Jul 31

ID: F&G: Wolves not causing most elk losses

F&G: Wolves not causing most elk losses

By Laura Lundquist – Times-News writer

Wolves have long been blamed for elk deaths in Idaho. But research is showing the predators have gotten a bum rap.

In its August newsletter, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game summarized recent elk studies and found only a minority of elk populations are declining and wolves are culprits in few.

A third of elk populations are increasing even though wolves have been in Idaho since 1995. Though statewide numbers have dropped some, claims that wolves are wholly responsible for declining elk populations aren’t holding up.

Craig White of Fish and Game said the agency’s wildlife division conducted elk studies in 11 of the 29 state elk management areas between 2005 and 2008. The sample included five of the six areas in the state with declining populations. White said biologists tried to collar approximately 30 female elk in each area, but didn’t provide exact numbers.

“We selected areas we thought would be representative for a snapshot of what was happening across the state,” White said.

Biologists found that wolves killed significant numbers of collared elk in only one area, the Lolo zone along U.S. Highway 12 in north Idaho. Over the three years, the report claims wolves killed 20 percent of the Lolo sample, or about six elk. Three-quarters of the collared elk survived, less than Fish and Game’s survival goal of 88 percent.

White said deteriorating habitat in the Lolo zone has contributed to declining elk numbers since at least 1988, before wolves entered the picture. The population dropped by 40 percent during the severe winter of 1996-97 alone. Bears and cougars also kill many elk. Just across the border, Montana biologists are starting a similar collaring study in Ravalli County, where one factor of elk decline may be high human population growth.

The report said wolves caused the highest number of deaths in two other areas with declining populations. But in the Smoky Mountain zone west of Ketchum, where wolves were said to have killed 5 percent of about 30 collared elk, other predators and hunters together killed 7 percent. The Sawtooth zone, west of Stanley, had similar results.

Conversely, the report showed that hunters were the biggest cause of elk kills in two other areas with declining populations: the Pioneer zone east of Ketchum, and Island Park near Rexburg. In the Island Park zone, hunters killed 17 percent of collared elk while wolves killed none.

White said Fish and Game ran a shorter study starting in 2008, collaring 6-month-old calves in just the Lolo and Sawtooth zones. In both areas, wolves killed around a third of the calves. But in the Sawtooth area, only one-third of calves survived, meaning other factors were also to blame.

The conclusion that wolves don’t have a greater effect on elk runs counter to the expectations of many. In July 2009, an informal Fish and Game survey of 2,500 out-of-state hunters found that three in 10 didn’t plan to visit Idaho because of the perceived effect of wolves on elk populations.

In the late ’90s, even ecologists like Scott Creel of Montana State University expected wolves to kill a lot of elk. But after eight years studying the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem where wolves are numerous, he’s learned that other factors are more likely to reduce elk populations.

Before wolves were reintroduced, elk populations were larger and elk stayed in the open, which is what hunters got used to, Creel said. Now, he said, elk may be acting like they did before wolves were eliminated.

Given time, Creel said, he thinks both populations would stabilize. He noted population sizes are only considered “good” or “bad” based upon arbitrary ideas of what the size should be.

“No predator has ever eliminated its food,” Creel said. “Change is always the most dramatic at the beginning, then population numbers settle.”

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Jul 29

CA: B.C. to look at hunting changes to ensure ‘fair’ chase

B.C. to look at hunting changes to ensure ‘fair’ chase

Outrage over wolf hunt by snowmobile gets Environment Minister asking questions

By Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun

Amidst public outrage over a trophy wolf hunt that involved bait and a high-powered snowmobile, Environment Minister Barry Penner said Wednesday he has instructed his staff to consider new regulations that would ensure a fair chase in the B.C. wilderness

“The incident has raised a number of questions for me,” Penner told The Vancouver Sun. “I have asked my staff to review this matter and see if this is an area which is in need of updating and revision.”

He said he wants to “make sure that if there is any element of a chase in a hunt that it is done fairly. That is our policy intent, and if our regulations need updating then we’re prepared to consider that.”

