Colorado Soon to Have Wolves at the Door: Is State Ready?
Theo Stein, Denver Post, 18 May 2003
Seven years after they were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, wolves are drawing closer and closer to Colorado.
This winter, a pack of wandering wolves was heard howling on the outskirts of Lander, Wyo.
Soon after, a Wyoming Game and Fish biologist spied a lone wolf roaming Wyoming's Red Desert, a little more than a day's jaunt from the Colorado line.
Rumors of a wolf recently drifted out of Wyoming's Snowy Mountains, which become the Medicine Bows as they reach Colorado. Biologists found tracks in the area but determined they were a mountain lion's.
That's how it always starts with wolves, says Mike Jiminez, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist responsible for refereeing wolf-human conflicts south and east of Yellowstone.
'It wouldn't surprise me to find them in Colorado,' he said. 'They could be there next year. There could be one or two there now.
'What would surprise me is if rockets don't start going off once they get there.'
Despite the problems and the public outcry that have followed wolves in other states, Colorado has yet to create a detailed plan for how to handle the predators when they arrive - whether they will be welcomed or exterminated, hunted or protected.
Wolves, wiped out by the mid- 1900s, have been successfully re-established in central Idaho, northern Montana and Yellowstone, where people flock to the Lamar Valley to marvel at a slice of the pre-European Western landscape. But controversy has also tailed the animals as they expand their range across states that once celebrated their extermination.
Colorado looks to feds
Biologists estimate there were at least 660 wolves in the Montana-Wyoming-Idaho area in 2002, enough to have them removed from the endangered species list.
Until that happens, Colorado officials say they want the Fish and Wildlife Service to deal with wolves that show up here.
'It's real simple at the outset,' explained Colorado Division of Wildlife Director Russell George. 'Wolves still have federal protection. We will do whatever is necessary to protect the animal.'
In 1998, the Fish and Wildlife Service initiated a second wolf reintroduction project to restore the Mexican wolf in Arizona and New Mexico. Less than 40 Mexican wolves are thought to exist in the wild, and biologists say the chances of them recolonizing Colorado are negligible.
But the federal agency is determined to delist the northern Rockies wolves soon, and Colorado risks being caught unprepared when the government hands off the responsibility and costs of managing them.
The state wildlife agency is only now finishing up draft guidelines outlining what biologists should do when a wolf is sighted and what federal laws apply.
The state has yet to tackle a more detailed management plan that sets out whether Colorado wants wolves and would answer questions such as whether they can be hunted, whether they would be protected on public lands but not on private property, and who would pay for damage caused by wolves.
It's a matter of priorities, George said. And wolf management is a six-figure program.
'Some of our species are not only losing their historic range but may be facing extinction. That will always be a higher priority for me,' he said.
But Wyoming ranchers, outfitters, biologists and even wolf supporters say Colorado needs to confront the volatile question of where - or if - it's appropriate to have wolves long before they get here.
'We knew they were coming, but Game and Fish didn't want to have anything to do with them,' said rancher John Robinett, who has endured chronic wolf troubles in the Dunoir Valley southeast of Yellowstone. 'We weren't proactive. That's why we're behind the eight ball in Wyoming now.'
Ed Bangs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's northern Rockies wolf project leader, said Colorado will one day be the sole manager of wolves in the state.
'Once wolves are delisted, if they say they want to kill every wolf that crosses the Wyoming border, hey, that's their deal,' he said.
The political landscape is tilted against wolves: In 1999, Gov. Bill Owens outlawed wolf reintroduction without state approval. The state wildlife commission banned the Division of Wildlife from even talking about reintroduction.
And the old hatreds burn brightly in cattlemen, sheep ranchers and many outfitters who still passionately despise the wolf.
'I can't tell you how many times I've had guys tell me their granddads killed the last wolf in their valley,' Bangs said. 'Getting rid of wolves made the world safe for good animals like cattle and sheep and people. So when you say you want to bring them back, it's like telling them their granddad was wrong.'
Pro-wolf groups persist
But state and national wolf advocates show no sign of letting up.
Two polls in the last decade found that 66 percent of Colorado residents support the return of the wolf, which many biologists say would help control the state's runaway elk herds.
A recent, peer-reviewed study by several top wolf researchers shows the state's 25 million acres of public land and fat elk herds could support 1,000 wolves - making Colorado the best uninhabited wolf habitat left in the country.
Yellowstone studies show wolves push elk around the landscape, giving biologically important aspen and willow shoots room to sprout.
Wolves could find a good home in Colorado, if humans will tolerate them, said Rob Edwards of the wolf restoration group Sinapu.
'We need to think outside the box and find new ways of dealing with conflicts,' he said. 'That means accepting that wolves might not be able to thrive on certain private lands, but in other areas, public lands, for example, wolves and all wildlife should be given deference.'
Some scientists now think wolves could put a brake on the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal brain ailment recently found on the state's heavily hunted Western Slope.
CWD-infected deer and elk behave differently from healthy ones, said DOW veterinarian Mike Miller, a nationally regarded CWD researcher.
'That's a tremendous disadvantage around wolves,' he said.
Because wolves have yet to expand into infected areas, there's no data to prove wolves could affect the spread of the brain illness.
'But any time you can selectively remove infected animals from the population, you are going to have a tremendous advantage in controlling that problem,' Miller said. 'That's what our testing and culling programs are based on.'
But even the wolf's most ardent supporters acknowledge that Coloradans will need lots of patience to live with them.
Highly territorial, wolves relish killing pet dogs, which they see as competitors. Many hunters object to the idea of sharing game with wolves, although others say they would enjoy seeing one.
Wolves also take livestock, and many mountain valleys that wolves naturally seek out are filled with ranches and cattle.
