Initiative 107 and the case for returning gray wolves to Colorado

wolf in snow howling

On Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, biologist Mike Phillips presented “Wildness Restored: The Wolf’s Return to Colorado” at the University of Colorado Denver, the latest lecture in the Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture Series. He comes to Colorado at a pivotal moment — as state residents consider a proposed 2020 ballot measure to initiate a wolf restoration plan.

portrait of Mike Phillips
Wolf biologist and Montana state Senator Mike Phillips

Phillips is currently a Montana State Senator and Director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund. A biologist who previously worked on both the Red Wolf Recovery Program and the Wolf Restoration project at Yellowstone National Park, Phillips has conducted extensive wildlife research, though he specializes in large carnivores. Besides many articles in both peer-reviewed journals and popular magazines, Phillips is the author of “The Wolves of Yellowstone.” In other words, he is a well-recognized wolf expert.

As such, Phillips has to contend with our country’s troubled history with wolves. Europeans settlers virtually eradicated wolves, first through independent hunting and trapping, and later through government-sanctioned wolf extirpation programs (involving mass poisoning, among other inhumane killing methods) that left the species almost extinct. Why? “Manifest destiny,” Phillips explains, “which demanded a zealous embrace of the determination to tame the land and its wild inhabitants.”

But the large-scale destruction of wild animals, including bison, grizzlies, wolves, and elk, eventually prompted a call to action. “The entire science of wildlife management grew out of a need for things to shoot because the great game herds had been destroyed,” Phillips said. Once the U.S. realized it needed to reverse the trend toward species extinction, it passed the Endangered Species Act, which protected threatened and endangered plants and animals and their habitats. This ushered in a new era of conservation — and the wolf once again became a central metaphor for how we view wildness.

The real wolf vs. the mythic wolf

In addition to history, Phillips has to contend with popular culture, which has largely depicted the wolf as a vicious predator. In this regard, the United States is not alone. For centuries, and across continents, the wolf has been at the center of stories and fables, serving as a convenient symbol. And many wolf myths are aimed at children, which prompted the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project (RMWP) to produce a video titled “Meet the Real Wolf” (see above).

Phillips is forced to discuss the wolf in this context, acknowledging the mythic wolf while providing information about the real wolf: “The real wolf has been studied exhaustively over many decades. The real wolf is one of the most studied large mammals in the world. The real wolf is not even a shadow of the mythical wolf — it’s the mythical wolf that gets in the way of restoration,” Phillips said.

It’s important to change the narrative about the real wolf, especially in regards to social structure and survival. For wolves, family is of paramount importance, as explained in the RMWP video. Another misconception is that wolves are supreme killers, which is incorrect: “The real wolf — oh, my heavens. Life is a daily struggle. Starvation is a common cause of death. Puppies suffer the most of all. Most efforts to hunt end up with gray wolves coming up empty-pawed,” Phillips said.

adult wolf with wolf pup; photo by M L via Unsplash
“There are very good, successful models from the northern Rocky Mountains,” said Mike Phillips. “Reintroducing gray wolves is a certain affair.”

Initiative 107: restoration of gray wolves

Currently, the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund (RMWAF) is collecting signatures for a proposed 2020 ballot measure that would restore the gray wolf to Colorado. Rob Edward, president of RMWAF, summarized the petition: “Initiative 107 directs the Colorado Department of Wildlife & Parks to initiate a science-based wolf restoration plan, to include public input into the process, and to ultimately begin reintroducing wolves to designated lands west of the Continental Divide in Colorado no later than 2023.”

The final written version of Initiative 107 is available at the Colorado Secretary of State website. The measure does not establish its own plan for wolf reintroduction but rather asks the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to “Develop a plan to restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado, using the best scientific data available.”

That is one of the strengths of the initiative, according to Phillips. “Initiative 107 does not aim to be a strong statement of wildlife management. 107 acknowledges the expertise of Colorado state and of wildlife biologists; it acknowledges the expertise of the state assembly. It is specifically written to take advantage of that expertise and those authorities,” he said.

