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March 2009

March 26, 2009

Idaho Wolf Habitat Tour Success

Checking out a wolf killed elk

Tour participants investigate the site of a wolf kill. There is nothing left beside hide and stomach contents.

(Photo: Jesse Timberlake)

Last weekend Defenders of Wildlife, along with Idaho Conservation League under the Western Wolf Coalition, sponsored a Wolf Habitat Tour in the Sawtooth National Forest. We met up at the coffee shop at 7:30 that morning. It was still dark due to the daylight savings time change the week before. The leader of the trip, Francie St. Onge from Sun Valley Trekking made sure we were all there before heading out into the hills surrounding Ketchum. Our first stop was Greenhorn Gulch. We parked our cars at first light and started to scan the area for wildlife. As the morning fogs lifted we could see that the hills were covered in elk. In the spotting scope we estimated there must have been at least 200 elk visible from the road. We did not see any wolves in the vicinity at that time but we did see some wolf tracks near the side of the road and so decided to follow them. The tracks must have been fresh, as snow had not filled them in yet. The tracks led to the base of the hill were we discovered the remains of an elk. Apparently this elk had been killed a couple days ago according to the locals, and in that time the area wolves had reduced the elk to a bunch of hair. Surrounding the kill site were numerous wolf tracks and scat. As Francie explained the details of an elk kill site, a number of locals came over and started asking questions about wolf and elk ecology, obviously they were very interested in what was happening in their own backyards.

Taking a break

Francie St. Onge talks about wolf ecology to the tour participants.

(Photo: Jesse Timberlake)

Our next stop was Anderson Creek, where the snowshoe trip was to begin. By now the sun had come out, the clouds had parted and it was turning into a beautiful day. We strapped on our snowshoes and our sunglasses and headed off into the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. This is one of the most beautiful places in Idaho if not the country. The Big Wood River Valley is surrounded by the Boulder Mountains to the north, and by the Sawtooth National Forest to the south; a mix of rugged mountain peaks and open valley bottoms that is host to many large animals including mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer wolverine, fisher and of course the wolf. We headed to the base of Butterfield Mountain where the Boulder Yurt was, our destination for lunch. For those of you who do not know what a Yurt is, it is a circular, domed tent used by nomadic peoples of Mongolia. We climbed up the slopes with Francie leading the way until we got to the yurt. Chase, one of the Sun Valley Trekking interns, had already fired-up the wood burning stove and the yurt was toasty warm. As we sat down to our lunches, Francie gave a wonderful presentation on wolf biology and ecology. Francie worked as a naturalist in Denali National Park, and has had many firsthand experiences with wolf packs in the wild.

After lunch we headed to the top of Butterfield Mountain, from where we could see the Boulder Mountains stretching off into the distance, and the whole of the Big Wood River Valley. We then snowshoe’d down the mountain back to our cars and the day was over.

A 2006 study by John Duffield, showed that Yellowstone wolves brought $35 million dollars to the region annually. The success of this tour shows that people in Idaho are willing to travel across the state, and spend money to watch wolves in Idaho’s wild areas. Everyone on this trip enjoyed themselves immensely. Just the fact that we were snowshoeing in a beautiful part of Idaho, knowing that there were wolves in the vicinity, made the trip that much more exiting. Idahoans are enjoying the opportunity to watch wolves in their natural habitat, something that they have not been able to do for over 70 years. Hopefully this is the start of a fledgling wolf tourism industry here in Idaho.

March 20, 2009

Backcountry Specialist - An Interview with Francie St. Onge of Sun Valley Trekking

Francie St. Onge Portrait by Sun Valley Trekking

Francie St. Onge has guided wilderness expeditions throughout the inter-mountain west and Alaska.
(Photo: Sun Valley Trekking)

Interview with Francie St. Onge, from Sun Valley trekking, a group that leads backcountry trips in the midwest, Alaska, and Chile.

Bio: Francie St. Onge hails originally from Minnesota, where some say she skied out of the womb. She completed a Bachelor of Science in Forestry-Resource Conservation at the University of Montana in 1995. Since then, she has guided wilderness expeditions throughout the inter-mountain west and Alaska, Co-founded a winter environmental education program in Crested Butte, Colorado, and worked as a naturalist in Denali National Park. Francie completed an MS degree in Recreation Resources-Environmental Education at Utah State University. Chief guide for SVT’s Chix programs.

