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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

Washington has 14 wolves collared, working for science

ENDANGERED SPECIES — As reported last week, Washington has trapped and radio-collared at least five gray wolves this spring, adding to its pool of wolves that are transmitting data about their individual movements as well as their associated packs.

This information is valuable to the recovery of wolves and their eventual delisting from endangered species protections.

That brings the number of collars being monitored by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife researchers to 14 individuals in 10 packs.

  • Ten of those collars are expensive units sending daily GPS data.
  • Four of the collars are transmitting VHF signals that give more general information on location and movements.

The Colville Tribe, which runs its own wildlife program on packs within the reservation,has not confirmed how many collars tribal biologists have put on wolves. 

Packs managed by WDFW with collars include Salmo, Goodman, Diamond, Smackout, Dirty Shirt, Huckleberry, Profanity, Lookout, Teanaway and Tucannon. 

Wolf update: Packs moving; big-game populations holding steady

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A just-released update on wolf management in Washington indicates that wolf packs are shifting territories somewhat and that they are not having significant detectable impacts on the state's big-game herds.

Following is a portion of the update from Dave Ware, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf program leader:

Summary of capture and monitoring efforts for the spring and summer to date.

  • WDFW staff placed two collars on yearlings in the Smackout Pack.
  • WDFW staff placed a collar on what we think is the breeding female in the Profanity Peak Pack.  This collared wolf is spending its time north of where we thought the Profanity Peak Pack was located, which may mean that it is either a different pack or that the pack has shifted to the north.
  • Wildlife Services staff placed a collar on an adult female wolf from the Dirty Shirt Pack.
  • WSU placed a collar on what we think is the breeding female from the Lookout Pack.

"We are pleased with our success to date, but would like to know more about the Huckleberry Pack and Profanity Peak Pack.  So we will be looking for recent activity and setting traps to collar additional wolves in these areas over the next few weeks.  The collared wolves in both of these packs appear to be spending their time this summer well north of where they had been in past years.  Therefore we will be looking in the area of their historic locations to the south of the currently collared wolves. 

"We are also planning to get back into the area of the Carpenter Ridge Pack.  We have already set traps in this territory without success and it is time to get back in there to see if we can find current activity. We will trap other pack territories opportunistically where we do not currently have collars deployed and look for new packs when we verify recent wolf activity."

Outreach Efforts

"WDFW presented an update on the status of ungulate populations in areas with wolves to the Game Management Advisory Council on June 6.  A copy of the presentation is posted on the wolf web page

"At this point in wolf recovery, we are not seeing anything in the harvest or survey data that would indicate a decline in deer, elk, or moose populations."

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

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

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

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

In January, he opted for a jury trial.

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

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

Mize told the Press:

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

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

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

Wolf documented between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A gray wolf was photographed in February by a trail cam between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass, state and federal biologists have confirmed.

The confirmation is another piece of mounting evidence that the wolves are advancing their recovery toward the West Side of the Cascades.

The gray wolf is still protected under state and/or federal endangered species laws in Washington. Wolves must establish a breeding presence in three regions of the state, including Western Washington, before they can be considered for delisting.

The February photos, released today, were captured by Conservation Northwest’s Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project northwest of Leavenworth. The wolf in the photos is the first officially documented in the area since wolves began to recolonize Washington state in the late 2000s.

“This exciting discovery shows that wolves are continuing to naturally regain their historic range in the Pacific Northwest,” said Chase Gunnell, Conservation Northwest spokesman.

The photos underscore the importance of educating the public on the value of wolves for healthy wild ecosystems, gathering accurate data on impacts to big game and other wildlife species and furthering collaborative efforts that are to reduce conflicts between wolves, livestock and domestic animals in Washington, he said.

Biologists believe the animal is likely a dispersing wolf that traveled into or through the area.

An established wolf pack has not been confirmed in the area, although wolves have likely moved through the region previously to establish the Teanaway and Wenatchee packs to the south, Gunnell said.

