Jan 31

Scotland: Wild wolves ‘good for ecosystems’

Wild wolves ‘good for ecosystems’

Reintroducing wild wolves to the Scottish Highlands would help the local ecosystem, a study suggests.

Wolves, which were hunted to extinction in Scotland in the late 1700s, would help control the numbers of red deer, the team from the UK and Norway said.

This would aid the re-establishment of plants and birds – currently hampered by the deer population, they write in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

But farmers say more livestock would be killed if wolves are reintroduced.

The researchers’ findings used a predator/prey model to assess the probable consequences on the Highland’s red deer population.

“There has been an ongoing debate about the possibility of reintroducing wolves to Scotland for some time,” said co-author Tim Coulson, from Imperial College London.

“So we thought that we would start the ball rolling by looking to see, using mathematical modelling approaches, what the possible impact of reintroducing wolves into Scotland would have on the red deer population.”

The researchers found that the red deer population was close to reaching the maximum capacity that the ecosystem could support, and that costly culls were not proving to be economically effective.

Since Scotland’s wild wolf population died out, the UK’s largest wild land animal has not had any natural predators to help control its numbers.

“For example, many sheep farmers argue for fewer deer because they are concerned the deer compete with sheep for grazing,” Dr Coulson told BBC News.

“Many of the conservation organisations, especially those trying to reforest areas, also believe their numbers should be reduced.

“Attempts to get forests to come back are going to be hindered by the fact that there are too many deer, which will munch away merrily on any young trees.”

Other groups, Dr Coulson added, were concerned that excessive deer numbers were having an impact on bird species, such as the capercaillie.

The study found that the wolves would prey on the deer and would help rebalance the ecology, giving other tree and bird species a chance to establish themselves.

Livestock worries

But farming groups voiced concern and said that the introduction of wolves would hit their members.

Anna Davies, a spokeswoman for the National Farmers’ Union in Scotland, said: “The reintroduction of wolves into the wild would present significant problems in terms of sheep predation, and that is the reason why it is not widely popular among farmers.”

Dr Coulson agreed that farmers would be affected but he added: “Typically, wolves do not go through and take out an entire flock; they will take individuals when they are hungry.”

The study also assessed people’s attitudes towards the idea of releasing wolves into the wild. While the public were generally positive, people living in rural areas were more sensitive.

“Although the farmers were slightly negative, they were not completely adverse to the idea provided they were adequately reimbursed for any lost stock,” he said.

But Miss Davies disagreed: “Any implication that farmers are simply concerned with support payments and not with the welfare and predation of their animals is unjustified.

“Farmers suffer emotional as well as financial losses when they lose stock, as was demonstrated during the foot-and-mouth outbreak.”

Dr Coulson said he believed that any reintroduction plan was still a long way from becoming a reality.

“Our research is just one of the first steps towards understanding the consequences of a wolf reintroduction in Scotland,” he added.

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Jan 31

Scotland: Day of the wolf – but its evil image could stop it saving the Highlands

Day of the wolf – but its evil image could stop it saving the Highlands

Study says reintroduction of predator could solve deer population problem

Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent
The Guardian

They were last seen in Scotland more than 240 years ago, harried and hunted by the gun-wielding sheep farmers and country landowners who were then colonising the Highlands. But now, say ecologists, the time has come to reintroduce the wolf.

A new study published today by the Royal Society claims that the wolf – for centuries the most feared mammal in British popular culture – needs to be rehabilitated. It could, the study reports, help to rejuvenate the Highlands, recreating a chain of rich native forests over its hills and glens.

The study’s authors say that allowing packs of wolves to patrol the Highlands would solve an emerging ecological crisis over deer numbers, which have soared to record levels in the last 30 years. Some estimates suggest up to 500,000 deer could be roaming the hills, and in many areas they are perilously close to the land’s natural “carrying capacity”.

Where culling by stalkers and shooting by trophy hunters has only managed to keep deer numbers static, the wolf could make a significant difference.

