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Wolf History, Conservation, Ecology and Behavior
Wolf Wars: Reports From the Front Lines, 2004
Page 6
Sitka Site of First Alaska Howl-In
Mary Pemberton, Associated Press, 18 January 2004
Protesters gathered outside a Sitka bookstore Saturday to speak out against a state-sponsored program to kill wolves and encourage people to tell their families and friends to boycott Alaska until the killing stops.
The protest, the first Alaska howl-in among more than 30 held so far nationwide, was in front of Old Harbor Books. Organizer Kathy Ingallinera said a table was set up out of the rain where organizers were getting a mostly friendly response from shoppers and passers-by.
By early afternoon about 40 postcards featuring a photo of a wolf had been handed out, with instructions to tell Gov. Frank Murkowski that relatives and friends will be told to stay away from Alaska until the program ends, Ingallinera said.
"Wolves are so mysterious most people will go their whole lives and never see one," she said. "It is important that Alaska not take it for granted that wolves will always be there."
Friends of Animals, an animal rights group based in Darien, Conn., that is sponsoring the protests, provided four posters for the Sitka event, including one of a wolf in the cross-hairs of a gun sight with the words "They call it management. We call it murder."
Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral said 32 protests were held in late December, and 20 more are scheduled for January to keep the pressure on Murkowski to abandon the aerial wolf control program.
Murkowski has repeatedly said he will hold firm to the program under way in McGrath and the Nelchina Basin out of concern for residents who have long complained that wolves and bears are eating too many moose calves, leaving them with too few moose to eat.
The Board of Game approved the killing of about 40 wolves in a 1,700-square-mile area near McGrath and about 140 wolves in an 8,000-square-mile area in the Nelchina basin.
In the McGrath area program, hunters are allowed to shoot the animals from planes. The Nelchina basin pilot and hunter teams are required to land before shooting.
"We deplore the killing of wolves to suit the convenience of moose hunters and to provide a thrill for pilots. Modern society should not tolerate this," Feral said in a statement.
Friends of Animals, with about 200,000 members, was behind a similar call for a tourism boycott a decade ago to protest lethal wolf control.
Feral said that campaign launched under then-Gov. Wally Hickel was successful in getting a moratorium, but it has been harder getting through to Murkowski. The call to boycott Alaska's estimated $2 billion-a-year tourism industry is an attempt to get his attention, she said.
Rebecca Jones, 29, who moved to Sitka three years ago, said Murkowski is not listening to Alaskans who think the program is wrong, only to big-game hunters.
Jones is telling her family in Wichita, Kan., not to visit.
"I've only seen wolves in a zoo," she said. "They will soon disappear if we allow this. It is wrong to shoot them."
Ingallinera, a nurse practitioner who also is executive director of the Last Resort Animal Sanctuary that tries to find homes for abandoned dogs, said other remedies can be found.
She suggests that the state use the money it is spending on the program for food drives for people in the McGrath and Nelchina areas. The state so far has about $1,300 invested in each moose calf that would be saved under the program.
"Anytime we put our hands in this predator-prey thing, it doesn't work," Ingallinera said. "Look at what we did. We wiped out the bears in California. Wolves in the Lower 48, they used to be in every state."
With the protest a couple of hours old, Ingallinera said they were running out of postcards and would have to run to the local store for more.
"Most people are supportive," she said. "So far, no one has said anything bad."
"Holding Wyoming Hostage"
Andi Balla, Laramie Boomerang, 16 January 2004
Wyoming legislators reacted in anger and frustration Thursday as they told visiting federal officials the state’s wolf management plan was being held hostage to cater to special interest groups.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notified the Wyoming government on Tuesday that wolves would not be removed from the Endangered Species Act list until Wyoming amends its current wolf management plan.
The federal government wants the classification of wolves changed from “predatory animals” to “trophy game.”
But treating wolves like predators is at the heart of Wyoming’s current plan, which allows residents in most of the state to kill wolves on sight.
Only wolves in northwest Wyoming would be classified as trophy animals, subject to the same hunting regulations that apply to mountain lions and bears — a hunting license would be needed.
