Conservationists Challenge Grizzly Killing in Grand Teton National Park

Federally approved ‘take’ of grizzly bears threatens recovery

Grizzly bear and cub in Yellowstone National Park.

Grizzly bear and cub in Yellowstone National Park.  Jim Peaco / National Park Service

Washington, D.C. —(ENEWSPF)–April 6, 2015. Conservation groups have filed a legal challenge against two federal agencies for approving the killing of four grizzly bears, a threatened species, within Grand Teton National Park in northwest Wyoming.

The lawsuit, filed last Friday, April 3, by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club and Western Watersheds Project, targets September 2013 actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Park Service to allow the lethal “taking” of four grizzly bears over the next seven years in connection with a fall elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park.

“Authorizing the killing of four grizzly bears in a national park is not good management for grizzlies or national parks,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “The government should be working to eliminate grizzly mortality threats, not handing out authorizations to kill grizzly bears in one of our nation’s premiere national parks.”

The agencies authorized the challenged grizzly “takings” in response to an incident on Thanksgiving Day 2012 in which three hunters participating in the Grand Teton elk hunt shot and killed an adult male grizzly bear.  Anticipating more such conflicts as the region’s grizzlies increasingly turn to meat-based food sources such as hunter-killed or wounded elk, federal officials in September 2013 approved the killing of four more grizzly bears in connection with future elk hunts in Grand Teton through the year 2022.

In doing so, however, government officials failed to consider the cumulative impacts of the expected Grand Teton “takings” together with other grizzly bear mortality that federal agencies have authorized.  The authorized killing of these four grizzlies, when added to the amount of other similar grizzly  “take” determinations issued by FWS and currently in effect for other actions in the Greater Yellowstone region, could result in the killing of as many as 65 female grizzly bears in a single year. This level of mortality exceeds sustainable levels for female bears set by government biologists by more than three times.

“Allowing four additional grizzly bears – a threatened species – to be killed in one our nation’s most iconic national parks, without even requiring significant measures to reduce conflicts between people and bears, is inexcusable,” said Bonnie Rice with Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly increased the number of grizzly bears that can be killed, without looking at the broader impact on grizzly recovery in the region.”

“Throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appears to have forgotten basic math,” added Jonathan Ratner of Western Watersheds Project.  “They have been handing out permits for the killing of grizzly bears like candy but they have conveniently forgotten to add up all of the take they have authorized.”

Legal Document:


Federal biologists acknowledge that the growth of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population has flattened over the past decade. Recently, the grizzly population has been faced with the loss of two of its most important food sources in the Yellowstone region—whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout—due to changing environmental conditions driven in part by a warming climate. In the wake of these changes, scientists have documented the bears’ transition to a more meat-based diet, but that diet leads to a greater potential for conflict with human activities, resulting in more grizzly mortalities.

Such increasing grizzly bear mortalities are of particular concern because analysis of government grizzly bear conflict and mortality data shows a declining population trend for the Yellowstone-area population from 2007-2013. Veteran grizzly biologist David Mattson documented these findings in a declaration supporting the conservationists’ challenge.

In its decision , FWS reasoned that approved grizzly killing associated with the Grand Teton elk hunt would remain within sustainable levels. However, the conservationists contend that FWS cannot rely on compliance with sustainable grizzly mortality thresholds to justify additional killing of Yellowstone bears unless federal officials consider the impacts of all the grizzly bear mortality they have anticipated across the region.

The Grand Teton elk hunt results from a misguided program of winter elk feeding on the nearby Jackson Hole National Elk Refuge. The longstanding elk feeding program began for the altruistic purpose of sustaining elk through the harsh Northern Rockies winter.  More recently, however, the crowding of elk on winter feed lines has been documented to subject the elk to a severe threat of wildlife disease mortality that outweighs the benefits of feeding.  Further, the practice has led to the artificial inflation of the elk population such that the extraordinary step of hunting in a national park—with associated grizzly bear mortality—has been deemed necessary to control elk numbers.

Matteson Declaration:

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.


Petition: Sign for Wyoming Mustangs!

Scene from, Wyoming Tourism Video

The State of Wyoming uses images of wild horses to promote itself as a place where the untamed and wild spirit of the American West still lives. Yet wild horses in Wyoming are hanging on by a thread, with just 2,500 left in the entire state.

