Jan 31

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Wolves

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Wolves

By STEVE POLLICK
and JEFF BASTING

The thing about wolves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is that they are like wolves just about everywhere — too often and too much misunderstood.

They are neither warm and- fuzzy, thick-coated pets, like the family dog, nor are they the slack-jawed, slavering black beasts of fairy tales, out to ravage everything from bunnies to babies.

“Bar-room biology is far too rampant,” says Brian Roell, Michigan’s wolf biologist, who has spent years studying the U.P.’s wolves.

“It’s not milk and cookies out there for a wolf. It is like controlled starvation, waiting for your next meal.”

Every winter he and other field workers of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources count wolves as part of their research, and it would not surprise him if this winter the tally reaches 600 or more.

The numbers have been increasing about 10 percent a year the last five years, reaching 584 at last count in about 100 packs, with the larger concentrations occurring in the southern and western portions of the peninsula. Those areas are where white-tailed deer — prime wolf food — are more concentrated.

Mr. Roell said that he cannot say for certain where or when the wolf population will level out; it could be 600, possibly 800.

That would be quite a comeback from 1935, by which time Michigan wolves had been persecuted out of existence. The wolf biologist said that by 1956 an estimated 100 had become reestablished in the 16,000-squaremile U.P. from neighboring Wisconsin and Minnesota and Ontario.

But relentless persecution cut that to just six by 1973, eight years after wolves were legally protected in the state. In 1974 and 1976, respectively, federal and state endangered species laws further protected the wolf, to the point that it now has become a political or at least legalistic football.

“Wolf management has been taken away from the on-the-ground biologist, like me, to the courtroom.”

Thus, with wolves flourishing in upper Michigan, their “endangered” status pingpongs back and forth, a fact which hamstrings their cons e r va t ion and management.

Wolves, Mr. Roell notes, leave a larger than life footprint.

“They go jogging for 10 to 12 hours every day — that’s 365. They put down lots of footprints.”

One radio-collared U.P. wolf was killed in Missouri, 470 miles from home territory.

Wolves, like people, also prefer the path of least resistance, so their many tracks often are laid down right where people are likely to see them — on groomed and packed snowmobile trails and plowed roads.

“Your chances of seeing a wolf,” the biologist said in conclusion, “are a lot better than seeing other wildlife species.”

In contrast the U.P. is home to 15,000 to 18,000 black bears, which are highly reclusive, hibernate in winter, and are another large predator.

Such numbers dwarf those of U.P. wolves, the biologist noted, “yet people will say it’s the wolves not the bears” that are a concern.

Mr. Roell links it to the Little Red Riding Hood syndrome.

“It has created this fear in people and it’s undeserved.”

He notes that there are no documented wolf attacks on humans in the lower 48 states, and attacks seen in Alaska and Canada are rare and often linked to habituated animals.

Just the simple fact that wolves may come close to rural residences and farms, for example, is easily explained: “They’re curious, just like dogs.”

Wolves, too, often are blamed for a lack of deer in a given region. “Wolves and deer evolved together,” the biologist said. “Deer are what they are because of wolves. It is incorrect to claim that wolves are going to wipe out all the deer. If the deer goes, the wolf goes.”

Mr. Roell notes that nearby Minnesota is home to some 3,000 wolves and still has plenty of deer. A lot of factors figure into deer numbers, he added. Indeed, wolf numbers in the U.P. grow when deer numbers are peaking.

“Wolves are a piece of the pie but not the whole pie.”

Coyotes, bobcats, and bears all kill and eat deer, especially fawns. The same predators also claim occasional livestock, as do dogs. But wolves are easier to blame.

The biggest deer-killer in the U.P. is a severe winter, or worse, successive severe winters, along with condition of the habitat.

“Winter severity is the most important factor in deer survival [and reproductive success].”Another big deerkiller is the motor vehicle, and cyclical outbreaks of diseases such as mange also take a toll.

The biologist nonetheless notes that what is called “social carrying capacity” — humans’ tolerance for wolves — likely is something lower than the pure biological carrying capacity. “We’re probably over the social carrying capacity [tolerance] in many parts of the U.P.”

Only one female in a pack bears pups, usually about five a year. But 70 percent of the pups die the first winter.

Adult wolves live about five years in the wild. For all of which Mr. Roell says: “Being a predator is a tough life.”

