Apr 30

Northern Rockies states recommit to grizzly, wolf recovery

Northern Rockies states recommit to grizzly, wolf recovery

by Natalie M. Henry, Greenwire staff writer

The governors of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have reaffirmed their
commitment to delist the gray wolf and the Yellowstone population of
grizzly bears from the federal Endangered Species Act. The states plan to
develop a tri-state management plan for both species that will take the
place of federal management upon delisting.

Idaho has completed delisting management plans for both wolves and
while Montana is currently in the process and Wyoming is just beginning.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently manages both gray wolves and
grizzly bears — which are listed as endangered and threatened,
respectively — under ESA.

At the end of this year, the service expects to meet stated wolf recovery
goals of 30 breeding pairs for three consecutive years among the three
states, and FWS plans to propose delisting soon after.

The idea of delisting the grizzly bear has been thrown around for six or
more years. FWS has met recovery goals for one of the five Lower 48
grizzly bear populations: the bears in and around Yellowstone National
Park. FWS officials say money remains an issue keeping the agency from
delisting the bear because the states want the federal government to fund
management even after delisting.

“It is essential to the credibility of the Endangered Species Act that
recovery species like the wolf and grizzly bear be delisted promptly,”
said Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R).

To delist a species, FWS must prove there are adequate regulatory
mechanisms in place that will keep the species from being listed again. To
that end, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are developing their own management
plans. States are not required to develop management plans for wolves or
bears, but it creates a clear way for FWS to show that adequate regulatory
mechanisms are in place to manage the species upon delisting.

In addition to state management plans, grizzly bears in and around
will be managed by the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service,
which owns 98.3 percent of the “primary conservation area” that FWS has
delineated for the Yellowstone population, according to FWS’s grizzly bear
recovery coordinator, Chris Servheen. FWS will help draft the management
plan for the primary conservation area, but upon delisting the bears, FWS
will have no oversight and USFS, NPS and the three states will implement
the plan, Servheen said. FWS will only get involved if someone asks for a
status review to determine whether the bears warrant listing again, he

The primary conservation area is 9,200 square miles, but the Yellowstone
ecosystem offers about 17,000 to 18,000 square miles of grizzly bear
habitat, Servheen said. About 30 to 40 percent of the Yellowstone
population resides outside the primary conservation area, according to
Louisa Willcox at the Sierra Club’s grizzly bear project office in

The one-third or more bears that reside outside the conservation area will
be managed solely by the states, and the state plans do not adequately
manage for habitat, Willcox said. For instance, the state plans do not try
to zone any land for bear use but merely detail ways to deal with stray
bears, she said. “They’re just trying to deal with nuisance bear policies,

Habitat has been identified by a number of conservation and scientific
groups as the bear’s number one recovery requirement. Male grizzlies roam
for up to 1,000 square kilometers and females roam in areas about half
that size, according to scientists. The Sierra Club is pushing for
connecting grizzly bear habitat from Yellowstone northwest into Canada,
but if state management plans do not zone for grizzly bear habitat, the
idea of habitat connectivity may be lost to development, the group fears.

State management plans for wolves are coming along also, and Tuesday is
the last day for the public to comment on the state of Montana’s draft
management plans. Suzanne Laverty of Defenders of Wildlife said Montana’s
draft plans for wolf management leave some room for improvement, but
overall she applauded the state for bringing together all stakeholders,
including environmentalists.

Laverty also commended Montana for not placing a limit on the number of
wolves the state will accomodate, which Arnold Dood at the Montana
Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks highlighted as well. Dood also said
the state wolf and grizzly bear plans are both very adaptable, which will
be important once the animals “start to occupy areas they have been absent
from for awhile. No one really knows how the animals are going to act or
respond to those areas,” he said, so the plans need to be flexible.

Posted in Uncategorized
Apr 26

Grizzly, wolf delisting pursued

Grizzly, wolf delisting pursued

BOISE _ The states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana have agreed to prepare
joint proposals for removing both wolves and grizzly bears from federal
protection and placing them under a coordinated regional management plan.

“With the expanding range and population of both species in each of our
states, it is reasonable for us to pursue a regional strategy for
delisting and management,’ Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer said in a statement
issued by Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

“The sooner we transition management authority for wolves and grizzly
bears from the federal government to the states, the better,’ Geringer

In agreements signed earlier this month to update a long-standing
memorandum among the three states, the governors reaffirmed their
commitment to regional management and to immediately pressing the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service to remove wolves and grizzlies from the
endangered species list.

