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Wolf History, Conservation, Ecology and Behavior

Wolf Wars: Reports From the Front Lines, 2004
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French Farmers Will "Get Rifles Out" If Wolf Cull Blocked Long Term
AFP, 14 August 2004
The way was cleared to start France's first wolf cull in seven decades on Saturday, but the battle raged on between conservationists who filed a last-minute restraining order and angry farmers vowing to stop at nothing to protect their flocks.
By publishing an order in an official gazette, the government got round a legal challenge by an environmental group which had succeeded in temporarily blocking the cull.
"The farmers are desperate. Some have wolf attacks twice a week. They're at the end of their tether and ready to take desperate action," Yves Feydy, president of a sheep farmers association in the Drome, told AFP.
"The situation is serious and I already told authorities there could even be people killed over this," he said.
France last month authorised the cull in three departments in the Alps in south-eastern France, saying up to four wolves could be shot by year's end if attacks on sheep continued.
Exterminated in France before World War II, the wolf was reintroduced in 1992 in the Mercantour national park on France's border with Italy, and its population has since increased by 20 percent - farmers say 30 percent - a year.
Sheep farmers who bring their flocks to graze on the Alpine slopes during the summer months complain of the devastation caused by the predator, with more than 2,150 sheep killed in 2003, according to official figures.
As fate would have it, another 200 perished late last week when they jumped off a cliff. Farmers again say they were chased by wolves, but police say it is too early to tell and that none of the animals showed bite wounds.
The Association for the Protection of Wild Species (ASPAS), which has led the fight against the cull, says it would endanger a species protected under European law.
But farmers are still unhappy. They insist the government has not gone far enough and on Saturday gave Paris a one-week ultimatum to act or they will "get out their guns".
"There are now more than 120 wolves in the Alpine region, while the government says there are only 39. Killing only four is a joke," said Feydy, insisting the cull should be extended to other areas than just the Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes.
The wolf is a protected species under European law and a cull can only be organised under strict conditions that do not endanger the survival of the colony.
With pressure from both sides, the government is squeezed in the middle.
Already, it backed down from initial plans to allow five to seven animals killed at ASPAS' insistence.
Now the farmers are turning up the heat.
"If by August 20, the government hasn't proposed an action plan to remove the wolves from grazing areas, we'll start protecting our flocks ourselves and the herders will get the rifles out against the wolves," Feydy said.
"We don't want to see the wolves exterminated, but we want them confined to certain areas," he said.
The environmentalists, meanwhile, want to see the wolf move beyond its enclave in eastern France.
ASPAS went on the offensive again Friday, filing a motion with the State Council, France's highest constitutional authority, against both the cull and the ministerial order allowing it.
The cull, it said, could "threaten the survival of the wolf population" which already falls short of that in neighbouring states.
"Spain has 2,000 wolves and there are 700 in the Italian Alps, constituting stable populations that live side-by-side without problem with local sheep," it said.
"French wolves are far from that level."
Research Notes Differences in Elk Reaction to Preying Wolves
Becky Bohrer, Associated Press, 9 August 2004
BILLINGS, Mont. -- Not much seems to stand in the way of some bull elk having a meal -- not even, new research indicates, the threat of becoming a main course for hungry wolves.
Researchers believe that famished bull elk in the northwestern part of the Yellowstone ecosystem become so intent in the winter on bulking up after a stressful autumn that they leave themselves more vulnerable to attack by wolves. In fact, researchers believe, bull elk are at six times greater risk of falling prey to wolves than cow elk.
The research is among the work being conducted to gain a better understanding of how the reintroduction of gray wolves has affected the Yellowstone ecosystem, especially wildlife such as elk.
Some sportsmen's groups and opponents of the federal government's wolf reintroduction program have argued wolves are responsible for what they contend is a noticeable decline in elk populations in and around Yellowstone National Park.
Ken Hamlin, a research biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks who is involved in the research, said one of its objectives is to determine if elk populations are declining, and whether wolves are a major factor.
"It's possible some of what people say is true and some is not," he said.
When researchers first set out to work in 2001, the goal was simply to find out how many elk in Montana's Gallatin Canyon, which includes an area north of Yellowstone National Park, were being killed by wolves.
But they soon found interesting behavioral patterns by elk and broadened their scope, said John Winnie Jr., a doctoral student in ecology at Montana State University.
By winter, bull elk often are famished because of stresses from the mating season and a decline in the quantity and quality of food. They routinely lose up to 20 percent of their body weight by December, Winnie said. By that point, they'll eat like it's their last meal -- and for some it is.
When wolves begin to move in, he said, "bulls don't respond, at least to the extent of cows, and they're paying the price."
Since cows have more stored fat, they don't need to eat as much and can spend more time on the lookout for danger, said Scott Creel, a Montana State University ecologist.
If bulls pulled themselves away from eating, Winnie said, it would mean almost certain starvation -- "and I think they would rather take their chances."
Winnie sees no cause for alarm in what researchers have found.
"It would take a huge, huge reduction in bulls before I think we would see any real impact on the population," he said. "So far, I wouldn't feel comfortable saying we're heading for trouble or anything. I don't see that in the research yet."
But outfitter Lee Hart believes trouble arrived with the wolves. The veteran outfitter from Gallatin Gateway, south Bozeman, said he hasn't seen many elk for quite some time and puts the blame squarely on wolves. He said he's had to focus on the summer trade because the hunting business in that area north of the park has dried up.
"You cannot book return hunters without at least showing them an elk," said Hart, who's also president of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association.
At trade shows, "when you try to recruit a new hunter, the first thing they will ask is if you have wolves," he said. "And if you don't lie to them, if you say you're in the middle of them, they keep walking down the aisle. That's what's happened to the state of Montana."
Such concerns just underscore the importance of better understanding the relationships between elk and wolves, Hamlin said.
