When Wolves Move In
Officials say wolves are returning to Oregon and ask how the public wants them to respond
Michael Milstein, The Oregonian, 10 November 2002
As Jack Southworth pumps water for cattle on a frosty morning at his ranch in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon, wolves may be closer than he imagines.
Pastures on his land in the nearly mile-high Bear Valley south of John Day lie within easy reach of expanding wolf packs in Idaho. Wolves that made it to Oregon in the past three years may have wandered nearby. And more have probably found their way to Oregon without drawing notice.
That puts Southworth and other ranchers like him on the front lines of what may become one of the most emotional wildlife debates Oregon has seen.
On Tuesday the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will begin 14 town meetings across the state -- from metropolitan Portland to rural John Day -- to explain that wolves are coming to Oregon and find out what the public wants to do about it. The input will help wildlife managers decide how to handle wolves -- from permitting none to letting them roam and multiply freely.
"If we know they're coming, and we do, it's good state government to be prepared for that," said Lindsay Ball, the department's director, who served much of his career as a game warden throughout Oregon. "The worst thing to do is nothing."
He wants those who see wolves as an essential element of a wild landscape to understand others, such as Southworth, who make a living on the landscape and bear real costs when predators attack cattle or sheep. Wolves mainly pursue elk, deer and other wildlife. But they have also killed hundreds of livestock in the Rockies -- frightening some just as the sight of a wild wolf inspires others.
"This will be one of the most emotionally driven topics we've seen in fish and wildlife management in years," Ball said. "It'll bring people out who love the wolf. It will bring people out who hate the wolf."
Oregon was not yet a territory when citizens met in Champoeg to tax themselves and enact a $3-per-wolf bounty in hopes of exterminating the premier predators from the Willamette Valley and making the valley safe for cattle and sheep.
Such government-funded trapping and poisoning eliminated wolves from the West until the nation sharply reversed course, calling for their recovery under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Biologists began releasing Canadian wolf packs in Central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in 1995, with results far exceeding expectations.
Some 700 wolves now range through Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Although federal wolf recovery targets only those Rocky Mountain states, more and more wolves -- particularly youngsters striking out on their own -- are spilling beyond the boundaries.
"All these dispersing wolves have to go somewhere, and that somewhere is likely to be Oregon, Washington, Utah and other states," said Ed Bangs, the federal wolf recovery leader.
Wolf sightings have increased steadily in Oregon, concentrated heavily in the northeast quarter of the state closest to wolf packs in Idaho. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has received a fuzzy photograph of a large wolf-like animal taken last month near Troy, just west of Hells Canyon.
At least three Idaho wolves have entered Oregon: One was captured and returned to Idaho in 1999, another was killed by a car on Interstate 84 near Baker City in 2000, and the third was illegally shot south of Pendleton in late 2000.
The first two wore radio collars for tracking, but the third did not. Since three-fourths or more of the roughly 300 wolves in Idaho are uncollared, it's likely more have entered Oregon undetected, biologists say.
Federal authorities do not plan to remove wolves from Oregon unless the toothy canines go after livestock.
A magnet for controversy Wolves evoke passion on all sides, with no simple lines between them. A poll of 600 Oregon voters in 1999 found 70 percent favored wolf recovery. The Oregon Hunters Association worries wolves will chase the same wildlife herds hunters do, but some members think the predators have a place.
"I wouldn't be a thinking person if I thought I was the only hunter with a right to be out there," said Scott Stouder of Corvallis, a life member of the group. "One of the reasons we hunt is the connection to wildness and the land. Wolves, to me, add to that, they don't detract from it. When you sterilize the landscape by taking components out, what you're left with isn't much better than a game farm."
Respected ranching practices
Predators are a fact of life on Southworth's ranch in Bear Valley, homesteaded by his grandfather in 1887. He hasn't minded them so much. Strong cattle protect themselves and calves from coyotes, which do help by gobbling mice and squirrels that otherwise nibble away grasses.
"My family's been here 117 years, and I don't think we've ever lost a healthy calf to predators," he said, guiding a dusty Ford pickup past beaver dams in a frozen stream.
Southworth is widely respected for his ranching practices. He has fenced streams from cattle so willows could recover, making life better for fish, and lets beavers dwell on his 12,000 acres in the valley that early trappers reported held as many beavers as anyplace in the West.
Beaver dams, he expects, will boost the water table and improve his pastures. Up to 500 pronghorn antelope roam the valley, and he likes that.
"If I'm going to be here the rest of my life, I want to enjoy what I'm looking at and feel good about what I'm doing," he says.
He doesn't feel good about wolves, which he sees as far more aggressive than coyotes. Yet he imagines their arrival in Oregon is inevitable.
"I don't think anyone thinks we can keep them out," he said. "There's enough of a population in Idaho, they're going to be looking for new territory."
The question, he and other ranchers say, is how much freedom they will have to control the wolves that do get to Oregon.
Political, biological experiment
It's as much a legal and political question as a biological one. Wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are an "experimental" population and can be shot if they attack livestock. But it's unclear if they are subject to the same control after crossing into Oregon or Washington -- where they may not part of the experiment and full protection of the Endangered Species Act would be left to apply.
Federal agencies are acting to loosen the protection by dropping wolves from endangered to threatened status and plan to begin lifting the protection altogether early in 2003, leaving management to the states. But that is stalled because Idaho, Montana and Wyoming must draw up state plans to keep wolves from declining again.
Idaho and Montana are doing so, but Wyoming is not -- instead continuing to resist roaming wolves. That keeps federal controls on other states, including Oregon.
Oregon wildlife managers have met with officials high in the Bush administration to discuss handling wolves in the state, Ball said, although he would give no details.
Oregon law on wolves
Oregon has its own Endangered Species Act, which calls for wolf recovery. When the state Fish and Wildlife Commission insisted federal agencies remove the first known wolf to wander into Oregon in 1999, it apparently did so in violation of the state law, Ball says now.
The commission will likely fold comments from the coming public meetings into testimony it received from biologists and others at commission workshops during the past year to devise an strategy for managing wolves. That may require altering the state Endangered Species Act -- a job for the Legislature.
State Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, who co-chairs the Legislature's natural resources committee, said ranchers cannot be expected to tolerate wolves without having the flexibility to shoot them when necessary.
"They're not going to like it, but they can probably live with it if they have the management tools," he said. "What we're not going to stand for is no tools to deal with this predator."
State and federal biologists say Oregon does not hold enough large parcels of wild land where wolves can dwell without running into human pursuits such as ranching and hunting. The issue, they say, is whether to resolve the conflicts by removing wolves or letting some remain in some places.
"Is it reasonable that we should shoot every one?" Ball asked.
David Mech, the nation's top wolf biologist, told the commission in October that wolves breed quickly, travel far and spread widely. They confront and test prey and often -- but not always -- attack older and weaker animals. Studies of moose and elk killed by wolves in the Upper Midwest and Yellowstone showed they were generally older, weaker and more arthritic than those shot by hunters.
Mech said there are fewer than 10 reliable reports of wolves attacking people. Most involved wolves that had been fed by people.
Wolves may cut into prey numbers, Mech said, but there's no sign they wipe out prey altogether. They clearly do attack livestock, having killed almost 500 sheep and 200 cattle in the Northern Rockies since 1995. And they go after coyotes, cutting their numbers by 50 percent in parts of Yellowstone.
The environmental group Defenders of Wildlife compensates ranchers for livestock confirmed killed by wolves.
That doesn't make it sound any better to Southworth, who is concerned for the local band of antelope along Shirttail Creek. Wolves, he fears, are another wedge between rural Eastern Oregon and urban Western Oregon.
"My greatest frustration is the idea that Western Oregon is not wolf habitat and Eastern Oregon is," he said. "I think wolves would do great in the West Hills of Portland. I think there would be plenty of dogs, cats and maybe deer to eat. But that idea seems ridiculous. I feel the same way about wolves right here."
Fishing With Wolves
Nicholas Read, The Vancouver (BC) Sun, 14 October 2002
Until this year it was a phenomenon scientists had never documented before.
A wolf, rust and ochre like the hues of the coastal shoreline surrounding it, plunges its head into a stream estuary and, after a moment's frantic splashing, pulls out a 10-kilogram chum salmon, flapping like a flag in its mouth.
Yes, a salmon. Until late last year scientists didn't know wolves ate salmon. Wolves, it was thought, lived on an exclusive diet of deer and other terrestrial animals.