Penner said any new regulations would first be put to conservation and hunting groups for comment.

The minister was responding to a Sun story Tuesday involving Wicked River Outfitters, which charges non-resident hunters more than $4,000 a week to hunt wolves.

A written account of one hunt — published online by a couple associated with the Dallas Safari Club of Texas — detailed the use of bait and a snowmobile travelling in excess of 140 km/h to prevent a seven-member wolf pack from escaping frozen Williston Lake reservoir last February.

The Wildlife Act prohibits the use of a “motor vehicle or other mechanical device to herd or harass wildlife.”

The U.S. couple said they shot a total of “five wolves, two coyotes and took a bunch of animals from the trapline” during their visit — all of which has generated widespread outrage.

The Conservation Officer Service is investigating the wolf hunt by the two Americans.

“The ‘sport’ of trophy hunting takes the ‘industry’ to an egregiously unequalled low — destroying a magnificent, regal animal for some incomprehensible sick thrill,” said Debra Probert, executive director of the Vancouver Humane Society.

“Our wildlife is a precious, priceless heritage owned by all British Columbians. It’s time we spoke up to protect it.”

Her comments reflected a wide range of e-mails received by The Sun from hunting and non-hunting individuals outraged that this type of hunt is occurring in B.C. The Sun’s article has already been widely disseminated on hunting and environmental websites.

Scott Ellis, general manager of the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C., could not be reached to comment.

Rodney Wiebe, president of the B.C. Wildlife Federation, representing resident hunters and fishermen, said “my conclusion is that the BCWF will decline comment on this article.”

Dennis Beattie, the owner of Wicked River Outfitters, has a prior Wildlife Act conviction.

Fort St. John’s Alaska Highway News reported on June 13, 2000, that Beattie was fined $1,850 for illegally using the hunting licence of another person.

Beattie pleaded guilty to one charge under the provincial Wildlife Act. A stay of proceedings was entered on a second charge.

The charge arose from a September 1999 incident in which a hunter — guided by an assistant guide employed by Beattie — killed a wolverine before the open season, the newspaper reported.

Beattie used another hunter’s licence in an attempt to cover the illegal kill, and also claimed the wolverine had been taken during the legal hunt.

Beattie was ordered to pay a fine of $850 to the court, and an additional fine of $1,000 to the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund.

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Jul 29

NM governor suspends trapping in wolf border area

NM governor suspends trapping in wolf border area

SANTA FE, N.M. – Gov. Bill Richardson ordered a temporary ban on trapping on the New Mexico side of an area where Mexican gray wolves have been reintroduced into the wild along the New Mexico-Arizona border.

On Wednesday, Richardson ordered the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to prohibit trapping for six months while it studies what risk traps and snares pose to wolves.

A federal effort to reintroduce the endangered subspecies of the gray wolf into the Southwest began in 1998.

Biologists had predicted a self-sustaining wild population of 100 wolves by now, but the latest count at the end of 2009 found 42. Three have been found dead since June, two of them shot.

The program has been plagued by illegal shootings, complaints from ranchers who have lost cattle to wolves and environmentalists who criticize the way the federal government has managed the program.

Richardson’s executive order noted traps do not differentiate between wolves and the animals for which traps were set.

His order said there have been six confirmed and three probable Mexican gray wolves trapped in New Mexico’s portion of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in the past eight years. Five wolves were injured by the traps, two severely enough to require leg amputations.

Injuries can harm wolves’ ability to catch prey and could increase the risk of wolves preying on livestock instead of faster elk and deer, the order said.

Conservationists applauded the ban.

WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club and Southwest Environmental Center petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service last month for an emergency halt to trapping and snaring in the recovery area.

Richardson’s action “is a cue for the feds to step up and to provide maximum protections for this critically endangered animal,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of carnivore programs for WildEarth Guardians.

