Apr 23

ID: “Two-legged wolves” take heavy toll

By ERIC BARKER/Lewiston Tribune

Nobody knows just how many animals are killed by poachers, but game wardens say the number is likely shocking.

That’s because they know they only learn about a small percentage of illegal kills.

“Game wardens forever have often wondered how many animals are being taken unlawfully. It’s a question we want to answer,” said Mark Hill, a senior conservation officer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston. “We know the amount we detect, the raw amount, but we don’t know what our violation detection rate is.”

For illustrative purposes, he and his colleagues Barry Cummings, who patrols the Moscow area, and George Fischer, who works in the Grangeville area, placed their detection rate at 10 percent, a number they say would be fantastic.

“Ten percent is impossible,” Hill said while Cummings and Fischer guffawed. “There is no way it’s 10 percent.”

Last year, they know of 30 elk, four moose, 13 mule deer and 57 whitetail deer that were poached in one fashion or another in the Clearwater Region. If those cases represent 10 percent of all big game violations, it would mean about 300 elk, 40 moose, 130 mule deer and 570 whitetail deer were taken unlawfully.

The officers want people to think about those numbers and to be as outraged as many hunters are about the effect wolves and other predators have on big game populations.

“It’s real easy for people to blow a gasket about wolf predation. They are very passionate about it, they are very irate about it and they are livid about it,” Fischer said. “Yet there is a two-legged wolf out there that is probably killing as many or more than wolves. Wolves are causing an impact, there is no doubt about it; I don’t want to downplay that at all, but two-legged wolves are probably killing more or stealing more game than wolves. That is the shock-and-awe message.”

If their detection rate is 5 percent, something they say is much more realistic, then the numbers rise to 600 elk, 80 moose, 260 mule deer and more than 1,000 whitetail. If those numbers were attributed to predators, Cummings said, people would take action.

“Holy buckets, we would be setting budgets aside. We would develop a group to figure out what it was and we would develop a plan to deal with it, but we won’t even talk about what impact this has on wildlife,” Cummings said. “Why not?”

The reason, they say, is too many people don’t look at wildlife crimes as a crime against them. For example, Cummings said there is a $10,000 civil penalty in Idaho for poaching a moose, and a $750 fine for illegally killing an elk. He often makes that point to hunter education classes he speaks to. He asks the students if they would call the police if someone stole $750 from them or from a friend or neighbor. The answer is an overwhelming yes.

“So why wouldn’t you be that upset if somebody took an elk unlawfully, because essentially they stole $750 from the sportsmen of Idaho, including the opportunity to harvest that animal.”

Poaching means different things to different people. Some see it as the criminals who shoot game and leave it to waste, or greedily take any animal they see. Hill said his definition is simple: anyone who violates hunting rules to take an animal. It includes things like trespassing, shooting from a road, hunting over salt and party hunting, — where hunters combine efforts and allow hunting partners to shoot animals for them or to use their tags.

Too often, Hill said, people are not willing to report those sorts of crimes.

“I don’t know if it’s because they almost look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘If I turn in so and so, I’m going to be reflecting on some of the things I do and they will turn me in.’ ”

There have been a limited number of studies trying to determine the poaching detection rate. More than 40 years ago, a University of Idaho graduate student replicated poaching by placing road kill deer in highly visible fields near roads and then shot a gun to see how many people would report it. He got responses less than 2 percent of the time.

A study by Anthony Novack of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife used anonymous surveys to ask hunters if they had broken hunting laws. The study isn’t finished and is expected to be published later this year, but intial findings indicate about 12 percent of people admitted to driving on closed roads while deer or elk hunting. About 9 percent admitted they trespassed while hunting, and 7 percent said they had allowed someone else to use their tag, tagged a deer or elk killed by somebody else or failed to tag a deer or elk.

Novack said figuring out how many people cheat is a difficult task.

“It’s that moral question, the true test is what you do when nobody is looking and when you are out hunting there is hardly anybody looking,” he said.

Hill pointed to an Oregon study on mule deer mortality. Officials at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife placed radio collars on 500 mule deer and followed them between 2005 and 2010. When one died, they tried to get to it as quickly as possible to determine the cause of death.

They found of those shot, 19 were killed illegally and 21 were killed legally.

Hill said the study only measured illegal kills as those that were out of season or the wrong gender for an open season. It didn’t cover things like party hunting, trespassing or hunting over bait.

The officers hope that more people will speak up when they see or learn of a hunting violation.

