Who killed wolf OR-28? Reward now stands at $20,000   3 comments

October 19,2016 by KVAL

Information needed in illegal killing of gray wolf (Photo courtesy OSP)

EUGENE, Ore. – The Humane Society added another $5,000 in reward money for information on who killed wolf OR-28.

The wolf was found dead October 6.

The announcement brings to $20,000 the reward in the case.

“The illegal killing of this young mother wolf is tragic, as every individual wolf is essential to the future of Oregon’s small and vulnerable population,” said Scott Beckstead, Oregon senior state director for The Humane Society of the United States. “Wolves are one of the most misunderstood and persecuted species in North America, with special interest trophy hunting and trapping groups vying to strip them of protections. Wolves are a keystone species, and killing a breeding female can disrupt pack structure, which may lead to increased conflicts with livestock.”

An AKWA is an “area of known wolf activity.” “Within Areas of Known Wolf Activity certain preventative measures are recommended to minimize wolf-livestock conflicts,” the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says. “Assistance with these proactive non-lethal measures is available from ODFW and the ODA Compensation Plan. Though not required, non-lethal measures are important to minimize wolf-livestock conflicts. Should depredations continue and lethal control become necessary, ODFW’s ability to lethally remove depredating wolves will be dependent on the extent that non-lethal measures have been used.”

Wolves west of Highway 395 are on the Endangered Species Act. | More on wolves in Oregon

“We are grateful to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oregon State Police for their dedication in pursuing those responsible for the death of this mother wolf, who had an important role to play in the future of Oregon’s iconic wolves,” Beckstead said.

The 3-year-old female gray wolf known as OR-28 was found dead in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near Summer Lake, Oregon.

The wolf’s carcass was sent to USFWS’s National Forensics Laboratory for a necropsy.

OR-28 recently paired with 8-year-old male OR-3 and had her first litter of pups, Beckstead said.

“Poaching is an egregious crime against wildlife, and is particularly reprehensible when it involves an imperiled species struggling to make a comeback,”: Ben Callison, president of the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust. “By depriving this young mother wolf of her life, poachers have committed a crime against an individual animal, her pack, her species and the public. The reckless and callous crime of poaching—whether against wolves or any other species—cannot be tolerated. In addition, we must protect far more habitat, such as the Trust’s 3,621-acre Greenwood Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary in Lakeview, Oregon, where wolves and other wildlife have a safe and permanent place to roam and raise their young.”



Profanity Peak wolf pack in state’s gun sights after rancher turns out cattle on den   3 comments

August 25, 2016 b

Gabe Spence, of the WSU Large Carnivore Lab, listens for the signal from radio collars on the Profanity Peak wolf pack. (Robert Wielgus/Washington State University)

Gabe Spence, of the WSU Large Carnivore Lab, listens for the signal from radio collars on the Profanity Peak wolf pack. (Robert Wielgus/Washington State University)

The state is going to wipe out the Profanity Peak wolf pack because they are killing cattle, but a WSU researcher monitoring the den says the conflict is predictable and avoidable.

For the second time in four years, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife is exterminating a wolf pack to protect Len McIrvin’s cattle — this time, a WSU researcher says, after the rancher turned his animals out right on top of the Profanity Peak pack’s den.

Robert Wielgus, director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University, has radio-collared 700 cattle and dozens of wolves, including animals in the Profanity Peak pack, as part of his ongoing study of conflicts between wolves and livestock in Washington. He also camera-monitors the Profanity Peak pack’s den.

“This livestock operator elected to put his livestock directly on top of their den site; we have pictures of cows swamping it, I just want people to know,” Wielgus said in an interview Thursday.

McIrvin, of the Diamond M Ranch, near the Canadian border north of Kettle Falls, Stevens County, in northeastern Washington, did not return calls for comment Thursday. The allotment Wielgus monitors, and McIrvin grazes, is on public land in the Colville National Forest.

