Apr 30

Opinion: The big bad wolf

Opinion

The big bad wolf

In the Rockies, man’s hatred and fear of the species is on display again.

By Gary Ferguson

It’s been nearly 100 years since 22-year-old graduate biology student Aldo Leopold shot and killed one of the last wolves in New Mexico. He later recounted the event with regret, describing having watched in the animal’s eyes the “dying of that fierce green fire.” Decades later, as one of the most influential conservation biologists of his day, Leopold would be among the first to articulate the importance of predators in healthy ecosystems, calling in 1944 for the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.

One can only imagine what he might think of the killing spree going on today in the northern Rocky Mountains. In Wyoming alone, at least 16 wolves have been shot since they came off the federal endangered species list on March 28 — including two within the first 24 hours, ambushed by hunters waiting near an elk wintering ground.

Heaven knows the wolves did their part to get off the endangered list. There were almost no wolves in the northern Rockies before they were reintroduced in 1995 and 1996, and they took full advantage of a land nearly bereft of their own kind, repopulating it with remarkable efficiency. By 2000, the three recovery zones — greater Yellowstone, northwest Montana and central Idaho — had already met the target criteria for delisting: 300 animals and 30 breeding pairs for three consecutive years. Today, an estimated 1,500 wolves live in and around those recovery zones, including about 100 breeding pairs.

From a scientific perspective, then, the gray wolf of the northern Rockies is no longer in danger of extinction. Some environmental groups opposed to delisting claim that there is insufficient genetic diversity, particularly in the more isolated wild lands of greater Yellowstone. But in that area alone, there are about 450 animals. Given that the genetic diversity rate of these wolves is on par with those of northern Canada, as well as the fact that there are signs of ingress by animals from other places, the majority of North America’s prominent wolf biologists simply don’t share that concern. Nonetheless, on Monday a dozen environmental groups filed suit in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Mont., hoping to overturn the government’s decision to remove the wolf from the endangered species list.

For all the good news in this story, the wolf continues to shoulder a burden shared by no other species on the continent — a harsh, unrelenting yoke of human malevolence. Leopold’s insight that wolves foster healthy ecosystems seems lost on many. But wolves keep prey populations in check, thus preventing overgrazing; they cull sick deer or elk from the herds, thereby reducing the spread of disease; and the scraps they leave behind feed grizzly bears, golden eagles and other species.

The lingering fear of wolves is surely linked to the animals’ extraordinary intelligence. Nearly every aspect of a wolf pack’s existence — including their hunting techniques and how they raise young — is a highly cooperative effort. And it is eerie how quickly they adapt. When trappers first started killing wolves with poisoned carcasses, for example, many learned in little time to take only live prey.

At the same time, some people seem stuck in the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church declared wolves to be “the devil’s dog” — literal proof of Satan walking the Earth. (Wolves were routinely hung in the village square or burned at the stake.) In the American West, the most fanatical anti-wolf people today also cast the animal as a symbol of evil — not the kind emanating from the devil but from a heretical federal government that dares to be at cross purposes with ranchers.

Federal protection held such malice at bay for 12 years, but now the wolves are at the mercy of ill-conceived state wildlife management rules. Aggressive wolf opponents are hardly a majority in the Rockies, but it’s impossible to overstate the depth and breadth of their loathing. Death threats leveled at federal officials during the initial reintroduction, for instance, soon yielded to vigilante plots to poison wolves — bumbling attempts that resulted mostly in the killing of people’s dogs.

Even as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was weighing delisting in 2007, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said that he wanted all but 100 of his state’s wolves killed. Furthermore, he was “prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself.”

Such perverse unreasonableness — mostly in Idaho and Wyoming — arguably kept the wolf on the endangered species list this long. Delisting was slowed on several occasions by Wyoming legislators who insisted that it be legal to shoot wolves on sight in more than 80% of the state. (The excepted area was the northwest corner, adjacent to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.)

