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Wolves in the spotlight

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If you happen to have a lot of time on your hands and are interested in the probable plight of the wolves in the U.S. Northwest now that Congress has stepped in and mandated delisting in Idaho and Montana, you may want to read this very long post on the Earth Island Journal website and the variously-themed responses to it.

As for me, I’m gearing up for my annual Yellowstone visit, and, like all lovers of the park, counting the days until I leave. With a little luck, I’ll visit the Lamar Valley early one morning and see some wolves. But most of my time will be taken up with Yellowstone Association Institute classes, geyser watching, short hikes, and enjoying all my favorite spots, like the upper Mammoth Terraces, the views around Yellowstone Lake, and those at Canyon.

If you plan to be at Old Faithful on July 3rd [2011], be sure to come into Old Faithful Inn’s lobby and say hello at my annual book signing (from 11:00 to 6:00)!

Corrected a link, Oct. 15, 2014

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Wolves and bison, oh, my!

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Just in time for National Park Week (April 16-24, 2011), when entry to Yellowstone and all other parks is free to all visitors, things have changed for the Northwest’s wolves and bison. First, the agreement between conservation groups and the U.S. Department of the Interior concerning the wolves (that I wrote about on April third) was rejected in the courts. Then this week, as broadcast in the national news, the budget agreement passed by Congress includes an unprecedented delisting of wolves from their endangered status—an act that has until now been the prerogative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency. Democratic senators Tester and Baucus from Montana signed on to the plan, stating that they had put aside their differences and worked on a responsible, common-sense plan.

Admittedly, the estimated 1700 wolves now living in the northwestern states exceeds by many times the goal stated when gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995. They have restored ecological balance, and they appear to be resilient and adaptable, although in the interim their numbers have both grown and diminished, mostly from natural causes. Environmental organizations will now devote their energies to being sure that state management of wolves is “based on sound science and public involvement to ensure they continue to fill their ecological niche on the landscape,” to quote Mike Clark of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Meanwhile:
An agreement on April 14th now gives Yellowstone bison access to 75,000 acres of land north of the park, although much of that land is not suitable for grazing. Says the National Park Traveler’s Kurt Repanshek: “Under the agreement laid out Thursday, park bison will be allowed to roam roughly 13 miles north of the park to Yankee Jim Canyon, a natural pinch-point in the landscape. There a cattle guard has been installed across the highway to discourage bison from moving further north along the road, while fencing is to be erected on U.S. Forest Service land abutting the road to keep the bison from moving around the cattle guard.”

The most desirable land for grazing from a big ungulate’s point of view is north of Yankee Jim Canyon, where ranchers irrigate many delectable acres, but any bison that somehow wanders around the fencing will be shot, according to the new plan. Still, this should be an improvement over previous arrangements for those bison who migrate north of the park in bad winters.

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Snowpack and Bison

Categories: On the Web, Trip planning, Wildlife
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Much has been written in the past few weeks [2011] about Yellowstone’s bison and their brucellosis problem. I will not go into details here, which are much too complicated to be dealt with effectively in a guidebook writer’s post, but I will send along the URL of the best summary of the situation I have come across lately. It’s in today’s East Oregonian and written by Samantha Tipler.

Much of this year’s bison dilemma stems from an excellent snowpack in the park, which is hard on all the animals while being great for human visitors’ enjoyment of this beautiful place. The February snowpack map of the Rocky Mountain states and Alaska shows western Yellowstone with 110% to 129% of “normal”—taken as the average snowpack from 1971 to 2000—and eastern Yellowstone (where most of the mountains are) as 90% to 109% of normal. You can look at a snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

How I wish I could go back this winter! But it is not to be. I do have the delightful memories of three winter trips there: in 1988, before that summer’s devastating fires; in 1990, when I first got to see Lower Falls with its fabulous ice-cone; and most recently in 2006.