Federal officials have indicated that considering delisting wolves in the
three states is possible once all the states have wolf management plans in
place. Idaho has adopted its plan, and Montana is working on one. Wyoming
officials just recently agreed to move ahead on developing their plan.

In the case of grizzly bears, both Idaho and Wyoming have approved state
management plans. Montana is still developing its plan.


Posted in Uncategorized
Apr 24

Wyoming officials to draft plan for wolves

Wyoming officials to draft plan for wolves

Gazette Wyoming Bureau

Despite lingering concerns about how wolf management might be funded, the
Wyoming Game and Fish Commission agreed on Tuesday to draw up a plan to
manage gray wolves if federal protections are lifted.

There have been murmurs for months that Wyoming’s past refusal to develop
such a plan could hinder plans to remove the wolves from the Endangered
Species List and put management in the hands of the three Northern Rockies

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have said that before the wolves
are delisted, they have to see plans from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming that
assure wolf populations in those states won’t decline dramatically.

The Idaho Legislature completed its plan in March. Montana’s is under

Meeting in Casper on Tuesday, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission voted
4-2 to develop a wolf management plan. Funding for the work will come from
federal coffers.

“All of the out-of-pocket costs will come from federal dollars,” said
Larry Kruckenberg, special assistant for policy in the Game and Fish
director’s office. “All of the state’s portion will come from personnel

But Kruckenberg said that just because Wyoming devises a wolf plan doesn’t
mean it will be implemented. That will depend on whether the federal
government provides money to help states manage the wolves. Idaho and
Montana have estimated that it would cost about $800,000 a year to manage
wolves in each state.

“All three states are in synch in wanting to aggressively pursue this,”
Kruckenberg said. “That’s just something that’s going to need to be

He said work on Wyoming’s plan probably won’t get fully under way until at
least July, when federal money for the study becomes available. He
estimated that it could take nine months to produce the plan, depending on
how many issues come up.

“It’s going to be important that this be a very thorough process with
adequate public involvement,” he said. “If it can be done sooner, it will

Fish and Wildlife Service officials have said they hope to propose the
wolves for delisting in January, after certain key recovery goals are met.

Wyoming’s plan is expected to cost about $150,000. Kruckenberg estimates
that the federal government will pick up $113,000 for the work. The state
is required to put up a 25 percent match to get that money. The time that
state workers put into the project will satisfy that match, Kruckenberg


Posted in Uncategorized
Apr 24

Research finds no case of wolves killing a person

Research finds no case of wolves killing a person

The more familiar wolves get with humans, the more dangerous they become.
But a University of Idaho researcher didn´t find the attacks on school
children waiting for a bus that wolf opponents predict for Idaho.
Researcher John Carnes said Tuesday he couldn´t find any documented human
deaths caused by wolves in North America in the 20th century.

Of 21 attacks by healthy wolves John Carnes found, 18 came after the
predators began hanging around humans for hand-outs or became unnaturally

“If you look at these reports, they´re not consistent with predatory
behavior,” Carnes told the North American Interagency Wolf Conference at
the Owyhee Plaza.

The most vicious attacks came when people were caught in the middle of
fights between dogs and wolves, he said.

Several recent attacks in British Columbia, Ontario and Alaska all were
related to wolves that became “habituated,” or accustomed to humans. The
same behavior is seen in bears, coyotes and wolves in Yellowstone National
Park, where people feed them.

When this happens, it´s the animals that usually are killed, Carnes said.

“It´s my opinion people caught feeding wildlife should be treated the same
as people killing wildlife.”


Posted in Uncategorized
Apr 23

Great Lakes area shares wolf management issues

Great Lakes area shares wolf management issues

Gazette Wyoming Bureau

If you’re feeling lost and lonely in the wilderness of wolf recovery in
the Northern Rockies, don’t despair.

Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan feel our pain.

Like Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, the Great Lakes states are grappling with
some of the same issues: whether threatened and endangered wolves should
be reclassified before they’re removed from federal protection, who will
pay for wolf management and how many wolves are an acceptable number.

Thousands of wolves once roamed the western Great Lakes states but by the
1960s, only a few hundred remained in northeastern Minnesota and on
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Federal protection in the 1970s allowed the wolf population to recover.
There are now about 3,000 wolves in the three states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may propose delisting the wolves in
those states this fall. It could have happened earlier but, there as well
as here, wolves draw controversy.

