Oregon May Be Over-Hunting Cougars — Which Could Cause More Conflicts

https://www.opb.org/news/article/cougar-overhunting-conflict-oregon/


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Problem encounters with cougars have increased in Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Problem encounters with cougars have increased in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

National Park Service

A fatal cougar attack has reignited debates over hound hunting and cougar management in Oregon. Groups of Oregonians, particularly hound hunters, say that Oregon’s cougar population is growing out of control. Cougar advocates, on the other hand, say that Oregon is over-hunting cougars, which research suggests can lead to an increase in problem encounters.

But before you can figure out if Oregon’s cougars are being over-hunted or under-hunted, you need to know how many cougars there are in the state.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates there about 6,600 cougars here, and possibly as many as 7,600. That’s three times higher than the numbers reported Washington or Idaho. It’s even slightly higher than the estimate for California: 4,000 to 6,000 cougars are thought to roam the massive state.

But hunting groups, ranchers and Oregonians who live in cougar country say the Oregon’s cougar count severely underestimates the state’s actual population. Conservationists argue it’s too high. Biologists and wildlife officials from other states say it’s a lot more complicated, and more than just a question of numbers.

One of the big reasons Oregon’s number is so much higher than its neighbors’: Oregon’s estimate includes kittens, which rarely survive to adulthood. Oregon does not count the juveniles of any other game species, like elk or bighorn sheep.

Two juvenile cougars hide on a fence to avoid territorial coyotes in Wyoming. Cougar kittens rarely survive to adulthood.

Two juvenile cougars hide on a fence to avoid territorial coyotes in Wyoming. Cougar kittens rarely survive to adulthood.

Lori Iverson / US Fish and Wildlife Service

“The fact that they don’t clarify themselves every time says that they want people to assume there are 6,600 big cats running around the state,” said John Laundré, a predator ecologist at Western Oregon University. “They don’t include babies for other ephemeral species, like ducks or deer.” And only adult animals can be hunted.

Derek Broman, ODFW’s state carnivore biologist, said whenever he gives a presentation he makes it clear that all ages are included in official population estimates. But there’s no mention of that on the department’s cougar webpage, and you have to look deep into the cougar management plan find adult cat estimates. A brochure specifies that the population includes all age classes, but never offers adult numbers.

Even if you exclude kittens and juvenile cougars from population estimates, Oregon still reports some of the highest densities of adult cougars in the country.

Washington’s research into cougar densities dates back nearly two decades and includes seven study areas. Across those areas, the state has documented consistent findings: Roughly two cougars for every 100 square kilometers, said Rich Beausoleil, the bear and cougar specialist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. He said Washington’s cougar-density numbers are consistent with what other studies  — except Oregon’s — report.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s surveys found adult densities twice that, depending on the ecosystem.

“I’ve not seen such high densities anywhere in the world,” said Rob Wielgus, former director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University, commenting on a controversial density survey conducted by Oregon.

Beausoleil has spoken to ODFW about the state’s population estimates before, and has criticized the design of Oregon’s studies, which he says will naturally overestimate regional populations. Derek Broman says ODFW controlled for overestimation and stands by their data.

It’s not unusual for cougar surveys to arrive at different conclusions, said David Stoner, a cougar biologist at Utah State University. Cougars are extremely hard to study because they’re so hard to find.

ODFW says these surveys confirm their statewide population estimates, which they calculate using a model. They estimate statewide density by mapping cougar deaths, and then add expected birth rates. They also tweak the numbers depending on food availability in the region.

Laundré said the growth estimate used in the study is an optimistic “best-case scenario” one: “A model is only as good as what you put into it. I could make their model show that there were only 3,000 total animals or 10,000 total animals.”

A tranquilized cougar is fit with a radio collar in California.

A tranquilized cougar is fit with a radio collar in California.

Harry Morse, California Department of Fish and Game

All of this might seem like an internal debate about the best way to count cougars. Everyone agrees that at one point in the 1960s there were only 200 or so cougars in the state, and today there are several thousand. The cats are in no danger of going extinct.