The cattle pushed out the wolves’ native prey of deer, and with a den full of young to feed, what came next was predictable, Wielgus said.

After the wolves repeatedly killed McIrvin’s cattle, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, as per its protocol, authorized shooting wolves in the pack by helicopter, killing the pack’s breeding female by mistake. The department then stopped the killings after the wolf predations subsided.

But the department announced Saturday that after more cows were killed, it would eliminate the entire Profanity pack. That killing is ongoing, and department staff killed four more wolves this week, bringing the total to six.

The department targeted the Wedge Pack after McIrvin lost cattle to that pack, near the same area.

McIrvin has refused to radio-collar his cattle to help predict and avoid interactions with radio-collared wolves, Wielgus said.

He called the killing of cows by the Profanity Peak pack at their den site predictable and avoidable.

Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife authorized fieldstaff to kill the Profanity Peak wolf pack to prevent more attacks on cattle in the rangelands between Republic and Kettle Falls.

Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife authorized fieldstaff to kill the Profanity Peak wolf pack to prevent more attacks on cattle in the rangelands between Republic and Kettle Falls. The state is home to at least 90 wolves and 19 packs as of early 2016.

By contrast, Wielgus has documented no cattle kills among producers who are participating in his research studies and very few among producers using Fish & Wildlife’s protocol.

“In Washington, more cattle are killed by logging trucks, fire and lightning than wolves,” Wielgus said.

Carter Niemeyer, of Boise, Idaho, a wolf expert who led the effort to reintroduce them into Idaho for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service before he retired in 2006, said things won’t change until the Forest Service changes its policy to bar grazing on allotments with known active dens and pup rendezvous sites.

“If this were on private land, it’s turn the page, ho-hum,” Niemeyer said. “But public lands have to be managed differently. Those lands belong to all of us, and so do the native wildlife.”

Killing the wolves is not a lasting solution, he predicted. “It is a short-term solution to a long-term problem; they will just come back,” Niemeyer said.

“It puts the responsibility on the managing authority; it’s, ‘Come get your wild dogs, you said you would, and you set the protocol, and I want these wolves out of here,’ and he (McIrvin) has a good track record of demanding that.”

But it’s the pack that’s got to go, not the ranchers using the allotment, said Ferry County Commissioner Mike Blankenship.

“The McIrvin family has run cows on that allotment for 73 years, and now all of a sudden they have to pull out because of wolves and go somewhere else?

“I haven’t met anyone here who wants them wiped out,” Blankenship said of wolves. “But we want them managed.”

The commission last Friday passed a resolution authorizing the Ferry County sheriff to take out the pack if the state doesn’t.

“For the most part, the local people believe the removal of that pack is long overdue,” Blankenship said. He said the county depends on a healthy ranching economy, which is also part of the state’s culture, custom and history.

“You don’t think Seattle had wolves originally? I am more than willing to pay as a county to round these critters up and bring them to you. If they are in your backyard, you have a whole new attitude about it,” Blankenship said.

Wolf advocates have been dismayed by the state’s decision to kill the pack — 11 animals of a total estimated state population of 90 wolves in 19 packs, as of early 2016.

Listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act west of U.S. Route 97, the wolves are not protected east of the highway. People remain their biggest impediment to recovery, which is required by state law.

Since July 8, 12 cattle have been killed or hurt in the Profanity Peak pack area, according to Fish & Wildlife. So far, the department has killed six wolves in the pack under the authorization of Director Jim Uns­worth. He is appointed by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, which in turn is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

Donny Martorello, the department’s wolf-policy lead, said the state remains committed to wolf recovery and coexistence. It confirmed its first wolf recolonizations in 2008, and so far has authorized lethal removals in three instances.

“The majority of the time, these two can coexist,” Martorello said of wolves and livestock. “The department is committed to wolf recovery, but we also have a shared responsibility to protect livestock from repeated depredation by wolves.”

Wolves were hunted to extinction in Washington in the early 1900s, but have been gradually recolonizing, from populations in Idaho and British Columbia.


Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2515 or lmapes@seattletimes.com



October 5, 2016 by Maggie Caldwell

The lame duck Congress looks to take a few last swings at wolves on its way out the door.

The lame duck Congress looks to take a few last swings at wolves on its way out the door.


As the upcoming presidential election consumes our attention, the most anti-wildlife Congress in U.S. history is entering its final stretch and quietly working to pass members’ last pet pieces of legislation. Much of the proposed legislation would have damaging and lasting impacts on America’s wildlife and wild lands. These include measures that could prove devastating to a variety of wolf populations.

Last week, Earthjustice went to court to defend a 2014 victory that ended the state of Wyoming’s extreme anti-wolf management plan. Wyoming had instituted a “kill-on-sight” policy for wolves in more than 80 percent of the state and allowed one wolf-killing loophole after another in the rest. Among the victims of this policy was of one of Yellowstone’s most famous animal celebrities, 832F, the alpha female of the Lamar Canyon pack. The wolf had been hailed as a heroine in the dramatic success story of gray wolves’ return to Yellowstone. She was the subject of podcasts and was featured in a National Geographic TV documentary. When she was killed, The New York Timeswrote what amounted to an obituary for the wolf.

The life of 832F is documented in National Geographic’s Wild Yellowstone series.


Earthjustice took the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to court over the agency’s decision to hand over wolf management to a state with a history of extreme anti-wolf policies—and we won. We expect a decision in Wyoming’s appeal of our victory in the next three to six months. But while the judges deliberate, some members of Congress are trying to bypass the legal process by using legislative edict to remove wolves in Wyoming and three western Great Lakes states from the list of species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Measures like the Wyoming-western Great Lakes wolf delisting threat are appearing as legislative “riders” tacked onto must-pass government spending bills and other large pieces of legislation. Another rider would block the act’s protections for Mexican gray wolves, despite the fact that there are fewer than 100 of these highly imperiled animals left in the United States. And yet another rider would delist all gray wolves in the entire lower 48 states—despite the fact that wolves currently occupy just a small portion of their former U.S. range. These and other anti-environmental riders will be considered as part of negotiations between both political parties and the White House over how to keep the federal government funded beyond early December.

Earthjustice continues our fight in the courtroom on behalf of wolves, and you can helpgive this incredible species the chance it deserves by urging President Obama to reject any legislation that includes deadly provisions for wolves.

TAKE ACTION! Protect Wolves and the Endangered Species Act!


2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the reintroduction of gray wolves to the northern Rockies, and since that time wolves have been under nearly constant threat of losing their protections. The Weekly Howl provides insights and education about the gray wolf and updates on the status of its protections while celeSourcebrating the iconic species as a vital part of a functioning, healthy ecosystem. Posts ran through the summer of 2015 and resumed in the fall of 2016.


Poll: Most Oregonians say killing no way to manage wolves   6 comments

October 9, 2016 by Eric Tegethoff, Oregon News Service

Majority say species still deserves protection

Poll: Most Oregonians say killing no way to manage wolves

PORTLAND, Ore. – A majority of Oregonians believe hunting wolves is no way to manage them and that the species still deserves endangered species protections, according to a new poll conducted by Mason Dixon Polling and Research.

More than 70 percent of Oregon voters who responded said nonlethal prevention methods should be attempted before officials are allowed to kill wolves.

Two-thirds said wolves don’t pose such an economic threat to the cattle industry that killing them is required.

Arron Robertson, communications coordinator for the conservation group Oregon Wild, said proposed changes to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s wolf conservation plan could make it easier to kill wolves.

“What are the conditions in which the agency essentially deputizes hunters to go out and do wildlife management?” he asked. “And what we found in this poll was that Oregonians disapproved of the kind of management tools that the agency was proposing.”

Respondents to the poll spanned the political spectrum, and 30 percent came from rural Oregon.

The poll was conducted at the end of September. As of the end of 2015, the commission said there were about 110 wolves in Oregon.