Bangs said issues like these need to be settled before wolves arrive.
'The time to talk about this stuff is not when the first wolf kills somebody's calf on public land,' he said. 'That is a bad time to ask people about it. One thing wolves are real good at is making people nuts.'
That's what is happening in Wyoming, where the state Legislature wants wolves shot on sight whenever more than seven packs leave the greater Yellowstone area. South of Yellowstone, Fremont County commissioners banned wolves and grizzlies, and have asked sheriffs to break the law by shooting any furry trespassers.
Neither plan is being carried out, but if they are implemented, it would severely limit the chances of wolves migrating to Colorado, biologists agree.
Conservation groups, fearful these plans would wipe out wolf populations, have promised to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service to keep wolves on the threatened list.
In the meantime, northern Rockies wolves continue expanding their territories.
If Colorado waits too long to develop its own management plan, it risks being caught flat-footed like Utah was in early December when a wolf from Yellowstone's Druid Peak pack showed up in a coyote trap near Salt Lake City.
The young male had trekked more than 220 miles in two months and rendezvoused with a female near Ogden, Utah. When Gov. Mike Leavitt demanded that the Fish and Wildlife Service remove the animal, the agency did, but the female was never caught.
Terry Fankhauser, president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, hopes federal biologists would retrieve any wolves that come to Colorado, but Jiminez of the Fish and Wildlife Service says that's not going to happen.
'If it gets in trouble, more likely the authority will be given to take that animal out,' he said. 'If it's not getting in trouble, then we're going to leave it alone.'
That policy covers wolf management until federal protection is lifted. Fankhauser is among those wondering what will happen next.
"We can all see this coming," he said. "It makes complete sense to be prepared for it."
Teeth Bared in Battle Over French Wolves
AFP, 14 May 2003
PARIS - France's green groups sent up a collective howl on Wednesday after a parliamentary panel recommended that Alpine sheep farmers be allowed to shoot wolves that attack their flocks.
The "wolf question" has been sparked by an estimated 30 animals that live in isolated parts of the French Alps, apparently after sneaking across the border from Italy a decade ago.
Farmers in the high mountains claim they have lost around 5,500 sheep to the predators in the past three years alone, and some say they face ruin.
Seeking to end the fierce, protracted debate, the parliament set up commission of inquiry to make recommendations aimed at both keeping the wolves alive and the farmers happy.
The panel's report, issued Wednesday, stood by France's "international undertakings" on endangered species but would water down the legal protections given to the wolves at the moment.
Its 25 proposals notably suggest that Alpine areas be placed in three kinds of legal category: areas where the wolf would be given "complete protection"; those where it could be "culled under certain conditions"; and finally areas where "its presence would not be tolerated."
If wolves and humans cannot live alongside one another, "priority must be given to humans," the chairman of the panel, Christian Estrosi, of the rightwing UMP party, whose constituency lies in the Alpes-Maritimes district and who has championed the sheep farmers.
The report has no legal or binding value, but many ecologists assailed it as a predictable sellout to the country's powerful farming lobby.
France Nature Environment, gathering most of the country's green groups, said the proposals would encourage "council wolf-hunts and give farmers the direct right" to shoot the animals.
"It is an eradication campaign in all but name," it said.
Another organisation, France Wolf Group, of which WWF is a member, said however that the wolf-culling should not be dismissed out of hand.
"The possibility of culling wolves, when the population reaches maximum sustainability of around 100 animals, should be accepted by ecologists," its chairman, Rene Burle, told AFP.
The wolf is protected by the 1979 Bern Convention on wild species, which however allows protected animals to be killed if they are deemed dangerous to the public or inflict great damage to property.
Over the last 10 years, French sheep farmers have received compensation for 11,146 sheep that, they claim, have been killed by wolves.
"Each wolf costs the taxpayer EUR 100,000 (USD 88,000) a year" in compensation and protection costs, claimed Estrosi.
The claims are checked by veterinary experts, who look for the wolves' characteristic bite marks on the carcass.
Environmentalists say the underlying cause for the hostility towards wolves is the disastrous state of French hillside sheep farming, which largely survives thanks to handouts from Paris and Brussels.
Young people no longer go into the business, which means there are no more shepherds to guard flocks, and cheap imports from Britain, New Zealand and elsewhere are gaining an ever-larger share of the market.
Critics of the "shoot-to-kill" campaign also point to the success of some 500 wolves in neighbouring Italy, where the animals act as a money-spinning tourist attraction.
State Plans, Lawsuits May Threaten Federal Efforts to Delist Gray Wolves
Associated Press, 29 April 2003
Dick Geving rarely sees gray wolves on his northern Wyoming ranch, but he is sure that they killed 14 calves last year and have run elk out of the area. If he does see one, he says he hopes he has a gun handy and the right to kill.
"If we would be able to use reasonable force to control them, at least we'd have a fighting chance," said Geving, who raises cattle and runs an outfitting business near Yellowstone National Park.
Eight years after the first few gray wolves were reintroduced in the Northern Rockies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is ready to declare the recovery program a success. With about 660 animals now roaming Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, the agency would like to the wolf removed from the endangered species list in those states and perhaps much of the West by 2004.
But worries over how the states will manage wolves and lingering anger over whether the animals should be here at all threaten to stall delisting, possibly for years.
Before delisting can even be proposed, state wildlife managers must prove to a panel of scientists and federal wildlife officials that gray wolves will continue to thrive under their control.
The federal wildlife agency has already given tentative approval to Idaho's plan, which provides for, among other things, managing wolves like black bears and mountain lions by allowing regulated hunting.
Montana recently released its proposal, which also would allow some hunting and permit ranchers to shoot wolves that threaten their livestock.