Eleanor Milner-Gulland, of Imperial College London, one of the study’s authors, said: “We have shown that reintroducing wolves would significantly reduce the need for expensive culling, and the resulting decline in deer numbers would lead to a marked increase in plant and birdlife biodiversity, and reforesting the area would be easier too.”

The study estimates that up to 500 wolves could be released across the Highlands, allowing up to 25 wolves a territory of about 1,000 sq km . Within 50 or 60 years, they calculate, deer numbers would fall to a quarter of the present levels.

It would, the authors admit, be deeply unpopular with farmers and rural pet owners. They would deserve compensation for livestock and animal losses, and some regions would be too heavily populated to be suitable. Tourism agencies and hill walkers could equally feel somewhat nervous, but the academics’ snapshot surveys of communities, including Glen Affric near Inverness, suggest there is tentative public support for the proposal.

Dr Tim Coulson, from Imperial College London, said their study was designed to stimulate debate, where previous discussions had been “ill-informed”, and to provide the first scientific analysis about the impact wolves might have on deer numbers in Scotland. “We do appreciate that there would be problems and it would be controversial,” he said.

Their findings met immediate approval from the charity Trees for Life, which is planning to plant 100,000 native trees this year as part of its programme to rebuild the ancient “Caledonian forest” now restricted to a few remnants.

The charity is a leading proponent, alongside Paul Lister, the owner of the Alladale estate in Sutherland, of attempts to reintroduce a host of native species extinct in Britain – the beaver, lynx, wolf and moose. But Alan Watson Featherstone, its executive director, said the substantial social and economic issues posed by reintroducing the wolf would take at least 20 years to resolve.

Its reputation was the most significant barrier of all, he said. “The wolf probably has the worst public image of any large animal on the planet, fed by children’s fairy tale stories like the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood, which is exacerbated by Hollywood movies about werewolves. They have a very, very bad PR problem. People think they’re a real threat, but that’s just not true.”

But government agencies are far less convinced, as are conservation bodies such as the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the RSPB. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the official conservation agency, and the Deer Commission for Scotland, which oversees deer conservation and control policy, said these problems were far greater than the wolf’s backers suggested.

Professor Colin Galbraith, director of science at SNH, said the study was a useful contribution to the debate. “It’s a bit theoretical, but it’s quite well done in terms of the science,” he said. However, the central issue of proving that a reintroduction was “socially acceptable” was actually essential, both legally and practically. Globally accepted guidelines on reintroducing species set out by the World Conservation Union made clear that if an animal was once hunted to extinction by humans, it would be unacceptable to reintroduce that animal where it would again be targeted by man. “That’s very, very important. This is where the concept of reintroducing wolves to Scotland probably falls down,” he said. It would also be extremely difficult to limit wolves to a particular area, and to ensure that sheep did not become their preferred prey.

Given all those constraints, SNH has again ruled out wolf reintroduction. Last week, it confirmed that it plans to focus solely on reintroducing sea eagles to Scotland and, over the next five years, to rekindle proposals to bring back beavers, a scheme controversially rejected by the Scottish executive two years ago.

Professor John Milne, chairman of the deer commission, said several of the report’s central assumptions were flawed. There was no consensus that deer numbers were too high nationally, and its insinuation that deer stalking in Scotland was of minor economic value was unfair.

Although the report appeared to dismiss deer stalking as “trophy-hunting”, in fact it added £105m to the rural economy and provided about 2,500 full-time equivalent jobs. “That income is generated often in rural areas where there aren’t many job opportunities,” he said.

While in some environmentally sensitive areas of rural Perthshire, the Cairngorms and Inverness-shire, deer grazing was severely damaging, he said, in many other areas their grazing had little effect on local habitats. As a result, intensive culling was being deliberately concentrated on the areas of greatest ecological damage.

Going native?

Beaver

Attempts to reintroduce the European beaver, once widespread in the UK, have been hampered by fears that the animals might damage environmentally sensitive sites. Nearly 100 are held in captivity. In Kent, a small pilot project has involved releasing beavers behind fences.

