WY G&F proposes increase to 58 wolves in 2018 hunt

WYOMING – Wyoming Game and Fish Department is proposing an increase to the wolf mortality limit for the grey wolf 2018 hunting season. After a successful season last year where the 44-wolf quota was met, officials at WGFD would like to see the harvest targeted at 58 now, as they say the population is thriving and exceeding all criteria established to show that the species is recovered.

“The primary change for the 2018 wolf hunting season proposal is adjustment of the wolf mortality limit, which was increased to 58,” said Ken Mills, Game and Fish’s large carnivore biologist who focuses on wolves. “We calculate mortality limits annually based on the best available population and mortality data for wolves and packs present in the Wolf Trophy Game Management Area to be sure harvest levels are appropriate and ascribe to our commitment to manage for a recovered wolf population. This proposal is the result of a data-driven approach based on measured wolf population dynamics.”

The total minimum population of wolves in Wyoming living outside of Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation at the end of 2017 was 238, with 198 in the Wolf Trophy Game Management Area. The proposed mortality limit for 2018 is expected to result in an end of year population of around 160 wolves in the trophy game area, similar to the 2017 wolf hunting season.

The draft regulation for the 2018 wolf hunting regulation is now available for public comment.

It includes the allocation of higher hunt area quotas in those areas where wolf conflicts with livestock are high or in areas where wolves are impacting big game populations.

Public meetings on these regulation changes and others will occur at the following times and locations:

  • April 30, 6pm, Sheridan, Game and Fish Office
  • May 2, 6pm, Laramie, Game and Fish Office
  • May 8, 6pm, Cody, Park County Library
  • May 9, 6pm, Casper, Game and Fish Office
  • May 10, 6pm, Dubois, Headwaters Arts & Conference Center
  • May 16, 6pm, Pinedale, Game and Fish Office
  • May 17, 6pm, Jackson, Teton County Library Auditorium
  • May 22, 6pm, Evanston, BEAR Center Pavilion
  • May 23, 6pm, Kemmerer, South Lincoln Events Center
  • May 24, 6pm, Green River, Game and Fish Office

Written comments will be accepted through 5pm June 4 at public meetings, by mailing: Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Regulations, 3030 Energy Lane, Casper, WY  82604 or online at http://wgfd.wyo.gov. Copies of the proposed regulations are available on the Game and Fish website and at the address above.

Written comments will be presented to the Game and Fish Commission prior to the public hearing at its July 10-11 meeting in Laramie at the Game and Fish Office.

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Wolf numbers “curbed” by hunting

Wolves
A wolf watches park visitors as it feeds on a elk carcass near the road in Yellowstone National Park in this June 2008 file photo. The return of hunting wolves has trimmed their numbers, but not as high as state goals.

File, Star-Tribune

JACKSON — Hunting’s return to the landscape slashed the number of wolves in Wyoming last year, though not to the degree wildlife managers sought.

Wyoming’s goal was to cut its wolf population by nearly a quarter in places in which the state has control, but only a 16 percent reduction was accomplished. The reason managers missed the mark, Wyoming Game and Fish Department wolf biologist Ken Mills said, is there were more wolves than expected.

“What happened is the Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t have anyone on the ground monitoring wolves,” Mills said. “We located four additional packs. There were 19 adult wolves in those packs.”

Hunters would have been allowed to target more wolves, he said, if those animals were identified ahead of an annual report that informs hunting seasons.

The annual census of Wyoming’s wolves, published Wednesday, found there were 347 animals thought to roam the Equality State as the calendar turned to 2018 — down 30 from a year ago. Yellowstone National Park’s population, 97 animals, remained about the same, as did the number of lobos calling the Wind River Indian Reservation home.

The most significant changes came in areas where Wyoming authorizes hunting, where the population fell from 285 to 238. A managed “trophy-game” hunting area in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s interior housed 198 wolves at the end of the year. Another 40 of the large canines roamed the remainder of Wyoming, where wolves are managed as pests and can be killed indiscriminately. In both areas combined, 77 wolves were killed last year.

Groups like the Center for Biological Diversity view the calculated, hunting-driven population decline as a travesty.

“Wolves won’t persist outside Yellowstone National Park if Wyoming continues to eradicate them at this appalling pace,” said Victor, Idaho, resident Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney with the center.

Mills sees it differently. Wyoming’s population, he said, is well above federally required “recovery” requirements: 50 wolves and five breeding pairs in Yellowstone and 100 animals and 10 breeding pairs outside the park. The wolf biologist noted the number of breeding pairs in the state increased over the last year, from 18 to 19.

“It’s recovered, and it’s functioning as a population,” Mills said. “There’s actually more wolves in 2017 in Wyoming outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Reservation than there were before 2011 — before we ever managed wolves.”

A lawsuit caused Wyoming to lose control of its wolf population from 2014 to spring 2017, during which time the Endangered Species Act protected lobos from hunting and populations hit record highs.

2016 was the most conflict-prone one for wolves and livestock since the native carnivores were reintroduced to the region 23 years ago. Twenty-five wolf packs killed 243 sheep, cattle and horses, and 113 wolves were killed in retaliation. The numbers fell last year, with 191 wolf-suspected livestock deaths and 61 lobos killed in response.

“I think pretty much everyone can say that’s a positive, right?” Mills said. “Whether fewer wolves is a positive depends on who you are, but less conflict is a good thing.”