It is Wyoming's approach that has some wildlife officials and environmentalists worried.
"Wyoming," said Nina Fascione, vice president of species conservation with Defenders of Wildlife, "has definitely thrown a wrench into the plans for delisting."
The state's wolf management plan is still in the works, but the Wyoming Legislature has overwhelming backed a proposal that would designate wolves as predators throughout much of the state, allowing them to be killed with few restrictions in many areas. The exceptions would be in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and adjacent wilderness areas, where wolves would be classified as trophy game animals. It is illegal to hunt trophy game without a state-issued license and federal law prohibits hunting wildlife in national parks.
If the number of breeding pairs fell below 15, the predator status would be suspended until numbers recovered.
The legislation is confusing, and state wildlife officials have asked the attorney general for help interpreting the language.
"Until we know the answers, we can't make a decision on whether it's acceptable or not," federal wolf recovery coordinator Ed Bangs said of Wyoming's plan.
"The service is a strong supporter of hunting; we think that's an important part of this," he added. "But it can't be the 1880s Wild West again, with people running around with poison and guns. Those days are gone forever."
The dual classification of trophy game and predator is meant to keep wolves in and around Yellowstone and nearby Grand Teton National Park. It is also meant to give ranchers like Geving an option to protect their property.
State Rep. Mike Baker, who authored the wolf management bill, said the plan represents the interests of his constituents. He said he had them in mind when he pushed the plan, not how it might fit with those in the other states. The plans must complement one another to ensure that wolves continue to have adequate range.
"They have their own political pressures. I have mine," Baker said. "And the people of Wyoming are angry."
Fascione said establishing hunting seasons for an animal just off the endangered species list is premature. She said her group, which for 16 years has compensated ranchers for livestock killed by wolves, will sue to stop delisting if it deems any of the plans "substandard."
Monitoring wolves to make sure they aren't dying off is a key part of the plans. But it's expensive, and officials in all three states say the success of the plans hinges on adequate funding.
"If, at the end of the day, people don't see the dollars, expect a court challenge," said Tom France, director of the Northern Rockies office of the National Wildlife Federation.
Ranchers Jon and Deb Robinett aren't sure how much longer they can hold on. They say they have felt like prisoners on their ranch near Dubois in western Wyoming ever since the wolves first settled in.
At night, Deb Robinett carries a flashlight and pistol while walking her dog. She or her husband gets up every two hours to see if the horses are riled or if they can hear howls from wolves prowling nearby.
Jon Robinett, who has worked closely with federal wildlife officials to try to control wolves, said he believes the plan for Wyoming will leave him and other ranchers in a tough spot.
"I don't think the federal government can go along with something like this," he said. "It's gotten more away from reality and into politics."
Gary Lundvall, a cattle rancher near Cody and former member of the state's Game and Fish Commission, worries that more delays will only lead to more wolves - and more problems.
Like many ranchers, Lundvall said he believes wolves are responsible for a smaller-than-normal number of elk calves in the northern Yellowstone winter range. If elk or deer numbers dwindle much more, he said, it will affect the number of licenses game officials can dole out and hurt the economy.
"The wolf is a killer," he said. "I'm not putting him down. It's just what he does for food, for fun and play."
Bangs said there have been relatively few problems with gray wolves, which have limited prey and range. He also said federal officials won't push toward de-listing the wolf if state plans don't past muster.
"We'll give it everything we can to make it happen but the service is going to do the right thing," Bangs said. "And, if it looks like we can't meet the requirements for delisting, we won't go there."
Area Wolves Killed by DNR to Prevent Predation
Claudia Curran, The (Ashland, WI) Daily Press, 28 August 2003
So far in 2003, 16 Wisconsin wolves have been trapped and shot by natural resources workers in an attempt to lower the number of farm animals being preyed upon by wolves.
"Currently, we have trapping occurring at a farm near Port Wing and at a farm near Ashland," said Adrian Weydeven, mammalian ecologist and wolf specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Close to the Ashland farm, "there have been eight wolves trapped and euthanized so far," Weydeven said.
Of the eight wolves, two were adult males, one an adult female, and five were pups.
In Port Wing, one adult male and two pups have been trapped and killed.
Trapping efforts are also underway in Barron County, where one wolf has been trapped, and for the third time this season near Danbury in Burnett County where four adult wolves have been euthanized.
Traps are also set in Price County near Prentice and in Taylor County near Westboro, though no wolves have yet been caught.
The gray wolf is listed as a federal and state threatened species, having been reclassified from endangered to threatened by the state in October 1999, and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in April 2003.
"With the new reclassification we don't have a requirement to relocate," Weydeven said.
In the past, nuisance wolves were relocated to other areas of the state, when there were larger chunks of land in northern Wisconsin available for such relocations, but now if the wolves were removed and relocated from troubled areas, "they may become nuisances in other areas," or face deadly competition with other established packs, Weydeven said.
Plans are in the works on state and federal levels to delist wolves from their present threatened status.
Employees of the DNR and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Division of Wildlife Services work together to trap and shoot the wolves - the USDA catches the wolves and the DNR wildlife biologists kill the animals.
A farm needs to have two separate, verified animal losses attributed to wolves before trapping and euthanizing can occur, Weydeven said.
Or, a farm needs to have a history of chronic losses, meaning it's had more than one verified wolf kill within the last five years, before wolves can be trapped and euthanized.
Eye to Eye With Wolves
Shane Benjamin, The Durango Herald, 22 April 2003
Durango High School students came face to face with wolves Monday, and in the process, they learned not all wolves are the bloodthirsty animals some people make them out to be.
Students also learned wild animals don’t make good pets.
