Including Yellowstone Stories and Images
The State of the Wolves, 2015-2016
Wolf image public domain via Pixabay
For wolves and their advocates, 2015 was a year of triumph and tragedy. The year began with the glow from a great victory: wolves had been placed back under federal protection in four states where they had been slaughtered. The year ended with advocates breathing a tired sigh of nervous relief that wolves had not been stripped of that federal protection through a last-minute, cagey congressional rider.
Meanwhile, wolves did what comes naturally: dispersed in search of mates and territory. Wolves returned to their home in a state where they had not walked in ninety years. In other wolf states they dispersed into new areas.
And we humans also did what comes naturally: we let our wide-ranging beliefs about these essential predators bring out our best and worst. In one state, pro-wolf and anti-wolf groups met regularly to try and find common ground. In another state, a poacher in his truck chased an innocent wolf down, shot it, turned himself in, and was fined a measly $100 for killing an endangered animal.
Here is a wolf-state-by-wolf-state report on the triumphs and tragedies of 2015. As well as a glimpse into what 2016 may hold in store for wolves and their advocates.
Pups from California’s Shasta pack. (CDFW)
In May and July, trail cameras in Siskiyou County recorded images of two adult wolves and five pups. California’s first wolf pack was named the Shasta Pack. Their scat was analyzed, and DNA revealed that the Shasta pack’s breeding female was born into Oregon’s Imnaha Pack, that state’s first wolf pack.
Any wolf that enters California is protected under both state and federal Endangered Species Acts. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will encourage the use of non-lethal methods to minimize livestock losses from wolves. This welcoming of wolves was, for Patricia Herman, founder of California-based Protect the Wolves advocacy group, “…our biggest success after fighting for so long with so many states to stop killing them. When we found a state that actually welcomed the idea of wolves it was a dream come true.”
The gray wolf is native to California. Records from 1750 to 1850 show that wolves roamed California’s Coastal Range from San Diego to Sacramento. From 1850-1900, they were spotted in Shasta County and in the central Sierra Nevada.
California has plenty of room for more wolves. The Klamath-Siskiyou and Modoc Plateau regions in northern California and southwestern Oregon could support up to 470 wolves, according to a study conducted by the Conservation Biology Institute and reported by the California Wolf Center.
CDFW is preparing for the return of wolves by developing a wolf management plan. “But the plan steps far outside the bounds of credible research and into the world of special interest-driven politics when it calls for authorizing the state to kill wolves when the population reaches as few as 50 to 75 animals,” says Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity. The deadline to comment on California’s plan is February 15, 2016.
Wolf from Oregon’s Wenaha pack. (ODFW)
By early 2015 Oregon had 81 wolves in nine packs, most in eastern Oregon. OR-7’s Rogue pack lives in the southwestern part of the state. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) confirmed that two new wolves were spotted traveling in territory near the Rogue pack.
Oregon’s response to the return of wolves has been positive. “Oregon has been the only state in the nation with a meaningful wolf population that did not kill them despite having the authority to do so,” said Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild.
But that may change. In November, ODFW stripped Oregon’s wolves of state endangered species protection. Wolves remain fully protected in the western two-thirds of state under the federal Endangered Species Act. In Northeast Oregon, where most of the wolves live, ranchers can still only shoot a wolf caught in the act of wounding, biting, killing, or chasing livestock. The state still makes non-lethal deterrence the first choice for resolving conflicts between ranchers and wolves.
To delist wolves, ODFW had to show that wolves were not in danger of extinction or population failure. The agency claims it did that. Klavins says ODFW did not. “They ignored substantive critiques from world-renowned scientists while justifying delisting based on a few sentences (in some cases cherry-picked) from a small number of selected experts of varying levels of credibility. They ignored over 20,000 public comments and overwhelming public testimony in favor of continued protections. They ignored troubling conflicts of interest and likely violated important legal requirements. The agency was dishonest with conservation stakeholders. Governor Brown was silent.”
