Wolf populations in Northern Rockies states Down 6%

April 5, 2014 by 

Associated Press

Gray wolf numbers in the Northern Rockies have declined about 6 percent from 2011, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Congress removed the wolves from the federal endangered species list in 2011. A state-by-state breakdown of year-end 2013 minimum wolf count and percentage change over two years:

–Idaho: 659 wolves; down 14 percent

–Montana: 627 wolves, down 4 percent

–Oregon: 61 wolves; up 110 percent(asterisk)

–Utah: 0 wolves; no change

–Washington: 38 wolves; up 46 percent(asterisk)

–Wyoming: 306 wolves, down 7 percent

–NORTHERN ROCKIES TOTAL: 1,691 wolves; down 6 percent

(asterisk)includes wolves only in eastern portion of state

Source

copyrighted wolf in river

Rockies Gray Wolf Numbers Steady Despite Hunting

BILLINGS, Mont. April 4, 2014 (AP)

State and federal agencies said Friday there were a minimum of 1,691 wolves at the end of 2013.

That’s virtually unchanged from the prior year even as state wildlife agencies adopted aggressive tactics to drive down wolf numbers.

Under pressure from livestock and hunting groups, Idaho officials have used helicopters to shoot packs. Montana has eased hunting and trapping rules.

Federal wolf recovery coordinator Mike Jimenez says he expects the population to gradually decline over time in the face of the states’ efforts, but to remain healthy.

A pending proposal would lift protections for wolves across much of the remaining Lower 48 states.

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/rockies-gray-wolf-numbers-steady-hunting-23193709

copyrighted wolf in river

Montana–a state that allows trapping–proposes a pine marten transplant

 

Image (45)[They trap 1,000 pine marten per year. It's like stocking a lake with trout so people can catch them. Trapping is just a sport there!]

Montana proposes for first pine marten transplant in 50 years

The agency plans to ask the Fish and Wildlife Commission at its April 10 meeting for approval to begin formally evaluating a translocation into the Belt Mountains of central Montana. Both the Big Belts and Little Belts have quality marten habitat, but current population estimates remain uncertain. An environmental assessment with input from conservation groups and the public would follow approval by the commission, the proposal said.

“They may be absent and it’s difficult to establish if there was a historical presence,” said Brian Giddings, statewide furbearer coordinator.

The Montana Field Guide describes marten as a housecat-sized weasel that typically lives in mature conifer or mixed wood forests. They generally run 21 to 26 inches long and 1.5 to 2.75 pounds. [The same kind of measurement jargon used for trout.] Males grow larger than females. They’re characterized by their light to dark brown fur, prominent ears and a bright orange or yellow throat patch.

Marten occupy much of western Montana, according to the field guide. FWP classifies them as a furbearer, and trappers routinely harvest more than 1,000 per year in the state.

Marten were planted in the southern half of the Big Belts in the 1950s, and the agency has received occasional reports of sightings, Giddings said.

“I’m a little surprised we haven’t picked up any marten in that area,” he said of FWP surveys. “We did have a report of one harvested in the Crazys back in the ’90s.”

Giddings added that beetle-killed trees in the mountain ranges could provide quality marten habitat. Marten like to hunt for animals like voles and shrews under downed logs, he said, and beetle-killed trees that fall provide microhabitats marten like.

The Belts appear to have suitable habitat to establish a self-sustaining population, according to the FWP proposal, but the isolated, island-like nature of the Belts geographically makes natural recolonization unlikely.

Kylie Paul, forest carnivore specialist for Defenders of Wildlife based out of Missoula, said her organization is definitely interested in the proposal. Paul typically works on projects with the marten’s larger cousins the fisher and wolverine. Depending on the details of the translocation, the proposal is one she thinks Defenders will endorse.

“Reintroductions can be really valuable for these midsized species,” she said.

Paul noted that research has identified two species of marten in Montana. One major detail she hopes FWP looks at is which species best fits the habitat in the Belts. Paul points to reintroductions of fishers to some areas of Montana as one indicator that such projects can work.

“Fishers reintroduced in the Swan and Cabinets have been pretty valuable for establishing a population,” she said. “Species occurring in their historic distribution is super valuable as a conservation tool and we generally support those kinds of efforts.”

