," Wakkinen said.

But surveys conducted this winter gave wildlife managers encouragement.

Ratios in Unit 7 above Avery averaged 30 calves per 100 cows and Unit 6 around Calder had more than 40 calves per 100 cows, Wakkinen said.

"Just like the cause of the decline, it is probably a combination of things," he said. Three consecutive mild winters certainly helped and  liberal hunting seasons on predators and have likely helped elk escape from the predator pit, he added. 

"If the current conditions remain the same or improve, we may see a continued improvement in the St Joe elk herds."

The Fish and Game Department ha a constitutional obligation to maintain native wildlife populations in the state, including predators, Wakkinen said. But the agency "will take steps to reduce predator numbers when they negatively impact elk or deer populations."

"Predation management is expensive and labor intensive and weather events are out of our control," he said. "Long term improvements in the quality of elk habitat are an essential part of the equation for insuring the continued existence of healthy Panhandle elk herds."

Man who shot wolf, didn’t report, opts for jury trial

PREDATORS — A North Idaho man says he will take his chances with a jury rather than pay a $200 fine for shooting a wolf without a hunting tag.

“It’s going to be really hard to find a jury in North Idaho that finds me guilty for shooting a wolf to save my stinking dogs,” Forrest Mize told The Coeur d’Alene Press in a story today.

Mize, 53, faces a misdemeanor charge of possessing a wolf without a tag, not for the shooting of the wolf, which is a game animal in Idaho that can be legally hunted.

The same charges would apply if he'd have shot a mountain lion without a tag and kept it. Shooting an animal in self defense or defense of property is allowed if it can be proved, but state law says the animal must be turned over to authorities.

Here are more details from the Associated Press:

Mize said he was hiking with his pets last month when they came upon the wolf. Mize said he feared the animal was about to attack, so he shot it with the gun he was carrying for protection.

He said he decided he wanted to keep the pelt, and so he bought a hunting tag and took the carcass to a taxidermist.

But wildlife officials say it’s illegal to shoot a wolf without a tag and then buy a tag afterward. Authorities said Mize should have simply reported shooting the wolf and the circumstances involved.

Because Mize didn’t have a valid tag when he killed the wolf, wildlife officials confiscated the pelt, which can be worth hundreds of dollars.

Mize turned down Kootenai County prosecutors’ offer Tuesday of a $200 fine if he pleads guilty.

“I did the right thing, I just did it in the wrong order,” Mize said. “I’m not going to buy a tag (in advance), because I don’t hunt for wolves.”

Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh confirmed the offer was made.

Balancing critters with agriculture expensive

WILDLIFE CONTROL — On a small scale, I spray my fruit tree for aphids, trap mice that get into my garage and bait yellowjackets that buzz onto my deck.

Farmers and ranchers have similar issues on a gigantic scale.

They get some help from hunters as well as state and federal agencies.

Among the most controversial assistance is the annual boost ag operators get from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services.

For perspective, species killed in Idaho by Wildlife Services alone in 2013 include:

  • 196,351 starlings.
  • 2,790 coyotes,
  • 78 wolves,
  • 43 beavers
  • 24 badgers,
  • 7 mountain lions

Idaho Wildlife Services’ fiscal 2014 budget was just under $1.4 million.

Man walking dogs kills wolf on Rathdrum Mountain

See 1-15-15 update about citation for keeping pelt.

PREDATORS — A North Idaho man hiking with his dogs recently on Rathdrum Mountain shot and killed a gray wolf as it crouched at close range.

Idaho continues nonresident discounts on predator tags

HUNTING – Discounts on nonresident tags for large predators in some units offered last will be continued through 2015, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission says.

The discounts will apply to black bear, mountain lion and wolf tags.

Black bear and mountain lion tags will be sold at the new discounted price of $41.75, a 78 percent decrease in the regular price of $186.00.

Gray wolf tags will continue to be sold at the discounted price of $31.75.

The panel agrees there’s a biological and public need to encourage participation in the hunting of mountain lion and black bear in certain units and in the hunting of wolves statewide as a rationale for the discount. The discounts will remain in effect through December 31, 2016.

For a list of the units in which these discounts apply, go to this IDFG webpage and click on your species of interest.

Idaho predator derby ruling a win, win, win

WILDLIFE — Looks like everyone's a winner in this deal.