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Jul 29

MT: If you see a wolf, state officials want to hear about it

If you see a wolf, state officials want to hear about it

For the Tribune

State wildlife officials remind landowners, hikers, anglers, OHV riders and others in the outdoors that they can use the Internet this summer to help monitor Montana wolves.

“Over the past several years, we’ve depended on hunters, landowners, and many others who spend time outdoors to be among our best sources of wolf-related information,” said Ken McDonald, chief of the wildlife bureau for Montana, Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Helena.

July and August mark the height of Montana’s summer when many visit national forests and wilderness areas.

“Some of those folks will see wolves,” McDonald said. “We want them to know there’s an easy way to tell FWP when they see a wolf or wolf activity.”

The information helps wildlife managers know as much as possible about wolf locations and numbers and it is also good information for livestock producers who can use it to decide if they need to adjust summer range movements, calving locations, and other activities, McDonald said.

To report a wolf sighting, visit FWP’s website at www.fwp.mt.gov. Click Montana Wolves. In addition, wolf-reporting postcards are available from FWP and most licenses providers and anyone can report wolf sightings to their nearest FWP office.

The information will be shared with biologists who track wolves.

“The easiest way to report a wolf sighting is use the online reporting system,” McDonald said. “One can go online to quickly answer about a dozen questions.”

McDonald said Montanans and visitors can help wildlife biologists by reporting where, when and how many wolves they see.

“Lots of folks use GPS units, and if they can give us the coordinates of where they see a wolf, that would be especially helpful.” McDonald said.

The Rocky Mountain gray wolf was removed from the federal endangered species list last year, allowing Montana to manage wolves in a manner similar to how bears, mountain lions and other wildlife species are managed.

The wolf’s delisted status in Montana and Idaho, however, is being challenged in federal court by a group seeking to place the wolf back on the endangered species list. FWP is vigorously defending the delisting decision.

To learn more about Montana’s wolf population, visit FWP online at fwp.mt.gov. Click Montana Wolves.

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Jul 29

MT: Elk numbers dip; are wolves culprits?

Elk numbers dip; are wolves culprits?

By MICHAEL BABCOCK • Tribune Outdoor Editor

Researchers at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks have proposed a study of elk survival and recruitment in the Bitterroot Valley that could go a long way toward settling the debate over the impact that wolves have on elk.

“It sure has applicability toward that,” said Craig Jourdonnais, an FWP wildlife biologist in the Bitterroot, who proposed the study after two years of serious declines in the number of elk calves recruited into herds in the East and West Forks of the Bitterroot River.

“Elk cow/calf ratios have declined throughout the Bitterroot Valley since 2004,” Jourdonnais said. “MFWP recorded a valley-wide historic low in elk calf recruitment in 2009. Steady declines in the West Fork — Hunting District 250 — have left that population 63 percent below objective and recruitment rates of only 11 calves per 100 cows.”

Jourdonnais said two consecutive years of low calf recruitment — those calves that made it through their first winter and their early vulnerability to predators — prompted a grassroots call for the research.

Valley-wide, those late calves have numbered 12 to 15 calves per hundred cows. Ideally they would be at about 35 calves per hundred cows.

“It really came on fairly quickly and we have a lot of questions,” he said. “That is what this whole research is geared to. These things started coming together. We had support here. We ran the research proposal through the agency and competed statewide and came out among the top three. It has the blessing of the agency,” Jourdonnais said.

Whether or not wolves are to blame will be shown by the the study. Other predators such as black bears, grizzly bears and mountain lions, and factors such as habitat and cow elk health, will be part of the study as well.

“There are a lot of opinions about the relationship between elk and wolves and that is all they are,” Jourdonnais said. “We want to put some data behind it, but from gut level and our experience in the Gallatin and the Madison, it would not surprise me at all to see wolves are large part of what is going on.”

While the study might not approach the eight-year study of ungulates and prey done by Ken Hamlin from 2000 to 2009 or the 10-year study of mountain lions conducted by Rick DeSimone in the Ovando-Clearwater area, the Bitterroot study would be significant.