Giddings stressed that approval from the commission represented the first step in the process. Details like where to transplant and where the source animals would come from would come down the road.

“It looks like it could be a good fit,” Giddings said. “Right now we’re asking for an endorsement to see how feasible it is.”

http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/montana-proposes-for-first-pine-marten-transplant-in-years/article_3a3175a4-bb43-11e3-83a5-001a4bcf887a.html

Feds Move to Strip Endangered Species Protections From Yellowstone Grizzlies in 2014

March 27, 2014 by Louisa Willcox,

LIVINGSTON, Mt.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans on Wednesday to strip Endangered Species Act protections from Yellowstone’s iconic grizzly bears later this year. The agency will release a proposed rule removing federal protections for the bears by the end of this year, and following a public-comment period will make a final decision, said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the Service. The move, announced at a meeting of grizzly bear managers in Jackson, Wyo., responds to a major push by Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to take over management of bears and enact sport hunts, much as they have with wolves.

“The science is clear — it’s simply way too soon to pull the plug on grizzly bear recovery,” said Louisa Willcox, a longtime advocate for grizzly bears and Northern Rockies representative of the Center for Biological Diversity. “With the lowest reproductive rate of any North American mammal, vanishing food sources and increased human-caused mortality, Yellowstone’s bears can’t withstand hunts led by states that are openly hostile to our few remaining large carnivores.”

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

The proposal comes at a time when key grizzly bear food sources in the heart of the Yellowstone ecosystem have been collapsing and grizzly mortality rates have been increasing. The dramatic decline of whitebark pine and Yellowstone cutthroat trout has prompted bears to eat more meat, such as big game gut piles and livestock, resulting in increases rates of conflict with humans and grizzly bear mortality. Drought and climate change will exacerbate these problems.

A 2009 interagency report recommended more than 70 ways to reduce conflicts, including requiring hunters to carry bear pepper spray, which is proven to be much more effective than a gun in repelling a charging bear. Other recommendations included improved grazing practices, rapid removal of hunted big game from the field and increased law enforcement.

“Unfortunately the government did not incorporate these recommendations in their policies and practices,” said Willcox. “Instead of delisting grizzlies, the government should take these practical steps to reduce conflicts and the high levels of grizzly bear mortality since 2007. It’s clear that current efforts to educate the public on how to avoid conflicts are not working.”

Yellowstone’s bears have long been isolated from other bear populations, forcing the government to keep them on permanent life support by trucking bears in to avoid inbreeding. This highlights the fact that, as a result of excessive killing and habitat destruction, grizzly bears occupy only about 1 percent of their former range in the lower 48 states. And in five of the seven remaining grizzly bear recovery zones, bears have either been exterminated or are perilously close to extinction.

“Without the protection of the Endangered Species Act, grizzly bears would not likely have survived in Yellowstone,” said Willcox, “and with the unraveling of their ecosystem, there’s no doubt they still need the federal safety net in the years to come.”

A new federal study suggests the grizzly population may have been declining by an average of 4 percent per year since 2008. A second independent analysis found that the agency’s population estimate for bears may be based on flawed assumptions that inflated total population numbers.

“The feds are bending to political pressure from the states rather than providing grizzly bears the additional breathing room they need to compensate for climate change and the loss of key foods,” said Willcox. “Now is not the time for the feds to walk away from Yellowstone grizzly bears and leave their fate up to three states that want to hunt them instead of save them from extinction.”

Grizzly bears are especially important as a measure of the health of the lands where they live. Where grizzly bears are healthy, so are an array of other species, from bighorn sheep to raptors.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2014/grizzly-bear-03-27-2014.html

Montana black bear hunting season opens April 15

http://www.ktvq.com/news/montana-black-bear-hunting-season-opens-april-15/

HELENA – Montana’s spring black bear hunting season opens April 15.

Hunters can buy black bear hunting licenses online at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks license providers, or print a paper license application and mail it in to FWP. Licenses issued through the mail may take two weeks to process.

Spring black bear hunters should purchase their license by April 14. Black bear hunting licenses purchased after April 14 may not be used until 24 hours after purchase. Black bear hunters are limited to one black bear license a year.

