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All posts tagged wolves

Late Winter State of the Wolves, 2012

Categories: News, Park environs, Wildlife
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This is the time when wolves are awaiting the birth of pups, which occurs in Yellowstone during April. Right now the park seems to be catching up on a low total snowfall so far this winter, which may make for a late (and very short) spring.

The one hundred or so wolves now living in the park are, of course, still protected, as is all national park wildlife, but since last April wolves in the neighboring states of Idaho and Montana have been delisted from Endangered Species Act protections, while Wyoming management plans proposed so far have not been accepted, and the wolf population there is still under federal control. The Wyoming state senate has recently approved a wolf management plan that would allow wolves to be shot on sight across a majority of the state,
Idaho rivals Alaska for the most aggressive policies for hunting wolves. It allows trapping and aerial gunning, and its ten-month wolf season runs until June, claiming 353 wolves so far.

Montana hunters have killed 166 this season, with an overall quota set at 220. However, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission decided not to extend the 2011-2012 wolf hunt in one Montana area, the Bitterroot Valley.

Radio station KSRO of Sonoma County, California, reported today:

A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected a lawsuit from conservation groups that want to block wolf hunts that have killed more than 500 of the predators across the Northern Rockies in recent months.
The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Congress had the right to intervene when it stripped protections from wolves last spring.

As stated by Local News 8 in Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is praising Idaho and Montana for successful management of gray wolves. In its 2011 Annual Report for the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Population, the Service now estimates the region’s wolf population at 1774 animals and 109 breeding pairs.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Steve Guertin said, ‘these population estimates indicate the credible and professional job Montana and Idaho have done in the first year after they have assumed full management responsibilities.’ He said the states’ management plans will maintain a healthy wolf population at or above the agency’s recovery goals.

Researching online further today, I came across a long but thoroughly researched article on the present state of wolf protection and wolf removal, with much information to offer. The American Prospect magazine is new to me. I learned today that it is a liberal publication founded in 1990 by three men, including Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and currently Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at U. C. Berkeley. From http://prospect.org/article/wolves-slaughter (article by Christopher Ketcham, April 2012 print edition), I read that “elk numbers in some areas have declined, due in part to wolf predation. Yet in other areas where wolves and elk interact, elk numbers are stable or increasing. According to the Endangered Species Coalition, total elk population in the Northern Rockies has in fact risen since wolves were restored—from 312,000 to 371,000, a 19 percent increase since 1994.”

It is certainly not news to me that the great decline in elk numbers in Yellowstone in the twenty-first century is at least partly due to the reintroduction of wolves, but the next sentence was very interesting to me, proving that there must be other factors contributing to the decline in Yellowstone’s elk population.

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Wolf count up this year

Categories: News, Wildlife, Winter
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I’ve just learned [12/14/2011] that a study being completed this week by wolf experts and volunteers has found that the number of wolves living in Yellowstone is up this year to about 120 as opposed to 97 counted last year. This is good news for the many eager wolf-watchers, who have always found it easier to see them in winter.

And tomorrow is the day the park opens again after the annual early-winter hiatus, when snow accumulates, roads are not plowed for cars or groomed for over-snow vehicles, and the park is left very nearly in its natural state for about six weeks.

Coincidentally, I haven’t posted anything in that time, but it’s not because I have forgotten about Yellowstone. I’m turning over a new leaf as the park reopens and have resolved to write at least once a week. And I’m delighted to say—I get to visit again this January! Soon I’ll write more about that and what’s occupied me so fully in recent weeks.

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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!

Categories: News, Science, Wildlife
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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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A new study of wolves in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming

Categories: Science, Wildlife
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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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Lions & tigers & bears, oh, my!

Categories: On the Web, Wildlife
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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

Categories: On the Web, Wildlife
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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

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Wildlife
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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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Recent wolf statistics

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The Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review published the following figures on March 21, 2010, gleaned from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: In addition to at least two packs each in the states of Washington and Idaho, they have counted a minimum population of 843 wolves in Idaho, 524 in Montana, and 320 in Wyoming.

The USFWS figure for Wyoming includes the Yellowstone wolves, which biologist Doug Smith reports has declined from 171 in 2008 to 56 this year. The current scourge of mange in Yellowstone wolves accounts for much of this decline, with distemper in pups and predation by other wolves contributing.

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News!

Categories: News, Wildlife
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First, the bad news.

After a summer of legal battles over the fate of wolves near Yellowstone, a federal judge has recently ruled that a large number of wolves in Idaho and Montana may be legally killed by hunters. The slaughter has already begun; four wolves have been shot in Idaho and one in Montana. However, Defenders of Wildlife is hopeful that their legal challenge to the Interior Department’s delisting of wolves in Idaho and Montana will ultimately prevail.

But long-time conservationist Mike Medberry has written a very thought-provoking op-ed piece for High Country News. He writes: “The groups’ lawsuit argues that the wolves have not recovered yet. That is simply disingenuous, as the goal has clearly been met. Conservationists need to be honest about their goals. If they insist on supporting shifting numbers, they may find that they represent shifting support. More to the point, however, is their refusal to accept that this victory for wolves endangers the Endangered Species Act, which protects all endangered species.”

Among the comments, one reminds us of an important part of the judge’s decision: “This column completely leaves out the element of recovery that the Fish & Wildlife Service set out for wolves in 1994 and a federal judge ruled it had not met in 2008: ‘genetic exchange between subpopulations.’” As has been clear since reintroduction of wolves was first proposed, this is a complex issue, and much more effort and time will be required before all its aspects are resolved.

Now, the good news.

Yesterday (9/21/09) a federal judge in Montana ruled that Endangered Species Act protections must be returned to Greater Yellowstone’s grizzly bears. According to the Defenders of Wildlife Web site, the judge agreed that, in delisting the bears in 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not “take into consideration the continued decline of the whitebark pine, a critical grizzly food source threatened by pine beetles, blister rust and climate change.”
2. Snowmobiles are to be limited to 318 per day for the next two winter seasons, more than the daily average entering the park in the past two winters, but cutting by more than half the 720 authorized to enter by the previous decision. Meanwhile, 78 snowcoaches holding 10 or 12 people will be allowed to enter.
3. This year, 3300 bison are living in Y.N.P., according to a recent count. This is a reasonable number to sustain the herd. Now, if only the agencies which have been hazing and killing the animals in the winter will develop and implement a more reasonable policy!
4. For the year, more than 2.6 million people have visited Yellowstone, making the first eight months of 2009 the busiest January through August in the park’s history (as reported in USA Today, 9/15/09).
5. Not news to anyone interested in Yellowstone but good news for all our national parks is the attention paid by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, who have produced twelve hours of what promises to be fascinating public TV watching in their series on the parks—including some footage of all 58 of them—beginning on Wednesday, September 27, nationwide.

Janet

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