Few wildlife conservation efforts have been as controversial as that of the grey wolf in the Northern Rockies. Federal efforts to protect the wolf have clashed with state efforts to control wolf populations and protect livestock and game from predation by wolf packs.
Idaho and Montana have been given federal authority to manage wolf numbers using public hunts. Federal officials require Idaho to maintain a population of at least 150 wolves and 10 breeding pairs.
Idaho wildlife officials have boosted bag limits, expanded trapping and extended hunting seasons in some areas to help further reduce wolf populations in all corners of the state. Its 10-month wolf season runs until June.
Idaho’s wolf managers estimated 500 to 600 wolves roamed the state as of spring 2012, down from the more than 1,000 when the 2011 hunting season opened in August.
Hunters and trappers killed 364 wolves since the 2011 season opened, while dozens more wolves have died of natural causes or been killed for preying on livestock or targeted as part of a strategy to lessen impacts on specific elk herds in the state.
A federal appeals court in March rejected a lawsuit from conservation groups that wanted to block wolf hunts across the Northern Rockies. The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Congress had the right to intervene when it stripped protections from wolves in spring 2011.
Lawmakers stepped in after court rulings kept wolves on the endangered list for years after they reached recovery goals. Wildlife advocates claimed in their lawsuit that Congress violated the separation of powers by interfering with the courts. But the court said Congress was within its rights, and that lawmakers had appropriately amended the Endangered Species Act to deal with Northern Rockies wolves.
There are more than 1,700 wolves in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and expanding populations in portions of Eastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. Wolf hunting could resume in Wyoming this fall.
In parts of Montana, ranchers and local officials frustrated with continuing attacks on livestock have proposed bounties for hunters that kill wolves. Montana wildlife officials said they will consider ways to expand hunting after 166 wolves were killed this season, short of the state’s 220-wolf quota.
Wolves once thrived across North America but were exterminated across most of the continental U.S. by the 1930s, through government sponsored poisoning and bounty programs.
Wolves were put on the endangered list in 1974. Over the last two decades, state and federal agencies have spent more than $100 million on wolf restoration programs across the country. There are more than 4,500 of the animals in the upper Great Lakes and a struggling population of several dozen wolves in the Desert Southwest.
Prior lawsuits resulted first in the animals’ reintroduction to the Northern Rockies and then later kept them on the endangered list for a decade after the species reached recovery goal of 300 wolves in three states.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is monitoring the hunts. But agency officials have said they have no plans to intervene because the states have pledged to manage wolves responsibly.
Federal officials have pledged to step in to restore endangered species protections if wolf numbers drop to less than 100 animals in either Montana or Idaho.
Even without hunting, wolves are shot regularly in the region in response to livestock attacks. Since their reintroduction, more than 1,600 wolves have been shot by government wildlife agents or ranchers.
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ENDANGERED SPECIES — Nothing new came out of last night's dog and pony show of a public meeting in Colville about wolf management in northeastern Washington. Some people are angry about wolves one way or the other. We knew that.
Washington Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson got his butt chewed by an angry public, mostly ranchers and hunters, for wolves moving back into the region — something in which state laws give the director only narrow latitude in controlling.
Surely next week when the agency holds a similar public meeting in Lynnwood, the director with get his fanny bruised again, by pro-wolf groups.
We already know that managing wolves to everybody's liking is expensive.
And we SHOULD realize that it can be dangerous.
How would you manage wolves, within the limits of the law, to suit ALL of the CITIZENS of Washington if you were the director?
If you have a good plan, you might want to apply for the job!
The Associated Press report (posted below) is perhaps the best of the print and TV coverage at giving the full flavor of the Colville meeting, which is much like other wolf management meetings that have been held over the years in the Stevens County seat.
Ranchers urge relocation of Washington wolf packs
By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS/ Associated Press
COLVILLE, Wash. — Ranchers in northeastern Washington offered a simple solution to keep wolves from killing their livestock: Pack up the predators and ship them to western Washington.
The suggestion came Tuesday night at a contentious meeting held by the Department of Fish and Wildlife in the Stevens County town of Colville, where anti-wolf sentiment runs deep.
“Why not take some to western Washington and build the packs over there?” asked John Moore, echoing a recurring theme during the four-hour meeting attended by about 200 people.
Liberal western Washington, where most of the state’s population lives, is where sentiment has been strongest to restore the wolf population.
“We don’t want them here,” added Ken Barker of Loon Lake. “We want them gone. Take them to Olympia.”
Even elected officials joined the call for relocation, with Ferry County Commissioner Mike Blankenship also suggesting that wolves be sent west.
Relocating wolves would be expensive and require federal and state reviews, said Steve Pozzanghera, the department’s eastern regional director
The overwhelmingly anti-wolf crowd also expressed little sympathy for state efforts to recover wolf populations.
