Wednesday, February 29, 2012

WY Residents struggle with fate of wolves

While some advocate for hazing, biologist says technique usually doesn’t work.

By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
February 29, 2012

A Jackson wolf advocate would support a federal plan to kill wolves that have roamed a Jackson neighborhood, provided the animals seem too comfortable around humans.
The decision should hinge on whether the wolves are habituated to people, said Chris Colligan, Wyoming wildlife advocate for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said Monday they would use a helicopter and tranquilizer darts to track and capture three or four wolves that have approached homes in Indian Trails and nearby subdivisions. Once the animals are captured, they’ll likely be given a lethal injection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf manager Mike Jimenez said.
Colligan likened the situation to that of habituated wolves Yellowstone National Park wildlife managers have killed for approaching people.

“We’re lucky to live in an area with robust elk populations,” Colligan said. “It shouldn’t be a surprise that we have wolves, bears and mountain lions that follow these animals.
“At the same time, it’s not good for wolves to be in a subdivision,” he said.
Suzanne Stone, northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said she’s disappointed that Fish and Wildlife Service managers haven’t tried hazing the wolves away.
“These wolves haven’t actually done something yet,” she said. “Why hasn’t anything been attempted?”

Wolves too close for comfort

Tools such as rubber buckshot could help instill fear of humans in the wolves, she said. Hazing has been successful in chasing wolves from residential areas near Ketchum, Idaho, she said.
“You just can’t let them lose that fear of people, because that’s what’s protecting them the most,” Stone said.
Hazing in these types of situations is rarely successful, Jimenez said Monday. The wolves learn to stay out of range.

Residents of subdivisions where the wolves were seen say they’re sad the predators will be killed, but most said they understand why Jimenez made the decision to err on the side of human safety. Wolf attacks on humans are exceedingly rare. Most of the attacks that do occur involve wolves that are habituated to humans.

James Peck posted video footage on YouTube of the wolves traveling within roughly 30 feet of his home in the Indian Trails subdivision.
Peck said the wolves seemed to be using his property to travel from one open space to another.
“They appeared to avoid humans,” he said. “They’re weren’t sniffing around the deck.”

The only reason the wolves got as close as they did was to cross a bridge near Peck’s home, he said.
“They could have easily scooted right down the driveway near my house,” he said. “Instead they veered away into the deep snow,” to avoid getting close.
Still, Peck said he trusts Jimenez to make the right decision.

Managers know best
“If the goal is the long-term recovery of wolves, then I think they need to avoid these kinds of public relations nightmares [such as] if a wolf jumps onto somebody’s porch and rips somebody’s dog to pieces,” Peck said.
“There are some people who say at least give them a chance [to be relocated and] to die like wolves,” he said. “I don’t know whether that’s realistic or not.”

Most suitable wolf habitat in the region is already occupied, Jimenez said.
Still, attempting to capture and relocate the animals resonated with some of Peck’s neighbors.
“I can see that there’s some danger in having them in the neighborhoods, but I can’t see why they can’t relocate them,” said Fran Measom, who also lives in Indian Trails.

Jackson resident Tenley Thompson has watched one of the wolves, a white, radio-collared male, for about five years. The wolf, dubbed “Old White” is “a cool guy,” Thompson said. “It’s unfortunate the way it’s worked out.”
Old White is probably 6 or 7 years old, weighs about 110 pounds, and comes from the Pinnacle Peak Pack, a group that spends a lot of time on the National Elk Refuge, Thompson said.

“He’s really a wallflower and he’s never had much success with the lady wolves,” she said. “He usually sits to one side and watches the others frolic around.”
The other wolves likely followed Old White in search of females, Thompson said. Their forays into neighborhoods may end once breeding season is over, she said.

Colligan said residents in areas with lots of wildlife have a responsibility to learn how to avoid conflicts.
“People in the area need to be proactive in keeping their dogs on leash, keeping pet food stored properly and not feeding large ungulates,” he said. “They can all draw wolves in.”
“We don’t think it’s appropriate for healthy wolf management to have wolves expanding into housing developments,” Jimenez said. “We’ve been watching it for a month and what we see is that it’s progressing in the wrong direction.”

“They travel north and they come back through that development,” Jimenez said. “I’ve had people call me and saying that they’re walking within... 10 feet of their mud room window. They’re seen at 10:30 in the morning.
“They’re around kids, they’re around dogs,” he said. We think these wolves are becoming habituated to people and houses and that is not a good sign.”

Weather will likely delay using a helicopter to capture and kill the animals, Jimenez said Tuesday.
Colligan said residents in areas with lots of wildlife have a responsibility to learn how to avoid conflicts with predators.
“People in the area need to be proactive in keeping their dogs on leash, keeping pet food stored properly and not feeding large ungulates,” he said. “They can all draw wolves in.”

The situation may repeat itself.
“When a pack is removed, new wolves will move in,” Stone said. “I’m sorry that we weren’t able to get out and help sooner.”