On December 30, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal challenge to the removal of protection from gray wolves under Oregon’s Endangered Species Act.
Pups from Washington’s Diamond pack. (WDFW trail cam)
By early 2015, Washington had at least 68 wolves in 16 confirmed packs in the eastern and central portions of the state. Though Congress stripped wolves of federal Endangered Species Act protections in the eastern third of the state, all wolves remain protected under Washington’s ESA.
But, as elsewhere, protection hasn’t stopped the killing. According to the Seattle Times, at least half a dozen Washington wolves have been killed by poachers since 2012. This includes a Whitman County poacher fined a measly $100 last September. Another wolf was struck and killed on Interstate 90. State sharpshooters in helicopters shot and killed seven wolves in one pack in 2012 for preying on livestock.
The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) went to court to stop such state-sponsored killing. WELC sued Wildlife Services, a federal extermination program under the USDA, challenging its authority to kill wolves in Washington. In late December the Seattle Times reported that a federal judge ruled that killing wolves “to reduce predation on livestock is not only highly controversial, but highly uncertain to work as intended, given the ongoing scientific dispute about the policy. Therefore, the agency must complete a full environmental-impact statement before engaging further in “lethal removal” of wolves…”
As of early December, north-central Washington has a new wolf pack. The Loup Loup pack was identified after numerous reports of wolf sightings prompted wildlife officials to investigate the Methow Valley. Biologists tracked up to six animals traveling together. Because this pack is in western Washington, the animals are protected under the federal ESA. Officials plan to outfit at least one wolf with a radio collar.
Wolves have also been spotted in the North Cascades, where they have been moving back and forth across the Canadian border. Scientists have identified more wild landscape in Washington that wolves could occupy, including on the Olympic Peninsula.
Idaho wolf. (IDFG)
The most recent official count found 770 wolves surviving in Idaho at the end of 2014. In that same year, hunters killed 256 wolves, wildlife agents killed 67, and 19 other wolves died at the hands of humans.
And 2015 looks to be as deadly. Wildlife Services has removed 70 wolves and as of early December 120 wolves have been shot or trapped, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. And 145 more could still die.
The cost of hunting licenses reveals how Idaho values wolves. A wolf tag costs $11.50, while a turkey tag costs $19.75. A tag to take an elk costs $30.75. Hunters may buy up to five wolf hunting tags per year and use electronic calls to attract wolves.
A group of hunters with the misleading name Idaho for Wildlife was planning a January 2016 wolf and coyote killing derby on public lands near Salmon, Idaho. The contest included a $1,000 prize for whoever kills the most wolves and another $1,000 to the killer of the most coyotes. But in mid-November the group canceled the derby after being challenged in the courts by the Western Environmental Law Center, representing WildEarth Guardians, Cascadia Wildlands, and the Boulder-White Clouds Council. Four other groups—Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, and Project Coyote—also sued the Bureau of Land Management, contending the permit opposes the federal government’s wolf-reintroduction efforts.
Both lawsuits continue since the derby organizer has said that the derby would be held in January—but on private ranches in the Salmon area and on U.S. Forest Service land that doesn’t require a permit.
In early-August, conservation groups won another victory for Idaho wolves. Earthjustice, representing Ralph Maughan, Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch, and the Center for Biological Diversity, had filed a federal lawsuit to halt the killing of wolves in Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Idaho wanted to kill 60% of the wolves in this federally protected area managed by the USFS. But the USFS has told Earthjustice that Idaho will kill no wolves in the area in the winter of 2015-2016.
Wolf from Montana’s Smart Creek pack. (MFWP)
The number of gray wolves in Montana continues to fall under state management. The verified population at the end of 2014 (latest data) was 554, as compared to 627 wolves at the end of 2013, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP). In 2011, the year wolves were stripped of ESA protection, there were 653 wolves in Montana.