Jon Schwedler, a spokesman for the Predator Conservation Alliance, said he had not seen the research but said his group is interested in science-based decisions for managing wildlife -- elk and wolves included.
Research has been conducted in the northwestern part of Yellowstone National Park and in parts of southern Montana, between Bozeman and West Yellowstone. A major bull wintering spot lies within a piece of the study area that has also had plenty of wolf activity, Hamlin said. The study area has contained on average about 1,700 elk -- it's now between 1,000 and 1,200, Winnie said -- and as many as 15 wolves.
The federal government launched its wolf reintroduction program in and around Yellowstone beginning in 1995. Today, it is estimated that more than 800 wolves roam in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
They remain under federal protection, but wildlife managers have said they're ready to move toward handing management responsibilities for wolves to the three states, once each has a plan deemed acceptable to ensure the wolves' survival. Plans from Idaho and Montana were accepted, but federal officials rejected Wyoming's plan. That state is suing over the rejection.
Meanwhile, research continues, exploring such topics as whether wolves' presence affects elk grazing -- officials say this could also have implications for calves -- and stress levels in elk when wolves are around.
"What we want to find out ultimately is, how do the direct and indirect effects affect the population as a whole?" Winnie said.
Researchers have found that elk tend to break into small groups when wolves come near them. Researchers believe the smaller groupings are meant to help reduce the odds of detection.
Inside the Wolf Den
Kristen Romanoff, Juneau Empire, 8 August 2004
Wriggling into the wolves' underground den, I could make out several squirming wolf puppies curled up on top of one another. Outside, the pack's howling and barking was escalating.
Coming face to face with a half-dozen wolf puppies was the high point of a week-long project in early summer to document some of the work being done by Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Dave Person on Prince of Wales Island.
Person has been studying these wolves for 12 years, and for the past five he's been looking into wolf dens to gauge reproductive success. To have a sustainable population, reproduction must exceed mortality, and Person needs to know how many puppies are being born.
The day of the encounter started with several hours of hiking through muskeg, streams and forest. We continued along a stretch of beaver ponds, and as we approached the den sites Dave signaled us to be quiet. It's a typical site, with fresh water and food nearby. Person was hopeful that we have not alarmed the puppies, causing them to move deeper into the den.
I squirmed my way down into the wolf den's deep entrance and followed a narrow, branching tunnel. Using an infra-red camera probe attached to a long flexible shaft, I moved the camera deeper. Person was outside looking through the viewfinder, directing me as he searched for telltale eyeshine.
Light seeping in from other holes revealed several puppies. It is difficult to count them, as they are so close together, stacked up like cord-wood. I counted six in all. Two of the puppies stared back at me with milky-blue eyes. Person estimates the pups to be 4 weeks old.
The pack is 25 to 30 feet off, barking and howling but concealed from view by the lush undergrowth. They are nervous, but not aggressive.
"We don't want to disturb the wolves," Person said. "This is the only way that I can think of getting the data."
Knowing the litter sizes of these wolves is critical to understanding their reproductive success and population dynamics. Over the course of this project, Person and his assistant Amy Russell, have been in more than 27 active dens and have counted puppies in almost all of them.
"There have been only three cases where the puppies were relocated after we were there," Person said. "Even then, the relocated dens were less than a kilometer away from the original site and the pups were fine after the move."
Meanwhile, the intensity of the pack's howling and barking escalated. The alpha female emerged along the lake shore, her moaning howls intensifying. We quickly recorded the den site information, packed up our equipment and left the area.
"The main reason we are doing this research is that there are large-scale changes occurring on the landscape due to logging that will affect deer. We expect deer numbers to decline on Prince of Wales Island over the long term. This will cause a chain reaction that will impact all who prey upon deer: hunters, subsistence users, black bears, and wolves," Person said.
To better understand the long-term viability and population dynamics of wolves on Prince of Wales Island, Person is comparing reproductive success versus mortality rates. The Prince of Wales Island wolf populations are the most heavily trapped in the state, outside of predator control areas. Over a third of the island's wolves are trapped each year.
One of the ways the U.S. Forest Service is attempting to mitigate long-term effects of logging and road building on wildlife and fish is by setting aside forested habitat in old-growth reserves.
Person's research has shown that the ratio of reproduction to mortality of wolf packs whose home range includes old-growth reserves is more than double of those packs whose range does not include the reserves.
"This demonstrates that the old-growth reserve strategy for individual wolf packs may work," he said.
Person points out the big picture and asks, what if changes to areas outside the old-growth reserves affect the suitability of those habitat for bear, wolf and deer? Would there be enough old-growth reserves to sustain populations of those animals?
Biologists can model and predict what may happen in the future by using reproduction information gained from counting litter sizes, mortality information from the animals that trappers and hunters bring in to Fish and Game to be sealed, and animal movements from following radio-collared wolves.
As we retraced our steps along the lakeshore, streams and muskegs back to the truck, I imagined the female crawling into her den to join her puppies where less than an hour ago I shook with excitement in seeing the newest arrivals to the pack.
Kristen Romanoff is a wildlife education specialist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Crossing Dogs, Wolves: Is It Breeding Trouble?
Leanora Minai, St. Petersburg Times, 7 August 2004
BROOKSVILLE - Melissa Kondratick dug into the Wal-Mart grocery sack, pulled out raw chicken legs and tossed them to her babies.
Pet wolves and wolfdogs - all 12 of them.
Their long, spindly legs scrambled backward as the meat sailed through the air. The chicken smacked into the dirt, then disappeared into their long, pointy snouts, bones and all.
"Think about it," said Kondratick, 41. "In the wild, they eat a whole deer - fur and bones."
That's just it, Tampa Bay area animal control officials say. Wolfdogs belong in the wild.
This week's mauling of 2-week-old Susanna Pound in Seminole has reignited debate over the dangers of breeding wolves with dogs.