Kent Weber, who operates Mission: Wolf, a wolf refuge 20 miles from Westcliffe, talked to about 280 students about the evolution of the wolf, its behavior and reintroduction programs in the United States.
“It took 10,000 years to domesticate wolves into dogs, and people can’t just take a wolf puppy and expect it to act like a dog,” Weber said before his presentation.
The students gathered in a circle in the school’s cafeteria while four wolves roamed around the circle and greeted the students.
Rami, a 10-year-old female gray wolf, showed a particular interest in students who claimed to have pets at home. The 62-pound animal with yellow eyes would put her nose next to students’ faces before moving to the next subject of olfactory interest.
Weber also brought three yearlings that were more playful and energetic.
“Out of all the wolf pups we have, these are the brave ones,” Weber said. “Some wolf pups are very, very afraid.”
The wolves urinated and defecated on the cafeteria floor, but Weber said that was a form of communication. Rami, for instance, was telling the pack she was the dominate one.
“What this will show you is that wild animals don’t make good pets,” Weber said.
Students responded favorably to the wolves’ presence.
Weber, who has traveled to schools in 30 different states with the wolves, said some students are fearful of the animals. But most DHS students raised their hands when asked if they have ever seen a bear or mountain lion in the wild.
“You guys are the wildest high school I’ve been to,” he said, referring to the number of students who have seen wild animals.
Monday’s presentation was Weber’s third at Durango High School in 10 years. The school makes a donation to Weber so he can pay the costs of transporting the animals to the next school.
Paula Lutz, the school’s library director, arranged this year’s visit. Lutz said she hopes students will learn about wolves’ behavior, that they’re not overly dangerous animals and that they don’t make good pets.
“It’s always such a powerful presentation for the students,” she said. “It really comes down to the wolf and their face. That’s what they really take away from it.”
After the program, Weber said he supports wolf reintroduction programs in the San Juan Mountains. People who are opposed to the idea need to recognize they live in a wildland area, he said.
“Humans are a strange character that we have to destroy it (wildland) to want to get it back,” he said.
America Set to Declare Open Season on Wolves
Ros Davidson, The Sunday Herald (Scotland), 23 March 2003
As the Bush administration continues with its anti-conservation agenda, Ros Davidson in San Francisco finds ranchers baying for the blood of the much-feared canis lupus
Few mammals evoke more fear and passion than the wolf. Once hunted almost to oblivion in America, over the last eight years they have been reintroduced in remote areas of the Rocky Mountains.
Once again canis lupus is in the news, a symbol more than ever of Americans' complex and changing view of wildlife and of the clash between conservationists and business interests.
Within a few months, federal law will no longer protect wolves. The move follows a decision last week to reclassify the species as no longer 'endangered' in most of the United States. They can now be shot on sight, like a domestic dog, if they are caught menacing livestock or pets.
Wolves now number some 600 in the region. When their protection is lifted entirely, possibly by the end of the year, they will be treated as any other non-domestic creature.
Local sentiment is hardly pro-wolf. Ranchers and hunters, especially in mountainous Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, are hailing the changes. Two years ago, Idaho passed a law allowing all wolves to be removed, by whatever means necessary. Wyoming is another conservative state, for years the constituency of vice-president and former senator Dick Cheney.
Powerful ranching, mining and oil interests frequently battle with conser vationists. A state law, passed several months ago, would allow anyone to kill canis lupus, like a jackrabbit or a skunk. And in some regions, wolves could be hunted as trophies.
It is only federal protection that prevents such state laws from being implemented, say environmentalists. The wolf is again endangered, they say, by the Bush administration, the most anti-conservation since the first major environmental laws were written in the 1970s.
Gale Norton, the US Interior Secretary who oversees public land and natural resources, is seen as especially hostile. A lawyer before joining George W Bush's Cabinet, she represented and lobbied for Delta Petroleum and for NL Industries, which was defending itself in lawsuits over children's exposure to lead paint.
'Cutting short the return of the wolf is just another sad page in Secretary Gale Norton's worsening conservation record,' said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, the group most active in wolf conservation.
The reclassification is premature, he says. Most environmental groups say the government's wolf programme is exemplary, a £4.5 million model of how predators can be retrieved from the brink of survival even as humans increasingly encroach upon their habitat.
Despite last week's change, many ranchers still see Washington as overly influenced by the voting public, which they see as overly pro-wildlife and ignorant about the realities of rural life and their threatened livelihood.
The wolves kill sheep and cattle. And even though farmers are compensated for damage, they say they still lose money. 'The reality of it is, there's a long way to go,' says Bob Gilbert, a sheep farmer with the Montana Wool Growers Association.
An estimated 44 wolf packs now roam the Rockies, mostly in and near the famed Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone packs are now a magnet for tourists, keen to hear the creatures' call of the wild. Few actually glimpse them, as they are shy and nocturnal.
Northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, near the remote Canadian border, is home to another 3000 wolves. They are less endangered, as they do not compete for territory with ranchers.
In Alaska, where wolves have never been classified as endangered, hundreds of wolves may also soon be shot in a move to boost moose populations for local natives who rely upon them for food. The plan, unveiled recently, is causing outrage amongst animal rights groups, who are vowing to promote a tourist boycott of the state.
Wolves once roamed most of the US but were hunted almost to extinction for fur and as pests. Within a decade of the Pilgrims' arrival in New England in 1620, a price was placed on their heads.
By the end of the next century, they were virtually eliminated from the region. In the far west, they were poisoned and trapped so vehemently that by the 1940s they were wiped out.
It was in 1994 that Canadian wolves were first imported to Yellowstone and to the forests of central Idaho, where Nez Perce Indians now help monitor their progress.
These wildest of wildlife wore radio collars and were tracked by rangers. Within a few months, biologist Joe Fontaine was working in the field when he heard what he assumed was an unusual bird song.
