Wolf History, Conservation, Ecology and Behavior
Wolf Wars: Reports From the Front Lines, 2003
Page 1
New York Animal Rights Activists Urge Alaska Boycott
Liz Ruskin, Newsobserver.com, 27 December 2003
On a Manhattan sidewalk jam-packed with shoppers and tourists, a tight band of animal rights activists tried to draw attention to the cause of Alaskan wolves.
"Save a wolf. Sign a postcard. Boycott Alaska," Bob Orabona called out Saturday to the crowd rushing past Rockefeller Center.
Orabona works in the Connecticut headquarters of Friends of Animals, the group staging the protest.
His sign showed a howling wolf with a crosshairs drawn over his chest.
"Alaska is planning a heart-stopping wildlife spectacle," the placard read. "They call it 'management.' We call it murder."
Friends of Animals is staging 32 such demonstrations around the country in the last weekend of the year to protest the state's wolf-control plan, which calls for shooting some 40 wolves in the McGrath area with the help of aircraft. The group is calling for a tourism boycott on Alaska until the program is canceled.
Wolf-control advocates in Alaska say the wolves have grown too plentiful in some areas and are killing too many moose that human hunters rely on to feed their families.
Friends of Animals calls shooting wolves from airplanes barbaric. The organization printed 50,000 postcards for this weekend. Addressed to Gov. Frank Murkowski, the cards say the wolf-shooting program "is an ethical outrage and (a) national disgrace."
Though burdened with shopping bags - Coach, Kenneth Cole, Cole-Haan - and jostled by other hurried pedestrians, many paused to take in Friends of Animals' message.
Kelly Lyons, a 29-year-old in a plaid schoolgirl skirt, fishnet stockings and black boots, let her furry purse dangle from her wrist as she signed her name to a postcard.
"I have a problem with animal hunting in general," she said.
Although no one was making the state's case Saturday, Lyons surmised the reason behind the wolf shoot was to control an "overpopulation" of predators.
"I just think it's a fine line between calling it an overpopulation and humans intruding on their territory," said Lyons, who said she has a degree in environmental biology.
Lyons recoiled when asked if her shearling jacket and purse were made of fake fur.
"Of course!" she said. "I would NEVER."
Dozens of women, though, did walk by in long fur coats. Most averted their eyes when they caught on to the protesters' cause. But a few fur-bearing matrons signed the group's postcards, said Elizabeth Forel.
Forel, of Manhattan, was one of the clipboard-carrying volunteers urging shoppers to "help us save these magnificent wild animals from slaughter."
"Sometimes people just don't make the connection," Forel lamented.
Priscilla Feral, the head of Friends of Animals, was among the activists collecting signatures in the brisk wind at Rockefeller Center.
She is hoping the call for a tourism boycott plays out as it did in 1992, when her group led a campaign against a similar Alaska wolf-reduction program. Then- Gov. Wally Hickel and the Fish and Game Department received more than 100,000 letters and phone calls objecting to the plan. Hickel, under pressure from Alaska's tourism industry, halted the shoot.
Gov. Murkowski said this month that he's concerned about a tourism boycott but is holding firm. He said people who are enchanted by the majesty of wolves "never look at the majesty of the moose calf, and the right for that calf to reproduce."
Feral joined Friends of Animals in 1974, shortly before the group first stepped into Alaska's long-running debate about whether and how to reduce the number of wolves.
Feral is a fine-boned 54-year-old with a long, blond shag and a daughter in art school. She said she sees her concern for animal rights as a natural outgrowth of her generation's fight against the Vietnam War, the women's movement and other social activism.
"The best of all rights is the right for a free-living animal to be left alone," she said.
Wolves "are sentient. Humans are sentient," she said. "Certainly, shooting wolves to make moose hunting easier lacks any kind of justice."
Feral doesn't like to answer questions about her surname, but yes, she chose it, back in the '70s. She was getting divorced and, not being Irish, didn't feel like keeping her ex-husband's Irish name.
"So, feral: a domestic animal gone wild. In 1974 that appealed to me," she said.
The demonstrations were billed as "howl-ins," but there was no howling at the New York event.
A big white dog named Katana was supposed to lead the chorus, but the Turkish mastiff was too distracted.
"The howling is off because of his inclinations," Feral said, nodding toward the 117-pound beast.
A second canine, Perdy, attended the protest but she wasn't talking, either.
Kimberly Adams, who works in Friends of Animals' New York office, carried Perdy in a pouch on her front. The black poodle wore purple barrettes in her hair and a sign that read, "Please don't hurt my cousins."
The save-the-wolves slogan resonated with Kate Dunn, visiting from Tampa, who acknowledged she had no detailed knowledge of why the state wants them dead.
"That kind of thing is unnecessary," she said. "We have a lot of wildlife in Florida that are endangered species."
The protest, though, was on Fifth Avenue, holy ground for retail America. It was one of the busiest shopping days of the year. And New York can be so world-weary.
"'Save the wolves'? You gotta be kidding me," one man in a leather jacket murmured to his companion as they swept past.
"What I figure: the animals are on their own," another woman said to her family.