The BLM Wyoming Resource Advisory Council (RAC) is meeting in Laramie, Wyoming on February 2-4, 2015, This citizen advisory board has within its jurisdiction all of Wyoming’s 16 wild horse Herd Management Areas. AWHPC is submitting comments, asking for the RAC’s support for humane reform of the BLM wild horse program and fairer treatment for Wyoming’s last remaining mustangs.

Sign Petition here:

What’s to Stop Them?

I attended the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) wolf hearing last week to find out how far the WDFW ultimately plans to go with wolf hunting, once wolves are inevitably removed from the state endangered species list, and when Washington residents can expect to hear that hunting groups are holding contest hunts on wolves like our neighbors in Idaho have already done.

It turns out the department wasn’t ready to come clean on their ultimate plans to implement hunting seasons on wolves (starting in Eastern Washington). They were only willing to talk about the few cases of sheep predation (a few dozen out of a flock of 1,800 animals grazing on public forest land), and the WDFW’s collusion with areal snipers from the federal Wildlife “Services” for some good old fashioned lethal removal. Here are some notes on what I was planning to say, had it been on topic:

Over the years spent living in rural Eastern Washington, I’ve gotten to know how ranchers think and feel, and what they’re capable of. For over twenty years I lived in a cabin outside the Okanogan County town of Twisp, where rancher/convicted poacher Bill White is currently under house arrest. Exploiting his then-good standing and local influence to get permission from the WDFW to gather road-killed deer, under the guise of distributing them as meat to members of the Colville tribe, he used some of the deer as bait to lure wolves from the Lookout pack to within shooting distance. He and his son are credited with killing several members of that pack—the first wolves to make it back into Washington. Their sense of entitlement was so overblown they thought they could get away with sending a blood-dripping wolf hide across the Canadian border.

On the plus side, I also have a lot of experiences with wolves themselves. As a wildlife photographer I’ve photographed them in Alaska and Canada as well as in Montana, where I lived a mile away from Yellowstone National Park. I got to know the real nature and behavior of wolves. I’d like to think that if ranchers knew the wolves the way I do, they wouldn’t be so quick to want to kill them off again. I shouldn’t have to remind folks that wolves were exterminated once already in all of the lower 48 states, except Minnesota, which had only six wolves remaining before the species was finally protected as endangered.

Although I personally believe that wolves belong to no one but themselves, to use game department jargon, wolves and other wildlife belong to everyone in the state equally—not just the squeakist-wheel ranchers and hunters. By far most of Washington’s residents want to see wolves allowed to live here and don’t agree with the department’s lethal wolf removal measures (that no doubt include plans for future wolf hunting seasons, which are currently being downplayed by the WDFW).

What’s to stop Washington from becoming just like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming in implementing reckless wolf-kill programs that eventually lead to contest hunts (as in Idaho) and the subsequent decimation of entire packs? Or year-round predator seasons that ultimately result in federal re-listing (as in Wyoming)? What guarantee do we have that Washington’s wolves will be treated any differently?

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Wyoming fights wolf decision, files emergency rule to allow hunting season

copyrighted Hayden wolf walking
September 25, 2014 6:00 am  • 

Wyoming filed an emergency rule Wednesday with the Secretary of State’s Office, hoping to still begin its wolf hunting season Oct. 1.

The move came a day after a Washington, D.C., judge placed wolves back on the endangered species list, which immediately stopped all wolf hunting in Wyoming.

The emergency regulation would place a Wyoming Game and Fish Commission wolf management plan into effect in an attempt to address the judge’s concerns.


There are no guarantees it will work, said Brian Nesvik, head of the wildlife division of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

A coalition of conservation groups argued three points in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012. They said Wyoming’s plan did not ensure a viable population of wolves, that there was not enough genetic exchange with other populations and that the gray wolf is still endangered in some of its range.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote in her ruling that while wolves had recovered with sufficient genetic exchange, Wyoming’s plan to have a viable population was not binding.

“It’s just another page in the saga of this whole issue,” said Budd Betts, owner of Absaroka Ranch, a guest ranch and outfitting business near Dubois. “I thought this very well could have happened. This is going to be a recipe for an exploding population.”

At issue in the judge’s ruling is Wyoming’s promise to maintain more than the required 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside the national parks, said Nesvik.

Wyoming put an addendum in its management plan that it would maintain a buffer of wolves above the required number. It did not specify how many or make the buffer binding by law.

The emergency rule the state filed Wednesday changes that addendum and turns it into a regulation, Nesvik said.

“This is a formality is all it is,” he said. “Two-thirds of this decision affirmed the merits of Wyoming’s wolf management plan.”

