Exposing the Big Game

Forget Hunters' Feeble Rationalizations and Trust Your Gut Feelings: Making Sport of Killing Is Not Healthy Human Behavior

Exposing the Big Game

The Undeniable Value of Wolves, Bears, Lions And Coyotes In Battling Disease


by Todd WilkinsonSUPPORT USGET NEWSLETTERPhoto courtesy NPS / Jacob W. FrankPART FOUR
For over two decades, Douglas Smith and successive teams of researchers have watched wildlife predators hunting for prey in Yellowstone.
The national park’s senior wolf biologist says there is no mistaking the way that lobos identify and target elk. To the human eye, an individual wapiti might appear perfectly healthy yet there is something—almost a sixth sense— that catches the attention of discriminating pack members searching for their next meal.
It might be an elk with arthritis carrying a slight gimp in its gait, or maybe a hint of winter-worn fatigue, a slowness brought on by advancing old age or illness, or perhaps naïve behavior exhibited by the young.
There is no doubt, based on the accrued record of wolf behavior documented in Yellowstone—and the significant body of scientific accounts logged across the continent—that under normal conditions, wolves key-in on prey that is meek, infirmed or vulnerable.
“Wolves pick up on stuff we can’t see. They are most efficient at exploiting weaknesses in prey because their survival depends on it,” Smith told me recently. “They are predisposed, by instinct and learned behavior, to focus first on animals that are easier to kill rather than those living at the height of their physical strength.”
Does having predators on the landscape—wolves, bears, mountain lions and coyotes— provide a protective gauntlet that can help slow the spread and prevalence of deadly diseases?
In particular, with ultra-lethal Chronic Wasting Disease now invading the most wildlife-rich ecosystem in America’s Lower 48 states and spreading coast to coast, are these often maligned meat-eaters, frequently dismissed as worthless vermin in western states, actually important natural allies in battling CWD?

“Wolves pick up on stuff we can’t see. They are most efficient at exploiting weaknesses in prey because their survival depends on it. They are predisposed, by instinct and learned behavior, to focus first on animals that are easier to kill rather than those living at the height of their physical strength.” —Yellowstone’s chief wolf biologist Douglas Smith

While the data and the assessments of most scientists clearly suggests yes, there remains fierce resistance by some to acknowledge the beneficial roles predators play.  At the recent year-end meeting of the Montana Fish and Game Commission, anti-predator biases were on full display, especially toward wolves. They surfaced as the commission pondered its next move in confronting CWD which this autumn entered Montana via sick wild deer for the first time in state history.
Weeks earlier, Ken McDonald, wildlife bureau chief at the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Department, raised eyebrows when he claimed the advantages predators bring in weeding out sick prey is merely theoretical and unproved. Dismissing the notion of wolves as effective disease-fighters, he asserted that in order for lobos to truly make a difference in slowing CWD’s advance, they would need to exist in such high numbers that it would be socially unacceptable to humans, namely ranchers and hunters.
In terms of Montana’s strategy for dealing with CWD spread in the state through sick wildlife entering via Wyoming from the south and Canada to the north, McDonald said the state’s primary method of confronting disease will involve enlisting hunters to aggressively harvest animals in emerging CWD endemic zones. The state recently approved the issuance of 1,200 additional B tags to kill deer in areas east of Red Lodge, Montana (the northeast corner of Greater Yellowstone) where six dead deer have turned up CWD positive out of 1300 tested there—four mule deer bucks, a mule deer doe and a white-tailed doe.
Many claim McDonald’s characterization of wolves demonstrates not only a personal anti-wolf bias, which also permeates the thinking of the department, but it shows a lack of understanding and appreciation for the natural history of the species. In other words, it denies what the very essence of a wolf is.
“I was disappointed with Ken McDonald’s nonsensical bureaucratic response,” conservationist and professional biologist Dr. Gary J. Wolfe wrote recently in comments that were widely circulated.
Wolfe is a former Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Commissioner appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock. Notably, he is also the former project leader of the CWD Alliance founded by a number of prominent sportsmen’s’ groups and former national president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for 15 years. He is widely respected in hunting circles.
 “While I don’t think any of us large carnivore proponents are saying that wolf predation will prevent CWD, or totally eliminate it from infected herds, it is ecologically irresponsible to not consider the very real possibility that wolves can slow the spread of CWD and reduce its prevalence in infected herds,” Wolfe says. “We should consider wolves to be ‘CWD border guards,’ adjust wolf hunting seasons accordingly, and let wolves do their job of helping to cull infirm animals from the herds.”

“While I don’t think any of us large carnivore proponents are saying that wolf predation will prevent CWD, or totally eliminate it from infected herds, it is ecologically irresponsible to not consider the very real possibility that wolves can slow the spread of CWD and reduce its prevalence in infected herds.  We should consider wolves to be ‘CWD border guards,’ adjust wolf hunting seasons accordingly, and let wolves do their job of helping to cull infirm animals from the herds.”  —biologist Gary Wolfe, former Montana wildlife commissioner and former CEO/president of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