Michigan and Wisconsin had their state management plans in final form by
1999 but couldn’t move forward with delisting because Minnesota, paralyzed
by disagreements, hadn’t budged.

“There were, uh, political differences,” said Adrian Wydeven, mammal
ecologist for Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources.

Minnesota finally approved its plan last year, setting the stage for a
proposal to delist the wolves this year.

Wolves are listed as threatened in Minnesota, so managers are allowed to
use lethal methods to control populations. Wydeven said Wisconsin and
Michigan are eager to get the same classification – their wolves are
currently listed as endangered – so troublesome wolves can be trapped or

The problem in Wisconsin isn’t that the wolves are feasting on livestock,
Wydeven said.

“We allow hound hunting for bears out here,” he said. “Last year, 17 dogs
were killed by wolves, and that’s gotten to be rather controversial among
houndsmen out here.”

He said the great number of deer in the three states helps keep the wolves
fed and away from livestock operations.

Wisconsin already plays a role in managing wolves to the tune of about
$250,000 annually. That doesn’t include money paid out when wolves kill

“That can range from less than $10,000 a year to more than $70,000,” said
Wydeven. One year the state had to pay out around $40,000 when a wolf pack
invaded a private deer farm. “So my advice for what’s happening out West
is, don’t include deer farms on any payment plans.”


Posted in Uncategorized
Apr 23

Rancher, wolf advocates seek common ground

Rancher, wolf advocates seek common ground

Family ranch welcomes talks about predators

WEISER – Margaret Soulen-Hinson could stress over the more than 100 cattle
and sheep her family has lost to wolves since the predators´
reintroduction into Idaho in 1995. The third-generation rancher has a
right to complain about the $67,000 in losses last year to cougars,
coyotes, bears and wolves. But she has better things to do.

She and her brother Harry Soulen and husband, Joe, would rather share
lambing together on the verdant range along the spectacular Crane Creek
Canyon. Instead of fighting environmentalists over control of the
predators, she´s seeking common ground.

She welcomed wolf advocates from all over the country to the family ranch
Monday to talk about how wolves and livestock can coexist.

“It takes valuing other people´s opinion,” Soulen-Hinson said.

The group was in Boise for the 14th annual North American Interagency Wolf
Conference, running today and Wednesday at the Owyhee Plaza. The gathering
brings wolf experts, advocates and opponents together to talk about the
challenges the popular predator presents.

The meeting comes in the wake of the killing of the 10-wolf Whitehawk Pack
earlier this month near Clayton. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
ordered the pack eliminated when it would not stop killing livestock.

That sparked a world-wide outcry from wolf lovers angry that the wolves
weren´t saved. With wolf numbers nearing 300 in Idaho, managers expect
more wolves will have to die for continual livestock depredations.

“We decided when we brought these animals back we´re not going to build a
wolf population at the expense of livestock,” said Carter Niemeyer, U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service Idaho wolf recovery coordinator.

Managers and ranchers have an assortment of tools to dissuade wolves from
attacking livestock. The Defenders of Wildlife helped the Soulen Livestock
Co. buy additional guard dogs in a study to determine the optimal number
to protect sheep.

When their herds are trailed to McCall where the wolves await, federal
wildlife agents will use radio-activated guard units to keep wolves away.
The so-called “RAG boxes” erupt in noisy flashing lights when a
radio-collared wolf approaches too close.

Ranchers also are trained in the use of rubber and bean-bag bullets, which
cause wolves pain but usually don´t kill them. All of these help reduce,
but don´t eliminate, conflict.

“These are strictly tools; they aren´t a solution,” U.S. Wildlife Services
agent Rick Williamson said. “There is no silver bullet.”

What is most needed, said Suzanne Laverty, Defenders of Wildlife Northern
Rockies representative, is understanding.

More than 5,000 coyotes are killed annually without a major uproar.
Coyotes, cougars and bears kill far more livestock than wolves do.

In Minnesota and other Midwestern states, hundreds of wolves are killed to
protect livestock and pets.

And before the Whitehawk Pack got into trouble, there had been no wolf
depredation in Idaho since last September, Niemeyer said.

“We´ve got at least 16 other packs in Idaho that aren´t making headlines,”
he said.


Posted in Uncategorized
Apr 21

Ninemile wolf stories

Ninemile Wolf stories

By SHERRY DEVLIN of the Missoulian

Ninemile residents share their views on the wild, graceful creatures that
have affected their valley – for good and ill

NINEMILE – Tony Chinikaylo has a smile to match the big, golden meadow he
tends in the upper Ninemile Valley. As his story unfolds, so do his arms.

