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Sunday, August 25, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Outdoors blog

Wolf research booms in age of radio collaring

Remote camera photo of OR7 captured on 5/3/2014 in eastern Jackson County on USFS land. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Remote camera photo of OR7 captured on 5/3/2014 in eastern Jackson County on USFS land. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

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.


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Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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