But when he saw a she-wolf's tracks, he realised that the high-pitched squeal came from the first new-born wolf pups in Yellowstone in almost 70 years. Alone in the snow, he lifted a branch on the ground and saw a litter of seven. 'I wanted to tell the whole world, but there was nobody to tell,' he says.
The litter's fate soon became less clear. A few weeks later the father was killed, probably illegally. Those cubs may not have survived, since the she-wolf depends on her mate for hunting while nursing her young, but others thrived.
Even the wolves' impact on the ecosystem has been better than expected, say biologists. Herds of elk and moose that once trampled streams and natural meadows into mud are acting more wildâ and less like domestic cows, says Suzanne Stone, the local representative for Defenders of Wildlife.
Riverbanks, natural meadows and aspen groves are recovering, she says. Attitudes of ranchers are also changing as they find ways to protect their livestock, such as using Pyrenean Mountain dogs as guards. It is her group that manages compensation for ranchers.
Actual losses have been minuscule, she says. Only 228 claims have ever been submitted. Montana farmers have lost an average of six cattle and five sheep to wolves yearly, she says. In Central Idaho, the toll has been higher with an average of eight cattle and 3223 sheep killed since 1995.
The figures don't impress Ron Gillett, who rents cabins to hunters of elk and moose. 'The only wolves we want in Idaho is one in the zoo -- and neutered,' he says.
Marauding Wolves Killed: Two Males Had Preyed on Sheep Tuesday Near Utah Border...
Brent Israelsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, 6 March 2003
Federal predator-control agents from Salt Lake City gunned down two wolves that preyed on sheep near the Utah-Wyoming line.
From a two-seat airplane, Mike Bodenchuk, director of the Utah office of Wildlife Services, shot the wolves just before dusk Tuesday about one mile into Wyoming and about 17 miles southeast of Bear Lake.
The carcasses were taken Wednesday to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) field office for examination.
Mike Jimenez, FWS wolf coordinator for Wyoming, said the wolves, both males, were probably yearlings from a pack in Grand Teton National Park.
Utah conservationists uniformly condemned the decision to destroy the wolves, a federally protected endangered species that, thanks to a federal recovery effort, have made a remarkable comeback in the Northern Rocky Mountains.
"It's not putting a good face on wolf recovery if every time there's a hint of trouble, the wolves are lethally controlled. Clearly, it's a one-strike-you're-out policy," said Allison Jones, coordinator of the Utah Wolf Forum, a coalition of environmental groups hoping to see the once-extirpated critter recolonize the Beehive State.
Under a special exception to the Endangered Species Act and to help protect the livestock industry, the FWS has authority to destroy wolves that cause trouble. Since 1987, more than 150 depredating wolves have been killed by the government.
On Tuesday morning, shortly after the sheep were attacked, Ed Bangs, the FWS's Northern Rockies wolf recovery leader, authorized Wildlife Services to find and destroy the offenders, a job Bodenchuk's office dispatched swiftly.
Despite frequent snow squalls, Bodenchuk and his pilot were able to fly to the area by about 4:45 p.m. while a team on snowmobiles tracked the animals on the ground. By about 5:30 p.m., the airborne team spotted the wolves and made about five passes, each time with Bodenchuk firing a half-dozen shots from a 12-gauge shotgun.
A veteran hunter, Bodenchuk said it was exciting to see the wolves but "disturbing" to have to kill them.
"They really are a magnificent animal," he said.
The wolves were probably staking out new territory in southwestern Wyoming and northern Utah, parts of which are scarce in big game but rich in livestock. On Tuesday morning, the wolves intruded into a sheep pen on private lands about 10 miles east of Bear Lake. Upon hearing the commotion, the rancher scared the wolves off but not before they had inflicted mortal wounds on two sheep, worth about $ 200 each.
"The fact we had a depredation in the morning and it's resolved in the evening should give people confidence that we can deal with these things," said Bangs.
Dick Carter, coordinator of the High Uintas Preservation Council, said his confidence has been shaken.
The summary execution of these two wolves, which Carter believes were in Ogden Valley near Huntsville last week, does not bode well for the animal's future in Utah. "If we look at every mistake a wolf makes as a fatal one, that is not good wildlife management."
John Carter, Utah director of the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Council, was equally angered.
"My problem is that there is no room for wolves on public lands due to livestock and there's no room for them on private lands because of livestock. What are they supposed to do, levitate?"
The director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, which will manage the wolf once it is removed from the federal endangered list, was circumspect about Tuesday's killing of the wolves.
"Depredating wolves probably need to have lethal action taken against them," Kevin Conway said. "I don't know if there are any other options."
Jimenez said wolves that kill sheep tend to be repeat offenders. Destroying such offenders, he explained, is important to maintaining the ranching public's tolerance of wolves.
Timber Wolves Resurgent in Upper Midwest
Once endangered, animals are now 3,100 strong and again pose a threat to livestock
Tom Nugent, The Washington Post, 10 February 2003
Ask Mike DeCapita for his favorite wolf story, and he'll tell you about a timber wolf that traveled more than 500 miles from Michigan to Missouri -- an odyssey in which the animal "somehow found a way to get across the Mississippi River."
After rambling from Michigan's remote Upper Peninsula through Wisconsin and Minnesota, the radio-collared and ear-tagged wolf took a sudden left turn toward Iowa and wound up in north-central Missouri, where his location was pinpointed by biologists as part of a 2000 wolf-monitoring study.
"This particular wolf crossed highways, bridges, railroad tracks, you name it," said DeCapita, who has been chasing Midwestern wolves and other wild creatures for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the past 28 years. "That's an astounding story, and it shows the kind of intelligence and resourcefulness that has allowed these [threatened] animals to survive during the past 20 or 30 years."
