Mar 31

SE: Smaller wolf packs implies inbreeding

Smaller wolf packs implies inbreeding


Roughly translated by TWIN Observer

The Scandinavian wolf population is having fewer pups, the same time as finding a bone change of the pups. According to Olov Liberg, docent in wild ecology at the regional university in Uppsala, who considers this is determined by inbreeding.

Despite that the number of wolves increasing steadily on the Scandinavian peninsula, the number of surviving pups decreased, from an average of 4.5 to 3.5 pups today.

The wolf population will continue to decrease the number of surviving pups, which consists of 200 individuals, out to 60 to 70 years and will be caused by inbreeding.

It has been determined that grown wolves have deformities now, despite that the pups which are born appear healthy who descend from three individuals which entered the Scandinavian peninsula 20 to 30 years ago.

Mindre vargkullar tyder på inavel

Den skandinaviska vargstammen får allt mindre antal valpar, detta samtidigt som det bland annat konstaterats skelettförändringar på valparna. Enligt Olov Liberg, docent i viltekologi på lantbruksuniversitetet i Uppsala, beror detta på inavel.

Trots att antalet vargar ökar stadigt på den skandinaviska halvön så minskar antalet överlevande valpar, från i genomsnitt 4,5 till idag 3,5 valpar.

Fortsätter överlevande valpar att minska är vargstammen, som idag består av 200 individer, borta om 60 till 70 år och orsaken är inavel.

Nu har det även konstaterats missbildningar hos vuxna vargar, trots att valparna som föds är till synes friska som härstammar från tre individer som invandrade för 20 till 30 år sen till skandinaviska halvön.

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Mar 31

Wolves Officially Off Endangered Species List

Wolves Officially Off Endangered Species List

USAgNet – 03/31/2008

After more than a decade of federal protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has removed gray wolves from the endangered species list.

Idaho, Montana and Wyoming will take over full management of the wolves as the USFWS ends a recovery effort that begun when wolves were first reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in the mid-1990′s. Currently, more than 1,500 wolves and at least 100 breeding pairs are present in the three states.

In Idaho, wildlife officials say no immediate changes will occur with delisting. In Montana, the change will give ranchers in the northern half of the state new authority to shoot wolves caught harassing or attacking livestock, a power already held by ranchers in the state’s southern half.

Wyoming will protect the wolf as a trophy species in the state’s northwestern corner and classify it as a predator species in the rest of the state. People will be able to kill wolves at any time and for any reason in the predator area.

Federal officials say that they expect the three states to maintain between 900 and 1,250 wolves for the foreseeable future. Each state has indicated that it will implement hunting seasons in the fall, with dates and harvest quotas to be set in the coming months.

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Mar 30

A Wolf Saved From Extinction but Snared in Politics

A Wolf Saved From Extinction but Snared in Politics

Deaths Due to Management Diminish Wild Population’s Genetic Diversity

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer

Ten years ago, almost to the day, Jamie Rappaport Clark walked through the snow in Arizona’s Apache National Forest to release 11 Mexican wolves into the wilderness. At the time, Clark directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and was confident she was beginning another successful effort to reintroduce wolves into the wild. Now, as executive vice president of the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, she is growing despondent about whether the experiment will succeed.

“I actually released those doggone dogs,” she recalled in a recent interview. “It’s so screwed up, it’s sad. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

The uncertainty surrounding the Mexican gray wolf, also known as el lobo, highlights the challenge of meshing conservation with politics. While biologists and zookeepers have saved the Mexican wolf, the most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America, federal managers are struggling to translate this success into a working recovery program in the field.

Mexican wolves, which once roamed in the Southwestern United States and Mexico, saw their numbers plummet as Americans moved West and Mexicans developed their land. In 1976 the wolves were placed on the endangered species list; four years later researchers estimated that there were fewer than 50 in four separated Mexican states, and these have now disappeared.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Fish and Wildlife Service paid a trapper named Roy McBride to capture several Mexican wolves south of the border. That group of five, which has expanded in captivity to more than 300, is the source of every Mexican wolf that now exists in the United States, posing a genetic challenge for biologists hoping to help the species recover.