"They're very affectionate. They're very emotional," said Tampa resident Theresa Hense, 34, who has owned three wolfdogs. "They get their feelings hurt very easy."
But the unpredictable nature of wolfdogs has resulted in at least eight attacks in the Tampa Bay area over the past decade. Nationwide, at least 14 people were killed between 1979 and 1998, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some reports put the toll higher.
"People need to stop breeding these animals," said Dr. Kenny Mitchell, director of Pinellas County Animal Services. "You have to go back to blame the people. We've spent thousands of years getting the wolf out of the dog and now we go backward."
Mix wolf with dog, wolfdog with wolf or wolfdog with wolfdog, and there's no telling how much wolf blood runs through the companion. Will the offspring have the predatory instincts of a wolf, or the playful disposition of a dog?
"You can't tell what you're getting," said Dr. Soraya Juarbe-Diaz, a veterinarian behaviorist in Tampa. "They can look on the outside like a dog and behave completely like a wolf."
What's a wolfdog?
Eddie Negron, a wolfdog breeder in Brooksville, was offering "white timber wolf" puppies for $350 to $450.
"Beautiful parents!" said a newspaper ad this week.
The four puppies were 30 percent wolf and the rest German shepherd, Negron said.
"They sold out," he said.
In Florida, unlike 13 other states, anyone can keep a wolfdog.
If the animal is 75 percent or more wolf, owners need a wolfdog permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Owners also must live on 21/2 acres and erect a fence for the animal, among with other safety measures.
"I won't sell to a person who has an apartment and no backyard," said Negron, 60. "I had this guy who was in a small mobile home. I said, "You're out of your mind. I'm not going to sell you any dogs.' "
The number of wolfdogs in Florida is unknown, though 179 wolfdog permits currently are issued to zoos, breeders and owners.
Part of the problem is the lack of a scientific test to determine what percent of an animal is wolf, animal control officials say.
"It poses some amazing enforcement difficulties," said Denise Hilton, manager for Pasco County Animal Services.
Wolf makeup basically is determined by lupine characteristics: Straight tail, coarse hair, long legs and snout, big paws and timid but predatory personality.
Lt. Steve DeLacure, investigator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, examined 66-pound Spirit, the dog that bit 2-week-old Susanna Pound on Monday.
DeLacure noted the long legs and snout, as well as a skittish temperament.
"It had a very, very small percentage," DeLacure said. About 5 percent to 20 percent wolf, he estimated.
Animal control officials said Spirit and its owner, Diane Pound, recently moved to Seminole from Michigan, where wolfdogs were declared illegal in 2000.
In Michigan, Spirit was registered as a German shepherd with no bite history, said Mitchell, director of Pinellas County Animal Services.
Spirit was euthanized Wednesday after its owner agreed to surrender the animal, Mitchell said. Spirit's owner could not be reached for comment.
"I don't think it was a wolfdog," said Kondratick, the Brooksville resident with a dozen wolves and wolfdogs.
"The tail was curled," she said. "That's a dog trait, not a wolf trait. And lots of dogs have skinny legs."
Susanna, who was bitten on the head and dragged out of bed as she slept, is being treated for critical injuries at All Children's Hospital.
Juarbe-Diaz, the veterinarian behaviorist, said Spirit may have mistaken Susanna for wounded prey. Or the baby could have been mistaken for a toy.
"Think of the squeaky noises they make," she said.
Safe or not?
Stray wolfdogs in Citrus County recently caused such a stir that officials passed the most stringent regulation in the Tampa Bay area.
As of Aug. 1, breeding or selling wolfdogs is prohibited in Citrus County.
"We will allow them, but we do not allow them to be sold or bred," said XanRawls, director of Citrus County Animal Services. "You can't predict what is going to stimulate them to an attack."
Owners pay $500 to register a wolfdog and can take it off their property only to see a veterinarian.
While regulations in other Tampa Bay area counties are not nearly as strict, Pasco tried something similar to Citrus in 1993.
Scores of people, many from other areas, filled County Commission chambers during passionate debate over wolfdogs. Animal control officials wanted them banned. The Florida Lupine Association, a Brooksville organization of wolfdog owners, opposed the measure.
The proposed ban fizzled.
"It was frustrating," said Hilton, the Pasco animal services manager.
Most animal control officials oppose wolfdogs as pets. Among other problems, they say, rabies vaccines have not been proved effective in wolfdogs.
Wolfdog supporters dismiss such claims.
"Dogs and wolves are the same species," said Kondratick, the Brooksville resident and secretary of the Florida Lupine Association. "It's like saying a shot that works in a horse isn't going to work in a pony or donkey."
She and other wolfdog owners say people are biased against wolfdogs because they don't understand them or know how to raise them.
Many experts, noting that wolves tend to be wary of people, say aggression in wolfdogs generally comes from breeding with aggressive dogs.
Kondratick's wolves and wolfdogs roam in separate enclosures on 10 acres. She keeps her three pure wolves separated from the wolfdogs. And she doesn't allow children alone with any of them.
Her monthly food bill is $300, and that does not include the raw chicken snacks that run $40 a shot.
"They need a lot of time and you have to know what you're doing," she said. "They're not pets for the average person."
A wolf-dog hybrid is the offspring of a breeding between a wolf and a dog. It is possible because wolves and dogs are closely related genetically.
Wolves generally weigh between 80 and 100 pounds. They have slim torsos with narrow chests, long legs and large feet. Their large heads have larger teeth and more powerful jaws than dogs’. A wolf-dog hybrid will likely be thinner and leggier than a dog.
Wolves are not naturally aggressive. Wolf-dog hybrids with a higher percentage of wolf tend to show the decreased aggressiveness of the wolf. Aggressive hybrids usually come from breeding with aggressive dog breeds, such as Rottweilers or pit bullterriers.
Most attacks by hybrids have been on small children, many when the animal’s predatory instincts were triggered, causing the animal to regard the child as prey.