Agency director Phil Anderson made opening comments that proved to be an understatement.
“I know some of the answers we give you won’t be satisfactory to you,” he said.
Many of the comments by agency officials were met with boos and cat calls. They were accused of incompetence and even of deliberately trying to drive ranchers out of business in a government conspiracy to grab the land.
Wolves were killed off in Washington in the early 1900s. But earlier this century, they started to return, migrating from Idaho and British Columbia. Fish and Wildlife estimates that at the end of 2013, there were at least 52 wolves in 13 packs roaming eastern Washington. Since then, two more packs have been identified.
Of the 15 packs, 12 are in the mountainous northeastern portion of the state, where most issues involving livestock have occurred.
Okanogan County Commissioner Jim DeTro said the state has created a sort of “Jurassic Park” by promoting the establishment of wolves in livestock country. “We’ve got wolves in every corner of our county,” DeTro said.
Suggestions that wolves should be shot on sight and secretly buried were met with applause. A handful of people who spoke on behalf of wolves were booed.
Onlookers also rejected the department’s contention that wolves are arriving naturally to the area. They said wolves were deliberately reintroduced into the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem in the 1990s and have migrated from the park.
Officials responded that the majority of state residents, many in the populous Puget Sound region, want wolves in the state. It’s the duty of the agency to manage the animals, Anderson said.
It was a difficult summer for ranchers in wolf country. At least 33 sheep were killed or injured and a cow and calf were killed.
Dave Dashiell had his 1,800 sheep repeatedly attacked by members of the Huckleberry wolf pack in August.
“There isn’t any place in northeast Washington where you can go where there aren’t wolves,” Dashiell said. “It’s pretty tough to outrun a wolf pack with a band of sheep.”
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Looks like Washington wildlife officials are planning to turn the other cheek after tonight's public meeting on wolf management in Colville.
The West Side public will have an opportunity to discuss wolf management with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife leaders during a meeting Tuesday, Oct. 14, in Lynnwood, according to a media release posted late on Monday.
The meeting, which is likely to have a different flavor than that Colville meeting, is set for 6 p.m. in Room 1EF of the Lynnwood Convention Center, 3711 196th St. SW, Lynnwood.
WDFW officials will provide information on recent wolf attacks on livestock in the state, and on the packs involved in those incidents – the Huckleberry pack in Stevens County and the Profanity Peak pack in Ferry County.
WDFW’s actions to protect sheep this summer from the Huckleberry pack are described in a question-and-answer document on the department’s website.
WDFW officials also confirmed recently that wolves were responsible for killing a cow and calf at a cattle grazing site in Ferry County, within the range of the newly discovered Profanity Peak pack. WDFW wildlife conflict specialists continue to monitor that situation.
In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal list of endangered species in the eastern third of the state, but the species is still protected under Washington state law. The state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and state laws set the parameters for responding to wolf predation on livestock.
The department has also established a Wolf Advisory Group that provides input to the department on wolf plan implementation.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — Pro-wolf groups praised the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department's decision to attempt to capture the Ruby Creek wolf and put it in a Western Washington wildlife park to avoid conflicts with humans in rural areas near Ione.
Even though the Ruby Creek wolf had previously been trapped by researchers and is wearing a transmitting collar, capture crews had no luck on Friday and there's still no word today.
Which gives us pause to consider:
- Once a wolf has been pinched by a trap, it's extremely difficult to catch again.
- Baiting options for capturing a wolf would have to be monitored constantly to avoid compromising other wildlife.
- Tranquilizing a wolf by shooting from a helicopter is expensive and dangerous.
Are we going to crash a helicopter and kill a pilot and biologist before we come to grips with how many lives and how much money we're willing to risk to make people feel good about managing wolves?
ENDANGERED SPECIES — State wildlife officials are likely to hear from angry ranchers at a meeting Tuesday in Colville to discuss wolf management.
The department says it will provide information about recent wolf attacks on sheep and cattle in northeast Washington.
The predation and the wolf-killings in response collide with plans to allow wolves to re-establish themselves in the state.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal list of endangered species in the eastern third of Washington in 2011. Wolves are still protected under state law, and the state set up a plan to respond to wolf attacks on livestock.
The meeting will be from 6-9 p.m. in the Colville Ag Trade Center at the Northeast Washington Fairgrounds, 317 W. Astor Ave.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — A female wolf that's become too comfortable hanging around homes and domestic dogs near Ione will be captured and put in a Western Washington wildlife park, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say.
The capture, which is planned for this week, would be the first time officials put one of the endangered species into captivity as the wolves are reintroducing themselves into the state.
The wolf had been captured and fitted with a radio collar in July 2013. I happened to be with the wildlife researchers to photograph and report on the capture. The wolf eventually found another female companion to form the Ruby Creek Pack.
