Excellent news for gray wolves in Idaho, Wyoming & Montana and other western states!
In a press release dated September 15, 2021, The US Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) has completed the initial review of two petitions filed to list gray wolves (Canis lupus) in the western U.S. as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service finds that the petitions present substantial, credible information indicating that a listing action may be warranted and will initiate a comprehensive status review of the gray wolf in the western U.S.
On June 1, 2021, the Service received a petition (dated May 26, 2021) to list the gray wolf Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment (DPS) or a new western U.S. DPS as a threatened or endangered species under the ESA. The Service received a second, similar petition on July 29, 2021(addendum). The Federal Register notice will serve as the 90-day finding for both petitions.
Under the ESA, a DPS is a portion of a species’ or subspecies’ population or range and is described geographically instead of biologically. The first petition proposes listing a Northern Rocky Mountain DPS consisting of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, and a small portion of north-central Utah. Both petitions also propose some alternative Western U.S. DPS to include all, or part, of the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS states with the addition of California, Colorado, Nevada, and in one petition, northern Arizona.
The Service finds the petitioners present substantial information that potential increases in human-caused mortality may pose a threat to the gray wolf in the western U.S. The Service also finds that new regulatory mechanisms in Idaho and Montana may be inadequate to address this threat. Therefore, the Service finds that gray wolves in the western U.S. may warrant listing.
Substantial 90-day findings require only that the petitioner provide information that the proposed action may be warranted. The next steps for the Service include in-depth status reviews and analyses using the best available science and information to arrive at a 12-month finding on whether listing is warranted. If so, listing a species is done through a separate rulemaking process, with public notice and comment.
The public can play an important role by submitting relevant information to inform the in-depth status review through www.regulations.gov, Docket Number: FWS-HQ-ES-2021-0106, beginning September 17, 2021, upon publication in the Federal Register and will include details on how to submit comments.
In the meantime while the review process is in progress gray wolves are being hunted at an unprecedented rate. In Montana hunters get to bag 10 wolves each and there’s no bag limit in Idaho. Wolves of the Rockies organization is working to get an emergency order in place to stop the hunts now.
Co founder, Suzanne Asha Stone, of the Wood River Wolf Project in Idaho will talk with hosts Brunella and Rachel Wednesday May 27, 2020 at 10:30 AM Central Time on Wolves of Douglas County News Facebook Page.
Suzanne has worked for over three decades to restore wolves to the Rockies and Pacific Northwest. Initially, she served as an intern for the Central Idaho Wolf Steering Committee and as a member of the 1995/1996 USA/Canadian Wolf Reintroduction team restoring wolves to Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho. From 1999 to 2019, she led development of Defenders of Wildlife’s wolf coexistence measures and models to minimize losses of livestock and gray wolves in the West. She is the co-founder of the Wood River Wolf Project in Idaho and has won numerous awards for her leadership in wildlife conflict resolution and coexistence including being a two time recipient of the Animal Welfare Institute’s Christine Stevens Wildlife Award for innovative research on humane, nonlethal tools and techniques for wildlife conflict management. She is the lead author/researcher of Adaptive use of nonlethal strategies for minimizing wolf–sheep conflict in Idaho published by the Journal of Mammalogy in 2017. Suzanne helped to establish several of the nonlethal/coexistence measures to minimize conflicts between wild predators and livestock today including FoxLights, Turbofladry, range riders, wind dancers, carcass removal, use of multiple livestock guardian dogs, and more. She is working now all over the world to help transform archaic wildlife management from lethal to humane nonlethal methods.
Nonlethal control measures take advantage of wolves’ natural wariness and suspicion of anything new and different in their territory. —www.woodriverwolfproject.org
Wood River Wolf Project – The Wood River Wolf Project is a collaborative of conservation organizations, ranching operations, community members, and county, state and federal agencies working together to use proactive, nonlethal deterrents to minimize livestock and wolf conflicts. Since 2008, the Wood River Wolf Project has been helping Blaine County ranchers in Central Idaho implement nonlethal strategies to successfully reduce livestock losses and protect native wildlife.