  • The Idaho predator derby organizers wanted to make a point that they don't like wolves.  And they're point was made on a huge stage of publicity.
  • No wolves were killed in a previous derby even though licensed wolf hunting is legal in Idaho.
  • Pro-wolf groups wanted to make their case and line their coffers with donations. Opportunity seized; mission accomplished.

BLM rescinds permit for Idaho for Wildlife's predator derby
A week after Bureau of Land Management Idaho Falls District Manager Joe Kraayenbrink issued a permit to Idaho for Wildlife to expand its predator derby onto BLM lands, Kraayenbrink rescinded that permit, citing modifications made in the derby's regulations. Idaho for Wildlife Executive Director Steve Alder said he believes the two lawsuits filed after the permit was issued and "D.C. bureaucrats" led to the permit being pulled. Alder said the derby would go on as scheduled on U.S. Forest Service and private lands.
—Idaho Mountain Express

Video: research camera catches cougar killing deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utah’s $50 bounty on coyotes may be boosting mule deer

HUNTING — Although credible evidence has suggested that wholesale killing of coyotes ultimately stimulates coyotes to produce more pups, Utah officials say a $50 bounty on the predators is contributing at least somewhat to the state's recovery of mule deer.

However, wildlife managers say habitat restoration has been the key, noting that the state has spent more than $125 million in the effort over the past eight years.

  • See the latest report from Brett Prettyman of the Salt Lake Tribune.

The Utah legislature allotted $500,000 to the Targeted Predator Control Program in 2012 as it approved the Mule Deer Preservation Act.

Based on two years of data, the state estimates that 25,054 coyotes have been killed, a 59 percent increase in the previous estimated annual harvest of 7,397 coyotes per year.

Unlike other Western states, Utah is reporting an increase in mule deer numbers in recent years. Most of the credit is being given to expansive habitat-restoration efforts.  Says Prettyman:

Since 2006, the initiative has restored more than 1 million acres and spent more than $125 million. Another 197,100 acres are currently under restoration and 10,600 more acres have been proposed.

Of the total spent, federal partners provided $69.5 million for the restoration projects from a mix of sources, including tag fees. And the state chipped in $42 million. Sportsmen's groups contributed close to $6.8 million. Federal agencies provided $6 million in in-kind contributions and landowners added another $2.6 million.

Utah's $50 coyote bounty is startling to some, a fee much higher than rare bounties in other states for predators or nuisance exotics such as nutria.

But it's not the only predator bounty program in the West.

The Northern Pikeminnow Reward Program pays $4-$8 a fish from the Columbia River to help reduce the native predator's impact on smolts of endangered salmon and steelhead. Since the issue is caused primarily by the Columbia and Snake River dams, which allow the pikeminnows an unfair and unnatural advantage, the Bonneville Power Administration picks up the tab.

  • The program has spent an average of bout $3 million a year for 25 years.
  • Some of the most accomplished angler participants make more than $30,000 each during the six-month reward season,including the top angler who pocketed $76,478 last year.
  • Anglers turned in 162,079 pikeminnows for bounties in 2013.
  • Total payments for the 2013 season of regular vouchers, coupons, and tagged fish totaled $1,138,251.

Modest bounties are paid in several states for rats, nutria, porcupine, house sparrows, starlings, snakes, beaver, coyotes and other critters. Utah's $50 coyote bounty appears to be the highest, but overall it pales in payouts to the Columbia River systems pikeminnow reward program.

Video: Terror in the trees as hawk hunts squirrel

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Through the tranquility of autumn leaves falling from the trees, life and death situations play out in our forests on a daily basis beyond human eyes.

This video of a red-tailed hawk hunting a tree squirrel is pieced together to depict an actual predator-prey encounter. The photography is absolutely stunning.  Check it out.

Sheep rancher: coyote control counterproductive

PREDATORS - One Idaho livestock grower is joining the growing ranks of going against the grain on traditional predator control:

Federal agency killed 2,773 coyotes in Idaho in 2013
Most of the coyotes killed by Idaho Wildlife Services in Blaine County were killed at the request of livestock producers. But at least one sheep producer said that they do not kill coyotes themselves nor do they request federal agents to do so, as removal of the predators sparks a reproductive response in the species.
—Idaho Mountain Express

Idaho won’t kill ravens to save sage grouse, yet

WILDLIFE — Decisions, decisions.