Since then, the black Ruby Creek wolf's companion was impregnated by a domestic dog, caught by wildlife biologists and spayed only to be killed later in a vehicle collision. (See story). Meanwhile, the Ruby Creek wolf has generally stayed out of trouble, but has been seen playing with pet dogs. Wildlife officials fear she will be bred by a dog during the winter breeding season.
- See map below for GPS monitoring locations of the Ruby Creek wolf this year.
The state Wolf Advisory Group meeting last week found consensus among pro and not-so-pro wolf groups to do something about the wolf, but there was no agreement on what action to take, said Nate Pamplin, WDFW wildlife program director.
He said the agency had spent about $8,000 in efforts to haze the wolf, including shooting it with rubber bullets when it approached rural residences.
Here's a summary of Pamplin's report on the decision to capture the wolf:
Background: Last fall, two female wolves comprising the known members of the Ruby Creek pack were getting increasingly habituated to human residences and domestic dogs. One female was bred by a dog last winter, and was captured, spayed, and returned to the wild. She was hit and killed by a car this spring.
The remaining female, who is also radio-collared, continued to visit human inhabited areas and increasingly exhibited habituated behaviors, including routinely hanging out with domestic animals, being chased by livestock, and running off a short distance after being shot with rubber ammunition by our staff in an attempt to haze her.
Wolves generally exhibit avoidance of people even in fragmented habitats where they are likely to have a higher degree of encounters. Aggressive acts toward humans is rare, however, habituation is a known condition that can lead to aggressive behavior.
We are not aware of any aggressive acts towards humans or livestock or pet depredations by this female wolf. However, considering the upcoming wolf breeding season and the potential for her to be bred by domestic dogs, and the increased habituation and associated human and pet safety concerns, we are concerned about this animal and the potential for more serious problems.
At our WAG meeting, the group reached consensus that this was a problem, but did not reach consensus on next steps. We discussed the various pros and cons of possible options, including translocation, euthanasia, or placement in captivity. We appreciate your candid and constructive input.
We have also briefed the Fish and Wildlife Commission and consulted with Pend Oreille County.
Given the feedback we received and considering the unique situation, we have decided to capture this wolf and place her into captivity. We have consulted with the staff at Wolf Haven International (in Tenino, Wash.), which has generously offered to accept her into captivity.
We fully understand that we will not be able to place all problem wolves into captivity, because there are simply not enough facilities. Also, most wild born wolves would not transition well into life in captivity. However, given the very rare behavior this individual is exhibiting, she is likely a good candidate.
Later this week, field staff will attempt to capture this female wolf. It will remain property of the state, but permitted to be held by Wolf Haven. The Department and Wolf Haven will develop a ‘quality of life’ plan. If it is determined the animal will not be able to acclimate to life in captivity, it will be humanely euthanized.
A public meeting on wolf management in northeastern Washington has been set for Oct. 7 in Colville.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — Two recent wolf attacks have killed eight sheep and two livestock-protection dogs in Umatilla County, Oregon officials have confirmed.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife says the attacks took place Sept. 15 and 16 on public grazing land near Ruckle Junction north of La Grande.
The Statesman Journal reports a GPS radio collar documented that Mt. Emily pack wolf OR28 was at the scene of the attacks.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — Washington wildlife officials estimate they spent about $53,000 this summer to deal with the Huckleberry Pack attacks on a flock of 1,800 sheep on a grazing allotment in Stevens County.
Most of the costs for managing wolves in Washington are funded by $10 from each sale of a personalized vehicle license plate, a dedicated funding source approved by the Washington Legislature.
In 2013, the state spent $76,500 two remove all eight members of the Wedge Pack in northern Stevens County after they had killed more than a dozen cattle.
So far in 2014, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials have confirmed that wolves in three of the state's 13-15 confirmed packs have killed 33 sheep, two cattle and one dog.
Although a breeding female in the Huckleberry Pack was killed by a government shooter in August, the pack of at least five animals still roams the region in and north of the Spokane Indian Reservation.
To deal with the pack, agency Wildlife Program Director Nate Pamplin says the state will:
- Continue outreach to other livestock producers in the area.
- Try to coordinate radio collar data (a male wolf is collared) from the Spokane Tribe.
- Monitor pack movements.
- Attempt to collar more pack members
- Prepare preventative measures for next grazing season
- Continue dialogue with producer Dave Dashiell regarding compensation sheep lost this year.
And to spice up the challenge, a new Profanity Pack, has emerged into the spotlight with confirmed attacks on cattle.
A public meeting on wolf management in northeast Washington with state Fish and Wildlife officials is set for 6 p.m. on Oct. 7, in the Colville Ag Trade Center at the Northeast Washington Fairgrounds, 317 W. Astor Ave.
