Pro-Wolf Sentiment Dominates Hearing
Thomas J. Baird, Silver City (NM) Sun-News, 8 April 2004
Members of the New Mexico Game Commission listened to comments from an overwhelmingly pro-wolf crowd in Silver City on Tuesday, with a majority of speakers requesting action to reform the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in accordance with scientists’ recommendations.
The Game Commission took public testimony Tuesday and then met at Light Hall Wednesday for a regular meeting.
Of about 76 speakers Tuesday, at least 64 spoke in favor of the wolves while about one dozen spoke against the reintroduction program, which has been in place for six years. Most of the pro-wolf majority, many of whom are from rural enclaves and private holdings in the Gila National Forest, supported greater protection for wolves. Specifically, most speakers encouraged support of proposed changes in policy to allow wolves to roam outside the official recovery area and to avoid being trapped for killing livestock — if they have become habituated to domestic animals by scavenging on carcasses of livestock they did not kill.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the commission voted unanimously to direct Game and Fish Director Bruce Thompson to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to encourage a change in the rules within the reintroduction program. The memorandum would be part of a process of devolution of decision-making authority from the Fish and Wildlife Service to state and local agencies, said Michael Robinson of the conservation and wolf advocacy group, the Center for Biological Diversity in Pinos Altos.
“We’re very pleased,” Robinson said Wednesday after the commission vote. “The commission unanimously passed a resolution that told the Department of Game and Fish to work with the Fish and Wildlife Service to implement the recommendations of the Paquet report. It’s a huge step forward for the wolves.”
Robinson said the New Mexico state agency can’t change the federal register that contains the rules which direct the wolf reintroduction program, but the memorandum of understanding should move Fish and Wildlife to change those rules.
“Game and Fish has now been given marching orders, so it’s very likely it’s going to get done,” Robinson said.
Robinson believes the pro-wolf turnout in Silver City on Tuesday probably impacted the commission’s decision and vote Wednesday.
Thompson, director of the Department of Game and Fish, attended Wednesday’s meeting, and said the memorandum of understanding provides for an array of actions or prospective actions by federal, state, tribal and private cooperators.
“The reference to the Paquet report is a reference to a previous assessment of wolf recovery that was done several years ago,” he said. “The (memorandum), in and of itself, is a much larger, embracing action of all things associated with Mexican wolf management. From that standpoint, the recommendation from the Paquet report must fit into things to be considered by cooperators in the (memorandum).”
Removing livestock carcasses before wolves can scavenge them was one of the recommendations of the Paquet report, the 86-page review of the wolf program solicited by the Fish and Wildlife Service and conducted by four independent scientists led by Paul C. Paquet of the University of Calgary in June 2001. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to implement any of the scientists’ principal recommendations, Robinson said.
Robinson noted that at the time the report was released, there were 27 radio-collared and monitored wolves in the wild. That number has dwindled to 18 today, some of which were wild-born. There is also an unknown number of uncollared wolves, he said.
The scientists in the Paquet report also recommended that wolves be allowed to wander freely outside the recovery area, including other public lands. That recommendation has not been implemented by the Fish and Wildlife Service either, Robinson said.
“Currently, the Mexican wolf is the only endangered species in the United States that the Fish and Wildlife Service is required to remove from the wild if they set up homes outside their official recovery area,” Robinson said.
That has led to the loss of freedom for numerous wolves and in the deaths of others, he said.
Bill Ferranti, manager of the Double H Ranch, a bequeathed property that is home to a large elk population, said Wednesday he was pleased the Game and Fish Department would now be a stakeholder in the wolf controversy, though he still has questions.
“I think as far as wolves, I see the Game and Fish Department playing a big role in it,” Ferranti said. “I think they need to be a stakeholder at the table. From just a clear standpoint from New Mexicans, they need to be involved, more so than what they have been.
“Do I agree with wolves?” he asked. “My concern is what affect they’re going to have on deer and elk and all the rest of the stuff. I don’t think we know what the affect is going to be. You take a look at the wolves in the north, they’ve had a detrimental affect in Montana and Idaho. Clearly, my concern is what the cost is going to be to us to manage this wolf program. But I think it’s important we get a stake in a wolf recovery program, which has not been done either. I’m not saying we’re against wolves, but how does that affect what we’re doing?”
Raising A Howl
Michael Robinson, Albuquerque Tribune, 7 April 2004 (commentary)
On the sixth anniversary of the first release of endangered Mexican gray wolves into the wild on March 29, 1998, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal petition for rule-making with Interior Secretary Gale Norton and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams to save the Mexican wolf population from federal mismanagement.
The 14-page petition was filed pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act, which gives the federal government 90 days for an initial response and one year to promulgate new regulations. Should these deadlines be missed, the center will sue to compel compliance.
The petition requests reforms in the reintroduction program in accordance with recommendations of four independent scientists who examined the program at the behest of the Fish and Wildlife Service. In June 2001, the scientists issued an 86-page report urging immediate policy changes. The Fish and Wildlife Service has not made the changes.
The scientists said, absent such changes, wolf numbers stood a 39 percent chance of decline. At the time they issued their report, there were 27 radio-collared and monitored wolves in the wild, plus an unknown number of uncollared wolves.
Today there are 18 radio-collared and monitored wolves in the wild, and that number includes nine wild-born wolves captured in the interim and outfitted with collars before release.
The center's petition requests three changes in policy:
That the Fish and Wildlife Service be allowed to release wolves from the captive breeding program into the Gila National Forest of New Mexico. Currently, wolves can be captured from the wild and released in the Gila but are not released there for the first time. Animals born into the captive breeding program may only be released their first time into the Apache National Forest in Arizona. Wolves are sometimes injured, traumatized or even killed in capture attempts, and survivors are much less likely to live and reproduce upon release.