Idaho delays plan to kill ravens to save sage grouse for a year
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services missed its deadline to complete an environmental review of Idaho's plan to kill up to 4,000 ravens to help increase the number of sage grouse in the state, and for that reason, the state cannot implement the plan until next year.
—Twin Falls Times-News

Six sea lions killed to protect Columbia salmon

FISHING — Six California sea lions have been killed to protect endangered salmon crossing Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, the Associated Press reports.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jessica Sall says the six were among some 20 sea lions that have been hanging around the dam as chinook salmon start their spawning run. People in boats and on shore harass the sea lions to discourage their feeding, but the department is allowed to kill up to 30 a year. Last year two were killed and two sent to a zoo. 

The six that were trapped and euthanized recently are the first to be killed under the permit this year.

Lower Columbia fishermen have seen many of their catches devoured by sea lions before the fish can be netted.  But the pinnipeds pose a serious threat to endangered chinook salmon stocks when they can ambush the fish at man-made river bottlenecks such as the fish ladders at the dams.

Of course, the Humane Society of the United States has been trying to stop the practice, arguing sea lions kill fewer fish than people, the dams and loss of habitat. But a federal appeals court last year upheld the practice.

HSUS spokespeople are quoted and allowed to voice their outrage in several stories I see by area news outlets including Northwest Public Radio. But none of those reports quotes a fisherman, guide, tackle shop owner, motel owner, boat salesman or restaurant waitress on the importance of salmon fishing to their livelihoods. 

Photo: five cougars near Newman Lake home

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Ken Vanden Heuvel got a big surprise when he checked out the photos on the trail cam that's pointed down the driveway of his Newman Lake-area home.

Check it out closely:  1, 2, 3, 4 — 5 cougars in one shot.

Time to keep the dog in the house!

  • Even more impressive is the photo I published in 2010 with the story about about the Wenatchee hunter who captured a pride of EIGHT mountain lions in ONE trail cam photo.  See the story and photo here.

Despite elk-loss research, Montana hunters protest increased quota on cougars

HUNTING — Here's an interesting twist to the turmoil about predators and their impact on Montana elk populations.

Even though research has indicated that mountain lions kill way more elk than suspected in the Bitterroot Mountains — way more than wolves — there's opposition to reducing the cougar population, and it's coming from mountain lion hunters.

Borthwestern Montana cougar hunters roundly criticized Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ proposed lion quotas for the next two seasons at the Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Helena last week, reports Brett French, outdoor writer for the Billings Gazette.

Read on for the details in the rest of French's story.

Idaho killing some ravens to boost sage grouse

WILDLIFE — Ravens will feel the heat for being too good at what they do; the plan is a temporary reprieve for a threatened species.

 Idaho to poison ravens in 3 areas to help sage-grouse populations
Ravens pose a threat to sage grouse populations in Idaho because they eat sage grouse eggs, and the state's wildlife agency has obtained permission to remove as many as 4,000 ravens over the next two years by putting out poisoned chicken eggs in three areas of the state where sage grouse numbers are in steep decline: near Idaho National Laboratory in Arco, the Curlew National Grasslands and in Washington County near the Oregon border.
—Twin Falls Times-News

Pro-wolf group puts spin on Washington state wolf status sport

ENDANGERED SPECIES — It's instructive to notice the spin the Defenders of Wildlife is putting on the report on gray wolf recovery status in Washington, released today by state wildlife officials.


The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife just reported that gray wolves established four new packs and expanded their territory in the state over the past year. The headline on the media release said, "State's wolf population kept expanding last year, according to a WDFW survey."

Defenders of Wildlife responded within two hours to its constituents with its own media release, headlined: "Washington's gray wolf population remains stable." 

Who are the experts on this report and who has their hands out for donations?

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife carnivore specialist Donny Martorello said the state confirmed the presence of 13 wolf packs, five successful breeding pairs and at least 52 individual wolves in 2013. "While we can't count every wolf in the state, the formation of four new packs is clear evidence of steady growth in Washington's wolf population. More packs mean more breeding females, which produce more pups." 

Defenders said: "This year’s count tallied 52 wolves, an increase of one individual from the 2012 year-end population." 

Clarification:  Last year's report estimated the wolf population in the state as ranging from a minimum of 51 wolves up to about 100 wolves.  So for Defenders to say this year's estimate is "an increase of one individual" is propaganda.

I asked Martorello personally why the agency did not give a population range this year as it has in the past. He repeated that there's no way to accurately estimate the high end of population "so we're not even going to try."  Wildlife managers also emphasize that while 52 is what they can document, there are surely more.  