Sea eagle

Britain’s largest bird of prey, sea eagles were reintroduced to the Inner Hebridean island of Rum and the Scottish mainland in the 1970s, and have now colonised several Hebridean islands. There are plans to reinstate them along the east coast.

Wild boar

Some ecologists would like to see boar repopulate British woods in the wild. About 400 to 500 escapers live in the wild in southern England, yet some conservationists claim they are too damaging to release.

Lynx

The lynx has been reinstated in parts of Europe. The entrepreneur Paul Lister plans to release lynx into a fenced enclosure on his estate in northern Scotland.

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Jan 31

Scotland says nay to the big bad wolf

Scotland says nay to the big bad wolf

By Lester Haines

A study released today by the Royal Society proposes the reintroduction of wolves into the Scottish Highlands – 240 years after they were hunted to extinction.

According to The Guardian, the report concludes that “allowing packs of wolves to patrol the Highlands would solve an emerging ecological crisis over deer numbers” while helping to “rejuvenate the Highlands, recreating a chain of rich native forests over its hills and glens”.

Deer numbers in the Highlands stand at an estimated 500,000, and in some areas are close to the land’s “carrying capacity”, the study’s authors claim. While hunting and culling do little to control the population, 500 hungry wolves – at a density of 25 wolves per 1,000 sq km territory – would reduce their numbers by three quarters “within 50 or 60 years”.

The lupine release plan would, the scientists admit, be “deeply unpopular with farmers and rural pet owners”, and might not go down too well with ramblers. While the former could be compensated for any losses to wolf attack, the latter would need to be convinced that they weren’t going to become a hearty lunch for the wolf pack.

Alan Watson Featherstone, boss of charity Trees for Life, which is “planning to plant 100,000 native trees this year as part of its programme to rebuild the ancient Caledonian Forest”, and heartily supports the wolf plan, admitted: “The wolf probably has the worst public image of any large animal on the planet, fed by children’s fairy tale stories like the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood, which is exacerbated by Hollywood movies about werewolves. They have a very, very bad PR problem. People think they’re a real threat, but that’s just not true.”

Government agencies have proved a rather more concrete obstacle to the scheme. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has rejected it, preferring to focus on its sea eagle and beaver rehabilitation strategies.

SNH’s director of science, Professor Colin Galbraith, said of the study: “It’s a bit theoretical, but it’s quite well done in terms of the science.”

He insisted, however, that the “central issue of proving that a reintroduction was ‘socially acceptable’ was actually essential, both legally and practically”. The World Conservation Union’s guidelines for reintroducing species specify that “if an animal was once hunted to extinction by humans, it would be unacceptable to reintroduce that animal where it would again be targeted by man”.

Galbraith noted: “That’s very, very important. This is where the concept of reintroducing wolves to Scotland probably falls down.”

Regarding the deer issue, Professor John Milne, chairman of Scotland’s deer commission, dismissed several of the study’s main assumptions as “flawed”. He said there was no consensus that deer numbers were too high, and added that deer-stalking – apparently described by the report as “trophy-hunting” – actually injected £105m into the rural economy while creating around 2,500 “full-time equivalent” jobs.

The crux of the matter, though, lies with the issue of sheep. The Royal Society admits that “80 per cent of sheep deaths in the Highlands of Spain are the result of wolves”. There are estimated to be several thousand wolves in Spain, the majority in the north of Castilla y Leon and rural human depopulation has encouraged a gradual spread of the species – to the growing alarm of livestock farmers.

The Royal Society researchers admit: “If, as it seems probable, wolf predation on sheep in Scotland would be at a similar level, it would reduce flock sizes.”

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Jan 31

MI: Don’t expect wolves to become game animals

Don’t expect wolves to become game animals

By ERIC SHARP

FREE PRESS OUTDOORS COLUMNIST

Despite the U.S. Interior Departments recent decision to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, the roughly 450 wolves in the Upper Peninsula arent likely to become game animals any time soon.

Delisting will allow the state to use lethal control for wolves that prey on livestock or pets, but killing is a last resort when other methods fail, state wolf researchers said. And if wolves must be killed, it will be done by state workers.