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Jan 31

Wolf toll on livestock increases

Wolf toll on livestock increases

Hunters couldn’t curtail attacks on domestics

Matthew Brown
Associated Press

Gray wolves killed livestock in Montana at the rate of an animal per day in 2009, stirring a backlash against the predators in rural areas and depleting a program that compensates ranchers for their losses.

The sharp increase over 2008 livestock losses, reported Thursday by state officials, was fueled largely by a wolf pack ravaging 148 sheep in southwestern Montana near Dillon in August.

Such attacks – plus elk herd declines blamed on wolves in parts of Montana and neighboring Idaho – have renewed calls by many ranchers and hunters to reduce the predator’s population.

“They are beautiful creatures, but they’re also very deadly. They’ll go out and hamstring a bunch of animals just for fun,” said Barb Svenson of Reed Point, whose family ranch lost more than 30 sheep in attacks over the last two years.

“They’re killing our income,” she added.

Wolf attacks account for only a small fraction of sheep and cattle losses in the Northern Rockies. Disease, weather and coyotes each take more.

But wolves attract particular disdain because of their viciousness – many killed animals are left uneaten – and because of historic prohibitions against hunting the predators.

About 1,650 wolves roam the Northern Rockies, most of them descended from just 66 animals introduced to the region in the mid-1990s by the federal government.

Montana and Idaho launched inaugural wolf hunts in September, in part to put the fast-expanding population in check. The hunts came just six months after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took wolves off the federal endangered species list.

It’s uncertain if the hunts will be repeated in 2010. A pending lawsuit from environmentalists could put wolves back on the list by late spring or early summer, said attorney Bob Lane with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The suit is before U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, who overturned the federal government’s first attempt to strip protections for wolves in 2008. Legal arguments in the case are due by the end of the month.

If the environmentalists lose, Lane said his agency would likely increase Montana’s wolf hunting quota. It was 75 wolves in 2009, although only 72 were taken.

Hunters in Idaho, where the season continues through March, so far have taken 145 wolves out of a 220-animal quota.

About 300 more wolves were killed by ranchers and wildlife agents in the Northern Rockies in response to livestock attacks and by other causes.

Wyoming’s 300 wolves remain on the endangered list.

Meanwhile, 365 sheep, cattle, horses and dogs killed by wolves have been tallied in Montana for 2009, said George Edwards, coordinator of a Montana program to compensate ranchers who suffer losses.

That’s up more than 50 percent from 2008.

The animals’ owners have been paid $139,000 for their losses, leaving only about $25,000 remaining in the state’s compensation fund. Legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, could soon boost the fund with federal money.

State and federal officials estimate that only one in eight wolf kills is confirmed. For many of the rest, proof needed to justify compensation is never found. Many sheep and cattle grazing on public lands in wolf country simply go missing.

Wolf numbers

Snapshot at the end of 2009

1,650: Gray wolves roaming the Northern Rockies.

72: Wolves killed by hunters in Montana

145: Wolves killed by hunters in Idaho

300: Wolves killed in Northern Rockies by ranchers and wildlife agents

365: Sheep, cattle, horses and dogs killed by wolves in Montana alone, an increase of 50 percent from 2008.

$139,000: Paid to Montana livestock owners for their losses

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Jan 31

Wolf hunt likely is years away

Wolf hunt likely is years away

Gov’t controls, public hearings likely to delay open season

By Jim Lee
Gannett Wisconsin Media

PARK FALLS — As Wisconsin’s timber wolf population has expanded over the past 30 years, so have concerns for their future management. But it appears a wolf hunting season is not on the near horizon.

“A public (wolf) harvest is unlikely to occur within the next five years,” said Adrian Wydeven, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist and agency wolf expert.

He cited a July 1 federal court ruling that returned Wisconsin wolves to the endangered species list, a decision that is being challenged. It is anticipated that Wisconsin’s wolves eventually will be removed from the endangered list, thus allowing the state to utilize some lethal tactics in wolf management.

While some deer and bear hunters have proposed a public hunting season as a wolf control method, that solution is not a high priority for wildlife officials.

“When (wolves) are again delisted, the focus will be on controls by government trappers, landowner permits and possibly certified citizen wolf trappers to help control problem wolves,” Wydeven said.

A public wolf hunt could take place “somewhere along the way but unless wolves can remain federally delisted, this won’t be an option. We would also need the Wisconsin legislature to authorize DNR to hold such a harvest,” he explained.

