Cormorants on the Astoria Bridge add new twist to management issues

Counting cormorants

James Lawonn with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife counts cormorants on the Astoria Bridge.

Double-crested cormorants nesting on the Astoria Bridge could come with a high cost to the state and more frequent maintenance interruptions for motorists.

The birds, seasonal visitors to the North Coast, have just begun to return to the estuary for breeding and nesting. No one knows how many will decide to settle on the bridge this year, but it was clearly a popular spot last year, as birds from the region’s largest colony continued to be hazed off East Sand Island downriver.

The number of double-crested cormorants nesting on the bridge jumped from a dozen pairs in 2004 to around 1,700 pairs last year, according to monitoring reports cited by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The leaps coincide with the beginning of lethal management of a massive double-crested cormorant colony on East Sand Island. The birds abandoned the island several times after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began shooting thousands of adult birds and destroying nests and eggs in 2015 to protect runs of young salmon.

The Audubon Society of Portland called a mass exodus in 2017 a “catastrophic collapse.”

Fish and wildlife researchers have since questioned the value of cormorant management in saving salmon. They say it was clear after each dispersal that cormorants were resettling on the bridge and farther upriver — areas where they could potentially impact even more salmon.

Cormorant droppings have accumulated on the bridge in layers so thick they have made it difficult for state inspectors to evaluate the structure. The droppings are also very corrosive, reducing the life span of the bridge’s protective steel coating.

“The potential expense we’re facing is a real worry to us,” said Department of Transportation spokesman Lou Torres.

Costly painting

The state repaints the Astoria Bridge every 20 years, a lengthy but necessary maintenance that has shut down lanes during busy summer months.

Work on the span only just concluded in 2018 and more work is planned in 2021 on the under truss, where many of the cormorants appear to nest.

“We’re really trying to get prepared for that,” Torres said.

Hazed birds flock to bridge

Cormorants rest below the Astoria Bridge.

He estimates it could cost around $80,000 to pressure-wash the bridge to complete required inspections. But that cost could quickly increase to $6 million if environmental agencies require the state to set up containment structures during pressure washing so bird waste does not simply get pushed into the Columbia River.

If cormorants continue to nest on the bridge in such high numbers, the state may also have to paint the bridge more often, every 15 years as opposed to every 20.

Under that scenario, Torres said, “We’re not going to have a lot of years where we’re not painting.”

Either way, the Department of Transportation is weighing its options as 2021 approaches. The department anticipates it will need to begin a hazing program to dissuade cormorants from nesting on the bridge. How to remove them is still an open question.

Several years ago, the state hired a company that set up noise cannons on the Interstate 5 Columbia River Bridge in Portland to disturb thousands of starlings that had colonized the bridge and whose accumulated droppings on the bridge, catwalks and roadways posed health and safety hazards.

The Army Corps does not link the movement of double-crested cormorants farther upriver to management actions on East Sand Island. The agency blamed attacks by eagles for the birds’ departures in 2016 and 2017.

Army Corps spokesman Jeff Henon suggested the birds may not have nested in large numbers on the bridge before because of the billowing containment structures that were around in 2014 during painting and maintenance. When the state moved on to other portions of the bridge and the containment structures were no longer necessary, the birds moved in.

But Torres noted that the bulk of that work was not in areas where birds usually nested and, besides, the number of nesting birds on the bridge during the spring and summer climbed steadily between 2012 and 2018.

“The numbers tell the story there,” he said.

The Army Corps did not shoot any adult birds last year, but did destroy eggs. This year, the agency plans to modify the island’s terrain, creating intertidal wetlands and further reducing nesting habitat to keep double-crested cormorants at the lower levels identified in a federal management plan.

But it’s not as though the cormorants’ relocation onto the Astoria Bridge and deeper into the estuary should have been a surprise.

Studies funded by the Army Corps before management of the cormorants even began indicated it was likely some of the birds would move into the estuary if they were hazed off East Sand Island.

Feasting on salmon

Though further investigation is needed, available evidence suggests the cormorants that have been nesting upriver only recently immigrated from somewhere else — their most likely origin being East Sand Island, said James Lawonn, avian predation biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Past research on Caspian terns, also seasonal inhabitants of East Sand Island managed by the Army Corps, indicates birds that nest farther up in the estuary eat even more salmon than those nesting near the river’s mouth, where more types of food are available. It’s possible cormorants that nest upriver could eat three times more young salmon.