Season after season, the Fish and Wildlife Service stood firm against that stance. In the end, though, the federal agency gave in. As of this writing, tough-guy “wolf posses” are driving around Wyoming’s predator zones, locked and loaded, eager to kill.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, you can get a wolf-hunting permit for just $26.50. But why bother? You are also free to kill a wolf “annoying, disturbing or persecuting” domestic animals. Given that a stray dog or even a moose or elk standing in the field can annoy or disturb livestock or pets, this is nothing less than a free pass to shoot. (Would-be wolf killers would do well to remember that, being a fecund species, reduced pack density often leads to larger litters and higher pup survival rates. Furthermore, as even the Montana Livestock Assn. noted nearly a century ago, only a small percentage of wolves kill livestock. Eliminate a well-behaved wolf pack, and it may quickly be replaced with one far less well-mannered.)

There is no good explanation for why the Fish and Wildlife Service gave its blessing to such provisions, other than simple weariness. Given the decades-long war to get wolves back on the ground, navigating an endless raft of sometimes violent harassment, it’s easy to imagine even the most dedicated wildlife manager wanting nothing so much as to declare the project a success and move on. And technically, it is a success. Yet in failing to demand that the states manage wolves with at least a modicum of respect, the feds have all but guaranteed yet another long chapter of heartless persecution.

Last week, yet another wolf-hunting photo was posted on the Internet. This one shows a pair of Wyoming men who in early April chased two wolves by snowmobile, gunning them down near the town of Pinedale, becoming one of the first private parties to make a kill in the state’s massive free-fire zone. Each man stands with his arms wrapped around the chest of a dead wolf, straining to hold it up for the camera. They seem proud, big grins spread across their faces. And not a trace of Aldo Leopold’s regret.

Gary Ferguson’s latest book is “Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone,” co-written with biologist Douglas W. Smith.

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Apr 30

WY: Wolf news: Defenders bombard governor

Wolf news: Defenders bombard governor

BY: Joy Ufford

Jimenez joins G&F, suit filed

With the gray wolf no longer under the auspices of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) Mike Jimenez faced the phasing-out of his federal position as FWS recovery project leader in Wyoming for the past nine years.

Not to worry – last Friday, Wyoming Game and Fish (G&F) announced Jimenez is its new wolf program coordinator. Jimenez will remain on the FWS payroll, however, until year’s end, to make a smooth transition between federal and state wolf management and his employment status.

“We feel extremely fortunate to have Mike on board for this position,” said G&F Wildlife Chief Jay Lawson Friday. “Mike has been involved with Wyoming’s wolf population since reintroduction and I don’t think anyone has a better understanding of these animals, Wyoming’s unique landscape and the diversity of social issues involved with managing wolves in this state.”

Jimenez has researched, monitored and managed wolves in British Columbia, Montana, Idaho and lastly, Wyoming. He will be based in Jackson and supervise three permanent wolf management specialists and four seasonal personnel.

This week, Jimenez couldn’t comment on the lawsuit filed Monday. But he can say he looks forward to his new position.

“Everybody has been incredibly gracious and welcoming,” he said. “Everybody is trying to help me out and make this program successful.”

In his recent FWS role Jimenez worked with G&F employees and Sublette ranchers with wolf predation problems.

“Speaking as a rancher, I’ve had a good working relationship with Mike,” said Cat Urbigkit of Big Piney. “He’s been in the position of having to juggle pressures from all sides while resolving issues on the ground. Last year, he authorized more aggressive control of entire wolf packs early in the season, as soon as problems happened. The result was less livestock killed in Wyoming. I appreciate his efforts and I’m betting he does a good job working for the state.”

Pinedale North Game Warden Bubba Haley said he has found Jimenez to be “very hard working” and “real responsive to my questions or concerns.”

“I’ve worked with Mike off and on ever since I got to Pinedale, almost six years now,” Haley said. “I’ve been very impressed with the job he did with the conditions he did it in. He knows the animals, know the area, knows the issues. I think it’ll be a good deal for Wyoming, for the department.”