Wolves do not train well and cannot be housebroken the way dogs can. A hybrid could fall anywhere between the two extremes.
To own a hybrid that is 75 percent or more wolf requires a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Success Story: Wolves Ready to Come Off the Endangered Species List
Paul Smith, Journal Times Online, 5 August 2004
From a podium in the upper Midwest and with an audience that included a pack of timber wolves, Interior Secretary Gale Norton made an announcement that a generation ago would have been unthinkable.
"The time has come to take the gray wolf off the Endangered Species list," Norton said. "The recovery of the wolf populations in the Great Lakes area has been one of the most notable success stories of the Endangered Species Act."
Norton made her remarks July 16 at the Wildlife Research Center about 30 miles north of Minneapolis. The non-profit research facility is home to 41 timber, or gray, wolves. Once delisted, the wolf will still be protected, but wildlife officials will have the ability to manage the number of wolves in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
As an example, wolves that cause depredation to livestock may be killed by federal and state officials.
The wolf was on the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states when it was placed on the Endangered Species List 30 years ago. With the additional protections afforded by federal listing and the benefit of state programs to closely monitor their numbers, the animal has rebounded from an estimated low of 350 wolves (all in Minnesota) to about 4,000 in the upper Midwest, including Wisconsin.
Wolves have been listed on the Federal Endangered Species list since 1974 and the Wisconsin Endangered Species list since 1975.
"The wolf was like a patient in the intensive care ward," Norton said. "Today the comeback is a tremendous achievement for all who have been involved in this process."
The Wisconsin wolf population was estimated at 373 to 410 wolves in late winter 2004. Both the number of wolves and the number of wolf packs has been steadily increasing for the last decade.
With federal officials beginning the process to remove the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list in Wisconsin, state officials are seeking public input on any possible revisions or adjustments to the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan.
"We welcome the action by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to start the federal delisting process for wolves in the Eastern Distinct Population Segment, including Wisconsin," said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Hassett. "And we are committed to listening to people and addressing concerns about wolves, especially farmers, and hunters who have special concerns dealing with wolves. We will continue to maintain a citizen group of wolf stakeholders, and will provide opportunities for all citizens interested in wolves to have their voices heard concerning wolf management."
Once federal delisting is completed, the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan will determine how wolves will be managed in the state, according to Adrian Wydeven, DNR mammalian ecologist and wolf specialist.
The state Natural Resources Board approved removing the gray wolf from the state list of threatened species in March; wolves are currently listed in Wisconsin as protected wild animals.
However, while the wolf is listed as a threatened species under federal rules, federal permits are required to euthanize any wolves that prey on livestock. Once the wolf is removed from the federal list, wolves still will be protected under state law as a protected species, but state officials will be able to deal with problem wolves.
The Natural Resources Board originally approved the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan in 1999. The plan set a state goal of delisting wolves when the statewide population reached 350 wolves.
The plan included a provision that it would be reviewed with the public at least every five years. That process is beginning now (see inset).
Since federal reclassification to threatened status in 2003, the DNR and USDA-Wildlife Services has begun to euthanize wolves that depredate on domestic animals on private lands. In 2003, 17 wolves were trapped and euthanized, and so far in 2004, 15 wolves have been trapped and 12 have been euthanized. Three wolves captured in 2004 were pups that are required to be released back to the wild if captured prior to Aug. 1.
The wolf recovery in Wisconsin has been remarkable on several fronts. First, the animals have come back from the brink of extinction. They were considered extirpated, or extinct, from a certain geographical area, from Wisconsin by 1960, mostly because of fur trapping, bounty hunting and loss of habitat. Before European settlement, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 wolves lived throughout Wisconsin.
The recovery also has occurred naturally, with animals drifting over the state line from Minnesota. This contrasts to the recent wolf introduction in Yellowstone National Park, where stocking was needed.
But perhaps most important in the recovery, said Wydeven, has been a shift in public perception toward wolves.
"The attitude of the public has been a big part of the turnaround," Wydeven said. "It's essential that people develop a respect and a tolerance for wolves, and that's happened to a significant extent."
Although a growing population of wolves in the state will undoubtedly lead to more cases of depredation, the DNR says it has plans in place to manage the situation. Monetary compensation is paid to farmers who lose livestock and hunters who lose dogs to wolves.
"Reclassification is something we've waited for for a long time," said DNR Secretary Scott Hassett. "For some time now, Wisconsin has a had a wolf management plan ready for this day."
"Having this icon of the wilderness back in Wisconsin and once again a part of our native landscape is a great success story. Almost no experience I can think of stirs the imagination quite as much as the howl of a wolf on a cold night."
Owner Decries Confiscation of Two Wolves by State
Paula Reed Ward, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2 August 2004
Ronald Downey has a way with wild animals. He believes that he can see inside their souls, form a kind of connection with them that very few "two-legged ones" can.
He goes by the Indian name Lone Wolf and is by birth 50 percent American Indian. His heritage traces back to the Tuscarora tribe, but about 10 years ago, he became blood-bonded into the Nez Perce, a Northwestern tribe.
Downey loves and respects all animals, but his special bond, he says, is with wolves. He believes that they are spiritual animals, and they are sacred to him. Throughout his life he has studied them -- he's also raised them. Most recently, he had two, Wakia, which means "Thunder" in the Nez Perce language, and Washita, or "White One."
He won't say where he got them, only that he had them for two years -- from when Wakia was just 8 weeks old, and Washita, 12 weeks.
Last month, Downey's wolves, which were not legally purchased or permitted, were taken from him by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
The problems started when a neighbor complained that Wakia, who is half Canadian timber wolf and half Arctic wolf, bit her 2-year-old daughter.
Downey says the wolf would never hurt anyone and that the little girl probably scratched her hand on the fencing of the wolves' pen.
