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Helicopters booked for Panhandle elk study

WILDLIFE — Helicopters soon will be flying over the Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe river drainages to help wildlife biologists get started on a major multi-year elk research project.

Idaho Fish and Game Department researchers will be working with a private helicopter contractor starting around Jan. 19 to capture about 100 cow and calf elk, take blood samples and fit them with GPS tracking collars.

The collars will allow researchers to monitor the elk habitat use and seasonal movements. A morality signal from the transmitters tell researchers when the elk dies, so survival rates can be calculated and causes of death can be investigated. 

  • A similar project in Western Montana has helped biologists determine, among other things, that mountain lions are taking a far higher toll on elk than wolves.

In this study, cow and calf elk are being captured with either nets or tranquilizer darts depending upon the terrain and density of the forest canopy, said Phil Cooper, department spokesman in Coeur d'Alene.

"Prior to the development of GPS collars, biologists had to use an antenna in hand or on a plane to determine an animal’s location," Cooper said.  "Most locations were usually midday, during weather that allowed safe flights and good visibility.  Now, locations are taken regardless of weather, giving a much better picture of habitat uses and requirements."

Biologists collar 24 moose in northeastern Washington

WILDLIFE RESEARCH — Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists recently battled difficult weather to capture 28 moose and put radio collars on 24 moose in northeastern Washington. That brings the total to more than 50 collared moose involved in the state's first major study of the species.

A gunner in a helicopter targeted the moose with tranquilizer darts while ground crews rushed in to take blood samples, measurements and other information before attaching the collars that hold GPS transmitters.

The project began last year with the capture of 28 adult cow moose for a five-year study of their habits, movements and survival rates.

Researchers monitor the moose year-round.

Trail cams stolen from I-90 wildlife collision study

WILDLIFE — I don't have numbers, but I have enough information from hunters, wildlife watchers and wildlife researchers to confidently say that theft of trail cameras has reached epidemic levels.

I've seen posts from a few anonymous thieves rationalizing their behavior by saying they don't want people snooping into land they love or they don't want other hunters figuring out what they already know. 

But the greedy creeps are still thieves, any way you look at it.

Here's news of another assault on ethics, research and public safety.

Nine wildlife cameras used to track elk near North Bend have been stolen.

The Transportation Department was using the cameras in a project to prevent elk collisions on Interstate 90.

Workers noticed nine of the project's 18 Reconyx cameras missing on November 10th. The cameras had protective steel boxes, media cards, and shielded padlocks. Some were camouflaged into their surroundings to deter people from stealing them.

Crews removed nine other remaining cameras as a precaution.

One of the cameras took a picture (above) of a possible suspect, a man with a bandanna over his face.

"These cameras were doing important work that were able to help us build something that could really stop these collisions from happening," said Harmony Weinberg, DOT public information officer. "It was really crucial work."

Study: Wolf impact significant on Minnesota moose

BIG GAME — Wolves likely have played a bigger role in the serious decline of northeast Minnesota’s moose population than originally believed, and there’s no evidence yet that climate change has been a major factor, according to a new analysis by renowned Minnesota wolf researcher Dave Mech.

The story was reported last week by Doug Smith of the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.

Mech doesn’t dismiss climate change as a possible factor in the declining moose herd, but said evidence presented in earlier research done by the Department of Natural Resources "just doesn’t hold up."

Instead, an increasing wolf population in at least part of the northeast moose range might have contributed to the decline, Mech and John Fieberg, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, concluded in a recently published paper. The state’s northeast moose herd has fallen 50 percent since 2006, to an estimated 4,350 animals last winter.

In the earlier studies, DNR researchers considered the statewide wolf population stable between 2000 and 2010, which was correct, Mech said. But they didn’t consider that the wolf population in an area that Mech has been studying - which overlaps part of a moose study area - had increased to the highest levels in 40 years.

"My data tends to indicate the problem was there were more wolves," Mech said in an interview. "But that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only answer. Is there some change affecting moose that allows wolves to take more of them, or is it merely that there’s more wolves?"

If wolves are a major factor in the moose decline, Mech said the DNR could allow hunters to kill more wolves in the moose range until the population recovers.

Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program supervisor, who in 2013 began conducting an adult moose mortality study using radio-collared animals, said the previous DNR studies looked at overall mortality, but researchers weren’t able to determine cause of death in most cases.

"We assumed wolves were accounting for a portion of that mortality, but we didn’t know how much," she said.