That the Fish and Wildlife Service be given the authority to allow wolves to establish territories outside the boundaries of the Gila and Apache national forests. Currently, Fish and Wildlife is required to remove or kill such wolves, even if they are on other public lands. Fish and Wildlife is not required to remove any other endangered species merely for living outside a political boundary. For example, wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains can move at will unless they are causing a specific problem.
That owners of livestock be required to take responsibility for removing or rendering unpalatable the carcasses of cattle and horses that die of non-wolf-related problems, before wolves scavenge on them and become habituated to livestock - or if they fail to do so that the wolves are not subsequently made into scapegoats. In the northern Rocky Mountains, regulations protect wolves from being baited by carcasses but not in the Southwest.
The Mexican gray wolf is the most imperiled mammal in North America, exterminated from the United States by the 1920s by the predecessor agency to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and then beginning in 1950 poisoned out of Mexico by the Fish and Wildlife Service as well.
After passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 in order to recover threaten and endangered species and the ecosystems upon which they depend, the last five known wild wolves were captured alive in Mexico for an emergency captive breeding program. After the Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to scuttle reintroduction, conservationists sued the agency and in 1993 obtained a settlement agreement that eventually led to the first 11 wolves being released six years ago today.
Mexican gray wolves are the engine of evolution for Southwestern ecosystems. Research from other ecosystems indicates wolves play key roles in: honing the alertness and vigor of prey species such as elk, deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep; preventing disease transmission by killing prey animals weakened by severe maladies before other herd members become infected; providing carrion for scavenger animals such as badgers, eagles, ravens and bears; helping foxes survive by killing coyotes, which in turn kill foxes and limit their numbers; and helping natural vegetation flourish by limiting the time spent by grazing and browsing animals in sensitive streamside areas.
In sum, there are a host of ecological adaptations in which wolves play key roles. Their elimination was part of a process of thoughtlessly crippling natural ecosystems, and their successful reintroduction is critical to restoring the balance.
Copies of the petition are available on request. Contact the Center for Biological Diversity by writing P.O. Box 53166, Pinos Altos, N.M. 88053; phoning or faxing 505-534-0360; or visiting its Web site at www.biologicaldiversity.org.
Robinson, based in Pinos Altos, N.M., is an official with the Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit organization that was founded in rural southwestern New Mexico in 1989.
Myths Surround Wolves
Nick Gevock, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 4 April 2004
Despite their tendency to make headlines, Ed Bangs says wolves are actually pretty boring animals. Yet the intensity of people's reaction to the toothy critters is fascinating.
"It's pretty much the same worldwide, people are people and wolves are wolves; when you mix the two, the reaction is very predictable," Bangs, the man in charge of wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said recently. "You hear the same stories about the same kinds of things."
Things like, wolves kill for fun.
Or wolves are just looking for a chance to attack people.
Or, when they're around children, wolves are a serious threat.
Although years of studying wolves has shown that none of those things are true, Bangs said, the facts are often overshadowed by wolf folklore and mythology.
Wolf tales span the globe and span the centuries, depicting the wolf as everything from a beneficient beast eager to assist man to evil incarnate, waiting to gobble him up.
Despite being one of the most studied animals on Earth, those stories do more to shape human perception of wolves more than any biologist's work.
"In the wolf we have not so much an animal that we have always known as one that we have consistently imagined," writer Barry Lopez penned in his classic book on wolf-human interactions, "Of Wolves and Men."
WOLVES AT THE DOOR
When two packs of wolves began attacking livestock in the Madison Valley last month, Bangs was bombarded with complaints from Montana's congressional delegation, the governor, ranchers and local officials.
Wolf attacks on livestock are never taken lightly and both packs were wiped out by federal trappers, Bangs pointed out.
But the reaction to the attacks stunned him.
"Wolf stuff brings out this tremendous emotion," he said. "The mythology of wolves feeds all that stuff."
It is true that wolves at times prey on livestock. But ranchers' losses to wolves are minuscule compared to those caused by weather, disease and other predators, he said.
It is also true that, in extremely rare cases, wolves have bitten people, although most of those incidents involved rabid wolves or ones that had been fed and become accustomed to being around people. In North America, however, there are no documented cases of a healthy, wild wolf attacking people.
Clearly, the intensity of emotion surrounding wolves is far more pitched than the threat. Wolves strike alarm in humans to a degree that bears and mountain lions do not.
"Cougars kill people, and people don't cry out to wipe out the whole species," said Kimberly Byrd, who earned a doctorate in conservation biology at the University of Minnesota studying people's perceptions of wolves.
Byrd and others who study wolf mythology say the immense body of wolf folklore, more than anything else, seems to drive people's perceptions of the animal.
"The depth with which this animal enters into the symbolism in our culture is tremendous," Byrd said.
THE BIG, BAD WOLF
Throughout the ages, fables have bestowed wolves with one of four basic characteristics -- foolish, wise, helpful or evil, said Kevin Strauss, a storyteller from Ely, Minn.
The portrayal of wolves in various cultures has "a lot to do with how people made their living when they made up the stories," Strauss said. "These aren't so much stories about wolves, they're stories about people."
Stories featuring wolves as villains are plentiful, including a verse in the Bible in which Jesus described himself as a shepherd, safeguarding his flock of sheep from wolves.
The "Three Little Pigs," "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Peter and the Wolf" are just a few of the fairytales that cast wolves as evil creatures scheming to gobble up the main characters.
In Germany and Eastern Europe, farmers for centuries despised wolves for occassionally attacking livestock, and that comes through in the stories.
"The society from Central Europe was very similar to colonial America -- a farming society," Strauss said. "The stories they passed on, not just about wolves, reflect those values: hard work, perseverance, domestication as opposed to wilderness."
And yet, in other cultures the wolf has always been admired, even revered.
Numerous American Indian tribes respect wolves for their hunting ability and courage.