"Save the wolves. Save the seals," scoffed a grandmotherly woman shepherding two children. "Let's go find a bench. I have to sit down."
Scientists: Wolves Could Help Curb CWD
Associated Press, 23 December 2003

Researchers are looking to wolves to help control the spread of chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, a fatal brain malady some biologists fear will invade Yellowstone National Park in the next few years.
Wolves' uncanny ability to spot vulnerable animals may make them the best natural control for the disease, since wolves could kill off sick animals, researchers say.
Wasting disease makes its victims distracted and unwary as it eats tiny holes in their brains, the Denver Post reported.
''Wolves show up and say, 'Let's see what you've got,''' said National Park Service biologist Douglas Smith, who helped lead the program that returned wolves to Yellowstone in 1995 and 1996. ''And if you don't have it, they laser in on you like a fighter pilot. The things they pick up on are incredibly subtle.''
While the theory is still unproven, some say it is worth factoring into the debate as chronic wasting disease continues its creep north toward Yellowstone's famed game herds.
Wasting disease was detected in northern Wyoming's Bighorn Basin this year for the first time, and some Wyoming biologists fear CWD will move into the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem in the next year or two.
''Every idea should get a fair hearing and I think disease management is a fair question for a biologist to ask,'' said Russell George, director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
No one has been able to study whether wolves single out CWD-infected animals because the range of predator and disease have never overlapped.
But over the next few years, that will likely change as both the disease and wolves spread out.
David Mech, a biologist with the United States Geologic Survey who is considered the world's top wolf expert, cautioned that until wolves and wasting disease actually interact, theories about wolves controlling the spread of the disease are just speculation.
Wasting disease was first identified in a Fort Collins wildlife research station in 1967, spreading into southeast Wyoming by the 1980s. Last year it was discovered as far away as Wisconsin.
Unlike other predators like mountain lions and coyotes, wolves constantly test potential prey, looking for weakness. This hunting style, Smith said, seems perfectly tailored to removing sick animals.
''Wolves are probably the single best way to stop the spread of CWD,'' he said. ''Chronic wasting disease causes animals to act weird. Wolves kill animals like that.''
University of Calgary professor Valerius Geist, an expert on deer and elk, said wolves can remove infected individuals and clean up carcasses that could transmit the disease.
Geist and Princeton University biologist Andrew Dobson theorize that killing off the wolf allowed CWD to take hold in the first place.
A federal predator control program in the 1920s eliminated the last prairie wolves in the region, according to Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Using wolves to manage the disease could be tricky though.
''Emotions against wolves are so strong that I'm not sure this potential benefit, which I agree might be there, would sway the opinions of many folks,'' retired Wyoming Game and Fish veterinarian Tom Thorne said. ''I think it would be a long, long time before people are used to wolves enough to admit they might be doing a bit of good.''
Wolf Advocates Voice Displeasure With MOU
John Kamin, Eastern Arizona Courier, 21 December 2003
Wolf advocates are claiming the Memorandum of Understanding for the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project includes language that helps the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "pass the buck."
Center for Biological Diversity Wildlife Biologist Michael Robinson said the MOU does not require a Mexican Wolf Recovery Specialist, which is the position that is accountable for all wolf control decisions (such as re-releasing, trapping or killing wolves). He noted that the position under the old agreement has been left unfilled since its last occupant, Brian Kelly, resigned six months ago.
"There was a lot of talking about opening themselves up to a greater public scrutiny and this was not a good start," Robinson said to the Courier in a phone interview. "For a while we had the Terry Johnson mi culpa (my fault) tour."
Terry Johnson is the head of non-game wildlife management for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Robinson referred to meetings held by the AZGFD that started out with apologies from Johnson and that promised a restructuring process that would take more local interests into consideration.
In a February meeting in Clifton, Johnson said to a room full of ranchers and wolf advocates, "I'm the only guy in the room to whom you can point a finger and say, I screwed up. And I apologize for that."
The creation of a MOU for the Adaptive Management Work Group is one of the first steps to beginning the restructuring, and it includes the Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Game and Fish Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services/Wildlife Services, U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, Graham County, Greenlee County, Navajo County, Catron County, Sierra County and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.
New Mexico Cattle Grower's Association representative Laura Schneberger said Kelly's voided position has been filled by Colleen Buchanan, the assistant Mexican wolf recovery coordinator. She said: "There is no evading, federal agencies have regulations to follow that require a collection of resumes before hiring a new recovery leader. Colleen Buchanan is acting recovery leader and will handle any situation that arises until a permanent hiring. The problem is that it is so difficult to do this job with all the interference and bullying by the greens and probably sometimes us too, (though I like to believe we only complain when something is really badly wrong) that no one wants the job for long."
The Courier called Buchanan several times throughout the week and received no response before press time.
Robinson agreed that Buchanan is Kelly's replacement, but thought that the position should be filled. Now that the position is not included in the MOU, he fears that it may not come back.
"They're getting a process underway that seems to be trying to minimize the service's responsibility," he said. "They are not promising to maintain the one with the overall recovery effort."
Robinson is also concerned with language listed in the MOU.