But now officials are finding how much impact wolves are having on moose mortality. The study radio collars alert researchers when an animal has died, and provide GPS coordinates so they can be quickly located and a cause of death determined.

So far in the study, the overall mortality rate is 26 percent, which is a concern. Normal stable moose populations have an 8 to 12 percent mortality rate. Wolves have accounted for 55 percent of the mortality (17 of 31 deaths); the rest died from health issues.

"The level of wolf predation on the adults is well in line with what we’d expect," Carstensen said. "It’s the overall mortality 61/87from all causes63/87 that has us concerned."

She noted that the northwest moose herd plummeted from about 4,000 in the ’80s to fewer than 100 today, and wolves had nothing to do with that. Those moose died from health-related issues, possibly driven by climate changes.

And, she said, adult moose in the northeast keep dying in summer, fall and early winter "when they shouldn’t be dying."

Carstensen said the results from current ongoing moose studies, which also include moose calves, habitat and diet, should eventually provide researchers with answers to the mystery. "There still might not be a smoking gun; it might be very complex," she said.

So far, in a different study involving collared moose calves, 67 percent of the mortality was due to wolves.

"Wolf predation is probably a little higher than we expected," DNR researcher Glenn DelGiudice said. "But we knew it would be a main source," he said, and it’s far too early to draw any conclusions.

He is planning on collaring more moose calves next spring, and said several years of data are needed.

Mech’s latest report says the northeast moose population was relatively unaffected by wolves from 1997 to about 2003 and that wolf numbers tended to parallel moose numbers. However, after the wolf population in his study area jumped 81 percent between 2000 and 2006 - from 44 animals to 81 - moose numbers began declining.

"We don’t know how far and wide that increase 61/87in the wolf population63/87 took place, but it did in our study area, and that area was adjacent to the moose study area," Mech said. He said it’s reasonable to surmise the wolf population in the rest of the moose study area also was rising, rather than remaining stable, as it was elsewhere.

Moose are a prime food source for wolves in the northeast, so as the moose population declines, one would expect the wolf population to eventually fall, too. "That seems to be happening in our study area," Mech said. The wolf population there increased until 2012, but he said it appears to have since declined.

The DNR estimated the state’s wolf population last winter at 2,423, stable from 2013.

So if the wolf population in moose country is declining, will moose rebound?

"That depends on what’s going on," Mech said. "If it’s strictly wolves, the moose population will recover. But if there are other factors involved - parasites, disease or warming temperatures, then it’s hard to say."

And if wolves turn out to be a major factor, then the DNR will have to decide whether to try to lower the population of one iconic animal to try to boost the population of another.

WSU study: Can grizzlies make use of tools?

WILDLIFE RESEARCH — Washington State University researchers are learning whether grizzly bears make and use tools.

With claws and teeth that can rip open anything from a beer can to beaver dens and moose carcasses, it seems as though tools would be unnecessary.

But while it’s too soon to reach a broad scientific conclusion, researchers say at least one female bear at the WSU lab is demonstrating that use of tools comes naturally.

The study, being conducted at WSU’s Bear Research Education and Conservation Center, is documenting eight grizzlies faced with the challenge of getting their claws into a dangling food snack that’s too high to reach, reports Linda Weiford of WSU News. No training is involved. The researchers are chronicling innate learning behavior.

Information gleaned from the study can be used to help wildlife managers solve grizzly-related challenges and problems, according to researchers, and also assist zookeepers in keeping captive bears mentally and physically stimulated. The study should be completed this fall.

“While it’s generally accepted that grizzly bears are intelligent creatures, until now no scientific research had been conducted on their problem-solving skills,” said WSU veterinary biologist Lynne Nelson, who is overseeing the study.

Here are more details from the WSU report:

In WSU’s controlled setting, eight brown bears—three males and five females—are being tested separately and are at various phases of the experiment, said Nelson. To date, a 9-year-old grizzly named Kio has sailed through each phase, essentially nailing the hypothesis that the species is capable of tool use.

Here’s how the study works: Inside the grizzly bears’ play area, a donut is hung on a string from a wire, too high for the animals to reach. First, each bear is tested to see if it will stand on a sawed-off tree stump to reach up and get the donut down. Once this is mastered, researchers move the stump away from the hanging donut and place it on its side.

Here’s where things get challenging. The bear must move the stump until it is positioned underneath the donut and then flip the stump over into a makeshift footstool.