He came to America, he says, the same year the wolves came to the meadow.
He can barely believe everything that’s happened since.

At first, they were timid – Chinikaylo, the young immigrant from Belarus,
gleeful at the good fortune that landed him a $10-an-hour logging job, so
much more than the $4-a-day he earned in Russia; the wolves, an orphaned
litter of 4 month olds, bounding across the meadow to a biologist’s howl,
startled when he was not their kind.

Then, a year or so later, two friends laid flooring in the house a movie
star was remodeling on one end of the meadow.

“Those Russian guys work like a tractor,” the foreman bragged. “They work
hard and never break.”

“Do you think you could find me a tractor?” asked Paul Qualley, the
husband of the movie star – actress Andie MacDowell.

So Chinikaylo landed a job at the ranch, doing chores, then helping to
remodel the ranch buildings, then tending cattle and eventually running
the place. And the wolf pups grew up, got in trouble for killing cows,
were shot for their transgressions until there was but one left, attracted
another and then another wolf to the Ninemile, and did all the things that
make wolves incongruously powerful, yet vulnerable.

“The boss, he likes the wolves,” says Chinikaylo, who works now for Tony
Audino, the Microsoft millionaire-turned-venture capitalist who bought
High Meadow Mountain Ranch from MacDowell and her husband when they
divorced and left the valley several years ago.

“The boss says, ‘Tony, do everything you can to keep the wolves on our
place. Don’t scare them away.’ They love it when the wolves howl. They get
so excited, and call everybody outside to listen.”

One night, in the early years when Chinikaylo and his wife lived at the
ranch, he woke and looked out the window to see a half-dozen wolves in the
yard. “I got chills on my arms,” he says, stretching his arms in the cool
springtime air.

Of course, there’s always a little trouble when the wolves are around, he
said. Over the years, they’ve killed two dogs. And every year, they take
two or three calves. And some chickens.

Once, the Audinos ran smack into a group of wolves as they walked along
the edge of the woods, and beat a hasty retreat home.

Chinikaylo’s smile widens until the sun finds his golden, top-row teeth.
“In Belarus, the government paid you $100 for shooting a wolf. Here, they
say, ‘Don’t shoot. You’ll go to prison.’ ” He’s happy to leave them be.

He’s heard all the hubbub about the wolves in recent weeks. How they
killed three pet llamas at one lower Ninemile house, then injured a llama
and killed another a few miles away, then killed two ewes at a third
place. How a biologist and a trapper for the federal Wildlife Services
shot four of the wolves, hoping to push the pack away from the knot of
homes and hobby herds.

In another couple of weeks, a hundred pair of cattle will arrive at High
Meadow, Chinikaylo says. If nothing else, that will probably lure the
wolves out of the lower Ninemile into its less-crowded, more remote upper

“They will try to sneak and get some of my calves,” he says. “The wolves
will know when we have something to eat, and I will know when they are


The first time Mike Jimenez saw the Ninemile wolves, they were babies and
he was sitting in a patch of willows. The moon was full and bright.

A year earlier, on Sept. 14, 1989, a pair of adult wolves and two pups had
been taken by truck to Nyack Creek, a remote tributary of the Middle Fork
Flathead River – far north of the Ninemile. The pack was in trouble,
blamed for cattle killings near Marion and sentenced to relocation.

Only one of the wolves survived – a black-coated adult female that woke
from a trapper’s tranquilizer drugs and ran away, leaving the pups to
starve and the other adult – a male injured by a trap – to be shot after
it developed gangrene and could not walk.

For months, until early January 1990, the female wolf ran panic-stricken,
it seemed, around western Montana. It traveled deep into the Great Bear
Wilderness, swam across Hungry Horse Reservoir, skirted Swan Lake, headed
into the Mission Mountains west of Condon, came within a block or two of
downtown Bigfork, ran along the shore of Flathead Lake and wound up high
in the Rattlesnake Mountains.

Federal biologists kept track of the wolf by way of signals from its radio
collar, literally holding their breath when a woman in the upper
Rattlesnake Valley called to say she had seen a wolf in her back yard on
the outskirts of Missoula.

Eventually, after zig-zagging its way back to Seeley Lake, then almost
into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, then to Lindbergh Lake, the wolf found
Evaro Hill and the Ninemile Valley where there was another wolf, mottled
gray and a bit mangy, heretofore unknown to the biologists.