We are entering year 13 of our program to demonstrate that ranchers can coexist with wolves and that nonlethal deterrents are effective at protecting both livestock, wolves and other native predators. The Wood River Wolf Project’s Project Area covers approximately 282,600 acres of rugged country in the Sawtooth National Forest.More »
Non Lethal Tools
Foxlights keep predators away by using a computerized varying flash that uses 9 LED bulbs that project 360 degrees and can be seen from 1 kilometer or more away. These lights make it appear that someone is patrolling with a flashlight, which keeps predators away. There are battery-powered and solar-powered Foxlights and we are using both. They were invented by Ian Whalan, an Australian farmer who wanted to keep foxes away from his lambs. Our project coordinator Suzanne Stone brought the first Foxlights from Australia to the USA in 2015. The Wood River Wolf Project was one of the first test sites for Foxlights in North America. Foxlights are now being used all over the world to protect livestock from lions, snow leopards, wolves, foxes, and other predators. http://www.wolfriverwolfproject.org
High-powered spotlights, such as the one pictured on the left, are also an effective tool and can be used in addition to headlamps when the herders are keeping watch over the sheep at night.
Dr. Musiani recognized that fladry takes advantage of wolves’ natural wariness and their suspicion of anything new and different in their territory. For reasons that we still don’t really understand, wolves shy from crossing a properly maintained fladry barrier, often for long enough to keep lambs and calves away from harm.
Like standard fladry, turbofladry consists of cording with colored flagging spaced evenly along its length. But turbo-fladry is strung on electric fencing material. It combines the effectiveness of non-electric fladry with the shock delivering power of an electric fence, so that if a wolf does overcome its initial fear of normal fladry and attempts to pass, a shock is delivered and reinforces the avoidance instinct. Rick Williamson, our project mentor and former USDA Wildlife Services nonlethal specialist, created turbofladry and his wife Carol built it for distribution worldwide.
A judge has temporarily blocked the opening of grizzly bear hunts scheduled for this weekend in Wyoming and Idaho.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen’s Thursday order comes as the two states prepared to open the first grizzly bear hunting seasons in the Lower 48 states since Montana’s last hunt in 1991.
The ruling is a victory for wildlife advocates and Native American tribes that sued over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision in 2017 to lift protections for 700 grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.
The plaintiffs had argued the bears still face threats to their survival. Federal wildlife officials say the bears are thriving.
Fewer than two dozen bears would be allowed to be killed in the hunts.
Wildlife advocates are asking for a temporary restraining order to block grizzly bear hunts scheduled in Wyoming and Idaho this weekend after a judge said he wouldn’t make an immediate ruling in the case.
Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso told U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen at the end of a court hearing Thursday that stopping those hunts was the immediate goal of more than two dozen groups and individuals suing to restore protections to a group of bears in the Rocky Mountains.
They want Christensen to reverse last year’s decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove grizzlies living in and around Yellowstone National Park from the list of threatened species.
Christensen said he needed more time to consider the arguments but he didn’t specify when he would rule.
A judge says he will not make an immediate ruling on whether protections should be restored to a group of grizzly bears in the Rocky Mountains, as hunting seasons loom in two states.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen said Thursday he will issue a decision as quickly as possible but did not say whether he would rule before Saturday, when Wyoming and Idaho have bear hunts scheduled to begin.
Wildlife advocates and Native American tribes say the 700 bears living in and around Yellowstone National Park still face threats to their survival.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2017 ruled that Yellowstone grizzlies no longer need federal protections.
Government biologists say the bear population has recovered and is thriving.
Fewer than two dozen bears would be allowed to be killed in the hunts.
Wildlife advocates hope to convince a judge that grizzly bears living in the Yellowstone National Park area face too many threats to their survival to add trophy hunting to the mix.
Over two dozen conservation groups, Native American tribes and individuals will argue Thursday in a Montana courtroom that about 700 Yellowstone grizzlies should continue to be protected under the Endangered Species Act because of conflicts with humans, changing food sources and a host of other obstacles.
Wyoming and Idaho have set Saturday as the opening day for the first grizzly hunting season in the Lower 48 states since 1974. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen said he will rule by then on whether to allow the hunts to proceed.
An appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely by whoever is on the losing side.