"The second troublesome provision in the MOU cryptically pledges the (Fish and Wildlife) Service to 'provide all necessary USFWS authorizations and permits to all signatories on a timely basis,' " according to a press release from the CBD.
Robinson explained that the permits that are being referred to are kill permits and trap permits. The words necessary and timely are the two words that concern him because they could pressure USFWS employees to make quick decisions instead of patient ones.
"These decisions are going to sink or float Mexican wolf recovery," he said. He referred to a situation last September, when a decision to trap wolf m729 was made.
The Courier reported on the trapping and interviewed New Mexico rancher Fred Galley, who said the wolf had killed two of his cattle and injured three calves.
The CBD contested that the wolf was only feeding on already dead cattle, while ranchers contested the wolf was killing cattle.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field coordinator John Oakleaf said it was confirmed that the wolf had fed on two cows.
Non-lethal traps were set for the wolf after the USFWS concurred that there was a "probable depredation."
The decision to capture the wolf was contested in a letter from the CBD to Dale Hall, the USFWS Southwest Regional Director.
The letter specifically requested the designation of a new recovery leader and for all decisions to be put into writing.
The letter reads, "We request that in the current absence of a recovery leader, the Service designate an acting leader with specific authority to make case by case decisions on wolf control, and that each such decision be conveyed in writing with a finding as to cause."
Robinson said during Tuesday's phone interview, "We have not received any reply."
Schneberger differed and referred to a situation with wolf m592 last May.
"The animal and her mate who is now a candidate for re-release held up my 14-year old daughter on horseback at a distance of 25 feet," she said. "They also chased a wolf reintroduction employee who was checking on them when they were in the wilderness a few weeks prior to our mess."
The wolf ended up being the victim of a control order, she said.
"The person who ended up having to shoot her was no happier than I am when having to destroy an ill cow," Schneberger wrote. "Killing wolves is not what wolf people want to do. People and their safety came first here, and the preservation of our year's income came first in this person's mind. He chose to be responsible and accountable, which is something rare in a bureaucracy. Michael wants no control permits whatsoever."
She also complained about a lack of wolf removal for when uncollared wolves cross the recovery lines into potentially urban areas.
"Since they haven't collared much of the young animals dispersing, they have no idea when they cross recovery lines," Schneberger said.
This leads to a dispute over how many wolves are actually in the wild.
Oakleaf said during a Tuesday phone interview that there are 25 collared wolves in the wild, with 10 to 15 uncollared adults. About 21 pups exist in the wild, although it is hard to keep track of the pups because of their high mortality rates, he said.
"Somewhere in between 50 and 60 is a good estimate," Oakleaf said.
Robinson said it is not purely scientific data to count uncollared wolves by sight. He gave an example of seeing sets of uncollared wolves in two different areas about one week apart. With the wolves' large migratory distances, it becomes almost impossible to truly confirm whether one is seeing the same wolf as the week before.
Oakleaf said it is considered the norm to collar only a small portion of the population. He gave an example of the wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone National Park, where about 10 percent of the population is collared.
"That's one of the things that's true of any program," Oakleaf said.
The USFWS tends to collar wolves that will stick with a pack, he said. During the summertime, the wolves tend to stay in their packs.
The winter time is the hardest time to monitor them because the wolves' hormone levels rise and fill them with the urge to reproduce. This tends to raise the risk of the packs dispersing during the winter months, he said.
NWF Takes Legal Action to Ensure Wolf Recovery in the Northeast
National Wildlife Federation, 18 December 2003
MONTPELIER, VT - Charging that the Bush administration's decision to abandon wolf recovery efforts in the Northeast violates the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and four coalition partners filed a lawsuit today in federal district court in Vermont. In the complaint, NWF and the other groups explain that the final Wolf Reclassification Rule that was issued in April effectively terminates federal wolf recovery efforts in the Northeast, where suitable wolf habitat exists and wolves are apparently beginning to return.
The rule changes the status of wolves from endangered to threatened in the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes where wolves have begun to thrive, but terminates recovery planning for wolves in states like Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, where no wolf recovery efforts have taken place to date. NWF asserts in the complaint that the administration declared victory for gray wolf recovery based solely on the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes wolf populations, which is in direct violation of its ESA obligation to prevent extinction across a "significant portion" of the wolf's range.
"Although the thriving wolf populations in the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies are indeed wildlife success stories, they cannot be used as an excuse for abandoning the goal of wolf recovery in the Northeast," said Eric Palola, Director of NWF's Northeast Natural Resource Center in Montpelier, Vermont. "Lumping the Northeast into the successful wolf recovery efforts in the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies is analogous to a presidential candidate claiming victory in New Hampshire after winning in Iowa."
Today, the wolf can be found on just three percent of its historic range in the lower 48 states while millions of acres of former habitat remain potentially available for wolf restoration. There have been several reports of wolves from Canada crossing the frozen St. Lawrence Seaway into Maine, and just north of New Hampshire in recent years. By terminating the federal recovery program in the Northeast, NWF asserts that the administration reduces the likelihood that wolves migrating southward from Canada will be able to establish a viable population in the sparsely populated regions of Maine, despite suitable habitat and availability of prey.
