Elk Hunters Cry Wolf
Becky Bohrer, Associated Press, 21 February 2005
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK - Hunters and outfitters blamed wolves when they began seeing fewer elk in areas near the park in the decade after gray wolves returned. But some researchers say drought and even years of great hunting played an important role, too, and the wolves themselves seem to be paying a price.
"To a degree, people are crying wolf way too soon," said Yellowstone wolf biologist Doug Smith.
Smith and others concede that wolves have contributed to declining elk numbers near Yellowstone, particularly in the northern range herd that migrates into Montana in winter. But there is intense debate over how great their role has been - and whether it has been necessarily bad.
To outfitters like James Hubbard, the wolves' effect has been huge, and they point to the case of the northern range herd - for years, a rich source of winter hunting near Gardiner, Mont. - to make their point. The herd, as recently as 1994, had 19,000 elk. The most recent count last month put the population at only 9,545.
That's not just coincidence, Hubbard said: Wolves, reintroduced to the region in 1995, are "killing the industry."
"Hunters come out and don't see near the elk," the Gardiner-area rancher and outfitter said. "They used to see so many it was unreal."
But J. Christopher Haney, a senior conservation scientist for Defenders of Wildlife, said wolves are being made a scapegoat. Elk numbers in parts of the West, including the northern range herd, were very high for a number of years, he said, but much of the area has also experienced extended drought, which can further stress range conditions.
"Hunters have had it good for a long time," he said. "When you have these high numbers, it gets in people's heads, 'This is natural, this is what it should be,' when nature is always changing," he said.
The population of the herd grew dramatically after federal officials stopped trying to regulate elk numbers in the park in the 1960s.
Elk leaving the park have been hunted in Montana since the 1970s. But Kurt Alt, a state wildlife manager, said that since 2000, the population has steadily declined. He said there is concern whether the population can sustain itself with the number of calves - among the more vulnerable animals in the herd - withstanding predators, including bears and wolves, to survive a year.
Hunting permits in the area have been scaled back to see if that might help stabilize the elk population, he said.
But Alt said he believes the weight of evidence has shown that adding wolves to the mix has been the "major factor" in the herd's decline. Before the federal wolf reintroduction in and around Yellowstone in 1995, he said the herd was able to maintain relatively high numbers and rebound fairly quickly from natural events, such as major fires or drought.
"One thing that has changed is the addition of wolves to the system," Alt said. "We're seeing a decline in the population with the addition of that extra mouth."
Ed Bangs, a federal wolf manager, said wolves, mountain lions and other predators may speed up declines in game populations caused by other factors, such as hunting, changes in habitat conditions and harsh weather. When elk populations are at such highs, there's "no way to sustain that, and when numbers go down, people are always looking for something to blame," he said.
"You hear, 'Wolves are killing off all the elk,' and none of that's true. Some people say they're not having an effect and that's not true, either," he said, adding: "What wolves do is cut out the highs and lows."
There are places in the three-state region where wolves are present and elk populations are thriving. A key difference between those and Yellowstone is wolf densities, Smith said.
The density drops sharply at Gardiner, near the park's northern boundary. Wolves outside the park that get into trouble, say for killing livestock, can themselves be killed.
But there's new evidence suggesting wolf numbers inside the park may now be leveling off, or even declining, he said.
Smith, who has been studying the wolves here since their return, said that in the past four years, as the number of northern range elk has declined, there has been more fighting among packs for food, scrawnier wolves and indication their numbers may have peaked, at 174 wolves.
That does not mean wolves are eating themselves out of house and home, though, Smith said. Instead, he believes wolves and other predators have helped thin out the weaker, more vulnerable elk, leaving a smaller population of stronger, healthier animals.
Because wolves tend pick off prey least likely to put up a big fight, they're having to work harder for a meal - some, like the Mollie's pack, are taking on burly bison in late winter - or go hungry, Smith believes.
In the past five years, he said, wolves in the park have eaten less elk in late winter than before.
"I have seen wolves starve when there's adequate numbers of prey out there," he said.
Some wolves now are in poor condition. Wolves overall are lighter than they used to be, and fighting has picked up between packs competing for carcasses, leading to far more dead wolves a year now than in the first years after reintroduction, he said.
Last year in Yellowstone, wolf numbers declined for only the second time since reintroduction, to 171 animals. In another decade or so, Smith guesses there could be half the wolves there are now.
The big question is: How will wolves contend with declining elk numbers? Either wolf numbers will fall off, too, or wolves will augment their diets with bison, which is in ample supply in Yellowstone but difficult for wolves to kill, Smith said. He has known wolves to be gored and even killed trying to take down a bison.
"It will be exciting to see what happens," he said. "It will affect not only the wolves but the elk."
In Poland, the Big Bad Wolf is Afraid of No One Since Ban on Hunting
AFP, 10 February 2005
Since wolf hunting was banned in Poland more than six years ago, the lives of many livestock rearers in this southeastern town have "turned into a nightmare."
"Last year, wolves took 26 of our sheep," Grazyna and Antoni Dydak told AFP at their farm in the Bieszczady hills, tucked away in an unspoilt corner of the central European country.
In the summer, when Grazyna takes her 150-head herd of sheep out to pasture, she carries with her fireworks, binoculars and whistles, along with the traditional shepherd's staff and two sheepdogs. But even that is not enough to deter the wolves from attacking.
"Wolves have become really brazen," she said.
"A wolf comes out in broad daylight and you can blow whistles, throw fireworks, stomp your feet... he might back off at first but then he comes right back. And the wolf always attacks our prize animals," she said.