“What we need to do is get more people to make the call and report

violators that they know of and more people need to say enough is

enough,” he said. “Those activities that have been going on for decades

— road hunting, party hunting, trespassing — they should not be tolerated.”


Apr 19

ID: Poachers kill more than wolves do, Idaho officials say

LEWISTON(AP) – Poachers are likely killing far more game animals than wolves are, state wildlife officials in North Idaho say.

Officials told the Lewiston Tribune that last year in North Idaho they confirmed poaching of 30 elk, four moose, 13 mule deer and 57 whitetail deer, the newspaper reported Friday.

Officials say a realistic detection rate is 5 percent, meaning poachers are likely killing about 600 elk, 80 moose, 260 mule deer and 1,000 whitetail annually.

“It’s real easy for people to blow a gasket about wolf predation,” said Idaho Fish and Game District Conservation Officer George Fischer. “They are very passionate about it, they are very irate about it and they are livid about it. Yet there is a two-legged wolf out there that is probably killing as many or more than wolves. Wolves are causing an impact, there is no doubt about it; I don’t want to downplay that at all, but two-legged wolves are probably killing more or stealing more game than wolves. That is the shock-and-awe message.”

Barry Cummings, an Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer, said many people don’t report wildlife crimes because they don’t consider it a crime against them. The fine in Idaho for illegally killing an elk is $750, while the fine for illegally killing a moose is $10,000.

But he said if predators were killing as many game animals as poachers do, people would take action.

Mark Hill, a senior conservation officer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston, said it’s not completely clear why people who are aware of poaching don’t turn lawbreakers in.

“I don’t know if it’s because they almost look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘If I turn in so and so, I’m going to be reflecting on some of the things I do and they will turn me in,’ ” Hill said.


Apr 17

CA: California Wolf-protection Decision Postponed 90 Days by Commission

Public Comment Period Will Reopen; New Hearing Set for June

VENTURA, Calif.— After hearing several hours of public testimony from an overflow crowd of more than 200 people and receiving more than 2,600 pages of comments, California Fish and Game commissioners voted on Wednesday to postpone until July their decision on extending state Endangered Species Act protections to gray wolves. In the surprise decision, the commission said the law allowed it the option of deferring the decision for up to 90 days, during which the public-comment period will be reopened and an additional public hearing held June 4 at Fortuna, in Northern California.

“This is a huge victory for gray wolves who are clearly trying to return to California where they lived for generations,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity. “It gives me great hope that rather than simply rubber-stamping the state’s recommendation not to protect wolves, the commissioners wisely decided to take a broader look at making sure wolves get a chance to recover here. I think the Commission realizes that’s what’s right, that’s what Californians want and that’s what the law says.”

The postponement came after a discussion that included consideration of the controversial recommendation by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife that, rather than protecting the wolf under the Act, the Department could consider designating it as a species of special concern and then, as needed, the Commission could enact rules and regulations that would prevent wolves from being killed in California. That option did not sit well with some conservation groups.

“The legislature didn’t grant the Commission the power to do a workaround of the law,” said Weiss. “If they determine that protection is warranted — and the facts on the ground and some of the Commission’s own concerns suggest that’s the case — the Commission must grant state protection. The state’s wildlife agency can’t just make up new rules that give limited protection to wolves. If wolves need protecting in California, and it’s clear from today’s testimony they do, the Commission’s job is to protect them, not side-step the issue.”

The Commission suggested that holding a hearing in Fortuna would allow more ranchers to attend and let their voices be heard on the issue, as well as giving the commissioners more time to consider the testimony presented at today’s hearing.

“It’s important to understand that regulatory actions like those discussed today are not a substitute for state protections for wolves,” said Weiss. “There’s no doubt the wolf meets the listing criteria. The commissioners don’t have the discretion to acknowledge that then to create a special fix just because this is a controversial species. They must follow the law.”

The listing decision comes in response to a 2012 petition from the Center and allies asking the Commission to protect gray wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The Commission’s considerations come as the wolf known as OR-7 continues to make the state part of his range, a development many scientists believe is only the first chapter of wolves returning to California.

Wolves were once widely distributed throughout California but were eradicated from the state by a government-sponsored effort on behalf of livestock operators more than 80 years ago. In late 2011 a young male wolf from Oregon known as OR-7 crossed the border into California, becoming the first confirmed wild wolf in the state since the 1920s. OR-7 stayed in California for 15 months before returning to Oregon, but has crossed back into California several times, making the state part of his range for four years in a row.