While some UP deer hunters argue that the region is overrun by more than 1,000 wolves, the DNRs estimate of 450-500 by the end of this winter is a lot closer to reality.

Its a tough life for wolves. Most live less than five years before dying of disease, starvation, a fight with other wolves or a poachers bullet. In spring, new pups can increase the UP wolf population by several hundred, but fewer than half of those pups will survive a year.

By the time winter ends, Michigans wolves have usually increased their numbers by about 15%, said Pat Lederle, the DNRs wolf research manager.

The biggest wolf population in the United States is in Minnesota, where about 3,000 of the wild dogs roam the wooded, northeastern third of the state. Some biologists say that wolf numbers there are declining because of mange and parvo virus, but they are still above the interior departments target, as is the 4,000 combined wolf number for Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The delisting of the Great Lakes wolves will be published in the Federal Register and take effect 30 days later.

While wolves can make a dent in a local deer population, Im always amused by hunters who want to blame them for lower deer numbers across the UP. A Canadian study found that an adult wolf consumes 15-17 deer a year. Lederle thinks thats an underestimate and figures that wolves in the UP each eat about 40 deer.

That means wolves take about 20,000 deer each year out of a herd estimated at about 350,000. Hunters in the UP kill about 40,000 deer, and some 6,000-7,000 are killed by cars.

I once watched wolves stalking deer in northern Ontario, and Lederle said something that brought that memory back: When you have wolves around, the deer are a lot more cautious. They know the wolves are there, and it makes the deer harder for people to hunt.

I think hes right. Weve raised a couple of generations whose idea of hunting is to throw out some bait and wait for deer to come to it. When those people suddenly find themselves competing for deer whose caution level has been honed by wolves, the human hunters dont have much of a chance.

The most widely distributed land mammals on the planet after people, wolves have a circumpolar range that includes every continent except Australia and Antarctica, and they roam from the Arctic to the tropics.

They once lived in large numbers across North America, with red wolves in the east and gray wolves west of the Mississippi, but both species were driven to near extinction by hunting, trapping and poisoning before being placed on the Endangered Species List in 1973.

The gray wolf has been a great poster child for the Endangered Species Act, responding to protection by quickly reestablishing breeding populations wherever a few wolves still lived or were introduced.

Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he believed that the new delisting decision would stand up against any legal challenge, although a previous delisting proposal was overturned in court. And in making the announcement, Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett said that the agency would also begin the process to delist the 1,200 or so wolves in the northern Rocky Mountain zone, which may well prove much tougher to accomplish.

Ron Refsnider, the USWF endangered species coordinator for the Great Lakes region, said wolves responded so well to the Environmental Protection Act because the one major problem was to stop people from killing them.

While Fish and Wildlife will monitor the wolves for the next five years to insure that they dont need re-listing, some environmental groups have said that delisting will give states carte blanche to keep wolves at the minimum number required rather than encourage growth.

In western states, most of the people Ive met despise wolves, along with grizzly bears, coyotes, hawks, badgers, skunks and anything else that even looks like it might prey on livestock or game.

Idaho Gov. Jim Risch reportedly has said he believed that state should kill more than 80% of its wolves once they are delisted. Wyoming may not see its wolves delisted because the management plan drawn up by its legislature called for killing 90% of them.

Before wolves could become game animals in Michigan, they would have to be put on the state list by the legislature and approved by the Natural Resource Commission. And even then the federal government could issue an emergency order rescinding a hunt if it decided that would push wolves back toward endangerment.

Livestock depredation by wolves is a relatively minor problem in Michigan, but Lederle said thats not much solace to UP farmers: When you talk to livestock owners, theyll tell you its significant. If you own three cows and one is killed, its a big deal. It can be an important part of your livelihood.

Brian Roell, the DNRs wolf coordinator in Marquette, said, A lot of farmers are working on a short margin or profit. If you lose a few calves, theres your profit gone. But last year the state paid farmers for only 51 animals lost to wolves  four dogs, eight cattle, four sheep and 35 chickens.

He said delisting wolves will streamline our process. We have a toolbox of things we could use to mitigate the problems. Lethal control is one tool, and this will let us use all the tools in the box.