Even "a hunter with his gun in his hand doesn't discourage the wolf. Man has stopped being the wolf's most feared enemy," said Tadeusz Zajac, a forest guard in Lutowiska.
"It's Brigitte Bardot (news)'s fault," said Grazyna, chain-smoking to try to channel her agitation. "She's protesting in France while we pay the price."
Under pressure from the French film star turned animal rights patron, and environmental groups, Poland banned wolf hunting in 1998. In Ukraine and Slovakia, both of which border the Bieszczady region, wolf hunting is still authorised.
"The Ukrainians have no pity for wolves," said Zajac. "They even hunt pregnant she-wolves."
Even when wolf hunting was allowed in Poland, it was only authorised under very strict rules with a tight quota of 20 wolves per year.
"But the hunters killed only three to five a year, maximum seven, because hunting wolf is very difficult," said Zajac.
Wolf hunting was also the economic heartbeat of the secluded and preserved region in southeastern Poland. "Germans, French, Austrians were all prepared to pay good money to come and hunt here."
In the 25,000 square kilometer expanse (10,000 sq. miles) that Zajac has kept watch over for the past 30 years, there are four or five packs of wolves, each with 10 wolves.
"Their numbers haven't increased much in eight years but they have migrated further west, where there haven't been any wolves for a long time," he said.
Poland's wolf population is estimated at around 800, 250 of which live in the hills of Bieszczady.
In the winter, when sheep are brought in from pasture, the wolves attack dogs. Thirty dogs were killed last year in wolf attacks, according to statistics tallied by the regional government in Rzeszow.
Last year, 587 attacks were recorded, versus 38 in 1999, the year after the ban on wolf hunting took effect. The government last year paid out 87,000 euros (113,000) in damages for attacks by wolves against less than one-quarter of that amount -- 12,000 euros -- in 1999.
Livestock farmers lost 1,000 sheep in 2004 -- 10 times more than five years earlier -- not to mention 33 cows, 35 goats and 10 horses.
And the wolves now even attack animals larger than they are. "A pregnant cow was savaged in the autumn by a pack. The veterinarian was unable to save either the cow or her calf," said Antoni Dydak.
The government pays out 500 zlotys (125 euros) in damages for each sheep lost to wolves.
"That hardly covers half the loss," said Stanislaw Kuczyna, head of an association of sheep rearers.
"Bieszczady is neither Paris nor Warsaw. People here have no other way to make a living."
According to Kuczyna, the number of sheep farms in the region has plummeted in 10 years -- a 30 percent fall because of the wolf. As a direct result, the local abbatoir at Lesko only operates at 15 percent of capacity and sheep are imported from Rumania.
"We are perfectly aware of the problem," said Stefan Jakimiuk, an ecologist with WWF Poland.
"But reducing the number of wolves should be a last resort. We should instead teach farmers to protect their livestock, pay for electric fences or equip them with small red triangular flags which ward off wolves."
"Fence off all of Bieszczady? That's sheer madness," said Dydak, who has himself put up a two-meter (yard) high fence around his farm.
"In an ideal world, we'd allow hunting to resume. If no one helps us, we'll poison the wolves ourselves with cyanide," his wife warned.
Rob Gebhart, Craig Daily Press, 8 February 2005
A federal judge's ruling on wolves has put the implementation of the state wolf working group's management recommendations on hold indefinitely.
Members of the wolf working group say their efforts still were worthwhile, because they've developed a foundation for wolf management in Colorado when wolves are removed from the endangered species list.
Environmentalists are celebrating the decision, saying it could pave the way to reintroduce wolves in Colorado.
But representatives from the agriculture industry are concerned that the decision took away some of the tools ranchers could use to deal with wolves that migrate to Colorado.
Last week, Federal District Court Judge Robert Jones vacated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to downgrade the legal status of gray wolves in the lower 48 states from endangered to threatened. His decision supported the contentions of environmental groups such as Sinapu, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club that Fish and Wildlife had rushed to strip wolves of their legal protections.
The judge's ruling came one day after the Colorado Division of Wildlife held its first meeting to collect public comments about the working group's recommendations for managing wolves that migrate to Colorado.
The DOW's plan was to collect public comments and have the working group reconvene to review comments before the Wildlife Commission decided whether or not to adopt the recommendations. If the commission adopted the recommendations, they would have taken effect when Fish and Wildlife removed gray wolves from the endangered species list.
"Overall, I think it means the plan has even more ultimate importance, because it shows an advance good faith effort to develop support for wolves," said Rob Edward, director of Boulder-based Sinapu and a member of the wolf working group.
The decision gives Colorado a chance no other state has had, he said. The state can develop a plan for the recovery of wolves.
The working group only discussed how to manage wolves that migrate to the state, though at times group members argued about the role wolf reintroduction should play in the plan. Some group members have offered to reconvene to develop a plan for reintroduction.
Edward said he doesn't like the situation the judge's decision has put the state in any more than many ranchers do. By returning the wolf to endangered status, it again is illegal to shoot, harm or harass a wolf. Before the decision, Colorado wolf management operated under the 4d rule, which permitted ranchers to kill wolves that attacked livestock.
"That's not a situation we want to see persisted for the people of Colorado," Edward said.
Moffat County resident Jean Stetson served on the working group as a representative of the livestock industry. The ruling "took away tools ranchers had to deal with wolves," Stetson said.
Ranchers can get that tool back only if the government recovers wolves across their historic range, which includes much of Colorado.
