Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wolf Weekly Wrap-up

Posted: 03 Feb 2012
Wolves, like this on in the Cascade Mountains, are receiving the ire of the Yakima County Farm Bureau even though only one livestock loss has been attributed to wolves in Washington in more than five years.
Tempers flare in Pacific Northwest – Though there are fewer than 30 wolves in Washington, and the state’s wolf management plan has only recently been approved, wolf opponents are already pushing for more aggressive control actions. Legislators are proposing a significant decrease in the fine for illegally killing wolves from $4,000 to $1,000 and relisting wolves as a “game” animal instead of endangered. The Yakima County Farm Bureau is opposing the state’s wolf plan outright. Some of their members want all wolves to be eliminated, even though there has only been one confirmed livestock loss to wolves since they returned to Washington more than five years ago.
At least some landowners are taking a more measured approach. Dan Studley, quoted in the Yakima Herald, says he’s not too concerned about wolves:
“(The wolves) came on their own. They weren’t planted,” Studley said. “I look at them like the bear and the cougar and the elk and everything else around us. They’re just wildlife. I don’t oppose them at all. If they became a problem and (state officials) had to trap some and movement, then they’ll do that.
“I just don’t see that they’re going to impact our lives that much.”
As the story points out, Defenders has already chipped in $15,000 in start-up funds to help Washington get a compensation program off the ground. We are also organizing another series of workshops to help local, state, federal and tribal wildlife managers enhance their skills in field investigations and nonlethal deterrents.

Montana county considers wolf bounty – This week, anti-wolf zealots in Jefferson County, Montana are pushing to reinstate a wolf bounty program that would pay people for killing wolves. Only three cattle were lost to wolves in Jefferson County in 2011 according to state compensation payment records, but rather than taking steps to learn to live with wolves, county commissioners are considering a bounty to encourage all wolves to be killed. But not all residents of Jefferson County are on board with the proposed bounty. One hunter, quoted in the local paper, said that the state should be given a chance to manage wolves responsibly before counties take more aggressive action. Another person suggested that cougars and coyotes are likely taking more elk calves and fawns than wolves are, and another said bounties often amount to legalized fraud. Read more in the Helena Independent Record.

Wood River overseas – This summer we were lucky enough to have Pete Haswell, a young biologist from the UK Wolf Conservation Trust, volunteering on the Wood River Wolf Project. He spent his days and nights with our field team tracking wolves and sheep through the central Idaho wilderness, and when he returned, he had some great stories to tell. One night he came within 60 feet of a wolf in the Phantom Hill pack and exchanged late night howls with other packs as well. More importantly, he got to learn first-hand about the nonlethal tools we use to deter wolf attacks, which he hopes to utilize in his work in Eastern Europe. Pete also created an interactive map to keep track of known wolf locations in relation to grazing bands of sheep. Read more about Pete’s adventures in Idaho in the latest issue of Wolf Print, the quarterly magazine of UKWCT (see pg. 14). Pete also wrote a blog post for Defenders during Wolf Awareness Week.

Video of OR7 in his Oregon days – While OR7 remains in northern California in the shadows of Mt. Lassen, his legend continues to spread. This week a video surfaced of the lone male wolf from his Oregon days. The goal of the group named “Oregon Wolf Education” that sponsored the video is “to educate people on how the recent invasion of the Canadian gray wolf is affecting our lives.” But the video also tells a different story of a lone wolf that repeatedly moved through cattle pastures without causing trouble, due at least in part to the effective use of a range rider. Decide for yourself whether the short video portrays OR7 as a serious threat or just another wild animal sharing the landscape:
OR-7 from Pahsimeroi Pictures on Vimeo.
And in case you missed it, OR7 has also made news in the New York Times and TIME magazine!

What does the data show? – Understanding wolf behavior and their interactions with both wild ungulates and livestock isn’t easy. Wolves share the landscape with other animals that target the same prey, so it takes some careful analysis to determine the impact of any one species on another. That’s why Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is leading an in-depth study of predator-prey interactions in the Bitterroot Valley, where elk herds have declined in recent years. There are two years remaining in the study, but so far state biologists are learning that cougars in the area may be having a bigger impact on elk populations than wolves (last year, cougars killed 13 tagged elk calves and wolves killed three). The results of the study should yield important information about the relative impact of wolves on elk. Read more in this feature story from the Missoula Independent.
Endangered Mexican Wolves on the Rebound?
Posted: 03 Feb 2012
Mexican Gray Wolf, (c) Scott S. Warren / National Geographic Stock
The number of endangered Mexican gray wolves living in the wild increased in 2011.
BREAKING: The number of endangered Mexican wolves, or lobos, in Arizona and New Mexico increased last year to 58 wolves and six breeding pairs, up from 50 wolves and two breeding pairs in 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today.
The small boost is big news around here. Mexican wolves are the most endangered subspecies of gray wolf in North America.
To get a better idea of what this means for the lobo’s recovery, I sat down for an in-depth Q&A with Defenders’ Southwest program director, Eva Sargent.
If you just want the highlights, check out our press release.