Wyoming Is Waging a War on Wolves

The Cowboy State’s scorched earth campaign threatens wolf recovery

Ever wanted to kill a wolf? If so, now’s your time. In Wyoming, wolf hunting is now legit—365 days a year across 85 percent of the state, where wolves are classified as shoot-on-sight vermin. Guns, snares, explosives, trucks, and snowmobiles—almost any form of violence is allowed to kill these animals. Today anyone in most of Wyoming can kill wolves without a hunting license, putting at great risk a wildlife species whose populations in the Lower 48 remain a dim shadow of what they once were and whose recovery in the Rockies is tenuous at best.

And what about the other 15 percent of the state, concentrated around the Jackson Hole area and the Tetons? That’s a “trophy area” where wolves may be seasonally hunted from October 1 to December 31. Unlike much of the rest of Wyoming—where ranches and extractive industries have seriously degraded valuable wolf habitat—the northwest corner still offers wolves, grizzlies, and the other large predators remaining in the West a corner in which to struggle to survive.

And now even that refuge is under fire. During the 2017 hunting season (the first legal hunt in Wyoming since 2013), licensed hunters killed 44 wolves in the trophy area—12 alone within the first 40 hours of the open season. Another 32 were killed across the rest of the state last year. And at least 48 are estimated to die annually from human impacts outside of hunting. To put this in perspective, before wolves were removed from Endangered Species Act protection, there were approximately 380 wolves inhabiting Wyoming’s 97,814 square miles. In a single year, Wyoming may have lost a quarter of all its wolves.

How did this happen? Let’s take a look back. In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone National Park. The wolves prospered, multiplied, and eventually offered affirmative proof of this animal’s importance to ecosystem health. The successful reintroduction also demonstrated that, almost incredibly, there was still sufficient unimpeded wilderness in the continental United States to allow this far-ranging alpha predator to thrive. The growing number of packs steadily expanded their range as succeeding generations of wolves began to disperse, following the elk herds on their seasonal migration southward out of Yellowstone and into the Tetons. And that’s when the trouble began.

In 2003, just eight years after the Yellowstone reintroductions, the USFWS reclassified the endangered gray wolf under the ESA as threatened, thereby downgrading its protective status. The USFWS, fatigued from years of having to manage the intense public opinions that surround this species, was eager to stop having to oversee wolf management and began planning the wholesale removal of the “recovered” Northern Rockies populations from the ESA. The agency planned to devolve wolf management to the states of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, which under law would have to devise management plans that would ensure the maintenance of minimum sustainable populations.

For more than a decade, wildlife advocates fought the attempted delisting in court. The wolves in the Northern Rockies bounced back and forth between being legally protected and at the mercy of state agencies. After a brief period under state management, Wyoming wolves were placed back under the protection of the ESA. A 2009 federal district court decision held that the entire state constituted a “significant portion” of the wolves’ range—a proven historical fact, all the more pertinent given the depleted numbers of wolves throughout North America today.

But in March 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court reaffirmed Wyoming’s wolf management plan, ruling that the “2009 decision has been overtaken by events.” According to the court, the USFWS “has adopted a new definition of ‘significant portion of its range,’” allowing wolves outside the trophy zone to be destroyed with no repercussions to the species recovery across the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Therefore, the court held, “The [USFWS] has offered ample rationale for determining that the predator area was never ‘envisioned to meaningfully contribute to wolf recovery in the region’ and is thus not a ‘significant portion of its range.’” Wyoming’s wolves were overnight reduced from a federally protected species to vermin across 85 percent of the state.

Idaho and Montana have adopted a more traditional approach to wolf hunting based upon districts, season licenses, and quotas. While those licensed hunting programs have still proved lethal to wolves—at least 271 wolves were killed in Idaho 2016, and 247 in Montana—they are not as sweeping as the no-holds-barred approach across most of Wyoming.

What’s behind Wyoming officials’ antipathy toward wolves? The primary justification for the state’s wolf hunt is, supposedly, economic. Wolves are blamed for livestock depredations in a region that is still emotionally and economically invested in the teetering myth of the independent cowboy, despite the fact that many ranchers graze their herds on public lands and insist that representatives of the USDA’s Wildlife Services agency employ any number of methods—including, per the USDA website, “trapping, snaring, shooting, and the use of chemical products and immobilization and euthanasia drugs”—to remove or kill offending predators.

According to the USFWS, wolves killed a record number of livestock in 2016, including 154 cattle, 88 sheep, and one horse; that’s up from a total of 134 depredations in 2015. In response, government “wildlife managers” killed 113 wolves, up from 54 the year before. To put this into context, the 2016 casualties from disease and weather alone among Wyoming’s sheep herds was 37,550 animals.

Wyoming residents are permitted to shoot on site any wolf they find that is attacking or “molesting” livestock or a domesticated dog. Ranchers are also able to seek compensation for livestock lost to wolves. A brochure published by Wyoming Game and Fish states “Landowners may be compensated for verified damage to livestock caused by wolves. Landowners must submit a signed and notarized damage claim affidavit to the WGFD.” But even though ranchers may get financial relief for any wolf attacks on their livestock, some ranchers insist that the wolves still have to die.

Why do wolves kill livestock? Because they’re easy prey, bred by humans over millennia to be pliant. As Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, told US News and World Report last summer, “When you have native predators on the landscape and non-native livestock on the landscape, it’s not surprising that the predators are going to view them as prey.”

This all makes scientific sense—but science isn’t the issue in Wyoming. Rather, it’s the occasional threat to livestock growers’ incomes that fuels the attacks against wolves and other predators. But predators are hardly the main problem; according to the USDA, in 2015 non-predator causes of death (mainly respiratory diseases) accounted for almost 98 percent of adult cattle mortality, and almost 89 percent for calves. Of the numerical sliver of cattle and calves that were killed by predators, wolves took only 4.9 percent, while coyote predation came in at 40.5 percent. Even domestic dogs claimed 11.3 percent, more than twice that of wolves.