After an update on wolf status and management in the area, meeting participants will be able to comment and ask questions of WDFW Director Phil Anderson, Eastern Regional Director Steve Pozzanghera and other department staff.
WDFW actions this summer to protect sheep from the Huckleberry pack are described in a question-and-answer document on the department’s website.
In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal list of endangered species in the eastern third of the state, but the species is still protected under Washington state law. The state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and state laws set the parameters for responding to wolf predation on livestock.
Pamplin told the state Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday that the agency is feeling the squeeze of groups on both sides of the wolf issue. Pro-wolf groups and livestock producers have charged the agency with mismanagement of wolves in the state.
Wolf advocates — who have petitioned Gov. Jay Inslee to clamp down on any WDFW decisions to kill wolves to protect livestock — want the state to use more non-lethal tools to prevent livestock depredations. They want stock moved if they come in conflict with wolves, criticize the agency's lack of transparency on wolf control say they agency's responses have impacted the recovery of wolves in the state.
Livestock interests — and the Stevens County Commission, which has issued two resolutions condemning attacking wolves and state wolf management — point out the WDFW has the legal obligation to kill wolves that threaten livestock and should follow through in the case of the Huckleberry Pack. They are angry that wolves forced a producer to move his sheep off private property.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A group that overcame a court challenge last winter to hold a wolf- and coyote-shooting derby is seeking a permit from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to roughly double the area for a second event this winter. Steve Alder of Idaho for Wildlife says the tentative dates for the derby in the east-central part of the state are Jan. 2-3. The BLM plans to make public an environmental analysis Thursday and take public comments for 15 days. The agency says about 1,500 square miles are involved. Environmental groups say they will contest the permit. A federal judge last year ruled the hunting group didn't need a permit from the U.S. Forest Service after environmental groups sued. The December 2013 event drew 230 people who killed 21 coyotes but no wolves.
UPDATED with link to "wolves and ranching can coexist" commentary.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — The West Side of Washington appears to be in a tizzy over the state's management of gray wolves in Eastern Washington.
State wildlife officials killed one wolf in August during a month of effort to control the Huckleberry Pack that killed at least 24 sheep grazing on private Hancock timber lands and some state lands in Stevens County.
The pro-wolf groups are focusing on claims that the rancher did not do enough to prevent the wolves from getting a taste of his sheep, especially those that were grazing on public land, and thus prompting the killing of an animal protected by state endangered species laws.
Those laws, by the way, give the state some leeway to manage endangered species to protect the public and private property.
Also, the sheep were mainly on a private land grazing allotment and open range laws apply to the sheep that strayed onto state land, WDFW officials say.
- See a Conservation Northwest commentary on proactive measures.
The other pro-wolf talking point — or should I say ranting point, considering a few phone calls I received today — was highlighted in an unsigned opinion piece ran last week in the The Olympian and the Bellingham Herald claiming that lethal removal of the pack's breeding female was “catastrophic” and would cause “chaos” in the pack.
That's not necessarily true and certainly hasn't been proven. (The state didn't target the breeding female, but it weighed less than 70 pounds and could not be distinguished from other members of the pack by the shooter in the helicopter.)
Stevens County officials and livestock producers also are critical of the state's wolf management for the opposite reasons.
The Stevens County Commission passed a resolution saying residents have a constitutional right to kill wolves under some circumstances to protect their property followed by an other resolution that condemned the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for its wolf management.
- See comment and links to those resolutions here.
Today the Stevens County Cattlemen's Association demanded changes to allow Washington wolves to be managed locally rather than by the state.
WDFW director Phil Anderson, who had been responding to criticism this month through written statements stepped up his communication in the past week.
In a Sept. 18 interview filmed on TVW and with FAQs posted online yesterday, WDFW officials challenge contentions that the operation was a “another mistake” and the removal of the breeding female was “catastrophic” and would cause “chaos” in the pack. The charges are overstated, they say, pointing to research done in Alaska.
- Andy Walgamott has a detailed update and commentary on the situation today on his Northwest Sportsman editor's blog:
Washington was never going to be some hippy wolf nirvana nor Wyoming with its predator (free) zone, but despite the years of effort on the part of ranchers, hunters and wolf groups spent coming up with a management plan for recovering the species and dealing with their impacts, things may be unraveling.
“Frankly,” Anderson told Jenkins, “I’m very concerned that our opportunity is beginning to slip away to be successful to have the people on all sides of this issue work together toward a common outcome of making sure we have recovery of wolves, have a healthy and sustainable population of wolves, but doing so in a way that maintains lifestyles (and) economies in rural areas … The livestock industry is huge to the employment of Ferry County, Stevens County, Okanogan County, Pend Oreille County, those areas up there, and I don’t mean to miss other areas where it is as well.”