Edward and the RMWAF team are in the process of collecting the required number of signatures for Initiative 107 to appear on the 2020 ballot (approximately 124,500 by Dec. 13, 2019). He hopes to gather at least 200,000 signatures. That may be the hardest part in the campaign to reintroduce wolves to Colorado, particularly since the state requires signatures to be collected in person. If Initiative 107 gets on the ballot, Edward said he is confident Colorado voters will approve the measure: “We have over two decades of polling data showing support for wolf restoration standing at over 70% statewide and 65% on the Western Slope.”

map of United States showing wild wolf population areas, courtesy of Wolf Conservation Center
According to the Wolf Conservation Center, Gray Wolves (Canis lupus) were once among the most widely distributed wild mammals. They inhabited most of the available land in the northern hemisphere. Due to the destruction of their habitat and persecution by humans, they now occupy only about 10 percent of their historic range in the continental 48 United States. 

Colorado is critical link in wolf range

According to Phillips, “Western Colorado represents the last great wolf restoration campaign.” This is because of Colorado’s geographic location —in between two wild wolf habitats. To Colorado’s north, wolf populations inhabit the northern Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest. To Colorado’s south, wolves inhabit the Southwest.

Renowned wolf expert L. David Mech, PhD, biologist and senior research scientist for the U.S. Department of the Interior, has been studying wolves since 1958. He writes: “Re-establishing wolves in western Colorado could connect the entire North American wolf population from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan through Canada and Alaska, down the Rocky Mountains into Mexico. It would be difficult to overestimate the biological and conservation value of this achievement.”

The state of Wyoming, however, poses a threat to a continuous Rocky Mountain wolf habitat since it delisted wolves from the Endangered Species list on April 25, 2017. Wolf management is now in the hands of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, which defined wolves as predatory animals in a large majority of the state. Wyoming’s policy will negatively influence wolf movement. “But with a population in Colorado, at least there will be animals that can move both from the south to the north and from the north to the south. With more animals involved, the prospect of connectivity improves,” Phillips said.

 map of Wyoming wolf management area
Map of Wolf Management Area from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

And connectivity is important because wolves, like other large predators, help maintain healthy ecosystems. This is one of the important arguments for wolf reintroduction to the state. In a 2001 article titled “The Importance of Large Carnivores to Healthy Ecosystems,” Phillips and his co-authors write, “The impacts of carnivores thus extends past the objects of their predation. Because herbivores eat seeds and plants, predation on that group influences the structure of the plant community. The plant community, in turn, influences distribution, abundance, and competitive interaction within groups of birds, mammals, and insects.”

When asked to put this concept into everyday language, Phillips said: “Let’s assume that life is a most powerful force in the universe. If that’s true, then death has to be equally important … Life matters and death matters. Prey matters and predators matter … Gray wolves just happen to be good at moving life in the direction of adaptation—good at shaping life because they’re good at picking out those that are predisposed to die.” He explained what decades of wolf research has established: wolves prey on the weak.

Wolves could potentially mitigate chronic wasting disease

According to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) report from Dec. 2018, chronic wasting disease (CWD), a neurological illness similar to mad cow disease, is a growing concern: “As of July 2018, at least 31 of Colorado’s 54 deer herds (57%), 16 of 43 elk herds (37%), and two of nine moose herds (22%) are known to be infected with CWD.” And the incidence of CWD is growing quickly: the same report cites “greater than a tenfold increase in CWD prevalence” in some mule deer herds since the early 2000s.

People cannot easily detect animals with CWD. For example, CPR News recounted the experience of Eric Washburn, an experienced hunter who shot and killed a mule buck in Northern Colorado. The animal had a “thick coat and massive rack of antlers,” but mandatory testing found it had CWD. Washburn, who was forced to throw away “all of that beautiful meat” instead of using it to feed his family, learned an important lesson: “It just showed me you can’t tell by looks which deer are diseased and which are not.”

This incident turned Washburn into an unlikely ally for the pro-wolf-reintroduction movement, as a hunter working for the RMWAF in the hopes that wolves would help curb CWD. Biologist Gary Wolfe, a former Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioner, points out that wolves target diseased animals. While there is no direct evidence that wolves mitigate CWD — only past studies related to wolves hunting animals with other diseases and a study on mountain lions preying on CWD-infected mule deer— Wolfe cites the inverse relationship between wolf population distribution and CWD-infected herds in the Mountain West. “That’s circumstantial evidence, but to me that’s a piece of circumstantial evidence that says that wolf predation can help slow the spread of the disease,” he states.

Opposition to wolves in Colorado

Other hunters, as well as ranchers and concerned citizens, strongly oppose Initiative 107. Some of them believe that wolves might increase the CWD problem by spreading it throughout prey herds. But there is no evidence that wolves increase the occurrence of CWD.