But a lot rides on accurate population estimates. Not only do these numbers tell management officials if populations are growing or shrinking, they’re used to help set hunting quotas for each region. Some scientists found that when cougars are over-hunted, problem encounters with humans and livestock increase.

Wielgus, who has left Washington for the Bend area, was one of the first to identify such a link.

“In the 20 years of research I did with WDFW, we conducted the largest study of cougars ever done anywhere. We found that heavy retaliatory killing or preventive killing actually causes increased problems,” he said.

It works like this: Female cougars have smallish overlapping territories that seem to fluctuate with prey abundance. Male cougars have larger, non-overlapping territories that encompass multiple female ones.

Only large, older males are capable of holding down these territories, “and you don’t get to be a 10-year-old male by attacking humans or livestock or pets.”

But Wielgus found that those 10-year-old males were far more likely to be killed by hunters. “And we found that when you remove an older male, you have two or three teenage males come in to take their place. And those are the ones that are responsible for most bad encounters between cougars and people, as well as the majority of livestock and pet depredations.”

This movement of younger animals also means it can be difficult to tell if a population is declining due to overhunting or staying the same.

Wielgus is a controversial figure in the predator management community, in part for research indicating that hunting wolves can increase attacks on livestock. He says he was silenced and forced out of his position at Washington State University because of his work.

A 10-month-old cougar is startled by a trail camera in the California mountains. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife includes juvenile cougars in their total population estimates.

A 10-month-old cougar is startled by a trail camera in the California mountains. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife includes juvenile cougars in their total population estimates.

National Park Service

A smattering of papers have attempted to debunk his cougar research, but even more have supported it. One of the most recent was a massive, 30-year look at hunting and problem cougars in British Columbia. For their part, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife stands by Wielgus’ research and their own: Today, they manage cougars specifically to avoid the consequences of over-hunting.

“Our management philosophy is to manage for the social stability of the animal. We want to promote territoriality,” Beausoleil said.

WDFW’s data shows that when more than 14 percent of a cougar population is harvested in a given region, the population starts to skew young, territories dissolve, and problem encounters increase. To avoid this, they split the state into 49 game management units, and each unit allows 12 percent to 16 percent of cougars to be taken. When one of those units reaches that quota, it closes, and hunters can go to an adjacent unit. It’s not a perfect system: Sometimes, it can take a while to close a unit, and more cougars are killed.

At first glance, Oregon seems to be following Washington’s no-conflict guidelines: On average, Oregon’s hunters take less than 14 percent of the state’s big cats each year. But unlike Washington and Montana, where there are dozens of game management units used to set cougar quotas, Oregon’s cats are divided into just six large regions, which makes it more difficult to track regional densities.

The statewide quota for 2018 is 970 human-caused deaths — a whopping 27 percent of the state’s estimated 3,500 adults. Per the cougar management plan, the quota serves as a mortality cap, and not a target. The statewide quota has never been filled, but some of the game management units regularly approach theirs.

Zone A, which includes the region where the hiker was attacked, covers the North Cascades and the coast. As of Nov. 6, its humans have killed 167 of the 180 allowed cougars. ODFW estimates there were 989 cougars of all ages in Zone A in 2015. If half of those were adults, then roughly one third of adult cougars in the region were killed: Research suggests that’s a number high enough to cause conflicts with humans.

Overhunting cougars can have impacts on cougars’ societies, too. Once thought of as loners, recent research has revealed cougars’ social lives to be much more complex than previously thought.

Mark Elbroch, the director of the puma program at wildcat conservation organization Panthera, studies cougar communities. He’s found that the mountain lions within one male’s territory function like a society: They interact non-aggressively and seem to frequently share food, a favor that’s apparently returned in the future.

“You can imagine that overhunting will have huge impacts on these social networks and organizations, on the glue that holds them together as functioning groups,” Elbroch said.