"Rather than walk away from pursuing wolf recovery in the Northeast, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should be educating people about how wolves contribute to a healthy environment for the Northern forests and working to establish agreements with Canada and among the states where habitat exists," says Palola.
In a proposed rule issued in 2000 during the Clinton administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service called for recovery of the Northeast wolf population, explaining that "a population of gray wolves in [the Northeast] is significant and will contribute to the overall restoration of the species." Scientific peer reviewers uniformly supported this proposal. However, in the final rule, the Bush administration abandoned Northeast wolf recovery without addressing these earlier statements.
"The administration's plan is illegal and contrary to what all scientific experts recommend for wolf recovery," said John Kostyack, NWF Senior Counsel for Wildlife Conservation and lead counsel in the forthcoming lawsuit. "The Fish and Wildlife Service has an obligation under the ESA to recover wolves in a significant portion of their historic range, and this includes the forests of the Northeast states."
"The Fish and Wildlife Service should build on its successful wolf recovery efforts to date in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes region to form partnerships for recovery on suitable landscapes in the Northeastern states where recovery is feasible," said Ann MacMichael of the Maine Wolf Coalition, one of the groups joining the legal action.
"NWF's legal action targets the Northeast because wolf recovery in this region doesn't stand a chance without a reversal of this portion of the administration's rule," said Peggy Struhsacker, Program Coordinator for Wolf Recovery in NWF's Montpelier, Vermont office. "The howl of the wolf has been missing too long from the Northern forests and our national wolf recovery efforts cannot be declared complete while that gap remains."
A recent poll conducted by Henry P. Kendall Foundation showed that 63 percent of northern New Englanders believe it is important to have wolves for the balance of nature.
Joining NWF in the lawsuit are: Maine Wolf Coalition, Maine Audubon Society, Vermont Natural Resources Council and Environmental Advocates of New York. A copy of the complaint can be found on NWF's web site at www.nwf.org/newsroom. The coalition will be represented by attorneys John Kostyack and Randy Sargent of the National Wildlife Federation and Patrick Parenteau and Julia LeMense Huff of Vermont Law School's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic.
A member-supported conservation education and advocacy group, the National Wildlife Federation unites people from all walks of life to protect nature, wildlife and the world we all share. The Federation has educated and inspired families to uphold America's conservation tradition since 1936.
Wolf Restoration May Become Victim of Own Success
Candus Tompson, Baltimore Sun, 14 December 2003 wolves announce their
The sound of success pierces the cold, still air like a stiletto.
Howls of gray wolves announce their dominance over the food chain from the park's Lamar Valley to the ranches of Montana, less than a decade after wildlife biologists returned them to their traditional habitat.
Bringing wolves back from the brink of extinction is being hailed as an ecological triumph, so much so that the federal government reclassified the animal this year from "endangered" to "threatened." The next step toward removal from the protected species list is for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to transfer responsibility for wolf management to game officials in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, possibly late next year.
"We have achieved biological success. Now we are trying to achieve bureaucratic success," said Ed Bangs, federal wolf recovery coordinator.
Each state submitted a management plan, which was reviewed by a panel of 12 independent scientists. Those critiques were sent back to the states and are to be posted on the Fish and Wildlife Service's Web site. Another round of public comment will follow before the agency decides.
"Nobody has officially proposed delisting the wolf yet, but even talk gets people's blood pressure up," Bangs said.
The livestock industry and sportsmen's groups, which have simmered as the wolf population soared from 31 in the mid-1990s to 750, can't wait for return of local control.
On the other side, environmental groups fear that a lack of federal oversight will mean a return to the "shoot, shovel and shut up" mind-set that nearly caused the wolf's demise.
"Wolves are an emotionally charged issue, and they have been for centuries," said Douglas Smith, leader of the Yellowstone Wolf Project for the National Park Service. "Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, Romulus and Remus -- the attitudes have been there for years."
Bangs and Smith have heard all of the arguments. Bangs came from Alaska in 1988 to lay the groundwork for the restoration program. Smith moved to Yellowstone in 1994 to be part of the restoration program and helped trap the original 31 animals in Canada and release them at the park.
Scientists also released 35 wolves in central Idaho and were prepared to transplant a like number each year for five years. But the wolves' adaptability made that unnecessary.
Last December, biologists announced that for the third consecutive year the greater Yellowstone area had 30 breeding pairs, a goal that triggered the delisting process.
"We had two times as many wolves as we thought we would and half as many problems as we thought. So it's a good news, better news story," Bangs said.
Not to ranchers in the three states, who have lost 581 sheep and 214 cattle since the reintroduction began.
In newspapers across the region, letters to the editor warn that humans will be targeted by hungry wolves after they devour all the livestock and elk. Wildlife experts say that is preposterous and demagogic. During a legislative hearing this year in Helena, Mont., three dozen speakers demanded immediate relief from a wolf population they said was out of control.
Warren Johnson, a sports outfitter from just outside Yellowstone, said he had waited patiently for a balance between the wolves and the region's elk herd. "But there is no balance. Wolves are decimating our wildlife."