The wolves mated, and the female widened an old coyote den on a sandy
hillside in the upper Ninemile. The den’s entrance was no bigger than an
adult human’s shoulders. The rounded hollow inside was 3 feet wide, just
right for six monkey-balled pups.

“Everybody was kind of, ‘Holy mackerel, what are they doing in the
Ninemile? They’re a half-hour from Missoula,’ ” remembers Jimenez, who
spent much of his life in the early 1990s watching over the Ninemile
wolves and is now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf recovery
project leader for Wyoming.

“I mean this was 1990,” he says. “There weren’t any wolves south of
Glacier Park. It was before reintroduction. Before Yellowstone. Everything
we knew said that wolves wanted to live in places where they wouldn’t be
bothered by people. And here was this female, digging a den a quarter-mile
from a logging road.”

Quickly, biologists learned it would be humans – not wolves or biology -
that would determine the pack’s future in the Ninemile. On July 4, 1990, a
holiday fisherman found the female wolf’s radio collar floating in a
nearby creek. Neither the animal nor its presumed human killer was found.

The pups were 2 months old when they were left to the care of the male
wolf. It did well, killing wild game and toting it to the den site in
manageable chunks. In August, the big wolf killed a German shepherd – the
pet of a longtime Ninemile family – while leading the pups to a kill site.
A month later, on Labor Day, it was killed by a semi-truck while crossing
Interstate 90.

Over the winter of 1990 and 1991, the orphaned pups became celebrities -
unseen, but well-known to western Montanans through newspaper accounts.
Jimenez saw them first a few days after the male wolf was killed. They
were in the big meadow at the upper end of the Ninemile. He howled, deep
and low, as he had heard the big male call. The pups, no doubt anxious
about their parents’ disappearance, came bounding through the grass and
into the willow thicket where the biologist sat.

“Dad’s back,” Jimenez later surmised.

He stood, startled, never expecting such an enthusiastic response. The
babies stopped, startled, never expecting such a howl to come from a

It was Jimenez’s assignment to help the pups through the fall and – maybe,
if it were possible – to encourage them to be “real” wolves. So he carried
road-killed deer to the meadow and stood them, propped against rocks and
logs, so the little wolves would have to push over the big deer.

His reward came on Dec. 23, when he found the pups’ first kill – a deer,
stripped nearly clean of meat. He carried the animal’s leg back to town as
proof. “They did it just like wolves do it,” he said.

Then, as now, the Ninemile Valley was alternately in love with and enraged
by the wolves. Few people, then or now, ever changed their mind. And every
time the wolves killed a cow or a pet, emotions flared.

But humans have an amazing ability to be tolerant, says Jimenez. “Some
very nice people live in the Ninemile. There are some real strong opinions
about wolves, but nobody was ever anything but friendly and gracious. Even
the people who didn’t like the government or what I did would ask me in
for coffee.”

Every spring, Jimenez thought the wolves were doomed. As the groundwater
seeped into the meadows, the Ninemile blossomed with new life. The deer
and elk kept their young hidden in the timber. The ranchers had no choice
but to keep their calves and lambs out in the open.

“There was just a lot that the wolves could bump into,” Jimenez says.


Geri Ball calls her big, gangly pet Starry and says he is conceited. When
they visit nursing homes in Missoula, the llama loves looking at himself
in the mirrors. Last year, one of the little ladies had a cockatoo that
would yell at Starry, “Get out of here!” The llama never knew what to make
of the loud-mouth bird.

This year, Starry won’t be making the rounds; Ball’s not sure she’ll ever
be able to take him around people again. When visitors ask why, she shows
them the meat on Starry’s haunches. It is chewed and raw, the result of a
wolf attack late last month.

A week later, “always on a Monday night,” the wolves returned, this time
killing a big male llama named Catalyst – “Cat-man” for short. When Ball
heard the llama’s screams, she ran out of the house, then ran back inside
when her flashlight found the wolf’s yellow-green eyes.

“It scares you,” she says, “never knowing what will happen next. I know
there are lots more wolves than the government claims. You hear them all
the time, howling from three different directions. The dogs are nervous,
and a lot of people don’t feel safe walking alone or jogging down the

Geri and Gene Ball have owned a boggy patch of ground in the lower
Ninemile for 34 years. They didn’t care much one way or the other when
they first heard about the wolves. They lived a good 10 miles away. Then
Geri started raising llamas as pets and show animals, and – about four
years ago – the wolves started coming down the valley.