A radiocollared cougar shares a kill with another cat, thought to be her cub. Cougars have been found to share kills with related and non-related cats, though they rarely eat at the same time.

A radiocollared cougar shares a kill with another cat, thought to be her cub. Cougars have been found to share kills with related and non-related cats, though they rarely eat at the same time.

National Park Service

And anecdotally, he’s seen the impacts of removing one large male from that society. After one of his study males was killed by hunters, he noticed a nearby male start to encroach on the old territory, just enough so that it crossed paths with a female and her two cubs. The female charged the strange male, and died. Her cubs lasted a little while, but eventually both died.

“One could argue that one bullet killed four mountain lions,” Elbroch said.

ODFW’s Derek Broman is dismissive of the “social chaos” hypothesis. He says the department has conducted its own research, and “there’s no information to suggest chaos and turmoil. Death and mortality is a common occurrence, even outside of human influence.”

Oregon officials may dispute the idea that their management practices lead to more problem cougars. But the state does remove more such animals than neighboring states. In 2017 there were 462 such complaints, and 175 cougars were killed. Those numbers remain fairly stable from year to year, though they’ve risen dramatically in the Willamette Valley.

In comparison, about 100 cougars are killed in California each year for attacking livestock. In 2016, 46 nuisance cougars were killed in Washington.

Hunters say that the best way to combat these problem cats is to increase hunting. But unless a large number of cougars are removed over a large area, more will just move in to take their place. Which is why some are calling for a return to hound hunting.

The theory is this: Hound hunters, unlike normal hunters, can be selective. If their dogs tree a cougar, the hunter can choose if it’s going to be a worthwhile trophy. If the animal is small or female, the hunter can pull their dogs off the tree, and the cougar can live.

This, say hound hunting advocates, creates a population of scared cougars, who will run away as soon as they hear a human in the forest.

Laundré and Elbroch are skeptical that hound hunting leads to scared cougars, but other biologists think it’s not impossible.

“Hound hunting doesn’t have to be a lethal pursuit,” Stoner noted. “You have the ability to pursue multiple animals over the course of a season, and can in theory select a nice tom.”

Unfortunately, that selectivity targets large toms: the exact animals many biologists say are necessary for maintaining cougar social stability. Indeed, when hound hunting was banned in Oregon, the average age of cats killed dropped.

In the end, biologists say it’s important to remember that the only way most people will ever interact with a cougar is through their livestock or pets. “Cougars aren’t fearsome,” said Laundré, who has tracked and collared more than 250 cougars. “I’ve never had a cat behave aggressively.”

As Teddy Roosevelt noted after chasing a cougar with hounds and stabbing it to death, “He was more afraid of us than the dogs.”

Washington State to Kill More Wolves in Ferry County

by Evan Bush / Seattle Times
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind announced plans Wednesday for the agency (WDFW) to kill at least one of the wolves reportedly responsible for a recent rash of attacks on cattle in Ferry County, according to a department news release.
It’s the second time this year that WDFW has resorted to killing wolves as confrontations between the animals and cattle continue to bedevil the agency responsible for the canine species’ recovery in Washington state. A WDFW marksman earlier this month shot and killed a member of the Togo wolf pack, which was also preying on Ferry County cattle. Two conservation organizations filed a legal challenge over the agency’s decision about the Togo wolf. That lawsuit is ongoing.
WDFW will not be able to kill members of the new wolf pack until Thursday afternoon, and new legal challenges loom. Amaroq Weiss, a wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said her organization will seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the killing.
The wolf pack WDFW plans to target has tried to prey on cattle six times this month on federal grazing lands, killing one calf and injuring five others, according to WDFW. The pack, which was first identified by the department in May, is so new it does not have an official name. The agency believes the pack is made up of three or four adult wolves and two pups. WDFW biologists were able to collar the new pack’s adult male earlier this summer.
The wolf pack is living in the Kettle River Range, the same area that the Profanity Peak Pack once occupied. WDFW killed the members of the Profanity Peak Pack in 2016. Last year, the agency also targeted the Sherman Pack nearby.
Because it’s the third year in a row the agency intends to kill wolves in the area, some conservation organizations, including those that have supported lethal removal in the past, wonder if it’s time to try something new.
“It’s a really highly desirable landscape for wolves to be in. They keep coming back,” said Paula Sweeden, policy director for Conservation Northwest. She said the area is thickly forested, steep and often roadless. Cattle there are widely dispersed, which makes it difficult for range riders to keep track of them.
Sweeden said it was clear that the nonlethal methods employed by ranchers to prevent wolves from preying on cattle were clearly not working, but killing wolves there was not working, either.
“Three times in the same place indicates that combination is not working,” she said. “We want to call for a step back.”