Good cases can be made for the populations of wolves in Washington at any one time could be more than 100.

And surely the number will be considerably higher after mid-April when this year's crop of pups emerges from their dens.

Wolves are a cash cow for animal rights-type groups as long as the species is threatened or endangered.  

While I take in all sides of the debate on wolf reintroduction, it's important to realize that for some interests there's no money in declaring a species recovered.

Status report: Wolves continue expansion in Washington

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  Gray wolves established four new packs and expanded their territory in Washington over the past year, state wildlife managers told the state Fish and Wildlife Commission at a public meeting in Moses Lake today.

Coming Sunday, March 9, in The Spokesman-Review's Sunday Outdoors section:  A package of stories about Washington wolf status and monitoring.

Click "continue reading" to see the media release the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife issued today, March 8, 2013, regarding the updated satus of wolves in Washington:

Out-of-staters rally against coyote hunting derby

PREDATORS — An out-of-state group has triggered more than 500 emails to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife protesting the annual Save our Fawns coyote hunting derby underway in northeastern Washington.

See the story by Northwest Sportsman editor Andy Walgamott.

Organizers say the derby is a way to give struggling deer herds a better chance to recover.

Another predator tangles with Shelby

Last year we brought you the story of Shelby, the dog who showed up at a Senate hearing in support of a bill to make it easier for landowners to fight off wolves attacking their livestock and pets. 

The six-year-old Siberian Husky mix didn't speak, of course, but she did show off the wounds from his encounter with a wolf on her owner's ranch outside of Twisp. Shelby was definitely Spin Control's favorite hearing witness of the entire session, and the bill eventually passed.

Now comes word from the Wenatchee World, via colleague Rich Landers Outdoors blog, that Shelby is back on the mend after another tussle. This time it was a cougar.

She's expected to recover. A depredation permit has been issued for the cougar.

Dog that survived wolf attack mauled by cougar

PREDATORS — You may remember the story about Shelby, the dog that went with its owner to a committee hearing at the Washington Legislature last year (above) all scarred up after being attacked by a wolf as it slept on the porch of its Twisp-area home.

This week, Shelby is back in the news after being attacked again in its yard — this time by a mountain lion.

It's just the latest in this winter's spree of confrontations involving mountain lions in the Methow Valley.

Read on for the Wenatchee World story about Shelby that's been moved by the Associated Press.

Idaho wolf control: 23 wolves for $30K

PREDATORS —  Idaho Fish and Game estimates that last month’s wolf control action in the Lolo elk zone cost approximately $30,000 resulting in the taking of 23 wolves in an effort to bring back the struggling elk herd. 

The entire cost will be paid using license dollars paid by sportsmen and women.  Fish and Game receives no state general tax dollars.

I have a problem with much of the news coverage of this event, including the story moved by the Associated Press out of Boise. A longer version of the story that ran in the S-R ran in the Missoulian. You'll notice that the story goes right from saying 23 wolves were killed to quoting the Defenders of Wildlife saying they are disappointed. OK. But where's the quote from sportsmen and outfitters who are saying thanks for trying to bring some balance?  No such quote. No balance there, either.

Here's the explanation from IFG:

Fish and Game announced late last week that the agency, working in cooperation with the USDA Wildlife Services, had completed another wolf control action in northern Idaho’s Lolo elk zone near the Idaho/Montana border to improve poor elk survival in the area.

In February, Wildlife Services agents killed 23 wolves from a helicopter.  The action is consistent with Idaho’s predation management plan for the Lolo elk zone, where predation is the major reason elk population numbers are considerably below management objectives.

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

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

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

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

In addition to the animals killed in this control action, 17 wolves have been taken by hunters and trappers in the Lolo zone during the 2013-14 season – 7 by hunting and 10 by trapping.  The trapping season ends March 31, the hunting season ends June 30.

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

The Lolo elk population has declined drastically from 16,000 elk in 1989 to roughly 2,100 elk in 2010, when Fish and Game last surveyed the zone. Restoring the Lolo elk population will require liberal bear, mountain lion, and wolf harvest through hunting and trapping (in the case of wolves), and control actions in addition to improving elk habitat.  The short-term goals in Fish and Game’s 2014 Elk Plan are to stabilize the elk population and begin to help it grow.