Gov. Matt Mead signed the emergency rule Wednesday, he said.

Wyoming needs to do more than add a regulation to its plan resolving the buffer to assure wolves’ continued survival in the state, said Mike Senatore, vice president of conservation law and general counsel for Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit.

“What we hope Wyoming does is they go back and put in place a plan that will actually ensure the long-term recovery and survival of wolves in the state,” he said. “We continue to have major problems with the two-tiered status of wolves in the state.”

Wyoming has a hunting season on wolves in the northwest corner, but outside the area they can be shot on sight in what is called the predator zone. Senatore would like to see the predator zone eliminated or greatly restricted, he said.

Nesvik believes the plan Wyoming implemented is adequate to maintain the required number of wolves. Wyoming had at least 178 wolves and 15 breeding pairs in its trophy management area at the end of hunting season in 2013.

That number does not include wolves living in Yellowstone National Park, the Wind River Indian Reservation or the predator zone.

About 85 percent of the state’s wolf population is in the trophy management area. Nesvik did not have an estimate for the number of wolves in the rest of the state.

In 2012, 42 wolves were killed in the trophy area, and 25 were hunted in the rest of the state, according to Game and Fish. In 2013, 24 wolves were killed in the trophy area and 39 in the rest of the state. Hunters did not kill the quota of wolves allowed during either hunting season.

Wyoming’s attorney general will work with attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice to bring the case before the judge again.

In the meantime, no more wolf licenses will be sold. The department is working on a system to refund money to the hundreds of hunters who already purchased a 2014 license.

Victory for Wolves in Wyoming!

Victory: Federal Judge Reinstates Federal Protections Statewide

copyrighted Hayden wolf in lodgepoles

September 23, 2014
Washington, D.C. —Federal protections for gray wolves in Wyoming were reinstated today after a judge invalidated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012 statewide Endangered Species Act delisting of the species. The ruling from the U.S. District Court halts the management of wolves by Wyoming, a state with a history of hostile and extreme anti-wolf policies.

“The court has ruled and Wyoming’s kill-on-sight approach to wolf management throughout much of the state must stop,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “Today’s ruling restores much-needed federal protection to wolves throughout Wyoming, which allowed killing along the borders of Yellowstone National Park and throughout national forest lands south of Jackson Hole where wolves were treated as vermin under state management. If Wyoming wants to resume management of wolves, it must develop a legitimate conservation plan that ensures a vibrant wolf population in the Northern Rockies.”

Earthjustice represented Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity in challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s September 2012 decision to strip Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in Wyoming. The conservation groups challenged the 2012 decision on grounds that Wyoming law authorized unlimited wolf killing in a “predator” zone that extended throughout most of the state, and provided inadequate protection for wolves even where killing was regulated.

“Today the court affirmed that delisting gray wolves in Wyoming by the Obama administration was premature and a violation of federal law,” said Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark. “Any state that has a wolf management plan that allows for unlimited wolf killing throughout most of the state should not be allowed to manage wolves. Wolves need to remain protected under the Endangered Species Act until the species is fully recovered. State laws and policies that treat wolves like vermin are as outdated and discredited today as they were a century ago.”

“The decision makes clear that ‘shoot-on-sight’ is not an acceptable management plan for wolves across the majority of the state,” said Dr. Sylvia Fallon, senior scientist and wildlife conservation director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s time for Wyoming to step back and develop a more science-based approach to managing wolves.”

“The court has rightly recognized the deep flaws in Wyoming’s wolf management plan. Wolves in Wyoming must have federal protection until the state gets it right. That means developing a science-based management plan that recognizes the many benefits wolves bring to the region instead of vermin that can be shot on sight in the majority of the state,” said Bonnie Rice of the Sierra Club’s Greater Yellowstone Our Wild America Campaign. 

“We’re thrilled that protections for Wyoming’s fragile population of wolves have been restored,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “With Wyoming allowing wolves to be shot on sight across more than 80 percent of the state, there is no way protections for wolves should have ever been removed.”

The 2012 delisting of wolves in Wyoming turned wolf management over to the state, which opened up over 80 percent of its land to unlimited wolf killing and provided weak protections for wolves in the remainder. Since the delisting, 219 wolves have been killed under Wyoming’s management. Prior to the 2012 reversal of its position, the Fish and Wildlife Service denied Wyoming the authority to manage wolves in the state due to its extremely hostile anti-wolf laws and policies.