According to the poll, 63 percent disagree with the state’s removal of endangered species protections for Oregon’s wolves.

Robertson’s group, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands, are challenging this decision in court, saying the science behind the decision is flawed.

“There were a number of scientists that commented that the science wasn’t rigorous enough and they had a number of concerns and those concerns were never addressed because there was no revision,” Robertson stressed. “So the decision, which was based on a report that was never peer-reviewed, was in violation of Oregon law.”

Last Friday, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission held a meeting open to the public in La Grande on proposed changes to the state’s wolf management plan, and will hold another meeting on Dec. 2 in Salem.



$15,000 Reward Offered Over Illegal Killing of Oregon Mother Wolf   6 comments

For Immediate Release, October 14, 2016

Contact: Amaroq Weiss, (707) 779-9613, aweiss@biologicaldiversity.org

PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity today added $10,000 to the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for shooting and killing an endangered wolf earlier this month in south-central Oregon. The wolf — a female known as OR-28, who recently had a pup — was found dead Oct. 6.

OR-28 courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also offering a $5,000 reward in the case.

“The illegal killing of wolf OR-28 is heartbreaking. She was a pioneering animal, one of the first wolves to make the journey from northeastern to western Oregon,” said Amaroq Weiss, the Center’s West Coast wolf organizer. “OR-28 was also a first-time mother, who leaves behind her mate and single pup to fend for themselves. This was a cowardly crime. I hope the perpetrator is caught quickly.”

Because she lived in the western two-thirds of Oregon, OR-28 was protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Poaching a protected species is punishable by a heavy fine and jail time. In 2015 the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported six wolf deaths due to illegal shootings, ingesting poison, or from suspicious but unknown causes. This is the highest number of illegal and suspicious wolf mortalities recorded in Oregon in a single year. Only one of the 2015 wolf deaths resulted in a conviction.

Anyone with information about this case can call the Fish and Wildlife Service at (503) 682-6131 or the Oregon State Police Tip Line at (800) 452-7888. Callers may remain anonymous.

News of OR-28’s death comes on the heels of a statewide poll that found that the vast majority of Oregonians — from both rural and urban areas — oppose hunting as a way to manage wolves and believe wildlife officials wrongly removed state protections from wolves last November. The poll also revealed that most Oregonians believe nonlethal methods should be the primary focus in reducing conflicts between wolves and livestock.

“Oregonians love wolves and want them protected. The poaching of OR-28 is a disgusting crime that shouldn’t go unpunished,” Weiss said. “Someone out there almost certainly knows who did this, and I really hope they’ll step forward and help secure justice for this wolf.”


Thank you for submitting over 2900 comments in support of listing Canada’s rare wolves as a Threatened species! Learn more about why the wolves are unprotected in most of their range   Leave a comment

In June, when Ontario’s eastern wolves were renamed Algonquin wolves, their at-risk status deteriorated, changing from Special Concern to Threatened.


As a Threatened species, they were automatically and immediately protected across Ontario.

3 months later, most of that protection was removed.



Wolves and coyotes are now protected in 4 areas centred around provincial parks.  The largest of these areas is around Algonquin Provincial Park, the Algonquin wolf’s stronghold.

Killing has been banned there since 2001 and has been a conservation success.



Eastern coyotes and Algonquin wolves can’t be told apart without a genetic test.  To protect Algonquin wolves, coyotes must also be protected.  Instead of closing hunting and trapping of both species across the Algonquin wolf’s known range, Ontario announced that the new closures were being limited to 3 areas around parks where wolves have already been protected from hunting for years: Killarney Provincial Park, Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands and Kawartha Highlands Signature Site.