“Anytime you have a bottleneck, a certain amount of genes are lost,” said John Oakleaf, Fish and Wildlife’s Mexican wolf field coordinator.

At first glance, there is no reason that Mexican wolves should not make the same sort of robust recovery that gray wolves have made in the northern Rockies. But the northern wolves have more than three times as much quality habitat as the wolves in the Southwest. And a trickier problem government officials face is that the politically influential ranching community in the Southwest has opposed the wolves’ reintroduction, and the officials, in seeking to accommodate those interests, have satisfied no one.

Early in the process, federal officials created what Oakleaf called “artificial boundaries where wolves can be present or not” — if a wolf goes beyond the official Blue Range Recovery Area, which spans 9,290 square miles, it is relocated. In addition, in 2005, Fish and Wildlife put into place “standard operating procedure 13.0,” which calls for the permanent removal of wolves that come into conflict with livestock.

As a result, federal officials have been taking wolves out of the recovery area even as they’ve been putting them in: Fish and Wildlife has released nearly 100 Mexican wolves over the past decade, but as of last year they had counted at least 117 as removed, roughly half of them because of conflicts with cattle. Others were counted as removed because they had died. At the end of 2006, Fish and Wildlife predicted that 102 wolves, including 18 breeding pairs, would live in the wild, but the most recent survey shows that the current group numbers 52, including just four breeding pairs.

“It’s like stocking a trout pond,” said Eva Sargent, who directs the Southwest program for Defenders of Wildlife. “It ain’t the wolves — they’re good at being wolves. It’s overzealous enforcement by the agency.”

Brian Millsap, Fish and Wildlife’s acting assistant director for ecological services in the Southwest, said that he and other officials recognize there are problems with the wolf-removal policy but that the phalanx of groups helping manage the species’ recovery — including the U.S. Forest Service, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, and New Mexico’s and Arizona’s Game and Fish departments — have not reached a consensus on what to do instead.

“What the right answer is, what’s the best approach to take, is not universally agreed to,” Millsap said.

While studies indicate that Mexican wolves get more than 80 percent of their sustenance from elk and deer, and a federal survey from 1998 to 2003 showed that the wolf population killed an average of four head of livestock a year, ranchers view them as a serious problem. Defenders of Wildlife compensates ranchers for verified wolf kills.

“I’d really like to see them gone,” said Barbara Marks, who chairs the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association’s wildlife committee and operates a cattle ranch with her husband that includes 225 acres of private property and 71,775 acres of public land. “In the middle of the night you wake up in a cold sweat when you hear your dogs barking, wondering if something’s wrong.”

In light of such opposition, federal officials say they need to remove problem wolves, without regard to whether they might be genetically valuable. While officials do not release into the wild any wolf that lacks a genetic duplicate in captivity, a number of scientists raising Mexican wolves in zoos argue that officials should declare a moratorium on killing the animals in the Blue Range Recovery Area because it is undercutting the wild population’s genetic diversity.

Although an independent scientific panel informed the Fish and Wildlife Service that the recovery area could easily support more than 250 wolves, and possibly as many as 468, the agency’s director, Dale Hall, said the continuing conflicts with livestock make him question the extent to which the population can expand beyond its current number.

But John Horning, executive director of the advocacy group WildEarth Guardians, said scientific findings have charted a clear path toward accomplishing the job Clark started a decade ago.

Instead, he said, “We are really facing the second extinction of the Mexican gray wolf in the wild.”

Source

Posted in Uncategorized
Mar 30

WA: Wolves remain protected in Washington

Wolves remain protected in Washington

OLYMPIA – Despite the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) action March 28 removing gray wolves from the federal endangered-species list in the eastern third of Washington state, the animals remain protected as a state endangered species throughout Washington.

Under state law (RCW 17.15.120) it is illegal to kill, harm or harass endangered species, including the gray wolf, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officials note.

However, individuals wishing to report a wolf sighting or suspected wolf depredation can contact WDFW’s wolf hotline at 1-888-584-9038.

A comprehensive webpage with information about wolves, depredation response and agency contact information is available on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/diversty/soc/gray_wolf/contacts.htm.

Friday’s federal action removed the northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves from the federal endangered-species list, including wolves in the eastern third of Washington state east of highways 97, 17 and 395 from the Canadian border to the Oregon border.