Why thousands of barred owls are being shot by U.S. conservationists? Is it fair to kill one species to save another? 

CBC Radio · June 22

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Barred owls are being culled in the Pacific Northwest to save the critically endangered spotted owl. (Toby Talbot, File/AP)

Humans shouldn’t be interfering with nature by killing one species to save another, according to a lawyer who is working to oppose a cull of barred owls.

The owls are being shot by conservationists in the Pacific Northwest in an effort to save their feathered cousin, the critically endangered spotted owl.

“We shouldn’t be choosing sides,” said Michael Harris, the director of the wildlife law program at Friends of Animals. His group opposes the cull and is preparing a second lawsuit to try to stop it.

“We really believe that they need to be given that opportunity to see if they can coexist in their new environment,” he told The Current’s guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.

“We just don’t know what the ultimate outcome would be if these two species were given a chance to figure it out.”

Barred owls are relatively new to the west coast, having spread across the continent via the towns and cities that have grown in the last century. They’re bigger and more aggressive than the spotted owl, and have been pushing them out of their nesting grounds, which is what has prompted conservationists to cull their numbers.

<https://i.cbc.ca/1.1825483.1529696957!/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_780/spotted-owl.jpg>

The spotted owl, seen here in California’s Tahoe National Forest, is one of the most endangered birds in Canada. (Debra Reid/AP)

About halfway through a six-year experimental cull, roughly 2,000 of the birds have been shot in Oregon, Washington and California.

Harris argued that the barred owl is just doing what it’s supposed to do: finding ways to survive and prosper.

By intervening, he told Chattopadhyay, we’re not giving the barred owl “a fair shake.”

Not ‘natural evolution’

Animal ethicist William Lynn said by destroying the owls’ habitats, humans contributed to the problem in the first place.

“This is not natural evolution,” he told Chattopadhyay.

“This is entirely the product of human actions. It’s a human-caused extinction in the making.”

Lynn was hired by the U.S. government to examine the ethics of killing the birds. While “we can’t kill our way back to biodiversity,” he ultimately came to support the cull. Government conservationists have explored non-lethal ways to manage barred owl numbers, but they just don’t work, he said.

Barred owls are doing great across North America. Spotted owls are critically endangered.- William Lynn. animal ethicist

He argued that when you weigh the value of a barred owl’s life against the chance that the endangered spotted owl species will become extinct, the barred owl loses.

“Barred owls are doing great across North America. Spotted owls are critically endangered,” he said.

The culling is an experiment, he added, and is not expected to continue indefinitely.

“This experiment is to remove some barred owls to see whether spotted owls can form a refugia, a sort of a defensible territory in which they can live and flourish in the wild.

“If they can’t — and this experiment ends — that doesn’t mean that killing barred owls is going to go on.”

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-june-22-2018-1.4716183/why-thousands-of-barred-owls-are-being-shot-by-u-s-conservationists-1.4716188

We Were Right about Snow Geese and We’re Right about Ross’s Goose, Too

http://www.bornfreeusa.org/weblog_canada.php?p=6342&more=1#more6342

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative

Published 03/16/18

Ross's GooseRoss’s Goose
Drawing by Barry Kent MacKay

In front of me is a small booklet with the catchy title, A Critical Evaluation of the Proposed Reduction in the Mid-continent Lesser Snow Goose Population to Conserve Sub-arctic Salt Marshes of Hudson Bay. It was published by the Animal Protection Institute (now Born Free USA) and the Humane Society of the United States in 1998, and co-authored by biologist Vernon Thomas and me.