But Roell stressed that other methods would be tried first, adding, It might be as simple as getting people to stop feeding deer in their yards. If they put out corn for deer, and then complain that wolves are threatening their dogs, maybe they should stop attracting the deer that attract the wolves. Theres not a sign on that corn that says, No wolves. 

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Jan 31

MI UP: Will wolf shootings cease?

Will wolf shootings cease?

By JOHN PEPIN, Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE  With U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials announcing Monday the removal of gray wolves from federal threatened and endangered species lists in several Great Lakes states, some advocates hope the action will ease frustrations and translate into fewer illegal wolf killings.

Were hoping that the illegal mortalities will decrease in the Midwest, said Ron Refsnider, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minneapolis.

The wolf will become a state-managed species in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota 30 days after the delisting rule is published in the Federal Register. That publication should occur within the next several days.

Delisting is occurring because wolves have met and maintained population recovery goals previously outlined in the Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan.

The new federal status for the wolf in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota will allow state department of natural resources officials greater latitude in dealing with problem wolves, including the use of lethal control.

Over the past several months, Michigan and Wisconsin DNR officials had been prohibited from using certain hazing techniques or killing wolves that had killed livestock.

After August of last year, if there was a depredation we werent able to use lethal control, said Brian Roell, Michigan wolf coordinator with the DNR in Marquette.

Refsnider said hes hoping with more wolf management flexibility for the departments of natural resources in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, tensions among livestock owners and hunters frustrated with wolves will ease.

Each year, the DNR investigates several illegal wolf killings in the Upper Peninsula. A handful were reported over the firearm deer season last fall.

The DNR aggressively investigates such cases and will continue to do so, even after the wolf is delisted. Wolves will still be protected under state law and they cannot be hunted.

Convictions can result in a $1,500 restitution fee, up to 90 days in jail, a fee of $100 to $1,000 and a loss of hunting privileges at the discretion of the court.

There are rules that need to be followed and those regulations will be enforced, said Capt. Curt Bacon, northern field operations supervisor with the DNRs Law Enforcement Division in Marquette.

In hopes of urging federal officials to delist the wolf and allow state management, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin DNR officials sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2005.

The letter said public support for wolves is eroding as wolf problems in Michigan are increasing. Negative media reports are becoming more common and the frequency of complaints to the DNR is increasing, officials said.

To assure continuing local public tolerance and support of wolf conservation in all three states, the reasonable tools to effectively resolve wolf problems prescribed in each states management plan are desperately and immediately needed, the letter stated.

In 2005, officials said wolf depredations on domestic animals were increasing in Michigan and Wisconsin and continued to remain high in Minnesota. More than 70 percent of the wolf attacks on pet dogs confirmed in Michigan since 1996 occurred between 2002-05.

As wolves expand farther into agricultural and residential areas in Michigan, the incidence of these conflicts is expected to increase exponentially with population size, the letter stated. Its time to return wolf management authorities to these states so that spread of wolves into agricultural areas can be controlled and reasonable restraints can be applied to wolf population growth.

In addition to the three Great Lakes states where wolves are currently living, the federal wolf delisting will also affect areas surrounding the states into which wolves may disperse but are not likely to establish packs.

This includes portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

Currently, researchers estimate there are more than 430 wolves in the Upper Peninsula and another 30 located at Isle Royale National Park. With at least 460 wolves in Wisconsin and more than 3,000 in Minnesota, the western Great Lakes region has a total of about 4,000 wolves.

Roell said he thinks the increase in wolf numbers has put more people in contact with the species, resulting in more interaction, some of which is negative.

Wolf numbers are up, he said.

Roell said it appears the regions illegal wolf killings occur randomly and those incidents will likely continue, even with federal delisting. He said it would be speculative to think delisting will decrease illegal wolf kills.

I dont think its really going to save wolves, Roell said.

State officials have long thought the key to greater wolf tolerance is education and public awareness.