The second reason for an intensive wolf hunt is the perceived reduction of trophy game such as elk, deer, bison, and moose. For the last few generations, big game has been abundant throughout much of the West, in part because of predator persecution. According to Yellowstone National Park’s website, “Early-20th-century protectionist policies, including the elimination of wolves and cougars, boosted elk numbers and stoked concern that the herd was too large. In response, park managers and hunters shot, trapped, and relocated tens of thousands of elk between 1920 and 1968.”

The annual elk slaughter was conducted primarily to prevent damage to important biotic features such as the cottonwoods and willows that stabilized stream banks; without any fear of predation, elk herds would simply stay put streamside and gnaw new shoots to the roots, eventually resulting in erosion, sedimentation, and the loss of freshwater trout habitat. Large carnivores were reintroduced to the landscape in part for this reason: They keep prey species below their maximum carrying capacity and in the process hold diseases in check and balance ecosystems. With the reintroduction of wolves, and a concomitant increase in grizzly numbers (the bears will sometimes appropriate or scavenge the remains of wolf kills), Yellowstone’s bloated elk population rapidly decreased by around 65 percent.

But this turned some hunters against the resurgent wolves. The trophy males that are the chief interest of hunters are (if not infirmed by age) usually the healthiest and strongest members of the herd. Anyone who has encountered a cantankerous 1,500-pound bull moose standing seven feet at the shoulder will understand the reluctance of any predator to challenge it head on. Predators naturally target the easiest, least demanding prey: the young and old, the sick and lame. Therefore the impact of wolves to healthy adult male elk, mule deer, bison, or moose is ecologically minimal.

As it currently stands, Wyoming’s wolf management plan requires the maintenance of a 100 x 10 ratio: that is, 100 wolves with at least 10 confirmed breeding pairs in the entire state, not including Yellowstone National Park or the Wind River Shoshone/Northern Arapahoe Reservation. The plan also calls for state biologists to define a “buffer” against this minimum required population, which presumably would mean more wolves than the required minimum. But the buffer, already vague, is not a legal requirement of the state’s management plan.

And in any case, the Wyoming plan appears to violate federal guidelines, according to attorneys with the nonprofit advocacy group Earthjustice. Under federal regulations, Wyoming must retain a total of 150 wolves, including 15 breeding pairs, throughout the entire state, including the national parks and the trophy game area. Although the state can take the population down to the bare minimum and still remain within the law, the targets seem arbitrary, says Timothy Preso, managing attorney of Earthjustice’s office in Bozeman, Montana.

“There is huge pressure on the ‘trophy zone’ to maintain a viable population without a legal safety net,” Preso said. Reestablishing wolves was a huge and successful effort by the American taxpayer, he said, one that has been sacrificed to extremists who may use any means not already illegal, like certain poisons, to wipe out wolves. “They can dynamite pups in their dens, run them over with snowmobiles, shoot them, trap them.” Preso continued, “There’s not a rational discussion underlying the management of wolves in Wyoming. They’re such a symbol of different things. To some people they epitomize wilderness and freedom; to others they’re pure evil, even somehow scapegoats for dislike of the federal government.”

Preso said the statewide “dual classification” zoning system that is unique to Wyoming, along with the state’s lack of a meaningful buffer to support the minimum required numbers of this isolated population, is at the heart of conservationists’ issues with the Wyoming plan. “We will continue to fight to protect wolves against extreme and hostile state management policies,” he said.

Ken Mills, wolf management specialist with Wyoming Game and Fish, neatly summed things up regarding his state’s unprecedented ability to devastate an ecologically vital, formerly federally protected species. “There’s no other jurisdiction that has to manage wolves the way we do,” Mills told the Jackson Hole News & Guide last spring. “We have a much smaller population [compared with other Northern Rockies states] and a smaller area of suitable habitat. But on the plus side Idaho and Montana can’t manage their populations; they can’t overharvest their population. We can. Essentially we’re managing a population in a brand-new way.”

Trapper who shot E. Oregon wolf gets probation, fine

Trapper who shot E. Oregon wolf gets probation, fine

Found it caught in trap

Wolves in Serbia: A Trophy of a Lifetime

Even a single wolf can devastate the hard work of farmers and ranchers. While wolf hunting is forbidden in most of Western Europe, it’s being allowed — for a short time — in Serbia’s southern forests . . .

Though much of the country is appalled by the “slaughter” of the illusive creatures, there are a few that hunt them with pride as Phys.Org reports.

Rifle fire rips through the silence of the forest and fields on the slopes of Jastrebac mountain in southern Serbia. Two wolves have just fallen victim to a legal hunt.

Forbidden in most of western Europe, the blood sport is allowed from July to April in this Balkan country, where wolves are not endangered.

Around 800 of them roam the wild and depopulated mountains of southern Serbia, a region of mostly poor farmers and herders. It is not uncommon for wolves to attack livestock, especially in winter.

Wolves aren’t seeking to make friends in rural country and they don’t discriminate when it comes to what or who they devour.

“Last year they slaughtered four of my sheep in just five minutes,” said farmer Ivan Milenkovic, who keeps around 60 sheep in the village of Dresnica.

“I installed spotlights that light up every night to deter them,” he told AFP.

Other mountain residents take up arms during the hunting season to counter the wolf attacks. Local hunting associations that monitor the wolf population set quotas.