The arguments we made failed to stop the U.S. and Canada from enacting an absurd increase in bag-limits and open seasons and the use of electronic decoys for hunters after the “lesser” snow goose, which breeds in the mid to western arctic. The geese had undergone dramatic increases in numbers. For reasons too complex to address here, it was feared they’d damage large parts of the arctic ecosystem by their habit of “grubbing” – pulling plants out by the roots when feeding. They were called “overabundant,” a term that is entirely in reference to subjective value systems.

What bothered me then, and what bothers me now, is the lack of scientific rigor in the documentation presented to defend the vast increases in hunting kills proposed and enacted. References to previous high numbers of snow geese were misrepresented or ignored.

We made several predictions, and in the two decades since then, we’ve been proven correct. Put simply, one prediction was that the proposed hunting increase wouldn’t work. It didn’t. We predicted that the real threat to arctic and subarctic ecosystems came from global climate change. That is proving to be true, too.

But, governments and the public trust wildlife management types have made something out of a career out of alarmist rhetoric about the population “explosion” in these geese, and in the Ross’s goose. Sadly, they are believed. Ross’s goose is a smaller version of the snow goose and was apparently once reasonably abundant (it’s hard to know as early observers tended not to distinguish it from the snow goose), but had become endangered by the early 20th century, and is now again common, perhaps more so than ever before. The Americans have already been shooting extra numbers of this species and, although we were able to slow Canada down, years ago, now it has again proposed an increased bag limit for Ross’s goose.

I have written to the Canadian government in opposition to increasing bag limits for this small goose. Beyond a “natural” tendency people attracted to wildlife management have to “manage,” to control, nature, what I think was behind the original concern two decades ago can be seen here. Numbers of hunters were in freefall, and it’s hunting that justifies so much of the wildlife management profession and pays the expenses and salaries of wildlife management professionals.

But, not only are increasing numbers of people taking pleasure from viewing and photographing – but not killing – wildlife, even many who dohunt refuse to kill more than they can eat, and, as we predicted, just knocking the top off the population curve allows high numbers of these species to continue.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,
Barry

Icelandic Ravens In Danger Due To Extensive Hunting

https://grapevine.is/news/2017/09/07/icelandic-ravens-in-danger-due-to-extensive-hunting/

Icelandic Ravens In Danger Due To Extensive Hunting

News

Icelandic Ravens In Danger Due To Extensive Hunting

Icelandic Ravens In Danger Due To Extensive Hunting

Photos by
USFWS

Published September 7, 2017

Around 3,000 ravens are hunted each year, which has lead to a serious decline in their numbers, reports RÚV.

Ravens are hunted because of the damage they can cause to crops and other bird species due to them feeding on eggs. Unlike many other bird species, however, there is no designated hunting season for Ravens and they can, therefore, be hunted freely all year round.

Kristinn Haukur Skarphéðinsson, a bird expert from the Environment Agency of Iceland said that actions need to be taken to preserve the species.

Needs to be protected

In the late ‘80s there were around 13,000 ravens in the country, but since then the numbers have rapidly dwindled.

“The ravens are threatened because their numbers have declined steadily for decades, and if nothing is done then there will be very few left in the future,” said Kristinn. “They are on the vulnerable list and will probably remain so.”

He claimed that the agency will meet with the Björt Ólafsdóttir, the Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources later in the month to reiterate its view that Icelandic ravens should be protected, if they are to survive as a species.

The mythical bird

Throughout history the raven has been considered the holiest and most revered bird in all of the Nordic countries. Óðinn had two, some of the first settlers used them to find shore and sometimes they were even seen as gods.

But who cares about history and cool animals, right?

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.