“It is a big enough issue that it has an internal research biologist assigned to it, so that puts it in a different category as far as commitment goes,” said Justin Gude, head of wildlife research for Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Helena. “We have only four research biologists and so it is big enough to get someone assigned to it.”

The Hamlin study showed that grizzly bears took about half the elk calves lost to predation and researchers consider that significant.

“What caused the piano to fall was adding the wolf. The wolves kicked in on the calves that remained,” Jourdonnais said. “We found 80 percent of what they killed was elk and of those elk 85 percent were calves. It is a one-two punch and they were experiencing similar low calf recruitment to what we are in the Bitterroot.”

Hamlin, a recently retired FWP wildlife biologist, conducted the Yellowstone area research beginning in 2000. His final report was published in 2009 and remains available on line at www.fwp.mt.gov.

That study and a study in the early 1980s of wolves and ungulates in the North Fork of the Flathead both had factors that the Bitterroot study does not. In the North Fork study, the principle prey was whitetail deer. In each study, there also was the factor of a nearby national park where no hunting is allowed, which means a management tool is not available.

Montana adopted a wolf hunting season last year and recently bumped up the quota of wolves available to hunters to 184. But the wolf hunt is under court challenge.

“The Bitterroot offers a real working landscape. We don’t have areas that are off limits to hunting. It is full of people trying to live, work and play,” he said. “We have plenty of mule deer, whitetails and elk and plenty of predators. You could at least make comparisons to all of western Montana and northcentral Montana.”

‘The idea for the Bitterroot study came out of discussions among Jourdonnais, FWP wildlife managers Mike Thompson, Kelly Proffitt, Gude and Mark Hebblewhite at the University of Montana.

“There were a lot of folks in the Bitterroot who were concerned,” Gude said. “Craig and Mike Thompson were responding to their concerns when they came to Kelly and me; we all worked together to come up with what the study should look like.

Jourdonnais said the issue is not just wolves but the question is, which predators a responsible for the mortality.

“We got plenty of predators here: We are trying to find out when an elk calf dies, what is it dying from. Predation could be a huge part of it but also the elk’s maternal body condition has influence.

“There are a lot of subdivisions on the elk winter range, there is weed infestations and there were some huge wildfires in the last few years. We want to be sure we are looking at things that could impact calf recruitment — but the health of the adult cow elk and predation are huge.”

Research methods

The three-year study will compare the East Fork (HD 270) and West Fork (HD 250) elk herds. The East Fork area is more open habitat where agricultural activity has limited the number of wolves. The West Fork area is primarily forested habitat and the lack of agricultural activity and proximity to Idaho wilderness areas results in a higher density of wolves.

Researchers plan to capture and radio-collar 45 adult female elk in February 2011. Body condition and pregnancy rates of captured animals will be evaluated. Radio-location data will provide information regarding movement patterns of elk, location of calving areas, and interchange with adjacent herds.

Beginning in spring 2011 or 2012, they plan to capture and radio-collar 60 elk calves and monitor calf survival for 1 year. Daily flights will be conducted to monitor calf survival and mortalities will be investigated to determine cause of death.

Researchers also will capture and radio-collar wolves in the West Fork area with the intent of targeting packs that are presently unmarked.

“This kind of research is not cheap. We are trying to raise $150,000 to get the first phase off ground. The agency is stepping forward with $50,000 to $70,000 of its own,” Jourdonnais said.

“The Montana Bowhunters Association has come on board. We have cast a wide net as far as fundraiser. We have to raise money to get this done,” Jourdonnais said. “Ravalli Fish and Wildlife Association has stepped up and private landowners have expressed an interest in assisting. It is going to be a community effort.”

The Montana Bowhunters Association sent a written request to its members asking them to help support the research.

“The driving force behind this study is science over opinion,” the MBA said in a note to members. “The results of this study could potentiallyhave a profound impact of the future direction of the elkmanagement and wolf managementas well as the court. The study will allowFWP to set predator quotas based on science to help achieve elk objectives for the entire state not just the Bitterroot.

Is there hope?

