Few wildlife conservation efforts have been as controversial as that of the grey wolf in the Northern Rockies. Federal efforts to protect the wolf have clashed with state efforts to control wolf populations and protect livestock and game from predation by wolf packs.
Idaho and Montana have been given federal authority to manage wolf numbers using public hunts. Federal officials require Idaho to maintain a population of at least 150 wolves and 10 breeding pairs.
Idaho wildlife officials have boosted bag limits, expanded trapping and extended hunting seasons in some areas to help further reduce wolf populations in all corners of the state. Its 10-month wolf season runs until June.
Idaho’s wolf managers estimated 500 to 600 wolves roamed the state as of spring 2012, down from the more than 1,000 when the 2011 hunting season opened in August.
Hunters and trappers killed 364 wolves since the 2011 season opened, while dozens more wolves have died of natural causes or been killed for preying on livestock or targeted as part of a strategy to lessen impacts on specific elk herds in the state.
A federal appeals court in March rejected a lawsuit from conservation groups that wanted to block wolf hunts across the Northern Rockies. The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Congress had the right to intervene when it stripped protections from wolves in spring 2011.
Lawmakers stepped in after court rulings kept wolves on the endangered list for years after they reached recovery goals. Wildlife advocates claimed in their lawsuit that Congress violated the separation of powers by interfering with the courts. But the court said Congress was within its rights, and that lawmakers had appropriately amended the Endangered Species Act to deal with Northern Rockies wolves.
There are more than 1,700 wolves in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and expanding populations in portions of Eastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. Wolf hunting could resume in Wyoming this fall.
In parts of Montana, ranchers and local officials frustrated with continuing attacks on livestock have proposed bounties for hunters that kill wolves. Montana wildlife officials said they will consider ways to expand hunting after 166 wolves were killed this season, short of the state’s 220-wolf quota.
Wolves once thrived across North America but were exterminated across most of the continental U.S. by the 1930s, through government sponsored poisoning and bounty programs.
Wolves were put on the endangered list in 1974. Over the last two decades, state and federal agencies have spent more than $100 million on wolf restoration programs across the country. There are more than 4,500 of the animals in the upper Great Lakes and a struggling population of several dozen wolves in the Desert Southwest.
Prior lawsuits resulted first in the animals’ reintroduction to the Northern Rockies and then later kept them on the endangered list for a decade after the species reached recovery goal of 300 wolves in three states.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is monitoring the hunts. But agency officials have said they have no plans to intervene because the states have pledged to manage wolves responsibly.
Federal officials have pledged to step in to restore endangered species protections if wolf numbers drop to less than 100 animals in either Montana or Idaho.
Even without hunting, wolves are shot regularly in the region in response to livestock attacks. Since their reintroduction, more than 1,600 wolves have been shot by government wildlife agents or ranchers.
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Latest updates in this topic
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today announced the five members of the state's new wolf control board, for which the Legislature this year appropriated $400,000 to kill problem wolves. Otter named Richard Savage, a former Idaho Cattle Association president and a rancher from Hamer, as the livestock industry representative; Tony McDermott of Sagle, a former Fish & Game commissioner, to represent sportsmen; and Carl Rey of Meridian to represent the general public. The board is co-chaired by Idaho Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore and Idaho Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould.
“Managing wolves is expensive, and federal funds to sustain the Idaho management plan approved by the Legislature in 2002 are drying up,” Otter said in a statement. “This solution was developed collaboratively by wildlife managers, sportsmen and ranchers to provide a reliable funding source from stakeholders for this important work.” In addition to the state funds, lawmakers approved fees of $110,000 from sportsmen and $110,000 from the livestock industry to support the board; click below for Otter's full announcement.
PREDATORS — The bottom line is that state's can't afford to continue spending millions of dollars to monitor wolf populations. There has to be an easier more affordable way.
Montana researchers come up with a new way to count wolves
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' requirement to provide minimum wolf counts to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expires in two years, and researchers from the state wildlife agency and the University of Montana have developed a new statistical technique to come up with wolf numbers.
—Helena Independent Record
PREDATORS — Conservation groups, including The Lands Council based in Spokane, are petitioning the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to limit the killing of wolves in response to livestock deaths.
