Washington state’s wolf population continued to grow last year and added at least four new packs, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) annual survey. By the end of 2015, the state was home to at least 90 wolves, 18 packs, and eight breeding pairs.
The recently completed survey shows the minimum number of wolves grew by 32 percent last year, despite the deaths of at least seven wolves from various causes. Since 2008, when WDFW documented just one pack and five wolves, the population has increased by an average of 36 percent per year.
“Wolf populations in Washington are steadily increasing, just as we’ve seen in the upper Midwest and Rocky Mountain states,” said WDFW Director Jim Unsworth. “This increase – and the wolves’ concentration in northeast Washington – underscores the importance of collaboration between our department, livestock producers, and local residents to prevent conflict between wolves and domestic animals.”
Donny Martorello, WDFW wolf policy lead, said the new Beaver Creek, Loup Loup, Skookum, and Stranger packs were confirmed in Ferry, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, and Stevens counties, respectively.
However, researchers found no evidence of the previously documented Wenatchee Pack, and the Diamond Pack shifted its activity to Idaho and is no longer included in Washington state totals.
Martorello said the minimum number of breeding pairs in Washington increased from five to eight – the first increase since 2011.
WDFW conducted the research using aerial surveys, remote cameras, wolf tracks, and signals from 22 radio-collared wolves from 13 different packs. Twelve wolves were fitted with radio collars during the year, while one pup was marked and released without a collar due to its small size.
Despite their growing numbers, wolves were involved in fewer conflicts with livestock than in 2014. Martorello said the department determined wolves from four packs were responsible for killing a total of seven cattle and injuring one guard dog.
Three of the seven wolves that died in 2015 were killed legally by hunters on the reservation of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, which authorized the harvest up to six wolves per year by tribal members. The four other deaths included one wolf killed in a collision with a vehicle, one shot in self-defense by a property owner, and one that died during an attempt to capture it. One wolf’s cause of death is unknown.
Unsworth said WDFW took several steps in 2015 to expand public involvement in wolf conservation and management. He said the most important actions were doubling the size of the department’s Wolf Advisory Group to 18 members, and initiating a “conflict transformation” process to improve working relationships among the members and the groups they represent and the department.
Martorello said WDFW will continue to emphasize the importance of preventive actions to minimize wolf attacks on livestock and domestic animals. For example, WDFW wildlife conflict specialists are available to work with residents of communities where wolves are present.
WDFW has also adopted a “range rider” program to provide an increased human presence in grazing areas. WDFW continues to offer cost-sharing agreements for ranchers through a program designed to help them reduce their expenses for preventive measures.
Gray wolves, all but eliminated from western states in the last century, are protected under Washington law throughout the state and under federal law in the western two-thirds of the state.
Because of the difficulty of confirming the presence of every single wolf, survey results are expressed in terms of the minimum number of individuals, packs, and breeding pairs. The state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan defines a pack as two or more wolves traveling together in winter and a successful breeding pair as an adult male and female with at least two pups that survive to the end of the calendar year.
Under the state management plan, wolves can be removed from the state endangered species list once 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years among the three designated wolf-recovery regions.
WDFW’s complete wolf survey for 2015 will be available by the end of March on the department’s website: (http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/).
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Environmental groups filed a pair of federal lawsuits on Wednesday to stop hunting that is now allowed on hundreds of acres within Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and has claimed three bison.
The National Parks Conservation Association and Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates claimed in the lawsuits other species could be hunted.
Hunting generally isn’t allowed in national parks, though Grand Teton for decades has hosted an annual elk hunt in coordination with state wildlife officials.
The hunt — formally known as an elk reduction program — was part of a state-federal compromise that enabled the park to be established in its current boundaries in 1950.
A 2014 agreement between Grand Teton and Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials improperly allows hunting dozens of species on private and state land within Grand Teton, the groups claim.
The groups worry that grizzly bears and wolves could soon be targeted by hunters if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife succeeds in removing the animals from federal protection as threatened and endangered species.