Even some stories from Eastern Europe and Russia depict wolves as heroes, where the wolf helps people, despite the fact that much of the region's folklore casts wolves in a negative light.
In Finland, herders saw wolves in a positive light, or at least a neutral one, Strauss said.
One Finnish story has a good wizard creating the wolf to control the reindeer herds. The wizard formed the animal's backbone from the main roof beam of a human's house, its claws and teeth from the iron nails and its eyes from the glowing embers of the home's fire.
In the end, the wolf also managed to keep the evil Lord of the Dead out of the forest, serving to protect people, too.
As testament to the power of such stories, Strauss said some Finns, who were watching captive wolves, asked whether wolves could turn their heads. After all, if their necks were made from roof beams, they'd be too stiff to bend, wouldn't they?
NOT JUST ANCIENT LITERATURE
But it isn't necessary to go back centuries to find literature that feeds negative perceptions of wolves.
The United States government added to the mythology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, said Mark Madison, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service historian in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Throughout that period, the government waged a successful campaign to eradicate the wolf in order to protect livestock and dwindling big game herds. Although the loss of wildlife was largely due to uncontrolled hunting and loss of habitat, the wolf made an easy scapegoat, he said.
"The scientific community really propagated this 'big bad wolf' thing," Madison said. "If you look back at our literature in the 1930s, the wolves are portrayed as kind of snarly looking, they're always described as kind of murderous and bloodthirsty."
While wolves did prey more heavily on livestock at the time, that was largely due to the decimation of game having taken away their usual prey.
And federal official also touted wolf killing as a way to make the woods safe for hunters and anglers.
"The more effective propanganda were leaflets sent out to Boy Scouts, farmers and ranchers, saying, 'This is what we're doing to eradicate the wolf,'" he said. "These big predators didn't have much of a consitiuency."
FOLKLORE LIVES ON
But times change. Now the federal government and conservation groups are trying to shift perceptions, urging people to see the importance of wolves in wild ecosystems.
The gift shops in Yellowstone National Park now stock stuffed toy wolves. The Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone has a few wolves in captivity to help educate tourists. A 1993 book, "The Three Little Wolves and the Big, Bad Pig," even attempts to turn a classic "bad wolf" story on its head.
However, it's unlikely folklore so ingrained in American culture will go away soon.
And Strauss said that's not a bad thing. Stories are one of the best ways people learn because they appeal to basic emotions.
He likes to tell many of the lesser-known tales about wolves from other cultures, but he's careful to choose stories that reflect wolves as both beneficient beasts and evil incarnate.
That balance is important, he said, because wolves are wild animals and can be unpredictable.
Yet for all efforts at balance, the big bad wolf is not likely to disappear entirely.
"I'm not sure scientists will be able to counter the stories and appeal to the emotional side of our brains," Strauss said. "Just giving people statistics and scientific facts will not alleviate those concerns."
Inaccuracies Ensnare Wolf Talk
Mike Fleagle, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 2 April 2004 (commentary)
In recent newspaper and Internet advertisements, the Defenders of Wildlife is misleading the public about predator management in Alaska as part of an "emergency" national fund-raising campaign. I acknowledge that predator management is a controversial and value-laden issue and recognize that there will be some opposition to the programs that are now under way.
However, feeding false and deceitful information to the public in order to gain support and financial aid is both irresponsible and unethical. Please allow me to provide you with the rational and factual information.
Defenders of Wildlife is trying to link the state wolf-control programs with moose-hunting regulations that allow the harvest of moose calves in certain limited areas. Let me set the record straight: Contrary to the allegation, the harvest of moose calves is not allowed in the same places where predator control is authorized. Obviously, if we are trying to get a moose herd to grow, every calf is important.
Harvest of moose calves by hunters occurs only rarely and only in a few areas where moose are abundant and are having a negative impact on their habitat. In most of Alaska, both moose calves and cows are protected from hunting. However, Alaska is a huge state and moose populations vary greatly. It would be irresponsible for the Board of Game to insist that the same hunting regulations occur everywhere in Alaska. That is like saying that Iowa must have the same hunting regulations as Oregon.
The changes made by the Board of Game at its March meeting did nothing to increase the harvest of moose calves. The board made a technical correction to make the regulations more user-friendly, provide greater protection for moose calves in most of the state, yet allow their harvest where needed for the health of a herd and its habitat.
The Department of Fish and Game recommended this action because the harvest of moose calves is a legitimate wildlife management tool that can, where appropriate, help ensure balanced and healthy moose herds and an abundant harvest. This approach is widely used across much of the Lower 48, Canada and in Scandinavian countries to manage ungulate populations when they are at high levels.
Other misinformation would benefit from additional clarification. Wolf-reduction programs are occurring only in focused locations where predators are preventing moose herds from achieving management objectives; two programs are under way and others may occur in the future. Only agents of the state holding a special permit are authorized to take wolves using airplanes in these programs. Contrary to the information presented by the Defenders of Wildlife, use of helicopters is not allowed.
The same organization is also saying that hunters in Alaska are allowed to harvest female bears accompanied by cub. This is not true. The Board of Game did adopt a bear management policy that contains several potential techniques to reduce bear populations, but none are in effect at this time.
Everyone providing information to the public about predator management has a responsibility to present factual information. It may be an effective fund-raising technique to alarm people by disseminating distorted information, but it is truly reprehensible. Those trying to understand the predator management program in Alaska deserve a complete picture. Alaska has a large, healthy and secure wolf population because we manage all wildlife species, including wolves, to ensure their long-term viability and sustainable use.
Mike Fleagle is chairman of the Alaska Board of Game.
300 Jam Denver Meeting on Wolves
Kieran Nicholson, Denver Post, 26 March 2004
About 300 people crammed into a meeting room at a Denver hotel Thursday night, most eager to share their views on wolves and Colorado.
The state Division of Wildlife held the meeting to encourage and collect nominations for a "working group" that will draft a wolf-management plan to be submitted to the division's director.