Strong evidence seems to bear him out. Not only do predators stalking large game species target weak animals, they can mitigate the impact of disease outbreaks, experts say. Further, by removing sick prey species, predators could, over time, though this is unproved, make herds more resilient and stronger, less susceptible to disease.
While some may doubt this premise, illustrated in literature below, no one has provided evidence suggesting that having robust and stable numbers of predators will not aid in confronting the most rapidly spreading and fearsome new disease in North America.
° ° °
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is a region unparalleled in the Lower 48 states. It is known globally as America’s Serengeti for having its full original complement of mammal and bird species, including large native predators, that were here when Europeans arrived on the continent in the late 15th century.  Plus, the landscape these animals inhabit, a 22.5-million-acre mixture of private and mostly public land, is intact—meaning not fragmented and enabling migrations of elk, deer and pronghorn (antelope) to occur and which do not exist anywhere else.
Lloyd Dorsey, conservation director for the Sierra Club in Wyoming, is a hunter and crusader against Wyoming’s operation of elk feedgrounds. This autumn when we spoke about predators and CWD, he had just returned from hunting in the Gros Ventre mountains east of the National Elk Refuge. He told me of how on the morning that he glassed mule deer and bands of elk, he found grizzly tracks in the snow and heard wolves howling a quarter mile away.
Citing reams of scientific studies to back him up, Dorsey says predators play an import ecological role in keeping prey species in check and in serving as vanguards in removing sick animals. Greater Yellowstone’s “predator guild” of wolves, grizzly and black bears, lions and coyotes, he notes, also makes it a draw for wildlife watchers from around the world, helping to fuel a $1-billion annual nature-tourism economy tied to the national parks alone. 
A disease like CWD that stands to significantly harm the health of deer family members over time—deer, elk, and moose—also has potentially grave implications for species that eat and scavenge their remains. In many ways, the biological integrity of Greater Yellowstone’s large mammal populations depends upon the health of its ungulate herds and the biomass they provide in sustaining other species large and small—those with fur and feathers down to the microbial level.  Diseases that threaten to dramatically diminish Greater Yellowstone’s ungulates could have negative, far-reaching consequences for people and the environment.
To date, there is no evidence that CWD can infect predators, humans or livestock, though geneticists who have studied the molecular make-up of CWD prions [misshapen proteins] believe it could change. And a recent study in Canada involving macaques exposed to CWD prions has elevated concerns. Macaques are primates with genes similar to humans.
With CWD, Wyoming is perilously burning the candle at both ends and it has implications for Montana and Idaho, Dorsey says. Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue to knowingly operate feedgrounds [read parts OneTwo and Three of MoJo’s series here] which makes the state and federal government guilty of game management malpractice by setting up public wildlife for calamity, he says. 
At the same time, Wyoming persists in destroying a natural ally—wolves—based upon no solid reason other than traditional cultural animosity toward these archetypal animals that earlier generations of settlers took great delight in eradicating to make way for livestock.
“Our understanding of wolves has broadened in an age of greater scientific and ecological awareness,” Dorsey told me. “They are not the animals of menacing myth they were portrayed to be in fairy tales.  We can—and should—co-exist with them for mutual benefit.”
Nonetheless, Wyoming—along with Alaska—is known for having the most notoriously-hostile attitude toward wolves in America. There, in over 85 percent of the state, lobos, like coyotes, can be killed year-round for any reason, no questions asked. Only in the northwest corner of Wyoming within the vicinity of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are wolves classified as a game animal and even there it is state policy to keep their numbers suppressed to please outfitters, guides and ranchers.
Beyond that small zone, they are classified as “predators” and treated as vermin. They can be trapped, poisoned, shot at any and all hours of the day, and targeted by aerial gunners in aircraft. Even if they are not threatening livestock, it’s open season on wolves.
The profound irony is that just as Wyoming condones a campaign of re-eradication against wolves, CWD has been rapidly spreading westward, faster than anyone expected across the state via infected mule and white-tailed deer.Perfect conditions to amplify a CWD pandemic, experts say, exist on the National Elk Refuge and 22 elk feedgrounds operated by the state of Wyoming, many of them on U.S. Forest Service land.
CWD’s arrival is considered imminent. When the disease lands in the Wyoming feedgrounds, where more than 20,000 elk are unnaturally concentrated during winters, CWD is expected to not only take hold but have its spread accelerated due to the widely-condemned management practice of bunching up wapiti. The conditions there are similar to game farms where CWD infections have been devastating.
This point was made in a letter sent December 7, 2017 from the Montana state wildlife commission (read it at bottom of this story] to counterparts in Wyoming, asking the state to take steps to shut down feeding.
“We respect the fact that how Wyoming manages its affairs is up to Wyoming. However, Montana’s ability to combat CWD will depend upon decisions that Wyoming makes about its wildlife management.  Over the long-term, the feed grounds make your wildlife populations less healthy, less stable, and much more vulnerable to a catastrophic disease event,” the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission wrote.  “We implore you to begin the process of looking at alternatives to the present management regime that unnaturally concentrates wildlife in feed grounds each winter and increases the pace at which CWD infects both states’ wildlife populations.”
The letter ends with this warning:  “If we do not address CWD, we will all be culpable in leaving a greatly devalued landscape to future generations.”  Culpable is a word with many connotations.

While Montana has escaped the intense scrutiny and public rebuke aimed at Wyoming over its operation of feedgrounds and controversial management of wolves, Wolfe and others say Montana isn’t much better with regard to predators.
Recently, another case of CWD was confirmed in a deer near Chester along Montana’s Hi-Line south of Canada.