“These aren’t the wolves that were native to this area,” she says. “These
wolves are not afraid of you.”

The recent killings – of both pets and wolves – have Ninemilers taking
sides. A few want the pack removed, and say so loudly. Some say pet and
livestock owners need to take more responsibility for their belongings.
Most don’t like it when the wolves are so close, and no one wants to lose
a pet. Don’t kill all the wolves, those people say, just manage them more

On one thing all agree: There are a good many more wolves in the Ninemile
than the government’s letting on. The packer at the Forest Service’s
Ninemile Remount Depot figures there’s at least a couple dozen animals,
not the five estimated by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Residents up and
down the valley put their guesses at anywhere from a dozen to 50 wolves.

Joe Fontaine, a wolf biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service in
Helena, says he’ll send a trapper to the Ninemile to get a better estimate
of wolf numbers and whereabouts. He knows people are anxious, and
understands why.

“Is the Ninemile a good place for wolves?” Fontaine asks. “It is great.
The prey base is very adequate.”

“Is it a good place for wolves in relation to humans? No. There’s a lot of
potential for interaction, and interaction typically means trouble.”

Since 1990, the human population of the Ninemile has almost doubled, from
396 to about 650. Where Jimenez once worried about wolves wandering into
cattle herds, Fontaine now worries about wolves in subdivisions with names
like Piney Meadows.

For his doctoral thesis, Jimenez studied the interaction of wolves and
humans in the Ninemile and found wolves surprisingly tolerant of the full
range of “people disturbances.” Wolves key in to game – deer and elk – far
more than they avoid humans.

But as more people moved into the Ninemile, wolves ran into more trouble,
Jimenez says. “They use the entire valley, from one end to the other, and
it’s all a minefield anymore. There’s a lot they have to avoid.”

And while people are tolerant, they also expect something to happen when
wolves cause problems. “Most of the time, the wolves don’t cause much
trouble,” he says. “Our worst fears are almost never realized. But when
something does happen, people don’t just want the wolves running loose.”

Wolf recovery – the federal government’s attempt to restore healthy wolf
numbers in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming – only stays sound and credible if
trouble-making wolves are removed, Jimenez says.

Of course, he says, “when you have to kill wolves, your friends start
calling you names. But wolves are resilient. We’ve seen it over and over
and over again. As long as we let them, the wolves bounce back.”


Ralph Thisted came to the Ninemile Valley with his family in 1938, in the
summer after sixth grade. “We dried out in eastern Montana,” he says.
“When my parents saw running water, that was enough for them. It was just
as tough to make a living here, but at least we had water.”

Thisted and his brother, Bruce, have never left the Ninemile. For all of
their working lives, they ranched – sheep until they tired of chasing away
the bears, then cattle until they sold their big, grassy meadow and much
of their timber land to actress MacDowell.

Now they live on smaller pieces of ground, three miles apart. Ralph has
married; he and wife Bette saw one of the wolves on a game trail behind
the house not long ago. Mostly, though, they watch a little brood of wild
turkeys that run out of the woods when Bette “gobble gobbles” from the

The Thisted brothers were the first in the Ninemile to see the wolves.

“It was a year, maybe two, before anyone else saw them,” says Ralph. “We
were fixing fence and there was this big, silver wolf. I had the .22 with
me to shoot gophers and used the scope to get a better look. It was way
too big to be a coyote; it had to be a wolf.”

In January 1990, when the female from Marion ended its flight in the
Ninemile, it denned on the Thisteds’ property. When the female was killed,
the male wolf used the brothers’ meadow for a rendezvous site where the
babies played while the parent hunted.

From the window of their barn, the brothers watched the little wolves, first
with a scope, then with a newly purchased video camera. Their first, shaky
home movies show the pups chasing grasshoppers and playing a “king of the
hill” game on a tree stump.

At night, they watched the road below for anyone who might dare to stop or
bother the pups. After the male wolf was killed, the brothers’ watch took
on more urgency. “They were on our land,” Ralph says. “They were orphans.”

A dozen years later, Thisted is no less protective of the wolves. He is
angry at suggestions that the pack be eliminated, angry that wolves would
be killed because they attacked pets. He doesn’t understand why people
move to the Ninemile to live near the wilderness, then howl for help when
a wolf comes around.

Thisted lost his own dog to a wolf attack. He was sad for the loss, but
undeterred in his devotion to the wolves. When he was ranching, he lost
hundreds of sheep and cows to bears, coyotes and mountain lions. But he
always figured that losses were part of the livestock business – and part
of life in the Ninemile.