The federal government wants the same definition to now extend to the rest of the state.
Reacting to the news and seeking more information from federal officials, Wyoming’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Legislative Committee called a hearing in Laramie on Thursday.
Paul Hoffman, the deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior, led a group of three federal officials that answered committee and audience questions.
Hoffman said federal officials wanted to cooperate with Wyoming’s government.
“We believe wolf management should return to the state governments,” Hoffman said.
But he added that certain minimum requirements needed to be met, including the survival of at least 15 wolf packs within the state’s borders and the need for statewide hunting regulations for wolves.
A wolf pack usually has about five animals, including a breeding pair. It is estimated more than 700 wolves now roam the state. *
Because Wyoming is grouped together with Idaho and Montana, the delisting process in those two states have halted too.
The committee chairman, Sen. Delaine Roberts (R-Etna) said Wyoming’s plan was being used as a hostage.
“You are holding the state of Wyoming hostage,” he told federal officials. “You have tied us together so it’s either Wyoming or nothing. Environmentalists don’t like the predator status — we know that — but I don’t think you have taken under consideration the sportsmen, the stockmen, the sheep herders and the outfitters.”
Representatives of the groups mentioned by Roberts also spoke at the meeting, saying experience in Canada and Alaska has shown that hunting wolves as trophy game will not reduce their numbers enough.
After being introduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995, wolves have spread quickly in Wyoming, killing cattle and wildlife outside protected areas.
Those feeling the negative effects of the wolves say the animals that cause such problems are elusive and should be shot by anybody that manages to randomly run into them.
But Wyoming environmentalist groups like the Sierra Club support the move of the federal government to change the classification of wolves.
“If Wyoming wants to get delisting, I hope it will amend (the plan) … to reflect the specific recommendations of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Patricia Dowd of the Sierra Club said.
Rep. Michael Baker (R-Thermopolis) said the Wyoming Legislature had been deceived into believing the federal government would have approved its plan.
He said federal officials should have notified them sooner of the problem, rather than sending a letter just before the plan was scheduled to become law.
An amended bill following the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommendations will now go before the legislature, but it is likely to face opposition.
“Since we cannot call them predators anymore, it really limits how we can manage the population,” Rep. James Slater (R-Laramie) said.
* [editor's note: There are not 700 wolves in Wyoming, but rather approximately that many in the three-state area.]
Freudenthal Blasts U.S. Wolf Decision
Mike Stark, Billings Gazette, 16 January 2004
Election-year politics in the Bush administration fueled a federal decision earlier this week to reject Wyoming's plan for managing wolves, Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Thursday.
During a press conference, Freudenthal said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave conflicting feedback on Wyoming's proposal - first appearing to support it while it was being developed in the Legislature and then panning it on Tuesday.
"They could have said last year that this statute was fundamentally flawed," the governor said.
He said he believes the Bush administration ultimately turned down Wyoming's plan in an effort to shore up support on environmental issues as the 2004 election looms.
"It is a case where they decided to listen to certain kinds of pro-wolf environmentalists more significantly than they listened to a Western interest like Wyoming," Freudenthal said. "The lash of federal servitude has fallen across our back and I don't like it."
The controversy over Wyoming's wolf plan came to a head Tuesday.
FWS Director Steve Williams said that although the wolf populations in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho have met recovery goals, he won't ask for wolves to be taken off the endangered species list until Wyoming changes its approach to handling the species when management is passed to the three states.
Williams praised plans developed by Montana and Idaho but said Wyoming's proposal, particularly a provision classifying some wolves as "predators," which would allow them to be killed without regulation.
"Most of us were fairly comfortable we were making progress when the peer review panel … essentially said it's not perfect but it probably works," he said.
The decision brings to a halt the effort to delist wolves in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Freudenthal said Thursday morning he was hoping to have the decision clarified by federal officials.
Meanwhile, legislators were scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the issue and Wyoming's congressional delegation was going to look for alternatives to pursue in Washington, D.C.
The delegation's "sense is that this is not a decision the department intends to reconsider," Freudenthal said.