On a recent cold winter’s dawn, more than 400 hunters gathered near Blace, a town of about 5,000 people between the mountains of Jastrebac and Kopaonik.

After swigging some rakija (local fruit brandy), the hunters split into two groups, the trackers and the watchers, and exchanged their traditional greeting: “Good vision and calm hand!”

The silent watchers spread out in a line through the woods, while the trackers form another line a couple of kilometres away and walk towards the watchers, squeezing the gap between them which holds their prey.

As they wait amid the trees, the watchers examine fresh wolf prints in the snow.

Six wolves in one season is hardly enough to make a dent in the population of wolves that can exist an a place where hunting them is forbidden.

According to regional hunting quotas, six wolves can be killed in the Blace area in one hunting season.

“You wait your whole life to kill a wolf,” said Dejan Pantelic, one of the hunters.

“It’s extremely rare, many never see it. I’ve been hunting for 24 years and I’ve not killed one.”

So clever that they can evade seasoned hunters and in most cases from even being seen at all.  Sounds like the perfect killing machine to me.

The wolf is smart with an exceptional sense of smell and hearing, the 42-year-old explained.

And few animals are more mobile—the wolf can easily travel between 50 and 100 kilometres (31 and 62 miles) a day.

“An isolated hunter has practically no chance of killing a wolf, only an organised hunt can yield results,” Pantelic said.

Call me crazy but I’d like to try. Well, OK, with a guide. You?

The snarling war between cattle ranchers and conservationists over wolves

By Nigel Duara Jan 24, 2018

About 23 years ago, the United States embarked on an experiment: What would happen if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released grey wolves in the West?

The results were… mixed.

To their credit, the wolves have successfully controlled the grass-munching elk and deer populations of the Northern Rockies, leaving more habitat available for other species, like bugs and beneficial algae.

But the wolves, it turns out, aren’t that picky when it comes to dinner, and ranchers’ cows make for easy targets. So states have had to readjust. In states like Idaho, for example, ranchers are permitted to protect their herds by killing wolves, and some states also allow wolf trophy hunts in an effort to further thin the packs.

But in Oregon, ranchers have found themselves caught between a snarling rock and a hard regulation — the wolves killing cows on their grazing grounds, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has strict rules against killing them in all but the rarest circumstances.

The ranchers who keep losing cattle to wolves, and the residents of Eastern Oregon who rely on the economy created by the cattle industry, have long argued the state of Oregon should loosen the rules.

And for the first time, starting last year, the state allowed for just that. But when four wolves from the Harl Butte Pack of northeastern Oregon were killed, environmentalists decried the wolf killings as unnecessary and cruel.

Still, ranchers here hope it’s just the start.

As Northwest States Kill Wolves, Researchers Cast Doubt On Whether It Works

http://kuow.org/post/northwest-states-kill-wolves-researchers-cast-doubt-whether-it-works

  NOV 25, 2017
Originally published on November 27, 2017 2:53 pm

The long hunt finally paid off on the night of Aug. 6 for two employees of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. They’d spent a combined 85 hours and driven 752 miles in pursuit of the Harl Butte wolf pack in the northeast corner of the state.

They had already come close, spotting wolves twice but never firing a shot.

But finally, on a Saturday evening, they killed a young male. Two days later, an Oregon Fish and Wildlife employee fired a kill shot from a helicopter while patrolling the rolling forests and pastures. This time it was a young female.

The wolf-killing mission was meant to halt a pack that was helping itself to ranchers’ livestock.

It won’t work, thought Todd Nash. He and other local ranchers wanted the whole pack gone.

“If there was a gang in downtown Portland and there was 13 of them and you randomly took two, you didn’t know if they were the ringleaders or what they were … would you expect to have a positive outcome?” Nash said.

It turned out Nash was right; it didn’t work.

Weeks later, some of the Harl Butte pack’s surviving wolves tore into a 450-pound calf. It was found dead in a pasture Nash leases, with bite marks across its legs, flanks and hocks.

So Oregon wildlife officials killed two more wolves. Weeks later, they said the depredations had stopped.

They hadn’t. The Harl Butte pack struck again in late September, killing a 425-pound calf.

As the number of wolves in Oregon and Washington has grown, wildlife managers are increasingly turning toward lethal tactics to keep them away from ranchers’ livestock. State governments in the Northwest now spend tens of thousands of dollars to kill wolves that prey on cattle and sheep.

State wolf managers are walking a tightrope: growing and sustaining a population of wolves while limiting the loss of livestock for the ranchers who make their living where the predators now roam.

Managing wolves in the West is as much about politics, economics and emotion as it is about science.

“Sometimes you view it as being between a rock and a hard place, or being yelled at from both sides,” said Derek Broman, carnivore and furbearer coordinator for Oregon Fish and Wildlife. “I like to say it’s balance.”

To balance the costs of killing wolves, ecological needs and the concerns of ranchers and wolf advocates, it’s the policy of both Oregon and Washington to kill wolves incrementally — starting with one or two at a time. But in making that compromise between preserving wolves and preventing livestock damage, they’ve taken a course of action that scientific evidence suggests could achieve neither.

Policies and practices in both states go against a growing body of research casting doubt on the overall effectiveness of killing predators.

Neither state follows recent recommendations from top researchers that their efforts to control predators be conducted as well-designed scientific studies. And neither follows the primary recommendation from the research most often used as evidence, which found killing most or all of a pack is the most effective form of “lethal control” to reduce ranchers’ damages.