Public hearings to establish administrative rules for a public wolf hunt are required, sessions that could be lengthy and contentious. Even if approved, it is unlikely there will be an “open season” on wolves in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future.

Any public wolf hunt “would probably be a combined trapping and hunting season restricted to a limited number of individual hunter/trappers in restricted portions of the state,” according to Wydeven.

“Currently, only Alaska allows a public harvest,” he said. “That state has an estimated population of 7,000-11,000 wolves.

“Montana and Idaho are planning wolf hunts but (the hunts) will only occur if they can keep wolves from being federally relisted as endangered (lawsuits have been filed).

“Minnesota’s wolf plan says they will not consider a public harvest until five years after federal delisting is completed. Michigan does not have any immediate plans for a public harvest. Canadian provinces with wolves allow trapping and hunting seasons.”

In 1975, timber wolves were considered extinct in Wisconsin; today their presence has been reported in nearly half the state’s 72 counties.

In 1999, the Department of Natural Resources settled on a goal of maintaining a population of approximately 375 timber wolves. A decade later, the state is home to nearly twice that number of wolves and the agency anticipates revisions will be made to the earlier goal, Wydeven said.

The unexpected wolf expansion is largely due to “high deer numbers, recovery of public forest land, recovery and expansion of the Minnesota wolf populations due to federal listing (on the endangered species list) and generally favorable attitudes toward wolves by people,” he explained.

As the wolf population has increased and spread to more areas of the state, depredation problems on livestock and dogs have risen.

In 2008, the state encompassed at least 150 packs of at least 2 wolves, including several packs in areas of central Wisconsin that contain few large blocks of forest, according to the DNR.

During 2008, 32 farms reported losing livestock to wolves. Those losses included 39 cattle killed and four injured, along with a sheep, a pig, two chickens. a llama and a penned deer killed. In addition, 22 dogs were killed and six injured.

During the first nine months (through Sept. 26) of 2009, at least 25 dogs were killed by wolves and 10 injured, according to the DNR. The majority of dogs were hounds used in bear hunting but the toll included two beagles, two dachshunds, a German shorthair pointer and a Sheba Inu.

At least 27 farms reported livestock losses, which included 35 cattle killed and two injured, three sheep, two donkeys and a horse killed. At least one wolf was killed by a farmer defending his livestock.

The DNR reported finding 94 dead wolves in 2008. Of those, 39 were problem animals trapped and euthanized by government trappers, 22 were struck by automobiles and 14 were illegally killed (many during the gun deer season).

Wisconsin cannot take a more aggressive stance to control problem wolves until federal delisting occurs, which is not expected before spring of 2010, Wydeven said.

Source

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Jan 30

SE: Crust stops the wolf census

Crust stops the wolf census

Roughly translated by TWIN Observer

This weekend should be an inventory of hundreds of hunters predators in the county. But snow crust puts an end to the inventory of Dalsland and Bohuslän, says Benny Nilsson, who is responsible within Jägareförbundet for predator inventory, to Sveriges Radio West.

This means that there is no real inventory of wolves, since most of the county’s wolves are in Dalsland and the interior of Bohuslän. Rather the Jägareförbundet hopes for a new census in February.

On the other hand, hunters will take stock of wolf and lynx in other parts of Västra Götaland this weekend.


Skaren stoppar varginventering

Nu i helgen ska hundratals jägare inventera rovdjur i länet. Men skaren sätter stopp för inventeringen i Dalsland och Bohuslän, säger Benny Nilsson, som är ansvarig inom Jägareförbundet för rovdjursinventering, till Sveriges Radio Väst.

Det här betyder att det inte blir någon egentlig inventering av vargar, eftersom de flesta av länets vargar finns i just Dalsland och det inre av Bohuslän. I stället hoppas Jägareförbundet på en ny inventering i februari.

Däremot kommer jägarna att inventera varg och lo i andra delar av Västra Götaland nu i helgen.

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Jan 30

WY: State argues for wolf control

Feds say Wyo’s plan likely would harm animal’s population

State argues for wolf control

By JEREMY PELZER – Star-Tribune capital bureau

CHEYENNE — Lawyers for the state told a federal judge Friday morning that Wyoming should be given control over wolves in the state, calling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s rejection of Wyoming’s wolf management plan “arbitrary and capricious.”

