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Wolves

The grey wolf has made a comeback across the Northern Rockies, thanks to federal protection, and Idaho and Montana now allow wolf hunting and trapping to keep the population in check.

Summary

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.

Latest updates in this topic

Idaho suspends license of Wolf People store

WILDLIFE — Idaho means it when the rules say keep your visitors' hands off the wolves.

State officials have suspended the commercial license of a Wolf People, a North Idaho company along U.S.95 near Cocolalla that exhibits 23 live wolves for among other things, violating a requirement that people can’t touch the wolves.

See the story here.

Enviros sue to prevent wolf control in Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The environmental groups' media release continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's environmental overkill.


Documents:

Montana, Idaho wolf kill below previous levels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's more info from the AP report:

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

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

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

WALeg Day 46: Possible changes to wolf management plan

OLYMPIA – An Eastern Washington rancher lost some 300 sheep to wolves last year when the flock was sent to a grazing area that contained a wolf den. Wildlife experts monitoring recovery of wolves in the region knew where the den was, but area ranchers didn’t.

Had the rancher known about the den, he wouldn't have put some 1,800 sheep into the leased grazing area, said Rep. Joel Kretz, sponsor of a bill that would try to avoid such losses through better communication and improved management of the region's wolves by adjusting a 2011 plan.

Although wolf legislation often sparks an East-West fight, Ketz’s call for better management received a good reception in the House Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday.

“I'm a city boy, but that doesn't seem like a good idea,” Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said about grazing sheep close to a wolf den. Other West Side legislators said they’d work on amendments for a bill that could pass.

A wide range of competing interests over wolf recovery in Washington generated a negotiated a management plan that was finished at the end of 2011. Kretz’s bill calls for a review of many parts of that plan, including conditions that allow for killing individual wolves. It would also consider different ways of measuring the wolf population so the animals could be taken off the state endangered species list in parts of the state where they are more numerous.

Ten of the state’s 13 known packs are in his Northeastern Washington district, Kretz said. But wolves generate strong feelings on both sides, he acknowledged: “You like ‘em or you don’t. Folks in my district don’t.”

The case involving the sheep being sent to graze in an area with the wolf den is a complicated one, he said. The tracking device was put on one of the wolves by the Spokane tribal officials and state wildlife officials were reluctant to reveal the information. But there should be some way to at least warn ranchers moving livestock into an area, he said.

“Putting sheep and wolves together like that, that’s just guaranteeing trouble,” he said.

Legislators asked David Ware, the state Fish and Wildlife Department’s wolf expert, why Washington couldn’t just adopt the wolf policies that Montana and Idaho have because they seem to have fewer problems with livestock killings.

Those states don’t have their own Endangered Species Act, and the wolf population has grown so they aren’t listed under federal law, Ware said. Under federal law, wolves in the eastern third of Washington aren’t endangered; under state law, they are.

Report: Oregon wolves multiplied, expanded in 2014

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Oregon has released its draft 2014 Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Annual Report and it's available online.

The report, required by the federal government for states dealing with gray wolf recovery, includes the 2014 update for Oregon’s Wolf Population.

  • Nine wolf packs and six new pairs of wolves were documented in Oregon in 2014.
  • Oregon’s minimum known wolf population at the end of 2014 was 77 wolves, including eight breeding pairs.

At the end of 2013, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials estimated a minimum of 64 wolves in the state in eight packs including four breeding pairs.

Washington is still working on its 2014 surveys and report.  Officials say lack of snow for tracking and boosting aerial surveys has made it more difficult than usual to evaluate the state's wolf population.

Wolf bills debated in Washington Legislature

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  House and Senate committees in the 2015 Washington Legislature considered bills Wednesday to deal with the issue of livestock-killing wolves in eastern Washington, according to a report by Jacob Rummel of Washington State University's Murrow News Service

The bills are aimed at speeding up the distribution of wolves in the state so they can be declared "recovered" and "delisted" from state endangered species protections. 

Reports Rummel:

The wolf conservation and management plan adopted in 2011 by the Department of Fish and Wildlife requires three regions of the state to host at least four breeding pairs of wolves each. The eastern Washington region reached this goal before the other two regions.

"The distribution has not gone, I think, as the plan expected," said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, the primary sponsor of a bill that amends the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s plan for wolf recovery. "We’ve got a huge number in one area of the state and they’re not dispersing as quickly as we hoped."

Under federal law, gray wolves are considered an endangered species in the western two-thirds of the state, but not in the eastern third. State law classifies gray wolves as endangered throughout the entire state.
Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said he has one constituent producer that lost 300 sheep to wolves. Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, said the wolf population is starting to become a problem in Kittitas County as well.

"The support for wolves is by and large on this (west) side of the mountains, where there are no wolves," Warnick said.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Natural Resource and Parks Committee both heard public testimony on Wednesday for bills that address the wolf population difficulties.