WILDLIFE — A few weeks ago I posted news that the Huckleberry Pack wolf shot by a federal Wildlife Services agent was the pack's alpha female.
I supplied the term. In revealing the necropsy results, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department reported the wolf as a breeding female.
Most readers understood what I meant, but some observers correctly pointed out out that esteemed wolf researcher David Mech had debunked the notion of an "alpha wolf."
"The concept of the alpha wolf is well ingrained in the popular wolf literature at least partly because of my book "The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species," written in 1968, published in 1970, republished in paperback in 1981, and currently still in print, despite my numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it. Although most of the book's info is still accurate, much is outdated. We have learned more about wolves in the last 40 years then in all of previous history.
One of the outdated pieces of information is the concept of the alpha wolf. "Alpha" implies competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle. However, most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack. In other words they are merely breeders, or parents, and that's all we call them today, the "breeding male," "breeding female," or "male parent," "female parent," or the "adult male" or "adult female." In the rare packs that include more than one breeding animal, the "dominant breeder" can be called that, and any breeding daughter can be called a "subordinate breeder."
That said, the Huckleberry Pack breeding female killed by officials could have been the only female breeder in the pack, and she may very well have been dominant to others in the pack. But I won't use the term alpha.
UPDATE: Wyoming governor responds to ruling.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — Federal protections for gray wolves in Wyoming were reinstated today after a judge invalidated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012 statewide Endangered Species Act delisting of the species, according to Earthjustice.
The ruling from the U.S. District Court halts the management of wolves by Wyoming, a state with a history of anti-wolf policies.
In overruling U.S. wildlife officials, the federal judge restored protections for wolves but left intact a determination that the species has recovered and is not endangered or threatened "in a significant portion" of its northern Rocky Mountains range.
So the yo-yo effect of wolf management continues, partly because Wyoming took the wolves-are-vermin approach to post endangered-species wolf management.
This situation is similar to what an Idaho wildlife manager was referring to in my Sunday Outdoors story about state management of wolves and elk:
“We’ll be monitoring wolves as a native big-game animal just as we manage mountain lions and black bears,” said Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manager in Coeur d'Alene, referring to long-range plans for dealing with wolves.
“We hope we can continue to count on the participation of hunters and trappers in harvesting wolves (within federal guidelines). One thing we don’t want is to give someone an avenue to petition wolves again for endangered species status.
“Wolves are on the landscape to stay,” he said.
“The court has ruled and Wyoming’s kill-on-sight approach to wolf management throughout much of the state must stop,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “Today’s ruling restores much-needed federal protection to wolves throughout Wyoming, which allowed killing along the borders of Yellowstone National Park and throughout national forest lands south of Jackson Hole where wolves were treated as vermin under state management. If Wyoming wants to resume management of wolves, it must develop a legitimate conservation plan that ensures a vibrant wolf population in the Northern Rockies.”
Earthjustice represented Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity in challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s September 2012 decision to strip Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in Wyoming. The conservation groups challenged the 2012 decision on grounds that Wyoming law authorized unlimited wolf killing in a “predator” zone that extended throughout most of the state, and provided inadequate protection for wolves even where killing was regulated.
“Today the court affirmed that delisting gray wolves in Wyoming by the Obama administration was premature and a violation of federal law,” said Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark. “Any state that has a wolf management plan that allows for unlimited wolf killing throughout most of the state should not be allowed to manage wolves. Wolves need to remain protected under the Endangered Species Act until the species is fully recovered. State laws and policies that treat wolves like vermin are as outdated and discredited today as they were a century ago.”
“The decision makes clear that ‘shoot-on-sight’ is not an acceptable management plan for wolves across the majority of the state,” said Dr. Sylvia Fallon, senior scientist and wildlife conservation director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s time for Wyoming to step back and develop a more science-based approach to managing wolves.”
“The court has rightly recognized the deep flaws in Wyoming's wolf management plan. Wolves in Wyoming must have federal protection until the state gets it right. That means developing a science-based management plan that recognizes the many benefits wolves bring to the region instead of vermin that can be shot on sight in the majority of the state,” said Bonnie Rice of the Sierra Club's Greater Yellowstone Our Wild America Campaign.
“We’re thrilled that protections for Wyoming’s fragile population of wolves have been restored,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “With Wyoming allowing wolves to be shot on sight across more than 80 percent of the state, there is no way protections for wolves should have ever been removed.”
The 2012 delisting of wolves in Wyoming turned wolf management over to the state, which opened up over 80 percent of its land to unlimited wolf killing and provided weak protections for wolves in the remainder. Since the delisting, 219 wolves have been killed under Wyoming’s management. Prior to the 2012 reversal of its position, the Fish and Wildlife Service denied Wyoming the authority to manage wolves in the state due to its extremely hostile anti-wolf laws and policies.
