The Minnesota Wolf Experience
Scott McMillion, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 15 January 2005
Minnesota is unique among the lower 48 states. In that state alone, wolves never were exterminated.
Now, Minnesota's northern forests and bogs are home to approximately 3,020 wolves, a number that hasn't changed much for several years.
Meanwhile, deer numbers in occupied wolf habitat have grown by as much as 50 percent, a new study from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has found.
"The deer population in Minnesota's wolf range is currently at an all-time high," the report says. "Since 1997, there has been no significant change in the distribution or abundance of wolves in Minnesota."
The study result also "suggests that wolf range expansion in Minnesota has, at least temporarily, stopped."
Minnesota is not Montana, and whitetail deer are not elk, but some comparisons can be made.
In both states, the wolf is a federally protected species. Both states have mixes of public and private land, lots of agriculture and lots of hunters, some of whom view wolves as competitors.
Yellowstone has attracted attention because the park's northern elk herd, which migrates every winter into Montana, has fallen from 19,000 animals in 1994 to 9,500 animals as of last week. Plus, the proportion of calves has dropped sharply, according to government aerial surveys.
Biologists stress that several factors -- weather, other predators, hunting by humans -- play a role in that drop.
But wolves are a big factor.
"The primary change in the dynamics of the elk population on the northern range is the addition of wolves to the system in the mid-1990s," Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Kurt Alt said in December. "By adding another year-round mouth to feed in the area, the population has started a continuous decline."
Alt said then that he had little choice but to cut the number of elk tags in the Gardiner late hunt by 90 percent.
How long the decline will last is unknown. But the Minnesota example shows it is possible to have lots of prey and lots of wolves, at least in some circumstances.
In some places, wolf predation is higher than others, and that affects the number of hunting tags Minnesota issues for some districts. It also causes some grumbling among hunters, said John Erb, furbearer and wolf biologist for Minnesota DNR.
"Everything is fine overall, but if a wolf pack is in the area surrounding your tree stand, some people are unhappy," Erb said.
As in Minnesota, Yellowstone's wolf numbers appear to be leveling off.
A late December count found 165 to 170 wolves in the park, Yellowstone's chief wolf biologist Doug Smith said, down from 174 last year. He predicted that number will get smaller.
"The first 10 years can be characterized as a growth phase," he said. The next three or four years should be stable.
"Right now, we've got as many wolves as the park can handle," Smith said. "Then there's going to be a phase when they decrease quite a bit more."
The decrease in prey will drive the wolf numbers down, Smith said. Plus, wolves are killing each other more often in territorial disputes.
"The last two years, the wolves are fighting with each other more than in the previous eight years combined," he said.
For the first eight years after reintroduction, two or three wolves a year were killed by other wolves, usually for trespassing into fiercely defended territory.
"The last couple years, it's been 10 or 12" deaths, he said.
How elk will respond to fewer wolves in the park remains to be seen. The vast reduction in the Gardiner late hunt could also boost elk numbers.
Smith has run computer models showing the population could rebound. Other scientists have other models with different results. There's even a debate over whether the elk count is accurate.
"Everyone has models," Smith said. "The only way to see which one is right is to sit here through time."
Meanwhile, the complex interactions continue between wolves, elk, forage and other animals.
Streamside willows are growing taller for the first time in decades, and Smith believes that's because wolves are changing where and when elk eat. The willows provide habitat for other creatures. Beavers are returning to the park, further altering the landscape with their own complex engineering.
It's what Smith calls a "trophic cascade" of impacts.
He notes that, even after a decade of declining numbers, the northern herd is still much bigger than it was in 1967, when the National Park Service stopped shooting elk in the field with the purpose of reducing their numbers.
In Yellowstone, where there are no agricultural operations or hunting by humans to complicate the situation, wolves and prey are likely to work out a relationship.
In Minnesota, where wolves never went away, both deer and wolves abound.
"Record deer numbers have corresponded with record wolf numbers," Erb said.
The Economic Impact of Wolves Not Yet Known
Scott McMillion, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 15 January 2005
Say what you will about wolves, they help move a lot of products off the shelves.
At least 20 books have been written about Yellowstone National Park wolves in the past 10 years. Plus, there are a handful of videos on the market and all kinds of posters and paintings.
And that doesn't include the hats, T-shirts and jackets emblazoned with images of wolves.
Clearly, wolves have a lot of fans.
A half-dozen or more companies offer tours specializing in wolf viewing in Yellowstone National Park, and many of their customers get what they paid for: a good long look at wild wolves.
Ken Sinay, owner of Yellowstone Safari Company, said his wolf tours are increasing dramatically and people are willing to pay handsome sums.
"People pay us $500 a day, per couple, to go and and watch and learn about wolves, sometimes for a few days," Sinay said.
Every day for almost four years, a visitor has reported seeing a wolf somewhere in the park, according to Doug Smith, the park's chief wolf biologist.
At the Yellowstone Institute, where biologists teach classes about wolves, enrollment has swollen by 30 percent, Smith said. That means more people are coming to the area, buying meals and gas and motel rooms. And the institute's employees are earning, too.
Still, it's hard to quantify how much the fans of wolves are spending. Some tour companies are doing well, and some motels in Gardiner and Silver Gate cater to them.
But the more traditional outfitters are feeling a pinch, as elk populations near the park decline. Outfitter Bill Hoppe blames wolves for ruining his Jardine-area business. Elk in that area are incredibly scarce now, he said.