The 63-year-old retired truck driver and horse hauler kept the wolves in a 2,100-square-foot pen with 6-foot-tall chain-link sides. The neighbor, who often visited the wolves and even posed with Wakia in a photograph, was told repeatedly, Downey said, not to allow the girl to put her hand inside the pen.
Even Game Commission officials can't say for sure whether the girl was bitten. If she was, said John Smith, the law enforcement supervisor for the Game Commission's Indiana office, "she was not bitten badly."
The neighbor said she didn't want to comment on the matter.
The incident with the child wasn't what led state officials to seize the animals, but it did set off the chain of events that ultimately did.
About 10 days after investigating the initial complaint, a Game Commission officer returned to Downey's home in Armstrong, Indiana County, with a veterinarian. The doctor was there to ensure the wolves were healthy. Also during that visit, Downey said, the officer gave him the requirements for obtaining a state permit for exotic animals, which in Pennsylvania include wolves, bears, coyotes, cougars and other big cats.
He was told their pen had to be enclosed on all four sides with a roof over the structure and that he needed to put up a perimeter fence to keep visitors at a safe distance from the wolves.
But Downey, who lives on disability pay after losing his leg three years ago, didn't start the work right away.
Instead, he said, he called the Game Commission officer to ask about an alternative to the roof, such as using fencing that juts into the pen at a 45-degree angle, as prisons use. Downey said he didn't hear back from the officer, and a few days later, Washita, a full-blooded Arctic wolf, got out of the pen.
Downey had left home early that morning to drive his son to work, and when he returned, people from the Game Commission and the humane society were trying to capture Washita with catch poles. She wouldn't get close enough for them to grab her, but after about 15 minutes, Downey coaxed her back into her pen.
While Downey stood talking to the officers, Washita started digging at the fence again to get out, and that's when the Game Commission decided to take the wolves.
"We hate to seize them," Smith said. "It's a real burden and responsibility for us.
"Obviously, he wasn't even close to being in compliance. We're trying to take a proactive approach to protect the public from a potentially dangerous situation."
Smith won't say where the wolves are being held.
Downey, who wears his long, silver and black hair in a ponytail, was charged with not having a permit for the wolves, failure to protect the public from attack and unlawfully importing exotic wildlife.
He pleaded guilty to all the charges Friday and was fined $2,800.
At first, Downey seems like a gruff man. He talks about white men being fearful of things they don't understand, and he talks about a lack of trust among them. But just as quickly his voice softens, and he talks about his wolves.
"To handle wolves, you have to become a wolf," Downey said. "You don't talk down to a wolf."
To communicate with them, he snarls -- often louder than them -- helping him retain his Alpha standing in the pack.
Downey's bond was especially strong with Wakia. During the male wolf's first six weeks at his home, Downey was with him 24 hours a day, including trips to the grocery store and Laundromat. That, he said, is how they formed such a strong relationship.
"I didn't train him, I showed him -- when he was little, here on the porch," Downey said, tears filling his eyes.
"The wolf is my totem and my spirit guide. When they took them, they don't really know what they took."
Downey's speech is peppered with Native American phrases and thoughts. A particularly annoying and persistent fly prompted him to speak to it: "Fly, I don't want to kill you, but I'm going to send you to the spirit world."
His small, modest home is filled with furs, handmade weapons and crafts reflecting his Indian heritage. Much of it he has made himself. He wears calf-skin moccasins, and one day last week, as he worked on a raccoon-skin wall-hanging, he wore a handmade leather vest decorated with beaded designs of feathers and a yellow and orange sun.
On his front porch are three freezers. Two of them hold meat for his wolves. There are capon, whole turkeys, and elk and bear meat. For Christmas, each wolf got a 25-pound whole turkey. Downey's miniature chow, Cubby, got three boneless capon breasts.
"They should have just let me be," Downey said mournfully. "I would have fixed it up exactly the way they wanted."
Downey told Game Commission officers he didn't know he needed a permit for the wolves because he thought Native Americans were exempt from the law. He never tried to hide them -- their pen is visible from the road -- and hundreds of people around Indiana County have stopped to see the animals, he said.
No one had ever complained to the Game Commission about them before the neighbor's report in June.
"They could have bent my way and let me keep those wolves," Downey said. "I wanted to conform, and I still would today to get them back."
But it may be too late. Besides making the required changes to the wolves' pen, Downey also would need to tell Game Commission officials where he got the wolves -- something he's not willing to do.
"I wouldn't be honorable. I wouldn't be trustworthy," he said.
Even if the state agency waived that requirement, which isn't likely, Smith said, Armstrong supervisors might pass an ordinance forbidding the possession of any exotic animals.
Wayne Wood, vice chairman of the supervisors, said people in the community had raised the issue.
"It was in response to those wolves getting out and scaring the neighbors," Wood said. "Neighbors don't want the wolves around. They've got little kids and babies around. You never know what a wild animal will do."
Michigan Looks for Ways to Avoid Wolf-Human Conflicts
John Flescher, Detroit News/AP, 31 July 2004
Eric Wallis insists wolves were responsible for the disappearance of more than 80 lambs from his farm in the eastern Upper Peninsula several years ago, although he can't prove it.
"I have seen wolves on my property numerous times," Wallis said. "They're out there."
He hasn't lost any lambs the past two years, since acquiring Great Pyrenees dogs to patrol the premises, and is hosting researchers who are testing nonlethal means of keeping wolves away. Still, he chafes at being legally barred from taking shots at them.
"I've got nothing against wolves if they'd just stay out of my sheep," said Wallis, of Rudyard in Chippewa County.
As federal and state officials prepare to ease protections that helped the gray wolf rebound from the brink of extinction, Upper Peninsula residents such as Wallis will help determine whether the animal can peacefully coexist with people.
Interior Secretary Gail Norton this month proposed removing the wolf from the endangered species list for the eastern United States _ including the Great Lakes region. That would leave state officials in charge of wolf management within their boundaries.