Extending the federal de-listing into Washington was based on the expected dispersal of wolves from recovered populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Wolves remain federally listed as an endangered species in the western two-thirds of the state.

“Today’s federal action means that in the eastern third of the state, WDFW is the lead for wolf management, including response to suspected wolf depredation of livestock,” said Harriet Allen, WDFW’s manager of threatened and endangered species, after the action Friday.

WDFW will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and the USFWS to investigate suspected wolf sightings, livestock depredations, or other problems, Allen said.

Where wolves are under federal protection, the private non-profit group Defenders of Wildlife funds compensation for livestock owners who have confirmed losses due to wolf depredation. There is currently no funding for losses to wolves where the species is not federally listed.

Establishment of a state compensation fund for confirmed wolf depredation could be included in a state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, which has been under development since January 2007. The plan is being developed in consultation with a 17-member citizen working group and is scheduled for completion by early 2009.

For more on the plan process, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/diversty/soc/gray_wolf/index.htm.

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Mar 30

Montana willing to share wolves with other states

Montana willing to share wolves with other states

By KARL PUCKETT

Tribune Staff Writer

The head of Montana’s wolf program said earlier this week that the state would be willing to trap and transplant wolves to other states if requested.

“We’re open to it,” said Caroline Sime of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, in response to criticism from some environmental groups that believe the wolf population in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho is not large enough to sustain itself.

Several groups have promised to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in April. They fear the population of 1,500 wolves in the Northern Rockies can’t be sustained under state management, which will allow producers to shoot wolves caught killing livestock and establishes a separate hunting season.

Jenny Harbine, an attorney with Earthjustice, one of 11 environmental groups that have said they plan to take legal action, said management will be a “whole different ballgame” under the state.

“We could see states really ramping up wolf killing immediately after delisting and the federal government, at that point, wouldn’t have the power to stop them,” she said.

Sime, who said that won’t happen in Montana, noted that a lot of effort was put into coming up with the definition of a recovered population.

During the recovery period, Montanans made sacrifices to restore the wolves to the landscape.

“If people are now talking about changing the goal posts, that would cause me some concern,” she said, referring to the goal population needed to consider the gray wolf to be recovered.

The state management plan states there must be a population of at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in Montana.

There are currently at least 420 wolves, 73 packs and 39 breeding pairs in the state and the population is increasing by 28 percent each year, according to the state’s numbers.

“Wolves are recovered,” Sime said.

If the true goal of the conservation groups is to have more wolves in more places, “Is that federal hammer the best way to do that?” Sime asked.

An alternative to using the federal Endangered Species Act, she said, is a state-led restoration of wildlife into historic habitat.

The state, she noted, has a long and successful history of trapping and transplanting wildlife to other states, including elk and bighorn sheep.

Source

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Mar 30

CO: WOLF sues to reverse ruling

WOLF sues to reverse ruling

By Dan MacArthur
North Forty News

Larimer County will challenge a lawsuit that contends it acted improperly in denying expansion of a Rist Canyon wolf-hybrid sanctuary.

The attorney representing Wolves Offered Life and Friendship on March 4 filed the complaint in Larimer District Court. It seeks reversal of the ruling, contending that the county commissioners acted arbitrarily and exceeded their authority.

County Attorney George Hass said the county is preparing a response to the suit. He estimated it would not be scheduled for a hearing until May or June.

“The commissioners relied upon incomplete and incorrect information in making their decision,” WOLF co-founder Frank Wendland stated in a press packet announcing the lawsuit.

“We have met every demand and done everything required of us for the past eight years, all without neighbor complaints,” he continued.

“All our enclosures are built to Division of Wildlife specifications, and our fences were approved by a county building inspector. We have established a fire evacuation plan that provides for the safety of humans first and establishes dens for the animals to ‘survive in place.’ Our track record is excellent, and most neighbors actually support our work.”

In 1994 Wendland and his wife Patricia Lanteri-Wendland purchased the 182-acre property to establish a refuge for wolf-dog hybrids. Under the conditions of their first special review, the refuge was limited to 30 animals distributed over five acres.