But evidence gathered by University of Victoria graduate student Chris Darimont this summer and fall proves that wolves living along B.C.'s Central Coast -- wolves thought to be morpholocially, behaviourally and ecologically distinct from their Interior cousins -- also eat chum and pink salmon -- thousands of them, and as many as 20 in one hour. They also eat mussels, clams and barnacles.
It is an extraordinary thing to see.
The wolves watch the salmon like seasoned anglers, following every move the fish makes. Then, in one swift and lethal move, they plant all four feet firmly in the water and strike. And four times out of 10, says Darimont's research, they catch something.
Sometimes they'll eat the fish right then and there.
But as often as not, they'll carry it ashore where they'll throw it on the ground, tear off the head, and devour it.
"Can you see him?" asks Darimont excitedly as it happens right before our eyes.
By mid-October, he's seen it a hundred times, but even now, it remains a thrill for him to witness something so remarkable, and until recently, unknown to scientists.
The fact the wolves only eat the head is also interesting to Darimont. His research suggests that it may have something to do with the wolf seeking out nutrients present only in the salmon's head, or that the rest of the body carries a parasite toxic to canids. No one really knows. But they do eat the whole head, including the jaw and mouth. Nothing is left of it when a wolf has finished.
Walking along one of the six salmon streams where Darimont has studied coastal wolves this year, you see evidence of their fishing prowess everywhere. There are carcasses every few metres along the water's edge, all in varying stages of decomposition and all decapitated as neatly as if the cuts had been made by a guillotine. Had bears eaten them, they probably would have devoured the brains, dorsal muscles and egg sack. Eagles would have ripped them to shreds. The clean, almost geometric, cuts tell us these fish were taken by wolves.
There is also wolf scat everywhere -- some of it very fresh -- so it all stinks to high heaven, a curious occurrence in what is otherwise a pristine old-growth rainforest of red cedar and western hemlock.
"Sometimes people look at what's left and say 'what a waste,' " Darimont says. "But it isn't. Because the salmon feeds the whole forest. Every part of it is used by something somewhere."
Salmon provide rainforests with nitrogen, he explains. Bears and, it now turns out, wolves, bring the fish ashore, eat part of it, then leave the rest for small birds and insects to eat, digest and ultimately excrete all over the forest floor.
"Every part of it is used," Darimont says.
Seeing the wolves is no easy feat. "They're so elusive," he warns as we head out on his small boat towards the islands where they live. "But because of that when you do find them, it makes it that much more special."
He is conducting his study under the auspices of UVic biology professor Tom Reimchen and University of Calgary wildlife biologist Paul Paquet, with funds provided by the National Science and Engineering Research Council.
Even though science has only just found out about them, chances are that fishing wolves have been around since life dawned on the coast. They are undoubtedly an integral part of the ecosystem.
Chester Starr, a junior elder with the local Heiltsuk tribe, says some elders have referred to such wolves in their stories, but it has only been recently that members have begun to rediscover and appreciate the uniqueness of the wolves in conjunction with biologists.
"They're part of our family," Starr says of the wolves. "What we are is what they are too."
Darimont has spent the whole summer in this coastal archipelago observing packs of fishing wolves, in addition to collecting their fur and feces and analysing it for its contents.
It shows. His black hair is a Medusa tangle, and his beard is growing all over the place. "I have the luxury of not looking at myself in the mirror for weeks at a time," he says.
"People think what I do is sexy," he adds, but the truth is that much of it is painstakingly tedious. Wolf scats have to be collected by hand from 10 islands and an adjacent mainland area over an area of roughly 2,500 square kilometers, and that takes hundreds of hours in weather of every kind. It rains up to four metres a year in this part of world, and the wind can churn the sea like a furnace.
Because the wolves live in a system of islands, Darimont goes everywhere by boat. But wolves are exceedingly wary of humans, and alert to every gesture, scent and sound they make, especially the roar of a motor, so he has to be judicious about when to gun the engine and when to cut it.
Approaching one river where he thinks we might see a pack, we first have to moor the boat, then paddle in silently by canoe.
It's a misty morning, shrouded in sepulchral shades of silver and grey. Eagles perched in the trees are silhouetted against the dawn sky like black ornaments, and the rush of gulls' wings fills the cold air. The wolves are calling to us like sirens, but even though we creep in as silently as we can, we never see them. The wind has shifted and as a result, our odds of confronting them have plummeted.
When we finally do see them it is in another estuary approached almost as an after-thought. It's late morning and the fog has suddenly lifted. Wolves are most active at dawn and dusk, so at any moment they likely will be heading into the woods to sleep. But we're lucky. They've tarried for some reason, so we're able to catch sight of them collecting and eating the end of that morning's catch.
There are three adults and three pups, now about six months old and almost as big as their parents. One of the adults has a weak hind leg, which he never allows to touch the ground. Darimont calls him "Gimpy". We don't know how long they've been there, but through a telescope -- any closer and they'd run away -- we're able to observe them for about 20 minutes.
The salmon runs start in August and continue abundantly until mid-October, says Darimont. A few late runs will continue until December, but the real bounty occurs only for a couple of months.
Unlike coastal bears, which gorge on salmon in preparation for hibernation, wolves are physiologically unable to store large reserves of fat. "Wolves are like Ferraris," is how Darimont puts it. "They travel fast on a small tank of gas."
What salmon does is provide them with an opportunity to fill up on a food supply that, unlike deer, doesn't fight back.
It also is the one time of year when wolves like Gimpy -- those at the bottom of the pack who must wait to feed until the others have their fill -- can eat with the same gusto and speed as the leading male and female.
Darimont has observed and recorded six individual wolf packs that rely to some extent on marine life for their diet. He also has identified six denning sites within the coastal archipelago.
Of concern to him is that several of these sites are in unprotected forest valleys earmarked for logging. Road construction has already begun in some areas, and logging is due to start soon.
It concerns conservationists too. That's why Raincoast Conservation Society project director Ian McAllister wants the government to recognize rainforest wolves as globally unique and deserving of special recognition in land-use plans.
"It's frustrating that just as we're learning so much about this unique wildlife population, we continue to lose so much rainforest habitat to industrial logging," says McAllister. "Also, no special hunting licence is needed for these wolves to be hunted legally."
Darimont and Paquet have already approached Western Forest Products about the possibility of protecting one of the denning sites with a 2,000-metre buffer zone. Two hundred metres have been agreed to, but negotiations are continuing.
"The big thing that I always try to make clear is that we're just beginning to learn about this population and all inhabitants of the rainforest," Darimont says. "These wolves are continually surprising us, It makes me wonder how many more mysteries there are in the rainforest."
A Pack of Controversy
DNR relocates wolves that kill farm animals
Carol Winkleman, Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Journal Sentinel, 17 September 2002
Keshena -- Conservation officials have moved a pack of wolves onto the Menominee Indian Reservation after they killed farm animals, a decision praised by tribal officials and criticized by some bear hunters.
Two adult wolves and five pups, dubbed the Deerbrook Pack, were moved by state Department of Natural Resources authorities from their territory in Langlade County farmland to forest on the reservation in late August and early September.
The practice of relocating wolves that prey on farm animals has spawned heated debate, especially as the wolf population in Wisconsin grows, and the number of wolf attacks on domestic animals increases.
While tribal members celebrated the wolves' return to the reservation, some bear hunters said the wolves weren't moved far enough away from the area where they killed cattle.
Rick Posig, president of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, said the relocated wolves will simply return to the farmland in Langlade County.
"When you have a free meal, you don't go too far from the free meal. It's an easy lunch," Posig said.
On June 28, the wolves killed a calf on a farm two miles from Deerbrook and dragged it out of the barn. They returned on July 5 and killed a sick cow in a pasture.
The Menominee reservation is 32 miles from the farm; a wolf's territory can cover more than 70 square miles.
But DNR wolf biologist Adrian Wydeven said he's confident in the wolf relocation program's success rate. Of 21 wolves that the DNR has relocated between 46 and 172 miles from their original location, none has returned.
"The Menominee County release will be less (distance), but we are hoping that the large open land around Antigo will discourage wolves from going farther north," said Wydeven, who added that there are at least 323 wolves in the state, with 309 outside Indian reservations.
According to federal law, the DNR must move wolves that have attacked and killed domestic animals three times. The U.S. Endangered Species Act prevents states, as well as individuals, from killing wolves, although they can be legally destroyed if they attack humans. Now wolves that return to attack domestic animals can be killed, too, under a federal permit recently issued to the DNR.