Wyoming officials are still developing a response to the decision. It's possible that lawmakers, who would need to change the state law before the wolf management plan can be altered, won't do anything this year - which could delay delisting even further.
The Legislature meets for a budget session next month.
"Frankly, I'm not sure we should do anything this session," Freudenthal said.
Several state officials have complained that the Interior Department and the FWS have offered "mixed signals" on whether Wyoming's "dual classification" plan would work.
Williams and at least one other FWS staff member told state officials that they had serious concerns that classifying some wolves as predators would become a major hurdle in delisting the species. Freudenthal said that other Interior department officials, including Assistant Secretary Craig Manson, seemed to support Wyoming's approach.
He said he's frustrated with this week's decision.
"I don't think it's political in the partisan sense," Freudenthal said. "I think it's political in that they, as a matter of national election policy decided to, shall we say, throw Wyoming to the wolves, because they want to have environmental support."
Wyoming Lawmakers Back to Square 1 on Wolf Plan
Associated Press, 14 January 2004
CHEYENNE - With the Legislature looming and an angry public demanding answers, state lawmakers scrambled Tuesday to respond to the federal government's rejection of a wolf management plan they struggled to hammer out last year.
The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee was scheduled to meet Thursday in Laramie to hash out the decision with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representatives and determine a course of action.
Whether that will include compromise, litigation or nothing at all remains to be seen
Rep. Mike Baker, R-Thermopolis, was tightlipped on a possible response, only saying he expects that Fish and Wildlife will want the committee to address its objections. He and committee co-chair Sen. Delaine Roberts, R-Etna, planned a news conference after the meeting.
Many state lawmakers were surprised and hurt by the delay of dropping federal protection for gray wolves.
"I personally think there's nothing wrong with the plan we have, as well as probably the majority of state legislators, but I probably don't have to tell you that the federal government has forced us into a number of things," Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, said.
Some also claim they got mixed messages from Fish and Wildlife while drafting the proposal last year, adding the plan recently passed muster with several wildlife experts and wolf biologists.
"(Fish and Wildlife) knew what was going on, but then through their counsel we didn't hear any of their concerns," Rep. Monte Olsen, R-Daniel, said.
Gray wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act. They were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995 after being nearly wiped out by hunting and trapping across the West.
There are now about 760 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, where they are classified as "threatened" in some areas and an "experimental population" in and immediately around Yellowstone. Until last April, some gray wolves in Montana were listed as endangered, a higher level of protection.
In proposing the lifting of federal protections, the government asked the three states to draw up plans for monitoring and maintaining the wolf population. Montana and Idaho's plans were found to be adequate.
But Fish and Wildlife objected to Wyoming's plan to classify wolves in part of the state - away from national parks and wilderness areas - as predators, which would mean they could be shot with few restrictions. The agency also said the Wyoming plan did not provide for adequate monitoring, and it objected to the boundaries outlined by the state.
Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., said the federal government had indicated to him that Wyoming's plan was adequate. Gov. Dave Freudenthal added the decision was "based on little more than Potomac politics."
"I am certainly disappointed in the Bush administration, but I believe that the executive and legislative branches of state government, working with our congressional delegation, can arrive at the appropriate steps to take in response," Freudenthal said.
Nina Fascione, vice president of species conservation with the Defenders of Wildlife, said rejection of Wyoming's plan "should not be a news flash to them."
"I am pleasantly surprised and encouraged that the service doesn't think open season on wolves is a decent management plan," she said.
Wyoming ranchers and outfitters argue wolves are killing too many cattle and state wildlife, putting their livelihoods in jeopardy. Giving the state control over wolves, they add, would give them more of a say.
"I still maintain that the federal government does not have the legislative or regulatory authority over wildlife in the state of Wyoming," Grover outfitter Maury Jones said. "And if they believe they do I would like them to put up or shut up."
Rancher Jon Robinett, who lost about 8 percent of his 400 cattle near Dubois to wolves last year, supports delistment but didn't like Wyoming's plan and thinks a Fish and Wildlife recommendation to designate wolves as trophy game statewide is the better route.
