Until wolves were delisted from the endangered species act, Oregon had a written agreement with Wildlife Services that prohibited using cyanide poison traps in known wolf territories. (National Park Service)
Last week, a wandering 2-year-old happened upon a sweet-smelling device(article click here) in the woods of northeast Oregon and bit into it. The bite released cyanide poison into its mouth, causing this young, healthy wolf to essentially suffocate.
That curious youngster was OR48, one of only six members of Wallowa County’s Shamrock wolf pack. He was likely striking out in search of a mate, a territory of his own and a chance to bolster the state’s still small gray wolf population.
Instead, he died in a painfully barbaric fashion orchestrated by an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture known as Wildlife Services. This secretive program kills millions of animals across the country each year. Too often, though, the animals that die aren’t those being targeted.
In this case, the M-44 capsule had been placed on private property in the hopes of killing a coyote. It could have easily killed someone’s pet or a raccoon or a fox. This time it happened to be OR48.
As a West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity and someone who has studied wolves for the past 20 years, the loss of such an animal, especially one that was just ready to mate, is a tragedy.
Anything that tugs on an M-44 will be met with a deadly spray of cyanide, whether it be a pet dog, a fox, an eagle or someone’s toddler.
And it should come as no surprise. These archaic devices are dangerous and kill indiscriminately. In the past five years, thousands of non-target animals have been killed by M-44s. Anything that tugs on an M-44 will be met with a deadly spray of cyanide, whether it be a pet dog, a fox, an eagle or someone’s toddler.
Worse still, the state agency that manages Oregon’s wolves knows the risks. Until wolves were prematurely delisted from the state endangered species act, the agency had a written agreement with Wildlife Services that expressly prohibited the use of M-44’s in known wolf territories.
There is some hope in all this. Oregon could stop contracting with Wildlife Services altogether. Budget recommendations from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown omit the roughly $900,000 usually dedicated to paying the federal agency for killing Oregon animals.
That’s the right move. Scientific research shows lethal methods for controlling predators repeatedly backfire. When coyotes are killed, others ratchet up reproduction to make up for the losses. When dominant cougars and wolves are killed, their territory is often opened up for younger, less-experienced animals that may prey on livestock because they are not yet efficient at killing elk or deer.
Wildlife Services is a rogue agency that often acts at the behest of ranchers and other private landowners, wiping out thousands of large predators. Methods include aerial gunners, bone-snapping traps and, still, exploding cyanide capsules. We, as taxpayers foot the bill for this killing, often carried out just beyond public view.
The death of OR48 is another very painful and public reminder that this terrible work continues. It’s long past time for Oregon to stop hiring Wildlife Services for its ineffective and brutal predator controls.
Amaroq Weiss is a California-based biologist and West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Becky Elgin’s fascination with wolves was not surprising – after all, she grew up with them. That grew into an idea five years ago of writing a young person’s science book on the heroic adventure of OR-7, the wolf who trekked alone for hundreds of miles till he found the Greensprings territory east of Ashland, the perfect place to repopulate his breed for the first time in 60 years.
Her richly illustrated book, “Journey: The Amazing Story of OR-7, the Oregon Wolf Who Made History,” was published Dec. 1 by Inkwater Press of Portland, and, while it aims to inspire the imaginations of teens – and tutor them on the necessity of “keystone predators,” the book, she says, will readily engage and entertain adults.
You might wonder how Elgin grew up with wolves, but it actually happened, as her father was director of the zoo in Des Moines, Iowa, where several wolves lived alongside Elgin and played with her in the 1960s.
Elgin became a nurse and raised three children in Ashland, gradually steering her work into writing, earning a master of fine arts degree in writing from Pacific University in Forest Grove and taking writing classes at Southern Oregon University. Her father also was a nature author – and she followed suit, becoming a freelance nature and outdoor adventure writer. She recently wrote the cover story, on wolves, for Earth Island Journal.
Elgin got the idea for the book in 2011, while at a writer’s retreat in Imnaha in the northeast corner of Oregon, coincidentally the locus of new packs of wolves. It was there she heard about OR-7, a young wolf who was collared – and who surprised wolf scientists by breaking free on a solo journey to a distant but unknown ecosystem.
“He was heading south as I drove south, home to Ashland,” says Elgin. “He became the first wolf in western Oregon since the late 1940s. He quickly became famous all over the world. He was photographed near Butte Falls on a trail cam, then for a year went into California, the first wolf there in almost a century. It was so exciting. Then he came back to the Cascades of Southern Oregon and, somehow, a female found him. They’ve had three litters now … in what became the Rogue Pack.”