WOLF sought to modify those conditions to permit housing up to 60 animals over 30 acres. Following spirited testimony by supporters and opponents alike, the commissioners in February rejected that proposal in a 2-1 vote. Commissioners Kathay Rennels and Glenn Gibson were opposed, expressing reluctance to modify the original conditions and concerns about the difficult access in event of a fire.

Wendland said the expansion is essential to accommodate 18 wolf dogs rescued from squalid conditions in 2006. Those animals currently are housed in temporary quarters in Gilpin County. He maintained that WOLF is providing an invaluable service and should be supported in its request to use more of its land to house additional animals.

The overriding problem, according to Wendland, is the unregulated and increasing breeding of wolf-hybrids that are not suitable as pets and cannot be turned out into the wild.

“Misguided human beings bred them, and they certainly do not deserve to be killed just because they don’t fit neatly into our society,” he stated.

“Our overall mission is to put ourselves out of business,” Wendland insisted. “But in order to decrease the numbers of unwanted wolf-dogs in our country, laws must be passed to prevent people from breeding wolf-dogs. Until such laws are enacted and enforced, however, we as a society have an obligation to provide for their well-being.”

Wendland said he has contacted local legislators to sponsor a bill that would make it illegal to breed wolves to dogs in Colorado.

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Mar 30

MT: Wolves could start moving out of set recovery areas

Wolves could start moving out of set recovery areas

By Tribune Staff

Get ready to be surprised.

Wolves could show up anywhere in Montana.

“If wolves get there on their own, we could have wolves in the (Missouri) Breaks,” said Carolyn Sime, the state’s wolf program coordinator.

The “endangered” wolf recovery area, which expired Friday, included the entire length of Northern Montana to the North Dakota border, including the Missouri River Breaks — a wild country with plenty of elk and deer.

Whether wolves can survive in cattle country without their former federal protection is another question.

“We will remove depredating wolves from the population,” Sime said. “I think Montanans from all walks of life understand that.”

Wolves are well-enough established in the Northern Rockies now that they could begin appearing in areas where they haven’t been seen for decades, according to a 2007 report on wolves produced by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Montana wolf pack territories average about 200 miles in size, but can top 300 miles. Dispersal distances of individual wolves that set off on their own average 60 miles, but travels of more than 500 miles by individual animals have been documented.

“A 500-mile radius from any wolf pack in Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park or any pack in Western Montana would plausibly reach all the way to Montana’s eastern border,” the report states.

The average packs size in Montana was 5.5 animals between 1995 and 2006. The average pack size increased to 5.7 wolves in 2007.

Offspring usually disperse from the “natal pack” between the ages of 1 and 3.

Just 10 of Montana’s 73 wolf packs live strictly in backcountry wilderness. The majority of packs live in areas where mountainous terrain, intermountain valleys, and public and private land are intermixed, the report states.

The average pack territory is comprised of about 30 percent private land.

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Mar 30

MT: What’s next for Wolves? State pins hopes on public acceptance, program to compensate ranchers

What’s next for Wolves? State pins hopes on public acceptance, program to compensate ranchers

By KARL PUCKETT

Tribune Staff Writer

George Edwards doesn’t work for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the agency now in charge of managing wolves in the state.

But his work will play a large role in maintaining a viable wolf population in Montana by building public acceptance of the wolf, particularly in the ranching community, state officials said.

Edwards, who works for the Department of Livestock, is the state’s first livestock loss mitigation coordinator. Beginning next month, livestock producers will submit their financial claims to Edwards for animals hunted and killed by the state’s now thriving wolf population.

Wolves, which number more than 400 in Montana and 1,500 in the Northern Rockies, came off the federal endangered species list Friday, turning management over to the states.

The price tag for reimbursing ranchers, as well as funding guard dogs and other conflict prevention efforts, is expected to cost more than $200,000 annually. The money won’t just come from the state, as federal funding also will be sought. One of Edwards’ main jobs will be fundraising. Edwards noted that some of the state’s most prominent residents, such as cable TV mogul Ted Turner, will be asked to contribute.

Both those who argue that federal protections should have been removed from the wolf long ago, and those who say lifting them was premature, agree on one thing: For the wolf to survive under state management, it’s critical for the state to pay the bills of ranchers who pay the price for its return.