Currently, only three wolf management units in Montana have strict quotas (two located north of Yellowstone and one west of Glacier National Park). But all others allow unlimited wolf harvest “which is probably not the best ecological strategy for containing CWD,” Wolfe noted. “As a wildlife biologist who spent several years working on the CWD issue, I believe wolf predation is an important tool that needs to be recognized and effectively utilized, along with other tools, as part of Montana’s CWD management plan.”
Wolves, Wolfe says, ought to have their numbers safeguarded in areas that represent the front line of disease. Stable packs can serve as a barrier.  Wolf management units (WMUs) that border CWD infected areas (or have CWD infected herds within the WMU) should have conservative wolf harvest quotas, he notes. Currently, only three WMUs have quotas (313 and 316 immediately north of Yellowstone, and 110 west of Glacier).  All others allow unlimited wolf harvest.
When the argument has been presented to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, it has been met with deaf ears, though Dr. Mary Wood, the state wildlife veterinarian noted in 2016 that predators can play a beneficial role.
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Humans can invent any fairy-tale-reason they want to despise wolves and justify their elimination, but that doesn’t change the fundamental time-tested nature of the species, says Kevin Van Tighem, a hunter and former superintendent of Banff National Park in Alberta’s Canadian Rockies.  “I don’t know of a single credible biologist who would argue that wolves, along with other predators and scavengers, aren’t important tools in devising sound strategies for dealing with CWD.” Van Tighem says it can be rationally argued that wolves provide the best line of defense since they are confronting infected animals.
Van Tighem told me, just as a dozen other scientists and land managers who hunt have—that once CWD is confirmed in the places where they go afield, they will no longer eat game meat from that area and may stop hunting altogether.
Dr. L. David Mech, the eminent American wolf biologist, has authored or contributed to hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers on wolves and prey. We’ve been talking about wolves since the late 1980s when he came to Yellowstone in the years before lobos were reintroduced. There’s no tangible argument he’s seen that suggests wolves wouldn’t be useful in combatting CWD.
“In the main, the preponderance of scientific evidence supports the view that wolves generally kill the old, the young, the sick and the weak,” Mech said. “There’s so much documented field data behind it.” 
He then made a point that exposes the limitations of relying on human hunters and sharpshooters alone to remove suspected CWD carriers.  Wolves appear to target sick animals that, to the human eye, exhibit no overt symptoms of disease.
“There’s a lot more going on than we can detect,” Mech said. “They are killing animals that most people would say, ‘That animal looks pretty healthy to me,’ but in fact it isn’t.”  Mech stays out of the political fray, though he says the value of predators is clear.  “Based upon everything I’ve seen over the course of my career, I generally stand behind the assertion that wolves make prey populations healthier,” he said. “The evidence to support it is overwhelming.”
In Wolves on the Hunt: The Behavior of Wolves Hunting Wild Prey, Mech, Doug Smith and co-author/editor Daniel R. MacNulty undertook an exhaustive, unprecedented review of scientific studies and observations related to wolf behavior. They cite example after example of how wolves choose prey.  They use intricately-detailed observations based on the work of park ecologist Rick McIntyre and colleagues who have tracked the wolves of Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley for decades. They also point to hours upon hours of accumulated video footage amassed by award-winning wildlife cinematographer Robert Landis who has recorded numerous wolf predation incidents in Yellowstone. 

More: https://mountainjournal.org/predators-and-chronic-wasting-disease?fbclid=IwAR3n6_aqsslqwo_uNx8wVOYnwphj6i6ycMBMYXRlK_pKxWkFj-7Wza7hYD4

Commentary: WDFW’s deadly experiment

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is conducting an experiment that threatens not only domestic animals and livestock, but may increase risk to rural residents. Because no ethical authority would approve its experimental design, WDFW relies on untested anecdotal methods to further its experiment.

For more than 30 years, some researchers hypothesized that hunting of cougars —mountain lions — leads to increased livestock conflicts. With advanced research technologies enabling tracking the behavior of America’s lion, a picture of social organization emerged showing resident cats had well-defined territories with little or no overlap among resident males, but with males encompassing multiple female territories.

When a territory becomes vacant, several transient cats will move in to contest and take over the area. When adjoining areas lose resident cats, the resulting “social chaos” by the arrival of typically less-experienced cats may lead to an apparent increase in the cougar numbers and ensuing conflicts as those cats may take chickens, goats or pets for an easy meal.

Research in Washington, as in other states and British Columbia, shows a high correlation between cougar mortalities and verified conflicts. Studies suggest if adult cat deaths remained below about 14% of the adult cougar numbers in an area, cougar society remained stable, with minimal conflicts. Initially, WDFW decided to adopt a hunting paradigm that would maintain cougar social stability.

Rather than conservatively limiting harvest to 10% of the adult cats in a Game Management Unit (GMU) as recommended by WDFW biologists at the 10th Mountain Lion Workshop, administrators elected to set the harvest guidelines to target 16%, including juvenile cats even though juveniles and kittens suffer high natural mortalities of about 50% per year. WDFW created an unrestricted season, September through December, with no GMU limits on cougars killed.

In addition, WDFW extended cougar hunting season to seven months, Sept. 1 to April 30. Last season WDFW recorded a record 379 cougars killed. At the halfway point of this accounting year, Washington has 220 recorded cougar mortalities.

Initiative 655, passed by 63% of statewide voters in 1996, banned the use of hounds to hunt cougars, lynx, bobcats and bears. Since, some have argued that the cougar population has exploded. WDFW does not publicly dispel that conjecture, even though cougar mortalities are higher now than during any previous decades, the result of increasing cougar-tag sales more than 40-fold.