You have only a couple more weeks before the park closes for its annual early spring road plowing and readying the facilities for the summer season. All roads close to oversnow travel by March 15. Then the various roads and accommodations gradually reopen, beginning April 15. Details about the facilities are at the NPS Opening & Closing Dates for Facilities page. But beware, this year almost all accommodations are already booked through most of the summer.

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Your authority on bears preens a little

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All authors of non-fiction books like to be considered as some sort of authority—otherwise, why would they have written their books? I am no exception. I have to admit it’s rather flattering to me to be called an authority on Yellowstone, although I’ve only been researching the park for about 15 years, and some people I know are still learning more about it after 30 or more years. I still mostly just consider myself a researcher.

However, the latest review of Yellowstone Treasures on the book’s Amazon.com page certainly implies that I’m an authority. I found it so amusing to read, that I just had to respond and now pass it on to my blog readers.

“Falmouth” in Boston wrote in part:

So many people have covered the reasons why this book is fantastic, so I don’t need to add more. Except I do want to say that where the author notes that you may see a specific type of animal, believe it. We saw two black bears on different occasions exactly where she stated they frequent and we saw two mama grizzly bears with a total of 5 cubs where she said we might. How cool is that?

I commented:
“Hello Falmouth,
I can’t help but be amused by your review where you said the bears were where I said they’d be. That is some kind of luck! Congratulations! I can’t claim to have any power over the bears, but I think it’s great that they appeared for you.
Hope you’ll return to Yellowstone for many more memorable vacations.”

2010

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A new study of wolves in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming

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Back on April twelfth, I posted a sort of book report about Cat Urbigkit’s Yellowstone Wolves book and its eye-opening take on the 1990s wolf introduction from a Wyoming rancher’s point of view.

The item that brought me up short in a new report was this: “The study also proved beyond a doubt that wolves now living in the Northern Rockies did not somehow contaminate a remnant native wolf population.” —and— “The wolves from Canada were coming here by themselves. . . . They were already here. They walked.”

This clearly contradicts Urbigkit’s contention that the Canadian wolves brought in to the three contiguous mountain states were a different and larger species from what was here before. This news does not reduce my sympathy for ranchers who lose livestock to wolf predation, but it is another factor that justifies bringing in wolves to establish ecological balance, especially in Yellowstone Park.

The study appeared in the October [2010] issue of Molecular Ecology and was reported in some detail in the October 25th Missoulian newspaper.

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A few personal notes

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12 Sept. 2010: Back from Yellowstone for a week now, I have lots of things to write about and will start with a few personal experiences and observations, some of which might be instructive to other visitors.

This year we opted to drive from our home in California rather than flying and renting a car. It’s always nice to have your own car in the park, but, besides not having to cope with the expense and hassle of flying, it’s pleasant to see how our 2004 Camry loves to go 75 and 80 miles per hour on those Nevada and Idaho highways—we got over 37 miles per gallon on one tank of gas!

For me, having spent my first eighteen years in Billings and environs, going back to that part of the country is a great opportunity to enjoy old friends as well as the places I love. I met two of them at Lake Hotel and participated in a joint birthday party for seven who graduated from Billings Senior High School in the Class of ’53, with a luncheon held at Red Lodge. At East Rosebud Lake in the Beartooth Mountains, I took part in a rededication ceremony, unveiling in its new location the 1929 plaque that named Mt. Inabnit for my maternal grandfather.

During my two weeks in the park, I saw no bears this year, but at Old Faithful Village I had a near-adventure with a herd of bison. In the late afternoon one day, eight or ten of them were browsing near the lower general store as I returned from walking in the Upper Geyser Basin. A rain-and-lightning storm was just starting, as a law-enforcement ranger was making an attempt to deflect the bison from the path. The ranger had driven his patrol car part way up the paved path toward Castle Geyser. He suggested that those of us walking back toward the Inn should make a big detour across the meadow and take the outer path toward the gas station. Fortunately, the bison did not come that way, so meeting them head-on was averted. Another routine day’s work for the ranger. . . not so routine for me.