Other outfitters are reinventing how they do business.
Scott Sallee and his wife, Sandy, have run a summer and fall outfitting business in the Slough Creek Drainage just north of Yellowstone for seven years.
Wolves, he said "have definitely forced some changes" in how he does business.
He used to market his summer trips as wildlife viewing excursions. He'd take people on horseback to alpine slopes and show them 300 cow elk and their frisky calves. Moose were common.
Now, both species are hard to find in the summer, he said.
"We take them up and show them mountain goats instead of elk and moose," he said.
His marketing focuses on scenic trips instead of wildlife viewing.
"We've had to adjust for what we've got to work with," Sallee said.
Biologists in the park and for the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks say you can't blame all ungulate reductions on wolves. The fires of 1988 took out a lot of moose habitat, and bears, drought and severe winters have killed elk, too, their studies show.
Sallee said he isn't convinced. There have always been grizzlies and fires in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, where he has guided since 1979, but there were plenty of elk and moose, too.
Some of his clients want to see wolves. Others don't.
"They're kind of neat to see," Sallee said. "I just wish there weren't so many to look at."
His early fall hunting trips also have changed, though they're still successful. He bought out a neighboring outfitter, just so he wouldn't have so much competition.
"The wolves have made it harder to make it a successful business," he said. "But you just have to try harder."
Unguided hunters also are using the backcountry less, he said. Prewolf, it could be hard to find a parking spot at wilderness trailheads during the September hunt. It wasn't uncommon to find 100 trucks and trailers parked there, he said.
"Now, there's maybe 15."
Somebody probably could find a market, selling trips to hunters who enjoy hunting with wolves. But Sallee said it isn't for him.
"If somebody had a different mind-set, I'm sure they could," he said. "We're all kind of bitter about the wolves because they've forced us to change our lifestyle."
The 1994 environmental impact statement outlining wolf reintroduction made some economic predictions. Loss of hunting opportunities would cost the regional economy between $207,000 and $857,000 annually in spending by hunters, the EIS said. But that same study predicted antlerless elk hunting would drop by no more than 30 percent because of wolves.
For whatever reason, the northern Yellowstone elk herd is half the size it was in 1994 and the annual Gardiner late hunt by 2006 will be reduced by more than 90 percent from 1994 levels, meaning more than 2,000 people won't be making winter trips to Gardiner.
The same EIS also predicted an extra $23 million in visitor spending related to wolves. While wolves are a popular attraction, and are more visible than anybody predicted, overall visitation to the park has remained steady.
John Duffield, the Missoula economist who prepared much of the economic data in the EIS, said he has just begun a one-year follow-up study, looking at the economic pluses and minuses of wolf reintroduction.
So far, he said he doesn't know if the predicted $23 million in economic bonuses is accurate.
"That's why we're doing the study," he said.
Other economic factors include government spending.
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., recently got Congress to appropriate $320,000 to pay for Montana to begin running the wolf program in the state. It also appropriates an extra $1.3 million yearly for wolf control to Wildlife Services, the federal agency that confirms the cause of livestock kills and hunts down or traps offending wolves.
Most of that money goes to local wages and expenses.
A wide variety of university professors, graduate students and technicians also earn wages studying wolves.
Bob Crabtree, an independent scientist who has studied Yellowstone predators since 1989, said that, on any given winter day, about 10 or 12 scientists are in the park, working on various projects related in some way to wolves. Another handful of Park Service employees spend all or part of their time studying wolves.
Dozens of other people spend various amounts of time in the park, studying wolves and how they affect their landscape.
Wolves affect pocketbooks. Some people lose money, others gain it.
But so far, nobody has tallied up all the gains and all the losses.
"The economic impact is largely unknown," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a recent recap of its wolf program.
Ecological Changes Linked to Wolves
Warren Cornwall, The Seattle Times, 13 January 2005
Ten years ago today, the first of eight travel-weary wolves stepped out of its cage and into Yellowstone National Park.
Those steps — the first known wolf prints in Yellowstone in decades — created ecological and social currents that are changing the landscape in parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
The return of one of the region's top predators, now numbering up to 900, may be altering everything from elk behavior to tree growth to beaver populations. Ranchers manage their livestock differently, and some face wrenching losses. Hunters now pursue wolf-spooked elk.
The changes offer a glimpse of what the future may hold for parts of Washington, where it's only a matter of time before wolves take up residence, biologists say.
Oregon State University forester Bill Ripple went to Yellowstone National Park in 1997 looking for an answer to the decline in aspen groves there. He emerged with a surprising answer: wolves.
A study of growth rings on the trees showed that the youngest dated to the 1920s, around the time when wolves were eradicated from the park. Ripple hypothesized that the disappearance of the predators emboldened elk, which then ate young, tasty trees with impunity.
He and a colleague followed up with research that found similar age patterns in cottonwood trees, and evidence that willows have had a resurgence in recent years.
"As soon as we get rid of wolves, plants stop flourishing. Soon after we bring wolves back, plants are flourishing again," Ripple said.
If true, it shows how wolves can influence a broad web of plants and animals. Beaver rely on willows for food and songbirds live in aspens and willows, so their populations might rebound. Animals that thrive around beaver dams could get a boost. Already, a part of the park now hosts nine beaver colonies where there was one when the wolves first arrived, said Douglas Smith, the lead wolf researcher at Yellowstone National Park.