Stop the Wolf, an organization firmly against wolf reintroduction, has published a fact sheet titled “Wolves & Chronic Wasting Disease” that counters: “Wolves … act as an agent of dispersion and displace big game herds from their traditional habitat.” While their fact sheet does include accurate data concerning CWD from the Centers for Disease Control, the organization also disseminates misinformation and promotes fear. For example, another fact sheet titled “Wolves & Human Safety” claims “Now environmentalists teach children that it is safe to pet a wild wolf.”

There are more reasonable arguments that could be made against wolf reintroduction to Colorado, including the following: wolves will kill cattle and other livestock, wolves will kill prey animals like deer and elk, hunters could kill wolves, and wolves could harm humans. In response to many of these arguments, it’s fair to state that wolves are predators: Their presence or absence needs to be considered within the context of ecosystems and within the context of competing species, including humans.

Phillips addressed three of the counter-arguments in his lecture at CU Denver, anticipating the concerns of ranchers, hunters, and fearful citizens. Under Initiative 107, ranchers would be paid for any livestock killed by wolves. He also reviewed the current estimated elk and deer herd populations in Colorado and used figures from Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho to illustrate that wolves would make only a minor impact on Colorado’s hunting seasons. “Coexisting requires only a modicum of accommodation,” he concluded.

Elk population and harvest data across the northern Rocky Mountain states in years before and after wolf reintroduction
Elk population and harvest data across the northern Rocky Mountain states in years before and after wolf reintroduction. Data from state game departments, courtesy of Mike Phillips.

History of human–wolf interactions

The last point—that wolves might kill humans—might be the most important argument to address, given the complex history between humans and wolves in the United States (and elsewhere). European settlers and their descendants took a very common species and virtually exterminated it. Phillips said, “The gray wolf was destroyed relentlessly … killed for no great reason.”

Fear, of course, was at least part of the reason humans killed wolves. A report titled “The Fear of Wolves: A Review of Wolf Attacks on Humans,” published by Norway’s Ministry of the Environment in 2002, examined literature and first-hand accounts of wolf attacks on people from Scandinavia, continental Europe, Asia, and North America, including written documents from as far back as the fifteenth century. The report lists 18 authors and more than 90 contributors from more than 30 countries. Have there been wolf attacks on humans? Yes. But they dramatically decreased in the 20th century and the majority of attacks involved rabid wolves. The report concludes: “Unprovoked attacks by non-rabid wolves on people are very rare, and the vast majority of wolves do not regard people as being prey.”

Norman A. Bishop, who worked for the National Park Service for 36 years, addressed the issue of human safety closer to home. In an email, he wrote: “I served as a park ranger in Yellowstone from 1980 to 1997, and I led hundreds of people afield to view and study wolves between 1999 and 2005. I never saw anything that gave me a hint of concern about my safety or that of my companions.”

Bishop also provided data from Yellowstone. “From 1995 to 2018, Yellowstone hosted 101,070,722 visitors, none of whom was injured by a wolf.” For people who argue that it’s the backcountry campers who might be in greatest danger, Bishop cited 2.7 million tent campers in Yellowstone from 1995 to 2018—and “no camper was injured by a wolf.”

group of wolves in the snow; photo by Eva Blue via Unsplash
Mike Phillips explains that with a good wolf reintroduction plan, “Within a decade, you could easily imagine 100 gray wolves or more free-ranging across the woodlands of Colorado.”

Direct democracy and wolf restoration

During a Q&A after his lecture, Phillips addressed concerns raised by two opponents to wolf restoration. Ultimately, he returned to the exact language that begins Initiative 107: “Be it enacted by the people of the state of Colorado.”

This echoes what he said in an earlier interview with CU Denver. “It’s left to Coloradans to decide, based on the nature of their heart.”

Inside the Outdoors: The wolves of Washington

An ever more interesting conversation, this discussion of wolves and their status, behavior, and management here in our state. There seems almost no action ranchers in now-wolf-country, and the wildlife managers of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), can propose or take to deal with livestock depredation that doesn’t trigger protest and a court battle. The conflict over DFW policy has been bubbling over the past decade and more.

Over the years since the 2009 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), titled “Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington” was released, a number of wolves and entire packs have been killed after persistently preying upon domestic livestock. Nearly all of the lethal removals have been in and around the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington. The removals took place following one or another DFW policy — each of which required that stockmen carry out some extensive level of non-lethal means of separating livestock and wolves over some time period. The latest removal in the Colville area was in August, just before a restraining order was issued in a Seattle courtroom.