The plan is expected to be completed in August and will be followed by a public comment period. It could then be fine-tuned or changed before the division's director decides how much of it to use in Colorado.
"He won't do it in a vacuum," said Pam Wagner, a policy analyst at the Division of Wildlife.
The working group will recommend policy points that could include defining the numbers of wolves and packs that will be allowed in the state; defining the degree of protection the wolves will receive; and defining what, if anything, needs to be done regarding wolf habitat.
The division has no current plans to reintroduce the gray wolf to Colorado, but wolves have been sighted along the Wyoming border, and it won't be long before they come south, wildlife experts say.
"We are trying to prepare for this," said Gary Skiba, a wildlife biologist with the division's species conservation unit.
Once the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removes northern Rockies wolf populations from the endangered species list in 2005 or 2006, the state Division of Wildlife will be authorized to manage wolves north of Interstate 70. The issue of wolves south of I-70 falls under a separate wildlife boundary, though officials said there is no immediate need to deal with the possibility of wolves in southern Colorado.
Most of those attending the meeting, held at the Best Western Central hotel, came from Denver and surrounding cities, but some ranchers and farmers traveled from beyond the metro area to attend.
It was the sixth such meeting called by the division; others have been in Fort Collins, Durango, Grand Junction, Craig and Pueblo. About 1,000 people total have attended the meetings, said Kim Burgess, a policy and regulatory manager at the division.
If Thursday's meeting is any indication, the working group will have its work cut out for it in trying to find a balance between protecting the wolf and protecting livestock.
Cindi Bush, 22, of Lakewood said she attended the meeting because she's had a lifelong love of wolves.
But she admitted the wolf's return to Colorado will be a "complicated" issue.
"No one should have an anti-rancher view," Bush said. "They have to protect their livestock and make a living."
"I would like to see both (wolves and ranchers) co-exist," she said.
Karen Percy, 27, of Erie hails from a Wyoming ranching family.
"I've seen the wolves come in and the lack of government assistance" when they attack livestock, Percy said.
During the meeting, a Western Slope resident told the audience he drove to Denver because he missed the earlier meeting in Craig.
"Our land will be occupied by the wolves, and we would welcome it," he said to applause.
A short time later, another man identified himself as a third-generation Colorado rancher and farmer. "Wolves are not welcome on our land," he said.
Wolves on the Horizon
Gary Gerhardt, Rocky Mountain News, 20 March 2004
PARADISE VALLEY, MONT. - Along a snowy slope in Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley, 13 members of the Druid Peak wolf pack weave through stands of conifer and aspen, searching the air for telltale scents, exhaling in frosty puffs.
They are led by an alpha male known as 21M, the son of 10M, who became the first reintroduced wolf to be killed illegally. This was near Red Lodge, Mont., in 1995, only a few months after the wolves were released to take tentative first steps into the wild.
When U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers investigated, they found the mate, 9F, with eight newborn pups. All were returned to the holding facility to be released another time.
As he crosses the snow banks this day, 21M pauses to size up two healthy bull elk. But sensing no weakness in them, he trots on, searching for easier prey.
Suddenly, one of the wolves in the pack howls, sending an audible murmur of appreciation through the humans who've gathered at roadside with their field glasses and spotting scopes, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of North America's most controversial predators.
While they are deeply appreciated by environmentalists, tourists and others, wolves are despised by some ranchers, hunters and other rural residents. As the wolf populations have expanded in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana since their Yellowstone reintroduction in 1995 and 1996, the debate has remained sharply polarized.
And while those three states have struggled to come up with acceptable plans to take over wolf management from the federal government - Wyoming hasn't yet succeeded - experts have two words of advice for states such as Colorado that are adjacent to the wolf's present range: Get ready.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife has been trying to do just that, collecting public input around the state to help put together a wolf plan. A final public hearing is scheduled for Thursday night in Denver.
Howling their intentions
Wyoming has 234 wolves; Montana has 182, and Idaho about 340, said Ed Bangs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf coordinator. This after the animals were wiped out in the region early last century to protect growing livestock herds.
There are always lone wolves that break off, wandering sometimes hundreds of miles in their attempt to attract a mate and establish a new territory, and they are as likely to choose a calf to eat as a crippled elk.
Already a dozen wolves have been spotted as far south as Interstate 80 near Rawlins and Rock Springs, only a day's trot from Colorado.
The pressure of the expanding wolf population is forcing states to develop plans to deal with them. One fundamental question: When is it legal for ranchers to shoot wolves to protect livestock and pets, and when is it a crime?
The plans from Idaho and Montana have been accepted by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. Each state would maintain at least 10 to 15 packs of wolves. That is a figure that would conserve the wolves in terms of a minimum number of packs, while establishing an opportunity to hunt them above that number.
And just how many wolves constitute a pack is still hotly debated.
Colorado wildlife officials, resigned to the prospect of seeing wolves within a few years if not sooner, are working on a plan that they hope will avoid conflicts among the various interests in the state upon the wolves' arrival. One part would be to give ranchers a chance to defend their herds and flocks.
Of the three top predators - grizzly bears, cougars and wolves - wolves are unique.
Grizzly bears are omnivores, meaning that 85 percent or more of their diet is made up of vegetable matter. They are also fairly solitary animals.
Cougars, almost strictly meat eaters, are also solitary animals that are rarely seen. Wolves, however, are not only meat eaters, but they also travel in packs to hunt. They constantly howl to announce their intentions.
And because of it, the wolf has become a symbol with widely divergent interpretations.
A demand for wolf control
U.S. 89 slices through the narrow Paradise Valley, rimmed by the Gallatin Range on the west and Absaroka Range to the east, the only road from the northern entrance of Yellowstone at Gardiner to Livingston, Mont.