The wolf's arrival also has coincided with a 50 percent drop in coyote populations, Smith said. That could help red foxes, which are killed by coyotes. It also could increase populations of rodents eaten by coyotes, a potential boon for hawks that prey on mice.
"We've grown accustomed to what the world looks like without top-level carnivores. Here you've got a place where they're all present, and it looks real different," he said.
Not all scientists are persuaded of the wolf's transformative effect. Duncan Patten, a Montana State University ecologist, said it's hard to separate the wolves from other factors, such as drought and mild winters in recent years. Willows, for example, may be rebounding because there hasn't been a harsh winter forcing elk to dine on the woody brush, he said.
"There are a lot of things going on," Patten said. "The unfortunate thing is too many people do what I call single-factor ecology and point at the wolves as the only factor."
The fate of elk is also in dispute. The park's biggest herd has fallen from 20,000 to 10,000 since the wolf's return. Smith said wolves are just one factor, along with hunting, grizzly bears and drought.
But the decline has been controversial, as hunters confront a dwindling herd and state officials point to the wolves.
Kurt Alt, a Montana state wildlife manager, said he thinks the wolves are playing a critical role. Still, elk aren't declining in other parts of Montana where wolves aren't as concentrated, Alt said.
Margaret Soulen Hinson doesn't doubt that wolves were responsible for the loss of as many as 300 sheep on her central Idaho ranch last summer.
She, her family and shepherds tried everything from using guard dogs to sleeping overnight on the ground with her sheep to ward off the predators. Eventually, government agents resorted to killing 12 wolves to try to stop the carnage.
"I'll be honest, I think we can live with some wolves. But certainly this past summer was too much in loss and very difficult for everyone. We simply couldn't figure out a way to keep the wolves out of the sheep," she said.
The wolves' quick spread has been a surprise to some. In 1995, the only known packs in the western United States lived in the remote northwestern corner of Montana. The animals were listed under the Endangered Species Act.
That year, in a move that drew furious opposition from ranchers and state officials in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, the federal government began releasing Canadian wolves in Yellowstone and central Idaho, eventually introducing 66 animals.
"When we put those wolves in, we thought it would take a few years before we had reproduction, and they proved us wrong because we had pups that first year," said Joe Fontaine, assistant recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has overseen wolf reintroduction.
Today, between 850 and 900 roam parts of those three states, Fontaine said. The wolf soon could be dropped from the Endangered Species list, if an agreement is reached with Wyoming over how the state would manage the animals. Environmentalists are guardedly optimistic about the future of wolves in those three states. But they have sued the federal government to keep federal protection for wolves that venture into other states, including Washington.
How this will play out in Washington depends partly on what the wolves do, and whether they thrive in a more populous state with fewer stretches of uninterrupted wilderness.
Wolves once lived across much of Washington but had been largely eradicated by the 1930s. A lone radio-collared wolf coming from Montana passed through the state's northeastern corner in 2002, before continuing to Canada.
Washington wildlife officials point to the eastern edge of the state, around the Selkirk Mountains to the north or the Blue Mountains to the south, as likely places for wolf packs to become established. The Cascade Mountains are another potential spot.
Jere Dennis, a rancher in northeastern Pend Oreille County, is convinced he's already living with wolves. Twice he's seen what he says was a wolf near where he grazes cattle.
"If they don't increase any more from what they are right now, I think we can live with it. If they get to bringing them in and the numbers increase, sure, we're going to have problems with them," he said.
Washington state officials are preparing for their eventual arrival by meeting with federal officials to craft rules governing what to do if a wolf is spotted or starts preying on livestock.
But they haven't started the often contentious process of creating a statewide plan for how to manage them — a process that could trigger many of the same debates that preceded those first wolves in Yellowstone a decade ago.
"Old Lefty" Is a Thing of the Past
Allen Best, Vail Daily, 8 January 2005
Wolves populated most of North America at one time.
Although sometimes confused with coyotes, wolves are three to four times heavier, with males weighing an average 90 pounds.
Here, as in Europe, wolves were seen as agents of darkness. To this day, "wolf" implies a greedy or cruel person, or a sexually aggressive or predatory man.
Wolves disappeared from the West for two major reasons. First, the animals they ate disappeared. The bison herds wolf packs trailed were the first to go, and elk and deer then nearly disappeared.
Then, even as deer and elk populations rebounded, the U.S. government set out to kill the lingering wolves. In 1915, the U.S. Biological Survey was created with responsibility to eliminate large predators from the public lands of the West.
Using an arsenal of steel traps and lethal poisons, government agents stalked coyotes, mountain lions, and bears in addition to wolves.
Burns Hole casualty
One of the casualties of this campaign to eradicate wolves was an alpha male in the Burns Hole area given the name "Lefty." As explained in a book called "The Last Stand of the Pack," by Arthur Carhart and Stanley P. Young, Lefty had been given that name because, while escaping a leg-hold trap, he lost his right paw.
Still, unable to catch Lefty, the cattlemen of the Castle Peak ranges enlisted the U.S. Biological Survey.
The agency dispatched a hunter named Bert Hegeva. Working from a cabin in Bull Gulch, located northeast of Dotsero, Hegeva methodically set about killing the wolf during the winter of 1921.
A letter of thanks from the stockmen that March sounds like it might have been written by the government agency itself.
"It is a big relief to us to know that 'Old Lefty' is a thing of the past - for his track on the range meant he was back and on the job of cattle killing once again," wrote the stockmen. "We breathe a sigh of keen satisfaction, and fully realize the capture of 'Old Lefty' was truly a job for our Government men who study out these things and apply methods no ordinary amateur can touch.