Kio mastered this early: “She manipulates an inanimate object in several steps to help her achieve a goal, which in this case is to obtain food,” said Nelson. “This fits the definition of tool use.”

The other grizzlies are in the process of figuring out the feat, she explained, which confirms what the center’s scientists have long suspected about the keen brain power of bears. Frequently, Nelson and her colleagues witness grizzlies doing remarkable things, including using a single claw in a key-like manner to try to open locks.

Why should humans scientifically assess tool use among America’s greatest predators?

  • “If grizzly bears are capable of using tools to interact with their environment, that’s important for us to know because it provides a fuller picture of how they think,” said WSU veterinary student Alex Waroff, who designed the study and who, with Nelson, tests the bears five mornings a week.
  • “By better understanding their cognitive abilities, we can help reduce encounters that can turn deadly for bears and humans alike,” he said.
  • Such understanding also could shed light on whether the species is capable of manipulating its environment when faced with changes in the wild, such as shifts in habitat conditions or declining food sources, he explained.

Most of the center’s grizzly bears were deemed “problem bears” in the wild and were brought to WSU as an alternative to being shot and killed.

“Grizzlies are smart foragers and they’ll work hard to get at food – which, as we’re seeing, can include some pretty sophisticated strategies,” Nelson said.

Incidentally, the glazed donuts, donated by a local grocery store, are used to entice the bears for the study and aren’t part of their normal diet, said Nelson.

“Yes, they like sweets – just like humans,” she said. “But we’re careful to restrict their intake.”

Livesock-killing grizzly euthanized in Idaho

WILDLIFE — On Sunday, Aug. 10, the Idaho Department of Fish & Game, with the permission of the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, euthanized an adult male grizzly bear that had been responsible for a series of livestock killings in the Island Park, Idaho.  The grizzly bear was trapped by Wildlife Services, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Wildlife Services is contacted whenever a predator is thought to be responsible for the death of domestic livestock.

The depredations had occurred on the portion of Harriman State Park that is located west of Island Park Reservoir.  Because of the age and history of the bear involved, the decision was made to remove the bear. 

Idaho Fish and Game officials say that once bears have learned to key in on a specific food source it is highly likely they will continue the behavior, even if moved to other locations.

Comments due on Idaho’s wolverine plan

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Monday, June 9, is the deadline to comment on the Idaho Wolverine Conservation Plan proposed by the state Fish and Game Department's. The document was released May 19 for a 21-day public review.

Wolverines are members of the weasel family. In the northern United States, they occupy high-elevation alpine and subalpine habitats with spring snow cover and cool summer temperatures.

The plan lays out the state's course in protecting wolverine populations and their habitats to ensure their long-term viability in Idaho. The plan includes statewide wolverine status and distribution, factors affecting population and habitat, priority areas for conservation, and supporting actions to benefit wolverines in Idaho. 

Researchers finding more wolverines

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Remote cameras, GPS monitoring and DNA testing continues to reveal more about one of the most secretive of North American carnivores.

Montana, Alberta researchers report result of wolverine study
A $1.7-million study begun in 2009 by Parks Canada, the Miistakis Institute in Calgary and the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University to survey the wolverine populations in mountain parks has been completed, with 64 different wolverines identified.
—Calgary Herald

Weather prime for low-flying wildlife researchers

WILDLIFE RESEARCH — The region's wildlife researchers are flying high — and low — with this week's weather.

The big dump of snow followed by clear weather is perfect for using helicopters to locate and capture critters so transmitter collars can be attached for research.  Fleeing animals bog down in the snow giving the pilot and gunner the best conditions for capture.

Methods used include shooting tranquilizer darts directly from the helicopter to the animal in a low-flying chase or shooting a net from the helicopter before landing and administering the drug after subduing the animal.

Washington Fish and Wildlife staffers took advantage of the weather Monday to recapture a female wolf near Ione to replace a faulty collar that had been attached after the wolf was trapped in July. On Tuesday they caught another female wolf in the same area and attached a collar. The staffers are working to put collars on other wolves in these prime conditions.

Idaho is scrambling to get more collars on elk in the Coeur d'Alene River drainage this week for a large-scale study.