“This piece, needs to work for the overall wolf management plan to work,” Edwards said of the state’s new compensation program.

Throughout history, people have had a love-hate attitude toward wolves, said Carolyn Sime, the state’s wolf program coordinator.

It’s the goal of the state, she said, to prevent a pendulum swing in the other direction by keeping the wolf population from getting too large and compensating landowners who are making sacrifices to have wolves back.

“If people are not willing to live with wolves, they kill them,” she said.

Wolves sometimes are mistaken for coyotes or domestic dogs. But their striking physical characteristics — long legs, large feet, blocky heads and weight (males can weigh up to 130 pounds) — set them apart.

There’s no mistaking the historic attitudes toward them, either. As Europeans began settling the U.S., they poisoned, trapped and shot wolves, causing a once widespread species to be eradicated from most of its range in the Lower 48. They were gone from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, as well as adjacent southwestern Canada, by the 1930s.

“People hated them,” said Helena-based Ed Bangs, the wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, when the government announced in February that wolves were being delisted. “We came from areas from Europe that hated wolves.”

Values changed, and the wolf was given federal protection in 1974. At that time, only a few hundred wolves remained in Minnesota. Those animals were delisted as “threatened” last year.

Bangs came to Montana from Alaska in 1988, to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s effort to restore the “endangered” gray wolves in the West.

Recovery efforts first began in Canada in the 1960s. Wolves there began dispersing into Montana, with the first two packs denning in Glacier National Park and on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in the late 1980s.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves from Canada into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995.

With federal protection limiting human-caused mortalities, wolves flourished. Nobody was surprised. If mortality is kept in check, the number of wolves can more than double in just two years, officials said.

“Wolves are just pretty incredible animals,” Bangs said.

The cost of the wolf recovery effort in the Northern Rockies was $27 million. Bangs said he believes too much was spent, but says the public demanded it.

With the gray wolf delisted, five state field biologists in Helena, Bozeman, Kalispell and Missoula, including Sime, are now in charge of wolf management. A hunting season is planned for the fall, and ranchers can now kill wolves that are caught killing livestock.

Managing wolves will cost the state about $1 million a year, said Sime, who added that the state is hoping the federal government will help fund management efforts. Montana, she notes, is one of the few places in the country where Americans who called for restoring the wolf can see the animals.

“We’d like the American public to help,” she said.

Montana has been managing wolves, using federal guidelines, since 2004, so the transition between state and federal rules that began Friday will be “seamless,” Sime said.

What is new in the state’s wolf management effort are a seven-member Livestock Loss Reduction and Mitigation Board, and the role of Edwards, who will work closely with that board.

The price the state will pay for livestock animals killed by wolves kill be determined by how much they would have likely sold for at the Billings auction.

Under state management, USDA Wildlife Services will continue to verify whether wolves were responsible for losses. The size of the prey, tracks, and canine teeth marks are part of the forensic science conducted at a depredation scene.

Ranchers will get 100 percent compensation for both confirmed and probable losses. Under the old compensation program, which was privately run by the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, ranchers received 100 percent for confirmed kills and 50 percent for “probable” losses to wolves.

“There’s always losses that can’t be verified, and this program is supposed to help with that also,” said Elaine Allestad, chairwoman of the Livestock Loss Reduction and Mitigation Board.

Allestad, a Big Timber stock grower who has lost sheep and cattle to wolves and grizzlies, said the federal government should pay for the livestock losses.

“If they want (wolves) here, they should pay for the losses,” she said.

The state Legislature allocated $30,000 to fund reimbursements and created a $5 million trust fund.

But to date, that trust account is empty. The eventual goal is to build it up through private donations and use the interest to fund operations.

The basis behind the state’s program is the same idea Defenders of Wildlife had when it launched its compensation campaign in 1987: Sharing the responsibility for restoring wolves to the landscape while fostering greater tolerance for wolves in the ranching community.

“Compensation was a critical component of the program of wolf restoration,” said Suzanne Asha Stone, a Boise, Idaho-based wolf conservation specialist for Defenders of Wildlife. “It helped people overcome their fears and certainly overcome the financial risk of having wolves back.”