"(Wyoming's plan) didn't have any accountability for maintaining the wolf population and it didn't have any controls in place to guarantee what Fish and Wildlife wanted," he said.
The government also wants Wyoming officials to clearly commit to managing at least 15 wolf packs across the state and conform its definition of a wolf pack with those of Idaho and Montana - at least six wolves traveling together in the winter.
Some state lawmakers indicated a willingness Tuesday to compromise and fix the government's concerns, saying that is the only way Fish and Wildlife will step aside and remove federal wolf protection.
Others want the federal government to step up and help with tracking and other costs.
"We have an opportunity to still draft some legislation to hopefully ease the pain that (the government) doesn't seem to understand," state Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, said. "But it's very, very discouraging. … I think they missed it on this one."
Wolf Delisting Stuck While Feds Wait for Acceptable Wyoming Plan
Scott McMillion, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 14 January 2004
The process toward delisting the wolf screeched to a halt Tuesday, when federal officials declared that Wyoming's wolf recovery plan simply isn't up to snuff.
Both federal and state officials had said the complicated process of removing wolves from the endangered species list could begin this year.
That isn't likely to happen now, unless Wyoming's state government undergoes a large and rapid transformation of its attitude toward wolves.
"Delisting cannot at this time be proposed because of significant concerns about Wyoming's existing state law as well as its wolf management plan," said Steve Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency that administers the Endangered Species Act.
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, defended his state's plan, noting that a review by independent scientists had "largely endorsed its biological soundness" last year.
"I can only conclude that the federal decision was based on little more than Potomac politics," Freudenthal said in a prepared statement. "I am certainly disappointed in the Bush administration."
Williams, in a conference call with reporters around the country, said his agency found three major flaws in the Wyoming law and plan:
€ It designates wolves in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and adjacent wilderness areas as trophy game animals, which means limited numbers can be killed. But in the majority of the state wolves would be classified as predators, meaning they legally could be shot on sight, like a skunk or a jackrabbit.
€ It defines a pack as five animals traveling together, rather than six, a number Williams said is "based on sound biology."
€ While the plan calls for 15 packs in Wyoming, as do Montana and Idaho's plans, state law allows only eight packs in the areas with some protections. That means the other seven packs would be unprotected.
That law "appears to conflict with Wyoming's management plans," Williams said.
He praised Montana and Idaho officials for creating plans that would allow 15 packs to roam each of those states, with provisions to kill wolves that cause problems with livestock.
Those states, along with Wyoming, must all submit approved management plans before federal officials will delist wolves, Williams said, and wolves in Idaho and Montana cannot be delisted until Wyoming comes up with an acceptable plan.
The decision comes even though wolves are thriving in the three states. A recent count found at least 764 wolves, with 190 in Montana, 235 in Wyoming and 339 in Idaho, according to Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for FWS.
Montana Gov. Judy Martz, who has in the past pressured Wyoming to come up with a better plan, said in a statement that she will work with that state to gain approval for its plan "so the three states can move forward to better deal with issues related to wolf reintroduction."
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont. said the FWS decision is a "disappointment."
Delisting is an important goal "and I hope the state of Wyoming is ready to help us get there," Burns said.
Delisting an animal is a long and complicated process, Williams said, and FWS will hand off wolf management to states only when the states craft plans that guarantee wolves won't again become endangered in the foreseeable future.
Jonathan Proctor, of the Predator Conservation Alliance, said he agreed with the FWS decision. His group has praised Montana's wolf plan in the past, but has criticized Wyoming's.
"That predator label wasn't going to work," he said, noting that in most of the state, it would be open season on wolves. "They would have been under the gun right away."
Williams said he will send a representative to a Thursday meeting of a Wyoming legislative interim committee in Laramie.
Wolf Delisting Opinion Expected Soon
Ted Monoson, Independent Record, 13 January 2004
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to weigh in on Montana, Idaho and Wyoming's plans to manage gray wolves soon, according to state and federal officials.
If the state plans are accepted the wolves could be taken off the endangered species list and management of them could be transferred from the federal government to the states.
''The service is planning as soon as possible to get back to the states about their plans,'' Interior Department spokesman Hugh Vickery said. ''I am not going to put a date on it, but it is soon.''