Background: Up to 2 million gray wolves were living in North America in the 19th century, but the animals were driven to near-extinction in the lower 48 states by the early 1900s. After passage of the federal Endangered Species Act in 1973 and protection of the wolf as endangered, federal recovery programs resulted in the rebound of wolf populations in limited parts of the country. Roughly 5,500 wolves currently live in the continental United States.
In 2008, a federal judge in Montana reinstated federal Endangered Species Act protections for wolves filed by pro-wolf groups to , preventing Idaho, Montana and Wyoming from implementing fall wolf hunts. The courts cleared the way for wolf hunting to begin again in 2009. Another lawsuit stopped wolf hunting in the 2010-2011 seasons, but the states complied with rules and reopened hunting in the 2011-2012 seasons — adding regulated trapping to try to bring down wolf numbers that had soared.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently proposing to remove Endangered Species Act protection for most gray wolves across the United States, a proposal that the pro-wolf groups strongly oppose; a final decision could be made later this year.
- See today's report on the court ruling by the Association Press.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — Some muddy legal waters have been flowing out of Stevens County in recent weeks.
Last week, Stevens County Commissioners passed a resolution condemning the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's management of gray wolves in northeastern Washington.
There's a conflict of interest in the 3-0 vote on the resolution, since commissioner Don Dashiell is the brother of Hunters rancher Dave Dashiell, who owned the 24-plus sheep confirmed to have been killed by the Huckleberry Pack in August and early September before the sheep were relocated.
Apparently there's also some misinformation coming from official channels that reported the sheep were on leased private land owned by Hancock timber. That's true to some extent, but Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman blogged that West Side legislators got maps showing that some of the sheep were on leased state land.
That makes little difference except to factions that argue livestock shouldn't be on public land… a case that's certainly debatable.
But the misinformation from Stevens County groups and the lack of candor from the WDFW is troubling.
Stevens County officials were even more flagrant in August when the commissioners passed a resolution advising county residents of their "constitutional rights" to shoot wolves under some circumstances.
"The citizens of Stevens County may kill a wolf or multiple wolves if reasonably necessary to protect their property," the commissioners said.
My first thought: rely on the courts rather than politicians for judgments on constitutional rights.
- See the documents attached to this post to read the entire Stevens County resolution — and the response to the resolution from WDFW director Phil Anderson, who spells out the narrow window of legality for someone to kill a wolf, which is listed as as state endangered species.
For another angle to the wolf depredation debates in northeastern Washington, see The S-R story about a national award given to a different Stevens County ranch for “the family’s progressive approach to facing challenges associated with livestock grazing on federal lands.”
PREDATORS — Whether on purpose or an accident, a self-professed champion for the eradication of wolves comes off looking like an animal.
Read the story below… and decide for yourself.
Montana FWP investigates Missoula man's wolf-killing claims
Missoula resident Toby Bridges' Facebook post telling his story of running down wolves in Interstate 90 and killing them, along with photos of the dead wolves, has drawn the interest of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks investigators. The episode likely will attract attention elsewhere, too.
—Great Falls Tribune
ENDANGERED SPECIES — Stevens County Commissioners have unanimously passed a resolution that hammers Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife managers for failing to protect people, wildlife and livestock from wolves that are naturally recolonizing the region.
The resolution (attached) stems from the Huckleberry Pack attacks on sheep grazing on Hancock timber company land, officially killing at least 24 sheep from mid-August to early September, when the rancher rounded up the flock that started at about 1,800 sheep and moved them to distant pasture.
The resolution says more than 200 of the sheep are still missing and attacks that might be attributed to wolves have been reported by other livestock owners in the area. The commissioners are particularly upset that a livestock grower was forced off private land by wolf attacks.
- As wildlife managers were trying to deal with the wolf attacks, killing the pack's alpha female in a helicopter gunning flight, pro-wolf groups petitioned Gov. Jay Inslee to block the use of lethal control.
Meanwhile the Stevens County Commission contends the WDFW "failed to honor its obligation and an imminent threat to life and property still exists."
The resolution says the commission "will consider all available option to protect the residents" and declared that "the wolves of the Huckleberry Pack are subject to whatever Constitutional means necessary to secure our public in their lives, liberty and property."
No specific actions were listed.
PREDATORS — City leaders in the central Idaho resort town of Ketchum have passed a resolution requesting state officials use nonlethal methods to manage wolf conflicts with livestock in Blaine County.
The city council in the resolution passed Monday said guard dogs, strobe lights and electric fencing are preferable to aerial gunning, hunting and trapping, according to the Associated Press.
