Jul 31

MA: Coyote hunting season extended

Coyote hunting season extended

By STAN FREEMAN

HADLEY – The state wildlife board voted unanimously today to lengthen the hunting season for Eastern coyotes by about five weeks.

Weighing strong public opposition and support for the measure, the seven-member board also placed Eastern coyotes on the list of problem animals that licensed animal control agents are now allowed to remove from a property when certain conditions, which are still to be determined, are met.

Although the number of coyotes is believed to be growing in the state and complaints about them are increasing, the measure was taken not to control their population but to “enhance opportunities” for people to hunt coyotes, wildlife officials said.

In fact, “The proposed hunting season will neither decrease nor increase the population,” Thomas O’Shea, the assistant director of wildlife for the State Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, told the board.

Once coyotes have filled a territory, as they have in Massachusetts, they react to hunting pressures and changes in food availability by having more or fewer young, whatever is needed to maintain population stability, he said.

The board voted to lengthen the hunting season for coyotes so that it will run from the Monday after Columbus Day – which falls on Oct. 13 this year – through March 8, including the two-week shotgun season for deer immediately after Thanksgiving. The current hunting season for coyote runs from Nov. 1 until the end of February, but excludes the deer-hunting season.

Eastern coyotes first appeared in Massachusetts in the 1950s. It’s believed western coyotes, which have long been common in that region, migrated into Canada, bred with wolves there, and the resulting hybrid began to move into the U.S. Northeast in the 1930s. Eastern coyotes are larger than their western cousins, typically weighing 30 to 45 pounds. It is believed there are 3,000 to 8,000 coyotes in Massachusetts and that they have now saturated the state, filling all suitable habitat.

Coyotes are known to take domestic cats and small dogs for food, but being sly and elusive, they rarely attack or are aggressive toward humans.

Joseph S. Larson of Pelham, a board member, said that following two contentious public hearings this spring about the proposed change to the coyote hunting season, he and other members were inundated with e-mails and written reactions from citizens.

“It was an interesting pattern of responses. From Western Massachusetts … There were very few responses,” even though coyotes are common in the region, he said.

“From Central Massachusetts, there were somewhat more. The vast majority of responses came from Eastern Massachusetts … especially from inside (Route) 128,” Larson said.

Both the most vehement opposition and support for the changes came from Eastern Massachusetts, he said, with some condemning the increased hunting and others saying “all of the coyotes should be shot.”

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Jul 31

CT: Monroe wolf visit raises awareness

Monroe wolf visit raises awareness

TONY SPINELLI

Connecticut Post Online

Some thought it was apropos. A wolf, whose female handler said she gets comments because her surname is Howell, was brought to Monroe’s Wolfe Park on Monday for an afternoon children’s program at the Rotary Pavilion off Cutler’s Farm Road.

At 85 pounds, with white fur and bright yellow eyes alive with curiosity, Atka, a 5-year-old male Arctic gray wolf, transfixed the crowd with his resemblance to a dog with much larger paws and longer fur.

And he didn’t eat anybody’s grandma.

“You know, we hear stories about wolves: ‘The Three Little Pigs,’ ‘The Big Bad Wolf.’ You know, the wolf that eats your grandmother. Wolves are actually very shy,” said Maggie Howell, managing director of the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, N.Y.

Howell arrived with Genny Lawson and Rebecca Bose, a team of handlers from the conservation center.

“I raised Atka from when he was a few weeks old,” said Bose, who led the wolf on a gleaming steel chain.

“He’s not like a pet dog, though,” Bose said.

Atka is one of four ambassador wolves at the center, whose mission is to make educational visits and raise awareness about the endangered wolves of the lower 48 states.

Atka is an Arctic wolf and his kind are plentiful, Bose said, but his lupine brethren in the lower 48 states, such as the red wolf, are in short supply.

Wolves were common throughout North America until the European settlers began driving them out, Howell said.