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

Oregon releases statewide gray wolf status report

WILDLIFE — Oregon is reporting significant growth in wolf packs in its annual status report on gray wolf recovery released Tuesday. The status reports from all the western recovery states are filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

At the end of 2013, Oregon officials say the state had at least 64 wolves in eight packs, up from 48 wolves in six packs estimated at the end of 2012.  The number of livestock killed increased to 13 confirmed kills involving three packs.

In 2009, the first year of Oregon's reports on the endangered species' recovery in the state, officials listed two packs: the Imnaha pack with 10 wolves and the Wenaha Pack with four wolves.

Washington officials say they will present their annual wolf status report at the Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting March 7-8 in Moses Lake. At the end of 2012, Washington reported up to 100 wolves in the state in nine packs.

Annual coyote hunting derby underway in northeastern Washington

PREDATORS — The Northeast Washington Wildlife Group's 2014 Coyote Derby in Stevens, Spokane and Pend Oreille counties began Feb. 4 and runs to March 31.

Derby organizers say the annual event is in an effort to help relieve the predation of the deer herds in the Tri-County Area. 

Coyotes killed by participants can be taken into check stations in each county and hunters will be issued a raffle ticket for each coyote presented at the check station. A raffle for prizes will be held at the conclusion of the season.

The derby is authorized under a special permit issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Hunters must possess a small or big game license in order to hunt coyotes. Coyotes may not be hunted with dogs, per WDFW regulations.

Coyotes are classified as a nongame species in Washington and can be hunted year-round with no limits.

Note: Wolves, which are found in this region, are protected.  You could get a ticket of another sort if you shoot a wolf.

The derby is being sponsored by Clark’s All Sports, the Lake Roosevelt Walleye Club, Stevens County Cattlemen, Pend Oreille County Cattlemen, Arden One Stop and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Big R.

Check stations include:

  • Clark’s All Sports, 557 South Main, Colville, 684-5069, open 7 days a week.
  • 395 Tractor & Implement, Deer Park, 276-5674, Mon.-Fri. 8am to 5pm,.
  • Fruitland Service Fruitland, 5369 Hwy 25, 722-3525, open 7 days a week.
  • Pend Oreille Sportsmans, Oldtown Newport, Mon-Sat.
  • Valley Fuel, Hwy 231 Valley, 937-2230, open7 days a week.

Trail cam catches battling bald eagles

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Sometimes trail cams are flat out lucky — as effective as a pro photographer at snapping the shutter at precisely the right moment to capture wildlife in action.

Here's a case in point.  The two photos, provided by a reader, show not only the dramatic incoming shot, but also the contact as two bald eagles, their talons entangled, tussle over the carcass of a dead horse near Sandpoint.

It's a tough life even at the top of the food chain. 

One point: Carcasses of any type provide good opportunities to mount trail cams for photos of predators and scavengers.  Wildlife managers might recommend a more controlled livestock carcass disposal method in wolf or grizzly country to prevent habituating the carnivores that could cause problems later on.  But a stock animal that dies a natural death during winter can be difficult to deal with because of snow and frozen ground. Scavengers take advantage.

Some cougar hunting areas to close

HUNTING —  Cougar hunts in several areas of the state will close at dusk on Dec. 31 as harvest guidelines for the animals have been reached in those areas, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Thursday.

Eight of the 49 cougar hunt areas will close, including Game Management Units (GMUs) 105, 117, 149, 154, 157, 162, 163, 328, 329, 335, 336, 340, 342, 346, 382, 388, 560, 574, and 578.

Those GMUs are in portions of Stevens, Pend Oreille, Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, Kittitas, Yakima, Klickitat, and Cowlitz counties.

This is the second year the department has managed cougar hunts under a plan approved by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2012, said Dave Ware, WDFW Game Division manager.

That plan establishes harvest guidelines for specific areas of the state, based on cougar populations in those areas, said Ware. Under the plan, WDFW can close areas where cougar harvest meets or exceeds guidelines, while continuing to allow for hunting opportunities elsewhere.

“The goal is to preserve a variety of cougar age classes in numerous areas throughout the state, particularly older animals which tend to be more effective at maintaining sustainable populations,” Ware said.

Last year, hunters harvested 156 cougars statewide, up from 145 in 2011 and 108 in 2010. Ware said the number of cougars harvested this season is expected to be similar to last year.

Ware reminds hunters that during the late-season cougar hunt – Jan. 1 through March 31 – other areas of the state could close early. Before going afield, hunters should check WDFW’s website or call the cougar hunting hotline (866-364-4868) to check which areas of the state remain open.