Hazed birds flock to bridge

A lone cormorant takes flight under the Astoria Bridge.

Now the state and other partners are looking into the impact of new cormorant colonies in the estuary on the survival of young salmon.

To Lawonn, how many cormorants are using the Astoria Bridge is a major piece of the puzzle.

One evening at the end of March, Lawonn set up a scope near the Port of Astoria’s West Mooring Basin near the bridge.

He wasn’t sure how many cormorants he would even see. It was still early in the season.

Double-crested cormorants appear inclined to return to nesting grounds where they have experienced success, but they also aren’t afraid to quest elsewhere for better options if they are running into trouble.

He wondered if birds that found safe and suitable nesting on the bridge would choose it first over East Sand Island, bypassing habitat where they had been hazed and shot at by humans and harried by eagles for the past several years.

The Army Corps will not begin monitoring East Sand Island for double-crested cormorants and nesting activity until the end of April or beginning of May.

Even as Lawonn trained his scope down the bridge’s length, the dark, snaking forms of cormorants on support structures at the base of the bridge caught the sinking sunlight and gleamed.

Lawonn counted over 650 double-crested cormorants that evening. A few days later, he counted 943.

Oregon Hunters Say Banning Coyote-Hunting Contests Would Violate Their First Amendment Rights. Thanks to Strip Clubs, They May be Right.

“Just because someone doesn’t like something,” says the Oregon Hunters Association chairman, “doesn’t mean it can be prohibited.” 

Coyote hunting contest in Harney County (Photo courtesy the Humane Society of the U.S.)

A bill to ban coyote-hunting contests in Oregon has reignited conflict between conservationists and ranchers.

The battle dates back decades. Conservationists say mass coyote killings throw off ecosystem balance and violate hunting ethics. Ranchers say exterminating the predators is an act of preservation because coyotes attack their livestock.

The contests received renewed scrutiny this year after an undercover video shot by the Humane Society of the United States in January showed hunters at a competition in Burns, Ore., piling dozens of dead and bloody coyotes into the beds of pickup trucks.

So state lawmakers aimed to put a stop to such contests. Sens. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) and Jeff Golden (D-Ashland) sponsored Senate Bill 723, which would outlaw “organizing, sponsoring, promoting, conducting or participating in contest, competition, tournament or derby that has objective of taking wildlife for prizes or other inducement or for entertainment.”

But that last clause—entertainment—has created an unexpected roadblock for the bill.

The Oregon Hunters Association argues that SB 723 violates its members’ First Amendment rights.

“Just because someone doesn’t like something,” association legislative chairman Paul Donheffner says, “doesn’t mean it can be prohibited.”

Donheffner’s legal argument is straightforward: The bill doesn’t ban coyote hunting, or even limit it. It merely outlaws contests for entertainment.

And Oregon’s free speech laws offer broad protection for entertainment—thanks to a court ruling that protects strip clubs and adult video stores.

In 1987, in the case of State v. Henry, the Oregon Supreme Court decided under Article 1 Section 8 of the state constitution that state law could not criminalize forms of entertainment deemed socially unacceptable. That ruling enshrined legal protections for nudity at strip clubs in Oregon.

Lake Perriguey, a Portland lawyer with expertise in constitutional law, says, “Oregon’s constitution limits what the government can regulate.”

He adds: “The broad language has been interpreted to mean things people find unsavory. That’s why you can have a porn shop across the street from an elementary school.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which typically defends free speech cases, declined to comment on the bill.

Several lawmakers are trying to change the bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee, controlled by Democrats, is offering an amendment that removes the word “entertainment” from the bill’s language.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) penned her own amendment, which would change the penalty of participating in a wildlife-killing contest from a misdemeanor to a violation.

Portland conservation group Oregon Wild supports SB 723. Arran Robertson, the group’s communication manager, says, “Killing derbies go against what the vast majority of the hunting community considers to be fair. They’re cruel and unnecessary.”

Legislative testimony—signed by the Humane Society, Oregon Wild and 14 other statewide conservation groups—adds another argument: “Persecution of coyotes disrupts their social structure, which, ironically, encourages more breeding and migration, and ultimately results in more coyotes.”