"You are doing a great work for us stockmen Ð let us know when we can be of any assistance in furthering your operations on predatory animal control."
The threat of wolf predation to the livestock herds was real enough. Wolves will eat everything from mice to moose.
Absent deer and elk, of course, wolves would have attacked sheep and cattle. Yet newspapers of the time contained few stories of wolves eating Herefords and Merinos.
An educated guess is wolves in early Colorado snacked on beef and lamb, but the threat was inflated. That's also the argument found in a new book, "Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation," edited by L. David Mech and Luigi Boiani.
"During 1890-1930, the perception of the wolf by the U.S. public and Congress was strongly influenced by accounts of outlaw wolves that allegedly killed stock in large numbers," say the authors, Steven H. Fitts, et al. "Many of these accounts were embellished and were developed, at least in part, by members of the U.S. Biological Survey to generate and maintain funding for their programs."
Seen in this way, even names such as "Lefty" and "Old Three Toes" were part of the public-relations spin. Would Lefty have seemed half as cunning had he instead been Alpha 3218? With a personalized enemy, the agency had both greater power and prestige.
The campaign also played off human fears.
In Russia, Sweden and other countries, a similar story was told of newlyweds and companions traveling in a sleigh when attacked by a pack of wolves. The sleigh's occupants fight the wolves, but several are lost until finally, only the young couple remain, at which time the young man contemplates making a run for help ...
How different is the story from that of the urban "hookman" legend ? If a baby boomer, surely you were told the story when growing up of a young couple parked on a dark night on a lonely lane, when of a sudden there's a scrape, scrape, scrape.
At length, the guy gets out to investigate, and ...
Few wolves remained in the continental United States by the mid-20th century, mostly in a corner of Minnesota. However, some people even then were calling for restoration of wolves in Yellowstone National Park.
As well, wildlife biologists had begun studying wolves in Alaska, trying to de-mythologize the species. But the most crucial change was the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
That law charted new attitudes toward species protection, but not overnight. In 1983, the Colorado Wildlife Commission opposed reintroduction of both wolves and grizzly bears.
Just the same, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1994 completed a study that found habitat suitable for 1,128 wolves in Colorado, with the best habitat being in the San Juans, the West Elks and the Flat Tops, the last of which spread into Eagle County.
Moreover, two public opinion surveys revealed strong support across Colorado for restoration, with support somewhat stronger in cities, and slightly less on the Western Slope.
Experts Slam Plans to Kill Wolves, Bears
Joel Gay, Anchorage Daily News, 7 January 2005
More than 100 wildlife professionals have slammed state efforts to produce more moose and caribou by killing wolves and bears, saying the new predator control programs ignore the best advice developed by the National Research Council.
The wildlife experts charge in a letter to state officials that Alaska has abandoned the rigorous scientific approach for predator control recommended by the council's panel in 1997, and warn that long-term consequences may outweigh any short-term increases for Alaska's ungulates gained through predator control.
The letter's lead author, Anchorage biologist Vic Van Ballenberghe, called the state's new approach "a recipe for disaster."
But top state wildlife officials say the criticism is off-base. Alaska follows the basic precepts of the national study, they say, but it can't -- and need not -- treat every predator control program as if it were an experiment, as the wildlife professionals suggest.
"This is a predator management program, not a research program," said Wayne Regelin, acting commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Former Gov. Tony Knowles sought in the mid-1990s to solve the long-running debate over killing wolves in Alaska by asking the research council to review previous predator control programs and make recommendations on future efforts. The $300,000 study was nearly two years in the making.
The authors made several sweeping conclusions, including that Alaska's wildlife populations fluctuate widely, that wolves and bears can cause moose and caribou declines, and that ungulate populations can rise if a large percentage of the predators are removed for at least four years.
They also found that predator control won't create more moose or caribou if the prey species don't have enough food, or if severe winters curb their natural reproduction, or if human hunters are allowed to overharvest.
On several counts, the council found that state biologists didn't have enough information about habitat to judge whether predator control would work, or enough about bears to know why a given moose or caribou population was failing. It recommended the state consider every predator control plan an experiment, and check regularly to see if its efforts were getting results.
After the report came out, the state drastically revised a proposed program to kill wolves around McGrath. Based on additional research over several years, the Alaska Board of Game approved a new plan in 2001 that included relocating dozens of black and brown bears from the area and eliminating hunting seasons, as well as killing wolves. The area was to be managed as an experiment, with close study of moose survival and habitat.
The state should take that same approach for every predator control plan, but it hasn't, according to Van Ballenberghe and the dozens of state and federal biologists and academics nationwide who signed the letter addressed to Gov. Frank Murkowski, the Alaska Legislature and the Game Board.
Since the McGrath program was adopted, the Game Board has targeted hundreds of wolves and dozens of grizzly bears in six additional areas with far less information at hand. The letter calls it "a step backward from earlier programs" that incorporated the council's recommendations.
"You don't just go out there and say we have a problem of too few moose and too many wolves, and the easy solution is to kill some wolves," said Van Ballenberghe, a retired U.S. Forest Service biologist who still does moose research in Denali National Park and Preserve.
It's important to study each area because they're all different, he said. And it's crucial to scientifically determine the moose or caribou population goals and harvest objectives for each area.
"To set them unrealistically high gives hunters a false expectation we can reach those numbers," Van Ballenberghe said. If habitat or overhunting are responsible for limiting the moose population, predator control won't work. "It's a poor approach to conservation of these resources," he said.
