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October 2008

October 29, 2008

FWS continues to push outdated delisting rule

On October 24th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the re-opening of a public comment period on its February 8, 2007 Northern Rockies wolf delisting rule – a rule that has not only been criticized by a federal court, but was also voluntarily withdrawn by the FWS a little over a week ago. Below is a statement by Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, regarding their announcement.

“It is shocking - although not entirely surprising - that the FWS is still trying to push a failed delisting rule out the door before the Bush administration turns out the lights.

“This hasty action undermines the serious work, consideration and cooperation among all stakeholders that is necessary before proposing any new rule. Rushing to ram this flawed and repackaged rule does not give the Fish and Wildlife Service time to address the flaws underscored by the court when it rebuked the agency earlier this year.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is merely repackaging a severely flawed rule instead of taking a fresh look at the management of wolves in the region. The original proposal allows around 1,000 wolves to be killed as soon as they lose the protections of the Endangered Species Act –slashing the population by as much as two thirds.

“What we need is to take a step back, bring all the stakeholders to the table and devise a plan that is informed, inclusive and balanced. Without full cooperation among interested parties, we’ll end up in the same ineffective tug-of-war that has dominated the scene during this administration. The Bush administration had its chance to come up with a responsible management plan and blew it.

October 20, 2008

A timely decision...

We couldn't have time it better... during Wolf Awareness Week, a U.S. District Court in Missoula officially granted the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s request to withdraw its 2008 Delisting Rule for Northern Rockies wolves.

On March 28, 2008, the US Fish and Wildlife Service removed federal protection for wolves in our region.  Under their Delisting plan, wolves in 88% of Wyoming lost all legal protection and, in less than 24 hours, there were confirmed reports of wolves being killed on sight.  One man claimed that he chased a wolf over 70 miles on snowmobile before shooting the exhausted animal.  That same day, the Idaho state legislature passed a new wolf management provision allowing Idaho wolves to be killed simply for being on the same trail shared with livestock.  During the next month, Idaho Fish and Game commissioners succumbed to pressure from the Idaho anti-wolf coalition and agreed to allow more than half of our wolf population to be killed before the end of this year.  As wolf conservationists had warned, these state plans were entirely insufficient to protect the regional wolf population.  We immediately filed an emergency request for an injunction to stop delisting and restore federal protection for wolves.  On July 18, 2008, the U.S. District Court in Missoula granted our preliminary injunction to wolf conservation temporarily placing Northern Rockies wolves back under federal protection and preventing the hunts from going forward but not before we lost all the known wolves in southwestern Wyoming.  These animals and their pups had already been killed.    

Today, we have renewed hope for wolves in our region.  On October 14, 2008, the U.S. District Court in Missoula, Montana granted the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s request to officially withdraw its 2008 Delisting Rule for Northern Rockies wolves.  Wolves are now back on the federal Endangered Species List throughout Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and Utah.  While this legal victory stops the wolf hunts and indiscriminate killing of wolves in our region for now, it means that the Delisting process will now start over again.  This time, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s needs to adhere to its original 1994 minimum recovery plan for gray wolves in the region that requires that wolves in each of the three recovery areas (central Idaho, NW Montana and Yellowstone) be connected as one “metapopulation.”  That means the various packs of wolves need to be able to reach each other in order to breed and raise pups without inbreeding.  The Service’s own research proved that at 2004’s population levels, which were nearly three times higher than the recovery number of 30 breeding pairs, these wolf subgroups were still not connected.  A larger wolf population is clearly needed to ensure the future of wolves in the region.   

Wyoming must change its law that allows unregulated wolf killing in nearly 90 percent of the state.  The Service firmly rejected Wyoming’s hostile wolf management plan in 2003 then ‘flip-flopped without explanation’ by approving the plan with “the same deficiencies” in 2007. But all of the state wolf management plans will need to be improved in order to allow for a sustainable regional wolf population throughout the region including our neighboring states.  This summer, biologists documented a pack of wolves with pups in Washington State and that same day, Oregon wolf biologists discovered the state’s first documented wolf pack and pups since the species was eradicated in the 1930s.  Biologists are celebrating this news because the return of wolves means that these ecosystems can sustain greater biodiversity of other native species. If we manage wolves responsibly in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, we will see more successes like this played out in neighboring states.   

What about managing wolves in the meantime?  Reinstating federal protection for wolves in the region still allows the states to manage wolves. State agencies can still help livestock owners with conflict prevention measures to avoid losses and wolves that switch to preying on livestock can still be killed.  Defenders of Wildlife and other groups will continue to actively work with livestock owners and agencies to help provide the tools and methods that reduce losses to wolves and other native carnivores. 

Ultimately, we do want to see wolves relieved of their federal protections and managed by the states in a responsible and sustainable manner.  But this time, we need a process that brings together a balance of stakeholders to craft wolf and livestock management plans based on solid science.  As westerners who share a deep respect for our natural resources, we can make this a reality.  We have another chance to get it right this time.   