Wyoming Chief Deputy Attorney General Michael O'Donnell said that he has been told that a response could come as early as Thursday.
''We've been told by the Fish and Wildlife Service that we will have an answer soon if Wyoming's plan is acceptable,'' O'Donnell said. ''We are waiting for them to say either, 'You did it well enough,' or 'You need to tweak it.' ''
The Fish and Wildlife Service's reaction to Wyoming's plan, like the exact timing of the announcement, remains up in the air. Montana and Idaho's plans to manage the wolves are expected to win approval, but environmental groups have raised concerns about Wyoming's ''dual classification'' proposal.
Under Wyoming's plan, wolves within the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway would be protected from hunters. Wolves in the North Absaroka, Washakie, Teton, Gros Ventre, Jedediah Smith and Winegar Hole wilderness areas that are adjacent to the parks could be killed according to state trophy hunting regulations. Wolves that are outside the parks and wilderness areas would be classified as ''predators,'' which can be killed anytime, anywhere, anyhow.
Nina Fascione, Defenders of Wildlife vice president for species conservation, said her organization would like to see state trophy hunting regulations applied to wolves throughout the state.
''That would be a step in the right direction,'' Fascione said. ''Overall, we want to see a holistic approach to managing wolves. The Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to be looking for plans that preserve the wolves.''
Fascione said she and other environmentalists are not optimistic as the time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to weigh in on the state plans approaches.
''The Fish and Wildlife Service appears to be taking the easy way out,'' Fascione said. ''They seem to be willing to take any plan.''
Members of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association support the plan in general and specifically endorse the dual classification proposal.
''If we pull that (the environmentalists) will find another reason to oppose the plan,'' Wyoming Sock Growers Association executive director Jim Magagna said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service's expected support for the Montana plan has not kept the ranchers there from worrying about the Wyoming proposal.
''All of us in the Montana ranching industry should be interested in how the Fish and Wildlife Service responds to Wyoming's plan,'' said Steve Pilcher, executive director of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. ''We are tethered to Wyoming.''
Wolves cannot be taken off the endangered species list until all three states have plans that pass muster with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 1974, wolves were one of the first species to be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. They were reintroduced in 1995 and since then their population has increased from 14 to approximately 300. Under the law, the Fish and Wildlife Service was able to begin the procedure for removing wolves from the list once there were more than 30 breeding pairs for three consecutive years.
Ranchers and others are worried that regardless of the Fish and Wildlife Service's assessment of the states' plans wolves are not likely to be delisted in the near future.
''My biggest concern is there is likely to be legal challenge after legal challenge if the Fish and Wildlife Service agrees to delist them,'' Pilcher said.
University of Montana professor of wildlife biology Daniel Pletscher is not optimistic that the issue will be resolved anytime soon.
''In my lifetime?'' Pletscher asked. ''Probably not. It will be controversial for a long time.''
Wolf Population Still Doing Well Despite Two Deaths
John Kamin, Eastern Arizona Courier, 12 January 2004
Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the Mexican Gray Wolf population is still doing well despite the discovery of a dead wolf that was found in Apache Sitgreaves National Forest on Dec. 21.
In December, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Coordinator John Oakleaf told the Courier that about 50 to 60 of the endangered species are alive in the wild.
Arizona Game and Fish Nongame Biologist Dan Groebner verified this number on Thursday and said that pups who have survived until now have a high probability of surviving the winter.
Arizona Game and Fish Nongame Mammals Program Manager Bill Van Pelt said wolf am194 (am stands for alpha male) of the Cienega Pack was found dead south of Alpine in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest on Dec. 21. He also said wolf af637 (alpha female) of the Hon-Dah pack was found dead on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation on Dec. 24.
Oakleaf confirmed the report. Oakleaf is also known as the liaison between the project's field team and the government agencies involved in the project.
He said members of the project's field team found the animals and said the cause of death for each animal is being investigated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service apecial agents.
"They open an investigation regardless what the cause of mortality is," he said. Necropsies will be performed at the Fish and Wildlife Service's National Forensics Lab in Ashland, Ore.