All black bear hunters must successfully complete FWP’s bear identification test before purchasing a black bear license. Take the bear identification test online at the agency’s website.

Complete the training and test, and then present the printed on-line certificate to purchase a license. The training and test can also be obtained on paper, with a mail-in answer card, at FWP regional offices.

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Ethyl the grizzly wandering all around northern Idaho, western Montana

http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/ethyl-the-grizzly-wandering-all-around-northern-idaho-western-montana/article_2aeba658-ad53-11e3-89f1-0019bb2963f4.html?print=true&cid=print

BY DAVID COLE COEUR D’ALENE PRESS

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) – The 20-year-old female grizzly Ethyl has become a seeker, a wanderer.

The Montana bear hasn’t been acting her age, and fortunately researchers – with a tracking collar – have been able to document her impressive journey from her home state to North Idaho. They lost track of her exact location in late December, but starting next month they expect to pick up her signal again.

They’re anxious to know where she ended up for hibernation, and where she’ll venture next.

Ethyl first came to the attention of wildlife scientists and researchers through her DNA, said Wayne Wakkinen, a senior wildlife research biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in Bonners Ferry.

In 2004, a sample of Ethyl’s hair was collected around the South Fork of the Flathead River near Kalispell.

In September 2006, she was first captured after making herself at home in an apple orchard near Lake Blaine east of Kalispell.

She wasn’t threatening people at the orchard, but there are homes around and she was moved and released for her safety and the public’s. Better safe than sorry.

She wore a radio collar for the next six years, hung around her home range and stayed out of trouble, Wakkinen said.

In September 2012, she was picked up after finding her way to another apple orchard near Lake Blaine.

This time, in a bigger move, she was released east of the Hungry Horse Reservoir, with scientists hoping to break her habit of hitting up apple orchards in the fall.

The idea was to give her some quality country to roam around in and stay out of people’s fruit.

Since then she has done some roaming – lots of it, covering thousands of square miles.

*****

In fact, in March of last year, Ethyl was spotted near the mouth of the Blackfoot River east of Missoula.

Throughout last summer she was north of Missoula. In mid-October, she made her way to the Rattlesnake on the north end of the city, and then journeyed west of town to the Nine Mile area west of Missoula.

Her tracking collar was “on the fritz” at this point, but still working enough, sending out some signals of her location, he said.

By the middle of November she had reached North Idaho and the upper reaches of the Coeur d’Alene River to the area of the Magee backcountry airstrip.

On Nov. 24, her tracking collar slipped into battery saving mode and stopped sending signals.

Still, scientists like Wakkinen could track her from the air with a receiver.

“I located her once, straight north of the Shoshone County Airport,” which is in Smelterville, Wakkinen said. She was on Thomas Hill, he said.

That was early December, when she should have been hibernating.

A week later she had moved east toward Osburn, and was hanging out in the upper end of Twomile Creek to the north of Interstate 90.

“Then we just had a bunch of crummy weather and couldn’t fly,” he said.

Though it was well into December, there were indications she still had not settled in for her winter sleep.

Instead, credible reports of her location came in based on sightings, he said.

She had ventured to the south side of I-90, and into the St. Joe River drainage. She was likely somewhere near Avery, he said.

“We don’t know if she denned up there,” he said.

Biologists won’t receive her definite location until April. That is when her tracking collar wakes up from its battery saving mode and her location is transmitted to researchers in Montana. Her collar is due to drop off in October.

Jason Kirchner, a spokesman for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, said if Ethyl is in the St. Joe Ranger District in the Avery area, she is far outside where Forest Service biologists would expect to find a grizzly.

“Most grizzly we would expect to find would be north of Lake Pend Oreille or the Pend Oreille River,” Kirchner said.

Wakkinen is eager to learn where she has gone and ended up.

A typical female grizzly her age has a range of 60 to 100 square miles, he said.

“She has far exceeded that,” he said. “She’s moving through thousands of square miles.”

Last year was a great huckleberry year, he said, and that might help explain her endurance.

“She was able to keep laying on the calories,” he said.

Regardless, it’s just not normal grizzly bear behavior.