Bangs does not buy the argument: "There are 31,000 mountain lions out West that eat two times as much livestock as wolves. But no one says we need to kill all the mountain lions the way we still have people saying we have to kill all the wolves."
Former Yellowstone naturalist Gary Ferguson, author of the 1996 book "Yellowstone Wolves," said the hostility toward the recovery program is all about the perceived meddling of the federal government in local affairs.
"I wonder if there would have been quite the outrage there if the restoration had happened naturally. I think probably not," he said.
Biologists consider the wolves "a keystone species" that affects the health of every other animal in Yellowstone.
When the National Park Service had a strict shoot-on-sight policy for wolves that eliminated all packs by 1926, "We took the food pyramid and just lopped off the top," Smith said. "Wolves are the kings and queens of providing meat to the scavenger population: grizzly bears, ravens, magpies, coyotes and eagles. Every wolf kill benefits at least five other animals, the most we've gotten is 10."
In addition to helping the ecosystem, the wolves also have been a multimillion-dollar boon to the tourism industry. Outfitters that lead snowmobile tours and eagle watches have added wolf itineraries. Visitors with huge spotting scopes take up positions in the Lamar Valley, hoping to watch wolves stalk elk herds in the winter and raise their pups in the spring.
Federal officials say the wolf population is leveling off in the northern Rockies, where growth rates have slowed from 15 percent last year to 11 percent this year. Yet there are signs that the recovery is breaking new ground.
In September, federal biologists confirmed the existence of a new 16- animal pack, mostly pups, south of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The sighting is the eighth wolf pack in Wyoming outside Yellowstone.
On Nov. 5, a Yellowstone visitor saw a pack in the northeast section of the park, which marked the 1,000th straight day with a wolf sighting.
Seventeen environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, do not believe that success in the park is enough to justify delisting. The groups filed suit last month against U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton to stop delisting, saying that recovery had occurred in just three of nine states in the Western region. Further, they contended, removing the wolf from federal protection would curtail recovery elsewhere in the country.
Norton "is backing away from wolf protection before the job is finished and is jeopardizing all the progress her agency has made so far," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of the 430,000-member Defenders of Wildlife.
Defenders officials point out that since 1987 the group has paid market value to ranchers who have lost livestock to wolves, more than $210,000.
Although the spotlight has been on the wolves in the three northern Rocky Mountain states, interest -- like the packs -- has spread.
In the early 1990s, captive red wolves were successfully released in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, which has a population of about 100 animals.
Officials in Wisconsin, home to more than 300 wolves, held a series of hearings last week on a management plan that would take effect if the wolf is removed from federal protection.
The Utah Legislature this year urged game officials to develop a plan after a migrating wolf from Yellowstone was captured in the northern part of the state last fall. Although they have not had a sighting yet, Colorado wildlife managers are working on a similar plan.
And in Maine, New Hampshire and New York, state lawmakers passed bills to prevent transplanting Quebec wolves to remote areas of their states.
"The polarization is already there," said Craig McLaughlin of Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources, who has been traveling the state taking comments from residents. "You see the dichotomy between people who make a living off the land in the southern part of the state who let us know that they really weren't interested in having wolves, and the people who live in the metropolitan area who are much more supportive."
The Defenders of Wildlife recovery plan calls for restoring gray wolves throughout their former range where there is suitable prey and habitat to support several hundred wolves.
But Smith doesn't think that is realistic. "Wolves don't belong everywhere they've ever been. They need wild country and we have precious little wild country left. I'm pro-wolf, but not pro-everywhere."
Hunters Fire Back Over Wolf-Kill
Mary Pemberton, Associated Press, 13 December 2003
Lewis "Lucky" Egrass hasn't been so lucky lately.
Egrass, 45, is a member of one of three pilot-and-hunter teams permitted by the state of Alaska to shoot wolves near McGrath, Alaska.
For nearly a week, weather conditions have frustrated Egrass and his brother, Gary, in their attempt to participate in a state-sponsored program to eliminate all the wolves in a 1,700-square-mile area around the Interior village of McGrath.
On top of that, Egrass said he feels the animal-rights activists that are behind a threatened boycott of Alaska's $2 billion tourism industry don't understand what motivates him. And he accuses the Darien, Conn.-based Friends of Animals and the seven Alaska plaintiffs fighting the aerial wolf-control program of making a business out of opposing wolf control.
"They got millions of dollars. ... They made a business out of it," Egrass said. "How come they have never come out here?"
Egrass grew up in McGrath, a village of about 370 people 300 air miles from the nearest supermarket. Residents have complained for a decade that wolves and bears are eating too many moose, leaving them with too little to eat.
The state wants to kill about 40 wolves to save moose calves from being eaten by wolves this winter. A bear-relocation effort in the spring boosted calf survival in an experimental management area by about 20 percent, according to state biologists.
Egrass said 20 years ago when he flew aerial surveys for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, he counted 3,000 moose in a 75-mile stretch from Stony River to McGrath. Last fall, he counted 120 in the same area, he said.