About 25 miles north of the park in the heart of the Yellowstone River valley, Bob Fanning, a horse rancher with a small acreage, sat with a visitor and fumed about wolves.
His well-appointed home, decorated with wild animal heads - and a scoped rifle leaning conspicuously against one wall - is among a number of expensive ranches and ranchettes scattered on the foothills of the Absarokas.
Seated at the kitchen table, Fanning drained a cup of coffee and called federal wildlife authorities "liars and crooks." It is their policies, he said, that have destroyed the Northern Yellowstone elk herd that once populated the valley west of his home.
"Elk are my passion. I love to hunt them. I love to see them. And now the wolves have killed them out," he said.
Fanning, 54, is a Notre Dame graduate and retired chief operating officer and chairman of an Illinois blast-furnace manufacturing company. More recently, he is a founder of Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd Inc.
"The population of that elk herd dropped from 19,700 in 1994 to 7,600 after the hunting season this year - largely due to the reintroduction of wolves," he said. "At one time this valley was filled with elk in winter. Now what do you see? Nothing! Not a single animal."
Fanning claims that 306 wolves have been killing the herds in a 120-mile radius of Old Faithful, and that at the current rate, the elk will be wiped out in that area within two years.
"These wolves they brought in from Canada aren't the animals that historically were here," he said. "The native wolf was much smaller and hunted in pairs, not packs, so that's why the elk herds weren't wiped out before they finally shot wolves out of this country in 1926 at the request of the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park."
Fanning said that before wolves were reintroduced in 1995, experts said they should be brought back over a 10- to 20- year period with the capacity for the ecosystem being between 78 and 100 wolves.
"Now we have 300 percent more wolves than they called for," he said.
Dropping a bumper sticker for his organization on the table, he recites the motto: "A deal is a deal. Wolf control now."
That is - to an extent - what Idaho and Montana are proposing to do with wolf-management plans that have been accepted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Each calls for a minimum of 10 packs of wolves.
Wyoming is the third state in that compact.
The plan from Colorado's northern neighbor is important because federal authorities have agreed to remove wolves from "threatened" status under the Endangered Species Act and turn control over to the states - but only when all three plans are accepted.
However, Wyoming's proposal, which classifies wolves as a "trophy" animal in a small portion of the northwest and a "predator" in the rest of the state, was rejected by the feds and is holding up delisting.
The trophy designation means that you would have to have a special license to hunt them. The predator status means that you could shoot them on sight if they threatened livestock or pets.
While delisting is held up, more and more wolves are being born and not controlled in Wyoming, meaning that some could soon be headed south across the border into Colorado or Utah - two states with which Fanning expressed deep irritation.
"I can only say of those states, you didn't speak up on our behalf when it was happening here, and now you deserve everything you get when they come to your state," he said.
Keeping up with the pack
Wolf watching is for early risers.
Getting out before the break of dawn is the best assurance of seeing a pack on the prowl. A small and cold but dedicated group of people have set up telescopes, binoculars and camera equipment on this morning when gunmetal skies threaten snow.
They are hard-core wolf lovers who stand near their vehicles parked the wrong way on the highway through the Lamar Valley, discussing various members of the Druid Peak pack by the number assigned to them. These folks can rattle off with authority the history of the individual wolf's parentage, the travels each has made.
Ilona Popper of Shepherdstown, Pa., a writer, poet, teacher and part-time librarian, is somewhat new. It's only her second time in the park, but her face betrays her fascination with wolves.
She is spending a two-week vacation in Yellowstone at "considerable expense to myself."
"I am taking courses at the Yellowstone Institute on wolves and just want to get to know everything I can about the animals," she said.
Conspicuous among the parked vehicles is a white pickup with a whip antenna on the roof.
In it, Rick McIntyre, a naturalist, park seasonal employee and wolf enthusiast, adjusted the spotting scope that he has mounted to a side window.
"There they are," he called out, and the wolf watchers trained their glasses toward the side of the hill.
As the pack stretched out around huge boulders and lone pines, a single wolf at the end of the line issues a long, mournful howl.
The people responded, "Ooooh."
"That was a pup," said McIntyre, squinting through his spotting scope. "He got behind and is letting the pack know about it."
As he spoke his observations into a cassette recorder, McIntyre said, "This is the pack 253M is in. That is the wolf that snuck out two years ago, crossed the park and the entire state of Wyoming before getting caught in a coyote trap near Ogden, Utah."
When Utah officials raised a stink, the Fish and Wildlife Service retrieved the wolf, brought it to Flagg Ranch at Yellowstone's south entrance and released it. Eventually, 253M made his way back across the park to the pack.
The Druid Peak pack is one of the largest and best-known wolf packs in Yellowstone, mainly because the wolves are so visible from the highway.
The original five wolves in the pack expanded to 37 in 2002, becoming one of the largest known wolf packs ever before breaking into smaller groups.
Druid Peak was also in the news recently after alpha female 42F died in an attack by another pack. She was the last of the original wolves to have been placed in the park in the 1995 and 1996 releases.
First, it was too many elk
In the bowels of the research building in Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park headquarters, wolf recovery coordinator Doug Smith considered some of the complaints against the wolves and said, "It wasn't too long ago we were being criticized for having too many elk in the park.
"They were destroying the vegetation and ranchers were complaining about 'our' elk being on their ranches."
In 1994, he said, the number of elk in the northern herd did hit 19,045 - more than half the 35,000 that now summer in the entire park.
"With a population that high, the only thing it could do is come down, and the numbers were dropping before the wolves were ever reintroduced in 1995," Smith said.
Wolves have contributed to the drop in numbers, he said, but there were many other contributing factors, including drought, blizzards, overgrazing and increased hunting pressure.
Actually, Smith said, there are a lot of scientists interested in the overall health of the park who think that fewer elk is a good thing.
He said that without the overgrazing and destruction of trees, the park now is seeing a return of beaver and songbirds - species forced out by a lack of habitat when the elk numbers were so high.