In 2014, 308 wolves died; 301 at the hands of humans. Wildlife managers, including Wildlife Services, killed 57 of those wolves. Hunters killed 206 during the state’s expanded 2014-15 hunting season. A wolf-hunting license costs $19 for residents, and 20,383 wolf licenses were sold in 2014. The combined maximum hunting and trapping bag limit is five wolves per person.
Conservation groups saved some wolves from hunters. In July of 2015 The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission reduced from three to two the number of wolves that can be killed each year in two hunting districts near the north border of Yellowstone National Park. These districts are two of the three more tightly controlled wolf-hunting districts in the state. The third is near Glacier National Park, which already had a quota of two wolves. This quota reduction represents ongoing success: In 2014 wolf advocates were able to get the quota in those two units adjoining Yellowstone reduced from four to three wolves.
Also in 2015 MFWP brought together groups that want to protect wolves (for example, Wolves of the Rockies, Bear Creek Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Montana Audobon Society) and groups that want to shoot wolves (Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Montana Bowhunters’ Association, and Montana Stockgrowers’ Association). The groups discussed, among other issues, whether non-hunting conservation groups and hunter conservation groups can find common ground. “This is a promising move forward in working together for the betterment of wildlife management and is open to the public to attend,” said Kim Bean, vice-president of Wolves of the Rockies.
Wolf from Yellowstone’s Lamar Canyon pack. (Mary Strickroth)
At the end of 2014 (most recent count), Wyoming had 229 wolves in the state with an additional 104 in Yellowstone National Park for a total of 333 wolves.
In 2014 Earthjustice, representing Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity, fought in court to keep Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Wyoming. The coalition won and stopped the killing of Wyoming’s wolves. The federal government and the state of Wyoming have appealed. “Wyoming appears determined to defend its uniquely hostile approach to wolf management,” said Tim Preso, managing attorney for Earthjustice.
History supports Preso’s statement. The federal government turned wolf management over to Wyoming in 2012. Most of the state was designated a predator zone, where anyone could kill any wolf, at any time, and for any reason. In less than two years, more than 200 wolves were slaughtered, according to Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife. Among the early victims of Wyoming’s killing spree was 06, the famous alpha female of Yellowstone’s Lamar Canyon pack.
The return of ESA protection has not stopped the killing. Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, reported in late-October that 55 wolves have been killed in Wyoming—mostly by Wildlife Services—and that is the largest government-funded wolf killing in eight years.
In mid-November, two U.S. senators (Republicans from Wyoming and Wisconsin) vowed to push to strip federal protection from gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes states—and to prohibit courts from intervening in those states on the embattled predator’s behalf.
The Great Lakes States
Wolf photo by USFWS
In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) estimated that 3,722 wolves live in the three Great Lakes states, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. About sixty percent of those wolves roam Minnesota. The remainder is split almost evenly between Michigan and Wisconsin.
In December of 2014, all of those wolves came back under the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act. Relisting was a huge victory for wolf advocates, but fighting to keep them listed, says Rachel Tilseth, of Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, has been the biggest challenge of 2015. She told Wisconsin Public Radio, “Can states be trusted to manage wolves? I think not, and many other scientists agree that individual states cannot be trusted.”
In November two groups of scientists wrote letters about whether the gray wolf should be delisted as an endangered species.
First came a letter signed by 26 wildlife scientists urging the federal government to strip ESA protection from gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region. The scientists sent the letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Dan Ashe, director of USFWS. Among those writing the letter were David Mech, a wolf specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Minnesota. The scientists say that the integrity of the ESA is undercut if species aren’t removed when they’ve scientifically recovered. They believe that the combined population in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin represents recovery.
Less than a week later a group of 70 scientists and scholars wrote an open letter disagreeing with their colleagues. These scientists said that removing ESA protection from wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin could be justified if and when the USFWS “uses the best available science that justifies delisting,” But, they added, ”Currently, it does not.”
“Quite simply, wolves still fit the legal definition of endangerment in the Great Lakes region and nationwide,” said the scientists, including John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson of Michigan Technological University, leaders of a long-standing study of wolves at Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.