October 17, 2008

Our Wolf Experts Answer Your Questions: Part III

Many of you were curious about the current climate for wolves in the Southwest. Our Southwest Program Director, Eva Sargent, answers your questions:

Question 6: How are the reintroduced Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico doing? 

Eva_bio "The lobos are in serious trouble. There were only 52 alive in the wild at the last official count, and that’s the only wild population of this rare wolf anywhere in the world! Despite ten years of work, and about 100 captive-born wolves released, there were only three breeding pairs at last count. Mexican wolves are once again teetering on the brink of extinction. Management needs to change – fast"

Question 7: What are the challenges facing Mex. wolf recovery efforts in the Southwest?

Eva_bio"The challenges are social and political – not biological. The released wolves know how to form packs, hunt prey, pair up and raise young. They restore balance to ecosystems in ways scientists are just beginning to understand. Unfortunately, a small number of very vocal and active wolf opponents have managed to slow progress toward wolf recovery. Many Mexican wolves have been illegally killed or poached. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has abdicated its responsibility for recovery – taking the easy fix of removing wolves when they prey on cattle instead of preventing conflicts in the first place. Too many wolves have been killed or removed this way. Keeping a healthy population of wolves in the wild should be the service’s top priority to ensure that Mexican wolf recovery is successful."

October 16, 2008

Our Wolf Experts Answer Your Questions: Part II

Question 4: Michele K asks: "Why are wolves in Alaska being shot from airplanes if the are still protected under the Endangered Species Act?  Why isn't that being shut down?"

Caroline_bio Our Senior Director of Field Conservation and Alaska wolf expert, Caroline Kennedy, answers: "Because wolf populations in Alaska have never declined to the extent they have in other states, they were never listed under Endangered Species Act. Alaska classifies wolves as both big game animals and furbearers, which means they can be hunted and trapped. The state has implemented predator control programs in certain parts of the state in order to artificially boost game populations. Their preferred method of killing wolves in these areas is aerial and land and shoot hunting. Each winter, the state issues permits to Alaska residents allowing them to shoot wolves using airplanes.

More than 30 years ago, Congress passed the Airborne Hunting Act to stop the aerial hunting of wolves and other wildlife. But Alaska is exploiting a loophole in this federal law that needs to be closed in order to end the state’s aerial hunting program. Congressman George Miller has introduced legislation that would fix the loophole and prevent other states from adopting similar programs when wolves are removed from the Endangered Species Act."

For more about aerial hunting, read our fact sheet.

Question 5: Randy B asks: "As a supporter of wolves I am often faced with accusations of wolf attacks on people. I have heard that no human has ever been killed in the US by a wolf. Is this true? What is the record of wolf caused injuries ? How do wolf attacks compare to cougar, bear, coyote and bobcats attacks?"

Gina_bio_3 Our Conservation Associate, Gina Schrader answers: "In general, wolves fear humans and do not approach them. As of October 2008, there is no documented case of a healthy, wild wolf killing a human in the United States. In fact, very few incidents involving wolves attacking humans have occurred in North America. Those rare occurrences were reportedly caused because wolves associated humans as a food source, or because a wolf was likely reacting to the presence of dogs. 

Arguments regarding the danger of wolves to humans should be tempered by an understanding of their relative occurrence compared to attacks on or deaths of humans caused by other animals. For instance, each year 90 to 100 deaths from bee or wasp sting reactions occur in the United States. Furthermore, 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, and approximately 16 fatalities result from such bites.

To prevent conflicts with wildlife, people must act responsibly by never feeding or approaching wild animals or take other actions that cause wild animals to lose fear of humans."

October 15, 2008

Our Wolf Experts Answer Your Questions: Part I

Happy Wolf Awareness Week!!

Thank you for sending us your questions on wolves. Due to an overwhelming response, we are not able to have our experts answer every question that was submitted. We have chosen the most popular questions for our experts to answer, the first batch is below:

Question 1: Katherine C asks: "Are the Red wolves of the Pocosin National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina fully protected?"

Our Conservation Associate and red wolf expert Gina Schrader answers:

Gina_bio_3"Today, more than 100 wild red wolves roam more than 1.7 million acres throughout northeastern North Carolina, including Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Within their current range, red wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act as a non-essential experimental population. This designation offers special management regulations. Learn more about endangered red wolves."

Question 2: Denise K asks: "Why isn't more being done to let farmers and ranchers know about the guy who came up with the idea of recording his packs howling and giving that recording to the farmers/ranchers to play on their property to keep the wild wolves away from their flocks and herds? It has been proven that it works as wolves are territorial and will not go where another pack lives, and the howling of another pack lets them know to not trespass."

