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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 approves scaled back wolf-control measure

PREDATORS — Although it's down from the initially proposed $2 million plan to protect livestock and reduce the number of wolves on Idaho's landscape, the state legislature has just voted to earmark $400,000 to the cause.  

See The S-R's Eye on Boise blog by Betsy Russell.

Reward in Stevens County wolf poaching case jumps to $22,500

POACHING — The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking the public's help to identify the person or persons responsible for shooting and killing a gray wolf last month in Stevens County.

A 2-year-old black female wolf from the Smackout Pack was found dead Feb. 9 near Cedar Lake in northeast Stevens County. The condition of the carcass indicated it had died between Feb. 5 and Feb. 7, and a veterinarian's examination confirmed it had been shot.

Wildlife managers had captured the wolf about a year ago and fitted it with a radio collar so they could track its movements and those of her pack members.

WDFW, with the help of three non-profit organizations, is offering a reward of up to $22,500 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case. Conservation Northwest, the Center for Biological Diversity, and The Humane Society of the United States, have each pledged $7,500 to create the reward.

Gray wolves are protected throughout the state. WDFW is responsible for management of wolves and enforcement of laws to protect them. The illegal killing of a wolf or other endangered fish or wildlife species is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

Sergeant Pam Taylor of the WDFW Northeast Washington Region is leading the investigation. She urged people with knowledge of the crime to report it confidentially by calling WDFW's poaching hotline, 877-933-9847, or by texting a tip to 847411.

Wolves hot topics, targets this week

PREDATORS — Wolves are in the news and on the agenda this week

In Idaho today:

Idaho’s Senate Resources and Environment Committee scheduled a hearing of House Bill 470, legislation authorizing Gov. Otter’s “Wolf Control Board,”  today, March 14, at 1:30 p.m. (MDT).  Today, the committee will vote on whether to send HB 470 to the Senate Floor.  Stream the hearing LIVE Here.

In Montana:

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission on Thursday adopted regulations to implement a law that allows landowners to shoot threatening wolves on sight, without a hunting license. Senate Bill 200, which passed last year, allowed landowners to kill wolves that threaten their property without having to buy a permit or hunting license. Commissioners determined wolves were a “potential threat” when they were threatening people, pets, or livestock on private property. Landowners have 72 hours to report such kills to the agency. 

In Idaho/Oregon

Collared wolf OR-17 leaves Oregon, where it was protected, crossed into Idaho and was legally shot by a hunter. See story

In Washington

State biologists spays wild wolf after romp with loose dog. See story.

State spays wild wolf after it’s bred by loose dog

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The saga of wolf recovery in Washington has taken a strange tryst.

A large domestic guard dog that took a month-long romp on the wild side in Pend Oreille County forced Washington Fish and Wildlife officials to capture and spay an endangered female gray wolf on Saturday.

“Our goal is restoration of a native wolf population not in producing a generation of hybrids we'd have to take care of in another way later,” said Donny Martorello, the department's carnivore manager in Olympia.

The wolf was one of two females in the new Ruby Creek Pack that biologists have been tracking with GPS collars since July.

The unusual action came after biologists learned that an Akbosh sheep dog climbed a 7-foot-tall fence from its yard near Ione and disappeared with the two female wolves for more than a month during February when wolves go into heat.

“If there had been a male wolf in the group, the dog would have been killed instantly,” Martorello said. But the two females tolerated  him and breeding occurred, he said.

Biologists easily tracked the GPS signal and used a helicopter to shoot tranquilizers and capture the wolves. One female was pregnant; the other was not, he said. Both were released in the Pend Oreille River area.

“Spaying (the pregnant wolf) was a better alternative than trying to go out and kill all the pups after they're born,” he said.

The dog had run off with the wolves for about a week in early January, but biologists were able to monitor the wolves and tell the dog's owner when they were back near the home.  The homeowner was able to call the dog in.

“We were already suspicious,” Martorello said. “Dogs and wolves usually don't mix.”