The book details how it’s normal for young wolves to break free from their pack at about age 2, to find new territory and mate. It’s become a phenomenon in Europe and elsewhere for wolves to expand into more civilized regions
“I decided to write a book for a middle school audience,” she says, “to educate young people not just about wolves but other aspects of the environment – and how a keystone predator, such as the wolf, is important to keeping the whole system in balance.”
The book, she adds, has a “storylike element” in which the reader sees life through the point-of-view of OR-7, also known as Journey.
“I made it as factual as possible, but still letting it be imaginative. Having grown up with wolves, I know firsthand their behavior and how they react in different situations.”
She traces the well-documented chapters of Journey’s dramatic life, from peeking his head out of his den as a young pup, catching the scent of beckoning adventure, being shot with a tranquilizer dart from a helicopter and collared, then wandering a land strangely devoid of potential female partners but finally finding his mate and raising wee ones.
Wolves are evolving through many stages, biologically and legally, as they re-adapt to a human-dominated world. They are federally protected in the western two-thirds of Oregon, she notes, while the state hammers out its “wolf plan,” providing regulations to protect them statewide – and to help resolve conflicts with ranchers.
Wolves are curious about humans but fear and avoid them, she notes. However, they are starting to include calves on their menu and ranchers near Fort Klamath are being reimbursed for losses believed to have been inflicted by the Rogue Pack. In a recent visit with a rancher in the region, Elgin said, she saw a training dog being used to teach calves not to wander alone from the herd, but to bunch up for safety.
There are a dozen packs in Oregon now and, Elgin notes, “they’re not going away.” Trail cameras show them in Lassen County, California, a male from the Rogue Pack and a female who – speaking of long treks – traveled from Idaho.
Elgin has written many articles about backcountry hiking, including one on trekking alone, as a female, and learning to overcome fears. She enjoys exploring the Greensprings, always on the lookout for the now-aging OR-7 and his descendants, but as yet, has found only their tracks.
Elgin plans a reading and book-signing at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, at Northwest Nature Shop, 154 Oak St., Ashland. A portion of sales from the book will go to help wolf recovery.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.
The Amazing Story of Or-7, the Oregon Wolf That Made History.
Author Becky Elgin
OR-7 first photo. Courtesy of ODFW
“Join the adventures of the famous wolf OR-7, also known as Journey, as he trots across the landscape of the Pacific Northwest into territories that have not seen his kind for nearly a century. Follow this remarkable animal as he searches for, and finally finds, what he was seeking during his three-year, 4,000-mile trek. Along the way, you’ll discover fascinating facts about wolves and meet the humans that had a role in Journey’s quest. Enjoy the many photographs, maps, and sketches that help tell the tale of this courageous wolf. Journey: The Amazing Story of OR-7, the Oregon Wolf that Made History was created for middle-grade readers but will be appreciated by everyone with an interest in wolves and a desire to better understand these complex and essential canines.” Available on Amazon click HERE to purchase a copy.
“Newspapers, television stations, and the Internet told the world about Journey’s remarkable travels. People cheered for him from the sidelines, hoping for his safety from all the dangers wolves face. Journey became an inspiration to many, as well as an ambassador that taught us much about the ways of wolves.” -Excerpt from Journey
Journey is the culmination of four years of work. It is thoroughly researched and educational, but far from dull. We learn about the famous wandering wolf through his perspective as well as through the point of view of biologists, advocates, and others involved in his trek. The history of wolves and their benefit to the environment is discussed
“We enjoy having the opportunity to see them in the wild and hear the music of their mournful howl beneath an open sky.” -Excerpt from “Journey”
Journey: The Amazing Story of OR-7, the Oregon Wolf that Made History available now on Inkwater Press click HERE to purchase a copy.
Russ Morgan and Roblyn Brown with OR-4. Courtesy ODFW
“Journey settled in on a soft spot of the earth and dozed until awakened by the light of the full moon. He stood and shook the dust from his coat. Then he moved into a trot, then a lope, his way illuminated by the bright moonlight. He made the trip in half the time it took him to get to the river, running as though he were hungry, which he wasn’t, or as if others were waiting for his return, which they were.” -Excerpt from Journey
“Most of us respect wolves and believe they have a right to live in their natural environment. We enjoy having the opportunity to see them in the wild and hear the music of their mournful howl beneath an open sky. As social creatures ourselves, we appreciate how wolves live in family groups and take care of each other. We also know that dogs, a species very close to us, evolved from wolves.” -Excerpt from Journey
About the author: Becky Elgin
Journey’s author was familiar with wild animals growing up because her father was a director of a zoo. Seen here with “Akela” one of the wolves living in her father’s zoo.