Opponents of the bills said it’s not yet the time to amend the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s plan because it would unnecessarily disrupt the restoration of wolves in the state.

"What would be appropriate is some sort of funding for effective conflict avoidance measures that can keep wolves and livestock safe while this process moves forward," said Elizabeth Ruther, the Northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

Kretz’s bill would alter the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s plan by changing the metric of success from the number of wolf breeding pairs to the number of wolf packs, but opponents of the bill said this metric is not accurate enough.

"After recovery I agree that tracking of breeding pairs will not be necessary," said Diane Gallegos, the executive director for Wolf Haven International.

Another bill considered in the Senate Natural Resource and Parks Committee would allow the Department of Fish and Wildlife to take lethal action against wolves in specific instances after non-lethal prevention methods have been tried and failed. Warnick is a co-sponsor on this bill.

"Wolves, like other predatory animals, become acclimated and they will go after the least resistant food source," Warnick said. "So, when they discover livestock we need to try to discourage them."

Lawsuit challenges wolf killings

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Five conservation groups that contend federal officials in Idaho are violating environmental laws by killing wolves, coyotes and other wildlife to protect livestock and crops have filed a federal lawsuit. Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project and four other groups filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court against the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The lawsuit seeks to have the agency adopt nonlethal methods and conduct a more rigorous environmental analysis of the agency's killing of wildlife. The lawsuit notes that the federal agency killed more than 200,000 animals in Idaho in 2013, including 2,739 coyotes and 79 wolves. The lawsuit says federal authorities have also failed to consider how their actions effect federally protected grizzly bears, Canada lynx and bull trout.

Ruby Creek wolf caught, taken to Wolf Haven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See more info here.

Panel tackles wolf issues Thursday at Gonzaga

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

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

The audience will be invited to submit questions.

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

Wolf Advisory Group expands from 9 to 18 members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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."

Prosecutor still mum on charges for Whitman County wolf shooting

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

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

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

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

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

WALeg Day 25: Work ahead on wolf and wildfire bills

OLYMPIA –Two of the most contentious issues in rural Eastern Washington, wildfires and wolves, are generating demands for change and a stream of legislative proposals.

After a hearing on bills that directed at one or the other today, the chairman of the committee handling both issues said he'll try to work with sponsors to craft compromise legislation on each.

Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said he'll support some form of “good Samaritan” legislation that would allow landowners to fight fires without prior approval when they break out on nearby state land without getting prior approval. People trying to keep early fires from spreading shouldn’t face criminal or civil penalties, and the state shouldn’t be held liable if they are injured, he said.

Residents who fought parts of last summer’s Carlton Complex wildfire were critical of delays and poor decisions they believe the Department of Natural Resources made in the early days of those fires and said control should be passed to local officials.

“We’re quite capable of fighting fires. It’s passed on from generation to generation,”  said Vick Stokes, a rancher near Twisp who had 90 percent of the land he works burn. “We fought fire by ourselves for three days.”

Local people can come in more quickly to fight fires, said Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, who is sponsoring or co-sponsoring several bills to change wildfire policy. "We heard time and time again on these fires. 'We're on it. We're on it. We've got it handled.' Obviously that wasn't the case."

State officials said they are reviewing the response to last summer's wildfires and agreed protecting life and property in a fire is more important than worrying about resource protection. But any provision to allow residents to fight emerging fires should not include "backfires" which can get out of hand if the winds shift.

Efforts to improve cooperation and communication between the state Department of Natural Resources and local officials and residents could be part of an eventual package, Blake said

Crafting a single wolf bill from seven pending proposals could be trickier. Residents and officials from Northeast Washington counties said they need better tools to keep the growing number of wolves in their region from killing livestock while the rest of the state waits for the wolves to get re-established there. Wildlife and conservation groups said the current wolf management system should be allowed time to work.

“I believe we are making progress,” Bob Aegeter, a member of the Sierra Club who serves on the Wolf Advisory Group, said. “Now is not the time to try and micromanage” the recovery plan.

But Stevens County Commissioner Wes McCart said he's been in constant contact with the state asking for help, and his constituents are getting fed up.

"They're willing to lynch me," McCart said. "Bive us some tools at the local level."

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, has a proposal to capture wolves in Northeast Washington and relocate them in suitable areas in other parts of the state. The most suitable spot would be the Olympic Peninsula, which has less livestock and lowland areas where wolves could survive in the winter.

Blake, whose district covers much of the peninsula, doesn’t like that option and thinks another Kretz proposal to take Northeast Washington wolves of the state’s endangered species list, while leaving them on the list for the other areas until they migrate their naturally. But he doubts he can get much support for that from fellow Democrats on the committee, or in the full House.