Oregon’s growing wolf population has tripled in the past three years, and it is widely anticipated that more wolves from Oregon will make their way into California. OR-7’s journey to California involved his first dispersing westward across Oregon into the Cascade Mountains, then dropping south into California. Recently the tracks of another wolf were documented in the Oregon Cascades, the first since OR-7.

“Wolves are at a critical moment now,” said Weiss. “The federal government is proposing to strip federal legal protections from these animals across the country, including states like California where wolves are just starting to return. This makes state protections even more essential, and it’s all the more reason state officials must follow state law and protect wolves in California.”


Apr 17

California Mulls Wolf Listing Amid Hunts Elsewhere

By SCOTT SMITH Associated Press

FRESNO, CA (AP) — While much of the country has relaxed rules on killing gray wolves, California will consider protecting the species after a lone wolf from Oregon raised hopes the animals would repopulate their historic habitat in the Golden State.

The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday postponed for three months a decision on whether to list the gray wolf as endangered. Commissioners heard impassioned arguments from environmentalists who want the wolves to again to roam the state and from cattle ranchers who fear for their herds.

“I think we made them blink,” said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity, which leads the push for protection. “I think they heard our arguments.”

State wildlife officials say they don’t support the listing because wolf packs haven’t roamed in California for nearly a century and there’s no scientific basis to consider them endangered.

Recent interest in protecting the species started in 2011, when one wolf from Oregon — called OR-7 — was tracked crossing into California. The endangered listing has been under review for the last year.

Nationwide, bounty hunting and poisoning drove wolves to widespread extermination in the early 1900s. They have rebounded in recent decades, and federal protections have been lifted in the last several years in the Northern Rockies and western Great Lakes.

But with the resurgence have come more livestock killings and declines in some big-game herds that wolves prey on. States have responded by adopting increasingly aggressive hunting programs designed to bring down the predator’s numbers, but so far that has not resulted in significant declines.

The Northern Rockies population has been pushing west into Oregon and Washington and now numbers almost 1,700 animals, down slightly from its peak in 2011 when protections were lifted in parts of five states.

A pending proposal from federal wildlife officials would remove protections for gray wolves across most of the remaining Lower 48 states, including California. A peer review panel recently faulted the government plan for relying on unproven research about wolf genetics.

The desert Southwest has a small group of Mexican gray wolves that would keep federal protections under the proposal. Those wolves in parts of Arizona and New Mexico have struggled to survive despite an intensive reintroduction program.

In California, the Fish and Game Commission members decided to delay a decision on wolf protections so they can hear more public comment.

Wildlife officials oppose the listing because wolves have been absent from California, so researchers have no way of measuring threats or the viability of the animal in the state, said Eric Loft, chief of wildlife programs for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Yet, the animal is iconic of the western landscape and California could easily become the home to functioning wolf packs within a decade, said Chuck Bonham, director of the wildlife agency.

He said he supports wolf conservation efforts but not listing it as endangered.

“You may hear we actually hate wolves,” he said, maintaining that wasn’t true. “We’re committed to the long-term prospect of the wolf.”

The commission on Wednesday heard from more than 60 people, most of them in support of wolves but others in opposition.

Kirk Wilbur of the California Cattlemen’s Association, which is fighting wolf protections, said the state’s endangered species act is designed to help species at risk of going extinct.

“The species is not at risk of disappearing in the state of California,” he said. “It is, rather, reappearing.”

Mike Williams, a cattle rancher in Ventura County, said wolves cause high stress on cattle, increase illness and weight loss, and kill valuable livestock.

“Wolves are beautiful animals,” he said. “But they’re also vicious, brutal and efficient killing machines and a threat to people, livestock and pets.”


Apr 14

CA: Rally to Save California Wolves, Wildlife Set for Wednesday in Ventura

Event Precedes State Fish and Game Commission Meeting

VENTURA, Calif.— Dozens of local residents and activists from the Center for Biological Diversity and allies will rally Wednesday morning in Ventura to voice their support for protecting gray wolves under the California Endangered Species Act and for banning all wildlife-killing contests in California. Both issues are on the agenda for the California Fish and Game Commission meeting that will take place in Ventura later that morning.

And on Tuesday night, the Center’s Amaroq Weiss, one of the nation’s leading wolf conservation advocates, who has been at the forefront of wolf recovery efforts in the United States for the past 17 years, will give a public presentation on wolf conservation in California and beyond.