Across Paradise Valley from Fanning's place, Bruce Malcolm bounced his Chevrolet pickup into his hay pasture where 100 head of black Angus cattle stampeded toward him.
He's hauling buckets of protein cakes that the cattle love.
"Here comes the candy truck," he joked, braking sharply to avoid hitting an over-eager cow.
"We raise replacement stock here - breeding stock that others buy to put in their herds," said Malcolm, 67, a valley native. "We've been breeding genetics into our herds for 40 years, so when you lose an animal, it's more than just a monetary loss."
He said that losing a prime Angus means losing 10 years of potential, and when it comes to horses, a colt with stud fees included can be worth $3,000 "before it hits the ground."
"I certainly didn't want wolves in this country," he said. "Before we had wolves, I was losing an average of one cow or calf a year to unknown causes. Now it's up to six."
Currently a Montana state representative, Malcolm said that when wolves were reintroduced over ranchers' protests, there wasn't much they could do.
In time, he accepted it and took a position on the wolf-management advisory committee, which helped write the Montana state Fish, Game and Park Department's plan that was accepted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Tension of the night howl
Unlike Fanning, Malcolm hopes that the Fish and Wildlife Service will allow the states to start managing wolves as a big game species and lessen the restrictions on ranchers protecting their livestock.
"But I have to admit, since the wolves got here, I haven't gotten a good night's sleep," he said. "Where I used to sleep in to 5 a.m. before checking the cattle, now I have to get up at 3 a.m.
"I don't sleep soundly, and if I hear a wolf or a coyote or a cow bawling, it's constant tension."
Despite all of the hard work to prepare to take over management of the wolves when they are delisted, Carolyn Sime, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wolf plan coordinator, said, "With Wyoming holding out, the clock to delist doesn't start for any of us until all three states have acceptable plans.
"And even once that's done, it's going to take 12 to 18 months before the feds completely turn it over to us."
While the basic Montana management plan guarantees 10 packs of wolves will be maintained in the state, whether they will be limited to that number by hunting, trapping or other means hasn't yet been decided, she said.
"Basically, regulated harvest would be used as a management tool, but because no one wants the number to drop below 10 packs - (with wolves then being) relisted on the Endangered Species List - there has to be a mandatory record of mortalities."
Sime said it will cost Montana about $900,000 a year to manage wolves, and that many in the state want most of that to come from federal funds.
Wolves Come Back (On Their Terms)
James Gorman, New York Times, 16 March 2004
IREN, Wis. — Phil Miller flies the single-engine plane in a tight circle at an altitude of about 300 feet, listening on his headset to beeping from a wolf's radio collar.
The animal is somewhere below, in a mix of patchy pine forest and low, sparse brush scattered over a snow-covered swamp. It is a gray day, drizzling and misty, and after the plane circles a line of pines several times, the wolf is still not visible.
Then Mr. Miller spots a pair — their coats a peppery mix of gray, black and cinnamon — standing casually under a pine tree, looking for all the world like they are trying to decide whether it's worth going out in the rain.
If they were really worried about the weather they might go to the vast Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., only a two-hour drive away — or a 120-mile trot, no great challenge for a wolf. These wolves are not on Arctic tundra or in the precious confines of Yellowstone National Park. They are in Wisconsin, not exactly the suburbs, but not the wilderness either, and they fit a Midwestern stereotype — modest, hardworking, persistent.
In their quiet way they have shown that wolves do not need pristine wilderness to be successful, that they do not necessarily need a highly managed reintroduction program, as used in Yellowstone, and that they can increase their range without stirring conflict among wolf proponents and opponents.
"Once wolves were thought emblematic of wilderness," said Dr. Adrian Treves, a biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York who has just published an analysis of what conditions are most likely to bring wolves and people into conflict. But the nearly 350 wolves of Wisconsin, in 80 known packs, have shown that they can cope with people.
"The wolves," Dr. Treves said, "have managed to make dens and breed successfully for 25 years on a lot of private land, on county and state forest land, which is heavily, heavily used by recreationalists like snowmobilers, cross-country skiers and hunters. This is the classic case of the quiet recovery of wolves without a big fanfare, without big attention."
He added that because the wolves conducted their own repopulation, public reaction had been largely favorable. No decision was needed to bring them back. They just came back. This sort of resurgence cannot work everywhere, of course, but there are states, like Maine, that have large expanses of private forest land.
In the 1950's, northern Minnesota had a remnant population of a few hundred wolves, Dr. Treves said. (A tiny group also survived on Isle Royale, in Michigan's section of Lake Superior.) After the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, the protection it afforded, along with some forest regeneration and a change in attitudes, allowed the wolves to start growing in number, and the Minnesota population began spilling across state borders. There are now more than 3,000 wolves in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, with most in Minnesota.
In Wisconsin, they recently reached the central forest section of the state, said Dr. Treves, "the southernmost natural occurrence of the gray wolf in North America."
The northwestern corner of the state has a number of packs. Mr. Miller flies the wolves, as he puts it, about twice a week, taking off from a small airport here. He and other pilots here and at two other airports keep tabs on radio-collared wolves throughout the state. Their reports go to Adrian Wydeven, a mammalian ecologist who has been in charge of the wolf program for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for about 10 years.
The day after flying with Mr. Miller, I went with Mr. Wydeven as he drove slowly around on sandy roads looking for wolf tracks in the same forested areas I had seen from the air the day before.
Every wolf territory in Wisconsin, he said, is crossed by at least one road. As the wolves travel, he added, they cross the road sooner or later and leave tracks.
The wolves range from 50 to 100 pounds, smaller than those in Yellowstone and nowhere near the top of the wolf scale, 150 pounds.
The state's plan puts the ideal wolf population at 350. The known population is 327, with 8 more on Indian reservations, where state laws do not apply. Last year, the federal government downgraded Wisconsin's wolves to threatened rather than endangered.