As a geographer and lifelong wildlife nut, the management goals for wolves in our state — in the context of other western state wolf recovery goals — seemed to me so unrealistic that conflicts were inevitable. Consider the following bit of western state geography (areas suitable wolf habitat are from the Federal Register (02/08/07, Vol. 72, Num. 26), and the human populations are from the 2007 U.S. Census Bureau.

Thus, in Washington we have a human population of four to thirteen times the other “wolf” states, a population density of five to nineteen times theirs, and “suitable habitat” only eleven to 15 percent of theirs. Yet, in each of the other states, the goal for delisting was 100 wolves (10 breeding pairs), while Washington’s goal was 15 breeding pairs/packs of wolves (about 150 animals) before delisting. The clock has been ticking ever louder over the past decade.

At last 2018 population survey, DFW biologists estimated Washington’s wolf population at a minimum of 126 individuals, 27 packs, and 15 successful breeding pairs.

The number of wolves across the state has reached a point that many are pushing for delisting of wolves from any statethreatened or endangered list, and turning wolf management over to DFW — similar to management in other western states. To that end, DFW officials have begun a broad public outreach effort.

In late summer wildlife officials scheduled a series of 14 open public meetings across the state to begin assessing possible changes to the state’s wolf-management policy. Within a week or two, officials changed those meetings to online discussions, citing a fear of violence rising from a number of unspecified threats of both violence and disruption.

After the Nov. 15 deadline, your next opportunity will come once the agency drafts an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in late 2020. That draft will evaluate actions, alternatives, and impacts related to long-term wolf conservation and management.

Want to know about the wolves here in Paradise? This coming Monday evening (Nov. 11) Steve Wetzel (DFW Wildlife Conflict Specialist), with DFW Statewide Wolf Biologist Ben Maletzke will be speaking of the Wolves of Kittitas County. This is the program for the monthly meeting of the 100-year-old Kittitas County Field & Stream Club, at the Hal Holmes Center, 7:00 p.m. You and your friends are welcome for what promises to be a very interesting Veteran’s Day evening.

Jim Huckabay is retired from the Department of Geography at Central

Garfield County commissioners don’t want to let wolves in

Grey Wolf
Walking Grey Wolf.
Getty Images

Garfield County commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a resolution opposing reintroducing wolves to Colorado. But the county’s resolution may not matter when voters head to the ballot box next year.

“I’m amazed that people want to do something like this, because I don’t think it would be good for anyone, in any way,” Commissioner Mike Samson said of efforts to bring wolves into the state.

But in fact, many people in Colorado want wolves here, according to one 2019 poll.

With so many supporting wolves in Colorado, Rob Edward, founder and president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund backing the initiative, says it’s high time to get started.

Edward is behind the effort of putting wolf introduction on the ballot for Colorado’s November 2020 general election. The initiative requires creating plans and bringing wolves into Colorado by the end of 2023.

Edward is confident that volunteers have collected enough signatures to put it on the ballot.

He’s also convinced of broad support for wolf introduction.

“We have the Western Slope with us, it’s just a matter of helping people understand the nuances of living with wolves,” Edward said.

On the Western Slope, where the wolves would be introduced if Initiative 107 passes, 61% of respondents favored wolf introduction, according to the poll.

Those opposed to wolf reintroduction have a number of concerns.

“Not only do (wolves) kill the cattle, but they bother them, they chase them around and stir them up,” and as a result, there are fewer cattle pregnancies, Garfield County rancher Frank Daley told the commissioners.

Based on his experience with coyotes, Daley also worries that the cattle made anxious by wolves will break fences and injure calves.
“We definitely don’t need to add in another predator,” he said.

The impact on wildlife is another concern.

“We do not want to have wolves reintroduced into the state of Colorado for many reasons, one of which is that it would be devastating for the moose, elk and deer populations of our state, not to mention domestic livestock such as cattle and sheep,” Samson said.

The effect of wolves on elk and deer where they have been reintroduced in isn’t completely settled.

Wolves appear to be a factor in declining elk herds in Yellowstone National Park, but elsewhere, like Montana, elk herds are increasing.

In 2004, the Colorado Department of Wildlife, which has since been renamed Parks and Wildlife, commissioned the wolf working group, recommended managing wolves that came into the state, but tabled reintroduction efforts.