While hikers, backpackers and others recreating in wolf country should take some sensible precautions just as they would around bears and other large wildlife, including properly storing food and keeping dogs on leash, wild wolves have posed little threat to humans in North America.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife offers these tips regarding wolf-human interactions:

In the February photos the wolf near Leavenworth, a gray and white animal with a classic coat, is seen sniffing and lying in the snow at a camera station set out to capture photos of wolverines, another elusive carnivore making a comeback in the Cascades. Confirmed wolf tracks were also found within the same area.

The group's citizen-science monitoring program previously made headlines in 2008 by capturing photos of the first wolf pups born in Washington in about 80 years. The project has also photographed and documented scientific data on wolverines in Washington and Canada lynx in British Columbia.

The Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project, led by Conservation Northwest in coordination with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, Wilderness Awareness School and other partners, uses citizen-scientist volunteers to better inform conservation programs and priorities in the Pacific Northwest.

By training hikers, climbers, backcountry skiers, and other outdoor recreationists in tracking, wildlife biology and remote camera use, volunteers are able to support ongoing wildlife research efforts in the Cascades and the Kettle Range of northeast Washington and southeast British Columbia, the group says in a release.

Project efforts typically cover geographic areas outside those where professional research efforts are ongoing, adding to and strengthening the work of agencies, biologists, researchers and conservation organizations.

More information about the Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project is available from Conservation Northwest online or in a video.

Photos and full scientific reports on each wildlife monitoring season are also available.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada kills 11 wolves to aid dwindling Selkirk caribou

PREDATORS — Eleven wolves were killed in the Southern Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia during a winter effort to reduce predation on endangered woodland caribou that range in Canada as well as in Idaho and Washington.

Another 73 wolves were killed farther north to boost caribou in the South Peace region, the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations announced last week.

The effort began on Jan. 15 and concluded this month. This is the first year of a five-year project of wolf removal that is being employed in conjunction with ongoing habitat protection efforts, British Columbia officials said.

In the South Selkirks, 11 wolves were removed from packs that range into the USA. Of the wolves targeted, seven to 10 remain and are now being monitored to track their movement. To date these wolves have not ranged into caribou areas, so are not candidates for removal.

In the South Peace, 73 wolves were removed, with the majority being in the vicinity of the Moberly and Quintette caribou herds. In one case, six wolves were removed as they were actively stalking 14 caribou.

Both the South Selkirks and South Peace herds have experienced significant losses to wolf predation.

The South Selkirk herd numbered 46 caribou in 2009, declining to 14 in the most recent survey conducted in March 2015. This is a loss of four caribou since the 2014 census. The cause of these recent losses is not known, but likely occurred prior to wolf removal actions being taken. Predation on caribou is more common in the fall and summer

In the four caribou herds in the South Peace (Quintette, Moberly, Scott and Kennedy-Siding), populations are also decreasing and wolves are a key factor. At least 37% of all adult mortalities have been documented as wolf predation.

Hunting and trapping of wolves has not effectively reduced populations and may even split up packs and increase predation rates on caribou. Habitat recovery continues to be an important part of caribou recovery, but cannot address the critical needs of these herds in the short term.

Quick Facts from B.C. government officials:

  • In 2012, the B.C. government endorsed a Peace Northern Caribou implementation plan to increase the population of seven Northern Caribou herds in the south Peace area of B.C.
  • Through a combination of measures the Peace Northern Caribou Plan will ultimately protect over 498,000 ha of high elevation winter range caribou habitat out of a total of 553,477 ha available.
  • In October 2007, the provincial government endorsed the Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan
    • Included among the Province's commitments to Mountain Caribou recovery implementation are the protection of 2.2 million hectares of habitat, including 95% of high-suitability Mountain Caribou habitat, from logging and road building and managing recreation to reduce human disturbance.
    • For the South Selkirk herd, a significant portion of core caribou habitat (61,000 ha.) has been closed to snowmobile use and almost all core caribou habitat (108,000 ha.) has been protected from logging and road building.

Enviros haggle over Idaho wolf numbers

PREDATORS — There's no way and no reason to count every single wolf in Idaho.  But some environmental groups that need to stay in the headlines to keep the outrage and money flowing are contesting Idaho's recently released 2014 year-end wolf population estimates.

Despite the criticism and dire predictions from enviros since wolves were removed from the endangered species list, the predators have continued to propagate and maintain strong — some would say excessive — populations.