"I feel like they got the whole state of Alaska held hostage," Egrass said of the wolf advocates. "I think they should come and fly the villages within 100 miles of McGrath here and talk to the people. Our game population is barely surviving."
Lewis said a 1-pound steak at the local store costs $12.50, a pound of hamburger $7.
"The villagers, they can't afford that. I think those people need to come up here and see for themselves."
Friends of Animals President Priscilla Feral said yesterday she's made 48 trips to Alaska since 1979 and doesn't need to go to McGrath, particularly not now.
"I don't need to be invited to go to McGrath when they're primed for shooting wolves," she said. "I think I understand their motives and I disagree with them."
Feral said Egrass has it exactly right when he talks about wolves being a business.
"It is our business to champion animal rights and comment on the ethics and mistreatment of animals," she said.
Officials Continue to Probe 5 Wolf Deaths
Mike Stark, Billings Gazette, 10 December 2003
Federal officials are still investigating the deaths of five wolves in northern Wyoming, including two that were killed by people, two more that may have died naturally and another whose radio collar is sitting at the bottom of a reservoir.
The human-caused deaths may be tied to the resistance of some people to the presence of wolves in Wyoming, said Dominic Domenici, U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent in charge for Wyoming.
"Unfortunately, there are people that are choosing to ignore the facts, let themselves get frustrated to the point where they're killing a wolf," he said. "Especially at a time when there's a reasonable chance of delisting, this is sure not the time to take that kind of action."
The dead wolves, which have been found sporadically this fall, were members of packs north of Cody and west of Meeteetse.
The bodies of four wolves were sent to the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Ore., to be examined. Lab officials confirmed that two of the wolves died because of people. Domenici declined to give further details, but FWS officials have said earlier that at least one wolf appeared to have been shot.
Tests have not been completed on the other two, but "it's looking more and more possible they may not have been killed," Domenici said, adding that there was no evidence that the wolves were shot, trapped or hit by a car.
The collar of a fifth wolf is at the bottom of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, west of Cody.
Biologists tracking wolves in the area recently picked up the radio signal from the collar as they flew over the reservoir.
"It's still down there," he said.
Wildlife officials figure the wolf is
not in the reservoir - "a wolf, like any other body, would float," Domenici said - and are assuming that the collar was removed illegally and the wolf is dead.
Investigators continue to follow leads and seek help from the public. Domenici said his office received some "promising information on one of them" Wednesday but declined to provide more details.
"Unfortunately, wildlife crimes are not witnessed at all or by very few people, unlike crimes in an urban setting," he said. "So this is just going to take some hard, good police work. We're checking out every possibility."
It has been about two years since a wolf has been killed illegally in Wyoming. Domenici theorized that the increasing wolf population, along with increased rhetoric and fear that wolves will wipe out the elk population, may have motivated people to commit the crimes.
"I think there's a lot of misinformation out there about the impact wolves are having on elk populations," he said. "That might play into this."
Still, he said, people shouldn't make assumptions about the kind of person who would kill wolves.
"People always ask if it's a rancher or a hunter. But ranchers and hunters don't kill wolves. Poachers kill wolves, and they come from all kinds of occupations," he said.
Wolves are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. The federal Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to say soon whether it will propose removing wolves from the endangered list and pass management of the species to the states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
Illegally killing a wolf is a federal Class B misdemeanor. Those convicted could face up to six months in jail or a $250,000 fine, although Domenici said it's rare that the maximum penalties are handed out.
Scientist Sees Legal Holes in Wyoming Wolf Plan
Associated Press, 4 December 2003
Contradictions between state law and Wyoming's plan to manage gray wolves must be cleared up before lifting federal protection for wolves, according to a leading wolf expert.
David Mech, U.S. Interior Department senior research scientist, is one of 12 experts who were asked to review the Wyoming, Idaho and Montana wolf management plans to determine whether the states would ensure survival of the species once federal protections were lifted.
They found that the three plans would meet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recovery goal of 30 breeding packs of wolves equitably distributed across the three states.
But Mech's approval of Wyoming's plan hinges on whether it is backed up by state law.
Critics of Wyoming's plan contend the law and plan don't match.
Not following state law
Wyoming hunting outfitter Maury Jones has argued that the plan does not follow state law. The law requires 15 wolf packs statewide with seven of those packs outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
However, if a dozen wolf packs roam inside the national parks, then only three wolf packs are needed outside the parks to meet the 15-pack goal and the law's intent, Jones argues.
In contrast, Wyoming's wolf plan guarantees seven packs outside the parks regardless of the number of packs inside the parks. Some state officials have found the law "ambiguous," and state lawmakers have met to discuss possible changes to the law to make it fit the plan.
Mech and other experts hung their approval of Wyoming's plan on the seven-pack guarantee outside parks.
In fact, some experts raised concerns that Wyoming's plan has no provisions to deal with the possibility that wolf packs could fall below eight inside the national parks, necessitating more than seven packs outside the parks to meet the 15-pack minimum. Experts, however, acknowledged this scenario is unlikely because of abundant prey and habitat inside the parks.