Federal attorneys responded that Wyoming’s plan would likely cause the state’s wolf population to fall below required levels, as it would allow the animals to be killed anywhere in the state outside national park land.

The state filed suit in June, after Fish and Wildlife turned over management of wolves in Montana and Idaho to state governments but kept Wyoming wolves on the endangered species list.

The court case is the latest legal battle over wolves in Wyoming and neighboring states since the animals were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in the mid-1990s.

Attorneys for Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Department of Justice faced off with lawyers from the state and Park County during oral arguments before U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson.

Both sides said they weren’t sure when Johnson will issue a ruling on the case. But no matter how the case is decided, it will likely be appealed, said Harriet Hageman, one of the attorneys for the state.

Federal biologists estimate there are currently 1,645 wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, including 300 to 350 in Wyoming.

Wyoming’s wolf management plan would list wolves as a “trophy species” in the state’s northwest corner and as a “predator species” in the rest of the state. Trophy species are regulated by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and can only be legally hunted with a license; predator species can be trapped or killed on sight using any legal means.

Federal law requires that each state wolf management plan must ensure its wolf population never falls below 10 breeding pairs and 100 total wolves. Fish and Wildlife officials are pushing for a goal of 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves in each state as a “buffer” to ensure the wolf population never dips below the minimum requirements at any time.

Friday morning, U.S. Department of Justice attorney Mike Eitel argued wolves in Wyoming should be listed as a “trophy species” statewide.

Wyoming’s proposed plan, he said, would likely cause the state’s wolf population to dip below the minimum limits.

Eitel also said that under Wyoming’s plan, wolves in the state wouldn’t have the “genetic connectivity” with other wolf populations to maintain a healthy population.

The state of Wyoming, he said, has not acted in good faith with the federal government to reach a deal on an acceptable wolf management plan.

Attorneys for the state and county said that the state would ensure minimum wolf numbers are maintained.

But allowing too many wolves would devastate farmers, ranchers and sportsmen in the state, they said, as wolves target livestock and trophy game such as elk. And the federal government’s case, they argued, was a “Trojan Horse” designed to allow ever-increasing numbers of wolves in the state.

“We are willing to make sure that we protect a recovered wolf population,” Hageman said. “But you know what? We are going to be killing wolves. It was never part of the deal for us to have an unlimited number of wolves in Wyoming or Idaho or anywhere else.”

In a separate but related case, a federal judge in Montana will soon hear arguments about whether Fish and Wildlife properly removed wolves in Montana and Idaho from the Endangered Species List last year.

Both states subsequently allowed a wolf hunting season last fall; hunters killed 72 wolves in Montana and 144 in Idaho.

Source

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Jan 29

WY: Wyoming urges judge to end federal wolf management

Wyoming urges judge to end federal wolf management

By BEN NEARY Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has no legitimate reason for its refusal to turn over management of gray wolves to the state of Wyoming, the state told a federal judge on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne heard arguments Friday in a lawsuit the state of Wyoming filed against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The state is challenging the agency’s decision last year to remove wolves in Idaho and Montana from the endangered species list while leaving them protected in Wyoming.

Jay Jerde, deputy Wyoming attorney general, told Johnson that the Fish and Wildlife Service has continually shifted and inflated the requirements the state would have to meet to take over wolf management.

“If they had any good reason for rejecting our plan, they wouldn’t have given this court so many bad reasons,” Jerde said.

A federal lawyer, however, told Johnson the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the state’s plan because it didn’t guarantee a continued minimum wolf population.

Wyoming officials, together with many outfitters and agricultural producers, are anxious to end federal wolf protections so the state can start killing more of them to reduce their take of elk, moose and livestock.

Speaking after the court hearing, outfitter B.J. Hill of Jackson said wolf depredation on elk is forcing the state to weigh limited draw licenses in certain popular hunting areas bordering Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.

Hill said he has been outfitting for 20 years in the area and said he’s seeing the ratio of elk calves to cow elk dropping quickly and the number of trophy bulls dwindling.

“The only way we can approach it is to get delisted and start harvesting these large carnivores,” Hill said. “It’s got to happen soon; we’re running out of time.”

Wyoming proposes to treat wolves as a protected game species in the northwest corner of the state, around Yellowstone. The state wants to classify them as predators that could be shot on sight elsewhere in the state.