Bison kill planned for Grand Canyon

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/science/ct-shoot-grand-canyon-bison-20170911-story.html

Felicia FonsecaAssociated Press

The National Park Service plans to thin a herd of bison in the Grand Canyon through roundups and by seeking volunteers who are physically fit and proficient with a gun to kill the animals that increasingly are damaging park resources.

Some bison would be shipped out of the area and others legally hunted on the adjacent forest. Within the Grand Canyon, shooters would be selected through a lottery to help bring the number of bison roaming the far northern reaches of the park to no more than 200 within three to five years.

About 600 of the animals now live in the region, and biologists say the bison numbers could hit 1,500 within 10 years if left uncontrolled.

The Grand Canyon is still working out details of the volunteer effort, but it’s taking cues from national parks in Colorado, the Dakotas and Wyoming that have used shooters to cut overabundant or diseased populations of elk. The Park Service gave final approval to the bison reduction plan this month.

Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club says she’s hopeful Grand Canyon will focus mostly on nonlethal removal.

The Grand Canyon bison are descendants of those introduced to northern Arizona in the early 1900s as part of a ranching operation to crossbreed them with cattle. The state of Arizona now owns them and has an annual draw for tags on the Kaibab National Forest. Nearly 1,500 people applied for one of 122 tags this year, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The bison have been moving in recent years within the Grand Canyon boundaries where open hunting is prohibited. Park officials say they’re trampling on vegetation and spoiling water resources. The reduction plan would allow volunteers working in a team with a Park Service employee to shoot bison using non-lead ammunition to protect endangered California condors that feed on gut piles.

Hunters cannot harvest more than one bison in their lifetime through the state hunt, making the volunteer effort intriguing, they say.

“I would go if I had a chance to retain a portion of the meat,” said Travis McClendon, a hunter in Cottonwood. “It definitely would be worth going, especially with a group.”

Grand Canyon is working with state wildlife officials and the Intertribal Buffalo Council to craft guidelines for roundups and volunteer shooters, who would search for bison in the open, said Park Service spokesman Jeff Olson.

Much of the work would be done on foot in elevations of 8,000 feet or higher between October and May when the road leading to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim is closed. Snowmobiles and sleds would be used to remove the bison meat, and helicopters in rare instances, park officials said.

Carl Lutch, the terrestrial wildlife manager for Game and Fish in Flagstaff, said some models require volunteers to be capable of hiking eight miles a day, carrying a 60-pound pack and hitting a paper plate 200 yards away five times.

The head and hide of the bison would be given to tribes, or federal and state agencies.

Lutch said one scenario discussed is splitting the bison meat among volunteers, with each volunteer able to take the equivalent of meat from one full bison. Anything in excess of that would be given to tribes and charities, he said. A full-grown bull can have hundreds of pounds of meat.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota used volunteers in 2010 for elk reduction, selecting 240 people from thousands of applicants, said park spokeswoman Eileen Andes. Some quit before the week was over, she said.

“We had quite a bit of snow, so you’re not in a vehicle, you’re not on a horse,” she said. “You’re hiking through snow to shoot elk and haul them out. It was exceedingly strenuous.”

Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune

Lawsuit Challenges California’s Mismanagement of Commercial Trapping Program

September 13, 2017

Contact:

Jean Su, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 770-3187, jsu@biologicaldiversity.org
Camilla Fox, Project Coyote, (415) 690-0338, cfox@projectcoyote.org

Lawsuit Challenges California’s Mismanagement of Wildlife Trapping Program

Public Agencies Illegally Subsidize Private Profiteering Off
Fox, Coyote, Badger Pelts
 

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Project Coyote sued the California Fish and Game Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife today for improperly managing and illegally subsidizing the state’s commercial trapping program.

Thousands of coyotes, foxes, badgers and other fur-bearing animals are trapped each year in California so their pelts can be sold overseas. Today’s lawsuit notes that the two state agencies have illegally diverted as much as half a million dollars since 2013 to subsidize commercial fur trapping in California.