The state's top game biologists dispute the need to study every area before predator control begins.
"What the National Research Council suggests we do is measure the results -- that's where efforts have been weak in the past," said Matt Robus, director of Fish and Game's wildlife division. "It does not require us to do research-level work for every program."
His boss, Regelin, said that, contrary to Van Ballenberghe's assertion that the state isn't basing its plans on good data, "We have done extensive long-term research for 25 years in a variety of areas, and now we're applying that good science."
In one of the newest areas approved for wolf control, unit 19A near Aniak, the state spent thousands of dollars collaring moose calves. The results weren't surprising, Regelin said:
"It was the same thing we already knew -- you can tell when mortality was due to bears or wolves" by the time of year in which the animal was killed. "It's plenty close enough for management."
Robus denied that the Game Board has set unrealistic population and harvest objectives for moose and caribou, figures that are used to justify predator control. It spent two years setting the figures and used a variety of data in its decisions.
"The board did not leap to the highest possible number," he said.
The two managers contend that Alaska is still following the advice set out by the council in 1997. But, said Regelin, "A lot of people can interpret a couple-hundred-page book in a lot of different ways."
The Game Board will consider expanding predator control efforts to additional areas of the state when it meets in March.
Wolves Chasing Elks from Feeding Grounds
Associated Press, 5 January 2005
CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Wolves are chasing elk from state feedgrounds, increasing the potential for disease transmission to cattle, Gov. Dave Freudenthal was told Tuesday during a cabinet meeting.
"In the last month we've moved well in excess of 3,000 elk back on the feedgrounds that wolves have been instrumental in moving," Game and Fish Director Terry Cleveland said.
He told the governor that dispersing the elk in the Daniel area is causing "significant commingling issues with livestock and potential for brucellosis transmission and even public safety in that we've ended up with elk herds on public road rights of way at least two different times."
Cleveland has sent a letter to Mike Jiminez, Wyoming's wolf recovery project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, asking the agency to relocate the Daniel wolf pack.
According to the letter, dated Dec. 29, the pack has been frequenting the Finnegan, North Piney, Bench Corral, Jewett and Franz feedgrounds for the past several weeks, pushing elk to private property where they are foraging on stored crops and commingling with livestock and domestic bison.
Cleveland estimated that more than 3,425 elk have been displaced from feedgrounds as a result of six separate incidents.
"Wolf interactions with elk are occurring daily on state feedgrounds, causing feedground operations to become very unpredictable and costly for the Department," Cleveland wrote.
"Having large numbers of elk displaced from feedgrounds onto private property creates poor public relations with local livestock producers, increases damage problems and greatly increases the potential for brucellosis transmission from elk to cattle.
"It also costs the department thousands of dollars in administrative expenditures each time elk must be returned to established feedgrounds after being displaced by wolves."
Cleveland wrote that he is concerned because the state is "working diligently" to regain its federal brucellosis-free status, which it lost because of a series of discoveries of the reproductive disease over the past 14 months.
Loss of the status resulted in extensive and costly testing requirements for Wyoming livestock producers over the past year.
In the letter, Cleveland cited federal rules giving the Fish and Wildlife Service authority for removal "when wolves cause prey to move onto private property and mix with livestock, increasing potential conflicts."
The director asked Jiminez to respond by Jan. 10.
Reached by The Associated Press, Jiminez said the state's request will be reviewed by his supervisors and the agency's legal team.
"I think it's going to be a joint decision of a lot of different perspectives and we'll have a decision and go from there," he said.
Ed Bangs, head of wolf recovery for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena, Mont., said he had earlier been faxed a draft of the letter.
"The bottom line is under some circumstances we have authority to move wolves ... and we'll certainly look at the letter closely and see what the Game and Fish's concerns are," he said. "The rules do not allow us to move wolves just because of rhetoric or hysteria or using the wolves as a scapegoat for other problems."
"If there's a real problem, we'll certainly look at doing anything we can do to help."
Louis Roberts, a Merna-area rancher who lives five miles from the Jewett feedground in Sublette County, said wolves have been running elk onto Bridger-Teton National Forest grazing allotments he has leased.
"They brought over about 500 to us earlier this fall," he said. "We always have a few elk but never that many."
Roberts said he's concerned because more elk likely means more wolves.
"If those wolves get to thinking there's prey there, they're liable to come kill a cow," he said.
The federal government has maintained control over wolf management since the predator was reintroduced into the Yellowstone area in 1995 and 1996.
The population has rapidly expanded since, as have conflicts between wolves and cattlemen.
Wolves Coming Closer
James Hagengruber, Spokane Spokesman-Review, 4 January 2005
More wolf sightings are being reported across North Idaho, including near Coeur d’Alene, according to the Idaho Fish and Game Department.
From a distance gray wolves are often mistaken for large dogs or wolf-dog hybrids, but agency biologists believe the latest reports are probably true. Repeated wolf sightings have been reported near Priest Lake, Bonners Ferry and even in Lake Coeur d’Alene’s Wolf Lodge Bay area east of Coeur d’Alene, said Jim Hayden, the Fish and Game Department’s regional wildlife manager.
“It seems to be picking up,” Hayden said of the observations. “What we’re seeing is (wolves) wandering, exploring, looking for new areas to colonize.”