“Conventional wisdom,” advocated by some, and apparently by WDFW, would tell us that if we kill more cougars, we’ll have fewer problems. Several recent investigations of up to three decades of data show that hunting cougars correlates with increasing conflicts.

However, correlation does not imply causation. The only way that research biologists can show a causal link is to design a medical-style experiment with controls. What community would volunteer to be part of an experiment to kill more cats to test for an expected increase in conflicts? WDFW’s current policy surreptitiously has been doing just that!

In several eastern regions, WDFW allows harvest above management guidelines, and aggressively kills cougars when responding to complaints. WDFW is also allowing county sheriffs to call out hounds to kill cougars when someone calls in a cougar sighting.

The results are clear: more complaints. Will the complaints change when there is a real emergency, but law enforcement is unavailable because officers are out chasing a cat someone saw?

In 2011, while biologists were publishing results from millions of dollars of research, WDFW removed the goal “Promote development and responsible use of sound, objective science to inform decision-making” from its mission and goals statement. WDFW chooses to “manage” cougars with conventional wisdom and political expediency rather than best consensus science. The outcome is increasing complaints from residents in over-hunted areas, and record deaths in our cougar population.

Now, WDFW plans to increase cougar harvest to respond to complaints in the over-hunted regions. Instead of helping people coexist with cougars, WDFW increases turmoil by killing cougars.

Enough, WDFW! Use the science taxpayers paid for; quit aggravating conflicts!

Bob McCoy is an advocate for science and apex species. For the past decade he has volunteered for the Mountain Lion Foundation, and was recently elected to chair the board of directors. He lives in Sammamish and has lived in Washington state since 1962 other than seven years he served in the U.S. Navy as a naval aviator.

Massachusetts Weighs Ban on Predator Hunting Contests

Randomly killing coyotes won’t prevent conflicts with people, pets or livestock, critics say

Massachusetts Weighs Ban on Predator Hunting Contests
Billerica Animal Control, File

Contests that involve the hunting of predator or furbearing animals like coyotes would be banned under a proposal being considered by Massachusetts wildlife officials.

Critics of the contests say they’re cruel and that randomly killing coyotes won’t prevent conflicts with people, pets or livestock.

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is planning to hold a hearing Tuesday evening at the Richard Cronin Building in Westborough to hear from the public.

Wildlife officials say the current level of coyote hunting doesn’t reduce the population, nor would hunting have an appreciable impact on coyote populations. They say despite the presence of coyotes, deer populations are thriving in Massachusetts.

Supporters of the ban, including the Humane Society of the United States, note that California, Vermont, New Mexico and Arizona have similar bans.

New permit means open season for hunting many furry predators

You can soon hunt raccoons, coyotes, and other furry predators on your private land to help protect bird populations.

It will soon be critter season all year long in Arkansas. It may be the worst news in a while for coyotes since the Acme Roadrunner trap arrived in the mail.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission voted to relax hunting regulations on certain predator species.

RELATED: UCAPD help save raccoon hilariously stuck in drain grate

“Raccoons, possums, red fox, coyotes — things like that,” said Randy Zellers, the assistant chief of communications for the AGFC. “What it is going to do is give a private landowner to manage on a local level if he feels that predator populations are high and maybe impacting his ground nesting birds in the area.”

Coyotes and possums like quick meals they can get from a quail’s nest. To manage that, you can now set traps or hunt them with a special permit. There doesn’t have to be a set season, and more importantly, no set hours.

“You will be able to harvest bobcat, coyote, skunk, possum, and raccoon day or night,” Zellers said after getting a free predator-control permit. That lets hunters get them when they are out and active.

Officials are not declaring a critter crisis, but the rules needed updating because the days of every kid running around with a Davy Crockett hat are long gone.

“Years ago, people used to trap animals for pelts,” Zellers said. “As that has gone out of style, there’s not as much money involved in trapping animals for pelts.”

Rules are already in place that allow you to shoot predators if they threaten people, pets, or livestock. This new permit means you can do it more efficiently with an eye on wildlife management.

A hunter is also not responsible for having to turn the skin into a coat or a hat if they have the special permit.

Zellers points out that the permit is mainly for people living in the country.

While coyotes and foxes often encroach on suburban or even residential areas in cities, local firearms laws still supersede the special permit regulations.

RELATED: Dad, teens face-off against growling coyote

If you have a raccoon or skunk problem closer to town, the AGFC has standard advice.

“We still recommend the number one thing is remove all the food sources and make sure those animals are not welcome,” Zellers said.

The permits will be available in late August.

Wolves back in Netherlands after 140 years

The Netherlands has its first resident wolf population in 140 years, according to ecologists.

Wolves were hunted out of many European countries over a century ago but have gradually been migrating back across the continental mainland.

Occasional wolf sightings have been made in the Netherlands since 2015.

But these animals were previously thought to be animals that had crossed over temporarily from Germany and would subsequently return there.

Ecologists from campaign groups FreeNature and Wolven in Nederland have been tracking two females in the Veluwe area, collecting wolf prints and scat (droppings) from which they can identify DNA.

“It’s like Tinder,” said ecologist Mirte Kruit, “it can say if it’s a male or female, are they single and looking for a mate and [tell you] about their family.”

They’ve told BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth that their data now confirms one of the females has stayed continuously for six months and can now be considered “established”.

A male has also been seen in the area so the first Dutch wolf pack could be months away. They are still collecting data on the second female.

