Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wolf Weekly Wrap-Up

Posted: 05 Aug 2011

Photo by Michael Quinton/National Geograhic Stock.
Poor wolf planning in Wyoming – The U.S. Department of the Interior released further details this week about its pending agreement with Wyoming

on a shoot-on-sight wolf management plan. Much like the last Wyoming plan that was rejected by the Fish and Wildlife Service a few years ago, this plan would give wolves dual-classification—“predator” status across a vast majority of the state where wolves could be shot on sight, and “trophy game” status in the northwest part of the state where wolves could only be hunted with a permit. The new wrinkle is that the plan would expand the trophy game area slightly from mid-October to through February, allowing some dispersal of wolves during winter months. However, the plan only requires 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs to be maintained outside of the Yellowstone area, leaving nearly 150 wolves at risk of being wiped out. Read our full press release here
Gov. Kitzhaber signs Oregon wolf bill – We knew it was coming, but that doesn’t make victory any less sweet. Thanks to months of long negotiations between Defenders, Oregon wildlife officials, the Governor’s office and the ranching community, a pioneering wolf compensation and coexistence program is taking effect immediately. The livestock compensation and wolf coexistence bill passed in late June with unanimous support from both the Oregon House and Senate and was signed into law on Tuesday by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (read our full press release here). Listen to this brief report from NPR affiliate, Northwest Public Radio, including an interview with Suzanne Stone:

Hunting wolves in Montana – This long feature story from the New York Times/Greenwire fell through the cracks last week (sorry!), but it’s worth a careful read. Clearly, many ranchers are not excited about the return of wolves to the landscape, while others are doing their best to coexist with wildlife. Gary Burnett, a rancher who leads the Blackfoot Challenge coexistence program, makes it clear that wiping out wolves is not the answer: 
“If you follow that logic to the extreme and say you should get rid of all the wolves, well, the next thing you’d say is get rid of all the elk,” Burnett said. “From a rancher’s perspective, elk are a lot more economically damaging than wolves.”
Defenders’ signature Wood River Wolf Project gets a great mention, and our own wolf expert Suzanne Stone weighs in on the importance of taking proactive steps to reduce conflict:
Stone, at Defenders, is working with ranchers in Montana and Idaho to encourage a variety of nonlethal methods of deterring wolves, including range runners, livestock guard-dogs, alarm systems and different types of fencing.
Wolf attacks tend to increase when ranchers leave livestock carcasses behind or graze near national parks, she said. And while wolves in Montana and Idaho routinely encounter livestock, preying on them appears to be a learned behavior, according to Montana FWP.
“If you kill wolves, you don’t resolve the conflict, you just perpetuate it,” she said.
Stone leads the Wood River Wolf Project in the Sawtooth wilderness of central Idaho. In its fourth year last year, the program lost one sheep out of more than 10,000 that moved through the area, she said.

Oregon's livestock compensation and wolf coexistence bill will make sure ranchers are doing their part.
Live wolf coexistence demo – If you happen to live near Blaine County, Idaho or will be passing through the area, be sure to stop by and see our wolf coexistence demonstration next week. On Aug. 10, Suzanne Stone and several other wolf experts (including Carter Niemeyer, former wolf recovery coordinator for Idaho) will be on-hand to discuss our Wood River Wolf Project and demonstrate how to use nonlethal, proactive tools to reduce conflict between livestock and wildlife. They’ll be setting up fladry, flashing lights, sounding alarms, and might even have a guard dog or two. Stop by the Blaine County fairgrounds in Carey, Idaho and check it out!

A pair of conflicted legal decisions – A federal judge in Montana came out with a pair of decisions this week that only muddy the waters of the wolf controversy. In the first decision, regarding the constitutionality of the wolf rider signed into law in April, the judge upheld Congress’ action yet made it clear that he believes it was a gross violation of the ‘separation of powers’ doctrine. He wrote: “[The wolf rider] sacrifices the spirit of the ESA to appease a vocal political faction, but the wisdom of that choice is not now before this Court.” And later: “If I were not constrained by what I believe is binding precedent from the Ninth Circuit, and on-point precedent from other circuits,  I would hold Section 1713 is unconstitutional because it violates the Separation of Powers doctrine . . . ” Defenders was not a party to this lawsuit, but it’s clear that the judge shares many of our concerns about the propriety of the wolf delisting rider. Congress should not be the ultimate arbiter of wildlife conservation decisions, nor should it be looking for devious ways to skirt long-standing environmental protections as it did for wolves. The Endangered Species Act is one of our nation’s most successful and forward-thinking environmental laws, and we cannot allow it to be undermined for political convenience.

The other decision concerns Defenders’ challenge of the government’s ability to kill wolves in order to boost elk and deer numbers, as proposed by Idaho and Montana earlier this year. While wolves were still federally protected under the ESA, both states wanted to target wolves in certain areas that they blamed for low elk numbers. This case was largely superseded by the wolf rider that stripped federal protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies, leaving the legal question unresolved. But we still believe killing wolves to artificially maintain ungulate populations is an inappropriate use of federal authority. The greater concern now is that Idaho and Wyoming are preparing to manage wolves very aggressively and could drive wolf populations well below where they are today. That kind of wildlife management is unwarranted and an incredible disservice to the recovery of wolves across the West. Wolves are an essential part of the western landscape and should be treated as such.