But DeCapita will also note that the timber wolves (also known as gray wolves) of the upper Midwest have been doing more than surviving in recent years. They're actually thriving -- so much so that the Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to downgrade them from "endangered" to "threatened" in Michigan and Wisconsin within the next few weeks.
After coming close to extinction in the first half of the 20th century, the gray wolves of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota have rebounded impressively since the passage of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. During the past three decades, the wolf population in these three states has soared to more than 3,100, with about 2,600 ranging freely in the wilds of northern Minnesota and the remainder divided equally between the forests of Wisconsin and Michigan.
"The return of the gray wolf is a wonderful symbol of the success of wildlife recovery programs in this country," said Jim Hammill, a longtime wolf expert for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Although wolves have also been resurgent in the northern Rockies, the Midwest has seen the most dramatic increase in raw numbers. L. David Mech, an internationally renowned, Minnesota-based wolf researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey, estimated that the number of wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin is now increasing 25 percent to 30 percent a year. "There's no doubt that wolves are doing well these days, and especially in Minnesota," said Mech, the founder of the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn.
But Mech also warned that the recent expansion of the wolf population poses a growing threat to livestock farmers in some areas of the Midwest.
"If we're going to have more animals on the landscape, we have to manage them very carefully," he said. "For a lot of farmers, this is an important issue, since the law prohibits them from killing wolves, even when they lose a cow to a wolf pack."
Chuck Becker, who raises dairy cattle in a wilderness area in northeastern Minnesota frequented by the animals, said the wolf resurgence had cost him "a lot of money" in recent years. "This is our livelihood," he said, "and when you find your cow ripped to shreds, that really hurts. A dairy cow can easily cost a farmer up to $ 1,800."
Although Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota compensate farmers for livestock lost to depredating wolves, some Midwestern farmers have complained that the payments are usually far too small to make up their losses. "Wolves kill cattle every single day in Minnesota," Becker said, "and there isn't much we can do about it."
Officials recorded 178 claims of cattle lost to wolves in the state last year, and only 97 verified claims. But "we agree with the farmers that they're having additional losses to wolves," said Bill Paul, assistant state director in Minnesota of wildlife services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Although he remains anxious about his cows, Becker said he was a "great admirer" of the gray wolf -- a powerful predator that can run 35 to 40 mph and smell at least 100 times more keenly than humans. He described a recent incident in which a wolf pack showed up at his farm nightly for a while to "tease" two horses that he kept in a fenced pasture.
"The wolves would come in every night and run them, just for fun," Becker said. "They weren't hungry, and they never attacked; they just wanted to play."
But Michigan cattleman Frank Wardynski, who manages a herd of 300 cows near Ontonagon, said he didn't find such wolf antics amusing. "One of the biggest problems we face is proving to the [state] wildlife people that we lost a cow to a wolf so we can get compensation," he said. "Believe me, after a pack of wolves gets finished with your animal, there isn't much proof left."
Wardynski said that when Michigan DNR officials questioned his neighbor's report that he had lost a cow to wolves, the neighbor hired an expert to analyze samples of wolf dung from his farmyard. "They admitted that the dung had cow hair all through it -- but the state [DNR] people said that wasn't enough for them," Wardynski said.
"We lose three cows for every one we can prove got eaten by wolves," said the cattleman, "and believe me, that's pretty hard to swallow."
Federal and state officials acknowledge that the wolf resurgence has caused increasing hardship for farmers in both the Midwest and the northern Rockies, and that it is often difficult for state natural resources administrators to positively identify the owner of a farm animal after wolves have devoured it.
"I think it's pretty clear that the DNR needs to be better with our response time when there's an issue involving wolves and livestock," said Pat Lederle, the Michigan DNR's endangered species coordinator. "With the numbers of wolves increasing each year, we've got to strike the right balance. We need additional training for our staff so we can do a better job of managing this species and their relation to livestock producers."
Once the reclassification from endangered to threatened takes place, Michigan and Wisconsin officials will be permitted to exterminate occasional "rogue" wolves that kill livestock. Fish and Wildlife regulations already allow Minnesota, with many more wolves, to use lethal force to eliminate depredating wolves.
Although they are careful to defend the rights of Midwestern farmers, Lederle and other wildlife officials are also quick to point out that wolves present "very little threat to human safety." According to a recent study by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, not a single "human death [was] attributed to healthy (non-rabid) wolves" between 1900 and 2000 in North America. In addition, said the study, there have been only 28 documented cases of humans being injured by "aggression from wolves" since 1890 -- even though Alaska and Canada together provide a habitat for more than 60,000 of them.
Wisconsin DNR mammal ecologist Adrian Wydeven noted that wolves provide an important service by helping to keep down the population of deer, beaver and coyote. While estimating that the current recovery program has restored 10 percent to 15 percent of the pre-Columbian Great Lakes wolf population (estimated at 30,000 to 40,000), Wydeven said the animals sometimes provide nature lovers with the thrill of a lifetime: "I get calls all the time from people who report wolf sightings, and many say they'll remember the experience for the rest of their lives."
Pam Troxell, a volunteer coordinator at the nonprofit Timber Wolf Alliance in Ashland, Wis., said she was "enchanted" by the presence of wolves. "One of the activities I enjoy most is conducting a 'howling survey,' " said Troxell. She often drives deep into the heart of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and, after parking on a dirt road at night, wanders a few yards into the trees and cuts loose with a siren-like howl.
Most times, she said, her howling produces nothing more than the cry of a barred owl, which sounds something like: Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?