The Associated Press gives a lot of ink to one group's speculation in this story that moved on the wire Sunday:

By KEITH RIDLER/Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho officials are overestimating the number of wolves in the state for a number reasons including relying on sightings by hunters rather than using only trained professionals, a conservation group said.

“Since 2009 more than 1,300 wolves have been hunted or trapped in Idaho, and another nearly 500 have been lethally removed from Idaho’s landscape,” Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “In the face of these astounding numbers, it’s no wonder that Idaho may have experienced a nearly 50 percent drop in breeding pairs.”

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game in a 70-page report released April 3 said there were at least 770 wolves in the state, with a minimum of 26 breeding pairs, as of Dec. 31, 2014. The Center notes that’s a steep drop from the 49 breeding pairs in 2009, when wolves in Idaho reached their peak.

The Center also questions the state agency’s estimate of 6.5 wolves per pack, a key number as it’s part of an equation — when multiplied by the number of packs in the state— to tally the overall population.

Jim Hayden, a biologist with Fish and Game, defended the state report’s estimate of the minimum number of wolves in Idaho. Hayden is listed as an editor of the report.

“The 770 is a number we’re very confident with,” he said. “We know the actual truth is higher than that, we just don’t know how far higher.”

He said the agency stopped counting breeding pairs of wolves after surveying 43 packs because it’s expensive and the number had cleared the minimum as required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The federal agency could retake management control of the Idaho wolf population if numbers fall below certain criteria.

If the state fails to maintain 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves over any three-year period, or if the population falls below 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves in any year, the federal agency could take over.

Mike Jimenez, Northern Rocky Mountain wolf coordinator for Fish and Wildlife, said the federal agency reviewed Idaho’s methodology and is confident in the numbers.

“From our perspective, they are far above recovery goals,” he said. “How to manage wolves and hunt wolves — that’s a state issue.”

The wolf population has grown so much, Jimenez said, that biologists can no longer rely on using radio collars when doing counts.

“We’re way past that,” he said. “We have a very large wolf population in the Northern Rockies. We’re trying to reduce the need for radio collars.”

Fish and Wildlife estimates that a minimum of 1,783 wolves in more than 300 packs roamed the six-state region at the end of last year.

Hayden said that radio collars on 32 packs in Idaho were used by Fish and Game to come up with 6.5 wolves per pack, which is an increase from 5.4 wolves per pack the previous year.

But he said the agency is relying more on remote cameras and, this spring, will be collecting scat at wolf rendezvous sites to get DNA samples. The DNA can help determine pack size and the number of pups. He noted the wolf population is expected to jump 40 percent with the addition of pups this spring.

The DNA can also be used to help determine harvest levels by hunters.

Some groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, would rather there be no harvest.

“We don’t think wolves should be hunted at all,” Santarsiere said. “But with such aggressive killing of a species so recently considered endangered, there at least needs to be careful monitoring.”

Idaho wolf numbers grew in ‘14, but remain well below ‘09 level

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Fish and Game Department says the number of wolves in the state has reached its highest level since 2010, following a corresponding decline in wolves killed by hunters and trappers. The department's data shows the state's wolf population grew by 13 percent last year. Roughly 770 wolves currently live in Idaho, according to the data released Friday — well above the minimum of 150 wolves that keeps the animal off the federal endangered species list. Meanwhile, hunters and trappers killed roughly 250 wolves last year — down by almost 100 from the previous year. Still, the number of wolves does not approach the statewide peak of 856 wolves in 2009. The numbers come after state lawmakers gave the Wolf Control Depredation Board another $400,000 in funding for next year.

You can see the full Idaho Wolf Monitoring Progress Report here; and S-R outdoors reporter Rich Landers has a report here; biologists documented 104 wolf packs in Idaho at the end of 2014, and an estimated total of 770 wolves in the state. That's up from 2013's 684, but well below the 2008's 849 and 2009's 856.