Norton plans to issue a final rule late this year or early next year, but a court challenge could delay its implementation.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is getting ready. The agency Friday announced the appointment of Brian Roell, a former DNR wildlife technician, as state wolf coordinator.
The DNR is updating a management plan first adopted in 1997 that envisions a thriving, but controlled, wolf population.
"There are some people in the U.P. who don't want to see any wolves, and others want to have as many as the habitat can bear," said Pat Lederle, research supervisor in the wildlife division. "We have to somehow strike a balance that makes sure the wolf remains viable and the issues that people bring up are dealt with."
The DNR announced in May the number of wolves in the Upper Peninsula had reached about 360 and exceeded 200 for the fifth consecutive year, indicating a sustainable population. None are known to live in the Lower Peninsula.
Enough food and habitat may exist for 400 to 800 wolves, Lederle said. But if the numbers continue rising, the DNR will confront the touchy issue of "social carrying capacity" _ how many animals people will tolerate, and how to keep the population within acceptable limits.
The DNR is teaming with Michigan State University on a study of that and related issues, and will consult with a variety of interest groups.
Environmentalists oppose artificial ceilings on the wolf population and say killing them should be a last resort.
"We should focus on reducing the conflicts with humans instead of pulling numbers out of the sky," said Anne Woiwode, Michigan director of the Sierra Club. "Arbitrary limits are dangerous. They assume we know more about these animals than we do."
Others say wolves will suffer in the long run if their numbers aren't limited.
"I'm afraid the wolf's biggest danger will come from people who purport to love the wolf the most .. and want to save every one," said Jim Hammill, a retired DNR wildlife biologist. "Deer hunters will take them out if we don't demonstrate that we can control them."
The Michigan United Conservation Clubs wants wolves designated a game animal subject to regulated hunting and trapping, said Jason Dinsmore, resource policy specialist.
"We don't want them hunted to extinction any more than anybody else does," Dinsmore said. "Predators have a role to play in nature. But you don't want to get to the point where people are ... seeing them as pests and (randomly) shooting them."
Farmers such as Wallis want authority to kill wolves attacking their livestock. The DNR won't promise that, but says it will remove wolves that repeatedly prey on farm animals. Last year, it exterminated a pack that was targeting cattle in the eastern U.P.
The state compensates farmers for livestock lost to wolves, but critics say the DNR's burden of proof is unfair.
Wallis has received no money because most of his lambs simply disappeared. He found a couple of mangled carcasses, but a DNR investigator said it was unclear whether the attacker was a wolf or a coyote. "It's very frustrating," he said.
The bar is set high for a good reason, Lederle said. "Many animals prey on livestock _ bears, coyotes, large dogs. Simply seeing a wolf in your pasture one week and finding a dead calf the next week doesn't constitute proof. It's not an easy determination at all."
Defenders of Wildlife, based in Washington, D.C., is helping fund studies of nonlethal controls such as shock collars to keep wolves away from livestock, said Nina Fascione, vice president for field conservation.
Researchers on Wallis' farm are testing the effectiveness of a method called "fladry." A length of cord is stretched around the perimeter of the property, with flags attached every 18 inches.
Hunters in eastern Europe discovered centuries ago that wolves don't like to cross fladry lines, but simply run alongside them _ perhaps because the flags seem alive as they flap in the breeze, said Tom Gehring of Central Michigan University, who is coordinating the study.
Fladry lines have been placed on three U.P. farms. Three neighboring farms without fladry are being observed as controls, said Gehring, an assistant professor of wildlife biology.
"So far we have three or four wolf visits on the control farms and no visits on the farms next door that have fladry protection," Gehring said.
Although promising, it will never be foolproof, he added.
"No one tool like fladry will work alone all the time," he said. "The key to managing this problem is to integrate lots of controls."
Questions and answers about Michigan wolves
Q: How many are there, and where?
A: Latest census found about 360, scattered across the Upper Peninsula. Largest numbers were in southern U.P., closer to Wisconsin.
Q: Weren't wolves extinct in Michigan not long ago?
A: They're still gone from the Lower Peninsula, and had virtually disappeared from the Upper Peninsula by the 1960s. They have rebounded sharply in the U.P. since the presence of a pack was confirmed in 1989.
Q: Why the comeback?
A: The Endangered Species Act of 1973 made it illegal to kill wolves. As their numbers increased, they migrated to Michigan from Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Q: Will the wolf cause a whitetail deer shortage for hunters?
A: Biologists say they won't kill nearly enough to significantly reduce deer numbers. Wolves also eat beaver, snowshoe hare and other small mammals.
Q: Will land use be regulated to protect wolf habitat?
A: Michigan's wolf recovery plan seeks no closures of roads or large land tracts. It does suggest protecting dens and isolated areas where adults take pups after weaning. If wolf habitat becomes badly fragmented by development, travel corridors could be designated.
Ranchers Want Peaceful Existence with Predators
Omaha World Herald/AP, 25 July 2004
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - While some of their neighbors opposed reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf, Arizona cattle producers Will and Jan Holder saw a business opportunity.
The Holders are part of a small group of livestock and wool producers considered "predator-friendly." They view peaceful coexistence with predators such as wolves as a basic principle, sound business decision and potentially profitable selling point to consumers.
While many other ranchers in the West tolerate predators to a certain point, the Holders are among those who go further. They refuse to take lethal measures against predators - even those that might kill livestock - and instead change their practices to try to avoid conflicts.
"We don't believe it solves anything by killing a predator, and we like to see wildlife," said Jan Holder, whose family runs a cattle ranch in eastern Arizona and has encountered such predators as mountain lions, coyotes, bears and wolves.
But some livestock industry leaders view this approach warily, seeing it as little more than a novel, niche opportunity unlikely to catch on in the West, where predators are a regular, sometimes costly way of life for producers.