Wednesday, April 16 Rally:

WHAT: Citizens, including members of the Center for Biological Diversity, will rally on the sidewalk in front of the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach Hotel to send a loud message to the California Fish and Game Commission that Californians support full protections for wolves under the California Endangered Species Act and support banning all wildlife-killing contests in the state.

WHEN: 7:45 a.m. to 8:15 a.m., Wednesday, April 16 (Note: The public hearing starts 15 minutes after the rally ends, at 8:30 a.m., at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach Hotel.)

WHERE: The sidewalk in front of the main entrance to the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach Hotel, at 450 E. Harbor Boulevard in Ventura.

VISUALS and INTERVIEWS: Attendees will hoist posters and banners with messages in support of full state protections for wolves and banning wildlife-killing contests. Speakers (also available for interviews) will include Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity; Keli Hendricks, a California rancher who supports coexisting with native predators; Camilla Fox and Grant McComb, executive director and youth outreach coordinator for Project Coyote; Damon Nagami, senior attorney with the National Resources Defense Council; and Jim Hines, conservation chair for the Sierra Club – Los Padres Chapter.

Wolf Presentation, April 15:

WHAT: Biologist and former attorney Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity, will give a presentation about wolves and wolf conservation challenges.

WHEN: 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 15

WHERE: City Corps Building, 77 N. California St., Ventura

The public and media are welcome to attend.


Apr 12

Kathie Lynch: Yellowstone Wolf Update. April 2014


With wolves more scarce than they used to be in Yellowstone’s Northern Range, hopeful watchers should count themselves lucky if they get to see them, and, especially, if they are able to observe interesting behaviors. While the February breeding season did not offer the chance to see as many ties (matings) as in other years, it did not disappoint in terms of action and intrigue!

Even dedicated observers only saw two ties during the entire breeding season, both on February 2 and both in the 8 Mile pack. Surprisingly, the older beta male, 763M, accomplished both ties while alpha male 871M was busy keeping track of alpha female 909F! Each time 871M realized what was going on, he rushed to the scene, but he was unable to break up the ties.

The two females who bred with 763M were 821F and an uncollared gray. They are both probably sisters of 8 Mile alpha female 909F. The three are thought to have dispersed together in 2011 to the 8 Mile pack from the now defunct Quadrant Mountain pack. DNA testing may eventually show that the three sisters carry valuable genes from important YNP packs of the past inherited from their probable parents, former Quadrant alphas Leopold 469F and Geode 695M.

The large 8 Mile pack (18 strong last summer and fall, including nine 2013 pups) has now likely split into at least two groups, the main pack and 763M’s Group of three, with a few other individuals unaccounted for. We hope that the 8 Mile wolves, which have an excellent record of raising pups to adulthood, will produce several litters in 2014 to carry on those important historical genes.

Unquestionably, the most famous repository of currently famous genes lies in Lamar Canyon alpha 926F (“The Black Female”), a daughter of the late, great, legendary “’06 Female” (832F). The very small Lamar Canyon pack of two, 926F and her alpha, 925M (“Big Gray”), has spent a lot of time this winter in the traditional Lamar Canyon territory formerly occupied by the Druid Peak pack in the Lamar and Soda Butte Valleys.
&copy Kathie Lynch 2014

Gray alpha 925M served nobly last year as adoptive dad to the two black Lamar Canyon pups of 926F’s older sister, “Middle Gray.” If 926F does have pups this year, we hope that 925M, who will have to hunt alone for a while, will be able to keep his new family well fed.

Following several dispersals, the Junction Butte pack seems to have settled down to a count of seven: alphas 890M and 870F, 2-year-old mange survivor 869M, and last year’s four gray pups, now officially classified as yearlings.

Ever gregarious 869M serves as the pack’s official greeter, perpetually bouncing around. He loves his role as favorite uncle and is especially overjoyed to see and play with his younger siblings.

The Junction Butte alphas had quite a time during the breeding season trying to keep track of each other, while at the same time rounding up wayward females who were attempting to run off with interloping males. It looked like a merry-go-round in the Slough Creek area every day, with wolves chasing each other this way and that and a constantly shifting configuration of who was with whom.

Two Junction Butte female dispersers, an uncollared black female and black 889F, were the objects of interest for two males, former Lamar Canyon alpha 755M and gray 911M, whose origin is uncertain (although he was collared as a Blacktail).

Before 890M became the Junction Butte alpha, he was with 889F throughout last summer. However, in the fall, 890M rejoined the Junction Butte pack and rose to alpha status, while 889F turned up with 755M. During the winter, the Junction Butte black female started showing up with the duo, and then 911M made his appearance. After that, it was a whirlwind of mix and match, often leaving 755M as the odd man out.