Because of this permit, the Deerbrook Pack has only one more chance. If any of the wolves prey on domestic animals, they will be captured and destroyed, Wydeven said.
Wildlife biologists trapped the seven wolves, attached radio collars and moved them in crates to pens in the reservation wilderness. The pups were released Aug. 25, and the adults were freed Sept. 2.
Before the wolves were released, Menominee tribal historian David Nahwaquaw-Grignon spread tobacco around their pens in a ceremony to give thanks for the wolves' return to tribal land. A small group of tribal members and DNR staff formed a circle around the pens while Nahwaquaw-Grignon blessed the wolves.
"The wolf is regarded by the Menominee as a brother," said Tribal Deputy Chief Warden Al Fowler.
But some farmers and bear hunters think problem wolves need greater restrictions.
Not only are farm animals at risk, but dogs used by bear hunters have been killed by wolves in Wisconsin, Posig said.
"It's not that we're against all wolves. We're against the wolves that are causing depredation," Posig said. "Let's manage wolves to the fullest, or not have them at all."
Posig proposes a "three strikes and you're out" rule that permits the destruction of the wolves that kill dogs or livestock three times on public or private land.
Another bear hunter, Dwight Freymiller, said wolves and humans can co-exist if humans take necessary precautions.
"Wolves are here. By being anti-wolf, we are picking a fight we can't win. I'd vote for eliminating wolves, but in Wisconsin wolves are just a fact of life," Freymiller said.
Saving the Wolves Comes With A Price
Elizabeth Shogren, Calgary Herald (Alberta), 15 July 2002
At every stage of the seven-year U.S. federal effort to reintroduce the grey wolf to the Northern Rockies, Carter Niemeyer has been there.
He trapped wolves in Canada and brought them south to their new homes. When one pack was getting into trouble with ranchers, he camped in the open with them, listening to them howl all night before transporting several farther from the temptations of livestock. When ranchers wrongly accused them of killing lambs or calves, he argued their cases and exonerated many.
Along the way, this gentle 6-foot-51/2-inch giant developed a deep affection for the animals he calls "big, happy oafs."
So it was with a heavy heart that Niemeyer, 55, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official in charge of reintroducing the wolf to central Idaho, ordered the killing of the Whitehawk pack this spring -- and then carried out the order himself.
As he did, Niemeyer plunged into the heart of the most contentious aspects of reintroducing wolves to the Northern Rockies.
Having been all but wiped out by the 1920s, the wolves have come back faster and proven heartier than federal wildlife officials dreamed possible. In central Idaho alone, the population has swollen from the 35 reintroduced in 1995 and 1996 to 261 at last official count. In 1995, 29 Alberta wolves were imported to parts of Idaho and Wyoming as part of the repopulation program.
It may be too much of a good thing. The wolves have eaten hundreds of cows and other livestock. Ranchers and local politicians had acquiesced to the reintroduction of wolves only if federal wildlife managers agreed to kill those that could not be otherwise persuaded to leave livestock alone. They are demanding that the government make good on the deal.
But when government gunners, living up to the agreement with the ranchers, have killed the majestic animals, they have triggered outpourings of outraged calls, letters and e-mails.
In the case of the Whitehawk pack, wildlife officials worked tirelessly to deter the wolves from eating livestock. The pack's fate was followed closely by wolf lovers. Its home was the spectacular Sawtooth Mountains and its alpha (or lead) female was a snow-white beauty named Alabaster.
By early last summer, the pack was in trouble. It had killed 16 sheep, a calf and a guard dog. Wolf opponents were calling for the pack's heads.
But Niemeyer had other plans. Electric fences were erected to protect the sheep overnight. Volunteers slept with the herd for weeks in the meadows below the jagged peaks of the White Cloud Mountains. Wolf managers rigged up a device called a rag box that, in response to a signal from a wolf's collar, trumpeted loud noises such as gunshots, helicopter blades and yelling cowboys. The livestock losses stopped, and the wolves were spared.
This year, the pack moved to the opposite side of the mountain range. Ten rag boxes were set up in different pastures to scare them off.
But on March 31, the wolves ate a pet sheep penned near a ranch house. Electronic monitors set up in the rancher's field identified two wolves as the culprits, and Niemeyer ordered them killed. Cracker shells, which explode with a loud bang and a flash, were fired from a helicopter to chase off the remaining wolves. Nonetheless, two days later a calf was killed and monitors fingered three more wolves from the pack. Niemeyer ordered their deaths as well.
One more effort was made to deter the wolves, but the next morning yet another calf was eaten.
"That's when I made the decision," said Niemeyer. "I felt we had come to the point that our non-lethal efforts were futile and this pack needed to be removed."
Armed with a semi-automatic rifle, Niemeyer flew in a helicopter several dozen feet above the foothills of the White Cloud Mountains in pursuit of the five remaining members of the pack, including Alabaster, who was nearing the end of a pregnancy.
Betrayed by transmitters in their collars, the animals were running for their lives.
Starting with Alabaster and her mate, Niemeyer shot the wolves one after another. "It was very surgical and humane," he said.
Niemeyer said he received 300 angry e-mails after he killed the Whitehawk pack. "In a perfect world, we would not kill wolves," he said. "But this is not a perfect world."
Niemeyer decided to be the one to pull the trigger because he anticipated intense criticism.
Killing wolves is likely to become much more common when the three states where they have been reintroduced -- Idaho, Montana and Wyoming -- take over their management. That will happen after the wolves are removed from the federal endangered species list, which could come as early as next year, said Ed Bangs, Niemeyer's boss as wolf coordinator for the Northern Rockies.
The important thing, he said, is the survival of the wolves as a species, not the survival of individual wolves.
That's not so easy to get the public to accept. "Wolves are so much like us that we tend to strongly identify with them," Bangs said. Wolves are caring parents and good spouses. They hunt and eat together in packs and look after one another. They jealously guard their territory, repelling outsiders.
The environmentalist most closely involved with the reintroduction, Suzanne Laverty of Defenders of Wildlife, fears when the states take over, they will shoot first instead of first trying non-lethal means to control the wolves. "It can't be acceptable to kill pack after pack," she said.
The Whitehawk Pack migrated to this region after members of two other packs were killed or moved out of the area for attacking livestock. Just two months after the Whitehawk Pack was shot, there were several reports of new wolves in the area.
Environmentalists argue that wolves should have special protection at the Sawtooth National Recreation Area because the federal government set it aside as a special place to enjoy wilderness. But ranchers have leased the meadows for grazing for decades.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled last month that the law establishing the Sawtooth National Recreation Area gave wolves and all other wildlife precedence over livestock. The local environmental groups that brought the case now have asked the judge to block long-standing grazing permits in the Sawtooth Valley.
The national environmental group Defenders of Wildlife, by contrast, has looked for ways for ranchers and wolves to live together. It supplies ranchers with huge white Great Pyrenees dogs to guard herds. It teaches ranchers simple techniques to avoid losses, such as burying animals that die of natural causes and gathering animals together at night. It even compensates ranchers for lost livestock. In the last 14 years, Defenders of Wildlife's wolf compensation program has given 198 ranchers more than $227,000 for more than 900 animals killed by wolves across the Northern Rockies.
Wolves Rate Special Status Inside Oregon
Michael Milstein, The Oregonian, 29 May 2002
A 1987 law encourages recovery, not just protection, for animals that wander into the state
If gray wolves are roaming the hills and forests of Eastern Oregon, as many biologists suspect, they may have found a remarkable refuge: Not only are wolves federally protected as an endangered species, it turns out they are also strongly protected in Oregon by a little-known, little-understood state Endangered Species Act.
The state law passed in 1987 has dwelled in the shadow of the well-known federal Endangered Species Act. But it's becoming clear that even if federal agencies remove wolves from their endangered list, as they propose to do this year, state law would still safeguard the predators throughout much of Oregon.
And much to the chagrin of Eastern Oregon ranchers who fear wolves will threaten their livestock, it now appears the state must encourage the recovery of resident wolf populations within Oregon.
"There is a recovery obligation, and we're trying to understand what that means exactly," said Bill Cook, a state Department of Justice attorney who works with the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. "We're trying to understand how that might dovetail with other wildlife laws."