Wolf suit filed

On Monday, the expected court battle between a dozen conservation groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began with Earthjustice attorneys filing suit against wolves’ delisting and requested a preliminary injunction until U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula, Montana, issues a final decision.

“Unregulated wolf killing in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana has commenced,” the suit claims. “Plaintiffs respectfully request that their motion for a preliminary injunction be granted, and that this Court order that ESA protections for gray wolves in the northern Rockies shall be reinstated pending a final decision on the merits of this case.”

Earthjustice represents Defenders of Wildlife, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Western Watersheds Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Humane Society of the United States, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands Project and Wildlands Project.

If an injunction is filed, Northern Rockies’ wolf management presumably returns to the FWS. Before the state agreed to take over wolf management, Wyoming law required FWS to rewrite its “10(j) rule” to offer citizens and agencies broader control over problem wolves. The trophy and predator designated areas would be suspended in that event.

“Since delisting, a spate of wolf killings by a variety of methods – pursuing wolves long distances with snowmobiles, shooting wolves from the roadside, and lying in wait for wolves at state-run elk feedgrounds – demonstrates the need now, as much as ever, to protect wolves under the Endangered Species Act,” the suit says. It also states conservation groups will suffer “irreparable harm” if wolves remain delisted.

“The killings of wolves in Sublette County, Wyoming – within Wyoming’s predator zone – present the real possibility that plaintiffs’ members will no longer be able to view any wolves in Sublette County. … Wyoming law also imperils the popular Teton Pack and two other wolf packs near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which occasionally travel south into Wyoming’s predator zone, where the wolves will be subject to immediate killing. Members of plaintiff organizations in Jackson, Wyoming enjoy observing the Teton wolves and other packs, and will be irreparably injured if those wolves are shot.”

FWS Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs has consistently said delisting was based on solid biological data.

G&F called the lawsuit “both unnecessary and unproductive.”

“Wolf recovery in Wyoming has been a tremendous conservation success,” Keszler said. “Wyoming’s wolf plan provides protections for wolves in northwest Wyoming where there is adequate habitat to maintain wolves into perpetuity. (G&F) is fully committed to maintaining a population of wolves in this part of Wyoming, ensuring they will never again need to be placed on the Endangered Species List.”

Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine said Tuesday she “can’t speculate on the chances of a judge enjoining delisting. I think we have strong claims that the (FWS) decision to delist wolves was unlawful, but it will be up to the judge to determine whether an injunction will issue.”

Defenders on offensive

In the meantime, Defenders of Wildlife this week orchestrated a nationwide call-in campaign to Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s office, ringing the lines off the hook trying to force him to change his stance supporting Wyoming’s current predator-trophy management plan.

By Wednesday morning, nearly 700 calls were logged opposing the state’s wolf plan.

“People are calling from all over the U.S. and are hoping that the state will change its wolf management plan, particularly the predator status,” said press secretary Cara Eastwood after her one-hour shift answering phones.

Only two callers said they are from Wyoming. Many callers said they were “reading from a script provided by the Defenders of Wildlife,” according to the governor’s office.

It appears unlikely the tactic will have much effect.

“The Governor is aware of the calls, but has no plans to make any changes to the state’s management plan,” Eastwood said. “The state’s plan took years to develop working closely with the Fish and Wildlife Service, conservation and wildlife groups and the general public. As the Governor said following the delisting, it was expected that we would see a number of wolves killed in the beginning and that it would level off soon afterward. It has…”

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Apr 30

WY: Hundreds irked by wolf shootings call Wyo. governor

Hundreds irked by wolf shootings call Wyo. governor

By Mead Gruver
The Associated Press

CHEYENNE — Hundreds of people outraged by a surge in wolf shootings have flooded Gov. Dave Freuden- thal’s office with calls over the past couple of days.

Callers have been reading from prepared comments posted on the website of an environmental group, Defenders of Wildlife. The callers have asked the governor to end the “shoot on sight” policy of wolf management in most of Wyoming outside of the Yellowstone region.

Governor’s officials say they’ve received so many calls — more than 600 on Tuesday alone — that they might have difficulty responding to constituents.