Garfield County commissioners see their opposition as continuing that management plan.

“The wolves are kind of introducing themselves and they are getting into Colorado from Wyoming and the southern part from New Mexico,” Jankovsky said.

Two potential gray wolf sitings in 2019 are being investigated by state wildlife officials.

According to Edward, who was a member of the wolf working group, going to the voters is appropriate.

“It’s not circumventing the DOW or the Wildlife Commission. It very explicitly involves them. It simply says, ‘The people want you to do this, so do it,’” Edward said.

WDFW extends wolf comment period

Mon., Nov. 4, 2019

This Feb., 2017,  photo provided by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shows a gray wolf in Oregon's northern Wallowa County. (AP)
This Feb., 2017, photo provided by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shows a gray wolf in Oregon’s northern Wallowa County. (AP)

The chance to comment on how Washington’s gray wolves should be managed once they are no longer a state endangered species has been extended until Nov. 15.

This gives people more time to submit input, especially those in rural areas without internet service, according to a news release from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The postrecovery management plan requires public comment before the state can move forward.

The public can provide input through 5 p.m. on Nov. 15. After that, the next opportunity will be in late 2020 when WDFW evaluates actions, alternatives and impacts related to long-term wolf conservation and management.

“The current plan the department uses to guide wolf conservation and management was started in 2007 and developed over five years, specifically to inform wolf recovery. Because wolves are moving toward recovery in Washington, it is time to develop a new plan,” WDFW wolf coordinator Julia Smith said in a news release. “This is just the start of the process, so if you don’t get your input to us by Nov. 15, there will be more opportunities in 2020.”

For more information, background, and frequently asked questions on wolf postrecovery visit WDFW’s website wdfw.wa.gov.

An online survey and online commenting are also available online. There is also a comment form that can be printed and mailed to the department or general comments can be mailed to Lisa Wood, SEPA/NEPA Coordinator, WDFW Habitat Program, Protection Division, P.O. Box 43200, Olympia, 98504. Comments submitted via mail must be postmarked by Nov. 15.

Washington Court to Hear Arguments Friday on State Agency’s Wolf-Killing

OLYMPIA, Wash.— Thurston County Superior Court will hear arguments tomorrow in a case challenging the killing of endangered wolves by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The case is being brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands.

“We’re hopeful the court will protect Washington’s endangered wolves from the state’s reckless killing program,” said Amaroq Weiss, the Center’s senior West Coast wolf advocate. “The majority of Washingtonians want these magnificent animals to recover and thrive, not be gunned down for the private, for-profit livestock industry.”

What: Hearing in Center for Biological Diversity et al. v Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife et al. (No. 18-2-05620-34), a case challenging the department’s killing of state-endangered wolves in violation of state law

When: 9 a.m., Friday Nov. 1.

Where: Thurston County Superior Court, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Building 3, Olympia, WA 98502, courtroom for the Honorable John C. Skinder.

The plaintiffs are represented in the case by the law firm of Animal & Earth Advocates PLLC. The Center’s lawyer and a Center representative will be available after the hearing for questions.

Background

Since 2012 the state has killed 31 state-endangered wolves, nearly 25 percent of the state’s confirmed population of 126. Of those 26 were killed on behalf of the same livestock owner. Those kills have now led to the eradication of four entire wolf packs, including the OPT pack this year, the Sherman pack in 2017, Profanity Peak pack in 2016 and Wedge pack in 2012.

In 2017 and 2018, the plaintiffs — the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands — filed several lawsuits challenging the state’s wolf-killing program. The 2017 case was declared moot after the state destroyed the pack at issue, but the court has since required the department to provide eight hours’ public notice of any new kill operation, to allow plaintiffs or other members of the public time to seek a temporary restraining order.

In late summer and fall of 2018, the state agency issued new kill orders for members of the Togo, OPT and Smackout packs. A lawsuit was filed by the Center and Cascadia in November 2018 to challenge the kill orders on all three packs, and it is this lawsuit the court will hear arguments on tomorrow.

The court will decide whether to dismiss claims brought under Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act. That law requires analysis of, and public involvement in, any state actions that may harm the environment. The wildlife advocates argue that the department has failed to do this required analysis.

Washington’s wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. The animals began to return from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia in the early 2000s, and their population had grown to 27 confirmed packs by the end of 2018.