“Commercial trapping is a cruel, destructive practice that shouldn’t be subsidized by California taxpayers,” said attorney Jean Su, the Center’s associate conservation director. “It’s wrong that a handful of trappers slaughter our wildlife for private profit while the state foots the bill. These animals are far more valuable as essential species in California’s web of life than as skinned pelts shipped to Russia and China.”

In 2015, conservationists celebrated the Fish and Game Commission’s decision to ban the commercial trapping of bobcats, whose pelts are some of the most lucrative on the international fur market. But more than a dozen other furbearing animals still experience cruel trapping under the state’s mismanaged trapping program.

California law requires that the states’s costs of managing a commercial trapping program must be fully recovered through trapping license fees. The state spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on wardens, biologists and administrators to oversee and enforce trapping regulations, yet license fees cover only a tiny fraction of the program’s total costs. Taxpayers foot the bill for the shortfall.

Since the fee-recovery mandate became effective in2013, the commission and the fish and wildlife department have illegally diverted upwards of half a million dollars to subsidize commercial fur trapping in California.

“The illegal subsidization of the state’s commercial trapping program violates not just the letter of the law, but the will of the California people,” said Camilla Fox, executive director of Project Coyote. “An overwhelming majority of Californians do not support commercial trapping.”

In the 2015-2016 license year, approximately 200 trappers purchased commercial licenses. Of those, 50 reported killing the nearly 2,000 animals trapped for fur that year, according to a department report. To ensure undamaged pelts, trappers often kill animals through strangulation, gassing and anal electrocution.

If the illegal subsidy of trapping licenses is eliminated, trapping license fees would have to be set at a level that few if any trappers would likely be willing to pay, resulting in a de facto end to commercial fur trapping in California.

“It’s shocking that California still permits the inhumane slaughter of our wildlife for fur,” Su said. “It’s time the state is held accountable for its poor management of a program that benefits only a few.”

Today’s lawsuit targets the California Fish and Game Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife for failing to raise license fees to the levels adequate to recoup the entire commercial trapping program’s costs, as mandated under law. If the illegal subsidy of trapping licenses is eliminated, trapping license fees would have to be set at a level that few, if any, trappers would likely be willing to pay, resulting in a de facto end to commercial fur trapping in California.

Recognizing the ecological importance of carnivores, the Center and Project Coyote use science-based advocacy to defend these magnificent animals from persecution, exploitation and extinction. Find out more about the Center’s Carnivore Conservation campaign here and aboutProject Coyote’s Predator Protection Programs here.

OREGON REMOVES TWO MORE WOLVES FROM HARL BUTTE PACK

Last week, Oregon removed two more Harl Butte wolves from the pack after weeks of persistent livestock depredation. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) have been carefully monitoring the pack via a single radio-collared wolf in the pack; the two selected wolves were non-breeding members, according to ODFW.

“We have discovered in the past few weeks working out in the field with this pack, that it’s actually larger than originally expected,” ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy told KBND. “We thought there were seven wolves plus three pups and we’ve since learned that there were ten wolves with three pups, so now there are eight wolves, and after this there will be six. So, we hope that has the impact that we’re looking for.”

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While ODFW has worked to keep livestock safe from the Harl Butte pack via non-lethal measures like electric fences, range riders, ranchers spending more time with livestock and wolf hazing, because this pack is so large, livestock continues to be in danger. The decision to remove problem wolves from the pack follows Oregon’s wolf management plan.

“We have a wolf plan that guides wolf management in Oregon,” says Dennehy. “Unfortunately, sometimes, wolves will kill livestock, and the Harl Butte wolf pack, which is in Wallowa county, killed livestock and that’s why we are going to kill an additional two members from this pack.”

Slaughter Of Yellowstone Bison At The Center Of Culture War

In the same year that Congress voted to make bison the national mammal, Yellowstone National Park had its second largest cull ever — reducing the heard by more than 1,200 animals.

RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

Americans have always liked the idea of bison, but living with them is another matter. In the same year Congress made bison the national mammal, more than 1,200 were culled from the Yellowstone National Park herd. Amy Martin reports on why the U.S. is killing so many of the animals it also idealizes.

AMY MARTIN, BYLINE: Thirty miles north of Yellowstone is a place called Paradise Valley. Picture snowy peaks, a winding river, big sweeping meadows…

(SOUNDBITE OF COWS MOOING)

MARTIN: …And cows. Drusca Kinkie runs a cattle ranch here.

DRUSCA KINKIE: I think the concept of free-roaming bison will harm agriculture immensely.

MARTIN: The annual bison cull in Yellowstone attracts controversy every year, and this winter was the second biggest ever. But Kinkie supports the reduction of the herd.

KINKIE: There’s a disease issue with bison. They’ve been exposed to brucellosis.

MARTIN: Brucellosis is a bacterial disease, which elk and bison in the Yellowstone area originally caught from livestock. Kinkie says the threat of transmission back to cattle looms large. And it’s that fear that drove the state of Montana to sue Yellowstone in 1995, forcing the park to ship more animals to slaughter. But there’s more going on here than just disease. Bison are caught in the culture wars. Kinkie says she feels misunderstood.

KINKIE: You have all these people out there fighting for free-roaming bison. And it’s a concept. It’s a vision that they have. And we’re fighting for our ability to survive here and make a living as we have for the last 60, almost 70 years. And they don’t have anything to lose in their vision. And we have everything to lose in ours.

ROBBIE MAGNAN: Buffalo has taken care of Native Americans since the beginning of time.

MARTIN: Robbie Magnan says there is a lot to lose on the other side. He’s the director of the Fish and Wildlife Department for the Fort Peck Tribes in northeastern Montana. For him, the culture wars started much further back when Europeans first arrived in North America and more than 50 million wild bison roamed the continent.

MAGNAN: The federal government massacred them because they figured out that was the only way to bring the Indians down to their knees – it was destroy their economy. And that’s why they were almost wiped out.

MARTIN: Now, only about 30,000 bison are protected in North America and, of those, less than half are living in anything close to wild conditions. As Magnan drives up into the hills of the reservation, he says wild bison are an important part of the country’s heritage. That’s why he helped to develop an alternative to slaughter.

MAGNAN: Instead of massacring these animals when they migrate out of the park in the wintertime when they’re hungry, OK, let’s get them out alive and start other cultural herds going.

MARTIN: To do that, the Fort Peck Tribes built a 320-acre brucellosis-quarantined pasture surrounded by extra high fences. Here, the Yellowstone bison can be held and tested and many eventually declared brucellosis free. Last year, the National Park Service said it supported using the facility, but then Magnan says…

MAGNAN: After they found out it works, they quit it. And why quit something when you know it works?

MARTIN: The person responsible for answering that question is Sue Masica, who oversees this region of the park service. But she declined requests for an interview.

Those guys are moving.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How many did you count? Yeah, they’re going.

RICK WALLEN: I’m guessing there’s 200-plus.

MARTIN: Rick Wallen is the team leader for the park’s bison management program. He’s watching a large bison herd move quickly down the valley of the Yellowstone River. It’s a cold day and their dark shapes stand out against the snow. Despite the beauty, the mood is intense. For most of the year, Wallen studies these animals. But every winter, he manages their slaughter.

WALLEN: There is a cost, and that cost is more emotional for some than others. I’ve even had people on days that we were supposed to go there and do the work call and say, you know, I can’t do this anymore. I have to resign my position. I’m sorry.

MARTIN: Wallen thinks a better solution would be quarantine. That would allow him to do what he says is his job.

WALLEN: Protect the wild in wild bison. Otherwise, they go extinct.

MARTIN: That extinction comes in the form of domestication. Bison are increasingly raised as livestock and bred with cattle to make them more docile. Wallen says Yellowstone is a bulwark against this trend, a place where bison still have to use their instincts to survive in the wild. For NPR News, I’m Amy Martin in Yellowstone National Park.

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