Jerde told Johnson that Wyoming is committed to maintaining at least 15 breeding pairs and 150 total wolves in the state – the minimum number the Fish and Wildlife Service has said each of the three states needs to maintain.

Biologists this week said preliminary results show the population of wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming now stands at about 1,650. They say Wyoming has about 319, with at least 27 breeding pairs – up from 22 breeding pairs in 2008.

Michael Eitel, lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice, told Johnson that federal law required giving deference to the Fish and Wildlife Service on scientific questions of how to manage the wolves.

Wyoming’s plan would rely on Yellowstone National Park to maintain eight breeding pairs of wolves and reduce the population to seven breeding pairs in the state outside the park, Eitel said.

There are now at least 21 breeding pairs outside the park and six in Yellowstone, according to Fish and Wildlife.

Eitel told Johnson, “that’s a discretionary issue,” when the judge asked him how many wolves Wyoming should have to keep from dropping below the 15 breeding pairs, 150 wolf requirement.

“Wolves are unlikely to disburse in Wyoming under Wyoming’s regulatory scheme,” Eitel said. He added that protecting the wolves only in the northwest corner of the state was likely to keep them from traveling and breeding with the Montana and Idaho populations.

Source

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Jan 29

UT: Bill targets wolves

Bill targets wolves

Summit County senator softens legislation

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

A state senator for eastern Summit County sponsoring legislation that once called for wolves in Utah to be destroyed has softened his controversial bill.

Substitute language in Senate Bill 36 instead would let state wildlife officers request help from the federal government in removing wolves from areas in the state where they are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The newer version of the bill was approved Tuesday afternoon with a 4-2 vote by the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, claimed livestock and wildlife in Utah would be destroyed if wolves roam freely.

Federal law does not protect wolves living in a small chunk of northeastern Utah. But wolves throughout the rest of the state should be removed from the endangered list, Christensen said.

“One hundred years ago they were eliminated from Utah. It wasn’t by accident. It was on purpose,” Christensen said.

Today about 1,700 wolves are living in the West, according to Don Peay, a spokesman for Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

Due to successful recovery efforts wolves in all of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the eastern third of Washington and Oregon and a small part of northern Utah were removed from the federal endangered list about two years ago.

“Wolves are clearly the reason for dramatic reductions in elk populations,” Peay said. “Hunters do not want to go to Idaho and have a bad experience, not see elk and not have a reasonable chance of harvesting an elk.”

Hunters in Montana killed about 75 wolves last year, according to Peay. About 150 wolves were killed by hunters in Idaho, he added.

“It’s a train wreck that is coming to the West and we want to see Utah get ahead of this curve,” Peay said.

But those views outrage environmentalists.

“There are multiple factors that affect wolf populations, elk populations and deer populations,” said Kirk Robinson, director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy. “Mule deer populations have been generally on the decline since the 1950s roughly for all kinds of reasons.”

Many Utahns view wolves positively and would like to see wolves return to the state, Robinson said.

“We don’t have any packs that we know of right now so it’s hardly an urgent issue,” Robinson said.

Lawmakers shouldn’t encourage wildlife officers to kill wolves in violation of federal law, said Joan Gallegos, who owns land in Emigration Canyon.

“The wolf has been extremely beneficial to wildlife,” she said. “As a citizen I’m concerned about the Utah state Legislature wasting money on potential lawsuits that really are frivolous in my opinion.”

It is likely that legislation calling for protected wolves in Utah to be destroyed could be deemed unconstitutional by a court.

Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Salt Lake City, said she is concerned the original version of Senate Bill 36 would not pass constitutional muster.

“It’s hard for me to support something where we’re asking [officers] to go out and do something that is against the law,” Morgan said.

However, state officials have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in livestock and wildlife, Christensen countered.

“The initial bill was a preemptive strike against the wolves migrating into Utah,” Christensen said.

Instead of authorizing state wildlife officers to kill wolves the newer bill would require the Division of Wildlife Resources to prevent the “establishment of a viable pack of wolves in areas of the state where the wolf is not listed as endangered or threatened.”

Morgan and Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, voted against the substitute bill at the committee meeting.

“We need more information before all of the members of the committee can actually make a good decision,” Morgan said before opposing the bill. “This is a significant move.”

Congressional representatives have been asked by state wildlife officials to have all wolves in Utah removed from the federal endangered list.