“Folks will have to be patient,” Freudenthal’s chief of staff, Chris Boswell, said in a release. “Constituent calls will go into the same queue with those from the Defenders of Wildlife, and we’ll answer them all.”

Boswell said staffers took down the callers’ names and states from which they were calling. He said Wednesday that only two callers had identified themselves as being from Wyoming.

Defenders of Wildlife is one of 12 groups that filed suit in Montana federal court Monday to try to restore endangered-species status for wolves in the northern Rockies.

In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lifted federal protection for an estimated 1,500 wolves in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. The lawsuit claims the three states lack adequate laws to ensure that wolves are not eradicated from the region.

At least 37 wolves have been killed in the region since the delisting. In Wyoming, the animals are protected as a trophy species in the state’s northwestern corner and classified as a predator species in the rest of the state.

Suzanne Stone, a Boise, Idaho- based representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said she has also received quite a few phone calls and e-mails about wolves.

“So we gave them some information and some talking points,” Stone said. “I’ve had people literally in tears that are calling that are quite upset about what is happening in Wyoming right now and what has been happening since the delisting, and they’ve wanted a way to be able to express that frustration.”

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Apr 30

AZ: Wildlife groups call for end to Mexican wolf removal policy

Wildlife groups call for end to Mexican wolf removal policy

By CHRIS KAHN

PHOENIX (AP) — Two wildlife conservation groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday to keep federal agencies from aggressively removing endangered Mexican gray wolves that have attacked livestock more than twice from a recovery program in Arizona and New Mexico.

WildEarth Guardians and The Rewilding Institute are asking the U.S. District Court to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s removal policy, known as “Standard Operating Procedure 13.”

Under the policy, Fish and Wildlife removed 45 wolves from the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area during the past three years. That’s almost twice the number that the agency removed in the prior seven years.

The removal sometimes involves killing the wolves and other times involves bringing them back to captivity, authorities said.

“We don’t think the removal of any of the wolves in the wild is appropriate,” said Rob Edward, director of carnivore restoration at Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians. “The top priority should be the recovery of the species.”

Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Elizabeth Slown said she hasn’t received a copy of the lawsuit yet, but added that cattle ranchers have a right to protect their livestock from wolves.

Mexican gray wolves disappeared from the American Southwest during the past century as federal eradication efforts swept them from the wild. In 1998, Fish and Wildlife reintroduced 11 of the wolves into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area.

The area includes more than 5 million acres that straddle the Arizona and New Mexico borders. It includes private land, towns, two national forests and an Arizona reservation.

When the recovery program started, agency officials figured the wolves would thrive and expected 102 wolves and 18 breeding pairs by 2006. However, 52 wolves remained in the recovery area as of the end of 2007, the lawsuit said.

“Certainly, the current population is neither viable nor self-sustaining as was the goal of the Recovery Plan,” the groups said in the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity also sued the Fish and Wildlife, hoping to force the agency to develop a recovery plan and habitat for the endangered American jaguar.

The group said that construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will stop jaguars from re-colonizing their former habitats in the southern United States.

Slown said she has not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

The Interior Department abandoned attempts to craft a recovery plan for the jaguar earlier this year because too few of the rare cats have been spotted along the Southwest region of New Mexico and Arizona to warrant such action.

Fish and Wildlife concluded that the jaguar’s recovery depended on conservation efforts in Mexico and Central and South America.

Jaguars once roamed the southern United States from Monterey Bay, Calif., through the Appalachian Mountains. They disappeared from much of their range during the past century.