On Monday, the U.S. Interior Secretary announced plans to give Idaho and Montana more authority in managing an estimated 700 wolves inside a federally designated recovery area. Wolves north of Interstate 90 are not covered by the plan, but Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne is expected to send a letter to Washington, D.C., later this week asking for statewide control, said Idaho Fish and Game Director Steve Huffaker.
Huffaker said it’s no surprise wolves are returning to the heavily timbered country of North Idaho. The animals have a home range of 350 to 450 square miles, which is not a far hike for a young wolf from an established pack in northwest Montana or Idaho’s Clearwater River region.
“That whole piece of country up there is really just a Sunday walk for a wolf,” Huffaker said.
State management of wolves in the recovery area is scheduled to take effect Feb. 2. The plan gives private landowners and state officials more leeway in killing wolves that attack livestock or kill too many big game animals from a given herd. Huffaker summarized Idaho’s wolf management philosophy as, “Let them be wolves as long as we’re not having conflict. … Wolves will go wherever they go. If they get in trouble, we’ll deal with them.”
Stan Sweet, a 66-year-old hunting guide from Moyie Springs, expects to see trouble soon. The number of wolf tracks and credible sightings has jumped in recent years, especially in the Boulder Creek area about 10 miles southeast of Bonners Ferry, he said.
“They’re showing up just about everywhere now,” Sweet said. “They’re here. It’s just a matter of establishing packs. … I may be an old timer that’s just nervous, but I can see problems coming.”
Sweet is particularly concerned about the long-term prospects for mule deer, which have faced disease and crowding from whitetail.
The last confirmed wolf sighting in eastern Washington was two years ago near Calispell Lake in Pend Oreille County, said Madonna Luers, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The radio-collared wolf wandered over from Montana’s Glacier National Park, but left Washington for Canada after a few days. Luers said wolf sightings are on the rise and state officials expect to see an established pack soon.
“There’s many, many unconfirmed reports,” Luers said. “It’s just a matter of time. We have no intentions of proactively reintroducing wolves, but we know they’re coming and eventually we will have wolves.”
Wolves will eventually return to the landscape and their population size will be dictated by the amount of prey animals, said Jon Schwedler, spokesman for the Predator Conservation Alliance, of Bozeman, Mont.
“They’re going to fulfill [sic] those areas where there’s a vacuum, like mountain lions and black bears have,” Schwedler said.
The Predator Conservation Alliance supports the notion of state management of wolves, Schwedler added. Returning the wolf to its traditional habitat will come with conflicts and local officials are best-suited to react quickly when problems occur. But he also said he is uncomfortable with the idea of wolves being killed for preying on too many deer or elk.
“It seems silly to us … that wolves could be shot or killed or removed for doing what they’re supposed to be doing, which is preying on elk,” he said.
Deer and elk herds are increasing in size in the St. Joe River drainage, which is home to three wolf packs, said Dave Spicer, a state wildlife biologist in St. Maries, Idaho. Most of the good health, however, is due to nearly a decade of easy winters.
The Upper St. Joe and the Marble Creek areas have each had a pack since the late 1990s. The packs contain wolves from the transplanted wolves of Central Idaho, as well as immigrants from the long-established packs of Montana’s Glacier National Park. Biologists now believe that a third pack with an estimated six members roams the north slope of the drainage, Spicer said.
Idaho, Montana Gain Wolf Control
Casper Star-Tribune, 4 January 2005
Landowners in Montana and Idaho will soon have more control in fighting wolf depredation of livestock, domestic animals and wild game herds.
While those two states are getting more authority to manage gray wolves, the federal government remains in control of the animals in Wyoming.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton on Monday announced a new rule from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that takes effect Feb. 2. Ed Bangs, wolf recovery team leader for the agency, said the new rule would especially help private landowners in Montana and Idaho whose livestock herds have been chronically attacked by wolves.
It allows wolves to be killed without prior written approval if ranchers can prove the animals are harassing livestock.
"Under the old rule, the wolf had to have its teeth in the livestock," Bangs said. "Under the new rule it has to be a foot away, chasing them."
Wolf kills still must be justified by physical evidence, whether bitten livestock or broken fences and trampled vegetation, Bangs said.
The new rule brings Montana and Idaho closer to the level of management they will enjoy after wolves are delisted under the Endangered Species Act, but that is not expected to happen anytime soon. While those two states submitted wolf management plans that were acceptable to the federal government, Wyoming has not, and in fact the state is suing over the plan's rejection. Wolves will not be delisted until that dispute is resolved.
Wyoming's plan would classify wolves as predators in some portions of the state, which would allow wolves to be killed in those areas with little oversight.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department Deputy Director Bill Wichers said Monday the transfer of management in the neighboring states will have little effect on Wyoming's management of wolves.
"Because we don't have a wolf plan approved by the (Fish and Wildlife) Service, this rule modification does not directly affect us... Essentially there's no impacts to Wyoming," Wichers said. "The rules that we play by are the same rules that we've been playing by for a number of years since the recovery plan was approved and wolves were reintroduced eight or nine years ago."
Noting that Wyoming's legal challenge remains in court, Wichers said, "I think it's probably better for all parties to have that resolved sooner than later."
At the start of 2004, there were at least 174 wolves in 14 packs living in Yellowstone National Park and 76 to 88 wolves living in eight packs in Wyoming outside the park, according to Fish and Wildlife Service estimates.