Wildlife officials advised the dog owner to restrain the dog for the rest of the winter.  While dogs can come into heat throughout the year, wolves generally come into estrus only in January and February, Martorello said.

“But when those females came back in a few days, one must have been in estrus because that big, intact dog climbed a seven-foot orchard fence and took off with them from mid-January through February,” he said.

  • Maybe this is the start of the new, more gentle guard dog: Keep the big bad wolves away from the sheep with a little love.

 

Oregon releases wolf status report: numbers up, packs down

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has documented a minimum of 64 wolves in eight packs, including four breeding pairs for 2013, compared with 46 wolves in six packs with six breeding pairs in 2012.

The survey results are in the just-released final 2013 Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Annual Report , which includes the 2013 update for Oregon’s Wolf Population

Oregon has added a research section to the wolf webpages. Wolf photos from 2013 and 2014 have been added to Oregon's wolf photo gallery.

  • On Saturday, Washington's 2013 wolf status report was released citing a minimum of 52 wolves in 13 wolf packs with five successful breeding pairs. 
  • Idaho has not yet released its annual report.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires the state reports to be filed on the recovery of the endangered species by the first week of April.

 

NYT op-ed writer pleads for balance on assessing impact of wolves

WILDLIFE WATCHING — In the past week, readers have forwarded me several stories and videos, such as the one above, glamorizing the benefits gray wolves have provided in restoring the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park since the species was reintroduced in 1995.

The information has been well reported for years and the video is basically correct, according to scientists. And for the record, I am fascinated by wolves, too.

But when the glorification of the wolf is digested alone without the salad and the side dishes of other research and realities, it can lead to indigestion, regurgitation and a less than healthy oversimplification in the public arena.

So let's thank the New York Times for giving another scientist a chance this week to call time out and feed all of us who are interested in wolves from one angle or another some food for thought

Associated Press gets C-minus grade for wolf status reporting

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Seattle Bureau of the Associated Press copied a line from a Defenders of Wildlife news release into the lead of a Saturday story that robbed the public of balanced reporting on wolf recovery  — a hot topic — in Washington.

Shortly after Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officials announced on Saturday that they'd confirmed “four new wolf packs” and “steady growth” of the state's wolf population, the Defenders of Wildlife issued a press release referring to the WDFW announcement. The Defenders twisted the state's survey and called Washington's wolf population “stable.”  

The animal rights group correctly pointed out that the wildlife officials had CONFIRMED 52 individual wolves in the state.

But then the Defenders invented the phrase, “an increase of one individual wolf,” which the WDFW officials did not say, but the Associated Press used in the story lead as though it were a fact from the state.

What wildlife officials DID say is that they cannot count every wolf in the wild so they're no longer going to try, as they did last year when they estimated the population at 50-100 wolves.  

The number 52 is a minimum figure they could confirm at the end of 2013.   But to say 52 is “an increase of one” from last year's estimate is fabricated by the Defenders, an organization that benefits politically and financially from convincing the public that wolf recovery is slow or not happening.

AP Seattle Bureau writer Phuong Le further confuses the issue later in the story by pointing out CORRECTLY that WDFW in 2013 had estimated the wolf population at 50-100 individuals.

So why did she say this year's estimate is an increase of 1?  Because Defenders did.

God only knows why the reporter used the material from a special interest group in her lead rather than the information from the WDFW. There was PLENTY of information the state biologists released regarding the status of wolves in Washington to make an good story — which The Spokesman-Review published, but the AP ignored.

Perhaps the worst part about the story is that it goes on to quote reactions from two out-of-state-based pro-wolf groups — Defenders and the Center for Biological Diversity — without a single mention of in-state livestock or sportsmen's groups that might have balanced the story a bit.

The reason:  The two pro-wolf groups sent press releases (I got them, too).  

In my view, the reporter of a news story on the event at hand either should have sought more than one side of the wolf recovery story, or she should have stuck with the info coming from the scientists and worked to get the broader reaction later.