 

 

Montana reports decrease in wolves, attacks on livestock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate votes 29-5 to spend another $400K next year to kill problem wolves

The Senate has voted 29-5 in favor of spending another $400,000 in state tax funds next year to kill wolves, through the new state Wolf Depredation Control Board in the governor's office. Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, noted that the first $400,000 allocated last year hasn’t all been spent, meaning more than $400,000 will be available for the effort next year. “This would’ve given them, in my calculations … close to $600,000 … for the fiscal year 2016,” Lacey said. “So I’ll be voting no on this.” In the joint budget committee, he proposed an alternative budget that would have devoted another $270,000 to the wolf board next year, bringing the balance back up to $400,000 in state general funds at the start of the next fiscal year July 1.

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, said the money is just to kill wolves that are threatening livestock or wildlife. “In my opinion, these are dollars well-spent,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said he needed to disclose a conflict of interest under Senate rules. “I raise sheep. And the wolves kill sheep. My sheep,” he said. “And you know, good senators, this is the first year we’ve tried this. The program didn’t get off the ground until late in the summer, so the money hasn’t been allocated. But there are needs literally all around the state for this money, especially where we have forests, in northern Idaho, in central Idaho, eastern Idaho, western Idaho – we all have wolf problems. And until we can get this population under check, I think we better keep this program fully funded and going ahead full-bore.”

Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, agreed. “This is the first year of this new fund that was set up,” he said. “Contrary to some concerns that were raised, it’s not a wolf extermination bill. It’s a management bill. And it’s to manage depredating wolves. And so far the program has been very successful, although it has not been in effect for a full cycle. I think it would be very premature to cut back on the funding from any source until we go through several cycles and we can fully assess the results. … It’d be premature to start cutting back on it at this point.”

The five “no” votes were all from Senate Democrats; new Democratic Sen. Maryanne Jordan of Boise voted yes, and Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, missed the vote. Twenty-eight of the 29 “yes” votes came from Senate Republicans.

The new Wolf Depredation Control Board was responsible for killing 31 wolves between July 1 and Jan. 1; all of those wolves were attacking livestock. In February, it funded the aerial killing of another 19 wolves in the Lolo zone in northern Idaho to ease pressure on elk herds in the area. The budget bill, SB 1160, now moves to the House.

Wolf bills still lurking Washington Legislature

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

S-R Olympia Bureau reporter had this update.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those changes could include:

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

More options for removing wolves from endangered status.

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

Finding reasonable prevention measures for livestock owners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idaho reauthorizes fund to control wolves

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

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

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

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

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

JFAC backs another $400,000 for wolf-control board next year

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted 17-2 this morning to spend another $400,000 in state general funds next year to kill wolves through the year-old Wolf Depredation Control Board under the governor’s office; the vote came a day after Idaho Fish & Game announced that another 19 wolves were killed in the Lolo zone in February as part of the program. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service personnel conducted aerial operations in the rugged zone to shoot the wolves, as part of an effort to ease pressure on elk herds in the area.

Just two JFAC members voted against the appropriation today, Reps. Phylis King and John Gannon, both Boise Democrats. King called it “a colossal waste of money,” and said, “I’d much rather spend my money on schools, guardian ad litem, any other program. … I think this is a real waste of money. I’d rather see non-lethal methods encouraged instead of wholesale slaughter.” Gannon questioned whether lawmakers were giving the program more than it could spend.

The new Wolf Depredation Control Board was responsible for killing another 31 wolves between July 1 and Jan. 1, at a cost of $140,000; all of those wolves were attacking livestock. Last month, after hearing the figures, JFAC members noted that was roughly $4,600 per wolf. Cost estimates aren’t in yet on the latest operation in the Lolo zone.

Sens. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, and Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, proposed an alternative budget to allocate another $270,000 in state general funds to the program next year, noting that the board is building up a fund balance and doesn’t expect to spend all the money it was allocated this year, which included $400,000 in state general funds plus donations from Fish & Game and the livestock industry. Lacey said that proposal would still bring the fund back up to $400,000 when the new fiscal year starts on July 1, rather than having it balloon to much more than that. “That then frees $130,000 in one-time money that can be used in other parts of our budget,” he argued.

The Lacey-Nuxoll motion failed on a 6-13 vote, drawing support from Sens. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston; Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow; Jason Monks, R-Meridian; and Gannon, along with Lacey and Nuxoll. Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, who proposed the full $400,000 expenditure, said, “The state of Idaho when this was put into statute made a commitment that we would spend a large amount of money over a number of years, and that commitment comes out to about $400,000 a year. … The $400,000 does represent the governor’s recommendation.” He added, “This is simply to remove wolves that have already proven themselves to be detrimental.”