We could not believe our eyes one day when Junction Butte alpha 870F sneaked away from her alpha male, 890M, and made a play for 755M! There stood 870F on a nearby hill, averting her tail (signaling readiness to mate) to 755M, who twice tried to mount her. Wisely, he was too nervous to be caught in a compromising position and kept looking for trouble, expecting to be blind-sided at any moment by the jilted 890M. It was hilarious when 870F stood upright on her hind legs, trying on tiptoes to see just where 890M might be! The flirtation ended without a tie or an attack.

Since the breeding season ended, 755M has again been seen with 889F, so maybe that relationship will stick. If 911M stayed with the black female, then two more alpha males will face the same problem as Lamar Canyon 925M: trying to feed and defend a growing family with only one adult male in the group. Poor old 8 Mile beta 763M has an even bigger problem with possibly two pregnant females. It will be a challenge for each of these new, small groups to carve out a territory and survive.

Meanwhile, another lone male, gray Blacktail alpha 778M (the last true Druid Peak pack member), apparently solved the problem by adopting a ready-made family. After his alpha female, 693F (the last true Agate Creek pack member) died, a gray adult female and two pups (one black, one gray) moved in with 778M. Their origin is unknown, but the female may be a Canyon pack disperser. If 778M produces pups with this new female, his illustrious Druid genes will live on.

The Canyon pack, which lives in the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone’s Interior, made fewer trips than usual to the Northern Range this winter. Occasionally, the stalwart now-9-year-old alpha pair, 712M and the beautiful white female, appeared in the Mammoth area, sometimes accompanied by one or two grays. Hopefully, the Canyon pack’s long-time alpha pair will produce their eighth litter together this year, an amazing accomplishment.

We will be watching closely to see where the various females choose to den. It was exciting to actually see Junction Butte alpha 870F digging furiously at the old Slough Creek pack’s den above Slough Creek, last used by famous Lamar Canyon alpha “‘06” in 2010. Pregnant females spend a lot of time and energy investigating and preparing a variety of likely spots, so there is no way of knowing if 870F will choose to den there—but it sure would be great for wolf watching if she did!

And now, at last, it’s April—denning time in Yellowstone! Time to reap the rewards of seeds sown two months ago in the breeding season. Time, once again, for wolves to flourish and secure their rightful place on the landscape and their keystone role in the circle of life.


Apr 09

WY: Wildlife managers nearly wipe out Jackson Hole wolf pack that was feeding on livestock


JACKSON, Wyoming — State wildlife managers nearly wiped out a wolf pack that roams primarily in Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge because it was feeding on livestock.

Eleven wolves from the Lower Gros Ventre (grow- vawnt’) Pack were killed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department on private land last May.

According to agency reports, two wolves in the pack remained at the end of the year.

Game and Fish wolf program biologist Ken Mills tells the Jackson Hole News & Guide (http://bit.ly/1hh3VCv ) that the pack was accustomed to feeding on cattle.

The report also noted that among nearly a dozen wolf packs in the Jackson Hole area, one small pack formed and two others disappeared altogether.

However, it says Jackson Hole’s wolf packs grew in overall numbers.


Apr 08

MT: FWP, UM devise new way to estimate wolf population

Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Researchers from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and the University of Montana have created a new technique for estimating wolf numbers in Montana.

The study was developed to produce a less expensive and more accurate population assessment that accounts for wolves not actually verified in the state’s annual wolf count.

Statewide wolf population estimates were derived for the years 2007 through 2012 via a mix of rigorous statistical evaluations, wolf observations reported by recreational hunters during the annual hunter-harvest surveys and Montana’s annual wolf counts.

Results generally estimate a Montana wolf population 25-35 percent higher than the verified minimum counts submitted over the six-year period.

The study’s results are contained in FWP’s federally required annual wolf report available online at fwp.mt.gov. That report shows Montana’s 2013 minimum wolf count at 627, essentially the same as the past two years. The minimum wolf count is the number of wolves actually verified by FWP wolf specialists.

“The study’s primary objective was to find a less expensive approach to wolf monitoring that would yield statistically reliable estimates of the number of wolves and packs in Montana,” said Justin Gude, FWP’s, chief of research for the wildlife division in Helena.

The typical method used to document the state’s wolf population focuses on ground and aerial track counts, visual observations, den and rendezvous confirmation and radio collaring to count individual wolves as required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The verified count is used to fulfill Montana’s obligation to submit an annual wolf population report to federal authorities to ensure wolves are being properly managed above standards that could trigger relisting as an endangered species. Those counts must continue through Dec. 31, 2016.