Instead, some scientists and advocates say, Oregon and Washington are risking harm to the Northwest’s wolf population without ever reducing predation on cattle and sheep.

“Oregon and Washington may be playing with fire in their incremental control approach,” said professor Adrian Treves, who founded the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at the University of Wisconsin. “Not only is there very little evidence for the effectiveness of lethal methods, but there are more studies that find counterproductive effects of lethal control, namely that you get higher livestock losses afterward.”

Northwest wildlife managers say they use lethal control, in part, to increase people’s willingness to tolerate wolves. Treves said there’s little data to support that it’s actually helping shape public opinion to accept wolf reintroduction. In fact, Treves has published research suggesting otherwise: that government-sanctioned killing of wolves may actually embolden individuals to illegally do the same.

Policies under scrutiny

He and others have called on governments to re-evaluate their predator control policies. Treves was also one of multiple scientists who filed comments with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, saying his research and others’ had been misinterpreted in the state’s revision of its wolf management plan, which Treves and others criticized for being biased in favor of lethal control.

“It’s just like (when) the government is putting a medicine out there; it needs to prove the medicine is effective,” Treves said. “ Because there are costs. And not just financial. Animals are dying.”

Lethal control policies in both Oregon and Washington are getting pushback from wolf advocates.

In Oregon, multiple groups have called on Gov. Kate Brown’s office to intervene. The governor’s office has not publicly responded and did not respond to requests for comment.

In Washington, two environmental groups filed a lawsuit in September claiming the state’s approach to killing wolves is unnecessary and that its protocols do not satisfy Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act.

Donny Martorello, wolf coordinator for Washington Fish and Wildlife, said the state has seen mixed results with lethal control.

“We’ve had situations where we’ve initiated lethal removal and had to stay with it for quite a period of time. Removing more and more wolves because the conflict kept going and going and going,” he said. In other cases, he said, it seemed to reduce the conflict.

Martorello said the decision to kill wolves to is not about decreasing long-term livestock losses. It’s about intervening in an escalating situation, where prevention has failed and a rancher’s cattle or sheep are dying.

“We turn to lethal removal as a last resort,” Martorello said. “When we remove wolves it is trying to change the behavior of wolves in that period of time. We can’t extend that to say that will prevent negative wolf-livestock interactions in the long term. Because it doesn’t.”

In its lethal control protocol, WDFW cites a paper from Michigan saying the “the act of attempting to lethally remove wolves may result in meeting the goal of changing the behavior of the pack.”

However, that study’s authors do not make claims about changing behavior, and attribute any lower recurrence of attacks on livestock to the increase in human activity nearby — not anything specific to lethal control.

That study also  found no correlation between killing a high number of wolves and a reduction in livestock depredation the following year.

Instead, it found the opposite: “Our analyses of localized farm clusters showed that as more wolves were killed one year, the depredations increased the following year.”

Ranchers say lethal is needed

In mid-October, Nash was hauling bags of mineral feed to where his cattle graze in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. He kept stopping along the snowy road.

“That right there is a wolf track,” he said, hopping out for a closer inspection.  He spotted another smaller set next to them. “That looks like a pup.”

They were fresh and led toward cattle.

Nearby, a state biologist and the local range rider were doing the same. From time to time, Nash checked in and shared what he knew.

“There’s tracks going both ways,” he tells them. “These were smokin’ fresh.”

In Oregon, like in Washington, wildlife managers only kill wolves if demonstrated non-lethal efforts to deter wolves have failed. Those preventative measures have been adopted inconsistently, and with mixed reviews. Many say they’ve seen improvements by removing bone piles that attract wolves and by increasing human presence. Here, Nash said he’s had someone in the pasture nearly every day, including his own cowboys, a county range rider and a friend he hired to camp nearby.

Cattle die for many reasons on the open range. Wolves account for only a fraction of ranchers’ losses, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. In the Northwest, documented kills by wolves amount to a few dozen per year in a region with more than two million cattle.

But for an individual producer, wolf damage can be a devastating blow. Especially when it’s on top of added stress and added costs of preventing wolf attacks.

Turning cattle out to roam after a long winter used to be a time to relax and celebrate, Nash said.

“You’d go, ‘oh, this is so nice,’” he said. “And now, that’s been taken away from us. I’m sad about that.”

This past summer’s wolf killings are in the same area where Oregon officials previously killed four members of the Imnaha pack. Nash said killing wolves from the Imnaha pack bought ranchers temporary relief from the predators. But, eventually, a new pack moved in.

After a few hours on snowy roads in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Nash had no wolves in his sights. He decided to head home.

“I’m a little disappointed,” he said, patting a black bolt-action rifle resting beside the driver’s seat of his pickup. “I’m definitely nervous. You see how close they are to the cattle.”

In most Western states where wolves live,  ranchers can submit claims for financial compensation for cattle killed by wolves. But Nash said that’s a poor substitute for losing one of the cows or calves he takes pride in and cares for.

“We’ll take the no wolves over compensation any day, given the choice,” Nash said. “It’s not in us to allow our cattle to be killed. It’s an act that’s contrary to everything we do.”

Lethal control has broad support from farmers and ranchers. It’s seen as a crucial tool to protect livestock. Government killing of predators is common worldwide — from wolves, cougars and coyotes in the American West to dingos in the Australian Outback. In the United States, the federal government’s Wildlife Services agency has killed more than two million mammals since 2000.

In the dark on what works

“It’s not fair to our farmers,” said Australia-based scientist Lily Van Eden, who published a paper on the subject in 2017.

Examining past studies of the various techniques used to control predators, Van Eden found wide swings in results. That includes two studies of lethal control and one of guardian dogs that all showed increases in livestock losses.