“For more than 65 years, the National Park Service rightfully and lawfully exercised authority to protect all park wildlife,” said Sharon Mader, Grand Teton program manager for the NPCA. “It should continue to do so moving forward.”
Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw declined to comment, citing agency policy on pending litigation.
The lawsuits involve dozens of parcels of state and private land called inholdings located within the park. National park land completely surrounds most inholdings, which total well under 1 percent of Grand Teton’s 485 square miles.
Significant inholdings include two state parcels, each measuring a square mile, and a pair of relatively small ranches of 450 and 120 acres.
National Park Service and state officials began discussing whether federal or state laws would be enforced on Grand Teton inholdings after a wolf was shot on a private inholding in the park in 2014.
Federal prosecutors declined to charge the shooter, finding that park officials had erred in determining that federal wildlife law for national parks took precedence on the private land.
Park officials agreed later that year that state law would take precedence on all inholdings. The four environmental groups are contesting that agreement with the lawsuits.
“Wildlife obviously don’t pay attention to title records and move around on all of those parcels,” said Tim Preso, an Earthjustice attorney representing Defenders of Wildlife and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. “You cannot maintain the park, the integrity of the park as a preserve for wildlife protection, when you have these islands where wildlife can be killed.”
The number of Grand Teton inholdings dwindled after decades of buyouts by the National Park Service. Wyoming officials have been trying for years, with limited success, to get the Interior Department to acquire all remaining state inholdings.
The last two inholdings, together worth perhaps $100 million, command prime views of the Teton Range. In 2010, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal threatened to sell to the highest bidder if the federal government didn’t get serious about taking them off the state’s hands.
Recent negotiations between state and federal officials have focused on possibly trading the sections for federal land and mineral rights elsewhere in Wyoming
- Updated Mar 10, 2016
A coalition of wolf advocates has warned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they plan to sue if the agency doesn’t extend its supervision of wolf populations in Montana and Idaho another five years.
“When the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is offering five tags to every wolf hunter and Idaho Fish and Game is putting sharpshooters in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and funding aerial gunning in the Lolo Zone, we feel renewing another five years of federal monitoring is warranted,” said Matthew Koehler of Missoula-based Wild West Institute, one of five groups putting FWS on notice. “Given the situation on the ground and the ways state policy is changing, we think the prudent thing to do is keep monitoring wolf populations so they’re not hunted and trapped back to the brink of extinction.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Friends of the Clearwater and Cascadia Wildlands joined Wild West Institute in the notice. By law, groups objecting to a federal agency must give it 60 days advance warning to offer time to craft a solution before going to court.
Gray wolves were extirpated from the continental U.S. in early 20th century. The Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves in remote areas of Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in 1994 and 1995. The wolves were protected under the federal Endangered Species Act until 2011, when Congress passed a provision removing their listed status in Idaho and Montana. However, FWS personnel were required to monitor wolf populations for five years after giving state wildlife agencies local control of the species.
Wolves remain a federally protected species in Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and the Great Lakes region. Congress is considering several provisions to change or remove those protections this year.
In early January, Idaho Department of Fish and Game workers improperly collared two wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness along the Montana border while carrying out a helicopter-assisted elk-collaring project. The agency reported the incident to the U.S. Forest Service, which suspended Idaho’s permission for further helicopter work in the wilderness pending a review of the state’s practices.
Idaho has also maintained a state-sponsored wolf-removal program in addition to a public wolf hunting season.
In Montana, resident hunters may buy up to five wolf licenses a season for $19 each. The state removed its annual quotas on wolf seasons in 2012.
A couple of years ago, biologists from Washington State University found that killing a wolf to rid a threat to livestock actually increased the chances that cattle or sheep would be killed in the following year. Only eliminating a quarter or more of the wolves in a state resulted in declines in wolves killing livestock.