But wolf recovery in Washington is still a work in progress. Wolves remain absent from large areas of the state, and although the population has been growing, it remains small and vulnerable.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Cascadia Wildlands educates, agitates, and inspires a movement to protect and restore Cascadia’s wild ecosystems. We envision vast old-growth forests, rivers full of wild salmon, wolves howling in the backcountry, and vibrant communities sustained by the unique landscapes of the Cascadia bioregion.

Rogue Pack wolves strike again


Wolf OR-7 is pictured in southwest Oregon. AP Photo / USFWS

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed new kills by a group of Southern Oregon wolves called the Rogue Pack.

A 300-pound calf was found dead by a ranch hand last Friday, and a second 300-pound calf was found dead Saturday in the Rancheria area of Jackson County near the border with Klamath County, according to a press release issued by ODFW.

The Rogue Pack, which includes the famous wandering wolf OR-7, is suspected of killing more than a dozen livestock animals in western Jackson and eastern Klamath counties, according to ODFW.

The calf found dead at about 9 a.m. Friday was in a grass pasture on private land. Most of the muscle tissue from the hind legs as well as most organs had been consumed. The 5-month-old calf was estimated to have died within 12 hours of being discovered dead, ODFW said.

The calf had bite wounds on its legs, abdomen, shoulders and back. Bite marks, bleeding and muscle tissue trauma were similar to injuries observed on other calves attacked by wolves, the agency said.

“This depredation is attributed to wolves of the Rogue Pack,” ODFW said in a summary of its investigation.

The second calf was about 7 months old and was also in a pasture on private land. A ranch hand found its body at about 7 a.m. Saturday, and ODFW believes it also died within 12 hours of being found.

Unlike the first calf, the second calf’s carcass was largely intact, with about 95 percent of the muscle tissue and hide still remaining, ODFW said.

ODFW’s report attributed the second killing to the Rogue Pack, as well.

Ranchers in the Rogue Pack’s range have used a variety of tactics to try and fend off the wolves, including guard dogs, electric fences, lights, bright flags, noisemakers and a flailing, inflatable dancer like those sometimes used to attract people’s attention at car dealerships.

The devices have scared off wolves at first, until they become used to them.

Denali wolf sightings hit record low

Denali wolf (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

https://www.alaskapublic.org/2019/10/25/denali-wolf-sightings-hit-record-low/

Wolf sightings hit a record low along the road into Denali National Park this summer, and that’s driving wildlife advocates to push for a halt of wolf hunting and trapping on state lands along Denali’s northeastern boundary, where park road area wolves often roam, and are sometimes killed.

A report recently issued by the National Park Service, shows only 1 percent of agency wildlife survey trips along the road into Denali National Park this summer recorded wolf sightings.

Park biologist Bridget Borg says that’s the worst number since trained park observers began officially tracking wildlife sightings along the road into Denali in the mid-1990s. Viewing percentages previously ranged from as low as 3 percent and as high as 45 percent. Borg says the currently poor wolf sighting percentage is likely primarily representative of natural factors.

“Just there being a lot of variability in where wolves den, and the size of packs over the years,” she said. “Not to say there aren’t the potential for other things to influence that outside of the park.”

Biologist and wildlife advocate Rick Steiner has been trying unsuccessfully for years to get the state to close wolf hunting and trapping on state lands along Denali’s northeastern boundary. Steiner points to the damaging impact loss of an alpha wolf can have on a pack, and makes an economic argument for why the state should care, correlating recent poor wolf viewing opportunity with dips in Denali visitor numbers and spending.

“This is kind of the goose that laid the golden egg for Alaska — if we protect it and help restore it,” he said.

Half a million people visit Denali annually, but there’s state resistance to curtailing boundary area wolf harvest by a few hunters and trappers. Closure requests from Steiner and other Alaskans have been regularly turned down. Commissioner of Fish and Game Doug Vincent Lang recently rejected the second of 2 such petitions submitted since July. Commissioner’s spokesperson Rick Green explains why.

“Data from the Parks Service isn’t a very specified area, and when we manage we manage more of a habitat area — much larger scale — and haven’t seen the evidence to constitute an emergency on the wolf population,” he said.

Green says that means it’s an allocation issue and up to the game board, which has consistently failed to grant requests to re-establish a no wolf kill area, scrapped by the board in 2010. In a July interview, game board chair Ted Spraker pointed to wolves’ resilience, and the potential for wolf viewing to rebound.