Controversial return

Wolves are controversial, however. In France, since returning from Italy in 1992, their population has grown rapidly and sheep and goat farmers say they’re suffering rising attacks, with around 12,000 incidents reported.

Farmers can receive compensation if they have protection measures in place, like electric fences or guard dogs, but many are still angry about the damage caused to the flock.

The French Government formed a cohabitation plan and in February last year set a target wolf population of 500 by 2023. However its thought this number may be reached or surpassed by this Winter and it’s proposing to increase the cull rate from 12% to 17% if that’s confirmed.

Wolves are protected under the Berne convention and can only be killed under specific circumstances.

Costing the Earth presenter Tom Heap travelled to Alpes de Haute Provence to meet some of those affected. The region has 22 wolf packs – the largest of any region – and last year the region saw 700 attacks.

Farmer Simon Merveille said he witnessed one of his goats being eaten by wolves.

“I was astonished because when I fired a warning shot they just stayed looking at me – they did not leave,” he explained.

Mr Merveille is happy for wolves to remain in France but believes farmers must be allowed to kill them when they attack livestock.

Andre Maurelle and Ingrid Briclot, who also farm in the region, saw three wolves killing five of their sheep and taking a sixth.

They have now installed 12km of electric fences and have an apprentice shepherd, Mady, who is used to guarding cattle from lions and snakes in Mali.

“We have to learn to cohabit,” said Mr Maurelle.

Back in Holland, Wolven in Nederland have been working since 2008 to prepare the Dutch people for this very moment – the return of the wolf to the country.

Ecologist Roeland Vermeulen says settled wolves are more likely to eat deer or wild boar. Sheep, on the other hand, are “like junk food”, taken by roaming wolves or those less experienced at hunting.

He thinks the Netherlands has room for 22 packs – each of 5-8 wolves. Whether the country can learn from others and find a suitable balance will become apparent in the years to come.

Costing the Earth: The Wolf is Back is on BBC Sounds and on Radio 4 tomorrow at 9pm BST.

Predator Project focuses on deer movement, health

Three years ago when the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer, and Predator Project began, those connected and interested were eager for results, even anecdotal leanings.

But science usually doesn’t move like that; wait until all the data is in, scrutinize it, and then see if the general hypothesis has been supported, or not. Maybe the support will be something entirely different.

About 200 adult deer have been captured and collared each winter, with a fourth winter to begin December 2019. In addition, fawns (neonates) were hand-captured each spring and will be again this spring. Coyotes and bobcats were live-trapped and collared, too.

Of course many of the collared deer die each year, so the total number goes down, particularly during hunting season.

All these animals are being followed as long as they live, then the cause of death is determined, if possible. Did the deer die of disease, hunting, vehicle accident, predator catch or starvation, for example?

Other information is collected at the time of capture and when the deer dies, too. The data points on maps gives scientists the locations of the animals when the GPS collar sends it back to a database.

Here’s some information on one deer, captured when it was a day old, May 24, 2017, and then net captured Feb. 1, 2018, when the fawn collar was replaced by the adult deer collar.

The deer died in March 2019, but the cause of her death is still under investigation. One might guess starvation in this case, but wait for the necropsy to determine the official cause. Death could be the result of several causes, too.

A release to the landowner of data points where she spent the last year of her life looks like a bad case of measles in a 3.5-square-mile landscape, with most of the scores being in 1 square mile. She died less than a half-mile of her two capture sites, which were a few hundred yards apart.

The data will continue to fill computer files for years to come, with some samples still in cold storage until money, time and expertise become available.

Blood samples, chronic wasting disease tests, weight, likely age, general health, along with gender, and some fecal samples. Data points can be used to determine likely fawning of does and association of bucks with other deer.

Most collared deer will not have their entire life history on a computer, but those who do not still provide information in the study: What percent of the deer die, and at what age, from various causes?

Hunters who take possession of a collared deer also receive the data points of the animal’s whereabouts from capture (collaring) to death.

Jerry Davis can be reached at sivadjam@mhtc.net

What Caused Washington’s Cougar Attack?

One cyclist was killed and another injured by a mountain lion near Seattle, Washington, on Saturday. Such attacks are exceptionally rare, and the circumstances of this one belied typical mountain lion behavior. So what happened? Well, there are a number of theories about the incident. To find out which ones are the most valid, I called up a handful of cougar experts and emergency responders. Here’s what they said. 

Theory #1: The Cougar Was Starving

The three-year old male mountain lion weighed just 103 pounds, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife—about 25 pounds less than healthy males that age typically weigh. WDFW Captain Alan Myers, who responded to the scene, describes the animal’s condition as “emaciated,” and speculates that starvation or another health problem could have lead it to seek out riskier prey.

But Lynn Cullens, the executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation, disagrees. “One hundred pounds is certainly on the low end for adult males, but it’s not necessarily starving,” she tells me, going on to say that the cougar’s body does not look notably thin or unhealthy in photos from the scene. “It could have just been a small cougar,” she says.

Washington State University is performing a necropsy on the animal to determine if disease, injury, or starvation could have been a factor in the mountain lion’s behavior. Myers tells us he expects to see the results in a couple weeks. Both Cullens and Myers are skeptical that rabies could have been a factor, as the disease is unheard of in the Pacific Northwest’s cougar population.