Ranchers have long killed wolves to protect their animals, but the study’s results seemed to show that the practice might not be as productive as they’d like. Now a new study of wolves in the Italian Alps shows why keeping packs together could be a good move for ranchers.
Camille Imbert of the University of Pavia in Italy and colleagues wanted to know why wolves kill livestock instead of wild prey. Sheep or cattle might look like an easy meal to us, but that may not be true for wolves. And even if a goat was easy to catch, that might not be a wolf’s sole consideration when looking for something to eat.
The researchers studied a population of wolves in Liguria, in northwest Italy, one of the few European wolf populations that has managed to survive into the 21st century and is now starting to expand its range due to new laws and efforts to restore its habitat. From 2008 to 2013, the team collected 1,457 samples of wolf scat and determined which wolf had left the poop behind and what it had eaten. The scientists also figured out whether or not the wolf had belonged to a pack, which consist of a pair of adults and their offspring.
Wolves that belonged to packs tended to eat more wild boar and roe deer and less goat and other livestock than did single wolves, the researchers report in the March Biological Conservation. Lone wolves — either young wolves that are moving to new territory or the former members of a pack that has been broken up (say, when the leaders were killed) — may not know as well what prey is available in an area as the resident pack and may therefore hunt whatever is available, Imbert and her colleagues write. Packs, it seems, can be pickier and go for wild prey when it’s available.
Not that a pack of wolves won’t hunt livestock. Pack wolves did eat goats and other domestic animals. But it seems at least a little blame can be put on Italian herders, who let goats roam unguarded and free in the mountains. And wolves will readily eat young calves born in open pastures; when birthing is done closer to home, cows tend to be safe from wolves.
To keep livestock from being eaten by wolves, the researchers make a few recommendations: Institute a few more protections for domestic animals. Promote a rich community of wild animals that the wolves can eat. And don’t kill wolves and break up packs. “Removal measures do not solve the problem in the long run,” they write.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works today added several poison pill provisions to the so-called Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, S. 659, which already threatened the interests of wildlife, conservation and public lands, but now is an even more extreme measure.
Among other harmful provisions, the bill now strips wolves of their federal protections in four states under the Endangered Species Act, subverting the judicial process and subjecting hundreds of wolves to hostile state practices such as baiting, hound hunting, and painful steel-jawed leghold traps. It also blocks federal wildlife officials from making decisions about cruel and inhumane predator control practices on Alaska’s national wildlife refuges.
In response to the EPW vote, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States said: “This was already an awful bill, but now it’s an appalling one — undermining the federal courts and removing federal protections for endangered wolves, denying proper oversight of toxic lead in the environment, blocking carefully considered rulemaking to protect animals on national wildlife refuges, among other destructive provisions. This bill is a grab bag of miscellaneous items that the trophy hunting lobby cannot secure in free standing bills, and Congress should give it a quick, clean kill shot.”
A few of the harmful provisions included in S. 659 are as follows:
Just last month, Congress rejected a rider to the end-of-year spending bill that would have removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes states and Wyoming. Today, the committee adopted by voice vote an amendment by Senator Barrasso, R-WY, to accomplish the same. This proposal would both subvert judicial processes and undermine the ESA, one of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws. When wolves were delisted in 2012, 20 percent of the Wisconsin population was wiped out in three hunting seasons, including 17 entire family units. In a three year period, more than 1,500 wolves were killed in the Great Lakes states alone. It is clear that federal oversight is necessary to provide adequate protections for gray wolves as required by the ESA.
AK Predator Control
An amendment proposed by Senator Dan Sullivan, R-AK, and adopted on a straight party-line vote would prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from issuing a rule and going through a public process on cruel predator control methods like the trapping and baiting of wolves and bears in Alaska’s national wildlife refuges.
The bill contains troubling provisions that relate to the use of lead ammunition, at a time when non-toxic ammunition is available to all hunters, and is less harmful to wild animals, land, and human health. The committee rejected a common sense amendment by Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA, that would have narrowed the exemption for sport fishing equipment from the Toxic Controlled Substances Act to focus on lead content. Senator Boxer’s amendment would have required periodic reports by the Environmental Protection Agency on the health impacts of lead in fishing equipment.