“It could all change next year if one of these eastern packs dens close to the road,” he said.

But halting wolf hunting and trapping in the nearby northeast boundary area could also help, according to the Park Service’s Borg. She points to better wolf viewing during a decade long span when boundary area wolf harvest was closed.

“When the area adjacent to the park was closed to hunting and trapping, it was correlated with higher sightings, so we think that bears replication to see if there’s a similar effect,” she said.

The park service and wildlife advocates have submitted separate northeast park boundary no wolf kill buffer proposals to the game board for consideration at a March 2020 meeting, but any change would take place after the wolf trapping season.  Steiner is pushing for an emergency game board meeting prior to the November first start of trapping season.

Park Service looks to solve mystery deaths of Isle Royale wolves

https://www.duluthnewbune.com/news/science-and-nature/> SCIENCE AND
NATURE

Mark Romanski, division chief for natural resources at Isle Royale, said at
this point the Park Service doesn’t have many answers.

Written By: Evan James Carter / Detroit News | Oct 6th 2019 – 1pm.

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A wolf from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is released on Isle Royale in
September 2019. The island now has 17 wolves, up from two a year ago. Photo
courtesy National Park Service.

ISLE ROYALE – One year into its effort to reestablish the wolf population on
Isle Royale, the National Park Service and its partners have a problem: Some
of the new wolves died and nobody knows why.

Since the Park Service began its relocation efforts in September 2018, 19
wolves have been transplanted from Minnesota, Ontario, Canada and Michigan’s
Upper Peninsula. Three of the wolves have died, the most recent on Sept. 15.
Another wolf left the island for mainland Ontario on an ice bridge in
January.

The number of wolves on the archipelago in Lake Superior is now 17: nine
males and eight females. Before the repopulation efforts began in fall 2018,
there were only two island-born wolves left roaming the island.

As the Park Service follows the progress of the newly relocated wolves, it
is also trying to ensure more wolves don’t die so soon after being
transported to the island.

Mark Romanski, division chief for natural resources at Isle Royale, said at
this point the Park Service doesn’t have many answers.

When dealing with wild animals, Romanski said it’s not unexpected that some
will die after being transported because the process of capturing and
relocating the animals can be stressful for them.

“And although we do everything we can to quickly handle the animal and get
them out to the island, of course, each animal is different,” Romanski said,
“and so they handle stress differently or maybe their capture event was
different or different combinations of circumstances.”

The Park Service has now changed its procedures so that the time between the
capture of a wolf and its release on the island is less than 24 hours,
instead of 36-48 hours when the effort began, Romanski said.

Dean Beyer, Wildlife Research Biologist with the Michigan Department of
Natural Resources, helps capture wolves that would make good candidates for
the move.

Beyer said that wildlife capture and relocation is something that scientists
can’t totally control and that death is sometimes part of the process. He
said it is important to minimize risk for animals when they’re captured and
handled by members of the DNR.

“We do everything we can do on the front end,” Beyer said. “So we develop
capture plans and all the people involved in the work have gone through
extensive training in terms of how to capture and handle animals and how to
chemically immobilize them.”

He also said that all the DNR’s plans are reviewed by wildlife
veterinarians.

One possible factor in the deaths may be a phenomenon called capture
myopathy, a complex physiological process that involves high levels of
stress resulting in damage to muscle tissues. The breakdown in the muscles
can release toxins in the bloodstream which may result in shock, or damage
to organs such as the kidneys.

Michelle Verant, a veterinarian for the National Park Service stationed out
of Fort Collins, was tasked with monitoring the wolves while they were
transported to Isle Royale.

She said that there wasn’t evidence of capture myopathy in the first wolf
that was tested by the Park Service, but said that doesn’t necessarily rule
it out.

“And then this final wolf, thankfully we were able to collect that carcass
pretty quickly and it is currently at the National Wildlife Health Center
getting a full necropsy,” Verant said. “And we may get some evidence there
to suggest whether capture myopathy was involved.”

Here’s what the National Park Service knows about the death of three wolves
transported to Isle Royale:

The first wolf, a male from northeast Minnesota, died in October 2018, about
one month after being transported to the island. The Park Service wasn’t
able to retrieve the carcass until a week after the wolf died because it
didn’t have personnel on the island.

The carcass of the wolf was sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in
Madison, Wis., where they performed a necropsy. The lab determined the wolf
died of pneumonia, but the Park Service doesn’t know how the wolf contracted
the illness.