The talking stopped when we saw tracks in the sand. These were wolf tracks, not the large dog tracks we had seen earlier.
"If you look at these tracks," he said, "they're more elongated than those other tracks."
He noted that the wolf was not trotting but running, so that both back feet set down at once and then both front feet — a gallop.
"If he's chasing after a deer, that would make sense," Mr. Wydeven said.
Stepping into the snow at the side of the road, he added, "It looks like the deer veers off a bit here." The tracks were fresh. "I would say less than a day. I would say a few hours. It could be this morning. There might just be a pair."
The road is a few miles from a major cattle operation that has claimed significant depredations from wolves each year. Those attacks on livestock are the central problem in any resurgence of predators, and it is those attacks that Dr. Treves has been studying.
Most of the problems arise with cattle, although wolves have also killed sheep, turkeys and chickens. The state compensates anyone who has suffered property loss because of endangered species, using money from a voluntary checkoff on income-tax returns and the sale of wolf license plates. The compensation for calves has been based on fall market value, at $602 in 2002.
Wolves have also killed "a large number of hunting dogs," Dr. Treves said, and that becomes expensive. In Wisconsin, hunters use highly valued purebred hounds — walker, blue tick and others — to hunt bear and other animals. Wolves tend to look on these dogs as intruders in their territory.
From 1976 to 1991, wolves killed two dogs. In 1998 alone, they killed 11 and injured 4. The payment for a hound has been a maximum of $2,500, although owners have asked for more. If a bear kills a dog that is hunting it, that is simply in the nature of the hunt. If, however, wolves attack the dog as territorial intruders, the hunters must be repaid, perhaps because they are not allowed to kill the wolves.
But in a twist, the largest payment so far has been $48,000 for deer that game-farm operators kept in an enclosure of a few hundred acres. The game farms charge hunters who want to kill trophy deer.
In a paper in the current issue of Conservation Biology, Dr. Treves and colleagues describe a method to analyze the circumstances most likely to lead to wolf depredation, and they predict where the risk of such events will be high. A predictive tool of this sort, he said, is applicable not only to friction between wolves and people, but also to conflicts with elephants, tigers, wild dogs — to any situation where the interests of people and animals clash.
The study looked at 25 years of information recorded on wolf predation in Wisconsin and Minnesota, a total of 975 incidents. In analyzing the information, Dr. Treves paired sites with a high incidence of depredation against others that were similar in most ways to pick out any significant differences that did exist.
The highest risk, he said, was "at the colonization front" — the wolves as the colonists for once — where an expanding wolf population brought the animals into contact with people who were unused to coping with wolves. In addition, he said, it is young, inexperienced wolves who colonize new territory, while the older, established packs hang onto the territories they have.
He found that density of deer, the primary prey, drew wolves to an area and that significant pasture, particularly the interweaving of pasture with wild forest, were also risk factors. The goal of his research, he said, is to enable officials charged with protecting wolves to know where best to put their efforts at control and education and to develop new ideas for control. For example, the less edge, where pasture and forest meet, the better.
His findings may also lead wildlife managers away from lethal control, which Dr. Treves said is inefficient at getting the wolves that are preying on livestock. The more refined the understanding of how wolves and people interact, the better the chances are for keeping the public on the side of the wolves.
The wolves are doing their part to keep their population growing. When Mr. Wydeven was inspecting the tracks in the sandy road, we came on a spot where the road was all scuffed up with tracks. "They're milling about here," he said.
I asked whether they might be playing.
"They might be, or they might be mating," he replied. "We're still in the breeding season."
Wolves on Douglas
Editorial, Juneau (AK) Empire, 14 March 2004
The seven wolves that roamed Douglas Island more than two years ago may be gone, but the impressions they made are still with us. And some of those impressions are misleading.
Those seven wolves were unusual in two ways. They hung about on the beach where they were highly visible, so a number of people had the chance to see wolves in the wild. And a single trapper managed to kill them all, almost overnight. There were two adults and five pups.
Trapping an entire pack, or at least what seemed to be a family group, fueled public outrage that led to restrictions in November 2002 on hunting and trapping wolves on Douglas. Now some say those restrictions are too stringent. The Juneau Douglas Fish and Game Advisory Committee has organized a panel to figure out if the restrictions should be changed.
But as they do so, people need to separate the reality from the fiction that often surrounds wolves. Too often, opinions about wolves are based on misconceptions, rather than fact.
Misconceptions are held by those on both sides of the issue: those who want wolves to thrive in Juneau's backyard, and deer hunters who worry wolves will diminish the capital city's most accessible hunting grounds.
Some deer hunters are overly fearful about wolves' effect on Douglas deer. While rumors of wolves on Douglas exist, there's no real proof they are there. And while the deer harvest has dropped in the last couple of years, there's no indication it's because of wolves. Other factors are likely contributing to that decline, including milder weather that may have kept deer at higher, less accessible elevations during the hunting season.
But it's understandable that deer hunters don't want to see the wolf harvest restrictions continue indefinitely. Current restrictions ban hunting and trapping wolves on Douglas until state biologists estimate the island has at least seven wolves, and even then, no more than 30 percent of the wolves could be killed. Also, hunting and trapping will reopen if hunters' take of deer over two years falls more than 35 percent from the average of the previous 10 years.
There are two problems with drawing the line at seven wolves.
It's incredibly hard to figure out how many wolves are on the island, according to state biologists. Some Juneau residents have the misimpression that it's easy to count wolves because the former group was so visible. But state biologist Neil Barten said those wolves' behavior was not typical and is unlikely to happen again. Wolves are usually extremely skittish and, in the dense cover of Douglas, very hard to track down.
Also, Southeast biologists manage a huge range of wildlife, from moose to mountain goats from Cape Fanshaw to Yakutat. State scientists have limited time, money and staff to pinpoint the number of wolves on Douglas.