Groups that weigh in heavily regarding the impacts of wolf management did not send out press releases and thus were left out — as if they're not there.  That's a poor service to the readers of the many news outlets throughout the Pacific Northwest that had access to that story on the AP wire.

Read on for the full AP story.

Map shows wide range of wolves radio-collared in Washington

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The map graphic above shows how some Washington wolves range far while others keep fairly small home ranges.

I detailed the the relevance of Ruby Creek Wolf 47, which was captured in Pend Oreille County and fitted with a GPS collar last year by Washington Fish and Wildlife Department biologists to monitor its movements.

The wolf was one of 11 wolves with active transmitters that were followed by state researchers in 2013 and provided the travel information summarized in the map graphic above.

The collared wolves, among other things, helped the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirm four new wolf packs in the state, bringing the total number to at least 13.

Wolves are protected in Washington by state endangered species rules. But several of the wolves that have taken off from Washington to range widely into Canada have been legally shot during hunting seasons authorized in British Columbia.

Recent outdoors stories in the Spokesman-Review

Video: Wolf attacks and packs away pet dog from yard in B.C.

PREDATORS — If you've ever wondered what it looks like when a wolf decides somebody's pet dog is going to be dinner, here you go.

Warning: While its not gory, the video is unsettling.

Question:  Are you comfortable with the modern world of videoing, posting and “sharing” tragedies rather than picking up a rock and trying to help the world's underdogs?

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

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

Compare:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Status report: Wolves continue expansion in Washington

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

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

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

Another predator tangles with Shelby

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

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

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

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

Dog that survived wolf attack mauled by cougar

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

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

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

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

Idaho wolf control: 23 wolves for $30K

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

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

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

Here's the explanation from IFG:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idaho kills 23 wolves from helicopter this month in Lolo Zone

PREDATORS — Idaho Fish and Game, in cooperation with the USDA Wildlife Services, killed 23 gray wolves from a helicopter near the Idaho-Montana border during February in an effort to relieve predation on the struggling elk herds in the remote Lolo Zone.

The agency said in a just-issued media release that the wolf-control effort has been completed.

“The action is consistent with Idaho’s predation management plan for the Lolo elk zone, where predation is the major reason elk population numbers are considerably below management objectives,” the agency said in the release.

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

The trapping season ends March 31, the hunting season ends June 30.

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

The Lolo elk population has declined from 16,000 elk in 1989 to roughly 2,100 elk in 2010, when Fish and Game last surveyed the zone.

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

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

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

More from IFG:

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

 Restoring the Lolo elk population will require liberal bear, mountain lion, and wolf harvest through hunting and trapping (in the case of wolves), and control actions in addition to improving elk habitat.  The short-term goals in Fish and Game’s 2014 Elk Plan are to stabilize the elk population and begin to help it grow.

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

Five wolves collared this week in Eastern Washington

WILDLIFE — It's been a good week for Washington Fish and Wildlife researchers working with a helicopter to capture wolves so they can be fitted with tracking collars.

At least five wolves were captured and released from Monday through Thursday. Two were in the Ione area of northeastern Washington and three were captured Thursday on the east slopes of the Cascades.

Donny Martorello, WDFW carnivore manager, said the effort to collar more wolves so they can be monitored for wolf research will continue into next week.

Oregon releases statewide gray wolf status report

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

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

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

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

Weather prime for low-flying wildlife researchers

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

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

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

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

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

Wildlife Commission to hear hunting season proposals, wolf report

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Proposed hunting season changes and the annual status report on wolf recovery in Washington will be presented to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission when it meets March 7-8 in Moses Lake.

The most significant changes in hunting seasons include four new moose tags in restricted archery and muzzleloader hunts in northeastern Washington as well as reductions of elk tags in southwestern Washington in response to a hoof rot issue that's crippling elk.

The wolf report will include the agency's revised estimates for the number of wolves and the number of wolf packs in Washington and how the numbers relate to the state's wolf recovery and management plans.

See the agenda for the meeting, which will be held at the Moses Lake Civic Center, 401 S. Balsam.