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Wolves and grizzlies of Yellowstone again making the news

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The top of the food chain is always the most controversial. Last week [August 2010], U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Montana overturned last fall’s decision by the Interior Department to remove the gray wolf’s Endangered Species protective listing. The previous decision had resulted in the states of Montana and Idaho holding wolf hunts that saw the deaths of several hundred wolves, while wolves in Wyoming (outside of the national parks) were still protected, since Wyoming’s delisting plan had been deemed unacceptable.

Judge Molloy’s August 5th decision centered around his ruling that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service cannot list only part of a species as endangered while another part is left on the list. As stated on the National Parks Traveler’s website: www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2010/08/federal-judge-overturns-federal-governments-delisting-gray-wolf-endangered-species-act-protection6366, “conservation groups . . . have maintained that a sound wolf recovery program couldn’t sustain itself, genetically, without two or three times the estimated 1,500 or so wolves loping about Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming,” but this latest ruling “surely will infuriate some groups that see wolves as nothing more than four-legged killing machines.”

Meanwhile, grizzly bears were returned to the Endangered Species Act list, also last fall, due to another ruling negating their delisting due to the adverse effects of global warming on the bears’ ability to find food. The terrible death and maulings by a grizzly sow in a campground near Cooke City, Montana this month might have been related to the sow being malnourished, but the direct cause was probably her associating people with easily obtained food. A photographer had been baiting the bear shortly before that tragedy occurred. The marauding bear is now dead and her three cubs placed in the Billings zoo.

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Lions & tigers & bears, oh, my!

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For an amazing list of animals just sighted during a very few days in Yellowstone, click on “More” at the bottom of the post for Day Four of the South Salem, New York, Wolf Conservation Center trip, at: http://nywolf.blogspot.com/2010/07/day-four-in-yellowstone.html#0.

We should all be so lucky! I suspect they had good advice about where to look.

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Follow-up on wolves

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The day after I posted my sort-of-book-report about wolves, a guest writer from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition presented a very thoughtful article on the same general subject. Interested readers might take a look at the URL from the New West Blog that I’m sending here. See: http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/with_wolves_its_time_to_separate_fact_from_fiction/C559/L559/

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Thoughts about Wyoming wolves—Report on a provocative book, 2010

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Wanting to get an idea of the larger picture of the ongoing controversy about wolves, I recently bought and read my fifth book about Yellowstone and wolves, but this one from the point of view of a journalist, Wyoming resident, and (in recent years) sheep rancher named Cat Urbigkit. It’s called Yellowstone Wolves: A Chronicle of the Animal, the People, and the Politics, published by McDonald & Woodward in 2008.

Cat and her husband filed a lawsuit in the early years after wolves were reintroduced to the park. They contend that, in pushing through the wolf introduction in 1995 and 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not consider the already existing population of wolves, proven by many sightings over several decades in western Wyoming. They also feel that the native wolves should have been protected, and they believe that the Canadian wolves are a different and larger species.

Other entities filed other suits, and rulings and decisions about the wolves rolled through the courts until January 2000, when the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the Canadian wolves were to stay.

Yellowstone Wolves is effectively two books in one: Chapters 1 through 19 detail the remnant wolves and the legal maneuvers, and Chapters 20 through 33 tell of wolf depredation in Wyoming and the very real hardships ranchers have encountered. An example is the large number of pet dogs that have been harassed and killed by wolves. Chapter 27 claims that the well-publicized Defenders of Wildlife payments to ranchers for livestock lost to wolves actually compensates them for only about half their losses.

The book includes an interesting foreword by former USFWS employee and wolf taxonomy expert, Ronald M. Nowak. He writes that Urbigkit “tells the story from the perspective of both a conservationist devoted to saving an endangered wolf and as a rural resident whose livelihood may be jeopardized by the wolf,” and concludes that she “has demonstrated the complexity and anguish of wolf conservation and provided a unique perspective on a fascinating story.” I remain a fan of the Yellowstone wolf introduction but have come away from reading this with an increased understanding of the controversy it has caused.

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