Overall, the experts concluded the three state plans collectively would meet federal recovery goals, though some experts reserved sharp criticisms for Wyoming's plan.
Wolves on the move
The opinions pave the way for removing wolves from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure a species will not become endangered in the future once federal protections are lifted and management is turned over to states.
The service's wolf recovery coordinator, Ed Bangs, sought the advice of 12 top wolf experts to determine whether the plans would ensure that wolves would not become endangered in the future.
Bangs has sent the expert opinions to state officials for review. Bangs said the service would not comment on the opinions until states respond.
In addition, Bangs said the FWS will do its own analysis before deciding whether to propose delisting.
While Montana's plan won accolades as an "excellent example of a scientifically sound wolf conservation," Wyoming's plan was deemed rigid, intolerant and inflexible by several experts.
Even so, critics found Wyoming's plan "adequate," largely because wolves would receive full protection inside Yellowstone and Grand Teton, which would act as a reservoir to maintain wolf populations in the state.
Under the Wyoming plan, gray wolves in some areas would be considered trophy game and subject to regulated hunting, while in others they would be classified predators and could be killed with few restrictions. The wolves would be protected in the national parks.
While endorsing the plans in concept, several experts warned the plans might fail if not properly funded.
University of Montana wolf expert, Daniel Pletscher summed up several experts concern, writing: "The best plan in the world is worthless if the plan cannot be implemented. How these costs will be covered must be settled prior to delisting."
Wolf Hybrids Get Reprieve
Cindy Larson, The (Ft. Wayne) News-Sentinel, 3 December 2003
Jim O'Hara was about to be an unwilling participant in what he calls a mass execution this week.
O'Hara, who lives on Taylor Street and owns 10 wolf hybrids, was planning to have the animals euthanized this week to comply with a revised animal control ordinance that prohibits wolf hybrids within city limits.
"I didn't have any choice," O'Hara said.
He has spent about $25,000 building a fortress in his back yard to make sure the animals can't get out. Three years ago, two escaped, and one attacked a small dog. So moving wasn't an option.
He also has been trying to place them in a wolf refuge. "I couldn't get anybody to take them," he said. "They were already full."
With no options left, he planned to enlist the help of Animal Care and Control to tranquilize and euthanize the dogs. "It would have made me feel like I'd murdered something that didn't have to die."
But O'Hara has gratefully put those plans on hold while he waits to see if City Council amends the animal control ordinance to allow those who already have wolf hybrids in Fort Wayne to keep them. Council members will discuss the amendment next Tuesday; O'Hara plans to be there.
The legal status of the wolf hybrids changed last June when council considered a new animal control ordinance. It outlawed dangerous wild or exotic animals - including bears, tigers, wolves and wolf hybrids, among other animals - but would have allowed those who already had those types of animals to keep them. Council, however, decided this "grandfather clause" was inappropriate - that no one should be allowed to keep dangerous wild or exotic animals within city limits. The ordinance was amended accordingly.
After it passed, Animal Care and Control "let it rest for a couple of months" to give people time to decide what to do with animals that no longer were permitted in the city, said Belinda Lewis, Animal Care and Control director. About a month ago, the city sent letters to about 40 people who had one or more registered wolf hybrids, notifying them they would have to relocate the animals outside the city.
"We didn't threaten anybody with seizure, didn't threaten anybody with euthanizing their animal," Lewis said.
The letter gave recipients a "reasonable amount of time" to relocate the dogs, and asked for a response within two weeks of the date of the letter or an officer would be sent out for inspection, Lewis said.
It became a public issue when a local man received the letter telling him he'd have to get rid of his dog. After that, his story was picked up by local media. See related story.
Tuesday, City Councilmen Don Schmidt, R-2nd District, and Tim Pape, D-5th District, said they plan to offer an amendment that would help wolf hybrid owners. They want to grandfather in just wolf hybrids, not other dangerous wild or exotic animals.
Lewis is in favor of this latest amendment, saying some people have had these animals for years, and the city doesn't want to force people to part with beloved pets that haven't exhibited bad behavior. "Having (wolf hybrids) leave the city by attrition is fine with us."
She doesn't, however, want new ones coming in. If there's one thing most people seem to agree on, it's wolf hybrids can be dangerous animals.
"It's not an overt danger as much as unpredictable behavior," Lewis said.
O'Hara said his dogs are "no way close to being socialized." He is the only one who has contact with the dogs, and his respect for their inherent wildness is why he has taken such extraordinary security measures.
"There is no such thing as a domesticated wolf," said local veterinarian Bill Kerley. Although he said some wolf hybrids are considered domesticated wild animals, "you don't ever take the word 'wild' out of them."
In 1991, a 2-year-old Fort Wayne boy was fatally injured by his family's two dogs, a wolf hybrid and a pit bull.
O'Hara has a 2-year-old daughter, but "she has no access" to the dogs. He said the door between the house and the back yard has three keyed deadbolt locks, and there are no gates in the back yard.
Although all children should be protected from aggressive dogs, Kerley said breed alone doesn't determine how dangerous a dog can be. "Some of the nicest dogs in our practice are pit bulls," he said. "I would probably say the chows should go before the wolf hybrids."