Background: There were once up to 2 million gray wolves living in North America, but the animals were driven to near-extinction in the lower 48 states by the early 1900s. After passage of the federal Endangered Species Act in 1973 and protection of the wolf as endangered, federal recovery programs resulted in the rebound of wolf populations in limited parts of the country. Roughly 5,500 wolves currently live in the continental United States — a fraction of the species’ historic numbers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently proposing to remove Endangered Species Act protection for most gray wolves across the United States, a proposal that the groups strongly oppose; a final decision could be made later this year.

RMEF Opposes Congressman’s Call for Yellowstone Wolf Buffer Zone

In the latest move to curtail wolf hunting across the country, Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio–one of the most vocal, influential, and persistent critics of Western wolf management–called for federal intervention to protect gray wolves that range beyond Yellowstone National Park.

DeFazio claims hunters who harvest wolves outside park boundaries are directly responsible for the recent decline in Yellowstone’s wolf population. To help solve this “problem,” he penned a letter to the Department of the Interior requesting the agency coordinate among states to establish a “wolf safety zone” around Yellowstone National Park. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation responded to DeFazio with a letter of their own.


RMEF described the request for a no-hunting buffer zone “unfounded by any science,” noting that it also “contradicts what the entire wolf reintroduction and ESA listing represent.” The organization goes on to point out scientific studies that account for the decline in wolf numbers in Yellowstone Park.

First, the availability of elk–the primary prey of northern range wolves–has declined significantly. Yellowstone’s northern elk herd has fallen from 17,000 animals in 1995 to roughly 4,000 in 2013. Second, a recent study demonstrated wolves will kill one another when an area’s population becomes too large for the available prey and habitat.

DeFazio has overlooked such evidence, and instead finds fault in state management of wolf numbers.

“…Gray wolves do not respect invisible park boundaries and once the wolves cross out of the park and onto bordering lands,” DeFazio wrote. “…There are myriad inconsistent state regulations that allow hunters to kill wolves on sight; in some instances without limit.”

Both Wyoming and Montana maintain strict management quotas that apply to wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In 2013 Montana limited its combined hunting/trapping sub-quota (unit 316) to four just four wolves near Gardiner. Wyoming biologists indicate its harvest quotas near the park are deliberately small to provide proper management. Additionally, Yellowstone officials support RMEF’s position that hunting wolves outside the park does not contribute to the park’s overall downward trend in wolf numbers.

Finally, RMEF notes gray wolf reintroduction in the Northern Rocky Mountains met minimum recovery goals nearly 15 years ago, and has since exceeded the mutually-agreed upon population by 500 percent. M. David Allen, RMEF president and CEO, concludes his letter: “The continuing drumbeat of individuals and organizations to halt any form of state based management of wolves shows a total disregard for the state based management system, the originally agreed upon [wolf] recovery goals and the 10th Amendment which delegates such matters to the states.”

DeFazio is the ranking Democrat on the House National Resources Committee and has previously opposed the USFWS proposal to lift ESA protections for gray wolves in the lower 48.

Stop the killing of 16,000 prairie dogs

Tell U.S. Forest Service: DO NOT Poison 16,000 Prairie Dogs
Action Alert from


National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
May 2014


The U.S. Forest Service is considering a plan to poison as many as 16,000 prairie dogs in Wyoming’s Thunder Basin National Grassland. Prairie dogs are a keystone species and vital to the survival of many other animals. Tell the Forest Service to reject this heartless plan.

prairie dogs prairie poison
Image by Jim Robertson /
Animals in the Wild

Sign an online petition here

And/Or better yet, make direct contact:

Thomas Whitford
District Ranger, Douglas Ranger district
Thunder Basin National Grassland
c/o US Forest Service
Rocky Mountain Region
740 Simms Street
Golden, CO 80401
(303) 275-5350 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (303) 275-5350 FREE  end_of_the_skype_highlighting


In Wyoming, prairie dogs are slowly recovering from decades of hunting and disease, and Thunder Basin National Grassland contains some of their last protected habitat. But the U.S. Forest Service is considering a plan to poison any prairie dog colonies on the Grassland within a quarter-mile of private or state land. They could kill an estimated 16,000 prairie dogs, which are essential to the survival of many other species. Urge the Forest Service to reject this heartless and misguided plan.


I am outraged at the plan your agency is considering — to kill an estimated 16,000 prairie dogs in Thunder Basin National Grassland. This would be inhumane to the animals and environmentally disastrous for the Thunder Basin ecosystem.