The Associated Press reported that in the rebuttal letter, the scientists said public tolerance of wolves has risen substantially since they were given protection. Any suggestions that patience is wearing thin are spread by “special interest groups that are vocal, but small in number.”
Michigan wolf (MDNR)
Michigan has about 630 wolves and all were believed to reside in the Upper Peninsula. In September, the website Michigan Live reported that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) confirmed that a second gray wolf has reached the Lower Peninsula. Genetic testing of male wolf scat found that this dispserser may have originated in northeast Ontario. Though wolves have moved into the Lower Peninsula, there’s not yet evidence of a breeding population.
Meanwhile, in Isle Royale National Park, the wolf population has fallen to three, including one deformed from inbreeding. In 2014, park officials hoped that new wolves would come to the island across ice bridges, but that didn’t happen. “There is now a good chance that it is too late to conduct genetic rescue,” John Vucetich told UPI. Vucetich and Rolf Peterson suggest that fewer and smaller ice bridges as well as development on the mainland may hinder repopulation.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said in August that the state’s wolf population estimate has not varied “significantly” over the last three years. The latest survey estimates that 2,221 wolves live in 374 packs within northern and central Minnesota. That estimate is down from the previous winter’s estimate of 2,423 wolves.
In June, wildlife officials announced that the state’s wolf population is close to an all-time high. Preliminary surveys conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) place current wolf numbers between 746 and 771, about a 13 percent increase from last year’s 660.
In August, WDNR reported that a pack of three to four wolves resides in the Wisconsin Dells area, according to WiscNews. Except for one other location in the state’s southwest, this is the farthest south that wolves have migrated in Wisconsin.
A Look Ahead to 2016
Here’s how some of the advocates contacted for this report see 2016 shaping up.
Wolf photo public domain via Pixabay
“Sadly, our wolf, wildlife, and environmental issues will play out in the political arena based largely on special interest and politics, not on science, conservation, or preservation,” says Dr. Robin Chriss of Chriss Wildlife Consulting. “We need to be there in solidarity as wolf advocates, to be a voice. If not, we will lose a lot in 2016.”
“Corporate ranchers and farmers,” says Patricia Herman of Protect the Wolves, “don’t want to learn to coexist with wolves. They just want to continue to take more and more land, until there is no room for wildlife anywhere.”
“Keeping the Great Lakes wolves under federal protection,” says Rachel Tilseth of Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, “is and will be the biggest challenge of 2016.”
For Oregon Wild’s Rob Klavins, 2016 looks scary. “Anti-wolf interests and their political allies have brought anti-wolf legislation every year since wolf recovery began. They’ve promised to do so again, and wolves have lost some of their champions in recent years.”
Kim Bean from Wolves of the Rockies believes the attack on the ESA will continue and “wolves will most likely be delisted nationally.” This leaves the states to manage wolves without any federal help. “We as advocates,” advises Bean, “need to stand and fight even harder, and will need the help of an empathetic public to do so. We need one loud and powerful voice.”
In the Temple of Wolves
by Rick Lamplugh
More than 225 Five-Star Reviews
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Posted by Rick Lamplugh at 7:43 AM, January 2, 2016
October 21, 2016
HOUSTON (KTRK) —
A gray wolf that was seized two months ago in Harris County is now on its way to a wolf sanctuary in Washington state. The flight carrying him to a cooler climate and a recognized rescue that specializes in wolves left this morning.
He was part of a seizure of more than a dozen animals from a feed store in the Aldine area. It wasn’t aggressive, it would just stand at a distance,” said Sgt Christine Hendrick, who also said it wasn’t being fed an appropriate diet for a wolf, and its enclosure was inadequate.
One of the store’s owners said a man gave them the animal several years ago, because he was moving. “He told us it was a wolf hybrid.” The SPCA’s DNA test showed that it was almost pure grey wolf.
By law, wolves, and wolf hybrids are not allowed to be kept in Harris County. Until recently, gray wolves were on the federal endangered species list.