“That’s a real frustration for us at the division of wildlife,” Division of Wildlife Resources Director Jim Karpowitz said. “We have a hard time understanding where they are going with wolves in the rest of the state of Utah.”

Source

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Jan 29

SE: Protective hunt of wolf in Jämtland

Protective hunt of wolf in Jämtland

Roughly translated by TWIN Observer

Stockholm / TT

The Environmental Protection Agency has given permission for a protective hunt of a wolf in Handöl Valley’s village in Jämtland. It has caused great harm to the village’s reindeer.

The Board considers there is no other satisfactory solution to the problems than to allow a protective hunt. It begins on Friday and may run until 15 February.


Skyddsjakt på varg i Jämtland

Stockholm/TT

Naturvårdsverket har gett tillstånd till skyddsjakt på en varg i Handölsdalens sameby i Jämtland. Den har ställt till stor skada på byns renskötsel.

Verket bedömer att det inte finns någon annan lämplig lösning på problemen än att tillåta skyddsjakt. Den inleds på fredagen och får pågå till och med den 15 februari.

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Jan 28

AK: Breakaway snares allow moose to escape, but still kill wolves

Breakaway snares allow moose to escape, but still kill wolves

by Tim Mowry

FAIRBANKS – All it took was one or two wrestling matches with moose caught in wolf snares he set to convince Fairbanks trapper Jim Masek there had to be a way to make a snare strong enough to hold a wolf but not so strong that a moose couldn’t break free.

“(Dealing with a snared moose) is a real risky game,” Masek, who has been trapping for 20-plus years on the Minto Flats, told the all-male class of about 20 students at a snare-building workshop at the Department of Fish and Game Hunter Education Indoor Shooting Range on Saturday.

“You’re probably going to get the snot kicked out of you when you’re trying to get the snare off and then again once you get it off,” he said. “Most people don’t realize it, but a moose can kick straight forward; it can punch.”

After catching dozens of moose throughout the years, Masek has been kicked and punched more times than he can remember.

“It’s a pretty dangerous game,” he said of freeing snared moose. “That’s why these breakaway snares are a good thing, just to save your own hide.”

While they are common and even required in many Lower 48 states for deer, breakaway snares for moose in Alaska are a relative novelty, said Craig Gardner, a wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game who helped develop them.

“I’d like to see more trappers use them,” Gardner said. “The movement (to develop a breakaway snare for moose) started in the Interior, but it doesn’t look to me that Interior trappers have embraced them compared to other parts of Alaska.”

Masek has and not just because he’s tired of getting the snot kicked out of him.

“We’re not out there to kill moose,” Masek said. “We’re out there to keep moose alive.”

If a trapper catches and kills a moose in a snare, regulations require the trapper to pull all his or her traps for a one-quarter mile radius around the dead moose.

Snaring moose

Gardner, who has worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for nearly 30 years, probably knows more about snaring moose than anyone. As part of his research into developing a breakaway snare for moose and caribou, Gardner spent several days at the Kenai Moose Research Center on the Kenai Peninsula setting snares for captive moose.

“I built a ton of snares and caught a ton of moose and watched how they worked those snares,” Gardner said.

Moose get caught in wolf snares two ways — by the foot after they step into a snare that has been knocked down and by the nose when they stick their snouts into snares while browsing for food.

Moose don’t actually step into a wolf snare set, Gardner said. Instead, they usually knock the snare down with their head or chest as they move through the woods, and the snare falls flat onto the surface of the snow, creating what Gardner calls “a perfect Venus flytrap” in the form of a 6- to 15-inch loop.

With the snare flat on the snow, the moose usually steps into the snare with its back foot. In his research, Gardner said 75 percent of the moose he caught in snares were initially caught by the hind foot.

“We were always wondering how moose got caught by the hind foot,” Gardner said.

If the snare is not equipped with a stop mechanism that prevents it from cinching down or a breakaway mechanism, it cinches down on the moose’s leg as soon as the moose steps forward.

Moose get caught by the nose as they walk through the woods or when they are browsing, Gardner said.

“If they’re just traveling or browsing, their head is pretty low, right where a wolf snare is,” he said.

If a moose sticks its nose in a snare and then pulls its head straight up, the snare will cinch down on the moose’s nose.

“I call it setting the hook,” Gardner said, referring to the familiar fishing term.