“It’s darn unusual, not unheard of, but certainly unusual,” he said.

Wakkinen said Ethyl’s final move by scientists from the orchard to the east side of Hungry Horse completely took her out of her home range.

“She has just been wandering around ever since,” he said.

*****

She enjoyed the familiarity of her home range for 18 years. She had been tracked for a significant portion of that time period.

She has been quiet while in North Idaho.

While she was around the Silver Valley she behaved well, Wakkinen said.

“She stayed up high and out of trouble as far as we knew,” he said.

He and others were monitoring if she dropped down into any of the towns.

“We did know she was headed this way” last fall, Kellogg Police Chief David Wuolle said. “It’s nothing for me to be alarmed about until it shows up in town.”

There was a rumor she was hibernating near Kellogg High School, which turned out to be false. Closest she got, he heard, was Graham Mountain north of town.

“Which as the crow flies isn’t really that far away,” Wuolle said.

As a lifelong resident of the Silver Valley, he said word gets around from time to time that a grizzly wanders through. But with Ethyl, he’s impressed with just how far she has traveled.

“It kind of makes you wonder what’s on her mind,” he said.

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Tension Escalates Over Hunting of Pregnant Bison Outside Yellowstone

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/07/us-usa-yellowstone-bison-idUSBREA261U520140307

By Laura Zuckerman SALMON, Idaho Fri Mar 7, 2014

(Reuters) – Angered by the killing of pregnant bison outside Yellowstone National Park, a Native American tribal member tried to deliver a bloody bison heart to Montana’s governor this week, the latest skirmish over the management of the iconic animal.

James St. Goddard, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana and former member of the tribe’s governing council, said he found the heart where hunters from another tribe discarded it after gutting a bison killed when many females are well along in their pregnancies. At another location, he said, he found several fully formed fetuses cut out of bison cows.

“These are atrocities. Why are they killing these babies? Are we all ignorant of our own Indian culture?” said St. Goddard, who was prevented by authorities from presenting the bison heart to Montana Governor Steve Bullock at his office in Helena.

St. Goddard’s protest, which was not sanctioned by the Blackfeet Nation, highlighted controversy over practices – which have divided some tribal members – in which bison that stray out of Yellowstone have been killed in extended tribal hunting seasons.

The protest against the actions of other tribes came amid broader tensions about the management of the nation’s last band of wild, purebred bison, or buffalo, over concerns by Montana ranchers that the animals could transmit the cattle disease brucellosis to cows that graze near Yellowstone.

The buffalo at Yellowstone, which cuts through parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, are all that remain of the herds that roamed vast grasslands west of the Mississippi until systematic hunting drove them to the edge of extinction in the 19th century. There are more than 4,000 bison at the park, Yellowstone figures show.

Yellowstone’s bison are prized by visitors as a symbol of the American West and by tribes whose religious, cultural and dietary traditions are centered on the animals.

Tribes have asserted hunting rights granted in 19th century treaties for animals that migrate to traditional hunting grounds, and they largely set their own rules on the timing of their seasons. Some tribal hunting seasons extend into March, ahead of a birthing season that can begin in April.

Yet within the tribes, some members have taken issue with the hunts.

The Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho defended its late season hunting as an ancient custom halted over a century ago by the U.S. government amid Western settlement, near-elimination of the herds and forced relocation of tribes to reservations.

Nez Perce Chairman Silas Whitman faulted St. Goddard, whose own tribal government has not opposed the hunts, for criticizing the exercise of off-reservation hunting rights gained by treaty.

“He’s creating controversy where there is no cause. He’s talking as an old enemy, and we’re not going to bend to the will of our enemies,” he said.

Ervin Carlson, the Blackfeet’s buffalo project manager and a member of a federal, state and tribal team that oversees Yellowstone bison, said St. Goddard’s sentiment did not represent the tribe.

“Those tribes have their treaty hunting rights. We wouldn’t step into their concerns,” he said.

FEARS OF CATTLE DISEASE

Licensed hunting of bison that leave Yellowstone’s snow-covered high country to seek food in lower Montana elevations was sanctioned in 1985, then banned after public outcry as hunters lined up outside the park to shoot bison.