How long have you been an outfitter/How long have you been running Sun Valley Trekking?

My husband Joe and I took over Sun Valley Trekking in December of 2000, so we are in our ninth season.  Sun Valley Trekking was started in 1982, so our backcountry hut system has been in place for over 25 years.

What other places do you travel to with Sun Valley Trekking?

Sun Valley Trekking operates 6 backcountry huts and yurts in Idaho, as well as does quite a lot of local guiding. We also operate in Yellowstone National Park, offering mulit-day sea-kayaking trips on the lakes, and backpacking trips. We also run ski expeditions in the St. Elias Range of Alaska, and Chile.

Why did you decide to settle in Idaho?

We have lived all up and down the Rocky Mountain states, but when we hit Idaho we realized we could spend out whole lives here and never see it all. We also moved here for the purpose of taking over Sun Valley Trekking.

Ridgetop view

The wolf tour participants near the summit of Butterfield Mountains, with the Boulder Mountains in the background.

(Photo: Jesse Timberlake)

What is your background with wolves?

Wolves have been a life-long interest. But specifically I worked as a naturalist in Denali National Park, giving educational programs on wolves and predator-predator interactions. I also had the good fortune to be able to accompany a biologist in the Park to assist in behavioral research on the Park wolves.

The wolves of Yellowstone have become famous, and there are great viewing opportunities to be had there. Could Idaho have similar opportunities to view wolves?

We do not have a viewing resource like the Lamar Valley, but when wolves are “in the neighborhood” it is possible to see them, and their “signs”, not too far off the road.  So far, we have had several sightings on our trips.  So, I believe Idaho is our best option to be able to see wolves in the wild.

Wolf tracks

Wolf Tracks: evidence that wolves were here last night.

(Photo: Jesse Timberlake)

Do you see the fledgling wolf tourism industry growing in Idaho?

Yes. Provided there are areas available to view wolves that provide adequate habitat, and an adequate population of wolves.

In what ways have you observed wolves benefiting the area since their re-introduction?

I have had guests specifically request to learn about wolves, so I believe it could be a draw for visitors to our area who are interested in viewing and learning about wildlife.  So, since recreation is an important source of income for Idaho, I believe the presence of wolves could help our economy.  Wolves also serve a very important ecological role as a wildlife species.  Having the historic and natural big predators helps to maintain the integrity of the ecosystem.  Maintaining an intact ecosystem is an important objective for our land managers, and for any area.

Anything else you'd like to add? 

Nope!

March 18, 2009

Wolf numbers up, but long term genetic sustainability is down

This is a good article quoting Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity that points out why even though we have seen an increase each year in wolf populations, the breeding pairs that will allow for the long term genetic stability of the wolf populations in the Northern Rockies are not where they need to be.  The article goes on to say that you would need to see breeding pairs around the thousand mark rather than around 400 where they are now to make sure genetic defects didn't show up in wolf populations further down the road. But due to wanton hunting that is sure to follow the delisting, the breeding pairs will never reach that mark.

March 13, 2009

Wolves in the crosshairs

A good opinion article on why having states manage wolf populations will be detrimental. Given their past history on how they have implemented wolf control procedures you just can’t expect it to be better this time around, not when the governor of one of the states himself wants to shoot the first wolf (Yes Butch Otter, we are looking at you). How can you expect someone with those feelings towards wolves to make impartial and logical choices when it comes to predator control programs......

March 11, 2009

But We'll Be Fighting Tooth and Claw...


FOIA request seeks evidence of proper review of wolf delisting decision

Flawed decision undermines President Obama's pledge of scientific integrity and transparency

WASHINGTON – President Obama pledged today to ensure that “science and the scientific process” inform and guide his administration’s decisions on issues including “protection of the environment” - one of several similar pledges he has made. But the president’s memorandum comes on the heels of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s surprise, scientifically flawed decision announced Friday that he plans to remove federal protections from wolves in the Northern Rockies region.