Since the seizure, the wolf was kept in the exotic animal area of the Houston SPCA. He has put on some weight, but human contact is kept to a minimum. “We didn’t want him to imprint on any more people,” said Brian Latham of the Houston SPCA. “We want him to be a wolf.”
Because of that, he was put in a covered kennel in preparation for the long flight to Washington state, so he wouldn’t react to the activity around him.
Wolf Haven International is regarded as one of the top sanctuaries to care for rescued wolves. Its newest resident, who was neutered several years ago, will be paired with a female wolf. It will likely be the first time he will be with one of his kind.
The wolf was not given a name by the SPCA. “We don’t name wildlife, because that’s what they are — wildlife,” said Latham.
November 16, 2015
Territorial species, like gray wolves living in Yellowstone National Park, will often fight if they encounter a neighboring group. Observational research over the course of 20 years has allowed scientists in Yellowstone to examine the roles of each individual in a wolf pack during these fights over territory and resources. They have discovered that old wolves are the most important in pack versus pack fights as the experience and leadership provided by an old wolf often allows a pack to win even if they are outnumbered.
River Valley Pack,
“All the wolves trotted to the stranger and practically surrounded it, and for a few moments I thought that they would be friendly toward it for there was just the suggestion of tail wagging by some of them. But something tipped the scales the other way for the wolves began to bite at the stranger. It rolled over on its back, begging quarter. The attack continued, however, so it scrambled to its feet and with difficulty emerged from the snapping wolves. Twice it was knocked over as it ran down the slope with five wolves in hot pursuit. They chased after it about 200 yards to the river bar, and the mantled male crossed the bar after it. The two ran out of my sight under the ridge from which I was watching.”
– Murie, Adolph. 1944. The Wolves of Mount McKinley. University of Washington Press.
It was 1940 and Adolph Murie was hired to record data on wolves and Dall sheep in Denali National Park (then called Mount McKinley). Murie followed one pack closely for several years, watching them raise pups, hunt prey, and even chase and attack intruding wolves. His field notes may have been the first time in history these territorial, aggressive accounts were written down. I like to imagine this consummate observer and naturalist would be happy to hear the work he began nearly 80 years ago has continued with the return of the wolf to Yellowstone National Park.
Since the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone 20 years ago scientists have been gathering data on survival and reproduction, mortality and hunting. But one thing biologists didn’t really expect when wolves were brought back to Yellowstone following a 70-year absence was their consistent visibility. Wide open valleys with abundant elk and plowed roads, combined with a decent scope or pair of binoculars, now provides visitors and scientists views of wolf behavior rarely seen elsewhere.
Biologists have long known wolves are territorial and have noted the difference between the amiable way wolves treat pack mates, usually their close family members, and the aggression they show neighboring, rival packs. When a wolf was found dead researchers pieced together clues from tracks, often concluding that a pack-vs-pack fight had occurred. In Yellowstone those interactions have been observed and recorded for two decades and play a decidedly influential role in the lives of gray wolves, accounting for two-thirds of natural mortality.
Besides the effects these territorial fights have on individual survival, they likely have long-term effects on reproduction, pack persistence, and the redistribution of resources based on which packs are able to consistently defeat their opponents. But what allows one pack to win over a rival? Is it just a numbers game with larger packs always winning out over smaller ones? Do resident packs enjoy a home field advantage? Or is there some compositional factor? Are packs with more of a certain type of wolf, say a large male wolf in his prime, more likely to win? Observational research, like Murie’s, was the only way to find out.
It was 10 a.m. but the mid-morning sun was just barely cresting the eastern ridge. I’d been alternately huddling for warmth in my layers of down and stomping around the small dirt trailhead trying to keep feeling in my toes for over two hours. Watching as the western slopes lit and warmed, I beheld nature’s visual timepiece, anticipating the blanket of sunlight edging temperatures into positive degrees.