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Apr 28

MT: Twelve Conservation Groups Challenge Federal Wolf Delisting

Twelve Conservation Groups Challenge Federal Wolf Delisting

MISSOULA, MT— Twelve conservation groups are fighting for the survival of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. The groups today filed a federal court lawsuit challenging the federal government’s decision to remove the northern Rockies gray wolf population from the list of endangered species. Wolves should not have been delisted, the groups argue, because they remain threatened by biased, inadequate state management plans, as well as by the lack of connections between largely isolated state wolf populations.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s premature decision to strip the protections of the Endangered Species Act from the northern Rocky Mountains’ wolves promises to undo the hard-earned progress toward wolf recovery of recent years. State laws that guide wolf management in the wake of delisting betray the states’ continued hostility toward the presence of wolves in the region. While ensuring that wolves can and will be killed in defense of property or recreation, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana have refused to make enforceable commitments to maintaining viable wolf populations within their borders. The states have failed to keep track of recent wolf killings and also neglected to secure funding for essential monitoring and conservation efforts.

Actions by the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, and by individuals, since wolves were delisted demonstrate the need to resume federal safeguards for wolves until state plans are in place that ensure a sustainable wolf population in the region. For example, on the very day delisting took effect — March 28, 2008 — Idaho Governor Butch Otter signed into law a new Idaho law allowing Idaho citizens to kill wolves without a permit whenever wolves are annoying, disturbing, or “worrying” livestock or domestic animals. Since delisting, Wyoming has implemented its “kill on sight” predator law in nearly 90 percent of the state. Not surprisingly, these hostile state laws have resulted in a wave of new wolf killings.

At present, wolves in central Idaho, northwestern Montana, and the Greater Yellowstone area remain largely disconnected from each other and wolves in Canada. The wolves of the Greater Yellowstone area, in particular, have remained genetically isolated since 31 wolves were introduced into Yellowstone National Park more than a decade ago. Moreover, the region’s population of 1,500 wolves still falls short of the numbers that independent scientists have determined to be necessary to secure the health of the species in the northern Rockies.

With continued recovery efforts, real wolf recovery in the region is within reach. Delisting further endangers wolves because of increased wolf killing, reduced wolf numbers, and less genetic exchange between wolf populations.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Western Watersheds Project, and Wildlands Project .

Conservation Group Statements:

“The recent senseless and indiscriminate killings of wolves in Wyoming and Idaho clearly highlight the serious problems of the current state plans. Wolves need to be managed responsibly under plans that are based on current and reliable science. Running wolves down with snowmobiles and shooting the exhausted animals is not management – it’s far too extreme and unsustainable.” Suzanne Asha Stone, Defenders of Wildlife

“There is nothing in the state management schemes or delisting rule itself to prevent the killing of up to 80 percent of wolves in the northern Rockies. Attempts by the Fish and Wildlife Service to assure the public otherwise have no factual basis.” Louisa Willcox, Natural Resources Defense Council

“Wolves in the northern Rockies are just now on the cusp of biological recovery, but aren’t ready for delisting. Current state management allows for wolf populations to be cut by up to 80 percent. Since delisting, our worst fears are coming true. In Wyoming, wolves are being killed at an alarming rate, with over a dozen wolves killed so far.” Melanie Stein, Sierra Club

“Just as disturbing as the state management plans that permit killing of hundreds of wolves is the expected increase in federal predator control, including ramped up aerial gunning, leghold traps and even poisoning of wolves. Federal predator control on behalf of the livestock industry is what exterminated wolves in the first place, and that was before the era of helicopter sharpshooters pursuing radio-collared wolves. We will bring this alarming prospect to a court’s attention.” Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity

“Idaho wins the prize for wanting to kill the most wolves. Wyoming wins for the most blatant hostility toward wolves enshrined in state law. And Montana wears the crown for killing the most wolves 8 of the last 10 years despite having the smallest wolf population of all three states.” John Grandy, Ph.D., senior vice president of The Humane Society of the United States

“We are concerned that Wyoming will strictly adhere to the language in the state legislation and aggressively eliminate wolves, some of which occupy Jackson Hole and parts of Grand Teton National Park. With Wyoming’s current plan, wolves two miles from Jackson’s Town Square could be killed by anyone at any time—this is reprehensible.” Franz Camenzind, Ph.D. Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance

“As evidenced by the of State of Idaho’s proposals to aerial gun wolves in the Frank Church Wilderness and to kill up to 75% of the wolves on the Upper Lochsa while wolves remained protected, delisting at this time poses a great risk to the Northern Rockies wolf population, which is still recovering.” Will Boyd, Education Director, Friends of the Clearwater