Protection elusive for elusive wolverine

USFWS again extends comment period on protection of wolverines
A dispute on the reliability of conflicting research on wolverines was cited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its decision to extend by six months the public comment period on a proposal to put the elusive species under federal protection.
 —Missoulian

Climate change dampens wolverine endangered species listing

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  An organization of wildlife officials for Western states is asking the federal government to delay a possible listing for wolverines as a threatened species, which could mean an end to trapping outside Alaska for the animal’s fur.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife objects to any listing based solely on fears climate change could shrink the wolverine’s wintry terrain along the spine of the Rocky Mountains and other Western ranges.

“Climate change models are not a reason to list species under the Endangered Species Act,” Bill Bates, a representative from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, told The Tribune.

Bates said the population of wolverines has actually increased since the time of European settlement, even though it’s estimated fewer than 300 of the elusive, snow-loving carnivores roam the mountain ranges of the Lower 48 states.

“We can wait and see what happens with climate change in the next 20 to 30 years,” Bates said.

Federal officials say they aren’t trying to use the wolverine as a means to regulate greenhouse gases, but they say it’s a fact climate change threatens the wolverine as much as it does the polar bear. The Interior Department listed polar bears as threatened five years ago because of loss of their primary habitat, sea ice, due to climate warming.

In January, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed protections for the wolverine throughout the continental U.S. It opened a public comment period that’s set to end on Monday.

Read on for more of the story moved by the Associated Press.

Volunteers sign-up for North Idaho wolverine project

WILDLIFE — Volunteers are needed once again to monitor wolverine bait stations in the Idaho Panhandle in a state Fish and Game research project organized by the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

Kristen Nowicki, the group's new field projects director, has set up a new online registration form volunteers can use to get on the list for group treks on snowshoes or skis to set up and monitor bait stations that collect photos and hair samples from any furry visitor.

Being the first to see the images captured on the motion-triggered trail cams is worth the effort alone. A large variety of wildlife visits the sites.

Follow this link to the form to register and participate.

Harlequin duck, 17, returns to Glacier Park

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A male harlequin duck, known to be at least 17 years old, was recently identified in Glacier National Park by University of Montana researchers and Glacier National Park scientists.

  • The banded duck is believed to be the third oldest on record. The oldest known banded harlequin duck has a recorded age of 18 years and 10 months.

“Prior to these findings, harlequin ducks were reported to live up to only 10  years of age, which makes this finding a positive indicator of the health and longevity of harlequin breeding populations in Glacier National Park,” said Lisa Bate, Glacier Park biological science technician. “Research indicates harlequin ducks mate for life unless something happens to one member of the pair. This old male has returned the last three years with the same female.”

Researchers launched the study in 2011, using radio-telemetry and banding to learn more about the location of harlequin nests and factors affecting offspring survival.

Upper McDonald Creek is considered an important breeding stream for harlequin ducks, comprising 25 percent of known broods produced in Montana. The area also has the highest density of breeding harlequins in the lower 48 states.

About 40 pairs of harlequins in the park are known to be in Glacier Park.

Read on for more detals about the harlequins.

Wolves in hot water after sheep-killing spree

PREDATORS — There's a little less  love for wolves in central Idaho this week.

Idaho issues 2 kill permits on wolves near Carey after 31 sheep killed
Between May 10 and May 12, John Peavey, the owner of the Flat Top Ranch near Carey, Idaho, lost 13 ewes and 18 lambs to wolves. Idaho Wildlife Services has issued a kill permit for up to two wolves.
—Idaho Mountain Express (Sun Valley)

Study: Elk rebounding in Bitterroot Valley

WILDLIFE — Elk numbers in Montana's Bitterroot Valley are up this year mostly because of better calf survival, according to reseachers.

This year’s aerial spring count found 7,373 elk in the five hunting districts that encircle the Bitterroot Valley. That's the fourth highest number of elk spotted by biologists in the 48-year history of the annual spring survey.

Range conditions and more emphasis on controlling wolves, cougars and bears played a roll in the increase, biologists say.

Read the story in the Ravalli Republic.

Will red ribbons deter wolves from livestock?

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Some pro-wolf groups say hanging red ribbons on fences around pastures will protect cattle from wolf attacks. 

The theory is getting another test this spring in the Wenatchee area, site of the most recently documented new wolf pack in Washington.

Question: Does this mean the end of the open range?

Let's just say there could possibly mean a BIG MARKET for red ribbon in the West.

See the KING 5 TV report and video.

What do you expect from a sage-land species?