Over the last 21 years, Defenders of Wildlife doles out approximately $1 million to ranchers in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Defenders, which is discontinuing its compensation program in Montana but continuing it in other states, has pledged to contribute $100,000 to help Montana begin its program.

As the Montana program evolves, property damage losses as a result of wolves, such as broken fences and veterinarian bills for injured livestock, will be funded.

Money also will be made available for livestock producers to purchase guard dogs, hire range riders and install electric flags called fladry, which have shown promise in keeping wolves away from vulnerable livestock in pastures.

“If you just rely on lethal control, more wolves die, more livestock die,” said Stone, noting that Defenders of Wildlife spent $81,000 on conflict prevention efforts last year in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

Lane Adamson, the director of the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group, said range riders have been effective in monitoring summer grazing operations threatened by wolves. The riders spend four to five months in the area. Last year, the riders discovered a wolf den in the middle of a grazing allotment, but because of the riders’ presence, there were no depredations or wolves killed, Adamson said.

He said prevention efforts such as range riders are critical if wolves and ranchers are to share the same landscape.

“As wolf numbers increase, conflict will increase,” he said. “That’s a reality. Wolves kill livestock.”

Statewide, wolves killed 75 cattle in 2007, up from 32 in 2006, while confirmed sheep losses rose from four to 27, according to FWP.

Wolves account for a fraction of total livestock deaths, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Montana cattle producers reported losing 66,000 cattle and calves to all causes in a 2005 survey, with 3,000, or 4.5 percent, lost to predators. Coyotes were responsible for 54 percent of the 1,300 calves lost to predation, while all predators, including an unknown number of wolves, were responsible for the rest.

The state’s 2007 wolf-activity report points out that the restored wolf population represents a new source of livestock mortality, and the state’s wolf population increased 34 percent in 2007.

Wolves also can lead to indirect losses through missing livestock or poor livestock performance because of the stress of having wolves in the area, the report states.

“What we’re always hoping to do is decrease the risk that livestock producers have now that wolves are back on the landscape,” Sime said.

Of the 102 known wolf mortalities in Montana in 2007, 73 were killed for killing or chasing livestock. Seven of the wolves were illegally killed, according to FWP.

For now, Edwards is working in obscurity from an office in a tiny pink and white house at 1225 8th Ave. in Helena, which he shares with the Milk Control Board.

His profile will rise April 15, when the state officially begins accepting loss claims from Montana producers. The Livestock Loss Reduction and Mitigation Board, which has met one time so far, will meet a couple of times each year.

“If the livestock owner does not like my decision, at that point we would put it on the (board’s) agenda for appeal,” Edwards said.

The state Legislature initially estimated the program would cost $200,000 annually, but Edwards believes the price tag will be higher because the number of wolves and depredations are increasing.

To help fund the program, Edwards and the state will seek grants and private donations from the likes of Turner, who owns the Flying D ranch in southwestern Montana, and entrepreneur Roger Lang, the owner of the Sun Ranch on the Madison Range.

“We have some very high profile people who are residents of our state who may look at this as a viable cause,” Edwards said.

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Mar 29

WY: Not ready to fight — yet

Not ready to fight — yet

By CHRIS MERRILL
Star-Tribune environment reporter

LANDER — Opponents of wolf delisting might not seek an injunction in federal court after all.

Although some sort of legal action is likely, it’s not a foregone conclusion that conservation groups will try to convince a federal judge to order the government to immediately put wolves back on the federal Endangered Species list.

On Friday, gray wolves in the Northern Rockies were removed from the federal endangered species list.

Wyoming is now managing its wolves as a trophy game animal in the northwest corner of the state — and as a predator, which can be shot on site, everywhere else.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its decision to delist gray wolves in the Federal Register one month ago, and the ruling went into effect Friday.

The day the delisting decision was published, a coalition of 11 conservation groups, including the Sierra Club, the Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed a notice of intent to sue the government regarding the decision.

The Endangered Species Act obliges those wishing to file suit to issue first a notice of intent, and then to wait 60 days before actually bringing legal action before a federal judge.

There are 29 days remaining in the mandatory waiting period, and unless the coalition decides emergency proceedings are necessary, there will be no lawsuits filed until at least the end of April, if any are filed at all.