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Jan 31

WY: Elk herd study may reveal wolf impact

Elk herd study may reveal wolf impact

By Mark Heinz

Some 60 cow elk in the Big Horn Basin are wearing GPS tracking collars which researchers hope will provide knowledge about the animals’ movements and other habits.

The collars are beeping away, collecting three locations per day on each elk, Game and Fish Cody Region Wildlife Management Coordinator Kevin Hurley said.

The collars are the first step in a three-year study aimed at determining, among other things, how predation by wolves has impacted elk herds.

As part of the study, six wolves – two each from three packs – were captured and collared.

The animals were captured by an MD 500 helicopter-borne net gun crew with Leading Edge Aviation of Clarkston, Wash.

The company specializes in capturing wildlife with net guns, said Jess Dingman, chairman of the Cody chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

RMEF is a major contributor to the study, donating $25,000.

Dingman said he’d never seen elk captured with a helicopter net gun prior to going out with a crew last week.

He was impressed by what he saw.

It was amazing. It’s a humane way to do it, because you’re in and out of there in five minutes, he said.

No drugs are used on the animals during the process, he added.

It puts minimum stress on the animals, and that’s important, Dingman said. It’s the middle of winter, and many of these cows are probably pregnant. The less stress we put on them, the better.

There hasn’t been a comprehensive study of elk in this area for decades, Hurley said. Sample animals have never been captured here via helicopter.

Previous studies were based on animals rounded up into pens, he said. That was time-consuming, and limited the samples to only one area.

Using the chopper, crews were able to collar elk from several groups and locations, which should give researchers a more comprehensive picture, he said.

Only cows were used, because they will provide the best picture of herds’ migration patterns, Hurley said.

This is not a bull survival study. We wanted to look at herd movement. And cows give the best indication of that, he said.

Adult cow elk tend to show the most fidelity to their seasonal ranges, he added. They tend to use the same migration routes and same areas for summer range, winter range and calving areas.

There’s speculation the renewed presence of wolves has changed migration patterns, possibly causing herds to move less.

The study should help determine whether that’s true.

The study is overdue, Dingman said. So much has happened since the last studies was done. We have wolves and more grizzly bears than before.

The Yellowstone fires of 1988, more development and other changes have probably affected elk herds since previous studies, Dingman added.

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Jan 31

AK: Judge refuses to stop wolf-killing program

Judge refuses to stop wolf-killing program

By MARY PEMBERTON, Associated Press Writer

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – A judge denied a request Wednesday to put an immediate stop to an Alaska program that allows wolves to be shot from the air.

The request was made as part of a lawsuit filed by Defenders of Wildlife, The Alaska Wildlife Alliance and the Alaska chapter of the Sierra Club to stop the program operating in five areas of the state.

“We are disappointed that Alaska’s ill-advised aerial gunning program will continue before a complete examination of all the facts can take place,” Karla Dutton, director of the Alaska office of Defenders of Wildlife, a national group with more than 800,000 members, said in a statement.

The program, which has been the target of lawsuits since it began in 2003, is intended to boost moose and caribou numbers where residents have complained that predators are killing too many, leaving them too few to hunt for food.

Under the program, now in its fourth year, 580 wolves have been killed. The goal is to reduce wolf populations in each of the specified areas by as much as 80 percent annually. The program runs through April 30 with the best conditions for tracking wolves in February and March.

Superior Court Judge William Morse prefaced his ruling by explaining his job was not to give his opinion about the wolf control program. His role was to decide if there was cause to immediately stop the program.

“I am not here to rule on the wisdom of aerial wolf killing,” he said. “I have a limited role.”

Morse said his job was to weigh the potential for harm to each side. If the program was allowed to go forward, the real harm, would be to the individual wolves that will be killed, Morse said. While the program may hurt wolf packs, they can regenerate, he said.

“With time, the packs – gain strength,” Morse said.

But if Morse granted the preliminary injunction, the program would be set back, causing greater harm to the state, he said.

The judge also found that the way in which the wolf control regulations were adopted did not violate state procedure laws. Problems with the regulations were fixed as a result of previous court proceedings, he said.

Morse found that the state had devised the program as part of a game management plan that contained sufficient findings and criteria.