Wolf advocates argue Oregon officials now have no choice but to accept and protect wolves as one of the state's original wildlife species. But ranchers view the unfolding law as an unfair burden on agriculture and are mounting a campaign to have the Legislature revise or repeal it.
At least three wolves have entered Oregon since biologists reintroduced the species to Central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park under a federal recovery effort starting in 1995.
One of the animals was shot illegally near Ukiah, and another was struck and killed by a car. The third was taken to Idaho by federal agencies at the urging of state wildlife officials.
Oregon does not figure into federal wolf recovery goals, but wolf advocates say the state holds promising habitat for the carnivores in the Blue Mountains, Cascades and Siskiyous. And biologists suspect a few wolves are roaming Oregon.
Continuing wolf sightings cluster around Ukiah, in the lofty heart of the Blue Mountains between Pendleton and John Day.
Oregon wildlife officials had long given little weight to the state Endangered Species Act, last amended in 1995. A current handout from the Department of Fish and Wildlife says the state act is "much more limited in scope" than the federal law and "affects only the actions of state agencies on state-owned or leased lands."
A closer reading But Cook's new, closer reading of the law for the Fish and Wildlife Commission has revealed that the state law does more than that. It may be just as tough -- and tougher on some points -- than the federal act. For instance:
* The state law prohibits the killing or capture of wolves on all public land, including the 60 percent of Oregon in federal ownership. It does not apply to private land, as does the federal law.
* There is little or no way under the state law for ranchers to shoot wolves that attack livestock. The federal law, in contrast, permits control of problem animals under certain circumstances.
* A species can be removed from the state endangered species list only after it has recovered within Oregon. The law does not specify how many animals are necessary for recovery, however.
* The state must develop guidelines -- and possibly a full management plan -- to ensure the survival of animals protected by the state act. It has not done so for most species, including wolves.
Species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act were automatically included under the state act when the Legislature passed it 1987. That included wolves, certain whales and others. Species added since then must go through a listing process that includes public notice, hearings and scientific analysis.
Oregon ranchers and hunters are circulating a petition demanding the Fish and Wildlife Commission remove wolves from the state list on the grounds they were exterminated decades ago and do not warrant protection. They plan to submit the petition before a commission meeting on wolves June 6.
"They cannot be endangered if they don't exist," said Glen Stonebrink, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, which will be joined in the petition by the Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon Grange and Oregon Hunter's Association. "It would be an huge added burden for something no one wants."
But Cook advised the Fish and Wildlife Commission last month that wolves could be removed from the state endangered list only with scientific findings showing the population is secure within Oregon.
Looking for flexibility "We're looking at it and turning it upside down to make sure we didn't miss something that might provide some flexibility or management tools," Cook said.
Wolves have multiplied rapidly in Idaho, Yellowstone and Montana under the federal recovery program. They number about 30 packs and close to 600 animals. Federal officials will begin the process of dropping them from the federal endangered list this year, although wolf defenders likely will contest the move.
A few packs reside in Idaho about 50 miles from the Oregon line.
Only about 20 percent of the wolves in Idaho wear radio tracking collars, however, so biologists cannot tell how many may have wandered across state boundaries. There is no sign of breeding packs in Oregon.
Federal agencies have warned Oregon wildlife managers during the past two years they will not chase down wolves that venture into the state unless they cause problems. Once wolves lose federal protection, management will be up to the states.
"Before it gets as hot as I know it will, we need to find out what our options are," said John Esler, chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Commission. "I don't want to pretend the problem's not going to exist in Oregon, because the problem is going to introduce itself."
Wolf Vs. Wolf
Tim Mowry, Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News, 6 May 2002
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Like the tourists who hope to see them, wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve come and go.
The average life expectancy for a wolf in Denali Park is three years. About a quarter of the approximately 100 wolves that inhabit the 6-million acre park die each year.
They starve. They get kicked by moose. They drown in rivers. They get buried in avalanches.
The number one cause of death for Denali Park wolves, though, is Denali Park wolves. You might say it's a wolf-eat-wolf world. Of the 20 to 25 wolves that die each year in the park, about half are killed by other wolves.
"We've had several packs die out due to starvation or being killed off by other wolves," biologist Layne Adams, who heads the park's wolf research program, said. "By and large the most important factor when it comes to wolf mortality in the park is other wolves.
"In any given year in Denali a wolf has four times the chance of being killed by another wolf than a trapper or hunter."
Yet, when the last-known member of the Sanctuary wolf pack was killed in a trap just outside the park's northeast boundary this spring, the state's wolf watchdogs howled in protest.
The Sanctuary wolves, along with the East Fork or Toklat Pack, were the only two packs that were regularly seen by thousands of tourists who travel into Alaska's most famous park each year.
The Sanctuary Pack was wiped out due to several factors. The male leader of the pack was killed by a moose and the alpha female was killed two months later after being tranquilized by researchers. Two of the three remaining pups disappeared and the last pup, a 22-month-old female wearing a radio collar, was the one caught in a trap.
"For the price of a pelt or two, what a waste," said Paul Joslin, executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, in a eulogy to the Sanctuary wolves.
Wildlife biologist Gordon Haber, who has tracked wolves in Denali Park for the last 36 years and whose research is funded by the animal-rights group Friends of Animals, called the death "predictable."
Both Haber and Joslin scolded the park service for allowing another pack of wolves to be wiped out, which ruined prime viewing opportunities for tourists and valuable research opportunities for scientists.
They used the death of the last Sanctuary wolf as a rallying cry for a bigger no-hunting and no-trapping buffer that would protect wolves from wandering outside the northeast corner of the park where they are legal game for trappers and hunters in the nearby communities of Healy and Denali Park, which sit on the northern boundary of the park.
The Alaska Board of Game last year established a 90-square-mile no-hunting, no-trapping area northeast of the park to protect the Toklat Pack, but animal protection groups attending a recent Board of Game meeting in Fairbanks pushed for a larger buffer to protect the Sanctuary Pack's territory. The game board, however, took no action on the proposal.
"We need to do more for these viewable wolves we have," Joslin said. "The cost of a wolf pelt is nothing compared to the value these wolves hold for the tens of thousands of people that go to the park."
"All wolves are not the same," Joslin said.
He cited the Toklat wolves, which have roamed the park road area around the Toklat River for the last 62 years and are perhaps the most-viewed wolf pack in the world, as an example.
"The Toklat wolves' value runs into millions of dollars a year," Joslin said. "A lot of people get to see them fairly closely."
But park superintendent Paul Anderson said the park is not meant to be a zoo and a buffer is not needed to protect the park's 100 or so wolves or provide increased viewing opportunities. The population is healthy and shows no signs of decline, he said.
"We don't manage wolves for tourists," Anderson said. "We manage wolves as a population of wildlife in an ecosystem.
"What we see here is the natural ebb and flow of the dynamics of the wolf population," he said.
While the loss of the Sanctuary Pack may seem like bad news for the thousands of tourists who flock to the park each year in hopes of seeing a wolf, that may not be the case. There is already another wolf pack in place to replace the Sanctuary wolves, Anderson pointed out.
The Mount Margaret Pack, a group of four wolves, wedged its way between the territories of the Toklat and Sanctuary packs a year ago and appears ready to succeed the Sanctuary Pack as the latest residents of the area around the park entrance.
"They actually did the same thing the Sanctuary wolves did," said Adams, the biologist. "They started out as a pair and squeezed in between the (Toklat) and Headquarters packs and it now looks like they're expanding their territory into the east.
"This is what wolves do," he said.
The Sanctuary Pack is the third pack of wolves in the last 20 years to be erased from the northeast corner of the park, where they were seen regularly by tourists who drive the first 15 miles of the Denali Park Road, the only part of the 90-mile road open to the public.
Prior to the Sanctuary wolves, the Headquarters Pack roamed the same area for 11 years. It, too, was eventually wiped out by a trapper when the wolves wandered outside the park boundaries and were caught in illegally set snares. Before the Headquarters Pack, the Savage Pack inhabited the area near the park entrance for more than two decades. Haber contends its demise was the result of hunting.
Whether or not the Mount Margaret Pack will offer tourists the same kind of viewing opportunities the three previous packs did is up for debate. Haber and Joslin contend that it takes time for wolves to become conditioned to the rumble of buses and the sight of camera-toting tourists.
"It took four years for those (Sanctuary) wolves to learn the same patterns that made the (Headquarters) pack so viewable," Haber said. "It's how they occupy the space that matters. They have to learn the hunting routes and the denning routes.