In a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request sent today, Defenders of Wildlife is seeking any documents demonstrating that Secretary Salazar undertook any new scientific review before reissuing the same legally and scientifically flawed decision previously announced by the Bush administration to remove wolves in most of the Northern Rockies region from the protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Secretary Salazar announced on March 6, 2009 that he intends to finalize a rule delisting wolves in the Northern Rockies that was issued by the Bush administration on January 14, 2009 – just six days before the end of the Bush administration. Hundreds of thousands of citizen comments opposing the delisting proposal were submitted to the Department of the Interior, including detailed comments from Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation groups pointing out that the new rule suffers from the same fundamental scientific and legal flaws as an earlier delisting rule withdrawn by the Department of the Interior in September 2008 after it was enjoined by a federal court.

In particular, the rule ignores contemporary scientific research on what constitutes a recovered wolf population and allows wolf populations to be reduced to the point where they could not achieve the natural genetic connectivity thought by scientists to be essential to the species’ long-term survival in the region.

Secretary Salazar’s decision to finalize the delisting rule, which could be published in the Federal Register later this week, will remove federal protections from wolves in Idaho, Montana and parts of neighboring states, but leaves wolves protected in Wyoming because that state’s management plan was deemed inadequate under the ESA.

“Secretary Salazar must not be listening very closely to President Obama, or to the American people,” said Defenders of Wildlife president Rodger Schlickeisen. “Despite President Obama’s vow last week to ‘restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act,’ Secretary Salazar rolled out the same flawed, legally suspect delisting rule that the Bush administration had issued in January. This plan draws lines based on political boundaries instead of biological facts, and allows nearly two-thirds of the region’s wolves to be killed after federal protections are removed.”

In a speech today announcing a new memorandum on scientific integrity and lifting a ban on stem cell research, President Obama said “in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science,” and proclaimed that “we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”

Schlickeisen noted, however: “There’s no way, in six short weeks, that the Department of the Interior had time to properly review the proposed delisting and examine the latest scientific information. If Secretary Salazar had done his job, and taken the time needed to come up with a good delisting plan, there’s no way he could have approved this half-baked recipe for disaster.”

On February 10, Schlickeisen sent a letter to Secretary Salazar urging him to reexamine the Bush administration’s wolf delisting proposal, and conduct the scientific review and collaborative process needed to develop a plan for sustainable state management of wolves. Just last week, Schlickeisen and the heads of 20 other conservation organizations delivered another letter to the Secretary urging him to “abandon the Bush rule and instead develop a wolf recovery plan to support delisting that is based on the best available science,” and adheres to the legal requirements of the ESA.

Secretary Salazar reissued the Bush plan without any response to conservation groups. Today’s FOIA request is also aimed at revealing who – if anyone – the Secretary did consult before deciding to approve the Bush plan.

“It’s simply astonishing that an administration as publicly devoted to science and transparency could allow this to happen. We believed in President Obama's commitment to transparency, public participation and collaboration,” said Schlickeisen. “All the reasons why this plan was a bad idea when the Bush administration proposed it still stand today. We’re asking why Secretary Salazar is backing this flawed plan, and we’re going to sue to stop it.”

Learn more about Defenders' efforts to safeguard wolves

March 10, 2009

Hey, that's just wolves being wolves...

Ed Kemmick of the Billings Gazette offers some much needed perspective on the most often hyperbolic issue of wolves in the west.

March 06, 2009

Not a good day to be a wolf

Same bad plan for wolves
Salazar strips federal Endangered Species Act protection from wolves in Idaho, Montana

WASHINGTON – Today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced he has decided to follow the Bush administration’s flawed decision to remove the protections of the Endangered Species Act from wolves in Idaho and Montana.

The following is a statement by Rodger Schlickeisen, president for Defenders of Wildlife:

"Today is a truly disappointing day for Americans who care deeply about the Northern Rockies wolf population and for the integrity of the Endangered Species Act. We are outraged and disappointed that Secretary Salazar has chosen to push the same, terrible Bush administration plan for wolf delisting just six weeks into President Obama’s administration.

"We all expected more from the Obama administration, but Defenders of Wildlife will now move to sue Secretary Salazar as quickly as possible.