Any additional closures will be posted on the website and hotline, both of which will be updated weekly.

Wolf hunting derby highlights myths of extremists

HUNTING — I'm not big on contests that promote killing predators, but it's almost humorous to watch the reaction to the two-day wolf-coyote hunting derby being promoted for Dec. 28-29, out of Salmon, ID.

The controversy is like putting a spotlight on the extremist views of wolf reintroduction and the perpetuation of myths about wolves.

Sunday's story by the Associated Press did a decent job of pointing out the claims and the BS.

“This is a wolf massacre,” said Wayne Pacelle, the Washington, D.C.-based animal-rights group’s president, in a letter to members Thursday that was geared more to fundraising opportunity than to reality. 

  • Fact: Only 1-3 wolves are likely to be killed by the 300 or so hunters who are predicted to sign up. Wolf hunting has proved to be very difficult as detailed by Idaho Fish and Game Department wolf harvest statistics.

Shane McAfee, who guides clients on hunts around Salmon, Idaho, organized the derby mainly to boost local business and  raise awareness about a parasite he believes could be transmitted from wolf feces to domestic dogs and possibly humans.

  • Facts: “Echinococcus granulosis is one of many naturally occurring parasites that occur in wildlife,” said Idaho state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn. Human infections are rarely reported in Idaho. A firm link between humans and wolves isn’t established.
  • A human would have to come into oral contact with a wolf’s feces to contract the tapeworm, a WSU expert says.
  • A 2011 report produced by Mark Drew, state wildlife veterinarian with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, found just a few documented human cases that may have originated in Idaho. All were reported before wolves were reintroduced 18 years ago.
  • In 2011, Hahn issued a call to Idaho’s medical community for possible cases as concerns among some wolf foes surfaced about the parasite being transmitted to humans from the predators.
  • In an interview last week, Hahn told the AP that effort found human cases in Idaho among people who had brought the parasite in from other countries, but no evidence of transmission in Idaho.

People concerned about the parasite should take appropriate precautions, she said: Treat their dogs and cats for tapeworm, practice good hygiene, avoid harvesting sick animals, and wear rubber gloves when field dressing wild game, among other things.

“Precautions for Echinococcus are really no different than for a host of other diseases that occur naturally in the environment and can infect humans.” 



Idaho predator hunting derby targets wolves, coyotes

HUNTING — A predator hunting derby organized out of Salmon will offer trophies and cash prizes up to $1,000 to hunters who kill wolves and coyotes on Dec. 28-29.

The "Two-Day Coyote and Wolf Derby" is sponsored by Idaho for Wildlife, a nonprofit whose aim is "to fight against all legal and legislative attempts by the animal rights and anti-gun organizations" to impose restrictions on hunting or guns, according to the group's website.

Participants must check in at the derby headquarters in Salmon, a hub of predator resentment among ranchers and hunting guides who contend wolves and coyotes threaten livestock and big game animals prized by sportsmen.

The tournament offers cash and trophies to two-person teams for hunting categories such as bagging the largest wolf and the most female coyotes. Children as young as 10 can compete in the youth division.

Idaho opened wolves to licensed hunting as a management tool more than two years ago after the federal government declared wolf recovery accomplished in Idaho and Montana. 

Idaho Department of Fish and Game wolf manager Jason Husseman said the upcoming event is believed to be the first competitive wolf shoot to be held in the continental United States since 1974, when wolves across the country came under federal Endangered Species Act protections, according to Laura Zuckerman, reporting for Reuters from Salmon.

The report quotes derby organizer Shane McAfee as saying media inquiries were not welcome. But outfitters and wolf experts say wolf hunting is difficult and very few wolves are expected to be killed.

Idaho Statesman columnist Rocky Barker says the derby organizers don't need to be defensive, just sportsman-like:

Of course, if (McAfee) were to defend publicly his public event he might point to the big buck contests that are are everywhere during deer season nationwide. How about big fish contests?

The issue of course is respect for the quarry. Predator derbies, which have been held across the West for years largely have held their targets up for ridicule, not respect.

A predator management policy adopted 13 years ago by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission states:  “Fish and Game will not support any contests or similar activities involving the taking of predators which may portray hunting in an unethical fashion, devalue the predator, and which may be offensive to the general public.

Idaho Fish and Game Department officials say that while the derby rules are within legal hunting parameters, the agency is not involved in the event.