USGS study finds sage grouse like undisturbed areas, quiet 

A new study led by U.S. Geological Survey biologist Steve Knick has confirmed that sage grouse need undisturbed habitat and solitude for successful reproduction.

Researchers found 99 percent of the active 3,000 leks studied in 355,000 square miles of historic sage grouse range in the West found were in areas where no more than 3 percent of the land had been disturbed by human activity. —Idaho Statesman

Wolf seen hunting near Wenatchee is a heads up to everyone

PREDATORS — A wolf witnessed hunting a deer in a Wenatchee residential area Tuesday is a dose of reality a little too close to home for some people.

It's a reminder that urban deer need to be controlled, and that we need to have measures in place so we can control wolves.

We need to be aware of wolves — all of us.  The landscape has changed.

Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman magazine offers this reminder of the well reported developments in the past few years:

It’s a reminder that it’s not just ranchers who will need to adapt to living with the species, but mountain bikers, hikers, mushroom pickers and others who frequent the woods. They will also need to adjust their behavior and become more alert in the outdoors and better understand wolves’ proclivities to avoid the rare negative interactions.

The first year of a wolf, from conception

WILDLIFE — Northern Rockies gray wolf packs are highly structured socially.   Only the alpha male and alpha female breed.

Generally, according to Washington Fish and Wildlife biologists:

  • Mating occurs in January.
  • Pups are born in dens in April and the pack supports the nursing mother with food.
  • The female and pups begin uniting with the pack at a rendezvous site in May. 
  • Pups are weaned in June.
  • By October, the pups are actively hunting with the pack.
  • By December, the pups appear full size and some older wolves may have been dispersed from the pack to take care of themselves and find new mates and territories. 
  • Wolf packs are known to kill other wolves as they expand or defend territories averaging 350 square miles. Dispersing wolves are especially vulnerable.

A pack is defined as a minimum of two wolves hanging out together.

A breeding pack must have a minimum of one male and one female wolf hanging out together during the winter breeding period.

Idaho reports 11 percent decrease in wolves during 2012

PREDATORS — Idaho's gray wolf population at the end of 2012 was at least 683, a decrease of 11 percent from 2011, according to the federally required annual state wolf monitoring report (http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/public/wildlife/wolves/) posted online today by the Idaho Fish and Game Department.

Humans killed 418 of the 425 wolves known to have died in the state last year by hunting, trapping and state and federal agency control efforts to protect livestock, the report says.

However, the number of documented packs had increased and wolves were occupying territories throughout the state.

Montana also has reported a decrease in wolves in its 2012 annual report, the first decrease since 2004.

In Washington, where wolves are still under Endangered Species protections, the number of wolves increased signficantly from 2011 to 2012, with the number pegged at around 100.  

Idaho biologists documented 117 packs in the state at the end of 2012 — an increase of seven from 2011 — plus 23 border packs that overlap in Montana, Wyoming and Washington.  But total numbers of wolves have gradually decreased because of hunting and other efforts since the population peaked at a minimum of 856 in 2009. 

Of the 66 Idaho packs known to have reproduced, 35 packs qualified as breeding pairs at the end of the year, the report says. Those reproductive packs produced a minimum of 187 pups.

A new crop of pups will be born in dens across the state this month.

Wolves were confirmed to have killed 73 cattle, 312 sheep and two dogs in Idaho last year, the report says.

The Panhandle Zone was occupied by 15 documented resident packs in 2012 — up three from 2011 —  plus five known resident border packs, three suspected packs and one other documented group during 2012, the report says. Three new resident packs were documented in 2012.

Wolf recovery and monitoring reports from Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and more recently from Washington and Oregon are posted on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northern Rockies Gray Wolf website.

Montana revisiting wolf management plan

PREDATORS — With wolves stacking up in northeastern Washington at an alarming rate, perhaps Washington ought to take a cue from Montana, which has announced plans to review the guidelines set in the state's wolf management plan.

Montana is rounding up the state's disbanded 12-member Wolf Management Advisory Council in Helena, April 12, for a meeting to review and discuss the wolf management plan they helped to create.

"A lot has transpired since the council last met in 2007," said Jeff Hagener, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department director. "Governor Steve Bullock and I have invited the members to gather in Helena for a one-day meeting to review the status of the wolf in Montana today and to discuss the effectiveness of the management plan."

Video: Wash. wolverines trapped, tracked for research

WILDLIFE — Research underway in Washington, Oregon and Idaho seeks to understand more about a wilderness icon, North America's reclusive carnivore — the wolverine.