"How would you like it if I came up every few weeks and pulled $500 from your wallet? That's pretty much what wolves do when they kill a calf," said Steve Pilcher, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. "Ranchers are going to have to get a pretty hefty premium to offset that cost."
Helping predator-friendly ranchers command a premium price on products such as meat or wool is the idea behind a certification program administered by the Predator Conservation Alliance in Bozeman, Mont.
Certified ranchers - and there are only about a dozen so far, scattered from Arizona to Washington state to Vermont - can use a special brand with track marks in advertising and on certain products, said Janelle Holden, program director with the alliance.
The brand cannot be placed directly on meat because of federal labeling requirements, she said. But it can appear on signs at local markets and on restaurant menus, as well as on wool goods.
The idea is to give discriminating consumers with an environmentalist tilt another reason to buy the products, often already raised organically or naturally, she said. The program is too new to say how much of a premium the tag might draw on the market.
"At this point, no one's really saying, 'Buy my beef because we don't kill coyotes,' but 'Buy my beef because it's good for you and the environment,'" she said.
For the Holders, part of raising a healthy product and protecting, even enhancing, rangeland conditions is recognizing the role played by predators - in helping keep rodents in check, for example - and managing their ranch to accommodate it.
Their cattle are no longer dehorned and are often moved, like the chickens, to keep them from being easy targets for predators. Often someone will camp with the cattle in hopes that the human presence will keep away predators.
The family also buys cattle from like-minded producers for Ervin's Grassfed Beef, their company, which shuns the use of antibiotics or hormones in their cattle production and notes their predator-friendly status.
Jan Holder believes that, had they not taken these routes and changed the way their family ranched, they would have had to sell off.
"There are a whole lot more people that care about wildlife more than cattle ranching; that's reality," Holder said. "We're outnumbered. And unless we make changes, our lifestyle will cease to exist."
Some certified practitioners admit the approach may not be for everyone, and Jan Holder said they might consider lethal action if faced with a "deviant" animal. Having a predator killed, regardless of the circumstances, would result in certification being revoked, Holden said.
"If we set it up so you could kill an animal every now and then, it's not really predator-friendly," she said. Her group took over the program from a group that included ranchers and conservationists about a year ago and is trying to breathe new life into it.
Making a financial go of predator-friendly status is hardly assured. The Holders and Montana sheep rancher Becky Weed have been successful, Holden said, but have also tapped niche natural or organic markets. How big a part predator-friendly status played in that, she can't yet say.
Holden sees a potential for growth in the certification program, noting interest from producers such as Mike Stevens in Idaho. But she also sees challenges to that, such as marketing, distribution and ensuring ample production to meet demand. One goal, she said, is forming a cooperative of producers interested in marketing together.
"I think that those already involved are committed to this, and that has less to do with an economic benefit than their belief in this lifestyle," she said. "As we can prove an economic benefit, I think others may jump on the bandwagon."
Wolf Advice Splits Pack of Experts
Doug O'Harra, Anchorage Daily News, 13 June 2004

The chance to watch a prowling wolf or meet the gaze of pale lupine eyes across brushy tundra makes Denali National Park one of the most extraordinary places in the world to view wildlife.
But how people should deal with individual wolves that seem fearless has generated a growl of disagreement among park officials, scientists and other people familiar with the closely studied animals that den along the Toklat River.
The issue is the latest wrangle over what may be the most famous wolves in North America -- about 100 animals that inspire intense emotions as well as thousands of stories, studies and photographs.
In this instance, it's about visitors, dogs and a "keep wildlife wild" program put in place after close encounters in 2000 and 2001 worried park officials that a few wolves had gotten too bold.
A long-standing policy that allows dogs on leashes in certain campgrounds and roads, combined with new advice that people shout, bang pots or even strike wolves that deliberately come too close, is putting both wolves and people at risk, according to a wildlife scientist who studies Denali wolves.
Telling people to drive off wolves with rocks or sticks misunderstands the natural fearlessness of Denali wolves, Gordon Haber, a frequent critic of federal and state wolf management, said in a letter last month to Denali superintendent Paul Anderson.
"They're jumping to a lot of unwarranted conclusions," he added during a telephone interview last week. "Fearless behavior is pretty normal for wolves. And it doesn't normally translate into aggression toward people."
But the presence of dogs in the park -- especially in the Teklanika area frequented by the East Fork wolf pack -- could trigger the very aggression that park officials seek to avoid, said Haber, who has studied Denali wolves for more than 40 years.
Scientists have long noted that wolves will attack other wolves, coyotes, foxes or dogs they find in their territory.
"I'm strongly recommending that people not be allowed to bring their dogs into the park, particularly near Teklanika campground," Haber said. "People just walk their dogs up and down the road, and someday one of them is going to get attacked."
As a first step this summer, Haber suggested that the park restrict dogs to campgrounds and provide poop bags to decrease wolf exposure to canine diseases.
Haber outlined his recommendations in a report published nationally this spring by the group Friends of Animals, which provides funding for his research.
But Anderson disagrees that park policy needs changing. In a telephone interview Thursday, Anderson said Haber has mischaracterized the park's advice about wolf encounters and overstated the danger posed by dogs.
"If we had evidence that restricting dogs or closing Teklanika to dogs was necessary to provide for visitor safety and wolf safety in Teklanika, I would close it," he said. Visitors "are restricted already to where they can take their dogs, and I don't want to restrict them any more."
For instance, people cannot take dogs hiking into the backcountry.
Throwing objects would be the very last step taken against a wolf after flaring coats and making noise didn't work, Anderson said. It's similar to advice given to campers about how to deal with an attacking black bear.
"It's meant to be an escalating response," said park wildlife biologist Tom Meier.
Anderson said the program appears to be working. "We're seeing less close encounters with wolves right now than we've had in the past two years," he said.
But Haber is not alone in questioning the park policy.