But the bill applies only to contests. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations say it’s legal to hunt and kill coyotes year-round with an appropriate furtaker’s license.

Donheffner says there are over 25 Oregon Hunters Association chapters with more than 10,000 members statewide and that coyote-hunting contests have been their tradition for “years and years.”

“It’s nothing like the mass murder that’s been described,” Donheffner says, referring to the Humane Society videos.

Ranchers say the contests help them make ends meet. “I’ve had tough times when work was slow or I was injured and unable to work,” wrote Seth Franklin, a rancher in Harney County who opposes the bill, in Senate testimony. “But one thing that’s kept me afloat time and time again is fur, particularly coyotes.”

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.”

Two Oregon bull elk fought to the death while entangled in barbed wire

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Two bull elk fought one another as the pair became entangled in barbed wire, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said. (SBG)

AA

PRINEVILLE, Ore. – Two bull elk fought one another as the pair became entangled in barbed wire, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

Biologists managed to free one of the elk but the other died from injuries sustained while fighting wrapped in barbed wire.

The scenario recently played out in the Ochoco Unit of Central Oregon.

“Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Troopers were able to radio dispatch and notify the Prineville field office staff to bring the equipment to sedate the bull elk,” according to ODFW.

And unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.

“Bull elk and buck deer can often become entangled in leftover wire or rope this time of year,” according to ODFW.

If you seen an animal stuck or trapped in a wire, fence or rope, ODFW urges you to contact one of their offices or the nearest state police station.

“Do not attempt to free the animal on your own. An injured or trapped animal may be extremely dangerous,” ODFW cautioned. “And if you notice old rope or wire laying around where an animal may become wrapped up or trapped in it, please remove it if possible.”

Poaching ring suspects killed hundreds of animals for ‘thrill of the kill,’

https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/18/us/poaching-ring-charges-trnd/index.html

Poaching photos had been posted on text messages and social media.

(CNN)The suspects documented their kill in graphic photos — grinning near slumped over carcasses, posing with a decapitated elk head and taking a selfie with animal blood splattered over one of the alleged poacher’s face.

Over text messages and social media, the poaching suspects boasted about the animals they illegally slaughtered, authorities say. Some of them even called themselves the “kill ’em all boys,” said Captain Jeff Wickersham from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The suspects were part of a massive poaching ring in Oregon and Washington, who were altogether charged with more than 200 misdemeanors and felonies, authorities say. They are accused of killing more than 200 animals including deer, bears, cougars, bobcats and a squirrel.
Twelve people were charged in Oregon this week. In 2017 and earlier this year, 13 people were charged with misdemeanors and felonies in the state of Washington. Some of the suspects face charges in both states.
Dogs surround a bloody bear.

“A part of it was the thrill of the kill,” said Lt. Tim Schwartz from the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division. “For some of them, it was a competition to see who could kill the most. I think the social media aspect — they were posting this [their kills], getting the attention.”
The suspects bragged about it on Facebook and Snapchat, authorities said.
They “made de facto trophies out of these events” on social media and text messages, said Wickersham. But that ultimately became used as evidence against them, authorities say.
Investigators used the geo-tagged photos to track down the kill sites and find skeletal remains of the animals.
03 thrill for kill poachers

“There is nothing legitimate about the activities these individuals were conducting,” Wickersham said. “They are simply killers. They knew what they were doing. They were not out there for recreation, but to kill things, and that’s what they wanted to do.”
Oregon State Police began its investigation in November 2016 after finding two decapitated deer carcasses. Officers began putting up surveillance cameras to track the suspects.
“This was one of the biggest cases in the state ever, as far as the amount of people involved, amount of violations and number of wildlife taken, “Schwartz said.
He described the case as sickening.
“One of the hardest things for me, as a hunter myself, it was the waste. They (suspects) weren’t making any attempt to remove meat. These guys — it was all about the killing. That’s what was probably most disturbing to us.”
At least five of the suspects appeared in court Thursday, reported CNN affiliate KOIN. They face penalties ranging from fines to jail time depending on their individual charges.

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.

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.”

Details emerge in alleged self-defense wolf killing

http://www.bendbulletin.com/localstate/5724826-151/details-emerge-in-alleged-self-defense-wolf-killing

BY ANDREW THEEN

THE OREGONIAN

Brian Scott screamed, pointed his .30-06 rifle, saw hair through the scope, and pulled the trigger once.