I was tracking the Slough Creek wolf pack by listening for pings on the radio receiver, indicating one of the collared wolves was nearby. Finally I saw them travelling up out of the Yellowstone River corridor, their thick winter coats shedding river ice, keeping them a lot warmer than me and definitely not worrying themselves over the speed of the sunrise that morning.
The seven figures followed in each other’s footsteps, noses to the ground. They gathered around one area, and judging by their quickly rising tails and hackles, it was the fresh scent of rival wolves. The alpha male took off running to the north, the five pack females and a yearling male following quickly. Intrigued by the wolves’ behavior, I tuned the receiver to test the signals for other packs. Sure enough, loud beeps from a Druid Peak pack wolf rang out—they must be close by, too. I looked back in the scope and watched the Slough Creek pack running hard now, the dark black alpha male in the lead. Scanning ahead of them about 400 meters I saw five members of the Druid Peak pack. They glanced at each other and began their own charge, tails like flags, straight at their opponents.
The distance closed rapidly and all of a sudden it was chaos. The Slough alpha male slammed his body into a Druid wolf but when another grabbed his neck and shook violently he broke loose and ran out of the fray. The Slough females followed the male’s wake but finding themselves in the midsts of four huge male Druid wolves, tucked tails and ran. Two of the Sloughs turned around and hopped briefly onto their hind legs, trying to figure out who was a pack mate and who was not. The Druid wolves stayed in a solitary unit, chasing and spreading out the Slough wolves for several minutes, keeping them from joining together. As the commotion died down, the Slough wolves started to bark-howl from all angles. They were lost and separated, not sure where to go for fear of running into the Druids again. Eventually the tension dissipated and the Druids relaxed. The Sloughs wandered in several small groups, separated by miles of mountainside.
Even though the Sloughs outnumbered the Druids, they had lost; completely displaced from the fight location—firmly in Slough Creek pack territory. And as it turned out, this encounter would be the prime example of what characteristics are important to a pack during successful inter-pack interactions.
The first important factor, the only one in the Slough’s favor, was pack size. Having one more wolf than an opponent increases a pack’s odds of winning by 140%. Numerical assessment studies have found this same pattern in many social species from chimpanzees to African lions to mongooses. But for wolves, pack composition is also important. A pack with one more adult male enjoys a 65% increase in win odds. Adult male wolves are 20% larger and more muscular than females; they are built for fighting and protecting territory and resources. The Druids had the advantage here with two adult males more than the Sloughs (4 to 2). A home-field advantage doesn’t exist for wolves. Even intruders can compete with residents if they have the numbers or those valuable individuals present.
But the most influential factor was the presence of old wolves (>6 years old). A pack with one old wolf more than an opponent had 150% greater odds of winning—making it more important than pack size. As the Druids exemplified (they had one more old adult than the Sloughs), they won despite being outnumbered. Old adults are nowhere near the fastest or the strongest but what they do have is experience. They’ve encountered competitors many times. They’ve seen pack mates killed, and likely participated in killing a rival themselves. They may avoid a conflict they figure they can’t win—upping their success percentage. Leadership and experience make old wolves the most valuable individuals in the pack during aggressive encounters.
These pack vs pack battles have gone on for thousands of years, contributing to the evolution of territoriality, aggression, and sociality in gray wolves. There have surely been occasional human witnesses to these episodes of truly wild nature: Homo sapiens during the Pleistocene, Lewis and Clark on the Corps of Discovery, and, of course, biologist Adolph Murie in 1940s Alaska. And now, in Yellowstone, we can all observe this instinctive yet advanced behavior exhibited by a complex, social species—a species with intelligence and a division of labor amongst group members, the goal to protect themselves, their resources, and each other.
From KCET August 6, 2015 by Chris Clarke
Gray wolf in Yellowstone | Photo: Jeremy Weber/Flickr/Creative Commons License
California wildlife biologists say they have evidence that a new gray wolf has been visiting the state, and that should make north state counties take a hard look at their agreements with a controversial federal predator control agency.