Even though the state has take significant steps and statewide guidelines for preventing wolves from being attracted to livestock, the groups filed their petition late on Friday, asking the state to require ranchers to exhaust nonlethal options to prevent their livestock from being preyed on by wolves before killing the predators.
The Associated Press reports the groups are still hung up on the rare extreme action the state took in 2012 when Fish and Wildlife aerial gunners killed seven wolves in the Wedge Pack. The groups contend the northern Stevens County rancher didn't go far enough in taking nonlethal actions that might have prevented wolves from attacking his cattle. The rancher endured 17 attacks on his cattle on private and public land.
The groups say that ranchers and sports-hunting groups have refused to consider their proposals, and that the state is moving forward with less protective wolf-control rules.
The groups filing the petition include the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Environmental Law Center, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, The Lands Council, Wildlands Network, Kettle Range Conservation Group and the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Department of Fish and Wildlife officials did not immediately return a message to the Associated Press.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — The speculation is over on whether Oregon's famous radio-collared wandering wolf has a mate.
OR-7 and its mate have produced pups, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed.
- See other images of OR-7, its mate and other Oregon wolves at ODFW’s wolf photo gallery
OR-7, the name given to the male wolf when it was first captured, radio-collared and released in northeast Oregon, found a mate in the Rogue River area of southwest Oregon’s Cascade Mountains after capturing worldwide attention as its movements were followed on the web through Oregon and California.
See more details in today's story from the Associated Press.
PREDATORS — The gist of the comments and online chat-room posts I've seen regarding my column about Washington's survey of public opinion on wolf management seem to sum up this way:
- Wolves: a few people love 'em, a few people hate 'em, and most people are in between, generally supporting wolf recovery but not to the point that wolves are hurting the livestock industry or decimating big-game herds.
Sizing up the comments also confirms that a few people, especially in the anti-hunting camps who grieve over the death of any critter, would prefer to kill the messenger, especially if it's an outdoor writer writing about wolves.
You don't have to settle for my take on this rare random survey of 904 adult residents across the state commissioned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Department. The agency has posted the entire 190 pages of the survey report as well as the summary.
- Compare the responses with a somewhat similar survey conducted in 2008 to see the trends.
The full title of the survey is: Washington Residents’ Opinions on Bear and Wolf Management and Their Experiences With Wildlife That Cause Problems.
It offers some interesting insight on several issues, including how Washingtonians view hunting in general: 88 percent of residents support hunting while only 8 percent strongly or moderately disapprove.
But mostly the survey is about wolves, the hottest state-wide fish and wildlife management issue in Washington.
See a longer, more hunter-oriented analysis of the survey by Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman.
PREDATORS — Wyoming's bottom line is at the bottom.
Wyoming manages wolves to keep number near allowable level
Of the five states that are managing wolves—Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Michigan and Wisconsin, Wyoming has set its sights on keeping the number of wolves in the state at the bare minimum required to comply with federal rules.
—Jackson Hole News & Guide
ENDANGERED SPECIES — OR-7, a wolf originally from northeast Oregon, may have found a mate in southwest Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports.
In early May, remote cameras on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest captured several images of what appears to be a black female wolf in the same area where OR-7 is currently located. The images were found by wildlife biologists when they checked cameras on May 7.
The remote cameras were set up by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as part of ongoing cooperative wolf monitoring efforts. New images of OR-7 were also captured on the same cameras and can be accessed and viewed at ODFW’s wolf photo gallery (see first three images).
“This information is not definitive, but it is likely that this new wolf and OR-7 have paired up. More localized GPS collar data from OR-7 is an indicator that they may have denned,” said John Stephenson, Service wolf biologist. “If that is correct, they would be rearing pups at this time of year.”
The Service and ODFW probably won’t be able to confirm the presence of pups until June or later, the earliest pup surveys are conducted, so as not to disturb them at such a young age. Wolf pups are generally born in mid-April, so any pups would be less than a month old at this time.
If confirmed, the pups would mark the first known wolf breeding in the Oregon Cascades since the early 20th century.
Wolf OR7 is already well-known due to his long trek and his search for a mate—normal behavior for a wolf, which will leave a pack to look for new territory and for a chance to mate. “This latest development is another twist in OR-7’s interesting story,” said Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator.