"Those factors determine how they're seen by visitors," he said. "Those details are learned."
No one knows how long it will take the Mount Margaret Pack to become accustomed to people so they can be viewed as the Sanctuary, Headquarters and Savage packs were before them, Joslin said.
"It may take years to get to that stage," said Joslin. "Every time a pack starts to figure it out we lose them."
But Anderson, the park superintendent, said viewing opportunities for wolves and other wildlife along the park road are much the same today as they were 10 or 15 years ago, even though subsistence trapping and hunting is allowed in sections of the park. It's not the park service's intention to condition wolves for tourists, he said.
"We're not here to habituate wildlife, that's not our purpose," Anderson said.
Joslin, though, thinks making wildlife, especially wolves, more viewable to tourists should be one of the park service's priorities.
"Wolves normally are very shy animals and are rarely seen; we've got something special now going on in Denali," he said. "You get on that bus and you have a realistic chance of seeing wolves up close. It's so important to try and protect that interest."
Rising Wolf Population A Real Menace
Wolves invading Krasnoyarsk Territory are not so much an ecological as a social threat
Alexei Tarasov, Moscow News, 1 May 2002 (Special Report No. 17)
Biologists say that in the 1990s a new generation of wolves grew up; they are unfamiliar with humans or man-made technology as a source of heightened danger. Today "new-look" gray-furred predators intrude into the human habitat without the slightest fear, for people have lost the knack of wolf-fighting.
Old-timers recall that in the 1930s, dispossessed kulaks were driven down taiga paths to the accompaniment of wolf howling. The next wolf intervention was observed after World War II and Stalin's death. Today the predators are making trouble again. In recent years wolves have besieged not only remote isolated fields and foresters' outposts in the taiga. They are regularly spotted in suburban areas and large villages. Where lonely predators used to appear sporadically, today they come in packs, attacking dogs in orchards just out of Krasnoyarsk.
Leonid Sabaneev, a prominent Russian hunting and game expert, wrote that rapid proliferation of the wolf population "only came at periods of degradation of the national economy, social upheavals and wars, mainly as a fateful and inevitable outcome of any adversity."
Siberian wolf hunters say that the unprecedented wolf population explosion goes back to the early 1990s. The rise in the animal numbers has been observed in all parts of Russia. Today it has reached such a level that this intelligent and extremely cautious predator simply has to trespass on the human habitat. In areas devoid of human presence, wolves have already hunted up everything there was for them to hunt. Hunger breaks stone walls, and lack of food forces them to reach out to new areas.
Appetite of a Wolf
Last winter was abnormally mild. But in the 2000-01 winter, temperatures dropped below minus 50 centigrade. Long cold spells and deep snow forced the animals to look for food wherever it was available. They burrowed under pig sties and got into cow sheds through the roof. At the time the Krasnoyarsk region seemed to be a land unfit for human habitation. Rather, it was a planet of wolves. Rural streets were deserted while wolves howled just beyond the village confines.
That winter I saw a litter of wolf cubs matter-of-factly crossing a field in the Balakhta district. And there were countless stories about atrocities committed by wolves. At the time, the number of wolf attacks on Balakhta villages had increased dramatically. According to district administration head Ivan Safonov and district chief hunting and game expert Mikhail Shakhnovich, packs of wolves totaling more than 400 had the run of the taiga. In the village of Krasny Klyuch, wolves killed four bullocks right in the farmyard. In the settlement of Ogur, several domestic animals were mauled by the predators. In one instance, Shakhnovich saw seven wolves running about in a stable looking for something to eat and injuring a foal so badly that it had to be shot. Cattle have been attacked in Primorsk, Petropavlovsk, Yelovka, and other places. Wolves were regularly spotted at cattle burial grounds, roads, and bus stations.
But even the unusually mild past winter brought no relief. According to hunting and game experts, the entire feed base in the taiga has been destroyed: There are no hares or foxes or goats left. Even field mice are gone. The population of Siberian deer is on the verge of extinction. Wolves are growing more desperate, and venture into areas of human habitation.
Hunters in the village of Verkhny Kuzhebar (Karatuz district) did not bother to shoot a she-wolf with a litter when they were first spotted in the nearby thicket. The cubs grew up, and the pack began to terrorize a local animal farm, slaughtering almost all young animals.
In the Divnogorsk area and in the Stolby game preserve, packs of wolves drive herds of Siberian deer onto the ice of the Mana and the Krasnoyarsk Sea, where they make short work of the herbivores.
In Evenkia, wolves have become a positive scourge. There are now as many wolves as domestic reindeer, whose numbers are steadily declining. One adult wolf can kill up to 10 reindeer at one go. The age-old struggle for survival seems to be back with a vengeance. People are again at war with the wolves: He who gets the game gets the food. Just like in the troglodyte era, the wolf is gaining the upper hand. And there is no way the Evenk can live without reindeer.
Are wolves really fitter and more viable than the taiga's human dwellers? At any rate, the predators are more competitive. They live according to hard and fast rules, in packs, each based around a family (a male and a female with cubs) living on clearly delimited territory. They are loyal to each other till the end: There is a recorded case of a wolf who was separated from his mate and killed the female zoologists offered him as a substitute. The authority of the pack leader is absolute. Should a lone wolf stray into an area controlled by a pack, it has to show submission, i.e. approach with its tail held down and ears laid back, and roll on its back, exposing its throat. When trapped, a wolf does not give up and will gnaw at the iron until it breaks its teeth.
Wolf invasion has always been a result of human weakness. Last fall, I went down the Yenisei from Krasnoyarsk to Igarka in a motor boat. Life at northern fishing settlements and rare coastal villages made a depressing impression on me. People are leaving the North; shipping on the Yenisei has declined, and nature is rapidly filling the vacuum. Wild animals are once again beginning to rule the roost here. There was virtually no cattle left in the villages while the few cows and horses that were still around, kept as close to people as possible. Those grazing outside the village would instantly be killed by bear or wolf. As soon as you go ashore, you see traces of predators. Man showed weakness, and wild animals sensed that immediately.
Vasily Sidorkin, head of the Yenisei district administration, supported by heads of 10 taiga districts, recently appealed to the Territory governor: The unchecked growth in the number of predators and the declining population of Siberian stag, roe deer, elk, deer, sable, and wildfowl have caused a crisis. The danger that wolves and crows will constitute the bulk of wildlife in our forests is becoming ever more real.
According to the Russian Police Department, from 1849 to 1851, wolves killed 376 people, including 266 children, in the Russian empire. At the time the Russian government enacted a law whereby a hunter was to get three silver rubles for each wolf that he killed. Three rubles was a good deal of money at the time. It was planned to establish the position of huntsman in every district (with an annual salary of 60 rubles a year), whose sole duty was to hunt wolves.
Today professional wolf hunters are few and far between; teams of experienced forest rangers have broken up, and secrets of the art of wolf hunting have been lost. Balakhta district authorities favor using poison to exterminate wolves. This is a barbarous method since the poisoned bait will also kill other animals and birds. Then a poisoned wolf will be torn to pieces by smaller animals, such as Siberian weasel and red and polar fox, who will get poisoned in their turn. Yet the lack of funds does not allow the authorities to charter a helicopter and hire experienced hunters.
In the Stavropol region, the hunting and game administration launched a wolf extermination drive. The Buryatia government announced a competition: A team killing at least 15 mature wolves was to be paid a 2,000 ruble bonus while an individual hunter killing 10 wolves was to get 1,000 rubles. Furthermore, local administrations provided additional incentives. As for Krasnoyarsk Territory, one may be forgiven to think that authorities there want to breed, not exterminate, the predators.
This humane approach on the part of the Krasnoyarsk administration will presumably be viewed with approval in animal-loving Europe. In France, there are about a dozen wild wolves left, all of them descended from a wild pair that escaped from Italy (according to other accounts, the last French wolf disappeared before World War I). The West European press conducts large-scale campaigns in their defense. Maybe the special mission of Krasnoyarsk is to gladden the heart of Europe, where, despite all efforts by animal protection societies, wolves are disappearing?