In 2009, in an exemplary decision, you set aside 85,000 acres of grasslands to provide a safe haven for prairie dogs from being shot, poisoned or gassed. Today, the Thunder Basin National Grassland is part of the remaining two percent of America’s untouched prairie grasslands, and contains the best prairie dog habitat in the country. Prairie dogs are essential to the health of our grasslands but are victimized by misinformation and widely extirpated from their former range.

Furthermore, I understand the plan may call for anticoagulant poisons such as Rozol. Rozol, a barbaric poison, can take one to three weeks to kill prairie dogs. After being poisoned, they will bleed internally and externally, wandering more and more disoriented and vulnerable to predators. Animals that feed off of this keystone species — including golden eagles, ferruginous hawks, swift foxes, turkey vultures, badgers, raccoons and coyotes — will also fall victim to the poison and may die.

As a federal agency charged with protecting our nation’s unspoiled flora and fauna, the Forest Service must turn down this plan to poison prairie dogs in the Thunder Basin National Grassland. Please find alternative methods for managing this species and the wildlife which depend on them.


or, send pre-written message here:;jsessionid=D636E670A5DE23260DC829166A1266FA.app338a?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=3461&s_src=EMOBGNPETNON0514PD&autologin=true&utm_source=nl&utm_medium=articalert&utm_campaign=maybgn

Thank you for everything you do for animals!

Proposed wolf hunting quotas in Wyoming nearly double

copyrighted Hayden wolf walking

This fall, hunters in Wyoming may be able to shoot almost twice as many wolves as they could in 2013, according to proposed regulations by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Proposed hunting quotas would allow 46 wolves to be hunted in the trophy game area, 20 more than in 2013, but still less than the 2012 harvest of 52 wolves.

“Our quotas are based adaptively on where the wolf population is at, and we ended up with more wolves than we thought this year,” said Dan Thompson, large carnivore section supervisor for the department. “We’re managing for the same number as last year, but we’re increasing quotas because we had more wolves at the end of the year.”

Game and Fish officials estimated that about 160 wolves would be in Wyoming’s trophy hunting area, which is roughly the northwest corner of the state outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Estimates from December placed the number of wolves roaming the trophy area at 179, he said.

Thompson credits the rise in the wolf population to greater restraint by agencies in hunting and killing wolves, and to a rise in the number of cubs born.

“If you have a population that is growing or at carrying capacity and you remove individuals … they respond by producing more (cubs),” he said.

Increased quotas are the only changes to wolf regulations this year. No hunting area boundaries or hunting dates will be changed. Wolves in Wyoming and outside the trophy hunt area can still be shot on sight.

Lawsuits are pending in Wyoming and Washington D.C. over Wyoming’s hunting regulations. A decision from a federal judge in Washington D.C. is pending, according to the Associated Press.

The department is holding public meetings across the state about the new quotas. The Game and Fish Commission will vote on the changes during its meeting in July in Dubois.



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Wolf populations in Northern Rockies states Down 6%

April 5, 2014 by 

Associated Press

Gray wolf numbers in the Northern Rockies have declined about 6 percent from 2011, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Congress removed the wolves from the federal endangered species list in 2011. A state-by-state breakdown of year-end 2013 minimum wolf count and percentage change over two years:

–Idaho: 659 wolves; down 14 percent

–Montana: 627 wolves, down 4 percent

–Oregon: 61 wolves; up 110 percent(asterisk)

–Utah: 0 wolves; no change

–Washington: 38 wolves; up 46 percent(asterisk)

–Wyoming: 306 wolves, down 7 percent

–NORTHERN ROCKIES TOTAL: 1,691 wolves; down 6 percent

(asterisk)includes wolves only in eastern portion of state


copyrighted wolf in river

Rockies Gray Wolf Numbers Steady Despite Hunting

BILLINGS, Mont. April 4, 2014 (AP)

State and federal agencies said Friday there were a minimum of 1,691 wolves at the end of 2013.

That’s virtually unchanged from the prior year even as state wildlife agencies adopted aggressive tactics to drive down wolf numbers.

Under pressure from livestock and hunting groups, Idaho officials have used helicopters to shoot packs. Montana has eased hunting and trapping rules.

Federal wolf recovery coordinator Mike Jimenez says he expects the population to gradually decline over time in the face of the states’ efforts, but to remain healthy.

A pending proposal would lift protections for wolves across much of the remaining Lower 48 states.

copyrighted wolf in river