Last weekend we took a glimpse at how citizen scientists are helping Idaho Fish and Game monitor a range of carnivores including wolverines in the Idaho Panhandle.

KING 5 TV  this week has an excellent update (above) on wolverine research in the North Cascades, including footage of a a fiesty critter trapped, collared and released.

Golden eagle flying free without research “backpack”

WILDLIFE — This male golden eagle has worn a GPS “backpack” for eight years to provide information about home range size and habitat use in Eastern Washington, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Facebook page.

Now at least 13 years old, he was recently recaptured by the agency's raptor researcher who removed the equipment to let him spend the rest of his life flying “free.”

Wash. lawmakers pass wolf bills out of committee

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

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

Washington wolf packs detailed

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

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

Wolf numbers doubled in 2012, Washington report confirms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idaho research helicopter targets elk, moose, wolves

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

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

Montana fast-tracks bill to expand wolf hunting

PREDATORS — A proposal to narrow wildlife management options and expand the state's wolf hunt is being fast-tracked through the Montana Legislature for the governor's, according to the Associated Press.

The Montana Senate on Thursday suspended its rules so it could take initial and final votes on the same day on the measure that already had overwhelmingly cleared the House.

Here's more info from the AP:

House Bill 73 lets the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks increase the number of wolves one hunter can take, allows for electronic calls and removes a requirement to wear hunter orange outside general deer and elk season.

  • The measure also prohibits the state wildlife agency from banning wolf hunts in areas around national parks. Its swift passage would allow the changes to take effect during the hunting season that's currently under way.

The department last month abandoned efforts to shut down gray wolf hunting and trapping in an area north of Yellowstone National Park after wolves popular with the park visitors and five radio-collared wolves important to wolf research were killed.

Lawmakers wanted to make sure such a regional closure doesn't come up again.

Gov. Steve Bullock has indicated support for the legislation, noting it had been backed by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

"The department did support it, and at the end of the day we need to base these decisions on science, not on politics, and allowing more than one, three wolves to be taken, it fits in with the science," he said.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks said it already has prepared rule changes that will allow the legislation to immediately impact what remains of the wolf hunting season ending Feb. 28.

Hunters and trappers so far this season have killed fewer than 200 wolves. Wildlife officials are hoping to reduce the animals' population from an estimated 650 wolves to around 450. The goal is to reduce wolf attacks on livestock and help some elk herds that have been in decline due to wolf attacks.

Wildlife advocates have argued the state is being too aggressive against a species only recently restored to the Northern Rockies after it was widely exterminated last century. But no one spoke against the expanded wolf hunt on the Senate floor.

"These creatures are hard to hunt, and we need to allow our wolf hunters the best chance of getting into them while the season is still ongoing," said Sen.Larry Jent, D-Bozeman.

Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, said the "big kumbaya" around the bill concerned him because he argued it doesn't go far enough to limit wolf numbers. He said the FWP is going to have to start allowing snare trapping of the wolves, a controversial practice the wildlife commission banned with its trapping regulations.

"While this bill will do some things, it is not the big answer," Thomas said. "If you really want to get after this, you have to authorize snaring."

Groups skeptical of Kretz wolf relocation bill

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Wolf supporters and even some cattleman's groups say an Eastern Washington lawmaker's bill aimed at moving wolves to the west side of the state is damaging their efforts to relocate wolves to the southern Cascade Mountains, according to a story in the Capital Press.

Washington’s wolf population pegged at 51-101 animals

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Readers of reports on Wednesday's gray wolf management presentation by a panel of experts in Spokane have noticed a discrepancy in the reporting of the number of wolves estimated to be in Washington going into 2013.

The range is 51-101, according to Donny Martorello, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department carnivore manager. 

In her report, Jessica Robinson of Northwest Public Radio chose to publish the "minimum" estimate of 51 wolves that Washington Fish and Wildlife Department field staffers have actually counted.

My report on Wednesday's presentations noted the agency estimates there are "up to 100" wolves in the state, zeroing in on the maximum number of 101 wolves in Washington based modeling techniques that compensate for the fact that human eyes never see all the game in the field.

State biologists say wolves are coming and going from state boundaries all the time, so a specific number isn't possible. 
 
One thing's for sure: Wolves are mating now, and the number of wolves in Washington will increase this spring.