Foxlights a nighttime predator deterrent developed by Ian Whalan, an Australian sheep farmer was a part of this seven year case study, “Adaptive use of nonlethal strategies for minimizing wolf–sheep conflict in Idaho” published in the Journal of Mammalogy
Suzanne A. Stone Stewart W. Breck Jesse Timberlake Peter M. Haswell Fernando Najera Brian S. Bean Daniel J. Thornhill
The following is a brief summary of the research article:
Worldwide, native predators are killed to protect livestock, an action that can undermine wildlife conservation efforts and create conflicts among stakeholders. An ongoing example is occurring in the western United States, where wolves (Canis lupus) were eradicated by the 1930s but are again present in parts of their historic range. While livestock losses to wolves represent a small fraction of overall livestock mortality, the response to these depredations has resulted in widespread conflicts including significant efforts at lethal wolf control to reduce impacts on livestock producers, especially those with large-scale grazing operations on public lands.
A variety of nonlethal methods have proven effective in reducing livestock losses to wolves in small-scale operations but in large-scale, open-range grazing operations, nonlethal management strategies are often presumed ineffective or infeasible. To demonstrate that nonlethal techniques can be effective at large scales, we report a 7-year case study where we strategically applied nonlethal predator deterrents and animal husbandry techniques on an adaptive basis (i.e., based on terrain, proximity to den or rendezvous sites, avoiding overexposure to techniques such as certain lights or sound devices that could result in wolves losing their fear of that device, etc.) to protect sheep (Ovis aries) and wolves on public grazing lands in Idaho.
We collected data on sheep depredation mortalities in the protected demonstration study area and compared these data to an adjacent wolf-occupied area where sheep were grazed without the added nonlethal protection measures. Over the 7-year period, sheep depredation losses to wolves were 3.5 times higher in the Nonprotected Area (NPA) than in the Protected Area (PA).
Furthermore, no wolves were lethally controlled within the PA and sheep depredation losses to wolves were just 0.02% of the total number of sheep present, the lowest loss rate among sheep-grazing areas in wolf range statewide, whereas wolves were lethally controlled in the NPA. Our demonstration project provides evidence that proactive use of a variety of nonlethal techniques applied conditionally can help reduce depredation on large open-range operations.
We are breaking down old barriers and creating new paradigms of wildlife coexistence. ~ Suzanne Asha Stone
“For the last decade, we’ve been working to determine if wolves and livestock can coexist across large landscapes using only nonlethal methods, which we were told was impossible and impractical. The results of the peer-reviewed paper? Far fewer livestock losses and no wolves killed by livestock protection agencies in our national forest Wood River Wolf Project area where 10,000 to 22,000 sheep graze all summer long annually. Over the 7 year field trial, we lost only 30 sheep total to wolves – far fewer than adjacent areas where wolves are killed to protect livestock. Huge thanks to the Journal of Mammalogy, my coauthors, project partners and mentors, field techs, volunteers, readers, and all our supporters. We are breaking down old barriers and creating new paradigms of wildlife coexistence.
Thanks especially to Carol and Rick Williamson, Lawrence Schoen, Carter Niemeyer, Doug Smith, Daniel Stahler, Jeremy Bruskotter, Ian Whalan, Brad Bergstrom, Brad Purcell, Kurt Holtzen, Mayor N. Jonas, the City Council of Ketchum, Idaho, the staff of the USDA Forest Service and Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, USDA Idaho Wildlife Services, the Idaho Office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Idaho Nature Conservancy, M. D. Duda, Responsive Management, and Project LightHawk and Foxlight inventor I. Whalan. Funding was provided by Defenders of Wildlife, The Golden Eagle Chapter of the Audubon Society and Toyota/ForeverGreen grant program, Blaine County, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Wolf Recovery Foundation, the Wolf Education and Research Center, The National Wolf Watchers Association, and private donors.” ~ Suzanne Asha Stone – Defenders of Wildlife For information on Foxlights click HERE
In Wisconsin Foxlights are saving lives with lights. Click the blue highlighted words to get the story.
The five conservation groups named as Plaintiff’s in the lawsuit are: Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians and Predator Defense.
In the lawsuit the Plaintiff’s action states: “On February 10, 2016, Defendant USDA Wildlife Services aerially gunned down 21 gray wolves in central Idaho’s Lolo elk zone. These deaths added to at least 636 wolves killed by Wildlife Services in Idaho between 2006 and 2015. In addition to aerial gunning, Wildlife Services captures wolves in foothold traps, often later killing them; shoots them; and uses wire snares to strangle them. The effects of killing Idaho’s native apex predators cascade through the environment, particularly in the Lolo zone, where Wildlife Services has now slaughtered wolves several years in a row.”