"You're going to have a hard time convincing any livestock producer that's a good thing," Stetson said.
But Edward disagreed.
"We can get to recovery very soon if everybody will just cooperate. There are ways we can do this to meet the needs of everybody at the table," he said.
Edward thinks wolves could be recovered within 10 years.
The Wildlife Commission still officially opposes wolf reintroduction. Fish and Wildlife has announced it is disappointed in the judge's ruling.
As Debate Rages, Some Believe Wolves Are Already Back
Shawne K. Wickham, The Union Leader, 6 February 2005
Will the howl of the gray wolf soon haunt the New Hampshire woods?
Many wildlife biologists believe it is inevitable that the Northeast’s largest predator will return to its ancestral hunting grounds here, now that deer, moose and beaver are again plentiful. Their conviction was bolstered by the recent discovery of two wolf-like animals found dead in Canadian trappers’ snares — just 10 miles from the New Hampshire border.
And environmental advocates who favor restoring the wolf to the North Woods say a court ruling last week in Oregon that rejected the federal government’s downlisting of the gray wolf’s endangered status will help.
Peggy Struhsacker, the wolf project coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation in Vermont, will be back in the Connecticut Lakes wilderness this week. Armed with convincing stories from locals about large canids glimpsed in the North Woods, she will search, as she has for the past three years, for signs of the gray wolf’s return.
The wildlife biologist believes last week’s court ruling has bought her critical time to look for the elusive predator. “Every winter season we get is another plus,” she said.
“Every time I go up into those deep woods of northern New Hampshire and Maine, I say, this is just prime habitat. This is absolutely full of prey species and there’s no people around, except on the snowmachine trails.”
Tales from the trails
Over the years, Struhsacker has collected numerous tales from snowmobilers who reported seeing large wolf-like animals along the wilderness trails. Some have sent her photos of tracks and even scat that appear undeniably wolf-like.
An animal snared in Canada (where there are no protections for gray wolves), just 20 miles from the New Hampshire border in 2002 was confirmed through DNA testing to be a wolf. “And just last week, we had two other animals that looked very wolf-y killed 10 miles from the New Hampshire border,” Struhsacker said.
So she will be back up here in the woods this week. And she hopes local folks will continue to call her about possible wolf sightings — as soon afterwards as possible, so she can get up to that area to check for evidence.
Impact of evidence
Struhsacker says if she could prove there are breeding wolves in the region, “That would change everything.”
“That would mean we would have a full-fledged wolf recovery program going on in the Northeast,” she said. “Then it is the responsibility of the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service to protect these animals and do a recovery plan.”
Nina Fascione is vice president of the field conservation program at Defenders of Wildlife in Washington D.C. She said the Oregon court ruling has “big implications for the Northeast” because it restores full federal protections for any wolves that do make it here from Canada, where the animal can be hunted or trapped.
East is East?
Fascione said the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to combine the Great Lakes and Northeast regions, and declare the wolf “recovered” and no longer endangered, in this new Eastern region, didn’t make sense. “I don’t know how in anybody’s imagination they could be considered one population,” she said.
And, she added, “How you can downlist a non-existent species is a little puzzling.”
Fascione said it’s clear there are no healthy wolf populations in the Northeast, and no active reintroduction programs are planned. But, she said, last week’s court ruling “could help foster wolf recovery through natural recolonization or natural migration.”
By nature, by Concord
And Fascione acknowledges there is greater public support for natural recovery than for any government reintroduction of wolves in the region.
Indeed, after U.S. Fish and Wildlife announced its intention to develop a wolf recovery plan for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York, the state Legislature in 1999 passed a law prohibiting the reintroduction of the gray wolf.
At the time, logging and hunting interests in the North Country, including the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association and the New Hampshire Wildlife Federation, were among those opposed to wolf reintroduction. Some argued that the wolves’ return could be used to stop logging, while others worried about the effects on the state’s deer and moose populations if the largest predator in the food chain were to return.
A spokesman for the New Hampshire Wildlife Federation last week said the organization still opposes the “artificial reintroduction” of the wolf. “If the wolf wants to cross the border from Canada or Vermont and finds another wolf and wants to breed, and we get a wolf population, that’s fine, we support that,” said David Minnis. “But to bring the wolf back in here — rent or buy the wolves in Oregon and ship them across the country and reintroduce them — that’s what the state law prohibits.”
However, John Harrigan, a North Country newspaperman and outdoors columnist for the Sunday News, last week called the 1999 law “one of the dumbest things to come along in my career.”
“That whole thing came about because of hysteria, misinformation and the old bugaboo mentality about wolves,” he said. “It was sad, because it polarized the state. And before the discussion even got up from a base level into something even approaching intelligent, we had a law.”
Hearing the howling
Harrigan, who raises sheep, is an advocate for allowing the wolf to naturally regain its erstwhile status as the top predator in the northern wilderness food chain. “My favorite line is, the table is set, so why should we be so surprised that the guest appears?”
He’s convinced some so-called “dispersal” males — young males thrown out of their packs north of the border and now looking for mates — are already here.
“If you talk to sled dog people who really know their animals, they will tell you quite candidly, they’re pretty sure there’s a bigger animal out there. Its howl is totally different. Its track is huge.”
He says these handlers say their dogs don’t pay much attention when coyotes howl in the woods. “But when they hear this guy, they kind of hunker down.”
Harrigan himself has heard that howl, twice, from his own property, and knows it wasn’t the family of coyotes with whom his human family co-exists. “It’s a deeper, more drawn out, very much throatier howl. It’s longer, louder, more from the depths is the way to put it.”