The Service and ODFW will continue to monitor the area to gather additional information on the pair and possible pups. That monitoring will include the use of remote cameras, DNA sample collection from scats found, and pup surveys when appropriate.
Wolves throughout Oregon are protected by the state Endangered Species Act. Wolves west of Oregon Highways 395-78-95, including OR-7 and the female wolf, are also protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, with the Service as the lead management agency.
At the end of last year, there were 64 known wolves in Oregon. Except for OR-7, most known wolves are in the northeast corner of the state.
OR-7 was born into northeast Oregon’s Imnaha wolf pack in April 2009 and collared by ODFW on Feb. 25, 2011. He left the pack in September 2011, traveled across Oregon and into California on Dec. 28, 2011, becoming the first known wolf in that state since 1924.
Other wolves have traveled further, and other uncollared wolves may have made it to California. But OR-7’s GPS collar, which transmits his location data several times a day, enabled wildlife managers to track him closely.
Since March 2013, OR-7 has spent the majority of his time in the southwest Cascades in an area mapped on ODFW’s website.
WILDLIFE — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a heaping plate of critter issues to consider across the country, with some very high-profile portions centered in the West:
Western states worry that sage-grouse listing could curb economy
As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mulls protection of sage grouse, western states have put in place their own plans to protect the species as there are concerns that federal measures could halt grazing, mining and energy development on sage-grouse habitat.
A four-year study done by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks of sage grouse in Powder and Carter counties found that the species is doing well in the southeastern counties in areas well-used for grazing.
USFWS mines public comments on wolf delisting for new data
Idaho U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson said he believed that if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides not to remove wolves from the endangered species list, Congress will step in and give states more authority to manage wolves, while Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, who said he does not believe the federal agency relied on the best science when proposing to delist the species, said he said if Congress does decide to give states more management authority, it will be a political, not a scientific decision.
Federal judge in Montana orders USFWS to write Canada lynx plan
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy gave the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 30 days to submit its proposed recovery plan for the Canada lynx.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — I hope everyone had a great Sunday honoring the mothers in your family. But in the world of wildlife, it may not have been flowers and breakfast in bed.
Don't watch this video if you don't want to see one of the most sobering lessons in the natural order.
I'm posting this video because it shows a wild side of motherhood: A cow moose fighting bravely for the life of her calf against impossible odds: a pack of five wolves. A pack's efficiency and teamwork is at once fascinating and terrifying
This is simply educational: not pro-wolf or anti-wolf.
It's just the way nature is in all its rawness.
PREDATORS — Few of the dozens of outfitters and conservationists who showed up for a Wyoming Game and Fish Department wolf meeting Wednesday saw eye to eye, or approved of the status of the hunt, according to a report in the Jackson Hole Daily.
Wyoming Game and Fish is proposing to target 46 wolves this fall — 20 more than last year — in the state’s trophy game management area. Managers aim to bring the population of wolves in Wyoming’s jurisdiction down to near 160, wolf program biologist Ken Mills said.
Big-game hunting outfitters want more wolves killed. Wildlife-watching outfitters want more restrictions on hunting wolves that venture out of Yellowstone Park.
Poachers are likely killing far more game animals than wolves are, state wildlife officials in northern Idaho say. Officials tell the Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/1jdj31p) in a story on Friday that last year in northern Idaho they confirmed poaching of 30 elk, four moose, 13 mule deer and 57 whitetail deer, according to an AP report from the Tribune. Officials say a realistic detection rate is 5 percent, meaning poachers are likely killing about 600 elk, 80 moose, 260 mule deer and 1,000 whitetail annually.
“It's real easy for people to blow a gasket about wolf predation,” said Idaho Fish and Game District Conservation Officer George Fischer. “They are very passionate about it, they are very irate about it and they are livid about it. Yet there is a two-legged wolf out there that is probably killing as many or more than wolves. Wolves are causing an impact, there is no doubt about it; I don't want to downplay that at all, but two-legged wolves are probably killing more or stealing more game than wolves. That is the shock-and-awe message.”
Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Mike Keckler says poachers strike throughout Idaho. “Poaching is an issue throughout the state,” he said. Click below for the full AP/Lewiston Trib report.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — A state board is considering endangered species status for the gray wolf endangered species status, giving it a chance at returning to California in significant numbers after a decades-long hiatus.
