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July 2008

July 31, 2008

Wolf Re-emergence Reactions Anyone?

"My heart leapt a little," wrote Seattle Times columnist Ron Judd, when he learned of the wolf pack with pups that is now making Washington state their home. "Seeing those six wolf pups last week, photographed by a remote camera in their new home in the mountains of the central Methow Valley, gave me an inexplicable stir. Maybe you felt it, too," Judd wrote. Based on the reactions to this blog entry by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Robert McClure, lots of Washington residents have the same joyful reaction to their new neighbors (though not everyone is thrilled).

What do you think of the news that wolves are now back in Washington, and in Oregon too?

July 29, 2008

Big Wood River Valley Project

Dogs and fladry guard grazing sheep
Livestock Guard Dogs (LGD) and fladry guard grazing sheep

Earlier in July, I headed up to Sun Valley, Idaho, to visit one of our proactive projects in the area. This is the Big Wood River Valley project that we have been discussing on this blog for the last month, and this was my first trip to the project site since it began last month. I met up with two of our field technicians, Cindi and Justin, as well as one of the sheep foremen and an officer from the Forest Service. We discussed the progress of the project, what the wolf activity was, and where the herders were planning on moving the sheep to next. Open communication between everyone involved in this project is essential to making sure that the sheep producers, state and federal agencies and field techs are all on the same page.

Justin, one of our field technicians, was able to get a good telemetry reading from this rocky perch
Justin, one of our field technicians, was able to get a good telemetry reading from this rocky perch

Justin and I drove up Oregon Gulch, one of the many such drainages in the project area. As we reached the top, we turned off the dirt road, parked the car and started our hike in. We were weighed down with all of our camping gear as well as carrying telemetry gear, GPS equipment, scare-devices and spotlights. We found a rocky outcrop which gave us a good view of the surrounding area, which also gave us a tree-free area where we could get a good telemetry signal from the wolves. In most packs in Idaho there is at lest one individual that has been trapped, darted and collared. This collar allows agency people find the wolf easier, and as wolves are pack animals one usually finds the whole pack. These collars send out a signal that can be picked up by someone with telemetry equipment. In the Phantom Hill pack there are two individuals out of the eight that have collars, and it is these wolves that we can listen for with the telemetry.

Great Pyrenees to guard sheep from predators
Great Pyrenees to guard sheep from predators

Sitting on the outcrop we did not pick up any signal from either wolf. This meant that they were a good distance away, or that they were over the ridge or in the woods, both of which would dampen the signal. As we scanned the area for signals, we caught sight of the sheep band that we would be protecting that night. It is hard to describe the sight of 2500 sheep being herded up the steep and rocky slopes that central Idaho is famous for. In amongst the sheep were the dogs, a few border collies to herd the sheep, and a few Great Pyrenees to guard sheep from predators.

 Jesse Timberlake talking with one of the Peruvian sheep herders
This is me, Jesse Timberlake, talking with one of the Peruvian sheep herders

The two herders, both from Peru, looked equally impressive as they maneuvered their way up the treacherous slopes perched upon their horses. We chatted to the herders in our broken Spanish about how the sheep were doing, where they planed to bed that night, and if they had seen any sign of wolves lately. The wolves had not been seen in the last couple of days, although before that Justin had snapped some photos of wolves just a stone’s throw from the band during dusk. This is certainly wild country, not only are there wolves and coyotes in the area, but Justin had seen five black bears in the last two days. Because of this we decided to buy some bear spray, just in case.

Sheep graze on a slope at sunsetSheep graze on a slope at sunset

As dusk turned to night we waited until the sheep bedded down for the night before making camp. During the night we took turns to check the telemetry equipment for wolf signals, and to walk around the sheep band, making sure all was quiet. Every now and then one of the guard dogs would start barking at something in the night, although this would usually only last a few minutes before they were quiet, and we could relax again. It was a quiet night and in the morning the herders came by to check up on us and to start moving the sheep again. We did not get any signals from the wolves that night; it seemed that they stayed on the other side of the valley. So another night in wolf country, with both the wolves and the sheep out of danger. This is just one night of many that our field crews are spending out in the Idaho back country, using non-lethal deterrents and proactive strategies to try and keep the wolves and the sheep apart.

Keep checking this blog for more news from the field, as well as other wolf news from the northern Rockies.

Here's just one for the photo album: Livestock Guard Dog... in training?

Puppy playing in fladry

July 25, 2008

Gray Wolves are back in Methow Valley Washington

six pups romping near a remote motion-sensor camera on private land in the Methow Valley (Photo: Conservation Northwest)
These six pups romping near a remote motion-sensor camera on private land in the Methow Valley are part of the first confirmed gray wolf pack in the state of Washington since the 1930s.
Photo courtesy of Conservation Northwest.