But he doesn't believe changing the ordinance will solve the problem, because people can find ways around it. "Not all wolf hybrids can look like a wolf," he said. Other dogs might look like they're part wolf, and not be.
"Genetic and blood testing cannot determine wolf content in a dog," Lewis said.
Nevertheless, if a dog owner tells a veterinarian or Animal Care and Control a dog is part wolf, that goes into the dog's records and makes it susceptible to the ordinance. But Kerley said people get around it by telling a veterinarian their wolf hybrid died, then taking the dog to another vet and failing to mention the wolf lineage.
O'Hara does not consider his wolf hybrids pets, and said he began taking them in several years ago when he saved two from a "bad environment." He keeps the dogs because he wants to provide them with a place to live. All his dogs are spayed or neutered.
Killing the wolf hybrids isn't the answer, O'Hara said. "We always kill things we don't understand."
Wolf Plans Get Experts' Approval
Mike Stark, Billings Gazette, 2 December 2003
Plans written by Montana, Wyoming and Idaho appear to be adequate blueprints for sustaining wolf populations if federal protections are lifted, according to 11 wolf experts who reviewed the plans.
But the statements released Monday weren't exactly a ringing endorsement of all three proposals. There continue to be some key concerns, including a reliance on federal funding to carry out the plans, the classification of some wolves in Wyoming as predators and a lack of detail in Idaho's proposal.
The review of the state plans is an important step toward removing wolves from the endangered species list, which all three states have been pushing for.
"We have a bunch of steps leading up to (that decision)," said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains. "But the state plans is probably the biggest one."
Before wolves are removed from the endangered list, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho have to have plans in place to guarantee that wolf populations in their states will be sustained and remain viable.
This fall, a dozen wolf experts from across the country analyzed the three plans in a process called "peer review" to determine whether the plans provide adequate protections.
Eleven of the reviewers - with varying degrees of questions or concerns - said the three plans collectively would ensure a minimum wolf population of 30 breeding pairs distributed among the states. A 12th reviewer had not submitted his comments as of Monday.
Although each of the states proposes to manage wolves in a slightly different way, Wyoming's plan has drawn the most controversy because it would classify some wolves as predators, meaning they could be subject to unregulated killing. That classification could be lifted, though, if the state's wolf population gets too low.
Wyoming's decision to classify some wolves as predators and others as trophy game, and therefore subject to hunting season, drew mixed comments from the scientific reviewers.
Adrian Wydeven, a wolf biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said he was concerned that wolves outside the national parks could be shot any time unless they were in a few specified wilderness areas.
"This seems like an extreme form of wolf management," he said, adding that managing wolves as trophy game and giving livestock producers more "liberal controls" would provide "much more sound conservation of wolves."
University of Montana professor Daniel Pletscher said he was concerned that the predator classification would be too rigid.
"This probably won't make a difference in maintaining the desired number of wolf packs in Wyoming given the current high density of prey, but times change," he said. "The wolf is a species that will require considerable flexibility."
Bill Paul of the federal Animal, Plant Health Inspection Service, said Wyoming's approach is similar to what Minnesota is doing and that wolves are doing well in that state.
The predator classification may be "contentious in terminology" but probably won't have an overall negative effect on the wolf population, especially because Yellowstone National Park will continue to be a reservoir for the population, he said.
David Mech of the U.S. Geological Survey said Wyoming's plan has an "apparent fail-safe mechanism" allowing the classification to be changed if necessary. That provision, he said, should be enough to meet the state's goal of 15 packs.
Several reviewers were concerned about a lack of state funding for the plan and an expectation that the federal government would foot the bill for state management of wolves.
If there isn't enough money, some states many opt to implement only a "bare bones" strategy, Paul said. Most of the money might then go to controlling wolves with less effort on monitoring, education and enforcement, he said.
"I would worry more about how the state wolf management plans are to be funded post-delisting than any perceived shortfalls in the state plans themselves," Paul said. "You can't implement the best plans if adequate funding is not available to do so."
Even if there is money, said Mark McNay, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, federal officials must determine how dedicated each state will be in doing what each plan says.
"The success of maintaining viable wolf populations ... does not hinge on the adequacy of the proposed management plans," he said. "The success of delisting instead hinges upon the application of those plans."
While nearly all of the reviewers raised specific questions about the state plans, none said the plans would not meet minimum goals of wolf recovery.
Comments from the 11 reviewers have been sent to officials in all three states. Each will have a chance to respond to questions raised by the reviewers. Then, likely by the end of next week, the Fish and Wildlife Service will release an analysis of the peer review.
Bangs said it was premature to share his thoughts on the peer review comments except that there didn't appear to be any major surprises.
John Emmerich, of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said Monday that he had skimmed the comments but hadn't had a chance to study them. On the surface, he said, the reviews appear to be a step in the right direction.
"From what I've seen, it certainly isn't bad news," he said.
The process of delisting wolves, though, is far from over. Even if the FWS decides to propose removing federal protection for wolves, which could happen early next year, there would still be a long, national process that would include more scientific review, more public comments and, many observers predict, litigation.