A provision of the bill would roll back the Marine Mammal Protection Act and provide a sweetheart deal to help 41 wealthy polar bear trophy hunters import the heads of rare polar bears they shot in Canada. The animals were not shot for their meat, but just for trophies and bragging rights. It’s the latest in a series of these import allowances for polar bear hunters, and it encourages trophy hunters to kill rare species around the world and then wait for a congressional waiver to bring back their trophies. The committee today rejected an amendment by Sen. Boxer that offered a sensible middle ground on this issue, and would have allowed the import of 41 questionable polar bear trophies, while making absolutely clear that the one-time carve-out is not intended to set a precedent.
by Stephen Capra
The Commission of Evil
In a crowded room at the Santa Fe Community College last Thursday, we were witness to the latest failure of a commission designed to support and enhance wildlife in our state. The question before them was the continued use of Ted Turner’s ranch as a staging area for the release of the Mexican wolf.
This commission was clearly wary, after an earlier meeting in November on this subject; they found themselves shouted down by citizens, who were disgusted by the commission’s actions, and their determination to slaughter all wolves in our state. This time they took great strides to state that wolves were here to stay, that really the issue here was a technicality; one that their arcane system sadly could not support, but, hey, we can find a way forward at a later date.
Translation: we will defuse the situation now, and continue to obfuscate wolf recovery in every way possible. Our newest commissioner, Elizabeth Atkinson Ryan, an oil and gas attorney from Roswell and a member of the Safari Club ( a group that kills wildlife internationally for trophies,) made a long and grating explanation of why they could not change the Chairman’s decision to deny permit renewal for Turner’s Ladder Ranch. At times, other commissioners chimed in with their message that they supported wolves but “unfortunately” they could not support Turner, well because, they just could not break ranks with the Chairman, but hey, “we support wolves.”
This was met with ‘sardonic’ laughter from the audience, many of whom have witnessed the complete slaughter of wildlife at the hands of these seven republican cowards. Several minute later, they voted 7-0 to end the release program at Turner’s Ranch, while loudly inviting them to reapply and “meet this commission half way.”
The real question in all of this is clear: how much longer must we allow this commission to exist? How much longer can we allow the indiscriminate killing of wildlife to continue?
Aldo Leopold fought our Governors at the turn of the last century to allow the choice of the Game Warden to be controlled by sportsmen. After a bruising battle, he lost and the Governor continued to select Wardens; usually a perk to a major donor. Little has changed in the past century, only now we have a commission of seven people, none of whom have a real concept of biodiversity.
It is biodiversity that must be at the core of every decision; that is why the concept of a commission has long ago grown “archaic,” in Chairman Kienzle’s own words. We do not need a commission controlled by sportsmen, ranchers or oil and gas interests. We need an agency run by a director, that is given a clear mission: every action we take must be taken to enhance biodiversity.
Wolves in our state face one clear future if commissions such as this remain; there will be a hunting season and that is a disaster for wolves in the wild. There will be a trapping season on wolves and that is a moral outrage. There will be a continued spreading of ignorance and fear about an animal that is perfectly designed to enhance biodiversity and improve the natural balance of wildlife, while improving the land.
At Bold Visions Conservation, our mission for the past several years has been to disband this commission. Their actions and appointments are slaughtering wolves, bears, mountain lions and coyotes. They are not here to enhance wildlife, but to cater to special interests in the livestock, oil and gas and fringe farming communities. They speak of hunting as though it was a 365 day a year enterprise. They want our children to learn to kill, to trap and to carry the same disregard for animals that they display every meeting.
The saying goes you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. This commission represents nothing but pure evil. They are a group of political insiders that relish their role in the slaughter of innocent wildlife. There is no redemption, no reason to hope things will change, and we must simply end their reign of terror.