“You may disagree with them, but it is a thought-out program and there is an overriding management plan spelled out there,” the judge said.

Morse predicted the fight over wolves would eventually end up in the Alaska Supreme Court.

“I think this is a difficult issue in a very contentious area,” he said. “I realize this issue is not going away.”

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Jan 31

ID: Nez Perce Tribe welcomes delisting of Idaho wolves

Nez Perce Tribe welcomes delisting of Idaho wolves

LEWISTON, Idaho – Officials with the Nez Perce Tribe in northern Idaho say they support the federal government’s plans to remove wolves from the list of protected animals, and attribute much of the success of wolves in the state to the tribe’s wolf management efforts.

“Wolves are such a highly regarded species historically to our people,” Rebecca Miles, chairwoman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, told The Lewiston Tribune. “It’s a huge accomplishment by all the parties. We know it is time for delisting. In spite of any debate elsewhere, the tribe is very supportive of that effort.”

The Interior Department on Monday said it would like to remove about 1,200 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming from the endangered and threatened list within a year, making state and tribal governments responsible for keeping their numbers at healthy levels.

“The Nez Perce Tribe has been leading wolf management efforts from about the first time we put wolves back into north central Idaho, and they have been doing an outstanding job,” said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Billings, Mont.

Before wolves were reintroduced to Idaho in the mid-1990s, Idaho lawmakers passed a law forbidding the state Department of Fish and Game from taking part in management of wolves, in an effort to prevent wolves from entering the state.

But the Nez Perce Tribe volunteered to help with on-the-ground management and took a leading role in dealing with conflicts between wolves and humans.

“It is the only place we know of in the nation where a tribe has led the effort for recovery of a listed species on a statewide basis,” said Keith Lawrence, director of the tribe’s wildlife program.

Wildlife biologist Curt Mack began as a one-man field crew, but was joined by both tribal and nontribal members to help deal with and reduce conflicts between humans and wolves.

“We kind of knew the social end of it was going to be the largest primary challenge,” Mack said. “That is why we really started this thing from a grass roots kind of deal and really prioritized one-on-one working relationships with those individuals being affected by wolves.”

After Idaho signed an agreement with the federal government in 2005 to manage wolves, the tribe’s role was reduced. However, the tribe still monitors and helps manage wolves in the McCall area and Clearwater region of northern Idaho, which accounts for about half of the wolves in the state.

“The whole goal of the Endangered Species Act was to get to this point,” said Miles. “We are really focused on that, and the long-term management _ that will need to be carefully discussed in the future.”

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Jan 31

ID: The Big Bang

The Big Bang

Boise’s first hearing on wolf delisting is March 6

BY SHEA ANDERSEN

Idaho’s rugged mountains may be the only thing that keeps hunters and state wildlife operatives from shooting hundreds of wolves in the Gem State.

“There’s not going to be mass slaughter,” said Cal Groen, the newly-minted director of Idaho Fish and Game. “They’re a cunning animal. I’m sure it’s going to be very difficult.”

Nonetheless, Groen said he and his agency, working with hunters across the state, seem ready to try.

The announcement Monday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was going to begin the year-long process of removing grey wolves from the federal Threatened and Endangered Species list in Idaho, Montana and parts of Wyoming, started plenty of speculation about what an authorized hunt might look like.

First, the price: For a mere $26.50, an Idaho hunter with a hunting license can peg a wolf. That’s the number proposed by the state Fish and Game Commission. The price, and the season, would first have to be authorized by the Legislature.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has already said he’ ready to shoot a wolf (BW, News, “Fire When Ready,” January 24, 2007). He also said he’d like to get the Idaho wolf population down from 650 to about 100, a number below which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would likely re-list the wolf.

“From a manager’s viewpoint, that’s too thin,” Groen said. “We want a margin of safety.”

Second, the timeline. Because the de-listing process is a long and arduous one, involving a lengthy public comment period with potential for lawsuits, would-be wolf hunters will have to wait. Groen said he expected the process to take a year as planned.