State officials said they could work with Kretz on a regional “de-listing” but were concerned the bill excluded the public involvement of a State Environmental Protection Act review. Kretz said the issue has been well studied and discussed, and that process would add years to the decision.

Northeast Washington’s not going to wait until 2021. We’re going to do something,” he said. “When you see people having their lives destroyed, they’re not going to wait on bureaucratic processes.”

Updated: Yellowstone elk increase as wolf numbers decline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Variable factors?

Wolf factor

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

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

By MATTHEW BROWN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pray tell?

New state wolf board has spent $140K so far to kill 31 wolves

Idaho’s Wolf Depredation Control Board had its first budget hearing this morning, and reported that it didn’t spend the full $400,000 it was allocated for its first year, but it did contract with USDA Wildlife Services to kill 31 wolves, all of which were attacking livestock; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. “We have every reason to believe 2014 was an anomaly,” Carl Rey, board member, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. It saw less wolf depredation than the state had seen since 2005, he said.

The board has spent just over $140,000 so far, Rey reported; it’s currently contracted to spend another $235,000 through the end of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. It is projecting it’ll have a $130,000 year-end balance; in addition to the $400,000 state appropriation, it received money from livestock producers and matching funds from Fish & Game.

Rep. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, said, “That’s $4,600 per wolf. As the wolf population grows, how are we going to sustain this type of expense?” Rey said expenses included “many, many other activities taking place that are expensive,” including helicopter time for monitoring. “So yes it is expensive, but there are many, many aspects to the control activities taking place.”

Brad Compton, Idaho Fish & Game assistant Wildlife Bureau chief, said the state’s overall management of wolves is aimed at reducing, not increasing, both their population and conflicts with wildlife and livestock. “All the information we have since we started implementing management, primarily hunting and trapping starting in 2009, is populations are declining slowly,” he said. “We’re starting to see some positive responses in reduced depredations. … But the intent in the future hopefully is one of needing less rather than needing more.”

Idaho director weary of wolf-facts distortion

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

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

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

By Virgil Moore/Director, Idaho Fish and Game

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

Here are the facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montana tries profit incentive to boost wolf control

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

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

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.

Oregon wolf census prompts talk of de-listing from ESA protections

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Oregon's prolific gray wolves have moved into a new recovery management phase that gives ranchers more flexibility in dealing with threats to their animals, including shooting wolves caught chasing livestock.

In the most recent census, wolves have hit the threshold for consideration as early as June of taking them off the state endangered species list.

 Wildlife biologists documented seven breeding pairs of wolves in Oregon in 2014, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said Tuesday.  Confirmation of at least four breeding pairs for the third consecutive year in eastern Oregon moves the eastern part of the state to Phase 2 of the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.

“This is an important step for Oregon," said Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator. "Wolves have now met one of the initial milestones envisioned by the public and the Commission.

"In the past seven years, Oregon has gone from no known wolves, to resident and reproducing wolves, and now to meeting our conservation objective for the eastern part of the state.”

In addition to breeding pairs, the department documented four new pairs of wolves in 2014, including confirmation of a second wolf in the Keno Unit last week.

Of the state's nine known wolf packs, only the Imnaha Pack is not a breeding pair. The Umatilla River pack still needs to be surveyed. 

A breeding pair is a pair of adult wolves which produce at least two pups that survive to the end of each year. Six of Oregon’s 2014 breeding pairs are in eastern Oregon.

Most known wolf activity, including eight of the nine known wolf packs, is east of Highways 395-78-95. This is the area of the state where wolves are also delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act.

Wolf-livestock conflict in this area is now managed under Phase 2 rules of the Oregon Wolf Plan. Non-lethal measures to prevent wolf-livestock conflict are still emphasized in Phase 2, but livestock producers now have more flexibility to protect their livestock.

Specifically, producers in the easternmost portion of the state are allowed to shoot a wolf caught chasing livestock under certain circumstances.

West of Highways 395-78-95, wolves remain listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates all take and harassment of wolves where wolves are federally listed. The only known wolves in this area are the Rogue Pack (OR7) and two new wolves recently confirmed in the Keno Unit.

ODFW  biologists are working to complete 2014 wolf population counts for the annual state wolf report required from all Northern Rockies wolf recovery states by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The transition to Phase 2 also marks the initiation of the state delisting process in Oregon as outlined in the Wolf Plan. ODFW will begin conducting a full status review and will present the results of that review to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in April. 

Delisting from the Oregon List of Endangered Species is a public process and the Commission could make their decision as early as June 2015.

“The Wolf Plan is working and the wolf population in Oregon expanding as the original crafters of the Plan thought it would,” said Brett Brownscombe, ODFW interim deputy director.  “We should embrace this wildlife success as wolves’ return to the Oregon landscape and ensure management approaches are also in place to address the challenges that come with wolves.”