“Wolves started disappearing with European settlement,” she said.

Today, there are fewer than 400 Mexican gray wolves and fewer than 300 red wolves remaining in the world, according to information provided by the wolf center.

Both species were extinct in the wild until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working under the Endangered Species Act, reintroduced Mexican gray wolves and red wolves to portions of their historic habitat.

It could take another 20 years for the wolves to recover, according to the center.

For the crowd attending the Recreation Department-sponsored show in Wolfe Park, it was an educational visit.

“Yes, it’s the first time a wolf has been to Wolfe Park,” said Ron Wallisa, the town’s recreation director. The next show is boy magician named Jonathan Jacques, set for 12:30 p.m. Aug. 20.

“We thought it would be something different, and it’s educational because the wolf center does a lot of work with wolves,” Wallisa said.

Many of the children made howling sounds when they watched Atka sniff his way around the park. He pricked his ears as if he was listening for the source of the howls.

“Wolves can hear each other howl from more than 10 miles away,” Howell said.

Some of the visitors had never seen yellow eyes.

“I’ve only seen wolves in the zoo until now,” said 11-year-old Lauren Ceriello, of Monroe, who came to the park with her mother, Kim, and friend, 11-year-old Audrey Vogel.

“My daughter is an animal lover, so we had to come today,” said Kim Ceriello, who was just as excited to see a wolf up close.

It was a learning experience.

“I learned about how they live,” Vogel said.

In the wild, Atka would be considered an old-timer. Wolves, if they survive their first year, face a life of danger and often die within five years, Howell said.

Wolves live much longer in captivity because they have medical care and are fed regularly, Howell said.

“He doesn’t eat every day, though. He eats every couple of days,” she said.

And he prefers seasonal foods.

“He may go for a deer leg,” she said.

The hot July afternoon was a bit warm for Atka, though. His subspecies comes from the Arctic, where it takes two coats of fur to get through the winter.

“He is comfortable in 80 degrees below zero,” Howell said of Atka’s luxuriant white fur.

To learn more about wolves, visit the Wolf Conservation Center’s Web site at www.nywolf.org.

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Jul 31

WA: Public wolf scoping meeting in Twisp seeks comment on state’s management plans

Public wolf scoping meeting in Twisp seeks comment on state’s management plans

A public meeting is planned for 7-9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20, at the Methow Valley Community Center, Twisp, for public comment on gray wolf management in Washington.

The scoping meeting is one of several scheduled April 14-23 by the state Department of fish and Wildlife for an 18-member citizen working group that is advising the department on development of a draft wolf management plan.

Comment also will be taken by the department in writing through Aug. 31.

This public comment opportunity is intended to ensure that we receive a full range of citizen views as we develop a conservation and management plan for the gray wolf, said Rocky Beach, wildlife diversity manager.

While the state will not re-introduce wolves, the species is expected to re-establish in Washington on its own as wolf numbers increase in neighboring states and Canada, according to the department.

To prepare for return of wolves, the working group has been meeting since early this year. It includes representatives from the livestock and timber industries, conservation groups, local government, hunters and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts, according to the department.

Additional public comment will be taken on the draft plan when it is completed next year.

The eventual wolf management plan is expected to address gray wolf population objectives, wolf-livestock conflict resolution, wolf-game species interactions, wolf-human interactions and other issues, say department officials.

Other public meetings, all running from 7-9 p.m., are planned at:

– Clarkston – Aug. 14, at the Clarkston Center of Walla Walla Community College.

– Spokane – Aug. 15, at Mount Spokane High School.

– Yakima – Aug. 16, at the Ahtanum Youth Park barn facility (parking fee waived for meeting attendees).

– Sequim – Aug. 21, at the Guy Cole Convention Center in Carrie Blake Park.

– Bellingham – Aug. 22, at Whatcom Community College.

– Vancouver – Aug. 23, at the Water Resources Education Center.