“This new approach is not only good science,” Gude said, “it’s a practical way for Montana to obtain a more accurate range of wolf numbers that likely inhabit the state.”

From 2007 through 2012, FWP and UM’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit directed a team of 11 researchers to determine the number of gray wolves in Montana by estimating the: 1. Areas occupied by wolves in packs; 2. Number of wolf packs by dividing the occupied area by average territory size; and 3. Numbers of wolves by multiplying the number of estimated packs by average annual pack size.

For instance, population modeling for Montana’s wolves in 2012 — where actual counts verified a minimum of 625 wolves and 147 packs — predicted that 804 wolves and 165 packs inhabited the state. Similar estimates are not yet available for 2013.

Gude cautions, however, that future statistically accurate estimates will need to incorporate wolf harvest locations and how the harvest of wolves by hunters and trappers influences where wolves choose to live, their territories and pack sizes.

“Data on each of these aspects of wolf population size will give us a very solid assessment of the effects of harvest on wolf populations in Montana,” Gude said.

By adding additional harvest information, Gude said specific predictions of the effects of different seasons or harvest quotas on wolf populations could provide information vital to establishing successful wolf hunting and trapping seasons in coming years.

“Perhaps the best future use of these statistical methods won’t necessarily only be for monitoring and keeping tabs on wolf population numbers, but to better inform the complicated decisions that accompany the public harvest and management of wolves,” Gude said.


Apr 05

Wolf populations in Northern Rockies states

Associated Press

Gray wolf numbers in the Northern Rockies have declined about 6 percent from 2011, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Congress removed the wolves from the federal endangered species list in 2011. A state-by-state breakdown of year-end 2013 minimum wolf count and percentage change over two years:

–Idaho: 659 wolves; down 14 percent

–Montana: 627 wolves, down 4 percent

–Oregon: 61 wolves; up 110 percent(asterisk)

–Utah: 0 wolves; no change

–Washington: 38 wolves; up 46 percent(asterisk)

–Wyoming: 306 wolves, down 7 percent

–NORTHERN ROCKIES TOTAL: 1,691 wolves; down 6 percent

(asterisk)includes wolves only in eastern portion of state


Apr 05

Wolf population remains steady despite more aggressive tactics

By Associated Press

Gray wolves in the U.S. Northern Rockies are showing resilience as states adopt increasingly aggressive tactics to drive down their numbers through hunting, trapping and government-sponsored pack removals.

A minimum of 1,691 wolves roamed the six-state region at the end of 2013, according to figures released Friday by state and federal agencies.

That’s little changed from the prior year, despite continued political pressure from hunters and ranchers who want the population significantly reduced.

Idaho in recent months put government wildlife agents in helicopters to shoot entire packs that were preying on big game herds. Montana officials last year lifted wolf hunting and trapping quotas, increased the bag limit to five wolves per hunter and lowered the fees for out-of-state licenses.

Wildlife advocates have warned the population could crash, but that hasn’t happened: Wolf numbers are down just 6 percent since the animals lost federal protections in 2011.

“Wolves are very tenacious, they’re very prolific,” said Mike Jimenez, federal wolf recovery coordinator for the Rockies and a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The population is very secure, but it doesn’t remove the controversy.”

Jimenez says he expects the population to gradually decline over time in the face of the states’ efforts but remain healthy overall. The only state to see a significant drop last year was Idaho, down 63 wolves to at least 659.

On the livestock side, wolves in the Northern Rockies killed at least 143 cattle and 476 sheep in 2013. That’s 51 fewer head of cattle and six fewer sheep than the prior year.

Government-sponsored campaigns exterminated gray wolves across most of the Lower 48 states early last century.

They’ve come back strong since being re-introduced almost two decades ago, and now occupy large parts of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon. Part of a sixth state, Utah, falls within the Northern Rockies region but has no wolves.

The Great Lakes are home to a second major population of roughly 4,000 wolves.

Amid a pending proposal to lift protections across much of the remaining Lower 48 states, the success of restoration efforts to date hasn’t quieted the intense debate over whether there are too many or too few wolves.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim said officials were surprised the state’s 2013 population of at least 627 wolves remained statistically unchanged from the 625 counted in 2012.

A new rule adopted last month makes it easier for Montana livestock owners to shoot wolves without a permit. Aasheim said that’s expected to have limited impact.