The new possible-wolf, dubbed “Siskiyou” by some wildlife advocates, was first seen by members of the public in a remote area in Siskiyou County and reported as a possible wolf to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). In June, CDFW biologists found large tracks on a nearby dirt road that they couldn’t rule out as having been made by a wolf, then placed camera traps along that section of road. The resulting photos show what appears to be a large, dark wolf.
Scat samples taken to the lab by CDFW proved not to have enough intact DNA to provide a positive identification, but based on the photos and tracks CDFW biologists are pretty sure the animal is a gray wolf, the second to visit California since 1924. Gray wolves are coming back to the state, in other words. And that makes California counties’ arrangement with a controversial federal agency a whole lot more complicated.
Here’s one of the photos the CDFW cameras captured:
Camera trap photo of “Siskiyou,” likely a gray wolf visiting Siskiyou County | Photo: California Department of Fish and Wildlife
It’s no surprise that gray wolves are coming back into California: the government’s been expecting them since well before OR-7’s famous visit to the extreme northern part of the state. (This new wolf isn’t OR-7, who is radio-collared and accounted for. He’s alive and well and raising two litters in southern Oregon in what biologists now call the “Rogue Pack,” after the nearby river.)
Wolves from Idaho have been moving into Oregon for some time, and it’s always been assumed that those wolves wouldn’t stop at the Oregon-California line. That’s part of why CDFW and the state’s Fish and Game Commission worked to list the wolf as Endangeredunder the California Endangered Species Act in 2014. Even though OR-7 had settled down in Oregon at that point, it was a safe bet wolves would be back. As the Obama administration has spent the last several years working to remove the gray wolf from the federal list of endangered species, that would have left wolves like “Siskiyou” unprotected once they arrived in California.
Wolves are legally protected now in the Golden State by both state and federal law. But that doesn’t mean they’re out of danger. Under the so-called “McKittrick Policy,” people who shoot a protected wolf can escape prosecution and punishment under federal law by saying they thought the animal was a coyote.
That’s how “Echo,” the wolf who became the first wolf in Northern Arizona in more than 70 years when she showed up north of the Grand Canyon, met her end: killed by a hunter who claimed he thought he was shooting at a coyote.
The McKittrick Policy applies only to the Federal Endangered Species Act; California state case law regarding protected wild wolves is necessarily sparse, seeing as there haven’t been any California Endangered Species Act-listed wolves in the state until this year. But you can bet the first shooter caught harming a California wolf will try to use the McKittrick argument nonetheless.
And that may even be true of the agency responsible for shooting more coyotes than any other, the controversial and secretive Wildlife Services. In fiscal year 2014 alone, Wildlife Services killed 61,702 coyotes, most of them in the western United States, most of them at the behest of ranchers fearing for their livestock.
It’s not just coyotes. Wildlife Services’ tally sheet for animals killed during the last fiscal year includes cowbirds, cardinals, chickens, egrets, dogs, cats, bobcats, bald eagles, golden eagles, rhesus monkeys, hawks, herons, jaegers, jays, rabbits, raccoons, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and a whole lot of other species. The Agency’s total self-reported tally for animals killed in fiscal year 2014 is 2,713,570 animals in 472 distinct species.
That total includes 322 gray wolves, one of which was killed “unintentionally.” That would be a different unintentionally killed wolf than the I mentioned here, involving a highly endangered Mexican wolf in new Mexico, reportedly killed in error by a Wildlife Services employee who claimed he thought the wolf was — you guessed it — a coyote.
Wildlife Services’ relationship with Northern California counties has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. In April, Mendocino County agreed to conduct an environmental review before renewing its long-term contract with Wildlife Services. Sonoma County stopped working with Wildlife Services in 2013, while Marin County severed ties with the agency 15 years ago. Marin’s alternative program of reducing conflict between wild predators and livestock has worked well, according to local ranchers.