Bette worries that the recent depredations will tear apart the community
she loves so dearly. “There’s just got to be room enough here for everyone
and everything,” she says. “We’ve got to make room for the wolves.”

Ralph can’t find the words to explain why it’s important to keep wolves in
the Ninemile, but he knows it is. “It’s just that they’re here is all,” he
says. And that if they were gone, something would be missing.


Posted in Uncategorized
Apr 20

Wolves transplanted into N.M.

Wolves transplanted into N.M.

By Tom Jackson King, Managing Editor

Two Mexican gray wolf families have been transplanted to remote areas of
Gila Wilderness in New Mexico as part of the ongoing but controversial
effort to reintroduce Mexican gray wolves into the American Southwest.

Elizabeth Slown, Albuquerque spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, said “Two wolf packs each consisting of an alpha male and a
pregnant female have been placed in temporary pens in the Gila Wilderness
in southwestern New Mexico.

“The wolves are radio-collared and monitored closely using telemetry
equipment. They will be supplementally fed until it is apparent that they
are hunting on their own. Both females are expected to give birth around
April 19,” she said.

The two releases occurred in the McKenna Park and Lilley Park areas of the
Gila. The wolves were put into soft plastic mesh pens from which they can
chew their way out. Within days of the April 4 release the Luna Pack
chewed out of the mesh pen but are still near their McKenna Park release
site. The Gapiwi Pack are still in mesh pens at Lilley Park.

H. Dale Hall, the new Southwest regional director for USFWS, said of the
two releases, “Once released, we expect the wolves to settle down and den
near their pen sites. The Mexican wolf recovery program is the most
difficult and complex wolf reintroduction the service has undertaken.”

One sign of that difficulty had to do with the early transplanting of
pregnant female wolves in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, several months
ahead of the time when their natural prey, elk, would be calving and
thereby providing food for young wolf pups.

Brian Kelly, Mexican gray wolf program manager, said the early April
release was forced on USFWS due to the terms of the approved wolf
management program document, which states wolves can be released in New
Mexico only after they’ve become a problem in the “primary” release area
of Arizona.

“I have no choice. We can translocate only previously released wolves to
New Mexico,” Kelly said.

“We can’t allow them to give birth (in captivity) in New Mexico. It’s bad
for the wolf program because they will have less probability of success.
They (the pups) will be born near cattle calving time rather than elk
calving time,” he said.

“It’s bad for the people in New Mexico for this early release. We will
propose a rule change to make it less of an impact on folks in both
states,” Kelly said.

Hall said three of the four wolves transplanted to the Gila Wilderness had
previously been involved in attacks on cattle while one regularly wandered
far beyond the designated release area in the Apache National Forest of

The four wolves were transported into the Gila Wilderness in special
panniers that put one wolf on each side of a sturdy mule. “Surprisingly,
the mules remain very calm despite the nature of their cargo,” Hall said.

The five-year Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program is intended to put
up to 100 wolves, an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act,
into national forests in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. The
program, in its third year, will spend at least $9 million to release the
captive-bred wolves into the wild in the hope that by placing these
“keystone predators” into their former range they will become a part of
the ecosystem that now includes bears, coyotes, mountain lions, deer, elk,
cattle and people.

Rural ranchers, residents and forest visitors have criticized the program
as one that puts non-wild animals into an area where they sometimes turn
to attacking local cattle when they do not have success in hunting natural

Some people have also expressed fear that wolves might attack small
children living in rural mountain communities, but non-prey attacks to
date have been limited to dogs, chickens, miniature horses, sheep and
similar livestock.

At the last report of the multi-agency task force, radio-collar tracking
had documented the presence of 20 wolves in the two-state area, including
the new releases. There once were as many as 30 released wolves and pups
but natural and non-natural deaths have reduced the wolf population over
the last few years.

More information on the wolf program can be found online at the agency’s
website on the Internet address of: mexicanwolf.fws.gov.


Posted in Uncategorized
Apr 19

Wolf numbers up, endangered de-listing process will begin

Wolf numbers up, endangered de-listing process will begin

Steve Tomasko
The Daily Press
Last Updated: Friday, April 19th, 2002 09:55:42 AM

The state wolf population jumped to 321 this year — bringing it close to
the state’s goal of 350 for removing the animal from the endangered
species list.