This is quite possible. A Russian proverb has it that a wolf crossing your path is a good omen. We have yet to put in place the institution of private land ownership, which is extra evidence of our affection for wolves. The fact is that wolf attacks; the increasing population of stray dogs who get into packs and start hunting wildfowl in suburban forests on their own, refusing to recognize man as master anymore; and the growing number of wolf-dog hybrids, who require even more food than purebred gray-furred predators - all of these problems have one root cause. Our land does not have a master. In Scandinavia, where in an area far smaller than Krasnoyarsk Territory there is a much greater number of wild hoofed animals, all land is in somebody's ownership. So, as soon as a private land area is invaded by predators who can kill chickens or a herd of wild goats, the invaders are hunted. The wolf population is maintained at an optimal level that does not impede their reproduction but prevents them from competing against man.
In 1990, there were 22,500 wolves in the Russian Federation. Following the introduction of a ban on wolf hunting, in 1991, by 2001 the wolf population had grown to 44,800. In the Volga, Altai, and Baikal region, the wolf population has exceeded the critical mark. * * *
In 2001, damage caused by wolves attacking cattle in the Altai region was put at more than 10 million rubles (they killed approximately 70 Siberian deer, more than 120 sheep and goats, and more than 100 cows, yaks, and horses) while the region's hunting and game administration suffered damage worth more than 15 million rubles. * * *
When the population of wolves breaks a critical point and they begin to cause serious damage to man, hunting licenses are introduced with considerable bonuses paid for the skin of a hunted predator (up to 1,000 rubles). Thus, in 2001, the Altai region earmarked 750,000 rubles for the purpose (681 wolves killed); in the Irkutsk region, 400 wolves were killed, but their number is still double what it should be; in Taimyr, where wolves have been on record as attacking even humans, the local budget provided approximately 1 million rubles for wolf hunting.
Idahoans Territorial About Predators in State
Rocky Barber, The Idaho Statesman, 27 February 2002
Two wolves trot below the summit of a ridge along the Salmon River, hidden from the elk they stalk on the other side.
Pilot Pat Dorris banks his plane around the unfolding drama below that he and Curt Mack, gray wolf recovery coordinator for the Nez Perce Tribe, have seen countless times before.
"The wolves test them for weakness," Mack said.
Sensing the wolves' presence, the elk bunch into a defensive cluster but continue to graze along the edge of the snow line. As the wolves come into view, an old cow leads the herd aggressively toward the wolves.
"She's telling them there'll be no easy meal here," Mack said.
Dorris has been flying biologists on monitoring trips over wolves since they were reintroduced to the state in 1995. At first, many elk were easy pickings, because they hadn't seen wolves before. But as wolf numbers expanded, the elk learned to live and die with the wolves.
So, too, have Idaho's leaders. At first, they tried to run away from the issue, telling the federal government that controlled the predators to go away. But now they are talking about managing the beasts themselves.
It's happening because wolf numbers in central Idaho are exploding, causing growing conflicts with livestock growers and competition with hunters for deer and elk.
At the same time, grizzly bears are expanding out of Yellowstone National Park into eastern Idaho, fully protected by federal law. The animals' success has made federal officials consider removing them from the threatened and endangered species list.
But first, the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming must prove they will keep these often-troublesome creatures from disappearing again.
The Idaho Legislature is considering a plan for managing wolves and grizzlies once they are removed from the endangered species list. It's a challenge of the philosophy that unites Idaho's Republicans: states' rights.
Only a year ago, the Legislature passed a resolution demanding the federal government remove the wolves. Lawmakers such as Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, scoff at the idea people in other states or nations have any right to decide what animals live in Idaho, even on federal lands.
"I don't accept that at all," Barrett said. "Idaho lays claim to its resources."
Supporters of the plans say along with the rights goes the responsibility to show the state can protect animals as well as or better than the federal government can.
"I think the sooner Idaho can reassert those responsibilities, the better off we'll be in the short run and the long run," Sen. Laird Noh, R-Kimberly, said.
The Nez Perce Tribe is in charge of managing wolves in the state because the Legislature categorically rejected state management in 1995, despite Noh's objection.
But now, more lawmakers are enticed to state control by the promise of eased restrictions.
"I hope we can come up with an Idaho grizzly plan we can live with," said Rep. Cameron Wheeler, R-Ririe, chairman of the House Resources and Conservation Committee. "We owe it to our constituents to find solutions."
The wolf plan will begin its run through the Legislature in the Senate Resources and Environment Committee that Noh chairs. Wheeler's committee has the grizzly plan. Both plans lay out procedures for handling animals that attack livestock or get into trouble with humans.
They allow hunting in the future and allow the predators to expand to suitable habitat as long as they don't cause problems. While the plans are similar, the wolf proposal carries the added burden that wolves were reintroduced to Idaho over the state's objections.
Grizzly bears were never eradicated from Idaho, and the federal government can delist them without approval from the state. Yet in both cases, lawmakers and Gov. Dirk Kempthorne are demanding that the federal government continue paying the bill for monitoring and pay compensation when the predators kill livestock.
"The idea is if these people in Pennsylvania and New York want wolves in Idaho they can pay for it," said Stan Boyd, of the Idaho Woolgrowers executive director and chairman of the committee that wrote the wolf management plan.
Polls Boise State University conducted when wolves were released showed a majority of Idahoans supported the effort. Even if there weren't support, if Idaho leaders believe in states' rights, then they need to put their money where their mouth is, said John Freemuth, a university political scientist.
"With federal money come federal strings," he said. "If they're ready to step up, they need to take financial responsibility, as well."
Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, has opposed the return of wolves and grizzlies to the state. She is torn between wanting the money to handle the problems and not wanting anyone, including the state, to force bears and wolves onto her land.
"We went to Yellowstone to see the bears, and we were tickled," she said. "When they're killing your prize horse, they're not majestic anymore."
Most of all, she's skeptical that environmentalists will ever allow the federal government to remove bears or wolves from protection. She and the state expect lawsuits to delay delistings that could otherwise come within a couple of years.
The Idaho Conservation League is no longer fighting the wolf plan, but it still has problems with the details. Several environmental groups want wolves to get a foothold in neighboring states such as Washington and Oregon before withdrawing federal control.
And the Sierra Club worries that long-term threats to grizzly habitat - such as declining food sources and sprawl in and around Yellowstone - make removing bears from endangered species protection a bad idea. They worry that too many grizzlies are dying already because of conflicts with humans.
Outfitter Scott Farr said wolves already are reducing elk numbers in the area where he guides hunters on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. He and other outfitters want the state to implement a plan for managing the wolves now.
"We accept the fact wolves are here to stay," Farr said. "We have to get into management sooner than later. Our big-game herds can't afford another five years."
Mack the biologist said wolves are killing only about 2 percent of the state's total elk herd, while hunters take 17 percent. But he knows that wolves can reduce elk numbers in some areas, and he recognizes the problems wolves present to outfitters, who can't move out of a particular area.
But watching wolves and elk co-exist in the winter range along the South Fork of the Salmon River, he's convinced the problems now are mostly social, not biological.
"Wolves and elk will find a balance," Mack said. "The question is what is socially acceptable."
Like wolves, Idahoans are very territorial. Issues of decision-making and control of their land, water and resources are life-and-death struggles similar to those between wolves and elk.
"Wolves have to test a whole lot of prey before they find one they feel comfortable taking," Mack said.
The wolf plan is in its 17th draft since 1995.
Gray Wolves Heading to California
Defenders seek protection as ranchers howl
Michael McCabe, San Francisco Chronicle, 5 February 2002
Sometime soon, perhaps within the next couple of years, gray wolves will make their way across mountains, valleys and streams into Northern California looking for new territory.
Wolf experts believe they're already on their way.
The migration is all but inevitable, wolf lovers believe, as inevitable as the push westward by humans searching for new lives.
To prepare for the wolves' stealthy arrival, an environmental group, Defenders of Wildlife, has petitioned the federal government to designate 16 million acres of national forests and parks in Northern California and southern Oregon as suitable wolf habitat for study and management purposes. They say the area -- a swath of land nearly twice the size of New Jersey -- could support as many as 500 gray wolves.
But the prospect of gray wolves (Canis lupus) returning to lands where they have been extirpated -- trapped and shot -- since the early 1920s is provoking conniption fits in many parts of the Klamath-Siskiyou region of Northern California, particularly among some of the region's sheep and cattle ranchers.
Backed by studies by biologists and historians showing that wolves once roamed throughout much of California, wolf advocates insist the animals are good for the environment: Wolves create balance in the ecosystem by, for example, dispatching coyotes and aging elk. Additionally, they argue, wolves would be a natural magnet, as they have been at Yellowstone National Park, for eco-tourists hoping at least to hear an authentic wolf howl or two.