Written public comments will be taken by mail or e-mail through the end of August as part of the development of an environmental impact statement for the wolf plan under the State Environmental Policy Act.

Comments will be taken through Aug. 31 by e-mail to SEPAdesk@dfw.wa.gov (include Wolf Plan Scoping and commenter name in e-mail subject line) or by mail to Wolf Plan Scoping, SEPA Desk-Habitat Division, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia 98501-1091.

Although gray wolves were largely eradicated in Washington by the 1930s, sightings have increased since federal recovery efforts were initiated in Idaho and Montana in the mid-1990s, according to the department.

Success of those efforts has prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose removing gray wolf populations from the federal list of endangered species in three states and parts of four other states, including Washington.

The state plan will address wolf management in Washington after the species is removed from the federal list of endangered species.

Since the gray wolf also is designated as a state endangered species in Washington, the plan must identify population objectives and appropriate conservation and management strategies, according to the department.

If gray wolves are de-listed by the federal government, the main difference will be that Washington and other western states will have the primary responsibility for managing their wolf populations, Beach said. We need to prepare for that possibility by developing a conservation and management plan that works for people and wildlife.

Once a draft wolf conservation and management plan is developed next year, additional public review opportunities will be offered, say department officials. The final plan is expected to be complete by June 30, 2008.

More information is at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/diversty/soc/gray_wolf/index.htm

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Jul 31

ID: Can wolves and sheep coexist here?

Can wolves and sheep coexist here?

IDFG considering whether to kill off Phantom Hill wolf pack

by JASON KAUFFMAN

Raising her handheld radio telemetry receiver above her head just before nightfall on Monday, Cindi Hillemeyer scanned the surrounding hills of the Smoky Mountains for a sign of the elusive Phantom Hill wolf pack.

The objective of the 35-year-old’s search was the steady ping, ping, ping that would signify the presence of one of the recently discovered pack’s two radio collared animals. The individual frequency emitted by each radio collar not only indicates a wolf’s position, but also its direction of travel.

Despite being a practiced hand at radio telemetry, Hillemeyer didn’t have much luck picking up the trail of the two wolves. The silence emanating from her receiver suggested the pack was likely roaming too far away from her position in the Douglas fir and aspen-covered hills of lower Baker Creek. Biologists with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game confirmed the existence of the pack, its den site and the presence of three wolf pups in June.

Behind Hillemeyer, upwards of 500 sheep grazed contentedly as the 11-year resident of the valley continued to scan the mix of meadow and forest.

“Hey sheep,” she called to the band in a friendly tone.

Despite the lack of success, Hillemeyer said the wolf pack was likely still somewhere nearby, perhaps behind one of the ridges to the south. On her drive north from Ketchum to Baker Creek less than an hour earlier, Hillemeyer had picked the telltale pings from both radio-collared wolvesthe pack’s alpha male and its sub-adult femalefrom a roadside pullout along state Highway 75. Based on repeated tracking of the wolf pack this summer, Hillemeyer and Fish and Game biologists have confirmed the pack’s home range is centered on both sides of the upper Wood River Valley in the Smoky and Boulder mountains.

A volunteer with Fish and Game, Hillemeyer has spent much of her summer tracking the movements of the wolf pack in an attempt to keep them away from grazing sheep. Along with her Fish and Game-issued radio telemetry receiver, she also carries a single-barrel shotgun along with non-lethal rubber bullets to scare wolves that may venture too close to sheep.

Hillemeyer’s solitary task is a tall order, especially given the six-member wolf pack’s expansive home range roughly coincides with several federal sheep grazing allotments in the upper Wood River Valley.

While at least one local sheep producerHailey-based Lava Lake Land and Livestockelected to remove sheep from its grazing allotments earlier this summer after the pack was discovered, other grazers have chosen not to. One of those sheep ranchersJohn Faulkner, of Gooding-based Faulkner Land and Livestock Co.began to lose some of his sheep to wolf depredations on July 10 and 12. The sheep-killing incidents didn’t end there.