Oakleaf said it becomes easy to focus on the deaths of the wolves.
"Even though we're losing some alphas, they'll be replaced," he said. "Some of them are dying, but there's lots of individual animals out there."
He said wolves who have lost their mates have been pairing up with wild wolves, as opposed to wolves that have been reintroduced by the FWS. Oakleaf mentioned an alpha female from the Saddle Pack that died and said the female's mate found a new mate.
"There's just a wild animal that ties in with them," he said. "They just repair (their mating status) in the wild, which is far better than us manipulating the situation."
Groebner agreed with Oakleaf's comments.
"So far we've had some pretty good success with opposite sex wolves finding these vacant mates," Groebner said. He said that alpha wolves have been mating with wild wolves on their own for about three years now.
Groebner works out of the department's Pinetop office and acts as the project leader for the state's wolf project.
He said wolf counts become easier to do when the ground is covered in snow because the wolves stand out against the white background. Groebner said he is waiting for another good snowstorm before another wolf count is performed by helicopter.
Migrating Wolves Complicate Wildlife Management
Associated Press, 12 January 2004
BOZEMAN - The wolf population in and around Yellowstone National Park is probably reaching its limit, and as the numbers of their prey decline, so will the number of wolves, a state wolf expert says.
Wolves will spread into new areas, but probably will stick to mountain country, Chris Smith told the annual meeting of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association.
"I don't think we'll ever have any significant wolf populations east of the (Rocky Mountain) foothills," he said.
Smith, chief of staff for the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, worked with wolves in Alaska for 20 years.
The greater Yellowstone area probably hosts as many wolves as it can take right now, Smith said.
"That country's not going to support that number of wolves as the prey population declines, he said.
The northern Yellowstone elk herd is now at its lowest point in more than 30 years and has declined steadily since wolves were reintroduced in the park in 1995 and 1996.
Most of the state's elk herds are stable or growing, though they are shrinking in some areas with lots of wolves and grizzly bears, Smith and FWP scientist Ken Hamlin told the meeting.
The growth of the wolf population will slow as they spread out, because dispersing wolves "are going to get in trouble and more are going to get taken out," Smith said.
Hamlin, who has studied deer and elk for 30 years, outlined the early results of wolf/elk studies in Yellowstone, the upper Gallatin and the Madison River drainages.
The number of calves that survive their first year dropped in 2001 and 2002 all over the state, but fell more sharply in all three study areas adjacent to the park's north boundary, Hamlin said.
The overall size of the Madison herd remains stable, but the Gallatin and northern Yellowstone herds have fallen, Hamlin said.
"We're losing a bunch of animals before we even get to the winter predation period," he said.
Wolves are taking elk, but so are grizzly bears, he said, and there isn't enough data outside the park to say which species is killing how many calves. Drought could also be a compounding factor.
The studies also show that wolves are affecting elk behavior, and that affects how outfitters run their businesses, he said.
MOGA president Lee Hart said that after three decades of outfitting in the Porcupine/Buffalo Horn area north of Yellowstone, he hasn't bothered setting up an elk camp the past two years, though he continues his summer business.
"It's basically put me out of (the hunting) business," he said. "I'm the affected person, dead center where the infection is."
Black Wolf Near Glacier Brings Locals Delight -- and Some Concern
Tony Carroll, Juneau (Alaska) Empire, 11 January 2004
No matter how friendly the lone black wolf recently spotted near the Mendenhall Glacier seems, people should keep their distance, the local wildlife biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game said Friday.
"Who knows the disposition of a wolf?" Neil Barten said.
Larry Musarra, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center director, said the wolf itself doesn't pose a threat, but he is concerned that it is seems to be getting more receptive to people.
"This lake is pretty popular, and (the wolf) seems to be getting less shy," he said.
Musarra said he first saw the wolf on Nov. 20. Since then he has heard lots of reports of sightings. He also has heard it howling in the night.
Juneau resident Nick Jans, a contributing editor to Alaska Magazine who has long observed wolves in the wild, said he has enjoyed watching this wolf. He said he hopes people keep their distance from the wolf, but appreciate it as a "rare experience" and not a threat to the community.