Councilors in the resolution say tourism and wildlife are important to local citizens and the economy.
Councilors are also asking state leaders to reconsider what is considered a viable wolf population.
Idaho lawmakers earlier this year approved creating a $400,000 fund and a five-member board to authorize the killing of wolves.
Conservation groups say that will drive down the Idaho wolf population to about 150 animals. There are about 650 wolves in the state now.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — A northeastern Washington wolf pack so new it hasn't been formally recognized has been confirmed in a livestock attack in Ferry County, state wildlife officials announced today.
The Profanity Pack, which apparently was documented sometime this year by a biologist working with the Colville Confederated Tribes, has been related to a wolf attack on cattle reported Sept. 12 on a Colville National Forest grazing allotment.
The pack, which doesn't yet show on state wolf recovery maps, was named for its proximity to Profanity Peak, elevation 6,428 feet, along the crest of the Kettle River Range east of Curlew, and north of Sherman Pass.
"Remote cameras show the pack includes at least three adults and three pups," said Nate Pamplin, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department wildlife program director.
"WDFW is coordinating with the Colville Confederated Tribe on camera monitoring and future trapping efforts to place a radio collar on members of the pack."
The Diamond M livestock operation, grazing on a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) allotment, reported finding a wolf-killed cow and calf in the vicinity of the Profanity Peak pack, Pamplin said.
Diamond M Ranch also had problems with wolf attacks mostly on private land in northern Stevens County in 2012. Those attacks affecting 17 cattle, led the state to put helicopter gunners in the air and kill eight members of the Wedge Pack.
"WDFW staff and deputies from the Stevens County and Ferry County sheriff’s offices responded and went to the site on Friday," Pamplin said. "The area was remote, about four miles by trail from the nearest road. WDFW staff confirmed that the cattle had been killed by wolves approximately a week before the necropsy."
The Forest Service grazing allotment has 210 cow-calf pairs, Pamplin said:
The operators indicated that they believe that they have had more depredations than what has been located. Operators also indicated that they are moving the cattle down (to a lower elevation) on the allotment to get to better forage and to initiate the move of cattle toward the area from which they will moved off the range in about a month (these actions were discussed independent of this depredation event).
WDFW staff are completing the depredation investigation report and also reviewing/completing a current checklist of preventive measures that have been used to this point.
WDFW will coordinate with the USFS and the operator to continue discussions on options for avoiding/minimizing further depredations.
The cattle attacks were reported a month after another pack, the Huckleberry Pack, was confirmed in attacks on sheep a rancher was running on a private timber company grazing lease in Stevens County. At least 24 sheep were killed as state officers went in and killed one of the pack's wolves, the alpha female. The 1,800 sheep have been moved to other pasture.
HUNTING — Activists opposed to killing wolves outside Yellowstone National Park said Monday they are shadowing outfitters outside the park during wolf hunting seasons.
Montana’s six-month general hunting season for gray wolves is underway after just one of the predators was reported taken during an early-season archery hunt.
It’s the fourth annual hunt since Congress revoked the animals’ endangered species protections in 2011. Yet it continues to stir debate.
Rod Coronado with the recently-formed Yellowstone Wolf Patrol says the group’s members will use a video camera to document any wolves killed to raise public awareness, according to the Associated Press.
Coronado told the reporter there is no intention to directly interfere, which would be illegal.
Hunting units north of Yellowstone are subject to a six-wolf quota. Montana does not limit how many wolves can be killed statewide.
PREDATORS — Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional wildlife manager, will give an update on gray wolves in North Idaho during the agency’s monthly Sportsmen’s Breakfast at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, at Lake City Senior Center, 1916 N. Lakewood Dr.
Breakfast costs $7.50.
PREDATORS — While polarized factions tangle over every messy step of gray wolf reintroduction to the Northern Rockies, wildlife researchers keep putting radio collars on wolves and learning more and more about the species every year.
Wolf haters like to hold onto the pre-1995 wolf reintroduction science that classified Canada wolves as a different subspecies than wolves found in, say, Idaho. But since then, radio telemetry has proved that wolves range hundreds and even thousands of miles. There's never been a wolf-proof fence on the U.S.-Canada Border. Wolves in the two countries have been hooking up for centuries.
The crowd that loves wolves above all other things also has its problems with taking a nugget of truth and using it for propaganda to hound hunters, ranchers and wildlife biologists trying to "manage" wolves as they expand.
But enough of that.
The point is to be flexible enough in your thinking to absorb the knowledge piling in during this revolutionary period of wildlife science.