Theory #2: The Victims’ Behavior Triggered the Attack

The pair was mountain biking at the time, potentially triggering the cougar’s predatory instincts by mimicking the behavior of fleeing prey. “These guys go flashing by on their bikes at an extreme speed, maybe 20 miles an hour, and this animal goes into predatory mode,” wildlife expert Jeff Corwin told CNN.

Cullens agrees the cat likely thought the riders were prey. “I think it’s likely that it mistook the [riders] for deer,” she says. “Mountain lions don’t see well in bright sunlight.”

Yet that doesn’t mean the cyclists did anything wrong. In fact, “They did everything right,” Myers says. When the cougar initially started to pursue the riders, they stopped, shouted at it, and swung their bikes in the air to scare it off. And it worked, at first. “They did what they were supposed to, which is make noise and distract the cougar,” Ryan Abbott of the King County Sheriff’s Office told the Seattle Times. “The cougar ran away.”

But what happened next was the really odd part. Cougars are timid creatures who usually avoid humans and are known to shy away from any aggressive behavior. I’ve encountered cougars in the same area where this attack took place, and they fled upon seeing me. But, this cougar came back after being initially scared away.

As the pair talked about how scary it had been seeing the cougar, the animal reappeared and attacked them. “He jumped the first victim and attacked him,” says Abbott. “The second victim turned and started to run away. The cougar saw that and went after the second victim. The first victim saw his friend being pulled by the cougar. He got on his bike and started to bike away.” The man rode two miles before he found cell reception and called for help.

Theory #3: The Victims Could Have Done More to Stop the Attack

I spoke with Chris Morgan, a local wildlife ecologist and filmmaker, who received first-hand reports from the scene, and describes indications of a violent brawl. “There was hair from the cougar stuck in the bike’s chainwheel,” he says. Myers says the victim who ended up escaping had his head trapped in the jaws of the mountain lion before it saw the other rider fleeing, and dropped the first victim to pursue the second.

So what else could the pair have done after the attack started? Carrying bear spray might have helped, says Morgan. He also advises that people venturing into mountain-lion country carry a whistle or bell with them, then regularly using it to warn animals that humans are around.

They also shouldn’t have run away, says Cullens, of the Mountain Lion Foundation. “We advise people to hike or bike in pairs when they’re recreating in mountain lion country,” she says. “The hope is that if one of you is attacked, both of you fight. You should never run away from a mountain lion. If you see one, you should leave the area immediately, not stand around and talk about it.”

Theory #4: Suburban Expansion Is Increasing the Chances of Cougar Encounters 

North Bend, Washington, the town where the attack took place, lies at the foot of the Cascades. It’s surrounded by dense forest and it’s nearly quadrupled its population since 1980. Washington state has grown from 4.1 million to 7.4 million residents in that same time. The Outdoor Industry Association reports that 72 percent of Washington residents participate in outdoor recreation activities each year.

Every fall, I travel from Los Angeles to the North Bend area to bow-hunt deer, black bear, and elk. Using archery equipment, my friends and I are able to hunt areas that are immediately adjacent to human habitation, which is good for us, because those areas seem to contain the most wildlife. A few years ago, I took a deer just yards from a popular hiking trail outside North Bend, and when we returned to the site the next day, there were cougar tracks in the dried blood. Friends text me photos of bears eating from the fruit trees in their front yards.

My point: All of these people live in an area that was totally wild just a few decades ago, and which still supports massive wildlife populations.

“Every weekend, there’s hundreds of cars parked at the popular trailheads,” says Chase Gunnell, an area resident. “With so many people recreating where there’s so much wildlife, it’s inevitable that conflicts will occur.”

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that, as of 2015, there’s about 1,800 to 2,100 adult cougars in the state, spread out at about two cats per 39 square miles in areas of suitable habitat. They may be sneaky, but they’re out there.

Theory #5: Hunting Is Altering Cougars’ Behavior 

“When human beings get involved in it, such as killing predators, it backfires,” Brooks Fahy, an anti-hunting advocate, told Seattle’s local NBC affiliate. “What we’ve learned is with wolves, cougars, and coyotes is actually killing them…throws them in what scientists refer to as social chaos.” He went on to explain that trophy hunting of older male mountain lions can artificially skew the population younger. “Stereotypically, these are the animals that tend to let themselves be seen, and in quite a few of the attacks that have happened, it’s been younger animals,” he said.

I asked Morgan, the ecologist, if this theory held water. “While social chaos does occur in cougar populations, it’s a function of their natural behavior,” he says. Male cougars compete with each other to hold territory, causing young males to disperse to new areas, where they may have less success hunting.

WDFW records back up Morgan’s assertion. No cougars have been killed in Game Management Unit 460 (which covers the North Bend area) since the 2013-2014 season. Harvest guidelines dictate that five to seven cougars may be taken annually in the area. That the cougar involved in this attack was a young male could have been a factor in the attack. But the fact that a young male was present in the area likely doesn’t have anything to do with hunters removing older, adult cougars.

(As an interesting aside, this dispersal of young males is what’s fueling the return of cougars to states east of the Rockies.)

Theory #6: The Attack Is Part of a Broader Trend 

While cougar populations across the country are growing, with the species returning to more of its historic range, Washington has actually seen its big cat population nearly halve since 2003. Conflicts with cougars remain an exceptionally rare event: this is only the second human fatality caused by a cougar in Washington in the last 94 years.

Each of the experts I interviewed emphasized this fact. While they all stated that people should remain on guard for the animals while recreating outdoors, there is no pressing danger and the vast majority of us should continue to count ourselves lucky if we ever get to see a mountain lion in the wild.