Both Hillemeyer and Fish and Game’s large carnivore manager, Steve Nadeau, confirmed Monday that the wolf pack has continued to stay in close proximity to Faulkner’s bands and have been involved in repeated sheep killings. Such incidents are the reason Hillemeyer has spent numerous days and nights alone in the field monitoring the movements of the Phantom Hill wolves.

The killings are also why Nadeau is giving serious consideration to the pack’s continued existence. The option to kill off the pack was never out of the realm of possibility, he said Monday.

“It’s always been in the cards,” he said.

During an interview by telephone, Nadeau said a determination about whether agents with the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services would be called on to kill off the pack could happen soon. He said the decisionwhich is largely his to makewould be based in part on a detailed tally of Faulkner’s sheep that was to take place Monday evening in the Baker Creek area.

During Monday’s sheep count, lambs from the band were loaded onto out-of-state-bound trucks, while the adult ewes remained on-site and were joined by additional sheep.

Sheepherders looking after Faulkner’s sheep have reported continued losses throughout the past few weeks, Nadeau said.

“They continue to pluck away sheep,” he said.

In all, a total of 17 sheep depredationsthree or four of which were black bear-relatedwere confirmed by Faulkner’s livestock manager on Monday, Hillemeyer said. An additional 29 sheep also came up missing, but the cause of those losses isn’t known, she said.

While Hillemeyer isn’t entirely opposed to removing wolves involved in livestock depredations “it’s obvious in some situations that it has to happen”she does think more can be done to avoid such actions. As the only volunteer in the valley working to keep wolves and sheep separate, Hillemeyer said communication between state and federal agencies on how to better prevent sheep depredations by wolves could be greatly improved.

Hillemeyer said her work has been repeatedly stymied by the lack of information she’s received concerning where the sheep bands are grazing at particular times. Because of this, she’s had to work even harder to locate the sheep grazing on Sawtooth National Forest land.

What’s really needed, Hillemeyer said, is a stronger focus on instituting non-lethal methods to keep sheep and wolves separate. These can include putting sheep in protective electric-wire enclosures at night and placing more guard dogs with sheep bandsmeasures some sheep grazers have instituted with success, she said.

“I feel like that could shape a future for coexistence,” Hillemeyer said.

In response to a comment Nadeau made on Monday concerning the temporary nature of such non-lethal measures, she said the same can be said for killing off wolf packs without first trying to encourage them to stay away from sheep. Just as generations of wolves can learn bad habits like preying on sheep, so too can they learn to avoid sheep, she said.

“If the efforts aren’t made how can you justify it (killing wolves)?” she asked.

Spending nights in the mountains alone is the least she can do, Hillemeyer said. She said she’s never been able to sit back and let others do what needs to be done.

“It’s a really easy solution to a conflict,” she said. “I enjoy the challenge of it.”

If given the opportunity, many people would want to volunteer their time as she has, she also suggested. “I would like to see more effort put forth. More could be done.”

By late afternoon Tuesday, information about whether the Phantom Hill pack was definitely marked for extermination was unavailable. Check the Idaho Mountain Express Web site at www.mtexpress.com for continued coverage of this ongoing issue.

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Jul 30

WA: Gray wolves are coming; state plans to be ready

Gray wolves are coming; state plans to be ready

By Craig Welch
Seattle Times environment reporter

Even after scouring muddy logging roads for tracks and dousing the ground with canine urine, Scott Fisher didn’t get his hopes up.

The state biologist was sure that finding one of the West’s most mysterious predators skulking about the forests of Pend Oreille County in northeastern Washington would, as usual, prove elusive.

But late last month Fisher flipped open his laptop and downloaded pictures from a camera he had hung from a tree. There on the first frame were two eyes buried in a puff of dark fur.