Van Eden’s paper was one of four published in the past two years examining the current landscape of predator control research.

Each team reached the same conclusion: there is not sufficient evidence to say if and when killing large carnivores, such as wolves, actually achieves the desired result of reducing the loss of cattle or sheep. The same can be said for most non-lethal techniques.

Much of the research into the topic of both lethal and non-lethal predator control is flawed in one way or another. Of the research that does exists, more studies showed lethal control efforts to be ineffective or counterproductive at reducing ranchers’ losses.

Without gold-standard research on the subject, existing data can be used to justify opposing positions.

Take, for instance, a study published in 2014 led by Washington State University professor Robert Wielgus. It used data from the wolf population in Rocky Mountain states. The study showed livestock lost to wolves actually increased after some wolves were killed. It was criticized for not adequately accounting for changes over time. A University of Washington team re-analyzed the data and published essentially the opposite finding, only to be criticized for over-correcting and making their own statistical errors.

Exactly how killing wolves could lead to an increase in depredations is not well understood. But there are several possible factors: Removing a pack could allow new wolves to move in, creating disruptions and unusual foraging techniques. Removing part of the pack could displace the remaining wolves to neighboring farms or pastures, who then prey on livestock. Or the pack could be weakened, limiting its ability to successfully hunt its natural prey of elk and deer.

“The information out there is not conclusive,” said the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Broman. “It’s still kind of an early discipline. We look at what pieces of that information are most applicable here and what could potentially work.”

Avoiding the all-or-nothing approach

That paper’s findings do not wholly endorse what Oregon and Washington are doing when they kill only one or two wolves at a time.

“There wasn’t very much gained by such a small partial pack removal. You gain about two months,” Bradley said.

The study concluded killing one or two wolves from a pack meant an average of about two months until the next wolf kill. With no action taken, that time between wolf attacks was a little less than a month. That’s a marginal difference compared to eliminating the full wolf pack, which resulted in an average of about two years until the next wolf attack. Ranchers like Todd Nash say this is a good reason to favor full pack removal.

Bradley acknowledged removing a full wolf pack isn’t always an option. But if you’re going to kill only one or two members of the pack, she found, it has to be within a week to be most effective. Bradley said her study wasn’t intended to endorse or condemn killing wolves but rather to offer guidance on how to be most effective.

Exactly why, she doesn’t know. But she suspects it increases the likelihood of shooting the culprit wolf.

Washington officials say they aim to respond within two weeks after a depredation. Oregon’s last two state-sanctioned wolf killings were carried out 10 days and 19 days, respectively, after a depredation.

These wolf attacks on livestock often happen in remote areas and go undiscovered for stretches of time. Responding within a week might not always be an option.

“If you don’t do it within the first week or two weeks, then you probably shouldn’t bother,” Bradley said. “After that, we found there was no difference.”

ODFW’s Broman said Oregon is testing out unproven methods like incremental pack killing because it doesn’t want an all-or-nothing approach.

“We’re seeing if it works. It’s still a test to see what we’re looking for,” Broman said. “If you went exclusively by Bradley, you’d either do nothing or full pack removal. Full pack removal is very difficult.”

The problem with non-lethal, and finding a better way

Wolf advocates have pushed non-lethal alternatives to killing wolves to reduce livestock depredations. They advocate techniques like hazing wolves, fencing off cattle or using guard dogs. But there’s also a lack of evidence on those. And they’re also expensive and time consuming for ranchers.

A recent study done in Idaho by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Defenders of Wildlife yielded promising results for non-lethal techniques. Over seven years, researchers found the rate of sheep losses due to wolves was 3.5 times lower in an area where they used only non-lethal techniques, compared to an area open to lethal control. That was in rugged, remote pastures where non-lethal techniques were used.

That was a designed study with funding from conservation groups, the federal government and private donors. The study included field technicians who could help pen sheep at night and employ other wolf deterrents. The study’s author, Suzanne Stone of Defenders of Wildlife, said those non-lethal methods cost less money than Wildlife Services spent on killing wolves in nearby pastures. And those same methods are being used as part of a non-lethal program covering 10,000 sheep grazing across an area of nearly 1,000 square miles.

Most ranchers don’t have the time or manpower to do what that study did, said Julie Young, a researcher for the government’s Wildlife Services.

Young has been working on how to adapt non-lethal practices for widespread adoption.

“Maybe there’s a happy medium,” she said. “We’re going to do these things, but we actually want to measure it as we’re doing it, so we can know if this program we’re investing time or money or resources in is cost-effective or effective at all.”

She said programs like lethal control and compensation for non-lethal measures, including the ones used in Oregon and Washington, are ripe for study.

“We need better data,” Young said. “Otherwise we’re going to also lose trust, if we just start pushing tools on people and they don’t work.”

Copyright 2017 EarthFix. To see more, visit EarthFix.

Wildlife Advocates Want Closer Look At Wolf Shot By Hunter

http://kuow.org/post/wildlife-advocates-want-closer-look-wolf-shot-hunter

  NOV 9, 2017
Originally published on November 9, 2017 7:44 pm

 Wildlife advocates want Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to reopen an investigation into an elk hunter’s shooting of a wolf in Eastern Oregon, which was initially ruled self-defense.

In the weeks since, potential discrepancies in the evidence and the account from Oregon State Police have been raised by wolf advocates, a prominent wolf biologist and former Fish and Wildlife Service trapper, as well as a former district attorney in Oregon.