Remember when we said stay tuned for news of wolves in Washington State? That news has finally arrived! Six wolf pups have been confirmed in Methow Valley.

One of our Wildlife Volunteer Corps projects, suggested by Trish White, Director of Defenders' Habitat and Highways Program, was an opportunity for volunteers team up with Conservation Northwest and to set up cameras to capture footage of wildlife near the site of a proposed wildlife overpass. The volunteers have been going out monthly since May to check the footage on the cameras in order to see what kind of wildlife was roaming the area.

From Methow Valley News:

DNA samples confirm gray wolves are back in Methow Valley

Six pups are part of first confirmed wolf pack in valley in more than 70 years

By Joyce Campbell, Methow Valley News

A pair of wolves and six pups living in a remote area of the Methow Valley has been positively identified as wild gray wolves, according to state wildlife officials. DNA testing on the two adults has confirmed the first documented resident wolf pack in Washington state since the 1930's.

"They are definitely wolves," said Scott Fitkin, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who helped radio-collar the pair of wolves. Test results of DNA evidence was announced by the WDFW on Wednesday, July 23, according to Fitkin.

Listen to audio of wolf pup howls >>

Continue reading "Gray Wolves are back in Methow Valley Washington" »

July 22, 2008

Legal Victory For Wolves

Gray Wolf looking up (Corel) Defenders of Wildlife won a huge legal victory for wolves last week!  Federal District Judge Donald Molloy of Montana issued a preliminary injunction that restores federal Endangered Species act protections to wolves in the Northern Rockies. This ruling is an important first step that will save the lives of hundreds of wolves during the months to come when our challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's delisting decision is heard by the court.  We have much work left to do, but we can all breathe a little bit easier thanks to this decision. 

Read more about this ruling and what it means for wolves.

July 21, 2008

A word from Defenders' President

Rodger Schlickeisen (photo by Jim Clark)
Rodger Schlickeisen
(photo by Jim Clark)

It is with great delight, and even greater relief, that I can write today about the future of wolves in the Northern Rockies. Judge Malloy's decision to grant our request for a Preliminary Injunction came not a moment too soon -- as the last count put more than 91 wolves dead so far since being delisted.

Friday's decision gives critical protections back to wolves at a time when they are in desperate need. The decision also recognizes that the current state management plans - particularly Wyoming's - do not ensure a secure future for wolves in the region - something that we have been saying all along. It is also fortunate timing for the wolves that ESA protections have been  restored before the proposed public hunt this coming fall. This hunt would most likely have caused irreparable damage to the existing, and vulnerable, wolf population.

And while everyone at Defenders of Wildlife is extremely relieved, proud and pleased with this recent decision, we realize that we still have work to do. Our  legal case, which is being argued on our behalf by the excellent attorneys at Earthjustice, is ongoing. And we hope that   Wyoming, Idaho and Montana will now look at their wolf management plans with a more critical eye in light of the Judge's decision. We also plan to continue our efforts in the region to work with livestock owners in utilizing non-lethal deterrents so that wolves and livestock can coexist with minimal conflict.

Friday's decision is an enormously important step in the right direction - ensuring that wolves are managed in a way that is conducive to their continued survival in the region. Defenders is proud to be on the front lines of this fight, and we are grateful to Judge Malloy for recognizing how crucial these protections are at the current time for the gray wolves of the Northern Rockies.

July 19, 2008

Huge News: Wolf Protections Restored

The Associated Press reports that a federal judge has granted wolves a temporary reprieve in Defenders of Wildlife v. Hall, a legal challenge to delisting of wolves in the Northern Rockies and Greater Yellowstone region. The Associated Press reports:

"A federal judge has restored endangered species protections for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, derailing plans by three states to hold public wolf hunts this fall."

Read more from the Washington Post or read our press release.

July 18, 2008

Where the Wild Things Were - An Interview with Author William Stolzenburg

Will Stolzenburg Portrait by Kathy Stolzenburg

William Stolzenburg, author of Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators

Will Stolzenburg Portrait by Kathy Stolzenburg

Congratulations on your new book, "Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators" and thank you for taking time for this interview.

In your book, you describe how the disappearance of the world's great predators has led to devastating affects on ecosystems around the world. Can you highlight one of the examples for us?

The disappearance of the wolf from America. Not so long ago, this country was roamed coast to coast by wolves. Now they're just a few pushpins on the nation's map. We all but obliterated them, for reasons not well considered.

Sixty-five years ago, Aldo Leopold was warning that there were ecological repercussions from the killing, that deer and elk were amassing in destructive numbers, and that they in turn were wrecking the range.