The government has attempted to disguise these changes as an improvement of wolf protection – between the 3 new areas, 40 townships will be off-limits to wolf and coyote killing.  40 townships sounds like a big area, but in reality they make up a very small part of the at-risk wolves’ provincial range.  The 3 new closure areas are far too small to recover the threatened population of Algonquin wolves.  Wolves require protected corridors between areas of prime habitat. Only 1 of the new closure areas is connected to Algonquin Park.  The other 2 are not islands of protection, but islands of extinction.


When added to the map showing the known distribution of Algonquin wolves, it is clear how small and disconnected the 3 new closures areas are.

I am not protected

Compared to grey wolves, eastern coyotes or hybrids, Algonquin wolves have the lowest survival in unprotected areas. Wolves travel hundreds of kilometres in their lifetimes, and disperse from their birth pack to find a mate and open territory where they can raise their own families.

What Next?

In Ontario, a Recovery Strategy will be due for the Algonquin wolf 2 years from their listing date, on June 15th 2018.  The government has 9 months to develop a Response Statement that will outline actions that will be taken to protect and recover the species.  We will continue to ask for increased protection based on scientific research about the effects of  the 3 new closure areas on the population, and robust monitoring to determine exactly how many wolves are killed each year by hunters and trappers now exempt from the Endangered Species Act protection provisions.

At the federal level, consultation is still underway to list them as a Threatened species across Canada.  Thank you to those who submitted comments in support of this listing – together, we submitted over 2900 comments!

Under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA), Threatened species require a Recovery Strategy that includes plans for all provinces where the species is found.  Algonquin wolves, or eastern wolves as they are known across Canada, live only in Ontario and Quebec.  However, the Quebec government does not have an active scientific committee assessing the status of species at risk and does not formally recognize the eastern wolf or have special regulations to protect it.  Federal listing of the wolves as Threatened will help kickstart this protection.

More Information

Regulation Changes

On July 22nd, the Ontario government proposed two plans that will hinder the recovery of this at-risk wolf population. On September 15th, After the shortest possible public consultation period brought in well over 15,000 comments, the provincial government announced that they are moving forward with their plans.  This announcement was made on the very same day that hunting and trapping seasons open across the majority of the threatened wolves’ range. Hunting and trapping are the known primary threats to the Algonquin wolf.

The 1st plan proposed was to limit new hunting and trapping bans, which are normally automatic for all threatened and endangered species in Ontario, to 3 small ‘island’-like closures around Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands and Killarney Provincial Parks and Kawartha Highlands Signature Site where hunting wolves has been banned for years.


Disguising Regulation Amendments as Improved Wolf Protection

These closures are being peddled as imroved protection because most of the Algonquin wolf records (i.e. a single confirmed location for each Algonquin wolf) are included within these areas.  However, the reason more Algonquin wolves have not been found elsewhere is because their survival is dangerously low where hunting and trapping occur outside of these parks.

Moreover, a wolf is not a dot on a map. Wolves are capable of travelling hundreds of kilometres in their lifetimes, and almost always leave their birth packs to search for a new territory and a mate. Their inability to survive and reproduce in unprotected areas is the very reason why the wolves are rare enough to be deemed a Threatened species in the first place. It is appalling that this would be considered justification to continue ongoing killing where the wolves have been killed off before.

The 2nd proposal contained a regulation change that would make the 1st proposal legal – an exemption for all licensed hunters and trappers from being penalized for killing an Algonquin wolf anywhere outside of the 3 new islands or existing protection in and around Algonquin Provincial Park, the species’ stronghold.

How Ontario Justified the Regulation Changes

Ontario claims their decisions are justified due to confusion on the part of hunters and trappers targeting coyotes.  Indeed, without a genetic test, eastern coyotes and Algonquin wolves cannot be differentiated.  The government has not announced plans to track the number of Algonquin wolves killed; without a genetic test even those hunters and trappers who do comply with mandatory reporting requirements cannot accurately determine which species they have killed.  Hunters can kill up to 2 wolves annually if they purchase a game seal, the annual sales of which continue to increase since their inception in 2005. There is no limit on the number of wolves that can be trapped.