On Oct. 27, a man from Clackamas hunting near La Grande called police to report he’d shot a wolf. He said he encountered three wolves. One charged at him. He told police he feared for his life.

He fired one shot and killed it. The rest scattered.

Police ruled it self defense. It is illegal to shoot a wolf in Oregon, unless it is in self-defense or the wolf is caught in the act of attacking livestock.

The hunter, Brian Scott, could not be reached for comment. On Saturday, he told The Oregonian/Oregonlive he was terrified as he raised his rifle, saw nothing but hair in the scope, and shot.

“People envision this jerk hunter out to kill anything, but that’s not me. It frustrates me they don’t understand,” Scott told The Oregonian/Oregonlive. “I’m a meat hunter. I was looking for a spike elk. This wasn’t exciting. It ruined my hunt.”

Eighteen environmental groups have now petitioned the governor’s office to order a new look at the Oregon State Police investigation, this time with independent oversight from the state attorney general’s office, with cooperation from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“The hunter may have been afraid. We aren’t questioning that. We are, however, questioning why OSP’s report does not give a complete or accurate account of the evidence,” said Quinn Read, with Defenders of Wildlife.

“It’s not about discrepancies in the hunter’s story. To me, the problem is the agency charged with enforcing our state’s wildlife laws either overlooked some evidence, they either misinterpreted it or perhaps misrepresented it,” Read said.

Photographs show the gunshot wound is on the side of the wolf. That’s an unlikely location for a charging animal, said Scott Heiser, a former Benton County district attorney who worked for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Heiser reviewed available evidence at the request of Oregon Wild.

“The photographs publicly available suggest that this wolf was shot in the middle of the right side of her body with an exit wound at the left front shoulder,” Heiser said. “If this is accurate, then that would profoundly contradict a self-defense claim as the presumptive angle of the bullet would suggest the wolf was not charging the shooter at the time he fired the shot.”

Heiser said Oregon State Police should have called for a necropsy of the animal. He said that could have helped determined whether the animal charged but turned at the last second, or some other explanation for the wound location.

Wolf biologist Carter Niemeyer, who spent many years as a wolf tracker for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also said the photographs of the wound appear more consistent with an animal shot from the side, while stationary.

“That’s a pretty well-placed bullet for a snapshot,” said Niemeyer. “Shooting predators, that’s where that scope, crosshairs is usually put. Right on the chest area.”

Niemeyer said because the wolf was a small female — 83 pounds — he would expect it to flee human contact. He said he isn’t judging Scott, the hunter, or questioning whether he was fearful, as he said he was. He thinks a more thorough investigation would have prevented much of the speculation.

The governor’s office and Oregon police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the letter, wolf advocates said self-defense can be an “easy out” for those who kill wolves illegally. Two other wolves in Oregon have been illegally killed since last October. As Oregon’s wolf population has expanded to the point that the state can consider future wolf hunting, those groups fear what will happen without close scrutiny of self-defense claims.

Dominic Aiello, a hunting advocate and president of the Oregon Outdoor Council, said environmental groups are blowing this wolf’s death out of proportion, which will exacerbate the controversial issue of wolf recovery.

He said he doubts Oregon will come to see overwhelming use of the self-defense claim.

“I think if you’re intent on killing a wolf illegally, you’re not going to call OSP to say you’ve actually shot a wolf,” Aiello said. “ Someone’s not going to call the police on themselves after killing a wolf that they didn’t need to kill. It doesn’t make sense.”

Renowned wolf biologist casts doubt on hunter’s story of attack

http://www.capitalpress.com/Oregon/20171106/renowned-wolf-biologist-casts-doubt-on-hunters-story-of-attack

Wolf expert Carter Niemeyer trapped, collared, tracked and sometimes shot wolves during a long career with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Eric MortensonCapital Press
Published on November 6, 2017 1:36PM
A retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist with 30 years experience said it is unlikely a wolf shot by an Oregon elk hunter was attacking the man.

Carter Niemeyer, who lives in Boise and oversaw or consulted on wolf recovery work throughout the West, also said descriptions of the bullet trajectory — in one shoulder and out the other – raise doubt about the hunter’s account that the wolf was running at him when he fired.

“That’s a broadside shot, not a running-at-you shot,” Niemeyer said. “If the bullet path is through one side and out the other, it indicates to me an animal could have been standing, not moving, and the shot was well placed.”

A bullet that hit the wolf as it was running forward most likely would have exited out the hips or rear end, Niemeyer said. He acknowledge the bullet or fragments could have deflected off bone, but said a forensic exam would have to explain that. Michelle Dennehy, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman, said the agency did not request a necropsy because the cause of death — gunshot — was known.

Niemeyer said the hunter’s account of taking a “snap shot into a ball of fur” is unlikely.

“I have to tell you I doubt the story,” he said.

Niemeyer, 70, said he’s hunted predators for 52 years as a government hunter and a taxidermist, and has dealt with fellow sportsmen and shooters for decades. “I’ve heard every story,” he said. “This story is very suspect to me.”

The elk hunter, Brian Scott, 38, of Clackamas, Ore., told Oregon State Police that the wolf ran straight at him. Scott told police he screamed, took quick aim and fired his 30.06 rifle once. Scott said he saw nothing but fur in the rifle’s scope as the wolf ran at him, according to published reports.

In an interview with outdoor writer Bill Monroe of The Oregonian/Oregon Live, Scott said he was terrified.

“People envision this jerk hunter out to kill anything, but that’s not me,” he told Monroe. “It frustrates me they don’t understand. I’m a meat hunter. I was looking for a spike elk. This wasn’t exciting. It ruined my hunt.”