But Humboldt County decided to renew its contract with Wildlife Services in July, 2014. Humboldt is just a few days’ wolf-saunter from neighboring Siskiyou County, where the possible wolf-sightings took place earlier this year. And that raises the possibility that Humboldt’s contract with Wildlife Services may well end tragically for wolves. As agency staff attempt to reduce Humboldt’s coyote population, cases of “mistaken identity” seem inevitable.
Not that those programs don’t end tragically for the coyotes even if all goes as planned. Here’s a pair of statistics that cut to the heart of what’s wrong with our predator management policies. Wildlife Services reported that it killed more than 61,000 coyotes in Fiscal Year 2014, a higher tally than that for any other mammal. In the same period, the agency killed more than 10,000 squirrels of various species — three quarters of them California ground squirrels, a species that is ordinarily kept in check by coyotes when coyotes aren’t eradicated from an area.
We’re paying Wildlife Services to kill coyotes and we’re paying Wildlife Services to kill the rodents the coyotes would have eaten.
Changes are looming for this most secretive of agencies. This week the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Wildlife Services’ predator killing programs were subject to environmental review requirements, a ruling that may end up shining a little light on the agency’s procedures.
In the meantime, there’s even more reason for Humboldt and other California counties in the potential range of gray wolves to think very carefully about their relationship with Wildlife Services. Predator management policies such as Marin County’s are a whole lot easier to submit to the kind of environmental review the California Endangered Species Act requires — in part because there isn’t a secretive federal agency actively trying to hide the smallest details of how the policy works.
At the very least, counties in wolf country ought to quiz Wildlife Services staff on how to tell a wolf from a coyote.
From: azCentral 12 News
Dec. 30, 2014 by Brenna Goth
(Photo: Arizona Game and Fish Department)
The federally protected female wolf seen last month near the Grand Canyon may have been shot and killed in southwestern Utah on Sunday, wildlife groups fear.
If that’s true, the first northern gray wolf seen in northern Arizona in 70 years has been lost.
A hunter shot the radio-collared animal over the weekend in the Tushar Mountains outside of Beaver, Utah, according to a release from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. The mountains are about 200 miles north of the Grand Canyon.
The hunter mistook the animal for a coyote, the agency said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not confirmed the wolf’s identity. But the Utah agency said the federal service identified the animal as a 3-year-old, female northern gray wolf. She was collared last January in Wyoming.
That description and the wolf’s location means she was likely the Grand Canyon wanderer, said Michael Robinson, wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.
That wolf, first seen in northern Arizona in October, has has been celebrated by conservationists as a symbol of hope for the species’ recovery. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the wolf traveled at least 450 miles to reach northern Arizona and was likely looking for food or a mate.
“Justice should be done for this animal,” Robinson said. “This shouldn’t just be brushed under the rug.”
MONTINI: Hooowl no! What this killing teaches us about wolves, and us.
Conservationists were early advocates for the radio-collared animal spotted and photographed by visitors and hunters on the Kaibab Plateau north of the Grand Canyon National Park.
State wildlife agencies worked together to track the animal after they discovered its radio collar was dead. They were originally unsure if it was a wolf or wolf-dog hybrid.
An animal seen north of Grand Canyon on Oct 27, 2014.(Photo: Arizona Game and Fish Department)
In November, a genetic test on the animal’s scat showed it was the first Rocky Mountain gray wolf seen in the area since the 1940s.
Attempts to replace the wolf’s tracking collar were unsuccessful, though the agency said DNA tests could confirm its identity from previously captured wolves.
Gray wolves were once common in the area but disappeared in the early 1900s after being hunted and killed. Robinson said last month that the wolf’s presence proved the Grand Canyon was still a suitable environment for the species.
Sunday’s death — whether or not it’s the same wolf — is a setback, he said.
“Whether it was persecution or recklessness, it highlights that wolves still need protection,” he said.
The Center for Biological Diversity is calling for a full investigation into the Sunday shooting.
Conservation officials are still reviewing the case, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.