Just one wolf from Oregon has been tracked in recent years crossing into Northern California, renewing interest in returning the species to a thriving population. The California Fish and Game Commission will vote on giving the wolf legal protections at a meeting in Ventura.
Advocates such as Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity are hopeful for the wolf’s return.
“There’s already one wolf here,” Greenwald said Tuesday. “It’s not going to be long until there’s more.”
Ranchers remain opposed to the wolf’s reintroduction.
“Wolves directly kill livestock and in addition to that they can cause disease and other harm from stress,” such as weight loss in animals, said Kirk Wilbur, director of government relations for the California Cattlemen’s Association.
The last gray wolf in California was killed in 1924, clearing mountain ranges for cattle herds and other valuable livestock that fall prey to wolves.
Yet if the gray wolf is listed, ranchers not only couldn’t kill animals on their property, they couldn’t even chase them off, Wilbur said.
“If I see a wolf attacking one of my calves, I can’t do anything about that,” Wilbur said.
Nationally, wolves were near extinction not long ago. They were reintroduced with federal protections in the 1980s and ’90s, Greenwald said.
Wolves now occupy large parts of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and the Great Lakes.
Federal protections have ended in those two regions, and there is a pending proposal to lift protections across much of the remaining Lower 48 states.
In 2008, a pack started moving into Oregon. That’s when the wolf now drawing interest for hopscotching into California became known as OR-7 — he was the seventh Oregon wolf fitted with a GPS tracking collar.
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.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — Under the endangered species regulations governing gray wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies, states must monitor wolf numbers and file annual status reports on wolf populations and packs.
- See stories about the latest wolf status reports for six states, including Idaho, Montana and Washington.
Federal authorities review the reports to ensure wolves are being properly managed above standards that could trigger relisting as an endangered species.
Monitoring and reporting wolf status an expensive task that's been funded mostly by the federal government. But as the federal funding dries up, state's are looking at how to bring monitoring into fiscal reality.
Researchers from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the University of Montana on Friday released preliminary results of a new technique for estimating wolf numbers to produce a less expensive and more accurate population assessment.
The typical method used to document the state's wolf population focuses on ground and aerial track counts, visual observations, den and rendezvous confirmation and radio collaring to count individual wolves as required by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Montana's new approach: From 2007 through 2012, a team of 11 researchers to determine the number of gray wolves in Montana by estimating the:
- Areas occupied by wolves in packs;
- Number of wolf packs by dividing the occupied area by average territory size; and
- Numbers of wolves by multiplying the number of estimated packs by average annual pack size.
For instance, population modeling for Montana's wolves in 2012—where actual counts verified a minimum of 625 wolves and 147 packs—predicted that 804 wolves and 165 packs inhabited the state. Similar estimates are not yet available for 2013.
The typical method used by states produces a minimum number of wolves that can be verified, leaving biologists to say they believe there are actually more wolves in the field. The new Montana method seeks to give a more accurate number.
“This new approach is not only good science, it's a practical way for Montana to obtain a more accurate range of wolf numbers that likely inhabit the state,” said Justin Gude, FWP's, chief of research for the wildlife division in Helena
Montana wolf population estimates were derived for the years 2007 through 2012 via a mix of rigorous statistical evaluations; wolf observations reported by recreational hunters during the annual hunter-harvest surveys; and Montana's annual wolf counts.
Results generally estimate a Montana wolf population 25-35 percent higher than the verified minimum counts submitted over the six-year period.
- See more at Montana Wolves.
UPDATED: 5:20 p.m.
PREDATORS — Gray wolves are maintaining a strong presence in Idaho despite stepped up hunting and trapping seasons plus other measures to control their numbers, according to the 2013 Idaho wolf status report released today by the state Fish and Game Department.
- Number of wolves: At least 659.
- Documented packs: At least 107, down from 117 at the end of 2012 but still the second highest number since reintroduction.
- New packs: At least seven.
- Border packs: At least 28 documented border packs overlapping with Montana, Wyoming and Washington.
- Reproducing packs: At least 49. Of those, 20 qualified as breeding pairs at the end of the year.