A gray wolf.

“We weren’t surprised it was there, just that we caught it on camera,” said Fisher, a biologist with the Washington Department of Natural Resources. “It’s so much better to be lucky than good.”

Though Fisher’s photo wasn’t definitive, several experts agree it was probably a wild wolf, wandering through from Idaho or Montana. And it’s certainly not the first evidence that wolves have been traipsing through the Evergreen State.

But state officials say it’s a reminder that it’s only a matter of time before Canis lupis eventually makes its way back to Washington for good. With the federal government now slowly moving toward removing the gray wolves of the Rocky Mountains from the endangered-species list, state officials have been making plans to manage the predators when they finally take up residence here.

“The message is that wolves are in their pre-colonization stage,” said Rocky Beach, who oversees nongame animals for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“We’ve had several wolves make forays into the state. We’re getting more reports of wolves, both anecdotally and from our own people. They haven’t set up shop and started making packs. But they’re coming.”

Legitimate sightings

Though wolf experts say some wolf reports are probably false, state biologists believe legitimate sightings have been increasing for several years. But they can’t be sure.

“We interview loggers or hunters or hikers, and they all say they’ve been seeing wolves all winter,” said Steve Zender, another wildlife-department biologist. “I don’t dispute that. They see tracks, I’ve seen tracks, but they could be wolf-dog hybrids.”

Ed Bangs, who oversees wolf recovery for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, cautions: “People are suggestible. If you went to Arkansas and said, ‘Let me know if you see any wolves,’ you’d get plenty of calls.”

And Bangs said it could be a year  or 10  before a breeding pack sets up house in Washington.

“Please, no one equate a picture of one wolf to mean you’re going to have packs right away,” he stressed.

“Until you have a breeding pair, it’s highly entertaining, very interesting, but biologically meaningless. Once you get a real wolf pack, you can’t keep it a secret: There will be mobs with torches running through the streets on both sides.”

That’s why state officials are preparing now.

Polarizing issue

Wolves were eliminated from the West 70 years ago by hunters and trappers who regarded them as dangerous pests that threatened livestock and people, though there has never been a documented case of a wild wolf killing a human in the United States.

Environmentalists say wolves have gotten a bad rep, and are actually an important part of a healthy wild food chain. Federal efforts to return the species to Idaho, Montana and Yellowstone National Park have been wildly successful. More than 600 wolves now reside in Idaho alone.

But the creatures still evoke powerful reactions. Some ranchers angrily predict the animals will kill their livestock. Idaho Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter recently said he hoped hunters would cull the state’s wolf population to 100, and that he wanted to shoot one himself.

With that mood, some environmentalists fear loss of federal protection will result in renewed extirpation of the species.

In a wolf pack, only the dominant pair mates. That leaves younger wolves to roam to new areas  sometimes hundreds of miles  in search of prey and mates. So Washington biologists presume some wolves will come to permanently settle the Blue Mountains of southeast Washington, and Pend Oreille County, where Fisher’s camera captured the visitor.

In Washington, a group of state officials, hunters, ranchers, environmentalists and biologists have just begun discussing how Washington might sustain a wolf population that can coexist with people. A series of public meetings is planned later this year. Officials expect interest to be high.

“Of all of the issues I’ve dealt with  from killer whales to butterflies  this is certainly the most polarizing,” Beach said. “No one is ambivalent.”

Say cheese

Meanwhile, biologists including Fisher and Zender are hoping to learn how many wolves are wandering the northeast part of the state.

Zender stashed cameras off dirt roads and drainages in the Colville National Forest, and has captured two partial images of a gray and white canine  one sniffing the ground, the other walking away.

Fisher set up his cameras 10 miles away, on state trust land. Two days later, it made the convincing photographs. Biologists think the pictures all show the same animal.