For some ranchers in these economically depressed areas, however, the wolf is fast establishing itself as the icon of their twin tormentors: the faceless federal government and the effete, tree-hugging environmentalists.
Residents are already so angry over federal efforts to protect the spotted owl, the coho salmon and two species of sucker fish -- efforts they say have hurt their livelihoods -- that some are calling for secession. Siskiyou County is sprinkled with signs proclaiming it the independent state of Jefferson, a movement with roots in the early 1940s.
They are in no mood to greet still another endangered species into their midst, particularly the wolf, which some recall their great granddaddies going to great effort to exterminate.
Ranchers, in particular, fear that wolves will turn to their livestock for survival, primarily picking off calves.
"To be honest I think it's stupid to bring wolves in these parts," said Harvey Hagedorn, 67, whose family has ranched near Yreka for more than a century. "Wolves need to eat something, which is usually deer, but the deer population is already way down thanks to the overpopulation of the cougar," which has been protected since 1990.
Scientists who study wolf migration patterns say sightings of wolves in Washington and in Oregon are clear evidence that they are headed into the Southern Oregon-Northern California region. In the last few years, environmentalists say, at least three wolves have made their way into eastern Oregon from Idaho. Two were killed by cars. One was shot, illegally. The wolves in Washington had made their way down from Canada.
Environmentalists, worried about the possibility of ranchers and hunters shooting the first wolf arrivals to the area, intend to weigh in heavily when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides within the next few months whether to reduce protections for the gray wolf in California and other states.
The agency will consider downgrading the wolf's status from endangered to threatened, or delisting it entirely in some states, including California, from the Endangered Species list. With an estimated 3,500 wolves in the lower 48 states, officials say the species has made a spectacular recovery in many parts of the country, especially in Minnesota and Yellowstone National Park.
But when the wolf shows up on California's door, its supporters want a welcome mat of sorts. That is why they want a 16 million-acre region designated as suitable wolf habitat, coupled with the strongest protections under the Endangered Species Act. Whether they and the wolves will get them is an issue that will help define rural Northern California's future.
"We think the wolf should remain listed as endangered because we don't think the wolf can safely make it to California and form a viable population without these protections," said Nancy Weiss, California species associate for Defenders of Wildlife based in Sacramento. "The problem is whether humans will tolerate them, whether they will shoot them."
The likelihood of that happening apparently is high, to hear some ranchers and farmers talk.
"These eco-terrorists who propose these things never think of the consequences -- when the ranchers and farmers kill the wolves, there'll be a big outcry," Hagedorn said.
Defenders of Wildlife has a program to reimburse any rancher for a documented loss resulting from a wolf kill, but most ranchers say that isn't nearly good enough.
Marcia Armstrong, executive director of the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau and the Siskiyou County Cattlemen's Association, says the problem is that cattle nowadays are bred to survive and prosper in the landscape and climate in which they are raised. Replacement cattle, she says, interfere with the genetic integrity of the herd.
"Our last remaining industry up here is agriculture, and it is already in trouble," Armstrong said. "Many people here suggest that wolves and maybe grizzly bears be introduced into the streets of San Francisco and Sacramento -- it seems like the problems with endangered species are always in the rural areas, and people with all the ideas about them live 400 miles away from the rural areas."
In Yellowstone Park, where 33 Canadian gray wolves were trapped and reintroduced in 1995 and 1996 amid bitter controversy, ranchers and landowners living outside the park remain on edge, although others are reportedly becoming more relaxed about the program. Today, more than 200 wolves thrive in and around the park.
"We are not asking that wolves be reintroduced (in Northern California or Southern Oregon), by helicopter or truck, from other areas, although many people are interpreting our petition that way," said Weiss of Defenders of Wildlife. "We are asking that the area be designated as one good for wolves and then to do further studies to determine whether the best way to bring them back is by reintroduction or natural dispersal."
Patrick Valentino, executive director of the California Wolf Center based in San Diego, added: "Without protection from the federal government, anyone can shoot wolves on sight.
"We think wolves should be allowed to recover naturally in their historic range, but there should also be a management plan in place to protect livestock -- and the kids, if that worries people. But the record shows that no one has ever been killed or eaten by a wolf in North America."
Mexican Wolf Faces Rough and Gory Road to Recovery
Ben Ikenson, Environmental News Network, 25 January 2002
One of the saddest moments in Colleen Buchanan's career happened the morning of Sept. 7, 1999, when she discovered two endangered Mexican wolf pups, dead from a virus, as their mourning mother whimpered nearby. Buchanan could easily identify with the maternal sense of loss; as caretaker for wolves in the canyon-nestled captive breeding facility at New Mexico's Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, she has a unique empathy for the wolves.
For six years, Buchanan, 34, has worked closely with Mexican wolves: feeding them, observing them, and recommending which ones would make good candidates for release as part of a federal wolf reintroduction program. Embroiled in the plight of this endangered species, she confesses that she often dreams of wolves at night.
Buchanan understands the burdensome fact that human hands now determine the survival -- or extinction -- of a prehistoric evolutionary masterpiece. According to "Wolf to Woof" (National Geographic, Jan. 2002), gray wolves, which evolved about 1 million years ago, crossed the Bering Strait land bridge from Siberia into North America about 800,000 years ago. The wolves spread across the continent and, through natural selection, adapted to the rigors of their local environments. Some developed into distinct subspecies. The Mexican wolf -- Canis lupus baileyi -- historically roamed much of the mountainous Southwest, from current-day Mexico City to what is now Albuquerque.
Less than an hour's drive south of Albuquerque lies the rugged acreage that is Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. I first met Buchanan here a few years back, before any captive wolves had been released to the wild, when I was helping with some of the daily grind at the refuge. Part of the routine includes supplementing the kibble diet of the captive wolves with a taste for the wild meat they will need to hunt when they are free.
Near headquarters, the refuge houses a walk-in freezer used to store the carcasses of roadkill that will be later fed to the wolves. A glimpse inside provides insight into some of the less glorious work of wolf recovery: a nightmarish display of blood-crusted hide, hooves, and limbs of deer and elk stacked in disarray, frozen solid, sticking out in all directions.
On this particularly hot day in late August, another refuge worker, Angel Montoya, took it upon himself to teach me the methodology of collecting and dissecting roadkill. After driving an hour south to a mile marker identified to us by the State Highway Department, we located a monstrous elk corpse on the side of I-25. We winched the animal, which stank of rotting musk, onto the bed of the truck, leaving a swarm of maggots slithering in the bloody roadside puddle beneath the scorching Southwestern sun. The elk had been slammed in its hindquarter.
Elk is among the wolf's favorite fare on nature's menu, but the restaurant hasn't always served it up. In the late 1800s, because of unregulated subsistence and market hunting, populations of deer and elk were unusually low while livestock populations exploded. Cattle and sheep roamed freely, eating much of the grasses and forbs needed by the rapidly declining populations of deer and elk. A limited supply of native prey remained for the wolves, and they resorted to preying on cattle.
Through the windshield, Montoya pointed out sections of the land where overgrazing had taken its toll, where scrawny patches of grama grass competed against eroding spots of bare earth for the same real estate. At the core of the wolves' plight lies a chronicle of competing forces, of an ecosystem altered by burgeoning economies and government policies.
For the better part of the 20th century, a U.S.-government-sponsored, predator-control program used poisons, guns, and traps to eliminate wolves and other predators who threatened livestock. Steel-jawed leg-hold traps were available at practically any hardware store. Carcasses and other bait were laced with sodium cyanide, strychnine, and a poisonous concoction called Compound 1080.
In 1914, the government paid $ 10 bounties for the capture or kill of a Mexican wolf, today's equivalent of about $ 175. Between the years 1915 and 1925, more than 900 Mexican wolves were reported killed in Arizona and New Mexico by government trappers or cooperators. By the late 1970s, the Mexican wolf population no longer existed in the United States. The few wolves remaining were in Mexico, and the future of the subspecies looked grim.
At last, the Mexican wolf received federal protection when it was listed as an endangered species in 1976, three years after the Endangered Species Act was passed. During the next few years, in diametric contradiction to the government's purpose 50 years earlier, five wolves were captured in Mexico. They were used to establish a Mexican wolf--breeding program.