War against the wolf
Michael Amaral, senior endangered species biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Concord, understands why wolves evoke such deep passion in so many people. Part of it, he believes, is because of how we feel about our domestic dogs.
“And I think many people rightly feel that the wolf is a real good symbol for some of the human injustices to wildlife in North America,” he said.
“They were so incredibly persecuted, and removed from virtually the entire lower 48 states,” Amaral said. “They were shot, trapped, poisoned, burned. Whatever tools we could bring to the war on wolves, we did. And we were very successful, and they only survived in small numbers in Minnesota.”
“And people still feel we haven’t repaid our debt to the wolf.”
Emergency room analogy
But Amaral said the federal endangered species program has been likened to a hospital emergency room.
“We’re just supposed to stabilize plants and animals that look like they’re going to disappear completely. Once they’re stabilized and we’ve got them back in some representative areas and those populations appear to be self-sustaining, we’d like to back away and let other wildlife authorities and agencies then manage them.”
He contends other species are paying the price for all the attention paid to the wolf. For instance, he said, there’s a native rabbit, the New England cottontail, that is a candidate for the endangered species list. “That’s been put on hold while we work through these lawsuits,” he said.
“So the less glamorous species continue to decline, and a critter like the wolf, which we don’t even have on our landscape, continues to consume a lot of our resources.”
Matter of time?
Meanwhile, many experts believe the return of the gray wolf to the North Woods is inevitable.
“I think they will get here,” Amaral said. “They’re resourceful creatures. And if people will just not kill them when they do get here, I think they will find a way, eventually, of two of them getting here and starting something interesting.”
Struhsacker said that’s what keeps her looking for evidence in the remotest regions of New Hampshire and neighboring states. “The best possible scenario would be that they walk in naturally. For everybody involved,” she said.
Harrigan said he prefers having the wolf move back in on its own, rather than see any artificial reintroduction.
“I think that’s too great an animal for us to be approaching in our deadly scientific, serious earnestness,” Harrigan said. “I think we would sully it by our handling of it.”
“I don’t want to catch ’em, weigh ’em, sex ’em, bag ’em, tag ’em, transport ’em, radio-collar ’em, map ’em,” he said. “The wolf is the epitome of wildness. Why do we have to lay our filthy hands on it?”
“I’d lots rather see the wolf sneak in on its own four feet. And all of a sudden we’re hearing them howl.”
Judge Strikes Down Relaxation of Wolf Rules
Mike Stark, Billings Gazette, 1 February 2005
The rocky road of wolf recovery has hit another bump, and this one could be major.
A federal judge in Portland, Ore., struck down a 2003 Bush administration rule that relaxed protections for certain wolves by changing their status from "endangered" to "threatened."
U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones also said the administration was wrong for claiming that a recovered wolf population in the northern Rocky Mountains was sufficient to declare a viable wolf population in the western United States.
The ruling, signed Monday and released Tuesday, could have major implications for wolf recovery elsewhere in the United States and could mean more delays for long-running efforts to remove federal protections from wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
Federal attorneys, biologists and managers were in meetings Tuesday trying to digest the ruling and its implications.
Although Department of Interior officials said they were disappointed in the ruling, they said it was too early to tell exactly what it will mean.
Asked if the ruling was significant, Mitch Snow, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said: "That would be an understatement."
The 35-page ruling does not affect management of "experimental" wolf populations in Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area or new rules that will allow ranchers and others to kill wolves that are attacking livestock.
But wolf advocates said the decision chastises the federal government for trying to declare victory in wolf recovery too early.
"This is a great day for wolves," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of 19 groups that sued the Department of Interior in 2003.
He said the decision will "absolutely" set back efforts to delist wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and will mean the Fish and Wildlife Service will have to take a closer look at allowing wolves into more habitat once occupied by wolves in other states.
"It will mean more wolves in more places," Robinson said.
The suit challenged an April 2003 finding by the FWS that divided the lower 48 states into three large "distinct population segments" (DPS) for wolves and "downlisted" most wolves from endangered to threatened.
The decision meant more flexibility in dealing with problem wolves in northwest Montana, which had earlier been classified as endangered, and represented a key step toward removing wolves from the endangered species list.
Much of the lawsuit focused on a phrase in the Endangered Species Act that says a species is endangered when it is "in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range."
In particular, the phrase "a significant portion of its range" is ambiguous, the judge said.
The environmental groups said the wolves remain endangered because they are absent from much of their historic range, including large areas of suitable habitat.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton and her staff said the phrase applies only to threats in places where wolves already exist, such as the Northern Rockies and some Great Lakes states.
The wolf population in the Northern Rockies, Norton said, ensures the viability of a wolf population in the western DPS, which includes Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and parts of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Colorado.
"Our point was that just because you have a recovered population in the Northern Rockies doesn't mean the job is done," said Suzanne Stone of Defenders of Wildlife, another group involved in the suit.
Jones, in his ruling, said there are "major geographic areas" outside those two areas where wolves were once viable. Norton's decision not to consider threats to wolf recovery in those areas was "unreasonable," he said.
The ruling could make the federal government consider the possibility of wolves in portions of nearly every Western state, upstate New York and areas of New England, Robinson said.
If could also muddy efforts to delist wolves in the Northern Rockies and pass management along to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
In 2002, wildlife managers from five Rocky Mountain states, including Montana and Wyoming, sent a letter to FWS urging the agency not to lump wolf recovery in the region with the situation in other Western states.