We must also work to change the charter of the State Game and Fish Department which currently is a rambling statement of support for off-road vehicles, shooting wild game, support trapping, etc. This mission needs to focus like a laser on one thing: enhancing biodiversity!
Disbandment and Game & Fish Department reform will not happen overnight, but if we are to truly help wildlife and improve our lands and waters, we cannot accept the status quo. We must create this change for the next generation; it is our gift and our moral imperative for our children and the generations to come: a gift and action of respect, to the animals that so enhance our lives.
By now you probably know the arguments for the monitored, controlled, legalized forms of wildlife hunting. It has the potential to reduce conflict with humans and can provide much-needed revenue to be put toward conservation efforts. But not all populations are created equal; applied to the wrong ecosystem, hunting can also drive population declines, the echoes of which will reverberate throughout its landscape. In this week’s issue of Science Magazine, a group of researchers led by Montana State University wildlife biologist Scott Creel argue that wolf hunting policies in the US don’t align with the best evidence that science has to offer.
After wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rocky Mountains (NRM) in the mid-1990s, the carnivore population grew stronger. But that trend stopped in 2009. That’s because in 2008, the population lost its protection under the ESA and hunting became legalized.
Reviews by the USFWS say that hunting “has not increased any risk” to the NRM wolf population, but Creel and his colleagues aren’t so sure. “Current policies state that half of a wolf population can be shot annually without causing the population to decline,” said Creel in an official statement. “On the basis of ecological theory, this suggestion is not likely to be correct for the wolf, or indeed for any large carnivore.”
Fully-grown, mature large carnivores usually have low mortality rates. They are the kings of their jungles, after all. Hunting doesn’t substitute for other causes of wolf death, as is more likely the case for ungulates like deer. For animals like wolves, hunting pressures instead add to the mortality rate. After hunting was legalized in Montana and Idaho in 2008, wolf pack size there declined by nearly a third. And hunting doesn’t just impact group size – it also affects a group’s social order, which impacts the likelihood that juveniles will grow to reproductive age. Indeed, in 2013, five years after hunting was legalized, hunters took 25% fewer wolves – despite an extended hunting season!
How can the scientific evidence and the USFWS review be so contradictory? Creel’s group suggests that there can be a mismatch between the animals that provide the data to inform policy decisions and the animals to which that policy applies. “Carnivore distributions do not follow political borders, but hunting policies do,” they say. Just because the overall Northern Rocky Mountains population has been relatively stable under pressure from hunting doesn’t mean that the packs in any given state are equally so. Idaho’s annual wolf counts declined by nearly a quarter between 2008 and 2013.
More importantly, Creel’s group says the studies on which the USFWS based their review focused on wolf populations that could recruit immigrant wolves from other, nearby populations. Those local losses to hunting could be replaced by the influx of new individuals from elsewhere. It’s not that wolves are able to compensate for local losses, but it might appear that way if you’re not looking very closely. By analogy, while African lions may be protected within national parks, legalized hunting just outside of parks can still destabilize the overall lion population. Harvesting lions outside of parks creates a “vacuum,” drawing in the otherwise protected lions from inside of parks – leaving them vulnerable to hunting.
There can be a sustainable way forward for carnivore hunting. The future of wildlife management in most parts of the world probably includes at least some carefully controlled harvest. But if legalized hunting is to occur, the researchers say that policies need to be based on rigorous, empirical science, which requires “clearly defined, quantitative” goals.
Current wolf hunting policies in the NRM simply aim to avoid a population crash so severe that it would require re-listing under the ESA, but that’s too hand-wavy a target. Instead, policies should specify things like maximum harvest rates or goals for population size or growth from year to year. According to Creel, “the North American model of wildlife management works very well for species like ducks or elk, but becomes much more complex for species like wolves that compete with hunters.” – Jason G. Goldman | 18 December 2015
Source: Creel, S., Becker, M., Christianson, D., Dröge, E., Hammerschlag, N., Haward, M.W., Karanth, U., Loveridge, A., Macdonald, D.W., Wigganson, M., M’soka, J., Murray, D, Rosenblatt, E, Schuette, P. (2015) Questionable policy for large carnivore hunting. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4768.