But once in a great while, she'll hear a distant, wailing chorus. "It makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck," said Troxell, who takes careful notes describing the time and location of the howling for her survey. "There's no thrill on earth like hearing a pack of wolves howl. It's the music of the north country -- wilderness music!"
Wolf! Wolf! Can Stockmen Say Fladry?
Bob Mottram, The (Tacoma, Wash.) News Tribune, 5 February 2003
Here's the problem: You've got a pasture full of livestock, you've got hungry wolves nearby, and you want to prevent the wolves from killing your animals. How do you do it?
You do it by messing with their minds.
That's what the federal government and a private animal-conservation organization did last summer in east-central Idaho a few miles from the Montana border. They created a "psychological barrier" between wolves and cattle, and it kept the cattle safe for most of the summer.
The barrier was a length of twine, from which hung harmless strips of plastic or cloth, known as "fladry." Wolves fear it.
The Idaho experiment, and others in that state and Montana, followed research under way in Canada. But the technology isn't new. People have used it for hundreds of years.
"It all started in Europe," said Marco Musiani, an Italian who is a graduate student at the University of Calgary in Alberta. "I did my Master's thesis in Poland, and I noticed hunters using this technique to hunt wolves. Even the word is Polish."
Hunters strung hundreds of yards of fladry in the shape of a "V." Working from the wide end, they drove entire packs of wolves into the "V" and killed them at the narrow end, where the animals were reluctant to cross the cloth barrier.
In Idaho and elsewhere in North America, it is seen not as a means to kill wolves, but to protect them; to keep them from killing livestock - a behavior that often results in their own death sentence.
Musiani, a biologist who is studying for his doctorate in environmental design, came up with the idea of using fladry to keep wolves out rather than in.
"But we needed to do some experiments," he said, "because we didn't know if it would work or what the optimal design was."
In a two-month experiment in Alberta, workers strung fladry around a 160-acre pasture.
"During the experiment, they had no problems," he said, "but wolves were approaching the area. On 17 occasions, they approached the area and they turned back.
"After two months, we had to suspend the experiment," he said. "After we removed the fladry, the wolves got back to the area and killed livestock again."
In 1995, starting with four gray wolves, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing them to Idaho, which was - like Washington - a part of their natural range from which cattlemen and others had extirpated them. The effort was controversial, and still is. Many agriculturists and sportsmen complain that wolves kill too much livestock and too much game. Biologists estimate Idaho now contains eight "breeding pairs," or extended-family packs.
In the Idaho experiment last summer, with Musiani's collaboration, workers strung fladry around more than nine miles of cattle ranch near Salmon.
"We think it's probably the largest (fladry) experiment in the world," said Suzanne Laverty Stone of Boise, western field representative for Defenders of Wildlife. The material enclosed an entire ranch.
It kept the wolves at bay for 61 days.
The study was a cooperative effort of Defenders of Wildlife, the Fish and Wildlife Service and that agency's Wildlife Services branch. The Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the material, Wildlife Services helped oversee the project and provided equipment, and Defenders of Wildlife furnished volunteers to install the material, said Carter Niemeyer, Idaho wolf recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Boise.
Fladry is heavy-duty twine on which is located, about every 18 inches, a strip of flagging some three inches wide and 20 inches long. Workers install it so the bottom of each ribbon hangs just a few inches off the ground, creating a visual barrier about 28 inches high.
"It gives the appearance - from a human perspective, anyway - of being a barrier," Niemeyer said. "I believe it's a psychological barrier that causes wolves to hesitate and avoid passing by it or through it or across it."
In the Idaho experiment, workers strung the fladry on an existing barbed-wire fence, to save labor and money. Ironically, the cattle pastured behind the fence - those the fladry was intended to protect - destroyed some of it.
"Some of the fladry got wrapped around the barbed wire," said Musiani, "and the cattle were pulling away some of the fladry and even ingesting some flags."
And, while the cattle had no apparent fear of the material, that wasn't so for the wolves.
About two months passed before they crossed the line. Besides the presence of cattle, a motive for crossing may have been their den site, which was within the protected perimeter, Carter said. The area the workers had cordoned off "was in the center of their home territory."
Even then, the wolves were reluctant to cross a second time, to go out, even after officials called in a helicopter to pursue them.
"They tried to drive the wolves across it, and the wolves refused to cross," said Stone. "They actually ran back under the helicopter instead of crossing it again."
Still, the single crossing showed that fladry is not infallible.
Stone calls it "a somewhat reliable, temporary tool, which is what we were looking for.
"Every predation situation is different from every other one," she said.
"If, say, we have a calving operation and the wolves come in to that, the cows really are the most vulnerable (then). So, if we can use the fladry temporarily, we can buy ourselves a month."
Researchers hope, she said, that stockmen "can possibly use it temporarily time after time with the same wolves, and they may not habituate. It's a very inexpensive tool."
Refuge Welcomes Four New Wolves
Humans play matchmaker in efforts to bolster endangered red wolves
Lynne Langley, The (Charleston, SC) Post and Courier, 4 February 2003
Four new red wolves have come to Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and moved in with residents, bringing hope the four pairs will have lots of pups this spring, boosting the endangered species.
The refuge never has had so many red wolves, which are part of the first attempt to reintroduce a species declared extinct in the wild.
A new 2-year-old female and an 8-year-old male, which has roamed Bulls Island for two years, were vaccinated and released last week as the reigning pair. This is the height of the mating season, and the female could bear pups 60 days after breeding.
Two newcomers are matched with residents at the Sewee Center near Awendaw. Visitors can see one of the pairs, a new male and a female that bore a pup last year, in the red wolf exhibit. The other pair has more privacy behind the scenes.