Doug Smith, the lead wolf researcher in Yellowstone National Park, lays it out in a good read this week from the Missoula Independent:
Doug Smith can't stress enough the importance of radio collars in the wolf world. From reintroduction to delisting to the first state-managed hunting seasons on wolves, the species has become increasingly politicized, pitting ranchers and outfitters against conservationists and wildlife advocates. Some people love the animal and some people hate it, Smith says. Without the biological data collected through collaring and monitoring, what we know about wolves would become "unhinged," subject more to the wildly differing opinions held by those on both sides. The problem is no one understands "the real wolf," Smith continues, and that understanding is key to finding a fact-based middle ground.
"Collars root you in reality," says Smith, who started in wolf biology in 1979 and now serves as the wolf project leader and senior biologist at Yellowstone National Park. "They give you the basics. This is what wolves really do."
Wolves have been radio-collared and tracked in the Northern Rockies for two decades. Biologists from several states work to put together information collected to help them understand more about the species. Every year they are surprised by what they learn about the behavior of some of the large canines, such as a female wolf that left her pups and took off on a 50-mile walkabout after her mate was killed by a hunter.
And then there's OR7, which left Oregon for a 1,000-mile jaunt before returning, finding a mate and siring a pack of pups this year.
Stay tuned for more.
UPDATED with this link to a subsequent blog post about using the term "alpha" female.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — Washington wildlife officials confirmed today that the alpha female of a sheep-attacking wolf pack was killed by a helicopter shooter last month.
A Stevens County rancher has moved his sheep away from the site where a pack of six-12 wolves killed at least 24 of the animals since mid-August, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed in a just-posted release.
The move comes after one of the wolves — the Huckleberry Pack's alpha female — was killed on Aug. 23 by a helicopter shooter. Wildlife officials had tried to target younger wolves to avoid interrupting the pack's social structure. However, the breeding female was small, only 66 pounds, and not easy to distinguish.
Kristin Mansfield, Washington's state veterinarian, just completed a necropsy today confirming the wolf killed to help stave off the attacks, was a 3 year-old breeding female.
Working through Labor Day weekend, rancher Dave Dashiell rounded up his flock of 1,800 sheep and herded them to temporary holding pens five miles away, and has begun trucking them to their winter pasture in the Columbia Basin.
WDFW field staff and 14 volunteers helped to round up the sheep and move them off the grazing land he leases from a private company about 50 miles northwest of Spokane.
- Stevens County Cattlemen's Association and Dashiell issued statements over the weekend complaining about being forced off private land for the sake of wolves.
Nate Pamplin, director of the agency's wildlife program, said the rancher’s decision to move his sheep earlier than usual will prevent further losses to his flock, but the department is cautioning other ranchers in the area to be vigilant as members of the Huckleberry pack move about their range.
“The threat to one rancher’s flock has passed, but there are other ranchers and other livestock in that area,” Pamplin said. “We need to make sure that the owners of those livestock operations – large and small – are aware of the pack’s presence and are taking necessary precautions.”
Pamplin said WDFW field staff will continue to monitor the movement of the Huckleberry pack and will contact other ranchers in the area to discuss appropriate protective measures, such as maintaining a human presence around their stock, using guard dogs, and removing animal carcasses whenever feasible.
On Aug. 22, at the height of the attacks on Dashiell’s sheep, WDFW authorized the removal of up to four members of the Huckleberry wolf pack, one of 13 documented packs in the state.
One female wolf was killed the next day by an aerial marksman from federal Wildlife Services contracted by the department.
In a necropsy completed today, the department’s wildlife veterinarian confirmed the wolf was the pack’s breeding female.
While other lethal measures were authorized, no other wolves have been removed.
Pamplin called the killing of the pack's breeding female an "unfortunate development, and one we hoped to avoid."
"We provided direction for individuals involved in aerial removals or trapping/euthanasia to try to remove smaller bodied animals. The wolf removed was likely three years old, in fair condition, but only weighed 66 pounds, and its status could not have been discerned from the air. We anticipate concerns about pack integrity; and while we don’t know what will happen in this specific case, we do know that other pack members can step into that role when an alpha is displaced.
The collared male in the Huckleberry Pack, believed to be the alpha male, has not been in the vicinity of the sheep flock since approximately Aug. 27, Pamplin said, noting that "the aerial operation may have assisted in keeping some distance from the sheep."
“Lethal measures continue to be an option if the pack attacks other livestock, but we will consider that option only after reasonable preventive efforts have been made,” Pamplin said.
He said WDFW has been contacted by many citizens, both opposing and supporting the department’s use of lethal measures to protect the rancher’s sheep.
Not getting what they wanted from the WDFW, environmental groups petitioned Gov. Jay Inslee to put limits on the agency's lethal wolf control options.
“Wolf management generates strong feelings on all sides,” Pamplin said. “We respect those feelings and will continue to do our utmost to ensure the recovery of wolves in Washington while working with ranchers to avoid and minimize conflicts with these animals.”