"He's truly remarkable," Jans said of the wolf, adding that he knows other people are excited about seeing the wolf. "He's a wild animal. By choice he's making himself accessible to people."
Jans believes the biggest danger is that people will misunderstand the wolf and harm it. People should keep their distance, but it certainly isn't "the big bad wolf," he said. Nearby residents shouldn't be afraid that it will eat their pets, he added.
Barten said he sees no reason to trap the wolf, and if he relocated it, the animal could return anyway.
"There's really nothing we can do. If it starts initiating contact with people or pets in an aggressive manner, we'll re-evaluate," Barten said. Where it is, "the animal is pretty safe," he added.
People can't legally hunt the wolf in its current location, he said. Trapping is prohibited up to the top of Mount McGinnis, and hunters are prohibited from shooting the animal within a quarter-mile of Mendenhall Lake or a half-mile from a roadway.
But there is a possibility that people and their pets getting too close could lead to a problem. If people let their dogs run up to the wolf, "sooner or later a pet may get bitten by the animal," Barten said.
That wouldn't be good for the pet, and it wouldn't be good for the wolf, which would have to be killed.
"I don't know if people are feeding it or not," Barten said. But he has heard reports that the wolf has approached people.
Barten, who hadn't seen the animal when this article was prepared, said he isn't even sure it is a wolf, although he said it is "wolf-like." The animal could be a wolf-dog hybrid.
Jans said he is sure the Mendenhall Lake wolf is no hybrid.
"He looks 100 percent wolf," he said.
The wolf is surviving well as a hunter, with evidence that it has been subsisting on coho salmon, beavers and rabbits.
"Killing a beaver or a rabbit is not foraging," Jans said. "This is not somebody's pet."
Wolves Set to Huff, Puff and Blow Into State
Gary Gerhardt, Rocky Mountain News, 2 January 2004
To the north, to the west and to the south, wolves are at Colorado's door.
No one knows exactly when they'll return to the state, but most experts expect they will be back within the next five to 10 years.
Wolves could return to Colorado from any of three sources:
Wyoming: State Game and Fish Department officials received a report last year of a wolf sighting near Baggs, Wyo., just across the state line, 40 miles north of Craig.
It was either a wolf-dog crossbred pet dumped in the area, officials believe, or a lone wolf coming south from one of the packs established in Yellowstone National Park.
In November 2002, a wolf wearing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collar was captured in a coyote trap near Ogden, Utah. It was returned to Wyoming.
New Mexico: The Mexican wolf project in Arizona and New Mexico may be expanded and wolves placed on media mogul Ted Turner's Vermejo Ranch on the Colorado border. Wolves from there could easily move into southern Colorado. Last year, state Wildlife Commissioner Ken Torres saw an animal he believes was a Mexican wolf near his ranch west of Trinidad.
The federal government: The recovery plan for Mexican wolves could deem it necessary to reintroduce wolves directly into Colorado, probably in the Weminuche Wilderness Area in southwestern Colorado.
If federal wildlife authorities decide Colorado should be included in an expanded effort to bring back Mexican wolves, it could happen over objections from the state because the Endangered Species Act takes precedence over state law.
When wolves were reintroduced in Idaho and Yellowstone, it was done over the states' objections.
Breeding lobo
The highly endangered Mexican wolf, known in Spanish as lobo, is a subspecies of the northern gray wolf and has been released since 1998 in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona.
The wolves are crossing into the Gila National Forest of New Mexico, which is considered part of the recovery area.
Since the Mexican wolf-breeding program started, 74 zoo- and privately reared Mexican wolves, including some from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, have been released in the wild.
Of them, 16 were shot to death, one was run over by a vehicle and some that were too close to cattle were recaptured. Today, there are 34 wolves known to be left in the wild, along with up to 40 pups that were born in the wild, although not all have survived.
Historically, there were wolves in every county in Colorado.
But as livestock moved into the area, conflicts arose immediately and, in 1876, the Colorado territorial government passed the first bounty on wolves. Scalp and ears brought 50 cents. In 1881, the bounty was raised to $1.50.