The biologist said he observed moose in Kenai while they were browsing and he was amazed at how infrequently moose were caught by the nose, considering how often they could have been. The moose continually stuck their noses in snares while feeding and didn’t get caught, in large part because they could care less if a cable snare is sliding up and down their noses.

“As long as they don’t pull back their heads, the snare rolls up and down the nose, and they don’t get caught,” Gardner said. “The difference between a moose being caught by the nose and not being caught by the nose is pretty fine.”

Breakaway design

Whether a moose gets caught by the leg or nose, it’s essentially a dead moose if the snare is not equipped with a breakaway mechanism, Gardner said.

“This cable can hold cars,” Gardner said, holding up a snare made of 7/64-inch steel cable, one of three common cable sizes used by wolf trappers. “Basically if you catch something, it’s going to hold it.”

Once a snare is cinched tight on a moose’s leg or nose, it will cut the circulation off and the foot or nose freezes.

That’s where the breakaway system Gardner developed comes in. Gardner designed a snare that incorporates a metal ferrule crimped onto the snare to serve as a stop, which prevents the snare cable from cinching down past a certain point, in this case an inch or two bigger than a moose’s leg, but cinches down enough to choke a wolf.

“We had to figure out where to put (the stop) so it still kills wolves by neck, but stops soon enough so it doesn’t cause damage to a moose’s leg,” Gardner said. “If it doesn’t hold a wolf, what good is it?”

Gardner collected moose legs from hunters on the Tanana Flats to determine the average size of a moose leg between the knee and hoof, where they are most likely to get caught.

Then he collected measurements of wolves’ necks taken by local trapper and fur tanner Al Barrette to determine the average size of a wolf’s neck.

The average size of a wolf’s neck is 12 1/2 inches, and the average size of a moose’s leg is 8 inches. By placing the stop mechanism 10 inches from the lock, it prevents the snare from cinching down on a moose’s leg, giving the moose time to break free without freezing its foot, but it will choke and kill a wolf before hitting the stop.

The ferrule also serves as a breakaway mechanism because Gardner cuts the cable and then crimps both ends into the ferrule at a poundage strong enough that a moose or caribou can break loose but a wolf cannot.

Using a hydraulic jack and a scale, Gardner then measured how much poundage was required to break different snares he built. He enlisted the help of two local trappers to determine how much poundage was required to kill wolves efficiently but allow moose to pull the cable apart at the ferrule. The number he arrived at was 350 pounds, or two crimps with a swager.

Unfortunately, breakaway snares don’t work on nose catches because moose caught by the nose don’t put up a fight, Gardner said. The snare is the equivalent of a metal ring in a steer’s nose, Gardner said.

“It hurts,” he said. “If you catch a moose by the nose, it’s a dead moose. (The snare cable) cinches uptight and the nose freezes quick.

“Even if you release them, they die,” Gardner said.

Help from trappers

It was former Fairbanks trapper Ron Long, who has since died, who first approached the department about developing a breakaway snare for moose.

“He came in the office one day and said, ‘I’ll tell you right now trappers are catching moose, most don’t get free and we need to find a better way,’” Gardner said. “He really bugged us.”

Throughout the years, other trappers, such as Masek, Al Barrette, Jim Walters and Click Bishop, offered advice to Gardner. It was Bishop, the state’s labor commissioner who likes to trap wolves in his spare time, who came up with the idea of incorporating a small S-hook between the end of the snare loop and the lock as a breakaway device. The S-hook is strong enough to hold a choking wolf but a moose or caribou can pull the S-hook straight. Using Bishop’s S-hook design combined with the ferrule breakaway provides two breakaway mechanisms.

“A lot of these ideas came from trappers,” Gardner said. “You have to have a snare that trappers will support for it to work.”

The next step is to develop a snare that prevents nose catches on moose, Gardner said. Gardner has experimented with a snare that has proved effective, but he hasn’t really started pushing it yet.

The snare features an 11-gauge “diverter wire” that the snare hangs from and which guides a moose’s nose away from the snare. During his research with captive moose at the moose research center, Gardner said not one of the 42 moose that encountered his diverter snares were caught by the nose and the snares were knocked down 95 percent of the time.

The snares performed well in field tests, too. The two private trappers he recruited for his project found that the snares successfully caught wolves and were 100 percent effective in preventing nose catches. Trappers saw no evidence that wolves shied away from the diverter snares, he said.