Our Northern Rockies associate and proactive expert, Jesse Timberlake, answers:

Jesse_bio_2"Work has been done on these 'howl boxes' for a number of years now. One has to be careful though and make sure that these recorded wolf howls do not attract nearby wolves. Wolves by their nature are very curious creatures, as are all canines, and if they hear a howl that they do not recognize, they may decide to come closer and check it out. Obviously this is the opposite effect that these boxes are intended for. State agencies have used Radio Activated Guard (RAG) boxes for a number of years. These boxes are tuned into the frequency of local collared wolves, and when they get too close the box emits a strobe light effect and recorded noises of gunshots and horses stampeding. These have proven to be a very effective tool to keep wolves out of cattle during calving season.

In fact this summer Defenders has helped fund a project that used similar 'howl boxes' to monitor the number of wolves in remote areas. These boxes emit howls on a timed schedule, and when nearby wolves howl back it records these noises and biologists can tell how many wolves are in a certain area. Defenders employs a wide array of nonlethal techniques which you can view on our Web site."

Question 3: Karen G asks: "Is it true that wolves have only one partner that they mate with for life?"

Our Northern Rockies representative and gray wolf expert, Suzanne Asha Stone, answers:

Suzanne_bio_2 "Wolves have very strong family bonds much like humans.  Alpha wolves are often the parents of the other pack members and typically are the only pack members to mate and produce pups, but not always. The alpha pair sometimes mate for life but wolves rarely live beyond 8 years old in the wild.  Sometimes an alpha wolf is killed and its mate may select a new alpha. Other times, when an alpha wolf dies, the pack itself disbands.  Sometimes, wolves change roles within a pack and a younger wolf may become an alpha leader.  However, wolves almost never interbreed with other family members but will seek out a mate that is unrelated to the pack.  That helps ensure better genetic stability within the species."

October 09, 2008

Did you know...

That next week is Wolf Awareness Week??

Join us in celebrating Wolf Awareness Week by submitting your burning questions to our panel of wolf experts! As you may know, this year has been extremely eventful for our legal, field and science teams. We have succeeded in making sure wolves remain protected under the Endangered Species Act and we have just wrapped up a very successful collaborative effort working with livestock owners and state officials to engage in non-lethal techniques.

Our experts are available to answer any question you have ever wanted to ask about wolves, or our work with wolves. You must submit your question by 11am on Tuesday the 13th of October.

Don't forget to check back with our blog to see if your question was answered by one of our experts! 

October 08, 2008

Patnership with the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group

Lane Adamson, a member of Defenders' Livestock Producers Advisory Council, shows his animal magnetism (Photo: Jesse Timberlake)

Lane Adamson, a member of Defenders' Livestock Producers Advisory Council, shows his animal magnetism

Photo: Jesse Timberlake

Last week I drove up to Madison Valley, Montana to visit a range rider project we are involved with. This is the first year we have partnered with the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group and other conservation organizations to help fund the project, and so I was eager to see how it was going and to meet the riders themselves. I met up with Lane Adamson who is on our Livestock Producers Advisory Council and the project director for the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group, a non-profit, grassroots ranching organization that encourages collaborative stewardship of the Madison Valley. We drove the twenty miles of so from Ennis, almost down to the Idaho border, then heading west along a dirt road we entered the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The range riders, a local couple who have been riding horses and roping cattle for much of their lives, had set up their base-camp at a creek at the valley bottom with their five dogs, four horses and one RV. We chatted about the project with the riders and the local wolf specialist from the state wildlife agency, and discussed ways in which riders can help both the livestock producers and the wolves. Riders are out with the cattle much of the time so are able to spot any sick or injured cattle, the ones most venerable to depredation by predators, and remove them from the pasture. They can look for wolf tracks and other signs to see if there is a lot of wolf activity in the area and take the appropriate action with the cattle. They can also help to put to bed the many myths that surround wolves as they have the rare experience of seeing wolves and cattle co-exist on our public lands.

The range rider next to 'Horsethief Cabin' that was built with help from Defenders (Photo: Mel Mckitrick)

The range rider next to 'Horsethief Cabin' that was built with help from Defenders.

Photo: Mel Mckitrick

Last year we teamed up with a grazing association in the Madison Valley to help build a cabin for their range riders. The grazing allotments in the National Forest that these producers use are a long way from any roads; it is a three hour ride in, and a three hour ride out. Doing this on a daily basis meant that there was not much time in the day to actually spend with the cattle and to look for signs of wolves in the area. They had decided to build a rider cabin that would allow the riders to stay overnight, giving them more time to do their job. 'Horsethief' cabin, as it has been named, has helped the rider project this year, and hopefully for many years to come.

Working with producers in these areas surrounding Yellowstone National Park is vital in protecting corridors on the landscape that provide wolves and other animals the connectivity between the Park, northwest Montana and Central Idaho. These corridors allow the genetic exchange that is vital to keeping populations of predators healthy and viable on an ever changing landscape. By encouraging producers to use non-lethal deterrents on wolves, we can give these animals the ability to disperse throughout the region using both public and private lands.

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