By themselves, the pictures do little to advance the understanding of wolves in Washington. But if cameras later capture a different wolf, it may help biologists gauge whether there is a mating pair here, the first real sign that wolves are back.

That possibility is why the state is right to plan now, Bangs said.

“Once you get the first wolf killing a senator’s calf, that’s not the time to be discussing what to do,” he said.

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Jul 27

Wolves help Yellowstone trees recover

Wolves help Yellowstone trees recover

Study finds they strike fear in grazing elk  and reduce their numbers

By Corey Binns
LiveScience

The return of the Yellowstone wolf has elks shaking in their hooves, and that’s good news for the national park’s young aspen trees.

During the wolf’s 70-year-long absence from the park as a result of being killed off by humans, elk were free to roam, reproduce and feed on the small aspen shoots. A new study finds the elk’s fear and reduced population  both of which have been driven by the reintroduction of wolves begun in 1995  have improved the aspen’s chance of survival.

“This is really exciting, and its great news for Yellowstone,” said William Ripple of the Oregon State University College of Forestry. “Weve seen some recovery of willows and cottonwood, but this is the first time we can document significant aspen growth, a tree species in decline all over the West. Weve waited a long time to see this, but now were optimistic that things may be on the right track.”
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Ripple and colleagues discovered that a significant number of aspen trees in the past decade have reached heights of more than 7 feet. That’s a key long-term survival point, because it places tree crowns high enough to keep them safe from browsing by elks.

No survivors earlier

In contrast, no new trees were found surviving animal browsing from the 1920s to the early 1990s, when wolf packs were absent in Yellowstone.

The most impressive aspen comeback has occurred near streams and gullies in the northern part of the park. In these areas, wolves easily sneak up on elk and the terrain makes it difficult for elk to escape. The research team suggests elk are now avoiding these areas, allowing aspen shoots there to grow into adulthood.

The scientists refer to this overall return to balance as “the ecology of fear.” Their previous research has shown predators such as wolves and cougars strike fear into their prey and affect animal behavior and the surrounding environment.

“We did not document nearly as much [aspen] recovery in upland areas, at least so far, where elk apparently feel safer,” Ripple said. “But even there, aspen are growing better in areas with logs or debris that would make it more difficult for elk to move quickly.”

Fewer elk helps, too

Ripple also attributes the aspen’s success to lower numbers of elk in the park. Since wolves have returned to Yellowstone, elk populations have declined steadily. Yet, the elk population is larger today than it was in the mid-1960s, when aspen trees were still in decline and wolves were still absent.

The researchers say this evidence suggests the fear felt by elk may be just as much of an influence, or even more of one, on aspen tree growth than elk population decline.

Equipped with a better understanding of this Yellowstone success story, scientists hope to improve the future of aspen trees outside of the national park’s borders.

“The issue of aspen decline in the American West is huge, and their recovery will depend on local conditions and issues in many areas,” Ripple said. “In northern Yellowstone, we finally have some good news to report.”
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Jul 27

Comments mixed on wolf rule proposal

Comments mixed on wolf rule proposal

Changes to 10(j) rule would allow dog owners to kill wolves attacking their pets

by JASON KAUFFMAN

Gray wolves roaming across a portion of the northern Rocky Mountain tri-state region of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming could be killed for an increasing number of reasons under a plan the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now considering.

Under the proposal, the federal 10(j) rule would be expanded to allow wolves to be killed for depredations on stock animals and dogs, and to achieve wildlife management objectives.

The controversial rule, which was first published in the Federal Register in 2005 and applies to areas south of U.S. Interstate 90 in Idaho and Montana, for now only allows wolves attacking livestock and herding and guarding animals to be killed under specific circumstances.

For the existing rule as well as the proposed new changes to apply in Wyoming, the state would have to produce a wolf management plan the Fish and Wildlife Service deems acceptable. The agency is now in the process of considering a new plan that Wyoming has drafted.