As to where hunters might be sent to find targets, the Fish and Game’s large carnivore manager Steve Nadeau said he expects to concentrate hunting in seven so-called “high conflict” areas, such as the Copper Basin near Mackay, where he said wolves caused problems with livestock.

“We had wolf problems there even when we only had 100 wolves,” Nadeau said. “We will be aggressive in some areas.”

The news dismayed conservationists.

“Today should be a day of celebration and recognition of the commitment our nation has made to the recovery of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains,” said Rodger Schlickeisen from Defenders of Wildlife. “But instead, we must sound the alarm bells because, with one stroke of a pen, the Bush administration has announced they plan to hand over management of gray wolves to states whose main goal is to exterminate wolves.”

Boise’s first public hearing on the matter is March 6, at the Centre on the Grove at 850 W. Front St. Officials will present the plan from 3 to 5 p.m., then take public comments from 6 to 8 p.m.

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Jan 31

WY: House panel reverses on wolf bill

House panel reverses on wolf bill

By KATHLEEN MILLER
Associated Press writer

CHEYENNE — A House committee reversed itself Monday and approved a bill that would enable the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to use aerial hunting methods and grant permits for private landowners to kill wolves threatening their property.

The House Travel Committee voted 5-4 during a morning meeting to reject the measure, but legislative leaders asked the committee to reconsider during a lunch recess.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Terry Cleveland presented the bill to the committee that outlined the aggressive wolf management tactics and called for the use of GPS monitoring devices on gray wolves. Travel Committee Chairman Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, sponsored the bill, which would cost the state an estimated $2.4 million.

“It’s gonna take a significant amount of time and resources to monitor, to track, and in some cases to do conflict resolution with these wolves,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland added that he thought the use of aerial hunting was absolutely necessary to guarantee effective wolf management. “The only tool that we have today to control wolf populations that they didn’t have 100 years ago is aircraft,” Cleveland said.

Two committee members switched their vote during the noon recess to move the bill to the House floor for discussion.

Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, said he opposed the bill during the morning vote because he thought it was “poorly formulated,” but that he switched his vote because “there is an overarching need to have a bill in place so that we can deal with the wolf settlement if one comes.”

“If this committee kills the bill, then we extinguish any mechanism to approve a wolf settlement in the House of Representatives, and I don’t want to do that,” Brown said.

The bill passed within minutes of an announcement that federal officials were removing gray wolves in the Great Lakes region from the endangered species list and seeking to do the same for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies. In Wyoming, the removal is contingent on a state wolf management plan being approved.

“I felt after further consideration that (the bill) probably deserved debate on the floor,” Rep. Jim Slater, R-Laramie, said. “This is just a placeholder bill, and if it doesn’t come up right, there’ll be plenty of debate to kill it.”

A dispute between Wyoming and federal officials over wolf management has been stewing for the past few years and has prevented removing wolves from Endangered Species Act protections in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The federal government in 2004 rejected the state’s original wolf plan, and the state has filed a lawsuit, now pending in federal court, over the issue.

In its original plan, Wyoming had proposed allowing state Game and Fish officials to adjust the size of a trophy wolf management area around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Outside that area, the state proposed wolves be classified as predators that could be shot on sight.

Late last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service informally proposed designating a permanent wolf area that would extend from Cody south to Meeteetse, around the western boundary of the Wind River Indian Reservation down to Pinedale, west to the Alpine area and then back north to Yellowstone National Park. The state would manage wolves in that area as trophy game; animals outside would be classified as predators.

At the morning committee meeting, representatives of sportsmen groups said they supported the House bill, but reserved the right to withdraw support if it changes during the legislative process.

“The one thing that the bill is lacking is the ability to protect the wildlife that the sportsmen of this state place a high value on,” said Bob Wharf, representative of Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

Some told the House Committee they opposed the bill and wished the measure went even further.

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said he was glad the measure included language that would allow private landowners to kill wolves who were harming their private property.

“But we wish it also allowed language that would permit property owners to kill wolves to protect their livestock wherever its allowed to graze, even if the livestock’s owner does not own that property,” Magagna said.

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