"Just three days ago, we were thrilled when President Obama stood before employees of the Department of the Interior, with Secretary Salazar at his side, and vowed to ‘help restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act.’ Yet today, Secretary Salazar announced that he is adopting a rule that is just as flawed now as it was when the Bush administration issued this appalling plan. Americans voted for change last November. Today Secretary Salazar gave us more of the same discredited approach to conservation followed by the Bush administration for the past eight years.

"All the reasons why this plan was a bad idea when the Bush administration proposed it still stand today. If this rule is allowed to stand, nearly two-thirds of the wolves in the Northern Rockies could be killed. This plan would undermine the goal of ensuring a healthy, sustainable wolf population in the region. Secretary Salazar’s terrible decision leaves us no choice. We will stand up for wolves and endangered species conservation by moving immediately to challenge this delisting in court."

The following is a statement by Suzanne Stone, northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

"Nothing about this rule has changed since it was rejected and deemed unlawful in a federal court in July of 2008. It still fails to adequately address biological concerns about the lack of genetic exchange among wolf populations in the northern Rockies and it still fails to address the concerns with the states’ wolf management plans and regulations that undermine a sustainable wolf population by killing too many wolves.

"We had hoped for a new delisting plan, based on current science that provides for a healthy, well connected wolf population in the region. Instead we are forced to, once again, challenge a bad rule forcing the expenditure of time and money that would have been much better served towards developing responsible state management plans.

"Delisting the wolf at this point completely undermines the serious work, consideration and cooperation among all stakeholders that is necessary before being able to seriously declare the gray wolf recovered."

###

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

March 05, 2009

Request for more info from the post "Hardcore Wolf Enthusiast"

In response to your query, it looks like the closest campground (if you don't want to stay at the lodge on "campus") would be the Slough Creek, Pebble, or Tower with Slough being the closest. I found a link to the park map on their website which might make it easier to plan your trip. http://www.yellowstoneassociation.org/Institute/maps.aspx?p=yellowstone

Contact info: Yellowstone Association
Phone: 307-344-2293

Or email: (Yellowstone Association Institute Educational Programs):
Registrar@yellowstoneassociation.org

The link to the classes or the Yellowstone Association website is
http://www.yellowstoneassociation.org/institute/fieldSeminars/courseCalendar.aspx?p=1

That link should take you straight to the month where they have the class listed. You can click on Wolves of the Past Present and Future to get a synopsis of the class. Hope this helps. Any other questions just post them up and I'll see what I can dig up!

For the Hardcore Wolf Enthusiast

Want to learn about Yellowstone wolves in a really unique and up-close way?  Well the Yellowstone Institute is offering classes in June (they actually have a lot of unique classes throughout the year) taught by Dr. Jim Halfpenny and Jim Garry called "Wolves of the past present and the future" where you will actually go out into Yellowstone with the instructors.

Here is a description of the class:

Discover a uniquely broad view of wolves from their evolutionary origins to interpretation of their sign to compelling renditions of classic wolf tales. In lectures and the field, you’ll learn about wolf evolution, ecology, and management from carnivore ecologist Dr. James Halfpenny and the rich cultural history of wolves from folklorist Jim Garry. During field trips, you’ll look for these magnificent canids and learn more about their restoration to Yellowstone.

Activity Level: Easy—Hikes up to 3 miles per day with elevation gains of up to 250 feet. Some off-trail hiking is possible.

Start: June 15 at 9 a.m.
End: June 17 at 4 p.m.

There is a Testimonial page that has a long list of people saying great things about the classes offered there. Check it out!


March 03, 2009

All Rise........ the honorable elk presiding

ElkElk counts are on the rise in Yellowstone Park and the area north of the park in the Dome Mountain area.

Herd totals are shown to have increased but the Fish Wildlife and Parks Services (FWP) say that it is predominately in the breeding age elk.  The FWP suspects that the current increase in the herd is directly related to decrease in hunting permits for antlerless elk that big game hunters are allowed, better counting conditions and reduced wolf populations and predation.  However the catch is that the number of calves that survive is still low.  The calf to cow ratio is about 11 calves per 100 cows and the FWP would like to see those ratios climb to 20 or 30 per 100 for at least two years before they feel that the long term stability of the elk herd is secure enough to allow the amount of hunting permits for elk to be increased again. 

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