“Legal action is necessary to prevent the states from implementing management schemes that have the primary purpose of eliminating, rather than conserving, wolves.” Michael Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies

“Oregon’s wolves are considered part of the Northern Rockies population, yet only five wolves that have returned to Oregon since 1999, and two were illegally shot. Whether people in Oregon ever get the opportunity to see and hear wolves someday, depends upon strong federal endangered species protection that prevents unnecessary killing of wolves throughout the Northern Rockies.” Steve Pedery, Conservation Director of Oregon Wild

“The sudden and bloody increase in wolf killings since delisting confirms that wolves remain at risk in the west. To ensure the survival of wolves these magnificent animals need to expand their range throughout the western states. There are many public lands across the west with abundant elk and deer populations that can and should sustain wolves.” Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project

“For thousands of years, people lived alongside vibrant wolf populations in what is now the U.S. west. Misguided efforts to eradicate wolves over much of the last 150 years seriously damaged the land and ecosystems on which all life depends. Americans started the healing process by returning wolves to their natural place in the scheme of things, but that is now being threatened by a return to 19th century thinking and politics.” David Johns, Wildlands Project

“The spate of wolf killings since delisting—including wolves chased down by snowmobiles and stalked at state-run feedgrounds in Wyoming—makes clear the need to reinstate protections for wolves under the Endangered Species Act.” Jenny Harbine, Earthjustice

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Apr 28

MT: Feds sued for taking gray wolves off endangered list

Feds sued for taking gray wolves off endangered list

By MATTHEW BROWN

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Environmental and animal rights groups are suing the federal government in hopes of restoring endangered species protections for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had removed the region’s 1,500 wolves from the endangered list in March, turning over management responsibilities to state officials in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

The lawsuit alleges those states lack adequate laws to ensure wolves are not again eradicated from the region.

An attorney for Defenders of Wildlife says the groups will seek an immediate injunction to suspend state management until the case is resolved. Defenders of Wildlife is one of twelve groups that filed the suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Missoula.

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Apr 27

UT: Animal found in Box Elder is likely not a full wolf

Animal found in Box Elder is likely not a full wolf

PROMONTORY, Box Elder County (AP) — An animal shot after being seen among livestock in northern Utah probably was a wolf-dog hybrid, not a wild wolf, a wildlife expert said Tuesday.

The light-colored animal was spotted at a ranch last Saturday in Box Elder County and killed by the landowner last Sunday as it pursued livestock, said Kevin Bunnell, mammal program coordinator at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Photos were shown to five wolf experts who all agreed it wasn’t a wolf, Bunnell said.

Among the reasons: legs that were too slender, feet that were too small, and a lack of bulk typically associated with wolves.

The only way to know the animal’s origins is to conduct a DNA test. Bunnell said that decision will be up to federal agents because the animal was killed in an area where wolves are still classified as an endangered species.

“It’s probably a hybrid, but that ranges from 98 percent wolf and 2 percent dog to 98 percent dog and 2 percent wolf,” Bunnell said. “Where is it in that spectrum? Who knows?”

The case is a reminder about the importance of identifying animals before shooting them, Bunnell said.

Gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains were removed from the endangered species list earlier this year. The rule lifts federal protections for any wolf that wanders into the northeast portion of Utah. They’re protected in the rest of the state.

A wolf was found dead in a coyote trap in Box Elder County about 18 months ago. It wouldn’t be a surprise for another wolf to make it to that area again, Bunnell said.

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Apr 27

Off endangered list, wolves face new pressure from hunters

Off endangered list, wolves face new pressure from hunters

By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press Writer

Tony Saunders stalked his prey for 35 miles by snowmobile through western Wyoming’s Hoback Basin, finally reaching a clearing where he took out a .270-caliber rifle and shot the wolf twice from 30 yards away.