The second wolf, a male from mainland Ontario, likely died in early April
2019, after being transported to Isle Royale in late February. The Park
Service wasn’t able to retrieve the carcass from the swamp it was in until
May, at which point the carcass was too far decomposed to send in for
necropsy.

Romanski said there wasn’t external evidence of the wolf getting into some
kind of fight, though the Park Service doesn’t ultimately know what happened
to him.

The third wolf, a female from the Upper Peninsula, likely died on Sept. 15
when a mortality signal was sent from its collar. It had been moved to the
island on Sept. 13 and was recovered by Park Service staff on Sept. 17.

The carcass was submitted to the National Wildlife Health Center for
necropsy Sept. 24.

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/science-and-nature/4708502-Park-Servi
ce-looks-to-solve-mystery-deaths-of-Isle-Royale-wolves?fbclid=IwAR2RDbGEB3xx
5W2xLTTGPenupabWVYgkRCt2kmyojk2QrTn3puMv33tvl-o

Group collects 168,000 signatures to put gray wolf restoration initiative on Colorado ballot

PROMO 64J1 Animal - Gray Wolf - USFWS
Published Saturday, October 12, 2019

By Derek Draplin | The Center Square

A group seeking voter approval to reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado says it has collected around 168,000 signatures to get the question put on the ballot.

That number is more than the 124,000 signatures needed to make the ballot, a spokesman for  the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, the primary backer of the initiative, told The Center Square. The group is aiming for 30,000 more signatures before it needs to submit them to the Secretary of State’s Office for verification by mid-December.

The Colorado Restore Gray Wolf Population Initiative would require the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (CPW) to create and execute a plan to restore gray wolf populations on designated lands west of the continental divide.

promo_64j1_animal_-_wolves_hunting_elk_wolf_-_nps.jpg

PROMO Animal - Wolves Hunting Elk Wolf - NPS

Wolves hunting elk in the Rocky Mountains. Courtesy National Park Service.

“When we succeed in safely restoring wolves to their home in Western Colorado, we will have closed the missing link and restored the gray wolf’s historical range from the High Arctic to Mexico,” RMWAF says on its website.

If passed, implementing the initiative would cost (CPW) over $344,000 in fiscal year 2021-22 and over $467,000 in fiscal year 2022-23, according to a legislative fiscal impact statement.

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, a parallel group to the action fund that educates on wolf restoration in the state, is backed by the Sierra Club Colorado, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Endangered Species Coalition, among other environmental groups.

The Stop the Wolf Coalition, which is made up of several farming, livestock and hunting groups, opposes the initiative, citing potential damage to livestock and wildlife, diseases, and overcrowding in the state.

“Forced wolf introduction is not only a disastrous idea that will impact our wildlife, livestock and Colorado’s growing population,but it’s also not fair to the wolves,” the coalition’s website says.

“A forced introduction of wolves to Colorado would cost untold amounts of taxpayer dollars, redirect already limited wildlife management resources and would have a significant negative economic impact to the state,” said Blake Henning, chief conservation officer for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “In Colorado, you are dealing with about a third of the land mass of the Northern Rockies’ states but almost double the human population. A forced reintroduction would trigger the potential for real issues in the state.”

Washington State Kills Wolf Mother to Protect Cows

Friday, October 4, 2019 – Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officials announced today that they killed a female member of the Grouse Flats wolf pack on September 25. She was believed to be the mom.

On September 24, in accordance with the agency’s controversial Wolf Plan and 2017 wolf-livestock interaction protocol, Director Kelly Susewind authorized the incremental “removal” of wolves following livestock depredations in Grouse Flats territory on both private lands and state wildlife areas in southeast Washington.

The announcement of the killing comes after Governor Jay Inslee expressed concern over the state’s Wolf Plan:

“We must find new methods to better support co-existence between Washington’s livestock industry and gray wolves in our state. The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable.”

Since 2012, WDFW has killed an estimated thirty one endangered wolves and pups, has obliterated entire wolf families (including the Old Profanity Territory pack in August), and has caused countless packs to fragment as a result of targeting individual wolves.

Moreover, peer-reviewed research demonstrates that employing lethal action to deter depredation on cows can even result in increased attacks.

Enough is enough.

Please contact WDFW Director Kelly Susewind and respectfully ask him to stop the assault on Washington’s wolves.