Regulated hunts were reinstituted with “fair chase” provisions in 2005 to help keep a burgeoning buffalo population in check. Four tribes have since asserted their own independent hunting rights spelled out in historic treaties.

Montana currently offers limited licenses, decided by lottery, in a season that ends in mid-February, partly to protect heavily pregnant bison, said Pat Flowers, a regional supervisor at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The hunts and a program that sends wandering buffalo to slaughter are in part a response to worries by Montana ranchers that bison will infect nearby cattle with brucellosis, which can cause stillbirths in cows.

About half of Yellowstone’s bison have been exposed to brucellosis, and roughly 300 animals that strayed from the park this winter were sent to slaughterhouses or to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for reproductive experiments. An additional 263 animals have been killed by hunters, most of them tribal hunters, in Montana.

Conflicts over the way bison are managed escalated further on Thursday with the arrest of a man who protested their killing by blocking a road to a park facility where wayward bison are penned, Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said.

The protest by a man who anchored himself to a 55-gallon drum was celebrated by Buffalo Field Campaign, which opposes the hunts and slaughter, and sends members into Yellowstone to monitor the wintering herd.

In a sign that not all tribal members agree with their governments, James Holt, a Nez Perce member who sits on the Buffalo Field Campaign board, said it was disheartening to see tribes support the activities.

“Buffalo were made wild and free and should remain so. It is painful to watch these tribal entities take such an approach to what should be the strongest advocacy and voice of protection,” Holt said in a statement.

Among tribes with hunting rights, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana restricts its season to the end of January to avoid killing pregnant bison cows, which calve in spring, Tom McDonald, the tribes’ wildlife agency manager, said.

“Our regulation is based on the votes of the people, who don’t want big-game animals harvested past the end of January because they’re pregnant. But we don’t point fingers at other tribes for their regulations,” he said.

Carl Scheeler, wildlife program manager for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, said the reality of gutting a two-ton animal means fetuses may be discarded from pregnant bison killed in a tribal hunting season that stretches to mid-March.

“There’s a certain level of public sensitivity to viewing large and persistent gut piles, and hunters are directed to move them out of view to the extent that’s possible,” he said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Douglas Royalty)

Montana Outdoors “Weighs in” on Wolves

>snip< Varley and his wife run Yellowstone Wolf Tracker wildlife tours, one of a dozen or so guiding operations sanctioned by park officials. These kinds of services are at the heart of a thriving wolf watching tourism that a University of Montana study found pumps millions of dollars into counties surrounding the park each year.

That economic argument is just one used by wolf advocates critical of growing hunter and trapper wolf harvests in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Some are like Varley, who has no gripe with wolf hunting elsewhere but wants a kill-free buffer around Yellowstone. [The old, "not in my back yard" mentality] Others, often from outside the Rocky Mountain West, want to halt all copyrighted Hayden wolf in lodgepoleslethal action on an animal that was classified as federally endangered just a few years ago.

On the flip side are those who demand that Montana kill more wolves, which they say harm ranchers’ bottom line and deplete elk and deer herds. “We’d like the state to take much more aggressive measures in certain areas to bring these predator numbers down to a more tolerable ratio with prey populations,” says Rob Arnaud, president of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association. “We’ve got hunting outfitters around Yellowstone going out of business because of wolves.”

Full article: http://fwp.mt.gov/mtoutdoors/HTML/articles/2014/wolves.htm#.UxpKmGeYZla

Whither the Hunter/Conservationist?

By George Wuerthner On March 5, 2014

Many hunter organizations like to promote the idea that hunters were the first and most important conservation advocates. They rest on their laurels of early hunter/wildlife activist like Teddy Roosevelt, and George Bird Grinnell who, among other things, were founding members of the Boone and Crocket Club. But in addition to being hunter advocates, these men were also staunch proponents of national parks and other areas off limits to hunting. Teddy Roosevelt help to establish the first wildlife refuges to protect birds from feather hunters, and he was instrumental in the creation of numerous national parks including the Grand Canyon. Grinnell was equally active in promoting the creation of national parks like Glacier as well as a staunch advocate for protection of wildlife in places like Yellowstone. Other later hunter/wildlands advocates like Aldo Leopold and Olaus Murie helped to promote wilderness designation and a land ethic as well as a more enlightened attitude about predators.