That approach - eventually solidified in Interior's 2003 rule - could lead to legal fights and delays in delisting the local wolf populations, wildlife officials said at the time.
Chris Smith, chief of staff for Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said Tuesday that state officials were still trying to grasp the implications of the ruling.
"I would say it's a fairly significant ruling," Smith said. "It certainly sets the clock back a ways in terms of … the delisting process."
The delisting effort already has been delayed indefinitely because Wyoming has sued the federal government over its rejection of the state's management plan for wolves.
"Certainly it's frustrating when that process is delayed for whatever reason," Smith said.
Ed Bangs, FWS wolf recovery coordinator in the Northern Rockies, cautioned against speculating too much about the implications of the judge's ruling.
"It's premature to push the panic button," Bangs said, adding that it could be weeks before the ramifications are known. "Let's give this a little bit of time."
Wolf's Future Hits Another Twist
Whitney Royster, Casper Star-Tribune, 1 February 2005
*Interior Secretary Gale Norton was wrong to say the "significant portion" of the gray wolf's range was the western Great Lakes and Northern Rockies, because historically wolves had a much wider range.
* The Endangered Species Act says species must be protected if they are likely to go extinct on a "significant portion" of their range.
* The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was incorrect in dividing the country into three distinct wolf regions. That illegally implies that wolves are recovering in places like Oregon because Wyoming -- part of its region -- has wolves, even though Oregon does not.
What it means:
* Ranchers in northwestern Montana -- an area home to about 100 wolves that are not part of the "experimental" population in Yellowstone and central Idaho -- can no longer shoot wolves on sight.
* Depending on new maps identifying "distinct population segments," efforts to delist wolves in Wyoming could be slowed.
* The rule downgrading wolves from endangered to threatened was never valid in Wyoming, Idaho and most of Montana, as the population there is considered "experimental," offering more management flexibility.
* A rule allowing ranchers to shoot wolves in Idaho and southern Montana is still valid, as this population is "experimental." Wyoming was not offered that flexibility, as it does not have a federally sanctioned state management plan.
JACKSON -- In a ruling that may spell trouble for Wyoming's push to remove wolves from federal protection, a federal judge this week said the Bush administration violated the Endangered Species Act when it downgraded populations of the gray wolf from "endangered" to "threatened."
U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones of Portland, Ore., said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted illegally when, in April 2003, it lumped wolf areas into three regions of the country, then said wolves were nearing recovery levels in two.
Exact ramifications of the ruling were unclear Tuesday, but Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the Northern Rockies, said wolf management in Wyoming will continue as usual.
"It only affects the areas where wolves were reclassified from endangered to threatened," he said. "The vast majority of wolves are in experimental population areas, and the management of those wolves is not going to change at all."
A new rule allowing ranchers in Idaho and southern Montana to shoot wolves harassing livestock will still be active, he said. But ranchers in northwestern Montana can no longer shoot wolves on sight as a result of the ruling. Bangs said the change will only affect "few private landowners," and no wolves have been killed with this provision in the past two years.
Still, Bangs said the exact meaning of the ruling is unclear, and Fish and Wildlife Service officials are meeting with lawyers to figure out what its response should be.
"I'm telling everyone, 'Just remain calm,"' he said.
Meanwhile, Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank hailed the ruling as a validation of Wyoming's case against the federal government. A hearing in that lawsuit is scheduled Friday in Cheyenne.
The judge said the Fish and Wildlife Service "failed to use best science" when carving out the huge regions of wolf population segments, Crank said.
"That's precisely our point in Wyoming," he said. "In rejecting the wolf management plan for political reasons, concerning litigation from environmental groups and fear that Idaho and Montana may adopt similar political plans, (Fish and Wildlife) failed to follow best science mandated by the Endangered Species Act."
Crank said Wyoming's wolf plan was peer-reviewed, and 10 of 11 reviewers said it would lead to a recoverable wolf population. The plan calls for protection of wolves in national parks and nearby wilderness areas but classifies the animals as predators that could be shot on sight in other areas of the state.
"As I read his decision, it's almost as if I read my notes as I prepare for my argument on Friday," Crank said.
Wyoming was an intervener in the Oregon case, siding with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The ruling came after 19 environmental groups filed suit in October 2003, saying, in part, that the Fish and Wildlife Service violated its own Endangered Species Act language.
"The judge relied on a very clear phrase from the Endangered Species Act that defines an endangered species as one that is likely to go extinct in a 'significant portion of its range,"' said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups filing suit. "(Interior Secretary Gale) Norton tried to claim that meant its current range."
Robinson said that meant although there were no wolves in Oregon, because it was part of the "western wolf population" including areas of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, it meant Oregon's wolf population was surviving.
He said wolves historically were in many more places than the Northern Rockies, and the Endangered Species Act should protect their survival in that historic range.
Robinson also said Wyoming is unfairly carrying the burden of wolf populations.
"Gale Norton very cynically tried to piggyback all these vast areas onto the few places such as northwest Wyoming that do have wolves, and tried to get them delisted all at once," he said. "We understand that wolves are thriving in the Northern Rockies and on their way to recovery, but to try to attach Oregon, Washington, Utah, northern Colorado to the Northern Rockies, the Fish and Wildlife Service and Gale Norton overreached."
In April 2003, Fish and Wildlife segmented wolf populations into three areas. The western region included Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon and California. The eastern region included Minnesota and the Great Lakes and New England states. A southwestern region included Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico supporting the Mexican gray wolf.
Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity said it wolves at one time inhabited New England, and it is incorrect to say wolves are faring well in the "eastern" region simply because their populations are stable in the Great Lakes area.
At the same time, he said, "it's hard to say wolves in Washington or Oregon are recovered when there are only occasional sightings."
"We'd like to see them stop messing around with population segments," Greenwald said. "You can't downlist based on such a small portion of the range. Ultimately if they are going to divide it up into segments, then they should make recovery plans for those areas."
Wolves were extirpated from this area in the early 20th century. They were reintroduced in 1995 and 1996 in Yellowstone and central Idaho. There are now estimated to be about 850 wolves in the three states.
Wolf Biologists Look Ahead
Associated Press, 31 January 2005
As he read through the e-mails at his office, one from a wolf activist caught Ed Bangs' attention. It arrived shortly after Bangs made the difficult decision that wolves preying on livestock had to be killed.
"May your putrid corpse rot in hell," the e-mail said.
He shrugged it off. It wasn't the first message of its kind; it wouldn't be the last. The business of wolf management requires a thick skin, said Bangs, the federal government's wolf recovery coordinator for the region. "You can't take it personal, or you'd be a raving lunatic."
Bangs, along with Joe Fontaine and Carter Niemeyer, have long been the public faces for what has arguably been one of the most contentious conservation efforts of the last century - returning the gray wolf to the wild in the Northern Rockies.
A separate effort to reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico is still short of its goals. But in central Idaho, northwestern Montana, and the Yellowstone National Park area, wolf recovery has been a success.
Wildlife officials estimate that there are 825 or more wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Gray wolves in the region reached the recovery goal - 30 or more breeding pairs distributed among the three states for three consecutive years - in 2002.
The federal government now is close to handing off management of the animals in the region to state governments, and Bangs, Fontaine and Niemeyer - for the first time in nearly two decades - are looking at life beyond the daily stress of holding controversial jobs.
They have been the federal government's lightning rods for criticism from people on both sides of the issue, in the form of hateful e-mails, heated public meetings that sometimes turned into angry confrontations, even occasional death threats.
"It takes a toll on you, mentally at least," said Fontaine, who has worked with Bangs as an assistant wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena.
Fontaine, a wildlife biologist who has already started hunting for his next job, will leave with mixed emotions. The job has been a tough, sometimes emotional one, he said, in which wolf managers were caught in the position of trying to restore an animal that some - particularly ranchers - viewed as a vicious predator and threat to their livelihoods.
He said he still remembers one contentious meeting several years ago in Montana, following the deaths of 28 sheep to wolves, and being struck by how the people had been affected by wolves.
"It's difficult to see people impacted, what they're going through," Fontaine said. "That was a real low."
But seeing wolves killed - either illegally or at the hand of government agents - was, at times, also difficult.
"It kind of hurt when you put a radio collar on one and had to (kill) it. It wasn't sentimental, but more like, 'Darn. We lost one,' because they were important to recovery," he said.
"You feel you let everybody down; it's painful to do," said Niemeyer, who for a decade was often the one who literally pulled the trigger when an order came down to kill a problem wolf. "The ranchers are counting on you to protect their livestock, and you failed. And the wolf advocates are counting on you to protect the wolves, and you couldn't. Everybody's pointing fingers, and those are the kinds of situations that wear you down."
"A lot of people say, 'How does it feel to be a wolf killer?' " said Niemeyer, now the federal wolf recovery coordinator in Idaho. "I've spent a lot of time exonerating wolves from blame. ... But when wolves begin attacking livestock, I can quickly understand the need to get rid of them."
The way Bangs sees it, wolf recovery from a biological standpoint has been the easy part. Far more difficult are the political and social aspects, and the pressure has at times been intense, he said.
"My job is to be in the middle of the road - to get wolves restored, but in a way that minimizes the impact on people," he said. "You know the old saying, 'If you're in the middle of the road, you get hit from both sides?' "
Even today, a decade after reintroduction in and around Yellowstone National Park, and nearly 20 years since wolves from Canada began migrating naturally into northwest Montana, emotions still run high. But, Bangs said, opinions of the wolf managers has changed some.
"In the early days of reintroduction, some livestock groups just hated my guts, and wolf lovers were carrying me on a pedestal," Bangs said. "But now that we lethally remove wolves, ranchers say, 'He's not so bad,' and the wolf lovers who said, 'Eddie! Eddie!' now say, 'You murdering bastard.' But we kept our word."
Conservationists and livestock officials give the federal wolf managers mixed marks.
"I certainly don't feel they catered to us. But I don't know that the other side felt catered to, either," said David Gaillard, conservation director for the group Predator Conservation Alliance. "They walked the line pretty good."
Jay Bodner, natural resource coordinator for the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said there have been cases where federal officials could have acted more quickly to deal with problem wolves. He believes the state, when it takes over management, will be more responsive.
Officials in Montana and Idaho could take over management responsibilities from the FWS for wolves in the states soon, and they're expected to do so.
Litigation has stalled the final step in the recovery project for the Northern Rockies - having the wolves taken off the list of animals protected by the Endangered Species Act. But the agency is willing to let the two states with approved plans assume management until delisting occurs. Wyoming's plan for managing the wolves has not been approved.
"It's a good feeling to know you worked yourself out of a job," Fontaine said.
Niemeyer plans to work closely with Idaho state officials and decide later this year if he wants to retire.
"By the end of summer, I will look at whether I can drink margaritas on a beach somewhere," he said.