The agency reintroduced the gray wolf into central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park under the federal act in 1995. The wolves have thrived, and now exceed recovery goals in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
"In recognition of their management plans, we are hereby expanding the authority of Idaho and Montana to manage wolves in a more flexible manner under the Endangered Species Act until the population can be delisted and the states can assume full management responsibility," Norton said during the telephone press conference.
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said the rule was a welcome change.
"The old rule which we had been dealing with starting in 1994 was written to protect 25 to 40 wolves when they were initially reintroduced. The dynamic has changed, so management must also change," Kempthorne said.
Now an estimated 825 or more wolves live in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, with about 700 of them in the experimental areas, Bangs said. More than 450 wolves are estimated to live in Idaho alone.
The rule also allows the states more authority to kill wolves that are harming big game herds. Idaho Fish and Game Director Steve Huffaker said that has been a problem with deer and elk herds in the upper Clearwater region.
"There are not enough calves surviving to replace what is being lost to depredation," Huffaker said. "Once a population is down to a certain point, it doesn't take much pressure to keep it suppressed."
Meanwhile, federal guidelines will keep the wolf population from dropping too quickly, Bangs said.
"Right now, all the good wolf habitat in Idaho and central Montana is filled with wolves. It won't change the overall population that much. The wolves will be pretty much where they are now," he said. "We expect it will result in removing about 10 percent of the population, which is still well within what the population is able to stand."
New Federal Rule Allows Stockmen to Kill Wolves
Michael Babcock, Great Falls Tribune, 4 January 2005
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has adopted a regulation expanding the authority of Montana and Idaho to manage gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, the agency announced Monday.
On private land, the rule will allow landowners to kill a wolf that is harassing or threatening livestock or pets; on public land, that authority will be extended to permit holders such as grazing leaseholders or outfitters.
The state of Montana will have greater cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and will be able to use funds from wolf recovery for wolf management instead.
The rule goes into effect Feb. 5 and applies only in experimental areas south of the Missouri River and south of Interstate 90, said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for Fish and Wildlife.
"This rule is tailored to help with management of problem wolves, and only six out of 100 cause a problem," Bangs said. "Somebody who kills wolves because they don't like them will still be in violation of the ESA (Endangered Species Act), and they still will face the same punishment.
"This is not a good deal for beer-swilling rednecks. This just gives you a few more ways to protect your livestock."
The punishment for killing a wolf can be up to $100,000 in fines, 10 years in prison, loss of hunting permits and loss of personal property used in commission of the crime.
U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., applauded the announcement, which he said would provide additional tools for state and federal game and predator managers, as well as landowners and livestock producers in regions containing wolf populations.
"It's a step in the right direction," Burns said. "I would still like to see the state of Montana have more control over the population, but this new regulation moves us closer to that goal. At the very least, our producers and landowners have better rights to protect their property from attacks by these predators.
"Recovery goals for the wolf population are being exceeded, because the animals have taken like a duck to water to the rangelands of Montana. Now, instead of having to call a state or federal agency, landowners can take a predator out if it is harassing their property," said Burns, who set aside $320,000 for wolf management in the fiscal year 2005 Interior budget.
"These changes provide a logical transition between management by the federal government and management by the states and tribes," said Ralph Morgenweck, USFWS regional director.
"State and tribal management under scientifically sound wolf management plans provides effective wolf conservation and will allow the states and tribes to gain valuable management experience in anticipation of delisting."
"It is a very positive development," said Carolyn Sime, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks gray wolf coordinator. "The rule recognizes our efforts to put together a good plan, and allows us to move forward with putting that plan in place in the experimental part of Montana with Fish, Wildlife & Parks as the lead agency.
"This recognizes that ... wolves are in need of management, and it is a way for the state to increase its role in day-to-day wolf conservation and management," Sime said.
The rule also applies to Indian tribes that have wolf recovery plans, but there are none in Montana, Bangs said.
"No tribe in Montana has prepared its own wolf management plan," Bangs said. "The Salish-Kootenai and the Blackfeet are outside the experimental areas. The tribes don't have any wolf packs that live on tribal land. While tribes have same authority, none have asked to do this."
There are about 550 wolves in Montana and Idaho. The rule applies only in those two states because they have USFWS-approved wolf management plans. Wyoming has yet to develop a wolf management plan that satisfies the federal government.
Bangs characterized the rule as "a lot more friendly with more local management of wolves than just a few feds bouncing around."
Interest over the proposed rule, known as a 10(j) rule under the Endangered Species Act, for wolf management in the Northern Rockies, prompted more than 23,000 comments after it was published in March 2004.
The final rule announced Monday is as a result of comments from the public, the states and federal agencies and tribes.
Under the final 10j rule, landowners in Montana and Idaho are able to take additional steps to protect their livestock and dogs from attacks by wolves.
States can lead wolf management, including the authority to issue written "take" authorizations to landowners or public land permittees, to control wolves that consistently pose a threat to their livestock.
On public lands, grazing permittees and guiding and outfitter permittees are allowed to take wolves attacking their livestock or domestic animals herding and guarding livestock without prior written authorization.
The changes affect only the experimental population areas established in Montana and Idaho, where wolves were reintroduced in 1995 and 1996. The new regulation does not apply to wolf populations in the Great Lakes region or in the southwestern United States.
Sime said in northwest Montana, FWP already is the lead agency in wolf management under a separate agreement announced earlier in 2004.
Among other things, the regulation provides that in Montana and Idaho:
Wolves attacking livestock, livestock herding and guarding animals, and dogs on private land can be killed by landowners without prior written authorization.