“Beckie Elgin grew up in a zoo her father directed in Iowa where she helped care for all kinds of animals, included wolves. Since then, she has raised a family and earned degrees in Environmental Studies, Nursing, English and an MFA in Creative Writing. She writes fiction and non-fiction and has been published in Earth Island Journal, The Oregonian, The Tusculum Review, Litro, Horses in Art, The Bark, and others. Beckie enjoys searching for wolf tracks and listening for howls in the mountains near her southern Oregon home. Please visit her blog at https://wolvesandwriting.com.”
Last fall, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 to remove protections of the state Endangered Species Act for gray wolves. It was a flawed decision, and the state Legislature could make it worse.
Oregon’s law requires that listing decisions be based on “documented and verifiable scientific information,” which would be defined “by a scientific peer review panel of outside experts.” Oregon lawmakers are considering legislation that would make the delisting decision immune to legal review, undermining the separation of powers and the checks and balances we learned about in grade school.
I am part of a growing group of scientists who serve the public interest with research rather than serving donors or special interests. I feel obligated to write in defense of the broad public interest and to clarify what the best available science says.
Oregon’s wolf delisting misses the mark on scientific evidence, and legislative decisions should never be immune to legal review.
Determining what’s the best available science for a policy decision isn’t a matter of voting for your favorite science. Multiple, qualified scientists conduct a careful review to interpret the quality and quantity of the evidence used to support a decision. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Fish and Wildlife Commission appear to have ignored the quality of the evidence despite ample, timely warning.
I was one of 25 scientists and researchers who recommended against wolf delisting after interpreting the data on wolf recolonization and reviewing the state’s evidence behind the proposal to delist. Our documents are available at Carnivore Coexistence Lab. Fish and Wildlife got the evidence flatly wrong and didn’t communicate with most (any?) of the corresponding scientists to understand how to fix the mistakes.
The state contracted with a young researcher from abroad to conduct a wolf population viability analysis, which predicts the likelihood of extinction. It’s not clear why the department hired someone so far afield when more experienced regional experts were available, as shown by their public comments.
Those senior scientists found the analysis was unreasonably optimistic and did not accurately represent the actual risks wolves face in Oregon.
One scientist described the analysis as fatally flawed. Another found the analysis was not statistically correct, not properly validated, used unrealistic values for wolf biology, and was not the right tool to justify delisting.
He wrote, “There appears to be little substance for ODFW to consider a population of (about) 85 wolves as being recovered.”
The state also justified delisting as a way to raise social tolerance for wolves. That assumption runs exactly counter to the evidence.
My team at the University of Wisconsin, Madison conducts the world’s longest-running study to monitor human tolerance for wolves. We’ve been measuring individual attitudes toward wolves since 2001.
After the federal government delisted wolves in the Great Lakes region, three things changed. First, tolerance for wolves decreased. Second, demands for more wolf-killing increased. And finally, poaching increased.
A particularly important finding was that Wisconsin’s first-ever public hunting and trapping season on wolves resulted in lower tolerance for wolves among a large sample of men living in wolf range.
Our research papers are all available at Carnivore Coexistence Lab. Policies to liberalize wolf-killing seem to worsen social tolerance for wolves, contrary to state assumptions.
I heard from 23 of the 25 scientists opposed to delisting that neither the state nor the commission ever contacted them about their recommendations. Ignoring one scientist might be excusable, but ignoring so many who cited flaws in the commission’s evidence is worrisome.
Why did the department and the commission proceed with poor science and assumptions that ran contrary to the evidence?
Consider Montana, where the state wildlife agency found that tolerance for wolves did not improve after wolf-hunting began, but tolerance for the agency’s policy improved among some constituents. So it appears that killing wolves made that agency feel loved by some.
In my own state, I have seen problems start when commissioners and agencies make decisions based on who loves them instead of the public interest. Commissioners and agencies in Oregon, as in Wisconsin, have legal duties as trustees for wildlife to benefit current and future generations.
For more than a century, our states’ courts and statutes have recognized wild animals as a public trust. Think of wildlife as a legacy for future generations.
When politicians make their decisions immune to judicial review, they are saying, “We are not accountable for the public interest and the permanent wildlife trust.” Checks and balances exist to prevent tyranny.
Reclaim your legacy. The health of our wolves reflects the health of our democracy.
Adrian Treves is director of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of more than 100 scientific articles, including “Predators and the Public Trust” (2015).
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.
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
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.”