Denali wildlife photographer Tom Walker doesn't think dogs present much problem, but he agrees with Haber that park managers should not encourage people to be aggressive toward wolves.
"The Park Service has gone overboard," he said. "They are specifically telling people to do things that I believe personally are in violation of federal regulations" against harassing wildlife.
His own extensive research into early park history for a book found "many instances when wolves were as brazen as they are today, and there was no untoward activity as a result," Walker said.
"Now, all of a sudden, they think there's something wrong with them. Well, maybe there's something right with them. We kill them everywhere else."
Karen Deatherage, with Defenders of Wildlife, said she also has misgivings about park advice about wolves, even though her group helped sponsor a brochure with wolf advice to visitors.
"Defenders does not support throwing rocks at wolves in the park, because we think that can lead to a lot of abuse," she said.
Unlike Walker, she would support restricting pets. "Dogs are clearly a major attractant for wolves," she said.
Dogs can trigger aggression in wolves, but keeping wolves leery of people will discourage attacks against pets, said state biologist Mark McNay, a wildlife researcher and wolf expert at the Fairbanks office of the Department of Fish and Game.
"In other areas of the country, wolves that exhibit fearless behavior because they are in close proximity with people over time, and don't receive any negative conditioning from people -- those wolves have in many cases eventually caused a problem by biting someone, and in some cases, those are serious bites," he said.
None of those places had a history of problems before things went bad, he added. "Suddenly, things changed dramatically in a single day by a single wolf."
A review of 80 wolf-human encounters in Alaska and Canada uncovered an unsettling trend, McNay wrote in the Wildlife Society Bulletin in 2002. Only one case of unprovoked wolf aggression was reported between 1900 and 1969, but 18 occurred between 1969 and 2000. They included three serious attacks on children, including a 6-year-old boy bitten at an Icy Bay logging camp in 2000.
In a report posted online by Fish and Game, McNay cited several encounters in Denali park that he said illustrate "a high level of habituation" by wolves toward people.
On May 31, 2001, six wolves were seen near the Teklanika campground. Later that evening, three wolves investigated a tent with a baby that had been crying for hours and one wolf pressed its nose against the bug netting, McNay wrote. The wolves chewed on a sandal and a toy before leaving and checking out another tent with a small child inside.
After that and some other incidents of wolves approaching people, the park closed Teklanika to tent camping and began advising people to shoo wolves off, Anderson said.
"It is extremely important to give any wolf that approaches a person the message that they will not be tolerated in close proximity," states the "Wolf Encounters" handout distributed to park visitors.
That makes sense, McNay said: "You want the wolf to feel that you, a person, poses some potential threat. And that way their natural behavior includes some avoidance response."
Haber argued that this attitude draws the wrong conclusion. Many cases of aggressive wolves in McNay's review were animals that had been conditioned to seek food from people or were reacting to the presence of a dog, Haber said. "Those are the triggers."
While park officials cited the incident in which wolves approached the tent with the crying baby "as a good example of menacing, worrisome, unnatural wolf behavior," Haber wrote in his letter to Anderson, "it was just the opposite."
The wolves investigated screaming that sounded like a wounded animal, then left the scene.
"At no time did they show the slightest hint of aggressive behavior while circling the tent -- only intense curiosity as they evaluated the loud distress calling inside," he wrote. "It would have been easy for them to jump on the tent in an aggressive fury but they did not, plainly because they figured out that there were people inside."
Denali wolves can interact with people without posing a threat, Haber said.
"Fearless behavior and aggressive behavior are not the same thing," he said Friday.
Dog Poisonings Likely Aimed at Wolves
CNN International, 9 June 2004

It had been a tranquil visit below the snowcapped peaks of Grand Teton National Park. Then Jim and Nancy Barrus' black lab began drooling, retching and quivering uncontrollably.
Two rangers at a campground store knew immediately what was wrong: The couple's pet Sammy was the latest victim of a poisoning spree -- likely aimed at wolves -- that has killed eight dogs and sickened 13 others.
Authorities believe someone has been putting poison in hot dogs and balls of meat and scattering them along roads in western Wyoming and eastern Idaho.
"I equate it to local terrorism," Nancy Barrus said. "They don't care who they hurt."
Especially in rural areas, anger over the federal government's reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park almost a decade ago has grown alongside the wolves' exponential increase in numbers -- and the rising number of cattle, sheep and big-game animals they have killed.
In April, Wyoming filed suit against the government's rejection of a plan to allow wolves to be on shot on sight in most of the state after they are removed from Endangered Species Act protection. The state plan would have protected wolves only in the national parks and adjacent wilderness areas.
There have been no arrests, but the poison and how it was used closely resemble instructions posted on the Internet by Tim Sundles, an ammunition store owner in Carmen, Idaho.
"I didn't feel like I could legally solicit anyone to kill wolves ... But I did feel I could provide information for freedom-minded people," he said. He denied involvement in the poisonings.
Sundles claims "a whole lot of wolves" were poisoned in the Yellowstone region last winter, although he declined to say how he knows. Ed Bangs, the government's wolf recovery chief for the Rocky Mountain region, denies it.
"Personally I don't have much sympathy with someone who thinks they have such a clear understanding of what everybody wants, they have the right to violate the law," he said. "Those are the type of people who blow up buildings."
On March 20, authorities raided Sundles' home, confiscating his computer and, according to Sundles, dried blood samples from his garage floor, where he had butchered elk. An Idaho Fish and Game Department spokeswoman said test results were pending.
Barrus, who lives in Riverton, Wyoming, says Sammy has nearly recovered from last month's poison attack. "It took a good five days to get him back on food and water and not twitching or trembling. And he still tires very easily," she said.
Fish and Wildlife agent Roy Brown worries a curious toddler could be the next victim. "This is tourist season and a lot of families with young children are out and about in northwest Wyoming," he said.