Under the proposed changes to the 10(j) rule, the rule would further allow the shooting of wolves that attack dogs on public and private land. The rule change would also make it easier for states having Fish and Wildlife Service-approved wolf management plans in place to kill wolves in areas where ungulate populations are not meeting the state’s management objectives.

As the 10(j) rule now exists, states must prove that wolves are having an unacceptable impact on ungulate populations to be able to remove them by lethal means. In the 2005 rule, unacceptable impact is defined as a “decline in a wild ungulate population or herd, primarily caused by wolf predation.”

Under the proposed new wolf rule unacceptable impact would be redefined to mean an “impact to a wild ungulate population or herd, with wolves as one of the major causes of the population or herd not meeting established state or tribal population or herd management goals.”

In the existing wolf rule, “we set a threshold that has not provided the intended flexibility to allow states and tribes to resolve conflicts between wolves and ungulate populations,” the Fish and Wildlife Service states in its notice in the Federal Register proposing the changes to the 10(j) rule.

At public hearing in Boise on Thursday, July 19, representatives from the federal agency listened to comments ranging from enthusiastic support all the way to downright hostility for the plan. The hearing was the last of three open houses held in different locations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The previous two hearings were held in Cody, Wyo., on Tuesday, July 17, and Helena, Mont., on Wednesday, July 18.

In Boise, comments seemed to be split fairly evenly between the “for” and “against” camps.

Voicing support for the proposed changes during the Boise meeting was Steve Nadeau, the large carnivore manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. More importantly, however, Nadeau said the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to continue along the path to full delisting of the gray wolf in Idaho, Montana and Idaho.

“Delisting is not as some would have you believethe end of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains,” he said.

Rather, Nadeau said it’s a reflection that wolves are here to stay.

The states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming can not continue to have denser and denser wolf populations, Nadeau said. More wolves will mean more wolf-human conflicts.

“It’s time to demystify wolves,” he said. “Let’s get on with it.”

Standing in stark contrast to the views expressed by Nadeau was Suzanne Stone, the Northern Rockies representative of Defenders of Wildlife, which has dolled out thousands to ranchers whose herds were preyed on by wolves.

For the most part, elk populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are at or above population objectives state fish and game managers have established, Stone said.

“These changes are clearly unnecessary,” she said. “We strongly oppose changes to the 10(j) rule.”

Although the Fish and Wildlife Service will not hold any more public hearings on the proposed 10(j) rule changes, the agency will continue to take written comments by regular mail and email until Aug. 6, 2007. To mail comments, send them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, Mont., 59601. E-mailed comments can be sent to WolfRuleChange@fws.gov. Include “RIN number 1018-Av39″ in the subject line of the email message.

A decision on the wolf rule change could happen as early as late 2007 or early 2008.

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Jul 27

Wolves bring aspens back to Yellowstone

Wolves bring aspens back to Yellowstone

CORVALLIS, Ore., July 27 (UPI) — U.S. researchers said the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park has allowed aspen trees to grow there for the first time in decades.

A study published in the journal Biological Conservation says “the ecology of fear” is keeping elk from eating aspen shoots.

The young trees are the first in Yellowstone’s northern range in more than 50 years, Oregon State University said Friday in a release.

Researchers said elk populations have shown a steady decline since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park in 1995. The presence of a natural predator appears to have altered the behavior of the remaining elk, which tend to avoid browsing in areas in which they feel most vulnerable.

“This is really exciting, and it’s great news for Yellowstone,” said William Ripple, a professor in the Oregon State University College of Forestry. “We’ve seen some recovery of willows and cottonwood but this is the first time we can document significant aspen growth, a tree species in decline all over the West. We’ve waited a long time to see this but now we’re optimistic that things may be on the right track.”

Source

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Jul 27

Environmental groups seek to invalidate N.M. county wolf law

Environmental groups seek to invalidate N.M. county wolf law

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal court has been asked to strike down an ordinance that asserts Catron County’s right to trap wild Mexican gray wolves that the county deems a threat to people.