Morgan was particularly adamant about putting this attack in perspective. “Washington residents I’ve surveyed have all agreed that we are fortunate to have cougars in our forests, and that it’s the responsibility of people living and recreating near them to minimize conflicts.”

“Risk is part of the beauty and majesty of the outdoors,” he says.

Interested in learning more about staying safe in cougar country? The Mountain Lion Foundation has put together an excellent guide

Coyotes and bobcats provide hunting “opportunities”

[It’d sound like a joke, if it weren’t so sickening.]


By Keith Sutton

This article was published October 29, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.

Jim Spencer of Calico Rock is shown with a bobcat he killed in Saline County. Hunting these big cats can be a very challenging endeavor.

Jim Spencer of Calico Rock is shown with a bobcat he killed in Saline County. Hunting these big cats can be a very challenging endeavor.

 Among the many game animals available to Arkansas hunters, few are more challenging and exciting to pursue as our big predators, the coyote and bobcat. Seasons for both are open now through the end of February, with a daily limit of two for bobcats and no bag limit on coyotes.

Both species are extremely cautious and have keen senses, facts that make them difficult to hunt successfully. But coyotes and bobcats have a weakness hunters can exploit. When they hear the sounds of an injured rabbit, they often throw caution to the wind and charge in for what they think will be an easy meal.

Whenever a predator catches a rabbit, the normally silent cottontail shrieks in fear and pain. It will do the same if it happens to get caught in a trap, a fence, by a snake or when it is accidentally injured. Coyotes and bobcats know this sound, and a hunter who imitates the rabbit’s pitiful squealing using a predator call can bring his quarry near enough for a killing shot.

Rodents such as mice are also diet staples for predators, so modern call makers have produced short-range rodent-squeak calls, too. However, because a dying rabbit sound is loud, carries very well over a long range and is so well recognized by predators, this is the sound most used. It is effective everywhere.

Many hunters learn to use handheld, mouth-blown calls, which are inexpensive and easy to learn how to use. Others choose electronic predator callers, which play dying rabbit sounds. Both are effective.

To begin your hunt, position yourself strategically in an area known to contain predators. You should sit (not stand) so that you can see well over a broad expanse, but never on the skyline where you are easily spotted. Sit against something, not behind it.

Wear camouflage clothing (jacket, pants, hat, head and face net, gloves), and break up your outline by blending in with a tree, bush or rocky outcropping. Walk to the calling area quietly, and try to follow a direct route so you don’t wander around the area in which you intend to call and frighten your quarry.

The best times of day are around dawn and early-morning hours, and in the late afternoon up until dark. All predators also move and hunt at night. However, in Arkansas, coyotes may only be hunted during daylight hours, and dogs are required to hunt bobcats at night.

Calling is best when there is little or no wind, which is one reason to recommend the first light of day, normally a period of calm. If there is any significant air current, the call carries farthest in the direction, downwind, where you don’t want it to go. Any predator coming into the wind is going to whiff your scent. Commercial cover scents are helpful in masking human odor and should be used, but don’t expect them to be infallible. Your best insurance is to have the prevailing wind at the back of your quarry rather than yours, blowing your scent away from the animal’s keen nose.

If you will hunt on cool, overcast days or during winter months, animals are more likely to be foraging for food, and responses may be had all day long. Predator calling when snow is on the ground and wind is severe is extremely effective. This is a difficult time for the animals to find food, and their caution sometimes diminishes in direct proportion.

The firearm you choose for this kind of hunting depends mostly on your individual preference. Arkansas regulations permit bobcats and coyotes to be taken with archery equipment, firearms of any caliber or shotguns using any size shot. Because most hunters hope to sell the pelts of the animals they kill, however, they opt to hunt with rifles in the .22 class. Choices range from the .22 Hornet and .221 Fireball to the .222, .222 magnum, .223 and the .22-250, all proven fur takers. Single-shot hunting handguns are also chambered in most of these calibers and add a more challenging dimension to the sport.

When you begin calling, don’t let your enthusiasm destroy the reality of the drama you are attempting to create. Calling too loud and too long are no-nos. Call just enough to get the animal’s attention.

When a rabbit is first hurt, it can make a lot of loud noise. But as it tires, its squalling decreases in volume and frequency. Duplicate that sequence. Use a loud volume at first but not very long. From then on, use intervals of low volume, as this makes the animal less wary and more intrigued. Gradually taper your calling in length and intensity.

If you don’t get action within an hour, you should move. If a coyote is nearby, it will generally show in a hurry, within 15 minutes or less. A bobcat is more furtive. Sometimes it takes half an hour or more for one, sneaking and slinking, to make an appearance.

When a predator approaches within sight, remember that this is now a swap-out, because you, the caller, are also vulnerable, and when the animal comes close, many things can go wrong, and something usually does. In most confrontations, the predator emerges as winner.

When you spot an animal approaching, quit calling immediately. Remain motionless and silent until you’re ready to shoot. If the animal starts to move away from you, a short call probably will put him back on course, but time such calls to coincide with the moments when your target can’t see you.

If you’re spotted, be ready to react at once. You can’t shoot a coyote with a varmint call, so keep your gun in a ready position. If you have a hunting partner, all the better. Have him ready while you’re calling. When frightened, a coyote or bobcat moves out a whole lot faster than he moved in.