The Ontario government also cites concern from livestock farmers as a justifiable reason to allow more killing of Algonquin wolves.  However, allowing these animals to be killed does not prevent or solve livestock depredation – in fact, a growing body of research shows that hunting and trapping large carnivores can actually exacerbate the issue, increasing the number of livestock killed in future years.  These regulation changes fail both the Algonquin wolves and the farming community.

Public Concern Based on Wolf Research

Hunting and trapping were banned in the townships surrounding Algonquin Provincial Park beginning in 2001 due to overwhelming public concern for the park wolves being killed as they followed deer to winter yards outside of the park. Subsequent research funded by the Ontario government found that 80% of Algonquin wolves that left this protected area were killed in legally set strangling snares or shot by hunters before being able to establish new packs in unprotected areas.  Those wolves remaining inside the expanded protected area around the Park enjoyed several benefits – a stabilized population, a return to natural family-based pack structure and less need to hybridize with eastern coyotes.

This year, public concern has been ignored – the majority of the 17,301 comments submitted in response to the proposals asked for more stringent protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Ontario’s Wolves and Coyotes: All Essential

Scientists estimate that 65% of the world’s Algonquin wolf population inhabits Ontario, a mere 154 adult wolves.  These wolves are now patchily distributed amongst a population of eastern coyotes and their hybrids.

Eastern coyotes and Algonquin wolves are similar, but preliminary research results have begun to shine a light on how different their roles are within Ontario’s landscapes.  Eastern coyotes, Algonquin wolves, and grey wolves eat different kinds of prey and thrive in different habitats.  All three species are top predators, and all three play essential roles in our ecosystems. It is time we begin to value them for their inherent worth and the benefits they afford us, and stop trying (and failing) to eradicate, or ‘control’ them.  A commitment to recovering socially intact Algonquin wolf populations requires protection of eastern coyotes as well.

FACT: 1/3 of the threatened wolves that have been found outside of Algonquin Park’s protection will be open to hunting and trapping
FACT: Algonquin wolves are long-distance dispersers,  traveling 32km on average from their birth pack
FACT: 80% of young radio-tracked wolves that dispersed from Algonquin park were killed by trappers within 1 year

Source:  http://wolvesontario.org/algonquin-wolf/

To Be or Not to Be a Wolf   2 comments

October 4, 2016 – By

During a House hearing on wolf conservation, Rep. Debbie Dingell claimed “the science is clear” that red wolves are not “hybrids” between coyotes and gray wolves. But the science is not clear — and the latest research has tipped the balance of evidence in favor of the hybrid hypothesis.

If recognized as a hybrid, the red wolf could risk losing protection under the Endangered Species Act — an outcome hunters, landowners and ranchers advocate, in part, because red wolves and other wolf species prey on livestock and deer. The new research may also influence the status of other wolf species under the act, such as the gray wolf and the eastern wolf.

In order to be eligible for federal protection under the act, a plant or animal must be classified as a distinct species, including “any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.” However, the act lacks specific provisions for hybrids between endangered and unlisted species — making it unclear if the red wolf should continue to be protected.

At present, the red wolf is classified as a distinct species and protected under the act. The gray wolf is also classified as a distinct species and protected, but the coyote and eastern wolf, also distinct species, aren’t protected.

Scientists, legal scholars and government officials have debated the standing of hybrids under the act since shortly after its passage in 1973. Members of Congress continued that debate during a Sept. 21 House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the “Status of the Federal Government’s Management of Wolves.”

In an effort to quell the debate and advocate red wolf protection, Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, offered what she called “a few facts” in her opening statement. For example, she said, the “science is clear” that gray wolves, Mexican wolves and red wolves “are not foreign imports or hybrids.” The science is relatively clear on gray wolves and Mexican wolves (a subspecies of gray wolf), but not on red wolves.

Dingell repeated her claim later in the hearing while questioning a witness, John Vucetich, a population biologist at Michigan Technological University. She said, “The red wolf is not a coyote hybrid, even though the two animals share common ancestry.”