Q: So what exactly is the annual population count?

Eva: In January each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) takes to the skies over the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area spanning more than four million acres in Arizona and New Mexico to count how many wolves are living in the wild. They use an airplane to locate signals from the wolves with telemetry collars, and then radio in a helicopter to take a closer look. The helicopter crew’s job is to count all the wolves found near the collared wolf. The airplane and helicopter also survey areas without collared wolves, searching for lobos that could have set out to claim new territory, find a mate or start a pack. Wildlife officials use this information along with wolves tallied during ground surveys in November and December to come up with a final count.

Q: Why do you think lobo numbers are on the rise?  

Red flags, called fladry, tied to fences help keep wolves away from livestock.
Eva: We are seeing the pay off of years of hard work by Defenders and others. In 2009, Defenders settled an important court case with the Fish and Wildlife Service that ended the notorious “three strikes” policy, which removed far too many wolves from the wild. Even genetically important wolves, and those with dependent pups, were removed. Under those conditions, it was difficult for the population to grow. Since the settlement, only one wolf has been removed. Fewer removals and more Wolf Coexistence Partnerships have helped Mexican wolves survive. Our coexistence program works directly with ranchers to lower conflict between livestock and lobos. We do things like help ranchers hire more cowboys to watch over cattle, fund special fencing or fladry (flags that wolves avoid), move livestock away from den sites – techniques that are proven to work. We’ve had growing interest from ranchers in the last few years, and the FWS, Arizona Game and Fish Department and others are placing a greater emphasis on coexistence projects.  

Q: Is this increase typical or should lobos be doing better?

The Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area spans across more than four million acres of wild lands.
Eva: We expected to have 100 wolves and 18 breeding pairs by 2006. Instead, due to excessive removals and ongoing poaching by wolf-haters, the population has never climbed above 59 and stagnated for many years around 50. Wolves are resilient. Given enough game and a chance to find a mate, they will expand into good habitat and the population will grow until it reaches a healthy balance with available prey. The most important thing that we can do to help out now is to release more wolves. There are wolves waiting right now, eligible for release in both Arizona and New Mexico, and the FWS needs to get on the ball and let them go. Some of these wolves have even been specially conditioned to avoid cattle, and we need to get them out there and see if this conditioning method makes a difference. In addition to releasing more wolves, the FWS needs to change its outdated policy that doesn’t allow wolves direct from captivity to be released in New Mexico. The service has been sitting on the paperwork for this policy change for years.

Q: What are some challenges to recovery?

Eva: The challenges are almost all political or social. We have Congressman Pearce in New Mexico repeatedly trying to defund the program, and we have a lack of resolve to release more wolves. We are also waiting for a new recovery plan, although good progress is being made…
The first step to overcoming some of these obstacles is to take a rigorous scientific look at what Mexican wolves need to survive into the future. How many wolves are needed? How many different populations? How will the populations be connected, and where are the best places for wolves–the places with enough prey and not too many roads or too many people?

Q: What more needs to be done to help bring lobos back from the brink?Mexican wolves like this one in a captive breeding facility await release into the wild.

Eva: While all of the above is being figured out, we will continue to build tolerance and coexistence. We also need more wolves to be released. This is urgent. Our one small population is extremely vulnerable to disasters like the Wallow Fire, to inbreeding, to slipping back toward extinction.

BREAKING: Mexican Gray Wolves Gained Ground in 2011
Posted: 03 Feb 2012 09:23 AM PST
Mexican gray wolf numbers were up in 2011.
TUCSON, Ariz.—The number of endangered Mexican gray wolves surviving in the southwestern United States increased in 2011 to 58 wolves and six breeding pairs up from 50 wolves and two breeding pairs the year before, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today.
But Defenders of Wildlife is urging Arizona state and federal wildlife officials to release new wolves into the wild to strengthen the population — cautioning that despite the increase, the small population is still at risk and needs a deeper gene pool.
“While the increase comes as good news for these highly endangered animals, the small population of 58 lobos is still extremely vulnerable,” said Eva Sargent, Defenders’ Southwest program director. “Wolves are smart, adaptable animals, but they can’t make it alone. New releases of wolves in Arizona and New Mexico are urgently needed to ensure a healthy population.”
Wolves are smart, adaptable animals, but they can’t make it alone. — Eva Sargent, Southwest program director
The boost signals, however, that a new emphasis on partnerships between the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arizona Game and Fish Department and ranchers is helping livestock and lobos better coexist. Techniques such as portable fencing, watchdogs, funding for cowboys and compensation for livestock lost to wolves are working to keep more wolves on the ground.
example of fladry
A federal wildlife agent demonstrates how to set up fladry.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must build on this momentum, moving forward with several releases that were planned for 2011, but never happened,” Sargent added. “There are wolves eligible for release in Arizona and New Mexico right now, and they are desperately needed. Some of these wolves have been specially conditioned to avoid preying on cattle and deserve a chance at life in the wild.”