By the mid-1930s, ranchers, hunters and government trappers had killed all of them.
Whether the Mexican wolf made it into Colorado is open to speculation because a "wolf was a wolf" to those who shot and trapped them, and they never differentiated between species.
While the state is on record as opposing any wolf reintroduction, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is forming a team to draw up plans on how it would react to a reintroduction of the animals.
"The question of when wolves are going to get here is just speculation on everyone's part," said Gary Skieba, endangered-species coordinator for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "Some believe it will be within five years, others 10. Who knows if they ever will come?"
'Maintain a population'
Right now, if a wolf or two wandered in from established packs to the north or south, they would be little more than a curiosity, Skieba said.
"Right now, it still would be under the control of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and we aren't going to assign a person to keeping track of their wolf," he said.
"We'd leave it alone, as long as it didn't get into trouble, and if it did, we'd ask the feds to remove it.
"If it turned out that the plan called for wolves in Colorado, that would be interesting. As far as I know, there never were Mexican wolves in Colorado."
Whether it does or not, the state Division of Wildlife is planning to have a working group to develop a draft plan.
"The working group will be appointed in March and start meeting in April," Skieba said.
"The heart of the plan will allow wolves to be in Colorado at a level so we can maintain a population," he said.
Another reason for the management plan is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of delisting wolves north of Interstate 70 (called the Western Distinct Population Segment). They are currently a threatened species there.
Wolves south of I-70 in the Southwestern Distinct Population Segment are fully endangered and must be treated as such.
Once delisting in the western segment is completed, each state where wolves appear must have a management plan in place because the wolves will be the responsibility of individual state wildlife agencies.
Once delisted, if a wolf is found in Colorado north of I-70, the state would have the right to shoot it on sight, simply keep tabs on it and allow it to stay, or even place more wolves in the area where it is found.
Skieba said the state hopes to have the draft management plan finished by August and an actual plan in place by the end of the year.
State reintroduction "It is within the realm of possibility that the state may do a reintroduction of wolves the same as with lynx," said Rob Edward, director of carnivore restoration for Sinapu, a Boulder-based conservation group that favors the return of the wolf to Colorado.
"They could decide to go ahead with their own reintroduction program because there is a big opportunity to bring back wolves on the part of the feds and the state," he said.
"At the federal level, the work that is under way to develop a recovery plan for the Southwestern Distinct Population Segment presents a significant possibility because so much of the southern Rockies fall within that segment, including southern Utah, southern Colorado, parts of Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona."
He sees a problem, however, in the Mexican wolf stakeholder committee that he says is weighted in favor of the livestock industry. There are three conservation groups out of 24 members, and most of the rest are from agricultural concerns.
That doesn't bother another committee member, Tom Compton, former president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association and a rancher near Durango.
"It's an ongoing process that will take in the neighborhood of a year, and if you're asking will they introduce more Mexican wolves in the area, then the answer is probably definitely."
He said the Cattlemen's Association remains opposed, but members see the handwriting on the wall and are anxious to try to get a few concessions for livestock interests.
"I'm interested in two things, mainly. One is to get them to designate the Mexican wolf population as an experimental, nonessential population to make it easier for ranchers to manage them," Compton said.
Under such a designation, ranchers could shoot wolves in certain circumstances if they were preying on livestock.
"Secondly, I'd like a better compensation program," he said.
Currently, the Defenders of Wildlife pay ranchers fair market value for any animal killed by wolves.
A poll conducted for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2001 indicated 66 percent of Coloradans, Arizonans and New Mexicans favor the return of wolves to the wild.
Compton believes if two-thirds of the states' residents want wolves, then the same number should be willing to pay for compensation for livestock that is killed by them.
But Edward feels the Defenders of Wildlife compensation plan to pay ranchers for livestock losses to wolves is adequate.
"Also, the state already compensates for elk, bears and lions, so they could add wolves," he said.
Edward said that the complaints by ranchers about wolf depredation is more of a cultural battle and no compensation program would be enough to get some members of the livestock industry to accept wolves in their midst.