Scott shot and killed a gray wolf while elk hunting in rural Union County on Oct. 27. The experienced hunter notified state police of the incident and told the responding trooper, Marcus McDowell, a harrowing tale of self-defense.

Authorities agreed and declined to prosecute the wolf killing, the first reported instance of a protected wolf being shot and killed by a hunter who feared for their life.

Scott could not be reached for comment on this story.

The 38-year-old Clackamas resident told McDowell those details on Oct. 27, hours after the shooting. More details emerged Friday one week after the incident.

McDowell determined the bullet entered the animal’s front right side and exited through the left.

In a Thursday press release, the agency said “based upon the available evidence” the hunter acted in self-defense.

According to the three-page police report obtained through a public record request, Scott was hunting last week in the Starkey hunting unit of Union County near La Grande off of a forest service road where he was camping with several other hunters. At about 7:15 a.m., he left to hunt, and a little after leaving camp he saw animals moving around him.

“I could not identify what was moving around me,” he told McDowell. “There are a lot of coyotes out here.”

Scott hiked into a nearby timber stand and sat for 20 or 30 minutes. After leaving the trees and heading into a meadow, he saw to his left what he assumed was a coyote.

“He was running at me, which is very odd,” Scott told the trooper.

A second animal was behind the first.

A third animal “was running directly at me,” Scott said.

“I definitely felt like she had targeted me,” he said, “and was running at me to make contact.”

He told the trooper he feared for his life. “It was unnerving.”

Scott shot the third animal from roughly 27 yards away and watched the other two run into the timber near a forest road.

The other wolves howled, according to the police account.

An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife official, Leonard Erickson, later arrived to the scene and helped recover the animal. One of four additional hunters at the camp transported the wolf, an 83-pound female connected to OR-30.

The pictures and police report paint a different picture, according to wolf advocacy group Oregon Wild.

The animal’s death also comes on the heels of five recent approved wolf shootings in eastern Oregon. It is illegal to kill a wolf unless it’s caught red-handed killing livestock — a rare occurrence that has happened just once in 2016 — or in the event of self-defense. Legally, animals can be killed if they are confirmed to have repeatedly attacked livestock.

Steve Pedery, the nonprofit’s conservation director, said in an email that he’d like to see further investigation of the hunting incident. He’s not convinced the animal was running at the hunter, and questioned why the wounds are on the animal’s side.

“How can a wolf that is moving away from someone be a threat?” Pedery asked, “and why would ODFW sign off on a report that is directly contradicted by the evidence?”

Oregon hunter kills wolf, claims self-defense, W/photos

 http://www.kgw.com/news/local/animal/oregon-hunter-kills-wolf-claims-self-defense/488528341

A hunter shot and killed a wolf that he said was running at him.

A 38-year-old hunter says he shot and killed a wolf that was “running directly at him” in northeast Oregon’s Union County, the Oregon State Police reported Tuesday.

It’s illegal to kill a wolf in Oregon, but police said the hunter, who wasn’t named, won’t be charged because it’s believed he was acting in self-defense, officials said.

The incident marks the first time that a wolf has been reported shot in self-defense in Oregon since they began returning to the state in the late 1990s.

According to police, the hunter was stalking elk in the Starkey Wildlife Management Unit when he observed three of what he assumed were coyotes, police said.

One of the animals began to run directly at him, while another made its way around him, the hunter told police. He said he screamed at the lead animal but, fearing for his life, shot the animal a single time.

Here’s a picture of the wolf killed last week by a hunter in NE Oregon. He claimed self defense. No charges pending.

Later, the hunter, who is from Clackamas County, later discovered the animal was a wolf and “self-reported shooting a wolf in Union County,” police said.

The Union County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the case and said the hunter wouldn’t be prosecuted because it’s believed “to be an incidence of self-defense.”

Confirmed reports of wolves attacking humans are extremely rare.

“Wolves typically try to avoid humans whenever possible,” Oregon State University professor Bill Ripple told the Statesman Journal in a previous interview.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a report that “wolves will tend to avoid people and wolf-human conflicts are extremely rare. They are more likely to occur when wolves are habituated to people, when dogs are involved, or if wolves are sick (e.g. rabies).”

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