A 9-year-old female arrived on Bulls Island in October to join a lone wolf, a male born on Bulls Island in 1993. He lived at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge near Manteo, N.C., for several years but has resided in an enclosure on Bulls Island since 1996. He didn't have pups with his first mate so biologists have chosen a new female in hopes they will hit it off.
As the wild-living male on Bulls was getting to know his shy, young second mate this winter, his first mate went into retirement. For 10 years, she has ranged over the island and borne pups.
At 11 years old, she is elderly by red wolf standards and might not be able to bear healthy, if any, pups at all. She appeared to be heavy with milk last spring, but no pups were ever seen.
For companionship, the valiant old wolf now shares a large, wooded enclosure with a male that had stayed alone in an enclosure on Bulls. He was born at Alligator River to a female that was whelped and raised on Bulls Island.
The most recent wolves born on the island, a male and a female in 2001, recently met wolves at Alligator River, where both pairs could have pups in the wild this spring. Alligator River, where about 100 red wolves live in the wild, is the only mainland release site and only place where more than one pair roams free.
All the shifts may sound like intricate wolf moving, marriage, divorce and manipulation, especially considering that red wolves are thought to pair for life. Couples stay together 365 days a year.
The precise human intervention is aimed at survival of the species; the federal Red Wolf Recovery Program carefully tracks genetics and computer matches wolves.
A last roundup of red wolves revealed only 14 pureblood wolves among many coyote hybrids.
Placed in captivity, six of seven pairs produced young and launched the captive breeding program that Will Waddell coordinates from Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash.
"Twelve founders is all there is left in offspring," Waddell said.
Red wolves now live in 37 zoos and other facilities in this country and one in Canada. Alligator River, Cape Romain and St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge off the Florida panhandle have wolves in the wild and in captivity.
"Every year a decision is made across the facilities to pair wolves to maximize the genetic diversity and conserve that maximum as long as possible," said Bud Fazio, team leader of the recovery program.
That means checking lineage very carefully, separating couples that didn't bear young and introducing strangers usually as breeding season starts to heat up.
Now biologists have added sperm banking as a way to preserve the heritage of wolves too old to breed.
Waddell will visit Cape Romain and the nearby Sewee Center, a joint project of Cape Romain and the Francis Marion National Forest, to collect and freeze sperm from some of the older males.
They include an 11-year-old male at Sewee, a 10-year-old living with the newly arrived 9-year-old female in an enclosure on Bulls and two 9-year-old brothers. Older wolves don't always produce quality sperm, Waddell said, so he wants to collect samples now even though the males may sire pups this spring and in the future.
"The idea is to bank the semen and at some point in the future do some artificial insemination," Waddell said. "It's not replacing putting two wolves together. They do it better than we do."
The red wolf program tried artificial insemination years ago, including an unsuccessful attempt with a Bulls Island female. Attempts only worked once, when fresh sperm was used, Waddell said.
In the last several years red wolves haven't borne as many pups as in the past, Waddell said.
"Many are older, and the chance of older females producing pups is lower," he said.
Biologists wanted the small population to grow in the days that red wolves were being re-established at Alligator River and in the Great Smoky Mountains. But wolves weren't able to catch hold in the mountains. The Smokies project was closed, leaving more wolves than wild sites.
For several years, fewer red wolves were paired, Waddell said. On Bulls, the old female and her first mate, a macho wolf known as Red, were separated during breeding season. Red died of apparent old age soon after.
More recently the recovery program has wanted more wolves to ensure Alligator River efforts in the face of intruding and competitive coyotes.
That leaves a gap in wolves 4 to 6 years old, prime breeding age, and means wolves from earlier years are starting to get old. They may not be reproducing as well, Waddell explained.
Perhaps -- experts seem uncertain -- human match-making doesn't always work for red wolves. A species that pairs for life might not always take to losing one partner and gaining another repeatedly, especially in captivity.
"Sometimes red wolves don't like each other," Fazio said.
"They are highly socially functioning animals," said Shauna Baron, outreach biologist with the recovery program. "If you put me in a room with a man, we might not get along," said Baron, who will staff a red wolf exhibit at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition here in two weeks.
The recovery program generally introduces wolves during or just before the winter breeding season and releases pairs in new territories about the same time, when wolves are most likely to bond and settle.
Fazio and his team have introduced and released wolves several ways and refined the alternatives.
Biologists placed the Bulls Island female, born in 2001, in a pen with a male they chose for his genetics. "We were playing matchmaker," Baron said. The pair appeared to be getting along well and was released last month.
The program also had a mate in mind for the male born on Bulls in 2001 but let the couple introduce themselves. The male went into a temporary holding pen, placed in a wild area where the intended female lived.
"You'd be surprised how many wolves came to visit," Fazio said, adding that the female did repeatedly. "Once he was released, they already were boyfriend and girlfriend."
Either method can work, Fazio said. "The real question is compatibility."
"We are building the red wolf population. Bit by bit, we are making progress, and we are looking for that to continue," Fazio said. Last spring, at least eight litters were born in the Alligator River wilds.
As western coyotes increasingly moved into Alligator River, they began courting red wolves that lost their mates. Cross breeding again threatened to wipe out the species.
Under a coyote management plan in the last couple of years, coyotes have been removed or sterilized. Coyote territories have been cleared and red wolf pairs released.
The wolf team tried fostering last spring, the first such attempt in the wild, Fazio said. Two-week-old red wolf pups born in captivity were slipped into the wild den of an Alligator River wolf, which had pups the same age.
"If you'd asked, people would have said it would not work," Fazio noted last week.
Every fostered and wild pup from the den was alive and healthy when checked last fall, whereas only half of wild-born pups usually survive, Fazio said.
He said he hopes to foster pups into wild dens again this spring, to ensure more pups learn how to thrive in the wild and not just in zoos.