Now we have scientists repeating Leopold's warning, with strong new data, the worst of it coming from our national parks and preserves. We have floral inventories dropping by dozens of species over the past fifty years, we have statewide tracts of timber no longer regenerating for too many deer. We have streamside groves being denuded and trampled by elk and deer, losing birds, butterflies, frogs, and fish. We have a horrific epidemic of Lyme disease, carried by what was once called the deer tick. We have deer crashing through our windshields and driving us into trees, killing upwards of two hundred of us every year. In our suburban woods and backyards we have epidemics of little predators—raccoons and foxes, opossums and housecats—and songbirds vanishing by the many millions. I could go on.

Nobody is seriously claiming that these plagues spring solely from the disappearance of wolves—or cougars, to name another top predator that's missing over much of its former range. Backyard America has become a smorgasbord for urban wildlife. We plant flowers and shrubs and clear land to their liking, we leave pet food on the back porch and garbage in the carport. But one point to consider: While it's become all too easy to find the deer and the little predators running amok wherever the big predators are missing, you won't find them doing so anyplace where wolves and cougars still hold sway.

Few people have heard about the important role played by major carnivores.  What led you to focus on these species?

For so long, so much of the campaign for conservation has focused on the more blatant assaults on nature: the cutting and paving of forests and wildlands, the draining of wetlands and fouling of seas. I was inherently more interested in the denizens of those damaged ecosystems, and how the individual lives and livelihoods were altered by the upheavals. And it turns out a few ecologists were particularly curious too.

I was lucky enough to come upon the work of some of these scientists early on, when the idea was just beginning to blossom that the loss of certain species—keystone species they've come to call them—could trigger ecological cascades that tumble through the food chain. And it so happened that some of the creatures most readily identified for these keystone powers were those big, fierce, and rare creatures at the top of the heap. As much as I've dedicated myself to championing the little and the unsung creatures in my career as a wildlife journalist, there's always been that special fascination for the big predators and their profession. And the recent discoveries of their inordinate ecological powers has made them all the more fascinating.


Why should people care about biodiversity and the balance of these ecosystems?

I suppose I should answer here with the familiar rollout of utilitarian products and services that a balanced diversity of life provides—as buffer against outbreaks of pest and plague, as food for our stomachs, medicines for our ills.

But it's a mistake to discount the softer rewards, the benefits of the mind. The sheer fascination and yes, fear, that comes from living with and learning from the dizzying array of lifeforms—some of which occasionally make meat of us. There's a good argument to be made that the big and dangerous beasts made us who we are today. For most of our first million years, they inspired us and challenged us, made us wiser and stronger. Only in the last couple centuries have we been going it alone, as sole superpredator of the Earth. We've only just begun this worldwide experiment. It's anybody's guess how we're going to fare. But that's an answer we won't know until it's too late. And given the discouraging signs so far, I'm not very comfortable with the gamble.

What can citizens do to help protect these species?

Give them a break.

The big predators are missing because we kill them. And if we're not shooting them outright, we're strangling the life out of their habitats and livelihoods. As amazing as it might sound, there remain places in this country still big enough and wild enough and meaty enough to support populations of wolves and cougars (and yes, jaguars) where they haven't roamed for nearly a century. And yet we resist and delay, while those special places shrink out of sight. In some cases, all it would take to jumpstart a new population would be to truck a few individuals across a state line or two.

In some cases, the predators have shown themselves able and willing to do the work for us, if we would let them. Over the last few years we've seen a wolf from Yellowstone make its way to the Colorado Rockies, only to be hit by a car on Interstate 70. It's harder to imagine any making it that far now, what with Wyoming lawmakers lately inviting their citizens to shoot wolves on sight. Last April, a cougar that may have come from the Black Hills of South Dakota wandered eight hundred miles to Chicago, where of course it was executed.

This is not to suggest inviting wolves into our sheep pens, or turning cougars loose in Chicago. But there does remain room where the great predators could still fit, if society just made a few reasonable concessions. And time is wasting.

For more about William, read his bio at wildthings.net.

July 15, 2008

Wolves being shot as varmints Says John Hollenhorst

According to a recent news story from KSL of Salt Lake City, at least 20 wolves have been killed within Wyoming's anti-wolf "shoot on sight" zone. That means there's likely less than a dozen wolves now left there - maybe even fewer, as it's possible that all of them have been killed and just not reported.

Soon, young wolves from Yellowstone will disperse to this area, which includes national forests with lots of elk and deer. Unless the courts step in to bring balance back to Wyoming's management plan, these wolves will suffer the same fate as the wolves that were shot on sight this year and the cycle will repeat with every new year.

This isn't hunting or wildlife management -- it's senseless killing and the tragic abandonment of a valuable wildlife resource.

View the news story.
Related: Wolf Watch

Andy Harper - A Journey With Carl Swoboda of Safari Yellowstone

I recently read your interview with Carl Swoboda of Safari Yellowstone posted on April 16th. Since I was heading to Yellowstone in June with my family, I decided to give him a call and set up a wildlife safari. My wife and I had been to Yellowstone 10 years ago and did not see any wolves. I wanted to make sure that did not happen again. When I talked to Carl, he said that he had seen wolves more than 1000 days in a row and expected to find wolves for us, no problem.