Wolves attacking livestock and livestock herding and guarding animals on public grazing allotments can be taken by grazing permittees, guides and outfitters, and on ceded lands by tribal members, without written authorization.
Wolves determined to be causing unacceptable impacts to wildlife populations, such as herds of deer and elk, can be taken by state or tribal agencies. This is allowed only after the states or tribes complete science-based documents that have undergone public and peer review and have been approved by the service.
States or tribes with approved wolf management plans can establish memorandums of agreement with the Secretary of the Interior, or cooperative agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lead gray wolf conservation and management in the experimental areas within their States or reservations boundaries.
Gray wolves were reintroduced in the Northern Rockies as nonessential experimental populations under the Endangered Species Act in 1995 and 1996. This designation allowed federal, state and tribal agencies and private citizens more flexibility in managing these populations while allowing for rapid recovery of the wolf population.
Oregon Prepares for Wolves' Return
Anna King, Tri-City Herald, 3 January 2005
Wolf expert Ed Bangs says he has heard it all.
"Wolves are just another animal," he said. "But people give them almost mythical powers for good or bad."
Bangs is the coordinator for gray wolf recovery for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, based in Helena, Mont., and says people feel strongly about bringing back wolves. And like it or not, the once virtually extinct animal is making a comeback in the continental United States.
The prospect has raised controversy and outcry from rural homeowners, farmers and hunting organizations.
Anticipating that wolves from Montana, Wyoming and Idaho might not recognize invisible state lines, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recently released its draft plans for wolf management should the animals decide to stay. The state agency held its first public hearings on the plan last week and has extended the comment period until Feb. 10 because of the issue's snarling controversy.
Three wolves already have been found in Oregon, Bangs said. Others may stray into Washington, he said.
Although Oregon is not actively trying to rebuild the wolf population, the state has proposed protecting them under its draft plan.
Washington officials are watching Oregon's moves closely and are developing a plan for what to do if wolves are found in the Evergreen State. It should be finished in the next couple of months, state officials said. However, a long-term management plan has yet to be started.
A wolf was last spotted in Washington in 2002 before loping across the U.S.-Canada border.
Wolves are considered federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act, a designation meant to conserve and recover listed species. In Oregon and Washington they carry the greater distinction of being in danger of becoming extinct.
About 60 wolves were reintroduced to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho in 1994, and those populations have grown to more than 800 animals.
Bangs said wolves will enter Oregon and Washington -- the only question is when. A single wolf can travel as much as 500 miles in a single trip, he said.
Usually younger male wolves leave their pack and roam, pushed out by the alpha male, while females stay behind, Bangs explained.
"If they want to breed they have to leave," he said. "They look for a place that doesn't have a resident wolf pack and someone else who is lonely."
If they find a mate and a place to settle down, they will start a new pack, Bangs said.
"It could be next year or it could be decades before wolf packs form in Oregon," he said. "But I don't think it will be very long."
The possibility of wolves making a comeback in Oregon has some baring their teeth.
"If we have wolves foisted on us, it cuts into profitability and in a tough year it might just be what breaks us," said Sharon Beck of Alicel, Ore., just north of La Grande. She's a rancher and former president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.
Beck sat on Oregon's wolf advisory board and runs Angus cattle over large, wooded stretches of land. She objected to the plan because she thinks wolves will kill cattle.
"We want the ability to protect our livestock, whether on private or public land," she said. "I wanted a zone where wolves could stay without conflict and places they could not go. If we want wolves, then the state should pay for it (slain livestock)."
The draft Oregon wolf management plan outlines where and when a wolf could be legally harassed or killed.
Beck said the plan says wolves only can be killed if they kill another animal on private land, and a permit is required to kill a wolf on public land. She said catching a wolf in the act is unrealistic.
"The likelihood of you standing with your cattle when they are attacked is highly unlikely," she said. "Used to be everyone used to run cattle and knew what this life is like. Nobody does anymore."
Beck said fewer people understand the dangers now that just a handful still make a living off the land.
Some hunters agree that wolves are a bad idea.
"Elk and deer populations are already at a low," said John Phiebes, a Medford, Ore.-based field administrator for the Oregon Hunters Association. "Having one more predator coming into Oregon will further reduce that population. Wolves can't live unless they eat elk and deer. So yeah, hunters are concerned."
Carl Sheeler, a wildlife program manager for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said wolves should be brought back because the benefits outweigh the negative impacts.
"There has been a lot of misinformation out there about the risks of wolves," he said. "I think the state of Oregon has done an outstanding job of handling this prickly issue."
Oregon's wolf plan was drafted by a committee made up of livestock producers, educators, wolf advocates, public land managers, hunters, tribal governments, citizens and county commissioners, said Anne Pressentin, a Portland-based spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The wolves would continue to be listed as state endangered until there were four confirmed breeding pairs in Eastern Oregon and four in Western Oregon, she said. Each breeding pair likely would attract about eight to 12 other wolves.
The likelihood that wolves would run rampant in Oregon and Washington is low, Bangs said.
Although they may roam a large area, Bangs said they control their own population. Usually only about 10 wolves would populate a 300-square-mile area. And Oregon and Washington are not ideal wolf real estate, he said.
"Wolves need pretty big areas with not much development," Bangs said. "The lower 48 is so used by people. There are tons of roads, there are tons of people it's pretty hard for a wolf to make a living."
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials hope to adopt the plan in February. For more information on Oregon's draft wolf management plan and schedule of public hearings, visit www.dfw.state.or.us.