Here's the other problem with drawing the line at seven: One wolf eats about 26 deer a year. If a pack of seven wolves were established on Douglas Island, that would mean 182 deer killed by wolves per year. Human hunters take 200 to 300 deer each year, and it's likely a pack of seven wolves is going to affect the deer population to some degree.
A balance is possible. Some who want to protect wolves are afraid that if the restrictions are loosened, wolves will be wiped out on Douglas again. But people should keep in mind that snaring a whole pack of wolves at once was a highly unusual event. In the previous 50 years, there is no record of any wolves being captured on Douglas Island at all, according to state biologists.
The group reviewing these limits should consider several options. These include lowering the base line number of wolves before hunting and trapping are allowed, and considering a very limited set of hunting or trapping permits for Douglas. Current restrictions are impractical and revising them can create a better balance between the concerns of deer hunters and those who want to see wolves in the city's backyard.
Wyoming Session Ends With No Plan For Wolves
Associated Press, 10 March 2004
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The Wyoming Legislature completed its 2004 session without approving any wolf-management plan that would satisfy the federal government, effectively ending for now efforts to remove the predator from the endangered species list.
But while some lawmakers expressed regret over the failure to act, others were unapologetic, saying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not dealt squarely with Wyoming.
“They’ve been deceitful, in my opinion, through the whole thing,” said Sen. Delaine Roberts, R-Etna. “They never came forward until the 11th hour to tell us what they wanted.”
The Legislature’s failure to act also brought Wyoming closer to an expected lawsuit against the federal government over its rejection of a wolf-management plan adopted administratively last year.
“We’re going to be in lawsuits regardless, no matter what we do,” Roberts said. “My opinion is we have to base the lawsuit on our own grounds.”
Montana, Idaho and Wyoming must all submit acceptable wolf-management plans before Fish and Wildlife will consider removing wolves from federal protection and turning management over to the states. Although it approved plans from Idaho and Montana, the agency rejected Wyoming’s plan in January, about three weeks before the start of the session.
The main point of contention is Wyoming’s proposal to allow wolves to be shot virtually on sight outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and adjacent wilderness areas.
One bill before the Legislature would have brought state policy more in line with the wishes of federal game officials. The bill followed negotiations between Fish and Wildlife Director Steve Williams and lawmakers in Cheyenne.
However, the bill failed to get enough votes to make it to the House floor and the talks ended, according to Rep. Mike Baker, R-Thermopolis, one of the principal negotiators.
“Not enough people were aware of the management flexibility that we were going toward,” Baker said. “The situation was so fluid, it was very difficult to get people up to speed and keep people up to speed on what was happening.”
Another bill would have taken the opposite tack, revising state law to conform to the rejected administrative plan. The reasoning was that a seamless position would bolster the state’s standing in court. That bill passed the House but died in Senate committee.
Roberts, who is chairman of the committee, questioned whether the bill would have made a difference.
“We’re in just as good a position to litigate now as we were before,” Roberts said. "... I don’t think we’re willing to compromise any more.”
Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, said he would have preferred to negotiate further, but talks were hampered because Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams did not realize how short the Wyoming legislative session is.
“When he showed up here and we ... told him that we had to have a settlement in two days, you could have knocked them over with a feather,” Burns said. “They had no idea they were under that sort of time restraint.”
Lack of trust also undermined any possible compromise.
“Due to previous misstatements and misunderstandings, the trust level in Cheyenne for the federal government was very low,” Burns said. “They had no credibility.”
Wolf Attack Map Predicts Danger Areas
Charlotte Westney, Nature, 8 March 2004
A new map may help predict where wild wolves are most likely to attack domestic animals. The colour-coded chart could be used to identify future trouble spots, and aid wildlife-friendly efforts to reduce further run-ins.
Wild wolves are increasing in number in the US with around 4,000 now living in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. But as the population increases, so too does the frequency of attacks on domesticated animals, such as cattle, dogs and deer.
Over the last 25 years, around 1,000 attacks were reported in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Adrian Treves from the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York and colleagues studied their locations and used them to map out where in the two states future attacks are likely to occur. Their vibrant chart is published in Conservation Biology; high-risk spots are shaded red, lower-risk areas are coloured blue.
The map suggests that big farms are more vulnerable than small ones. This may be because large livestock herds wander away from farmsteads and human habitation, making them more vulnerable to attack, says Treves.
Pasturelands edged with forest are another attack hotspot. Wolves visit the pastures because they often contain white-tailed deer, a natural source of prey. If there are farmsteads nearby, wolves may attack penned-in livestock, says Treves. Forests offer cover and an easy escape route.
Wolves are also more likely to attack when they are at the edge of their territorial range. This could be because they are less familiar with landscape, and do not know where the best sources of wild prey are.
Keeping the wolf from the door
The map gives policy-makers the chance to take preventative measures, says Treves. Farmers who are at risk could buy guard dogs or put up better fencing, he says.
Wherever humans and wolves share the land, there will be conflict, says Rolf Peterson, a wildlife biologist at Michigan Technological University. Farm animals cannot escape, making them easy targets for wolf attacks.
Predictions can also help policy-makers allocate resources, which are scarce, to areas with the highest risk. "They need to see a map," says Peterson, although he believes that having people on the ground that know the landscape and wolves is the best way to control conflicts.
The map could also show people that the risk of a wolf attack is lower than they may think. In Wisconsin, now home to around 350 wolves, only 0.3% of land falls into the highest risk category. "Information is empowering," says Treves, it makes people less likely to panic or despair.
Attacks not only increase anti-wolf feeling and fear, they are also costly. Government authorities compensate owners when their animals are killed. One payment, for several trophy stags killed by wolves, was US$48,000.
Treves, A. et al. Conservation Biology, 18, 114 - 125, (2004).