Gray wolves in the Northern Rockies have been taken off the endangered species list and are being hunted freely for the first time since they were placed on that list three decades ago, and nowhere is that hunting easier than Wyoming.

Most of the state with the exception of the Yellowstone National Park area has been designated a “predator zone,” where wolves can be shot at will.

For Saunders, killing that wolf was a long-awaited chance to even things out because he has lost two horses to wolves and blames the canines for depleting local big game herds.

“It’s hard for people to understand how devastating they can be,” said Saunders, 39, who ranches at Bondurant, Wyo., 30 miles southeast of Jackson, Wyo.

Since federal protection was lifted March 28 and states took over wolf management, 37 wolves have been killed, just over 2 percent of their population. Since 66 animals were transplanted to the region 13 years ago, an estimated 1,500 now roam Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Environmental and animal rights groups plan to file a lawsuit Monday seeking an emergency injunction to block the killings and trying to put wolves back on the endangered list.

They predict that if states continue to control the animals’ fate and proceed with public hunts, wolves could be driven back nearly to extermination in the region.

“There will be opportunistic shooting 365 days a year. This will become a continual black hole for wolves,” said Franz Camenzind with the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, which is joining the lawsuit.

Despite the removal of wolves from the endangered list, killing them in the Northern Rockies is nothing new. Last year, a record 186 were shot, primarily by wildlife agents, for killing and harassing livestock.

But since the beginning of this year, 59 wolves already have been reported killed in the three Northern Rockies states, about three times the 19 killed over the same period last year — most of them just in the month since they lost federal protection.

State officials blamed this year’s increased hunting in part on heavy snow, which kept wolf packs at lower elevations where sheep and cattle range.

“That’s the reality of managing wolves in a modern landscape. Some of them are going to be removed,” said Eric Keszler, spokesman for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

In fact, entire packs have been legally killed off in past years because of livestock conflicts, according to biologist Mike Jimenez with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

With public hunts planned this year, federal biologists project the three states will maintain a population of 883 to 1,240 wolves at least for the next few years — well above the government’s goal of maintaining a population of at least 300 wolves.

But wolf advocates say the states could systematically cull the population right down to that minimum unless a court intervenes.

Idaho and Wyoming in particular have a “hostile legal regime” that is stacked against wolves, said Doug Honnold, the Earthjustice attorney preparing the lawsuit.

“If anybody can kill wolves, you have no way of ensuring wolf killing isn’t excessive,” he said.

Honnold and other advocates say a minimum of 2,000 to 3,000 wolves is needed to protect their genetic diversity. They contend the government was on track to meet that goal when it caved in to political pressure and stripped the species of endangered status.

Some state officials and ranchers, including Saunders, acknowledge a lingering hostility for wolves, which had been exterminated in the region in the 1930s.

“There’s times I’d like to get rid of all of them, but that’s not realistic either,” Saunders said. “And I’d like for my son one day to be able to hunt them, too.”

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Apr 26

CA: Alberta govt. suspends wolf-poisoning program

Alberta govt. suspends wolf-poisoning program

Cathy Ellis
Canwest News Service

Amid a public outcry, the Alberta government has suspended its controversial practice of poisoning wolves as part of its recovery plan to protect threatened caribou herds.

Provincial officials argue wolves are the biggest threat to caribou populations and will continue to shoot the predators from helicopters in the Little Smokey caribou range, about 40 kilometres north of Hinton, Alta., near Jasper National Park.

But, they say, the three-year practice of laying bait laced with strychnine to kill wolves has been put on hold.

Killing wolves is part of the province’s plan to help the caribou population rebound.

Dave Ealey, a spokesman for the Sustainable Resource Development, said Minister Ted Morton wants more extensive research done to address “public concerns and misconceptions.”

“Our objective here is to make sure the minister has all the information he needs and to feel comfortable in dealing with any of the public’s concerns about how we manage wildlife,” said Ealey.

“While it would be nice to rely on aerial shooting, it has not been effective enough in removing enough wolves from the range to be able to ensure the caribou have a good survivability.”