Despite Dingell’s claims, both the ancestry of and conservation policies for red wolves remain unsettled. In the next section, we’ll provide some context regarding how the unclear ancestry of the red wolf affects its protection under the Endangered Species Act. We’ll also explain why the latest research — a study published in the journal Science Advances on July 27 — still doesn’t conclusively settle the hybrid debate.

Classification Complicates Conservation

In 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service drafted a policy that outlined rules for deciding when hybrids should and shouldn’t be protected under the Endangered Species Act based on available research at the time. But there was disagreement over whether the policy was sufficient as written. To this day, the FWS and NMFS have neither formally adopted nor rejected that policy. As a result, the act still remains unclear on its protection of hybrids.

Gray wolf, USFWS

Meanwhile, researchers have continued to debate the family tree of North America’s wolf species and their closest relatives. As Charles Darwin himself hypothesized, different species can result from adaptation to specific environments, which gives an organism a distinct evolutionary lineage.

But sometimes distinct species interbreed, producing sterile or nonsterile hybrids. Mules, for example, are the sterile offspring of horses and donkeys. Among other animals, a number of wolf species and coyotes also interbreed, but can produce nonsterile offspring. These offspring then go on to breed with other wolves and coyotes – even with dogs in some cases.

Some scientists, such as the authors of the Science Advances paper, support the theory that there are only two distinct “wolf-like” species on the continent, the gray wolf and the coyote. Under this hypothesis, the red and eastern wolves are hybrids, the result of generations of interbreeding between gray wolves and coyotes.

Other researchers argue there are three species with distinct evolutionary lineages – the gray wolf, the eastern wolf and the coyote. Under this theory, the red wolf is considered a distinct population of, but the same species as, the eastern wolf.

Coyote, USFWS

And still others argue that there is a fourth species with its own separate lineage – the red wolf. These researchers claim red wolves have only recently undergone hybridization with coyotes in the wild, but that “pure” red wolves still exist in captivity.

In 1973, the FWS designated the red wolf an endangered species under the act and shortly thereafter began a captive breeding program with what it deemed 14 “pure” red wolves. The red wolf was extinct in the wild in 1980. In 1987, the FWS began reintroducing its captive red wolves into the wild in northeastern North Carolina. The number of wild red wolves currently tops 45 to 60, according to the FWS.

When red wolf reintroduction into the wild began, coyotes didn’t inhabit northeastern North Carolina. Today coyotes do roam these areas, putting these supposedly “pure” red wolves at risk for hybridization, says the FWS.

But as we’ve already explained, the latest research on wolf genetics suggests that red wolves weren’t a distinct species to begin with, but hybrids between gray wolves and coyotes. However, the authors of the Science Advances paper do offer a potential solution to the confusion their research may present for conservation practices.

To Be or Not to Be a Hybrid

Despite Dingell’s claim, the most recent research provides evidence to support the theory that both red wolves and eastern wolves are hybrids, not distinct species. In fact, Robert Wayne, an author on the Science Advances study and an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, told us by email, “our paper did suggest both species were hybrids of gray wolf and coyote.”

Just two years ago, more research countered the hybrid hypothesis. A November 2014 reportproduced for the FWS by the Wildlife Management Institute on red wolf recovery efforts, stated: “Recent genetic data have cast doubt upon the hybrid origin hypothesis and the balance of evidence has tilted towards a North American canid assemblage composed of the eastern wolf, the red wolf, and the coyote as distinct” species. Though the authors add, “The hybrid origin hypothesis has not been conclusively refuted.”

However, previous studies had looked at “a limited fraction of the genome” of different wolf-like species, explain Wayne and his colleagues in their paper. In contrast, Wayne’s group analyzed the complete genomes of different wolf and coyote individuals, which gave the researchers a better ability to compare the hypothesis of “unique ancestry as opposed to hybrid origin.”