Bangs said he plans to stay around long enough to deal with litigation but doubts he will be in the same role a year from now. His one regret so far, he said, is having not seen the wolves through to final removal from the Endangered Species List yet.
"That's my only great disappointment," he said, "because we won."
Norway to Kill 25% of Its Wolves
Alex Kirby, BBC News, 22 January 2005
The Norwegian government has decided to kill five of the country's grey wolves - a quarter of the entire population.
It says the decision is necessary to protect domestic livestock, but one campaign group has condemned the cull.
WWF-Norway says two wolves have been shot already, one of them from a pack which has not been targeted and which it fears may now not manage to survive.
Wolves are protected in Norway, and are listed as critically endangered, and WWF says many people oppose the cull.
The decision to kill five animals out of the 20 remaining in Norway was taken by the nature directorate, which advises the government. WWF-Norway is calling for an immediate halt to the hunt.
Survival 'at risk'
Its head, Rasmus Hansson, said: "If the Norwegian environment minister does not stop this hunt, he will have the dubious honour of allowing the regular hunting of a nationally endangered species.
"The culling of 20-30% of a population this size is a serious threat to the survival of this species in Norway.
"This practice is contrary to internationally accepted standards for wildlife management. No other country that I know of has such an aggressive policy towards its wolves."
The Norwegian parliament decided last May the country should sustain at least three family packs of wolves.
Packs can range in size from two adults to 10 or more animals covering several generations. WWF says the current hunt will reduce the number of packs to two at most.
Mr Hansson told the BBC: "One wolf from the pack to be culled was shot on 15 January, and another female from a different pack on 21 January.
"We don't know the exact size of the targeted pack, because we don't know whether it produced any cubs last summer. If it did, they will be left orphaned.
"Now, in all likelihood, by killing the wrong animal they've ruined another pack. The animal was an alpha female, so breeding may be affected and the pack could dissolve."
WWF says there were an estimated 50-80 wolves in the southern part of Norway and Sweden in 2001, consisting of several families.
That year Norway approved the culling of eight out of its 25 wolves, leaving 20 today, because the target was not met.
A recent study of the wider Scandinavian wolf population concluded there were 120 at the most.
Mr Hansson said: "There is a serious risk of genetic degradation in this population because of its small size. A genetically healthy population... should have at least 800 individuals."
He told the BBC: "The cull is meant to protect sheep. Sheep farming occupies 90% of Norway's territory.
"We have 250-300,000 moose and 30,000 reindeer. In that perspective 800 wolves shouldn't be too many, though we've never suggested it - it's just a biological fact."
Rancher Legally Kills Wolf
Buzzy Hassrick, Cody Enterprise, 21 January 2005
A Meeteetse area rancher legally shot and killed a wolf after losing a second bred cow to predation.
Craig Griffith may kill another wolf under his "shoot on sight" permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), said Ed Bangs of Helena, Mont., the FWS' wolf recovery coordinator.
"There's only one wolf left," he added.
Griffith and his wife Virginia run Angus-Gelbieh cattle on the Wood River southwest of town, the same drainage where wolves killed a horse in December.
On Jan. 8, Craig Griffith was checking 35 head of bred cows in a private pasture when he found the carcass, Virginia said.
"We check them twice a day or whatever it takes," she said.
The Griffiths called federal authorities who confirmed the wolf kill.
"She had been dragged down, and the back end was eaten out," Virginia said. "Quite a bit of the cow was consumed."
Craig Griffith received the permit and killed the wolf early on Jan. 14, Virginia said.
"He saw the first wolf clearly," she said.
Griffith also thought he saw a second, but it ran off, she added.
Permits are issued after federal officials respond to reports and determine the need for wolf removal but can't do it themselves or it's more convenient for the landowner to do it, Bangs said.
"It's to help us out," he said, because officials may not be able to spot the problem wolves. "Ranchers are out there all the time."
The Griffiths see numerous wolf tracks of several sizes around the cows, Virginia Griffith said.
"We continue to see tracks almost on a daily basis," she said.
When the Griffiths worked their cows Monday and put them through a squeeze, "they were harder to move," Griffith said. "Gelbieh are mild-mannered."
The couple typically walks among the cows that stay calm even with the ranch dogs.
"They didn't accept the dogs and were scared," she said. "One cow that was left alone was quite upset.
"Evidently they've been harassed by something because their two herd-mates were killed."
The cows are due to deliver in mid-March.
"That makes it difficult for calving season," Griffith said.
The Griffiths' regular checking of their herd is the best protection, Bangs said. Human activity, sirens, rubber bullets or multiple guard dogs can also help, along with immediately removing any attractants for predators, such as carcasses, from the pasture.
"Raise healthy livestock," he added.
For example, an injured calf, doctored and returned to the pasture, quickly becomes wolf prey, Bangs said.
Griffith's permit lasts 45 days and can be re-issued "if circumstances warrant," Bangs said.
"It's not a hunt. It's not fair chase," he said, adding that permittees can use spotlights or pursue the wolf in a vehicle. "This is designed to kill the wolf. We appreciate the landowner's cooperation."
Griffith's permit was issued under a 1999 rule that will remain in effect in Wyoming, Bangs said. The new rule empowering Montana and Idaho to manage wolves will go into effect Feb. 7 and broaden eligibility to permittees on public land along with guides and outfitters.
The two states gained that latitude because they submitted management plans accepted by FWS, which rejected Wyoming's plan.