- Pack size: 5.4 (mean), down from 8.1 average during the three years prior to the 2009 opening of hunting seasons.
- Wolves killed: 356 by hunters and trappers and 94 by control efforts in response to wolf-livestock depredation. At least 16 wolves died from other human-related causes and 7 were found dead from unknown reasons.
- Confirmed wolf depredations: 39 cattle, 404 sheep, four dogs and one horse. Another seven cattle, nine sheep, and one dog were considered probable wolf kills.
Idaho posted its report on the deadline required of Northern Rockies states involved in the federal endangered species recovery programs.
- See wolf recovery status reports from all the affected states on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northern Rocky Mountains page.
Read on for an Associated Press story, April 4, 2014, on the regional wolf status reports with reaction from various groups and experts.
PREDATORS — Last week, on the last day of the 2014 Idaho legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill to create a state Wolf Depredation Board that will work to control the growth of wolf populations in the state.
- In addition, wolf hunting and trapping seasons were further expanded last week by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.
The bill creates a $400,000 fund and establishes a five-member board that will authorize the killing of wolves that come into conflict with wildlife or livestock. The money comes from the state's general fund, and will be augmented by fees on sportsmen and the livestock industry.
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is expected to sign the bill into law. Otter had sought $2 million in the wolf fund.
“We are of one mind, that Idaho wants to manage our wolves and we want to manage them to a reasonable number so that the species don't get endangered again and the feds don't come in and take it over again,” Otter said Friday.
Conservation groups opposed the bill, saying it will lead to the killing of hundreds of wolves.
The board will be appointed by Otter and will include representatives of the agricultural, livestock and hunting communities. The bill does not require any members of the board to represent the wolf conservation community, noted said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Idaho Statesman columnist Rocky Barker covered the first court-related setbacks to wolf management in Idaho a few years ago, and he's wondering if the state's tough-guy actions regarding wolves might trigger another confrontation with a federal judge that's tough on the law:
Idaho's recent actions provide basis for groups' request to again protect wolves
Recent actions of the Idaho Legislature and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter appear to put the state on the path to a goal of 10 breeding pairs or 150 wolves, and national groups are gearing up for a court challenge to get wolves put back on the federal protected list. A column —Idaho Statesman
ENDANGERED SPECIES — A pet bulldog was injured by two wolves Tuesday morning outside a home at Twisp.
A resident heard her dogs barking, went outside and saw the two wolves on her bulldog. They ran away when she yelled.
State Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Dan Christensen tells The Wenatchee World the dog suffered bite marks to its neck and back.
Christensen says the wolves were forcing the bulldog to submit. If it had been an attack over food or territory, the wolves could have easily killed the dog.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — Federal lawmakers pressed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Wednesday to drop the administration’s plan to end federal protections for gray wolves across most of the Lower 48 states.
Seventy-four House members signed onto a Wednesday letter to Jewell that cited a peer-review panel’s recent conclusion the government relied on unsettled science to make its case that the wolves have sufficiently recovered.
Gray wolves were added to the endangered-species list in 1975 after being widely exterminated in the last century. The wolves repopulated the Yellowstone Park region as well as into Idaho, Wyoming and Montana faster and in greater numbers that federal biologists had predicted.
Protections already have been lifted for rebounding populations of the predators in the northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have said wolf recovery is complete and turned over management of the wolves to states, such as Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. These states have begun “managing” the wolves by allowing hunting and trapping seasons to reduce wolf numbers and balance them with the amount of available prey.
Read on for a version of the story coming from the Associated Press.
PREDATORS — Here's a Montana wolf hunting status report:
Montana's changes to wolf hunting season don't raise success rate
Despite higher limits for wolf hunters and an extended hunting season in Montana this winter, hunters and trappers in the Big Sky State took just five more wolves this past season than the year before, with hunters bagging 144 wolves, trappers taking 86, and federal wildlife officials and private landowners killing 70 wolves.
— Billings Gazette
PREDATORS — Although it's down from the initially proposed $2 million plan to protect livestock and reduce the number of wolves on Idaho's landscape, the state legislature has just voted to earmark $400,000 to the cause.
See The S-R's Eye on Boise blog by Betsy Russell.