Mike Leahy, Rocky Mountain director for the D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife, said if a large number of wolves start getting killed between now and the end of April, his group may seek emergency action; otherwise it will wait to challenge the decision.

“Once the 60 days are up, we’ll file the lawsuit itself, and then we’ll have to decide if we’re going to ask for an injunction,” Leahy said. “We’re choosing to wait and see how much people exploit the flexibility in the state plans to go out and kill wolves.”

If private individuals in Wyoming attempt a wholesale slaughter of wolves outside the trophy game zone, the Defenders of Wildlife will almost certainly seek an injunction, he said.

An injunction against the delisting, if issued, would essentially require Fish and Wildlife to put wolves back on the endangered species list until a legal decision is rendered.

“Injunctions are hard to get,” Leahy said. “There’s never a guarantee that you’re going to get an injunction from a judge, and that’s kind of why we’re waiting to see how things play out on the ground.”

An attorney with the pro-environment law firm Earthjustice, however, said his firm does plan to file a lawsuit when the 60 days are up, and will likely seek an injunction against the delisting decision at some point, if not immediately.

“We anticipate asking for an injunction sooner or later,” said Doug Honnold. “We don’t want to see the population of 1,500 wolves be decimated while the litigation ensues.”

Honnold said even under the most optimistic of scenarios he believes there will be “substantial reductions” in the numbers of wolves unless a court tells the states that it won’t permit the reductions.

“In almost 90 percent of the state of Wyoming wolves are on the chopping block,” he said, referring to the state’s dual status for wolves. “I think it’s a foregone conclusion that there will be a reduction in wolf numbers in the state of Wyoming under this state management scheme.”

Most of Wyoming’s estimated 359 wolves live inside the newly designated trophy game zone, where wolves can be killed by private citizens only with a legal take permit.

But the remaining 30 to 35 wolves currently living outside the trophy area are considered predators, and it is lawful in Wyoming for anybody with a legal firearm to shoot these wolves without limit.

Leahy shares Honnold’s concerns about Wyoming’s management plan.

“There are currently six packs in the ‘shoot-on-site’ zone and about 10 packs near the border of the trophy zone,” Leahy said. “So a significant and quick reduction in Wyoming’s wolf numbers is possible.”

The Defenders of Wildlife would like those wolves outside the trophy zone afforded more protection because they have the potential to spread out further into their historical range.

“It’s a not insignificant number of wolves,” Leahy said. “And those are the wolves that are in a position to disperse to Utah and Colorado and recover wolf populations in the Southern Rockies.”

The 1,500 estimated wolves currently living in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are descendants from 31 wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s.

“One of our big concerns with the delisting plan is that it basically isolates wolves in and around Yellowstone National Park, and prevents their dispersal into Utah and Colorado and over into Eastern Idaho,” Leahy said. “Dispersal into the south is important if you’re interested in restoring ecological balance to the Southern Rockies, as well.”

The Defenders of Wildlife is not opposed to state management, he said, but it is concerned that the state plans, as currently written, will allow up to 70 percent of the current Northern Rockies wolf population to be killed off.

Sylvia Fallon, a geneticist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said her group wants to challenge the federal government’s decision to delist gray wolves because it has “no scientific basis for its recovery goals.”

“[The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] completely disregarded science,” Fallon said. “The vast majority of scientists would say that the science then and the science now tells us that we need many more wolves on the ground than their original recovery goal of 300.”

In order to create a genetically viable wolf population for the long term, Fallon said, there would need to be 2,000 to 3,000 wolves in the Northern Rockies, with some genetic exchange between the three primary populations in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

“We’re not against delisting, as long as we have a truly recovered population of wolves,” she said. “Once we get there we’ll be as happy as anybody else to see them removed from protection.”

But Mike Jimenez, the federal wolf recovery coordinator for the state of Wyoming, said the best scientific data — along with empirical evidence — shows that wolves are not in any danger of becoming too inbred.

“Under the Endangered Species Act we had an obligation is to bring back a viable wolf population, which the Fish and Wildlife Service and the states have done,” Jimenez said. “We used peer-reviewed science, we sponsored genetic studies, and those studies showed that under the worst-case scenario genetic diversity might be reduced in 100 years, but even with that possibility, it is still not a threat to the animals.”