Elk and Wolf on a ridge (Photo: Andy Harper)

Our experience with Carl was fantastic. Although we had been fortunate to see wolves the night before in Lamar Valley, we were anxious to go out again.

Our day with Carl began with a grueling 4:30am wake up call and early morning drive to Mammoth Hot Springs. On the way, we had a rare opportunity to see a grizzly at close range. Of course, it was one of the only times my camera was beyond my reach in the back of the car.

Once we reached our rendezvous point with Carl, we traveled about an hour to the Lamar Valley. We were fortunate enough to see about 12-14 wolves, the majority from the Druid pack, and 1 or 2 outsiders. According to Carl, a bison had died a few days ago of natural causes and the Druid's had been feeding on it on and off for days. The diversity of wildlife this bison carcass attracted while we were there was amazing. At one point, a lone black wolf was feeding when a huge grizzly came lumbering across the valley floor straight for the carcass. We expected the wolf would be chased off, but surprisingly the griz and the wolf simply shared the carcass, along with numerous hungry ravens. Once the griz had its fill, numerous other wolves from the pack showed up for breakfast. Dozens of us were perched next to the road, nearly a mile away, peering through spotting scopes and binoculars at this incredible show. Then Carl told us to turn around. He had heard the howls of the rest of the Druid pack behind us. They were up on a ridge, chasing an elk as she defended her young one. She was very aggressive with the wolves and they finally gave up, realizing they had an easy meal waiting for them across the road.

Wolf in Yellowstone (Photo: Andy Harper)

The Druid's on the ridge howled and those on the valley floor at the carcass returned their calls, one of the most beautifully haunting sounds I have ever heard. A few moments later, we found ourselves in a awkward position. As the remainder of the pack suddenly emerged from the brush and were standing about 100 yards from our vehicle. They wanted to cross the road near our parked vehicle. Carl packed us up and moved us out of their way so they could cross the road. 

I was able to capture a few precious shots of the pack at close range before we moved. We watched in awe, as the wolves crossed into the valley, easily navigated the river and came out on the far banks shaking the frigid water from their fur. We laughed as they chased each other, while they dashed up the hillside towards the rest of the pack. They were warmly greeted at their feeding site. They were together again, secure with their pack. It was clear they enjoyed their life in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley.

We watched for most for the morning through Carl's spotting scopes. We thoroughly enjoyed their antics. Then towards the end of the morning we packed up as the wolves slowly made their way for a mid-day nap.

Although they are wild animals, they reminded me at times of my two dogs at home and how they love to run, hunt and play. I was surprised to see first hand how skittish they are of humans – they are definitely not the ruthless killers portrayed by some. Sure they take what they need to eat, but they are an important part of the ecosystem. There are times when weaker animals are taken by wolves. It's sad, but life in Yellowstone is not a Disney Movie. As humans, it is not up to us to upset the balance of nature because some may fear wolves or feel they are competing for trophy species like elk. Now that the wolves are back, we are seeing a more balanced ecosystem.

Wolves are amazing animals that need to be protected. Through my experience in June, I feel I have been initiated into the coolest fraternity on the planet and now I'm a wolf lover too! Let's manage them and learn to live together. Thanks for introducing me to Carl. It was an experience of a lifetime!

-Andy Harper

July 07, 2008

Wood River Wolf Project

Cindi_and_justin_monitoring_phantomCindi and Justin monitoring the Phantom Hill wolf pack.

In our first week on the Wood River Wolf Project, our team's efforts have already prevented a train wreck between a new sheep grazing operation and the Phantom Hill wolf pack. A sheep producer who had not planned to use the area this summer had to make last minute changes to his grazing route and unknowingly almost unloaded more than 2000 sheep in the same meadow where the wolves are raising their four young pups. Our team alerted the Forest Service managers who identified an alternative place to unload the sheep - several miles away from the wolves.

The sheep producer was grateful about avoiding the near catastrophe but remained skeptical about trying some of the other nonlethal methods to avoid conflicts with wolves. As his sheep were only a few miles from known wolf activity, our field team worked with him to try out turbofladry night corrals.

Lava Lake: Photo of fladry around a sheep pen
Photo of fladry around a sheep pen. Credit: Lava Lake Land and Livestock

Not only did the turbofladry work but just a few nights later, the rancher was with Defenders' field team and the herders when they actually watched a wolf chase a sheep that escaped predation by running inside the turbofladry night pen as the team was setting it up!

Here's an editorial and cartoon the local Idaho Mountain Express newspaper.  It's our hope that this project will serve as a model for other chronic conflict areas.080620cartoon


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