By George Wuerthner
The recent decision by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to delist wolves from the state’s Endangered Species Act protection was based on faulty science and political expediency. The biggest problem is with the department’s criteria for delisting — more than four breeding pairs of wolves for three years in a row— is that it fails to ensure full restoration of the wolf across the state. Many outside scientists, including myself, feel the small population of 80 to perhaps as many as 100 wolves statewide is hardily sufficient to guarantee a robust and speedy restoration of the species.
A hundred or fewer wolves may preclude the extinction of the species, but it does not restore the ecological function of the wolf. And restoring the ecological function of the species should be the prime goal of any conservation effort. Precluding extinction is a very low bar and does not serve the people of Oregon, the wolf or our ecosystems.
I did an analysis of the potential for wolf restoration in Oregon back in the 1990s and concluded that the state could easily support 1,500 to 2,000 wolves. Others have reached similar conclusions. Restoring wolves across the state so that they are functional members of the wildlife community should be the goal of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
If, hypothetically, elk were the species under consideration and were protected under the state’s Endangered Species Act, I can almost guarantee you ODFW would want way more than 100 individuals before they would recommend delisting. They would want to see elk restored across the state.
Wolves are in a sense a “keystone” species that influences ecosystem health. Having a token population of wolves is not the same as having a functioning ecosystem member. Wolves not only eliminate weaker prey individuals but can shift habitat use; for instance they can reduce elk and deer foraging on aspen, willows and other browse species in riparian areas. Wolves can also affect the distribution and numbers of other species. Where wolves are present, there are often fewer coyotes. Coyotes kill the smaller Sierra Nevada red fox that is just hanging on in the Cascades. Restoration of wolves could thus assist the recovery of the red fox.
The rush to delist wolves is driven by false perceptions of wolf impacts on livestock and big game populations. Out of 1.3 million cattle and 195,000 sheep in the state, only 114 domestic livestock have been confirmed killed by wolves since the first wolves appeared in the early 2000s. Comparisons between Montana and Oregon are often made by ODFW. Using Montana, in 2014, the state’s 600 or so wolves killed 35 cattle and six sheep out of a total of 2.5 million cattle and 220,000 sheep respectively, By comparison, non-wolf losses accounted for 89,000 deaths. And though six sheep were killed by wolves, some 7,800 sheep died from other causes, like weather.
Wolves are simply not a threat, or even barely a factor, in the economic viability of the livestock industry.
The idea that hunting will be negatively affected across any significant portion of the state is also unlikely. Between 2009 and 2014, all wildlife management units (WMUs) of northeastern Oregon with established wolf packs had increasing elk populations, and two of the four (Imnaha and Snake River) were above the established management objectives for elk since wolves became established (ODFW data).
A similar situation exists in Montana, where elk numbers grew from an estimated 89,000 animals in 1992 (Montana Elk Plan) to 167,000 elk today (Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 2015). If this is what you get with wolf predation, I think most reasonable hunters would agree we could use more wolves in Oregon!
In the end, ODFW capitulated to mythology and false fears of hunters and ranchers without providing context and did not meet its wildlife responsibilities under the public trust doctrine to work diligently for full restoration of the ecological function of the wolf.
In 1994, southeast Alaska was home to about 300 Prince of Wales wolves, a subspecies of Alexander Archipelago wolves. By 2013, there were fewer than 250. Last year the population plummeted 60 percent to 89 wolves. New numbers confirm that the rare breed may have dropped to as few as 50.
A reported 29 wolves were killed during last year’s hunting season—which accounts for between 33 and 58 percent of the population. Either figure means the species is in danger of being completely wiped out, especially as females were hit particularly hard this season…