JFAC set the wolf board budget today in addition to budgets for the state Department of Agriculture, which saw a 3.3 percent increase in state funding for next year; the DEQ, which is getting a 5.2 percent hike, in part because of the ramping up of a multi-year effort to have the state take primacy over water pollution discharge elimination system permits from the EPA; and the state Tax Commission, which saw a 3.9 percent increase.

Lolo wolves killed to give famous elk herd a break

Updated March 11, 2015:

PREDATORS — Nineteen wolves were killed in Idaho’s Lolo region last month in an ongoing effort to improve elk survival in the rugged area on the Idaho-Montana border.

Federal Wildlife Service agents shot the wolves from an aircraft at the request of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. State officials say that both habitat changes and predation are responsible for the Lolo’s declining elk herds.

The Lolo elk population has dropped from 16,000 elk in 1989 to roughly 2,100 elk in 2010, and possibly fewer than 1,000 this year. State studies indicate that wolves have become the primary predator affecting calf and cow elk survival in the Lolo.

Read more here.

Here's more detail from Eric Barker, outdoor writer for the Lewiston Tribune:

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game killed 19 wolves in the state’s remote Lolo Hunting Zone last month, part of a years-long campaign to help the ailing elk herd there by reducing predator numbers.

The controversial action, carried out by the U.S. Wildlife Services agency at the department’s request, was announced Monday and brings the total number of wolves killed by state and federal agents in the Lolo Zone to 48 over the past five years, including 23 in 2014. Most of the wolves were located with and shot from helicopters.

Jerome Hansen, supervisor of the department’s Clearwater Region, said the wolves were killed as part of a larger effort to improve elk survival. Elk numbers in the Lolo Zone have dropped dramatically over the past 26 years. In 1989, the department estimated the area had about 16,000 elk. A 2010 survey estimated the herd had dropped to 2,100 animals, and the department now believes it may be as low as 1,000.

Wildlife biologists have said changing habitat - mainly the loss of productive brush fields that contain ample food for elk and the succession from young open forests to denser stands of timber - as the primary problem that prompted elk numbers to crash. But they also said predation by wolves is keeping elk from rebounding.

"We have to manage wolves aggressively in order to get elk turned around," Hansen said. "It’s going to take work on implementing the (predator management plan) year after year and it’s going to take doing whatever we can do with habitat. We don’t control the habitat side but we are going to keep working with the Forest Service and the (Clearwater Basin Collaborative) to improve the habitat."

The Lolo Zone is remote with few roads. That limits the ability of hunters and trappers to access the area.

"In a perfect world our sportsmen would be able to manage wolves to the extent we really need to but it’s so tough to get in there it’s about the only tool we have," he said.

Suzanne Stone of the Defenders of Wildlife at Boise took issue with that rational.

"If it’s so remote that hunters can’t get in there why would hunters care that wolves are killing elk in there?" she said. "In order for wolves to be impacting hunters you have to have hunters in the area and what they have been telling us all along is there’s not a lot of people hunting this area and actually few that get far back in there."

So far this year, hunters and trappers have taken 11 wolves in the zone. According to the department’s latest wolf survey, completed a year ago, the Lolo Zone had an estimated wolf population of 75 to 100. A new survey is expected to be released later this month.

The department’s Lolo Predator Management Plan calls for reducing wolf numbers by 70 to 80 percent. Many wildlife biologists say wolves can sustain an annual harvest rate of up to 40 percent without reducing overall numbers.

Following its policy, the department kept the control action under wraps until it was complete. Fish and game spokesman Mike Keckler cited safety concerns as the reason but declined to elaborate.

"I’m not going to get into that. It’s just our safety issues," he said. "In that country in particular, these can be dangerous operations. We prefer to get it done and then let folks know about it after the fact."

The Nez Perce Tribe, which has some wolf management authority and played a central role in wolf reintroduction efforts, has taken issue with the state’s previous efforts to cull wolves in the Lolo Zone. Representatives from the tribe could not be reached Monday for comment.

Report: Washington’s wolves increased 30 percent in 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.