Predator calling know-how, at least on paper, sounds simple enough. But once in the field, application doesn’t seem so easy. The caller finds himself nagged by self-doubts. Is he calling in the proper way? In the right place? Can he really make it work?

This is the learning process every caller must go through. Experience leads to confidence, and self-confidence is the trail to success.

You can expect the unexpected from predator hunting. It offers its own brand of thrills and is a sport that challenges the outdoor savvy of the most skilled hunters. It teaches patience, tolerance and humility. And it is the only trip afield where the hunter deliberately becomes the hunted.

No, it isn’t easy. But predator hunting is fascinating, challenging and suspenseful. And once you call up a wildcat or a yodel dog, there’s no cure except to go calling every chance you get.

Coexistence between wolves and livestock is a delusion


When it comes to public lands, native wolves should get preference.


It is a popular notion among some conservationists that the way to win acceptance for predators like wolves is to work with rural communities and ranchers. Gaining their support certainly helps wildlife managers justify killing packs or individual wolves whenever they prey on cattle.

But these control tactics have limited application. At best, they reduce conflicts in targeted areas and have no significant effect on the distribution or survival of native predators. At worst, they add to the delusion that widespread co-existence between predators and livestock is possible.

The killing of seven members of the Profanity Peak pack in Washington illustrates how a wolf pack paid the ultimate price for merely trying to eke out a living in a place where unfenced domestic livestock had been released to graze.

Hundreds of cattle were released on the allotment, and salt blocks used by cattle were placed near the den site. That led to wolf depredation on cattle followed by the killing of pack members. (More on the Profanity Peak pack here.)

A growing body of scientific research now shows that killing problem wolves often begets yet more conflicts. Whether the killing is done to protect livestock or for “sport” by hunters, it tends to skew wolf populations towards younger animals less skilled at hunting. Loss of individual pack members can also result in changes in a pack’s ability to hold a territory, pushing the animals into new areas where they are less familiar with native prey. Both outcomes often lead to livestock getting killed by wolves.

Even “predator-friendly” operations harm native wildlife. When ranchers use noisemakers like boat horns or firecrackers, shoot at predators to scare them, or otherwise harass wolves and other predators, this hounding and stressing of our wildlife is considered legitimate. But why should conservation organizations pay for range riders or organize volunteers to harass public animals like wolves to protect someone’s private livestock?

The gray wolf is protected as endangered and threatened in some states, and considered a keystone species.

In effect, these groups are saying that wolves, coyotes and other native wildlife do not have a “right” to live on public lands that are being exploited by ranchers. Cows, not native to the West, have preference.

If I were to harass elk on a winter range, force bald eagles away from their nests or in other ways harass our wildlife, I would likely risk a fine. If I were to go out into the midst of a herd of sheep grazing on public lands and start shooting guns or firing off firecrackers to stampede the herd, I would risk imprisonment. But when it comes to harrying wolves, somehow this kind of harassment has become legitimate.

The negative impacts of livestock on our native wildlife go even further than harassment or lethal control — something that none of the “collaborative” groups ever mention to their membership or the press. Just the mere presence of domestic livestock often results in the social displacement and abandonment of the area by native ungulates such as elk.

If one assumes that elk select the best habitat for their needs, then displacement to other lands reduces their overall fitness. And we cannot forget that on many public lands, the vast majority of forage is reserved and allotted to domestic livestock, leaving only the leftovers for native wildlife.

If we assume that one of the limiting factors for native wildlife is high-quality forage, and that less nutritious feed means fewer elk, deer and bighorns, then we are literally taking food out of the mouth of our native predators.

When there is a conflict between private livestock grazing public lands and the public’s native wildlife, such as grizzlies, coyotes and wolves, just which animals should be removed? That is a question that “collaboratives” never ask. It is always assumed that if predators are causing problems for ranchers, the predators, not the livestock, should go.

This assumption adds up to direct and indirect subsidies for the livestock industry. As long as the dominant paradigm is that a rancher’s livestock has priority on public lands, we will never fully restore native predators to our lands. That is why we need to reframe the narrative and recognize that domestic livestock are the “problem” for our native wildlife.

Next time one of these collaboration groups asks for your money, consider giving your funds elsewhere. Look for organizations that challenge the dominance of livestock on public lands through grazing allotment buyouts or that promote the notion that public predators have priority on our public lands.

Life-and-death vote for wildlife

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Protect Alaska's wildlifeProtect Alaska’s wildlife

Today, Congress will vote on an appalling amendment from Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young that seeks to open millions of acres of National Park Service (NPS) lands to the ruthless killing of grizzly bears and wolves. These practices should not occur anywhere, least of all on lands managed by the NPS.

Congress nixed a rule that forbid these terrible practices on National Wildlife Refuges earlier in the year. Now they’re aiming at our National Park Service lands. The Young amendment #43 would subject Alaskan wildlife on NPS lands to hunting methods that most Americans find appalling—such as killing wolves and their pups while in their dens, baiting bears with rotting food in order to shoot them point-blank, and luring hibernating black bears out of their dens with artificial light in order to shoot them.

Your voice is needed to help defeat the Young amendment #43. Please make a brief, polite phone call to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler at (202) 225-3536 now.You can simply say, “Please protect wildlife in the FY18 spending package (H.R. 3354) and vote ‘no’ on the Young amendment #43.”

After you call, please send a follow-up message.

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Thank you for all you do for animals.
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Wayne Pacelle, President & CEO