The Endangered Species Act calls for species viability, he said, not the highest possible level of genetic diversity.

And although the three main groups of wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are mostly geographically isolated from each other, the Fish and Wildlife Service has tracked wolves dispersing between the groups.

“We know wolves have dispersed back and forth between those three areas, but the question has been ‘do they breed?’” Jimenez said. “There is an expanded paper coming out that does show that wolves have gone back and forth and actually bred.”

Wolves, as a species, are naturally averse to inbreeding, Jimenez said, and it is in their nature to disperse, to leave areas of high wolf density and go into areas with lower wolf density.

“Back in the ’90s had wolves go from Montana to Washington, from Yellowstone to Denver, and recently we tracked a wolf that went from [Canada] down to Idaho,” he said.

The idea that wolves aren’t going to disperse between the larger sub groups and exchange genetic information is contrary to what he and other wolf experts have observed, Jimenez said.

“There’s an academic argument to be made, but there is also an argument based on empirical data,” he said. “Regardless of all the theoretical possibilities [for genetic decline], you don’t see that on the ground.”

Even if the wolves lose too much genetic diversity after decades or a century, Jimenez said, the solution is relatively simple — officials can introduce new blood into the population by bringing wolves down from Canada, just as they did in the mid-1990s when they reintroduced the canines here in the first place.

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Mar 29

ID: Gray Wolf Hunts Planned After De-Listing

Gray Wolf Hunts Planned After De-Listing

By JESSIE BONNER

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Good news for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains: They no longer need federal protection. The bad news for the animals? Plans are already in the works to hunt them.

Federal Endangered Species Act protection of the wolves was lifted Friday in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, giving those states management of the estimated 1,500 gray wolves in the region.

Even though environmentalists plan to sue the federal government next month to restore wolf protections, hunts are already being scheduled by state wildlife agencies to reduce the wolf population to between 900 and 1,250.

Idaho hunters will be allowed to kill between 100-300 of the animals this fall under a plan approved by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. The hunts are partly in response to increasing numbers of livestock being killed as the predators’ population has grown.

“We manage big game for a living, we’re good at it,” said Steve Nadeau, who oversees large carnivores for the Idaho Fish and Game Department. “The world is watching and we know it.”

Fish and Game estimates Idaho now has 800 gray wolves. Should the number of breeding pairs in Idaho fall below a target number, the animals could be brought back under federal protection.

After a series of public shouting matches between wolf advocates and opponents, comments from Idaho Department Fish and Game officials on Friday seemed largely designed to reassure both ends of the debate.

Cal Groen, director of the department, told reporters that his agency has already proven its ability to recover and maintain Idaho wolf populations. “We’ve exceeded all the goals the federal government set,” Groen said.

But Doug Honnold, a managing attorney for the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, disagrees. Honnold said the wolf populations won’t be fully recovered in Idaho and the northern Rockies until the animals number between 2,000 and 3,000.

Earthjustice, which represents 12 local and national environmental groups, plans to sue the federal government next month to continue wolf protections.

All three state plans to manage the wolves call for a reduction in their numbers, which will eventually lead to weaker breeding, Honnold said in a telephone interview from Bozeman, Mont.

“We think that would be a disaster,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time, money and effort to promote wolf recovery.”

Gray wolves were listed as endangered in 1973 after being hunted into near extinction, but the population has rebounded dramatically after restoration efforts began in 1995. The wolves were recently de-listed in the western Great Lakes, while the wolf population in the Southwest remains endangered.

Wildlife biologists estimate there are now 41 breeding pairs in Idaho, in 72 packs. If that number falls below 10 breeding pairs, or 15 during a three-year period, the wolves could be brought back under federal protection.

On Friday, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter signed a bill to allow ranchers, outfitters and pet owners to kill wolves harassing livestock. The law gives owners up to 72 hours to report wolves they’ve killed after catching them annoying, disturbing or stalking animals or livestock.

On the Net:

  • Idaho Fish and Game Commission: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov
  • Earthjustice: http://www.earthjustice.org

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