Scott told Monroe he didn’t think he had time to fire a warning shot. He could not explain the bullet’s path, which entered the wolf’s right shoulder and exited the left, other than perhaps the wolf turned at the last instant or the bullet deflected.

Niemeyer, the retired wildlife biologist, said wolves will “turn around and take off” when they realize they’re near a human. Niemeyer said he had “many, many close encounters with wolves” while doing trapping, collaring and other field work for USFWS in Idaho, Oregon and elsewhere. He said wolves sometimes ran at him and approached within 6 to 8 feet before veering away.

Wolves are potentially dangerous, he said, “but all my experience tells me it would be fearful of a human.”

People in such situations should stand up if they are concealed, show themselves, and yell or throw things, Niemeyer said. Hunters could fire a shot into the ground or into a tree and “scare the hell out of them,” he said.

“That would have been the first logical thing to do,” he said. “The gunshot and a yell from a human would turn every wolf I’ve ever known inside out trying to get away.”

He also suggested people venturing into the woods should carry bear repellent spray, which certainly would also deter wolves, cougars or coyotes.

“If everyone shoots everything they’re afraid of, wow, that’s not a good thing,” he said.

Niemeyer acknowledged his reaction is based on years of experience with wolves.

“People say, ‘That’s easy for you to say, Carter, you worked with wolves for 30 years and you’re familiar with their behavior,’” he said.

The shooting happened Oct. 27 in ODFW’s Starkey Wildlife Management Unit west of La Grande, in Northeast Oregon.

Scott, the hunter, told police he was hunting and had intermittently seen what he thought might be coyotes. At one point, two of them circled off to the side while a third ran at him. Scott said he shot that one and the others ran away.

Scott went back to his hunting camp and told companions what had happened. They returned to the shooting scene and concluded the dead animal was a wolf. The hunter then notified state police and ODFW, which investigated. Police later found a shell casing 27 yards from the wolf carcass. The Union County district attorney’s office reviewed the case and chose not to file charges.

The Portland-based conservation group Oregon Wild raised questions about the incident. Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild’s field representative in Northeast Oregon, said he’s seen wolves in the wild several times and backed away without trouble or harm. Even the late OR-4, the fearsome breeding male of the infamous Imnaha Pack in Wallowa County, retreated and barked when it encountered Klavins and a hiking party.

“This (hunter) may have felt fear, but since wolves returned to Oregon, no one has so much as been licked by a wolf, and that’s still true today,” Klavins said.

“What has changed is we now have wolves on the landscape, 10 years ago we didn’t,” Klavins said. “Especially in the fall (hunting season), armed people are going to be out encountering wolves.”

Oregon Wild believes poachers have killed several Oregon wolves, and USFWS on Nov. 6 offered a $5,000 reward for information about a collared wolf designated OR-25 that was found dead Oct. 29 in South Central Oregon.

Klavins said wolf shooters might now use a “self-defense” claim as a “free pass to poaching.”

Conservation Groups Join Reward to Catch Oregon Wolf-killer Reward for Information Jumps to $15,500

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2017/wolf-10-24-2017.php

PORTLAND, Ore.— Conservation organizations are bolstering a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services reward for information on the illegal killing of OR-33, a federally protected gray wolf in southwestern Oregon. The Service has offered a $5,000 reward, and five conservation organizations have contributed an additional $10,500, bringing the total to $15,500.

Since 2015 at least eight wolves have been poached or died under mysterious circumstances in Oregon. Those include OR-33, OR-28, OR-22, OR-34, OR-31, an uncollared sub-adult wolf from the Walla Walla pack, and two wolves known as the Sled Springs pair. Poaching is an acute problem in Oregon, which demands serious attention from lawmakers and wildlife management officials — to strengthen and enforce wildlife laws, and to deter and fully prosecute criminals.

“Poaching is a huge and growing problem in Oregon. We need everyone’s help to catch this killer. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and conservation groups alike are working together to bring justice for OR-33, and send a message that this vile act won’t be tolerated in our state,” said Quinn Read, Northwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife.

“We can only hope that this reward helps stop the next protected wolf from being killed,” said Joseph Vaile, executive director at the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

“This is a heartbreaking loss for Oregon’s wolves. Wolf recovery in Oregon depends on wolves like OR-33 making their way west and thriving, so his death is a major setback. We hope someone will do the right thing and come forward with information,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“We are helping contribute to the reward fund in the hopes of finding the perpetrator and bringing them to justice. Going forward, we encourage the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to take wolf poaching more seriously,” said Danielle Moser, wildlife coordinator for Oregon Wild.

“The senseless killing of one of Oregon’s iconic wolves is an appalling and serious crime. We are grateful to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their diligent efforts to find those responsible and bring the offender or offenders to justice,” said Scott Beckstead, senior Oregon state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

Anyone with information about this case should call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (503) 682-6131 or Oregon State Police Tip Line at (800) 452-7888.

Background 
OR-33 was found dead of gunshot wounds near Klamath Falls on April 23. Details about this illegal killing were released on Oct. 11 after the Fish and Wildlife Service completed a necropsy.

OR-33 was a 4-year-old male gray wolf. He dispersed from the Imnaha Pack in northeast Oregon in November 2015. Although he had a collar, it stopped functioning in August 2016.

Killing a gray wolf in the western two-thirds of Oregon is a violation of the Endangered Species Act. It is also a violation of Oregon state game laws and is subject to both criminal and civil penalties. The investigation of this crime is being conducted by the Oregon State Police and the Fish and Wildlife Service.