Jourdonnais is guarded when it comes to recovery of the herds.

Because the number of elk has fallen below projected numbers in those elk management districts in the Bitterroot, the statewide elk management plan calls for cutting back on the number of elk taken by hunters.

“Once we removed the antlerless hunting opportunity and once these elk reach yearling to adult age the mortality is much less than when a calf. We have a core group of adult cows and we have scaled hunting back so far that it is not significant biologically. We are looking at four or five years where we can hang on. Four or five years out, if we don’t get a bump in calf recruitment, it would be a precipitous drop off.”

The proposal said, “We are currently working to gather funding for this study from MFWP, natural resource agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, and private organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The initiation, scope, and duration of this work are dependent upon our ability to secure funding and future management needs. Foundations exist through the University of Montana and Fish, Wildlife & Parks to facilitate financial donations from private sources.”

A study by FWP economist Rob Brooks showed that the economic value of big game hunting contributed $11.3 million to the Ravalli County economy in 2005.

“That is a big deal,” Jourdonnais said.

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Jul 28

WA: Researchers can’t find Lookout Pack’s mother wolf

Researchers can’t find Lookout Pack’s mother wolf

Radio collar has stopped working on Twisp-area wolf

By K.C. Mehaffey

TWISP — The mother wolf of the state’s first confirmed pack of wolves in Washington state in 70 years is missing.

At least, biologists don’t know where the alpha female from Twisp’s Lookout Pack has been since May 12, when the signal from her radio collar stopped giving them her location.

That’s likely to mean one of two things, said Scott Fitkin, biologist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Either her radio collar malfunctioned, or someone killed her and destroyed the collar, he said.

The collar on the father, or alpha male of the pack, is still sending signals, indicating he’s moved up to the higher elevations above Twisp for the summer, he said.

They are the only two wolves in the pack that were captured and fitted with radio collars during the summer of 2008, when DNA tests confirmed the wolves were not hybrids, and when remote cameras showed they had a litter of pups.

Biologists have used the radio collars to track their location since then.

There were at least seven wolves in the pack this spring, but now that they can’t locate the mother, they don’t know how many there are, Fitkin said. They haven’t seen more than three or four wolves together since spring.

Fitkin said the collars are supposed to work for four years, but it’s certainly possible the collar stopped working.

He said there are other possibilities that would explain the absence of a signal from the alpha mom, although they’re not very likely.

“It’s feasible she could have died in some spot where it’s tough to get a signal,” he said. But he has flown over the pack’s range a few times, and never was able to get her signal, although he picked up the male’s.

“I think it’s unlikely she left the area entirely,” he said, but he can’t be certain she didn’t.

Fitkin said that just doesn’t fit with the actions of an alpha member of the pack, even one who’s getting older

A remote camera captured a photo of the mother wolf in April, and she looked fat, leading biologists to believe she was pregnant.

But howling surveys in the same areas where they heard pups for the last two years yielded no responses this year, he said.

He said one person reported seeing two pups crossing a road this summer, but the sighting is not verified.

“We don’t really know if there are pups on the ground. It seems doubtful,” he said.

There are a variety of things a wolf pack will do when it loses its alpha female, Fitkin said.

He said the alpha male might find a new mate and continue to use the same territory.

Or a new alpha pair could form — one or both from the existing pack — and use the same home range.

Or the pack could break up, and eventually, other wolves could move in and use the habitat.

“Given that dad’s a pretty old animal, I’m afraid to make a prediction,” he said of the future of the Lookout Pack if the alpha female isn’t with them anymore.

He said judging from recolonization in other areas, wolves will likely continue to use this territory.

Fitkin asks that anyone with information call him at (509) 996-4373.

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Jul 27

Utah official: Return of wolves could be problem

Utah official: Return of wolves could be problem

By The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Recent attacks on Utah sheep and cattle herds show the kinds of conflicts that could arise if the wolf population increases in the Beehive State, a state official said.

Utah’s mountains aren’t secluded enough to prevent conflicts if wolves return in large numbers, Department of Agriculture and Food Commissioner Leonard Blackham said.