“It takes another step to make, and they’re more cumbersome to set but they work,” Gardner said of the diverter wire snares.

Future requirement?

Proposals that would require breakaway snares for wolf trapping in Alaska have been brought before the Alaska Board of Game before, but they were rejected, Gardner said. The only place in Alaska where breakaway snares are mandatory is the Kenai Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge, he said.

The Alaska Trappers Association, based in Fairbanks, endorses the use of breakaway snares and does its best to educate trappers through clinics such as the one two weeks ago, ATA president Randy Zarnke said.

But the ATA stops short of when it comes to requiring all trappers to use them, he said.

“We think they’re a good idea and we encourage all of our members to use them, but we don’t like the idea of making them mandatory,” Zarnke said.

Barrette, who traps off the Elliott Highway north of Fairbanks, said he has released about eight moose during his trapping career and he doesn’t ever want to do it again, which is why he switched to breakaway snares two years ago. An incident with an angry cow moose he successfully released from a snare several years ago left him scarred for life, he said.

“After I cut her out, she ran me down,” Barrette said. “I thought for sure she was going to stomp me into the ground.”

While Barrette doesn’t think breakaway snares should be mandatory for trappers in Alaska, he said anything a trapper can do to avoid catching — and potentially killing — a moose is a good thing.

“I’ve killed a few moose in my trapping years, and for as many wolves as I’ve caught, I try to justify it but it’s a bad catch,” he said.

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Jan 28

MT: Northern Rockies gray wolf populations held steady in 2009, biologists say

Northern Rockies gray wolf populations held steady in 2009, biologists say

BILLINGS, Mont. — A new tally of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies shows the population held steady across the region in 2009, ending more than a decade of expansion by the predators but also underscoring their resilience in the face of new hunting seasons in Montana and Idaho.

Biologists said the region’s total wolf population has remained stable and will be similar to 2008′s minimum of 1,650 wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

The number of breeding packs increased slightly, from 95 to 111. That’s despite more than 500 wolves killed last year, primarily by hunters and government wildlife agents responding to livestock attacks.

If the preliminary figures hold, it could bolster the federal government’s assertion that wolves are doing fine since losing Endangered Species Act protections last year.

The exception is Wyoming, where state law is considered hostile to the species’ survival and federal protections remain in force. The state has challenged the decision to keep wolves under federal protection in Wyoming, and a federal court hearing in that case is set for Friday in Cheyenne.

The latest population data was released Thursday in court documents filed by Montana wildlife officials in a separate case brought by environmentalists. They are seeking to overturn the loss of protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho.

The environmentalists suggest current population figures are not a fair indicator of the animal’s long-term survival, because the states could drive down their numbers over time with no ramifications.

The 2009 results show Montana’s wolf population dipped slightly, from 497 in 2008 to 493. In comparison, Wyoming’s population grew from 302 to at least 319.

A precise estimate for Idaho was not made available, but the state said it expects a figure “comparable” to 2008′s population of 846 wolves. Idaho reported its number of breeding packs of wolves increased from 39 in 2008 to 50 last year.

“This puts a few things to rest, first and foremost that hunting was going to hurt the population,” said Montana’s lead gray wolf biologist, Carolyn Sime.

Sime added that by maintaining the status quo for wolves in Montana, wildlife officials demonstrated hunting is an effective way to manage the population and keep it in check.

Ranchers across the Northern Rockies have complained in recent years that the wolf population had grown out of control, causing widespread harm to their cattle and sheep herds.

Some have recommended bringing back poisoning as a way to drastically reduce the population. Last used in the early 1900s, poison helped wipe out wolves across most of the Lower 48 states by the 1930s.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that a handful of wolves from Canada began to take up residence in northern Montana. Their numbers exploded following the reintroduction of 66 wolves by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service into central Idaho and Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

Until 2009, the population had been on a sharp upward trend, at times increasing 30 percent in a single year. Whether it starts to dip as hunting continues remains to be seen.

Under pressure from the ranching industry, Montana wildlife officials already have floated a possible hunting quota increase for the 2010 season. Last year’s quota was 75 wolves.

Idaho’s season was recently extended to give hunters more time to fill its quota of 220.

Whether future hunts can occur hinges on U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula, who is hearing the environmentalists’ suit. Molloy’s ruling is not expected for several months.

– Associated Press

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