Red wolf, USFWS

Using this method, Wayne and his group found that both eastern and red wolves shared a great number of genes with gray wolves and coyotes — more than would be expected if they were distinct species with their own evolutionary lineages. In other words, red and eastern wolves had very few “novel” genes not found in either gray wolves or coyotes. In fact, red wolves had a higher proportion of coyote genes compared with gray wolf genes, the researchers concluded. Eastern wolves, on the other hand, had a higher proportion of gray wolf than coyote genes.

The proportions of coyote versus gray wolf genes found in red and eastern wolves, the authors argue, parallel the patterns of “European colonization and the conversion of woodland habitat to agricultural landscape” beginning in the late 1800s. This process began in the southeast U.S., where red wolves now live, only later reaching the Great Lakes region, the territory of eastern wolves, in the early 1900s, they explain.

Eastern wolf, © Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2016

In other words, earlier stresses from human colonization could have resulted in decreases in gray wolf populations in the southeast U.S. and thus more hybridization between wolves and coyotes in this region. As a result, humans themselves may have heavily influenced the “south-to-north gradient” in proportions of gray wolf versus coyote genes seen in red wolves and eastern wolves.

Still, some wolf experts, such as Linda Y. Rutledge at Princeton University, argue that Wayne’s study doesn’t conclusively settle the debate, reported the New York Times. Some of the samples his group used may have been collected from wolves that are contemporary hybrids, as interbreeding between eastern wolves and coyotes and red wolves and coyotes has also occurred more recently.

Wayne also told us by email, “This does not mean that [red wolves] should not be protected.” Why? In his paper, he and his co-authors argue the “overly strict application” of classification to “support endangered species status is antiquated” because it’s often difficult to apply theoretical concepts like “species” and “subspecies” in practice.

What’s more important, the group argued, is the “preservation of evolutionary and ecological processes and the role of an endangered [species] in this dynamic.” In fact, hybridization “is one critical example of a process that may enhance adaptation and evolution in the rapidly changing environment of the modern world,” they add. Thus, eastern and red wolves shouldn’t be excluded from protection under the Endangered Species Act solely because they’re hybrids, the authors conclude.

While questioning Vucetich, the population biologist at Michigan Tech, Dingell also said that experts agree “the red wolf is a listable entity under the Endangered Species Act under any plausible scenario describing its evolutionary history.” This is accurate, but requires some context.

For example, a Sept. 6 report regarding the FWS’ Red Wolf Recovery Program summarized, among other things, the outcome of a U.S. Geological Survey workshop on red wolf classification and conservation, which took place in Atlanta between May 24 and 26: “Scientists and legal scholars attending the USGS workshop agreed that the red wolf is a listable entity [under the Act]; though they did not reach consensus on whether it is a full species, subspecies or a distinct population segment. But the report authors added, “This consensus must be considered tentative pending publication of their findings.”

Members of a different group — the red wolf recovery team — however, couldn’t reach agreement on whether the red wolf is a listable entity, the report states. This is due, in part, to the fact that, in addition to scientists, that team includes landowners who opposed red wolf recovery efforts because they believe the FWS has illegally released red wolves onto private land.

It’s also important to note that, while experts at the USGS workshop agreed tentatively that the red wolf is a “listable entity” under the act, this doesn’t necessarily mean the red wolf will actually remain protected. The Sept. 6 report noted that a culmination of reasons might lead the FWS to swing one way or the other on this decision, including whether or not continuing to protect red wolves in the wild and captivity will be “feasible” in practice.

So Dingell wasn’t completely off the mark on the scientific agreement over whether the red wolf is a “listable entity” under the act. However, she did stretch the truth when she said “the science is clear” that red wolves are not “hybrids” between coyotes and gray wolves. The science is not clear, and the latest research suggests both red and eastern wolves are hybrids. Thus, the classification, and potentially the conservation, of red wolves, still hangs in the balance.



Posted 10 October, 2016 by Wolf is my Soul in News/Nyheter, Wolves / Vargar

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