Unfortunately, though there are definitely still hunters and anglers who put conservation and wildlands protection ahead of their own recreational pursuits, far more of the hunter/angler community is increasingly hostile to wildlife protection and wildlands advocacy. Perhaps the majority of hunters were always this way, but at least the philosophical leaders in the past were well known advocates of wildlands and wildlife.

Nowhere is this change in attitude among hunter organizations and leadership more evident than the deafening silence of hunters when it comes to predator management. Throughout the West, state wildlife agencies are increasing their war on predators with the apparent blessings of hunters, without a discouraging word from any identified hunter organization. Rather the charge for killing predators is being led by groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and others who are not only lobbying for more predator killing, but providing funding for such activities to state wildlife agencies.

For instance, in Nebraska which has a fledging population of cougars (an estimated 20) the state wildlife agency has already embarked on a hunting season to “control” cougar numbers. Similarly in South Dakota, where there are no more than 170 cougars, the state has adopted very aggressive and liberal hunting regulations to reduce the state’s cougar population.

But the worst examples of an almost maniacal persecution of predators are related to wolf policies throughout the country. In Alaska, always known for its Neanderthal predator policies, the state continues to promote killing of wolves adjacent to national parks. Just this week the state wiped out a pack of eleven wolves that were part of a long term research project in the Yukon Charley National Preserve. Alaska also regularly shoots wolves from the air, and also sometimes includes grizzly and black bears in its predator slaughter programs.

In the lower 48 states since wolves were delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act and management was turned over to the state wildlife agencies more than 2700 wolves have been killed.

This does not include the 3435 additional wolves killed in the past ten years by Wildlife Services, a federal predator control agency, in both the Rockies and Midwest. Most of this killing was done while wolves were listed as endangered.

As an example of the persecutory mentality of state wildlife agencies, one need not look any further than Idaho, where hunters/trappers, along with federal and state agencies killed 67 wolves this past year in the Lolo Pass area on the Montana/Idaho border, including some 23 from a Wildlife Service’s helicopter gun ship. The goal of the predator persecution program is to reduce predation on elk. However, even the agency’s own analysis shows that the major factor in elk number decline has been habitat quality declines due to forest recovery after major wildfires which has reduced the availability of shrubs and grasses central to elk diet. In other word, with or without predators the Lolo Pass area would not be supporting the number of elk that the area once supported after the fires. Idaho also hired a trapper to kill wolves in the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness to increase elk numbers there.

Idaho hunters are permitted to obtain five hunting and five trapping tags a year, and few parts of the state have any quota or limits. Idaho Governor Butch Otter recently outlined a new state budget allotting $2 million dollars for the killing of wolves—even though the same budget cuts funding for state schools.

Other states are no better than Idaho. Montana has a generous wolf six month long season. Recent legislation in the Montana legislature increased the number of wolves a hunter can kill to five and allows for the use of electronic predator calls and removes any requirement to wear hunter orange outside of the regular elk and deer seasons. And lest you think that only right wing Republican politicians’ support more killing, this legislation was not opposed by one Democratic Montana legislator, and it was signed into law by Democratic Governor Steve Bullock because he said Montana Dept of Fish, Wildlife and Parks supported the bill.

Wyoming has wolves listed as a predator with no closed season or limit nor even a requirement for a license outside of a “trophy” wolf zone in Northwest Wyoming.

The Rocky Mountain West is known for its backward politics and lack of ethics when it comes to hunting, but even more “progressive” states like Minnesota and Wisconsin have cow-towed to the hunter anti predator hostility. Minnesota allows the use of snares, traps, and other barbaric methods to capture and kill wolves. At the end of the first trapping/hunting season in 2012/2013, the state’s hunters had killed more than 400 wolves.

Though wolves are the target species that gets the most attention, nearly all states have rabid attitudes towards predators in general. So in the eastern United States where wolves are still absent, state wildlife agencies aggressively allow the killing of coyotes, bears and other predators. For instance, Vermont, a state that in my view has undeserved reputation for progressive policies, coyotes can be killed throughout the year without any limits.