However, removing the gray wolf from that list also involves the federal
government and may involve the courts as well, according to Ron Refsnider,
listing coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Last year, wolf numbers were at 251. Biologists attributed the population
jump to good pup survival in the last year, probably in part because of a
high deer population.

Currently wolves are listed as threatened in the state but endangered, a
more protective designation, on the federal level. The FWS is in the
process of downlisting the wolf to threatened in Wisconsin and Michigan as
early as this summer, Refsnider said.

In Minnesota wolves are already considered federally threatened. Once
downlisting happens, government personnel can trap and kill wolves that
pose a problem to livestock and pets, instead of trapping and relocating
them as they do now.

Theoretically, once the population hits 350 in Wisconsin, the wolf could
be hunted. But an open season on wolves would happen only after public
hearings and legislative approval.

Refsnider doesn’t anticipate a public harvest of wolves through hunting or
trapping in the near future.

“We would have problems doing that,” he said.

The USFWS had proposed an open season for wolves in Minnesota because
biologists thought the population was large enough. But they were taken to
court over the issue and “soundly defeated.” Refsnider said. The courts
ruled there could be no public harvest of a threatened species.

In order for a public harvest, wolves will need to completely come off the
endangered species list, a process Refsnider said will begin this summer
as soon as the downlisting to threatened process is complete.

However, Refsnider anticipates a battle over that decision.

“That will be a long and drawn-out process because we’ll likely be taken
to court on that,” he said.

In the meantime, as wolf numbers go up, state DNR wolf biologist Adrian
Wydeven said he’s seen a declining tolerance for wolves. Some of that
intolerance comes in the form of illegally-killed wolves. Until last year,
they had seen two or three killed illegally each year. Last year, seven
wolves were killed and they’ve had reports of three or four already this

Wydeven said he’s also been hearing more people who don’t want to see any
wolves in the state.

“It’s not so much due to actual events, but to perceptions and stories,”
he said.


Posted in Uncategorized
Apr 19

Wolf hunt could be costly move for state

Wolf hunt could be costly move for state

Steve Tomasko
The Daily Press
Last Updated: Friday, April 19th, 2002 09:54:20 AM

Sportsmen this spring voted to manage wolves as a fur-bearing species,
similar to the way the Department of Natural Resources manages animals
like bobcats and fishers.

That kind of change in management status could have a big impact on
funding for the state endangered resources program and dilute the pool of
money used for managing game animals, according to some Department of
Natural Resources biologists.

That vote came at the annual spring Conservation Congress meetings held
across the state. The CC is a citizen group that advises the DNR on
hunting, fishing and natural resource issues.

The question of moving the wolf from a protected species under DNR
Endangered Resource Bureau to a fur-bearing predator passed by a vote of
6,421 to 937 at 72 county meetings in April.

Scott Lancour, chair of endangered resources and law enforcement committee
for the Conservation Congress, which drew up the question, said they
wanted to lay the ground work for future hunting and trapping.

Lancour said there is an increasing amount of concern over the burgeoning
wolf population from livestock owners, bear hunters and pet owners.

However, public hunting and trapping of wolves could not happen until
wolves are completely removed from the endangered species list at the
federal level.

Also, state DNR wolf biologist Adrian Wydeven said sportsmen who voted for
the proposal may not have completely understood the significance of the
change as far as funding wolf management.

Currently, the state gets funds to manage the wolf from endangered
resources funds, the USFWS and the federal Conservation and Reinvestment
Act (CARA), which taxes off-shore oil drilling and returns that money to
the states for natural resources and federal taxes on ammunition sales.

In the last fiscal year, the budget for the wolf monitoring and management
program was $252,177. The bulk of that — 82 percent — came from federal
funding with the other 18 percent coming from the state.

If wolves would become just another fur-bearer, all funds to manage them
would come from sportsmen through the sale of hunting licenses, Wydeven

Randle Jurewicz, staff biologist in the DNR Bureau of Endangered
Resources, said moving timber wolves into game animal status could hurt
funding for other endangered animals.

The bureau gets about $500,000 a year through the sale of the state “wolf”
license plates and income tax check offs. Having an open season on wolves
could diminish those contributions, he said.

Although there may be a time when there are enough wolves to provide a
public hunt, it would likely be limited to a few animals, Jurewicz said,
and that would not generate anywhere near the $250,000 the state currently
gets for monitoring wolves.

So, either cuts would have to be made in the wolf program, which would
limit their information on the population, or the money would come from
general hunting license sales, which would reduce the amount going to
other game management programs, he said.


Posted in Uncategorized