A flash of lightning presaged a sudden summer torrent as we pulled into the refuge's gravel parking lot at the foot of the rust-colored Ladrone Mountains. We dragged the elk corpse onto the gravel. Montoya gave me a buck knife, a hatchet, and a pair of leather gloves and showed me how to quarter the animal, wincing slightly as the blade ripped through the tough, wiry-haired hide, making a sound similar to heavy fabric being torn. I hesitated but, as instructed, began to remove organs ever so gingerly. The now pounding rain drew an earthy smell, the organic comingling of living and dead matter.
The facility at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, where Montoya was beginning to relish the lesson I was learning, would eventually become one of 43 zoos and breeding centers accommodating Mexican wolves. As we began hacking away at the hind legs, the elk's ruptured intestine slipped through an underbelly gash and began ejecting a fountain of green bile. Fighting nausea triggered by the worst smell I have ever known, I could barely contain my retching. Montoya chuckled. He was used to the routine.
After 24 years of effort to increase numbers, there are now about 200 wolves in captivity throughout the United States and Mexico. Before recommending individual captive wolves for release, recovery biologists like Buchanan look for ideal traits based on age, an ability to bond with a mate, a strong flight response to humans, a diverse genetic background, and other factors. Although ultimate recovery goals have yet to be determined, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's initial recovery objective was to establish a viable, self-sustaining, wild population of at least 100 Mexican gray wolves within the Blue Range area by 2006.
The Blue Range, which includes Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona and the adjoining Gila National Forest in New Mexico, is a 7,000-square-mile area more than twice the size of Yellowstone National Park. As an area with a large prey base and a small human population, it was selected by a team of biologists as the ideal recovery zone for the wolves to reclaim part of their historic territory.
Obviously, much dirty work is involved in preparing wolves born in captivity for life in the wild. As I battled my nerves gutting the elk, Buchanan suddenly swung into the parking lot next to us, hopped out of her truck, and yanked a limp deer from the bed. As the stormy skies flashed intermittently with bolts of frozen lightning, she planted a buck knife firmly into the deer's sternum and slashed a vertical line down to its crotch.
She then stuck her arms into the carcass, bare handed and elbow deep, and started pulling out organs. Moments later, amidst the gore, I sensed a fleeting sadness when she removed an unborn fetus, a tiny dead deer, from its mother's womb. The human footprint on life cycles can at times appall even those with a hardened determination to minimize its impact.
On Jan. 26, 1998, biologists transferred three Mexican wolves -- mother, father, and female pup -- in kennels from the captive breeding facility at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge to the Campbell Blue prerelease acclimation pen near Alpine, Ariz. The acclimation pen allowed the wolves to become familiar with their new territory while reducing their tendencies to return to their previous home.
Two additional family groups totaling eight wolves were placed in two other acclimation pens in the Apache National Forest. These pens served as a final confinement before the gates opened in March 1998, allowing them to step freely into the wild where, decades ago, their ancestors roamed.
In July 1998, the first sighting of a Mexican wolf pup in the wild since the 1950s was reported. It was the offspring of a pair of wolves from Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. In contrast to Buchanan's saddest career moment, this was her most joyous. "The success of recovery hinges on the enduring ability of wolves to breed in the wild," she said.
Today there are 18 radio-collared wolves in the wild in six separate packs with an unknown number of yearlings and pups. "It's difficult to determine exact numbers due to uncollared pups and yearlings, but our best estimates are high 20s to low 30s," Buchanan said.
A crew of biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Game and Fish Department, USDA's Wildlife Services, Turner Endangered Species Fund, and White Mountain Apache Tribe monitor the pioneer wolves and respond to human or livestock conflict when necessary. Because wolves are released on National Forest land, the U.S. Forest Service is another program cooperator.
Twice a week, biologists track the animals via aerial telemetry. The rest of the week, they locate the wolves on the ground, looking for tracks or scat -- a challenging task given the remote location and difficult terrain wolves choose to inhabit. If they encounter the promising circumstance of an elk or deer felled by a wolf, they try to determine how it was taken down and collect the bones to age the kill.
The field team is also evaluating new sites for future wolf releases tentatively planned for spring 2002. Old release sites may still be used depending on the movement of the wolves already in the wild.
"There are only a few programs that have reintroduced captive-born animals like the Mexican wolf program has," said Buchanan. "One is the red wolf recovery program in the Southeast. If you look at where the Mexican wolf program is today, three-and-a-half years into it, and compare it to where the red wolf program of the Southeast was at this point in the game, we are way ahead of the curve."
Committed to staying there, Buchanan now works out of a federal office building in Albuquerque, where she manages various aspects of the Mexican wolf program. Although she spends less time outdoors carving dinners for the wolves, she is as attached to them as ever. The walls of her office are adorned with photos of wolves and other mementos of the work she has done to transfer wolves from captivity to life in the wild.
"It's always a bittersweet moment for me when wolves are released to the wild from Sevilleta," she said. "Of course, I'm thrilled they are getting their opportunity, but there is so much uncertainty out there, and they don't always make it. What gives me comfort is my belief that even just one day of freedom is better than a lifetime of captivity."
People Angrily Tell DNR Wisconsin Has Too Many Wolves
Robert Imrie, Associated Press, 24 January 2002
A tearful Shawn Stocks recounted Thursday how wolves ate five valuable bear hunting dogs in northern Wisconsin last fall and how she feared for her life when confronted by a wolf as she rushed to find the hounds.
"I don't care what anybody says. You got too many wolves here," the Mondovi mother told the state Department of Natural Resources' Wolf Technical Advisory Committee.
The committee heard more than an hour of testimony from people complaining that wolves have been killing too many dogs, livestock and other animals. They demanded something be done to stop it.
"I am angry," said Alan Flannery, whose bear hound died after it was attacked by a wolf in Forest County.
"If a kid gets killed, this will be murder and who is aiding and abetting?" he asked, glaring at the committee made up of what one critic called "a wolf-loving crowd."
The committee met to begin drafting guidelines for wolf controls. Its recommendations go to DNR administrators.
The timber wolf is a native species that was wiped out in Wisconsin by the late 1950s after decades of bounty hunting. Since granted protection as an endangered species in the mid 1970s, wolves migrated into the state from Minnesota and their numbers have been growing ever since, to the current population of about 250.
Witnesses told the committee that problem wolves should be killed, or at least trapped and hauled elsewhere.
But no wolves can be killed as a solution to the depredation problems until the animal is removed from the federal endangered species list.
Ron Spry of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the federal government could reclassify wolves from an endangered to a threatened species in Wisconsin by early summer, clearing the way for the state to kill any wolves that cause problems.
It's also possible, Spry said, that by fall 2003 the wolf could be taken off the threatened species list. The state would then take over all management decisions, which might include having a hunting season on wolves.
Wisconsin's 250 wolves are found in 20 counties, with nine packs in six central counties and 57 packs in 14 northern counties, according to the DNR.
Bud Ison of Crandon said it was wrong for wildlife officials to transport problem wolves into the Nicolet National Forest this year.
"We got wolves in there that are absolutely killer wolves," he said.
Adrian Wydeven, head of the DNR's wolf management program, said seven wolves in Burnett County believed responsible for killing nine calves were trapped and relocated to the Nicolet National Forest.
Wolves killed 102 livestock or pets in Wisconsin last year, including 11 calves and a record 17 dogs, Wydeven said. The most dogs killed previously was 11 in 1998.
Stocks, 40, offered gripping testimony of a family dealing with the aftermath of a wolf attack.
She and a friend were bear hunting Sept. 7 near the Brule River about 25 miles southeast of Superior with six hounds worth thousands of dollars.
Hearing the dogs' yelps and sensing they were in trouble, Stocks said she and a friend rushed to them and were confronted by wolves.
"They would not leave us alone. We grabbed sticks and hit the trees and started screaming," Stocks said. "They were not afraid of us and they were going to do anything to protect those five dead dogs."
Eventually, the wolves walked away, leaving little left of the dogs, Stocks said. "It's a sick sight. You can't imagine."
A record 27 wolves died last year, including seven that were shot illegally, Wydeven said.
So far in 2002, the DNR has found seven dead wolves. One was a confirmed shooting and two or three others are possible shootings, Wydeven said.
Wolves won't only be shot but they will be poisoned because people are not going to sit idly by and let wolves destroy livestock and other domestic animals, warned Roger James of Rhinelander.
"I am not going to feed my horses and cattle to your wolves," James said. "You better come up with a solution before the public takes over themselves."