“The U.S. Constitution says federal law trumps state and local law when the two deal with the same issue,” Melissa Hailey, an attorney for Forest Guardians, said Friday.

The Santa Fe-based environmental group and Sinapu, a Boulder, Colo.-based carnivore activist group, sued the county commissioners Thursday in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe.

The lawsuit alleges the county ordinance violates the federal Endangered Species Act and that the ordinance is invalid.

The lawsuit seeks a court order halting the commission from taking any further action under the ordinance.

“Pragmatically, we’re trying to remove this looming threat from the county that they’re going to go out and harm wolves,” Hailey said. “Very few are left on the ground and they’re already being aggressively managed by the federal government.”

Catron County Attorney Ron Shortes said the county had not been served with the lawsuit, but called it “a gross misrepresentation made in bad faith which distorts the facts and law.”

“These organizations aren’t suffering from the problems with the wolf program _ we here in Catron County are,” Shortes said. “Even the wolves here are suffering more from this poorly managed program than the Forest Guardians and Sinapu are.”

Bill Aymar, county manager, said, “My personal opinion is that these groups continue to try to turn the ESA (Endangered Species Act) into a super statute, and I just don’t see that,” Aymar said.

The commission voted unanimously Feb. 8 to adopt the ordinance that would allow a designated county officer to trap or remove the endangered wolves if federal authorities fail to act first.

The ordinance limits the trapping to wolves that are accustomed to people or have a high probability of harming children or defenseless people _ physically or psychologically.

The federal government has been reintroducing the wolves to the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area _ 4.4 million acres of the Gila and Apache Sitgreaves national forests in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona plus Arizona’s 1.6 million-acre White Mountain Apache reservation, interspersed with private land and towns.

The program began March 29, 1998, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 11 wolves that were bred in captivity.

The recovery area had 59 wolves as of January 2007, and that number has fluctuated with wolf deaths and removals and the births of pups, said Elizabeth Slown, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman in Albuquerque.

The agency conducts one count of wild wolves annually.

By the end of June, only 26 wolves could be located through radio telemetry, the lawsuit said.

The program has a three-strikes rule that requires the agency to remove any wolf linked to three livestock killings a year _ either by trapping and keeping it in captivity or by shooting it.

The agency fatally shot one of those three-strikes wolves _ an alpha female _ July 5 in Catron County.

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Jul 24

Colorado elk grew fearless with predator absence

Colorado elk grew fearless with predator absence

By RICK WEISS
Washington Post

Elk in Siberia that hear recorded calls of bears, tigers or wolves tend to cluster together, become vigilant and in many cases bolt in a near panic. Yet elk in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park that hear the recordings continue to graze with nonchalance.

A sign of American toughness?

Hardly. Rather, it is good scientific evidence that fear of predators is not hardwired into animals’ brains but is maintained by ongoing exposure to the risk posed by those predators.

The large carnivores that once attacked elk in Colorado have been gone for decades, and with those predators went the fear that once sent the elk fleeing.

Those findings, from research led by Joel Berger of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Teton Valley, Idaho, stand to help conservation biologists as they reintroduce predators such as wolves into areas where those animals have disappeared.

Berger conducted experiments in 19 areas around the world, including some where native predators of caribou, moose and elk  such as wolves, grizzly bears and Siberian tigers  remain in place, and others where those predators had been chased away or killed off years ago.

The results, published in an online issue of Conservation Biology, show not only that fear dissipates in the absence of predators but also that it returns in areas where the predators have been reintroduced  including Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, where wolf populations have been replenished at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.

The data is timely, scientists say, because plans are in the works to allow large numbers of wolves to be hunted in some U.S. areas where they were reintroduced.

The results suggest it may be important to keep those populations high enough so that prey species maintain proper vigilance levels.

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