Mike Linnell, Utah director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, said a ranch herder in southern Idaho killed a wolf that earlier had attacked livestock in northern Utah’s Cache County. A report that the wolf was shot in Utah was incorrect.

Linnell also said wildlife agents trapped and destroyed a wolf in Rich County in northern Utah on Saturday. It had preyed on calves in the area.

Dennis Wright of Coalville said he found two calf carcasses about two weeks ago in Summit County. He said state wildlife agents confirmed that the predator was a wolf.

“People don’t understand how they kill,” Wright said. “They’ll hamstring an animal. They’ll cut both hamstrings on an animal.”

Blackham said it likely traveled from Idaho or Wyoming.

“They haven’t caught that one, but they’re working on it,” Blackham said. “It’s probably moved on by now because it hasn’t repeated itself within the last week to 10 days.”

Wolves should be allowed to be in some wilderness areas, said Norman Bishop, a member of the board of directors of the Wolf Recovery Foundation.

“There are certainly places where nobody likes wolves, like livestock ranges,” Bishop said. “But on wilderness areas and areas where there (is) little conflict, they are a tremendous boon to the ecosystem.”

There have been periodic wolf sightings in Utah for years. In September 2002, wolves killed 15 sheep and lambs near Hardware Ranch in Cache County.

It’s not clear how many wolves there are in the state. A 2002 report estimated that Utah could one day support 700 wolves statewide.

In Utah, ranchers are permitted to shoot menacing wolves only in an area north of Interstate 80 and east of Interstate 84 to the Wyoming and Idaho lines.

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Jul 27

MI: Wolf pup captured in Lower Peninsula

Wolf pup captured in Lower Peninsula

Francis X. Donnelly / The Detroit News

For the first time in a century, wildlife officials have discovered evidence of wolf breeding in the Lower Peninsula.

The U.S. Agriculture Department and Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment trapped a wolf pup last week in Cheboygan County, they said today.

The discovery occurred while wildlife officials tried to place a radio collar on an adult wolf, said the DNRE.

The agencies had confirmed the existence of wolves in the area earlier this year.

This is the first evidence wolf breeding in the Lower Peninsula since the animals were exterminated in the early 20th century, said Jennifer Kleitch, a state wildlife biologist.

“It indicates we have at least one breeding pair in the region and the potential for a growing population,” she said.

The discovery shows wolves are recovering in the area and need to be managed, said state officials.

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Jul 27

MI: Wolf Pup Released In Northern Michigan

Wolf Pup Released In Northern Michigan

The United States Department of Agriculture – Wildlife Services, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, trapped a wolf pup early last week in the northern Lower Peninsula.

This occurred during an effort to trap and place a radio-collar on a wolf following the verification of a wolf pack in the northern Lower Peninsula earlier this year.

“If efforts to trap and collar an adult wolf are successful, we will have the ability to better monitor the distribution, activities, and number of wolves in the region,” said Jennifer Kleitch, wildlife biologist for the DNRE.

Don Lonsway, a USDA Wildlife Services employee from the Upper Peninsula, was recently successful in capturing and releasing a wolf pup in Cheboygan County, where trapping efforts are continuing.

“This is the first evidence of wolf breeding in the Lower Peninsula since the population was extirpated in the early 1900s,” Kleitch said. “It indicates that we have at least one breeding pair in the region and the potential for a growing population.”

Although the wolf population has exceeded recovery numbers for over 10 years, the animal is listed as an endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and the DNRE does not have full management authority for this animal in Michigan.

“This is another example of how wolf recovery has been successful; however, it also underscores why Michigan needs full authority to manage these animals as they begin to expand across this state,” explained DNRE Wildlife Division chief Russ Mason.

The 23-pound male pup was in good health. An identification tag was placed in the ear and the pup was released on-site unharmed.

The DNRE and its partners will continue to monitor the wolf population in the region and encourage those with recent wolf observations to report their sightings online by clicking on THIS LINK.

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