Wolves Expected to Expand in Numbers
Scott McMillion, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 16 January 2005
Following a decade of acrimony, suspicion and lawsuits, the players in the ongoing wolf debate in Montana and Idaho have a chance to lower their dukes and see if they can all get along.
"It's about trust," said Dick Dolan, program director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a pro-wolf group. "Let's see if we can do this as a community and a region, to live with wolves, to have agriculture and ungulates and predators."
Ag, government and green groups often butt heads, especially over wolves.
Now they're being "asked to hold hands," said Carolyn Sime, gray wolf program coordinator for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "It's scary, but it's refreshing. If all we do is throw rocks at each other, we'll never make progress."
The opportunity comes in the revision of what is called the 10(j) rule, a part of the federal Endangered Species Act, a big step announced earlier this month by Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton.
In Montana, it means that state officials, led by Sime, are now the "designated agents" of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for wolf management.
It also means that ranchers will soon have the ability to shoot any wolf that is threatening to attack livestock, or herding or guard dogs, both on private land and on federal grazing allotments. Outfitters with permits to operate on federal land will have the same abilities.
It means that any person can harass a wolf at any time, as long as the harassment isn't lethal, to teach it to stay away from people. (However, private owners of of pack stock on federal land, unless they are outfitters or grazing permittees, cannot legally kill wolves attacking their animals. Owners of hunting dogs cannot legally kill a wolf that attacks those animals.)
The new rule means state officials will take over most of the federal duties of monitoring wolf packs, collaring animals and tracking their movements, as well as educating the public, issuing kill permits to ranchers who have confirmed losses to wolves and a host of other duties.
"I feel a sense of responsibility because we are being given the benefit of the doubt," Sime said.
Sime sees it as a step toward a new way of thinking about wolves and new ways of managing them. It's time to change the focus from wolf recovery to long-term management.
Wolves are abundant and thriving in the three states around Yellowstone National Park. Biologically, if not politically, recovery has worked. Some voices still call for eradication, but they speak from the margins of the debate. Most people recognize wolves are here to stay.
The open questions center around where they'll be allowed to live, and in what numbers.
"We're on the cusp of a shift in mind set," Sime said. "Everybody will be making that transition in slightly different ways and at slightly different speeds."
The goal, over time, is to get more people to accept wolves as a natural part of the landscape, much the way bears and mountain lions are accepted. Those species are considered game animals that sometimes cause problems. When they do, they're removed.
Such acceptance for wolves could be a long way off. Legal battles are inevitable and social hurdles throw big shadows.
"As a society, we're still struggling to find a way to integrate wolves in a way that's acceptable," said Hank Fischer, a wolf specialist for the National Wildlife Federation who has worked on wolf issues in Montana for more than 20 years.
He said he believes we'll eventually see thriving wolf populations from Mexico to Canada. If he's right, Montana will help lead the way in a movement with big implications all over the West.
Most environmental groups in the region see the new wolf rule as a positive step. They say they're willing to let state agencies, along with ranchers and outfitters, do some limited wolf control. So do the big national groups, like the Sierra Club and the Wildlife Federation.
The Montana Stockgrowers Association, as well as individual ranchers, praised the new rule.
Only Defenders of Wildlife, the group that pays ranchers for confirmed livestock losses to wolves, denounced it.
"The new rule potentially jeopardizes wolf-recovery efforts just as they were beginning to show some success," said Nina Fascione, a Defenders vice president.
Federal wolf specialists say the new rule might mean up to 10 percent of wolves will be killed every year. But they also point to a 2003 study by David Mech, generally considered the world's top wolf expert, that says wolf populations can withstand human-caused losses of 25 to 35 percent a year and remain stable.
And Sime cautioned the new rule does not mean open season on wolves.
Any dead wolves must be reported within 24 hours, and there must be some evidence -- animals in a froth, trampled ground, tracks -- that a "reasonable person would have believed (an attack) was likely to occur at any moment."
People who kill wolves illegally still face heavy fines and possible jail time. (An Idaho man was fined $21,000 in July for poaching a wolf.) Federal lawmen will investigate all wolf shootings to make sure they were justified.
In cases where livestock is killed by wolves, but the wolves weren't caught, some ranchers will be issued kill permits to use if the wolves return.
"We won't even think about giving out these permits until we have confirmed dead or injured livestock," Sime said.
And each permit will specify how many wolves can be killed and where.
"It's not a wolf hunting license," Sime said. Rather, it allows "strategic, specific actions."
And even with a permit, killing a wolf is rarely easy.
Jim Melin is a Paradise Valley rancher who's suffered numerous losses to wolves. He's had kill permits from the federal government, but only shot one wolf.
"They're smart," he said.
Green groups like Defenders want more emphasis on nonlethal wolf control options -- fencing, guard dogs, flags, noisemakers of various types.
But those measures don't always work.
"Preventative and nonlethal control methods can be useful in some situations," the new 10(j) rule says. "They are not consistently reliable."
Wolf populations are likely to keep growing in Montana, even under the new rule.
The state's wolf plan calls for eventually installing limited hunting and trapping seasons as a way of controlling wolf numbers, the same way lions and black bears are hunted.
But the full plan can't be put in place until wolves are delisted from the Endangered Species Act.
How long delisting will take depends on court actions, political responses, and the willingness of people to get along: the willingness of ranchers and hunters to share some landscape, the willingness of wolf advocates to see some wolves die.
People have had their fists in the air over wolf issues for a long time. Dropping those hands won't be an easy step. But it's a necessary one.
The wolves aren't going away.