These policies are promoted for a very small segment of society. About six percent of Americans hunt, yet state wildlife agencies routinely ignore the desires of the non-hunting public. Hunting is permitted on a majority of US Public lands including 50% of wildlife “refuges as well as nearly all national forests, all Bureau of Land Management lands, and even a few national parks. In other words, the hunting minority dominates public lands wildlife policies.

Most state agencies have a mandate to manage wildlife as a public trust for all citizens, yet they clearly serve only a small minority. Part of this is tradition, hunters and anglers have controlled state wildlife management for decades. Part of it is that most funding for these state agencies comes from the sale of licenses and tags. And part is the worldview that dominates these agencies which sees their role as “managers” of wildlife, and in their view, improving upon nature.

None of these states manage predators for their ecological role in ecosystem health. Despite a growing evidence that top predators are critical to maintaining ecosystem function due to their influence upon prey behavior, distribution and numbers, I know of no state that even recognizes this ecological role, much less expends much effort to educate hunters and the public about it. (I hasten to add that many of the biologists working for these state agencies, particularly those with an expertise about predators, do not necessarily support the predator killing policies and are equally appalled and dismayed as I am by their agency practices.)

Worse yet for predators, there is new research that suggests that killing predators actually can increase conflicts between humans and these species. One cougar study in Washington has documented that as predator populations were declining, complaints rose. There are good reasons for this observation. Hunting and trapping is indiscriminate. These activities remove many animals from the population which are adjusted to the human presence and avoid, for instance, preying on livestock. But hunting and trapping not only opens up productive territories to animals who may not be familiar with the local prey distribution thus more likely to attack livestock, but hunting/trapping tends to skew predator populations to younger age classes. Younger animals are less skillful at capturing prey, and again more likely to attack livestock. A population of young animals can also result in larger litter size and survival requiring more food to feed hungry growing youngsters—and may even lead to an increase in predation on wild prey—having the exact opposite effect that hunters desire.

Yet these findings are routinely ignored by state wildlife agencies. For instance, despite the fact that elk numbers in Montana have risen from 89,000 animals in 1992 several years before wolf reintroductions to an estimated 140,000-150,000 animals today, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks does almost nothing to counter the impression and regular misinformation put forth by hunter advocacy groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation or the Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife that wolves are “destroying” Montana’s elk herds.

I have attended public hearings on wolves and other predator issues, and I have yet to see a single hunter group support less carnivore killing. So where are the conservation hunters? Why are they so silent in the face of outrage? Where is the courage to stand up and say current state wildlife agencies policies are a throw-back to the last century and do not represent anything approaching a modern understanding of the important role of predators in our ecosystems?

As I watch state after state adopting archaic policies, I am convinced that state agencies are incapable of managing predators as a legitimate and valued member of the ecological community. Their persecutory policies reflect an unethical and out of date attitude that is not in keeping with modern scientific understanding of the important role that predators play in our world.

It is apparent from evidence across the country that state wildlife agencies are incapable of managing predators for ecosystem health or even with apparent ethical considerations. Bowing to the pressure from many hunter organizations and individual hunters, state wildlife agencies have become killing machines and predator killing advocates.

Most people at least tolerant the killing of animals that eaten for food, though almost everyone believes that unnecessary suffering should be avoided. But few people actually eat the predators they kill, and often the animals are merely killed and left on the killing fields. Yet though many state agencies and some hunter organizations promote the idea that wanton waste of wildlife and unnecessary killing and suffering of animals is ethically wrong, they conveniently ignore such ideas when it comes to predators, allowing them to be wounded and left to die in the field, as well as permitted to suffer in traps. Is this ethical treatment of wildlife? I think not.

Unfortunately unless conservation minded hunters speak up, these state agencies as well as federal agencies like Wildlife Services will continue their killing agenda uninhibited. I’m waiting for the next generation of Teddy Roosevelts, Aldo Leopolds and Olaus Muries to come out of the wood work. Unless they do, I’m afraid that ignorance and intolerant attitudes will prevail and our lands and the predators that are an important part of the evolutionary processes that created our wildlife heritage will continue to be eroded.

http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2014/03/05/whither-the-hunterconservationist/

copyrighted wolf in river