“The campaign waged against the Lolo’s native wolves in the name of elk is reprehensible. Science shows that the elk decline there is due to long-term, natural-habitat changes, not impacts from wolves,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “It is particularly galling that Wildlife Services is targeting wolves that mostly live in Wildernesses or large roadless areas. These, especially, are places where wolves should be left alone.” Center for Biological Diversity press release
According to the lawsuit, Defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4370, and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706, by failing to conduct a full EIS and instead issuing the flawed 2011 Wolf EA and Decision/FONSI, and by refusing to complete supplemental NEPA analysis to consider significant new information.
According to the lawsuit the Plaintiffs seek relief reversing and remanding Wildlife Services’ 2011 Wolf EA and Decision/FONSI, ordering Wildlife Services to supplement its NEPA analysis, and ordering Wildlife Services to comply with its NEPA duties by preparing an EIS for its Idaho wolf management activities. Plaintiffs also seek relief ordering Wildlife Services to halt its wolf killing activities until it has prepared an updated, valid NEPA analysis.
For more information:
Contact: Travis Bruner, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290
Andrea Santarsiere, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 854-7748, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater, (208) 882-9755
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is planning to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from grizzly bears who live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This would turn management of this iconic species over to the states and subject these animals to trophy hunting seasons in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.Contrary to what the USFWS claims, grizzly bears are far from recovered and human-caused mortality is the single-largest contributor to bear deaths. Grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have benefited greatly from ESA protections but are not yet recovered. Removing federal protections from this one small, isolated population and subjecting them to trophy hunting will not advance the conservation of this species.
The American public wants grizzly bears protected for future generations, not killed by a few trophy hunters so they can mount and stuff them.
Please take a moment to send the USFWS a letter, urging them to not remove federal protections from Yellowstone grizzly bears.
BOISE – Dozens gathered on the steps of the Idaho Statehouse Monday afternoon to show support for wolf recovery in Idaho and opposition to Idaho’s Wolf Depredation Control Board and the recent aerial gunning of wolves in the “Lolo Zone” by the USDA Wildlife Services and Idaho Fish and Game Department.
Demonstrators – from the Defenders of Wildlife and Friends of the Clearwater groups — want an end to what they called Idaho’s “wasteful Wolf Control Board and the termination of the USDA Wildlife Services aerial gunning program in the Lolo Zone on the Clearwater National Forest.”
The Idaho Fish and Game Department recently announced the completion of an aerial gunning exercise by the USDA Wildlife Services that resulted in the killing of 20 wolves in that area, according to the groups.
The Wolf Control Board is now requesting an additional $400,000 for further wolf “control” actions in 2016.
Demonstrators said, last year, a total of 72 wolves were killed with money from the Wolf Control Board. The Board was awarded $400,000 in 2015. That equates to roughly $5,500 per wolf “control,” the groups said.
The Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board was created two years ago within the Office of the Governor. It is tasked with “directing and managing funds” for the purpose of wolf depredation control within Idaho The law enacted in 2014 is based on the recommendation from the Fish and Game Advisory Committee to Governor Otter addressing wolf depredation funding in Idaho.
Calls to the State Fish and Game Department were not immediately returned.
Whose interests are the Four Corners governors looking after in signing a compact stating they don’t want wolves in their states? Certainly not the interests of wildlife, watersheds or the majority of their human constituents.
Most ranchers believe that wolves and humans can’t live together, but wild wolves don’t attack humans (unlike grizzlies, cougars, dogs and bulls). Many organizations compensate for calf losses to wildlife.
Wilderness is the true home of wolves. Utah has a lot. Elk are overrunning ranges in southern Utah. Wolves would bring this into balance. Ecosystems long suffering from predator/prey imbalances are getting healthy again where wolves have returned, most notably along waterways, where willow, cottonwood and aspen forests are regrowing and banks are stabilizing. Wolves are a major missing biological component in our Mountain West ecosystems. We all benefit by their return.
With the governors of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico apparently in the pocket of paranoid ranchers and other public lands users and abusers, scientists will not be allowed to orchestrate the wolf’s comeback. The guvs want more political and industry appointees to call the shots and want to dismantle the current team of world experts recommending more wolves for the Four Corners states.
by Rick Lamplugh’s Blog click HERE to go to Rick’s blog
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
“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.”