The provincial government killed 89 wolves in the area in the winter of 2005-06, another 66 in 2006-07, and 62 more wolves this past winter. The animals were either shot or poisoned.

Canmore-based Defenders of Wildlife Canada says the province is perhaps becoming more sensitive to public concerns over its “barroom biology” approach to managing wildlife.

Jim Pissot, the group’s executive director, said Albertans do not want to see wolves pay the price for provincial mismanagement of their wildlife. He said strychnine poisoning is a “painful and horrible way to die.”

“Albertans care about wolves, grizzlies, wilderness and the pace of unplanned development,” said Pissot. “Perhaps the province is beginning to realize that a caribou ‘recovery plan’ that poisons wolves – while encouraging roads, developments and other habitat destruction in critical habitat – is nothing but a fraud and a hoax.”

Ealey said poisoning wolves with strychnine is used when shooting them from helicopters proves difficult, particularly in areas that are more heavily forested or snow conditions make it tougher to spot wolves or their tracks.

Meanwhile, the first stage of a separate University of Alberta experiment that could eventually involve killing wolf pups and sterilizing their parents in four wolf packs is going ahead. The goal is to boost elk numbers near Rocky Mountain House, Alta., which is about 215 kilometres southwest of Edmonton. The first stage of the five-year, government-endorsed project involves collaring wolves to monitor individuals, including the social behaviour and interactions between different packs.

Depending on what they find, the intent would then be to reduce wolf numbers in four packs to two individuals by sterilizing the alpha males and females and destroying other wolves in the packs, beginning next year.

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Apr 26

WY: Wolf suit on Monday

Wolf suit on Monday

By Cory Hatch Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Twelve conservation groups say they’ll file a lawsuit Monday in an effort to reverse a U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision to remove the gray wolf from federal Endangered Species Act protection.

Along with the lawsuit, the groups will seek an injunction from a U.S. District Court judge in Missoula, Montana to prevent people from killing wolves in Wyoming’s predator management area. As of April 25, hunters have reported 13 wolves killed in Sublette County, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Earthjustice is litigating the case for the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity, among others.

According to Craig Noble, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Coun-cil, the “rash of wolf killings” in Wyoming has conservationists worried about the wolf’s future. Wyoming allows people to kill wolves at any time without a permit in all but the northwest corner of the state.

In the northwest corner, they will be trophy game, with the exception of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks and the National Elk Refuge. Trophy game classification means wolves can only be killed with a hunting license or other permit, such as one issued in the case of livestock depredations.

“This may be the first time that an animal has faced slaughter upon being removed from the Endangered Species List,” Noble said, explaining that Wyoming’s state plan encourages wolf killing. “People are able to essentially shoot wolves any time, anywhere, for any reason. There’s clearly a lot of hostility on the ground to the wolves.”

The states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have pledged to maintain a minimum population of roughly 450 animals in the Rocky Mountain region, 150 in Wyoming, including those in Yellowstone. But Noble says that minimum estimate for a viable population relies on 20-year-old science. More recent research suggests that a population of 2,000 to 5,000 wolves is necessary to maintain enough diversity to sustain the species, he said.

Further, Noble said wolf watchers contribute about $35 million to the local economy.

“Thousands of visitors are flocking to Yellowstone every year to see and hear wolves in the wild,” he said. “They’re good for people too.”

There are 359 wolves in Wyoming today. Yellowstone accounts for 188 while the remaining 171 are outside the worlds first national park.

Wyoming Game and Fish spokesman Eric Keszler said Wyoming’s plan is adequate to maintain a recovered population of wolves in northwest Wyoming.

“The department’s position is that delisting is justified right now,” he said. “We don’t feel like a challenge to delisting or an injunction that would change the status of wolves are needed.”

Keszler said the current population can withstand the recent wolf shootings in Sublette County. He pointed out that roughly 90 percent of Wyoming’s wolves live in the trophy game area, and that Wyoming’s wolf population has continued to grow despite losing between 60 and 80 wolves per year due in control actions resulting from livestock depredations. “That’s something that we’ll continue to monitor,” he said.

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