Friday, September 14, 2012

Wolf Weekly Wrap-Up

North Carolina’s Red Wolf: in the Spotlight and in Peril
Posted: 11 Sep 2012
Red wolves like this one and coyotes are difficult to tell apart, even in daylight. Interbreeding with coyotes is also a threat to this species.
The red wolf is a normally a secretive animal that avoids humans, waiting for nightfall to hunt and socialize.  But in North Carolina, these endangered creatures can no longer find safety under the cover of darkness.  The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission recently approved a temporary rule allowing night hunting of coyotes with spotlights, putting the rare wolves at risk of being accidentally shot.
Defenders of Wildlife, along with the Animal Welfare Institute and the Red Wolf Coalition, has filed a court challenge against the NC Wildlife Resource Commission and a request to stop this rule.  Not only does the rule threaten an endangered species, but the NC Wildlife Resource Commission also adopted it illegally, via a temporary rulemaking procedure that violates state law.

Red wolves and coyotes are easy to confuse even in daylight because they are similar in both in color and physical appearance, and adolescent wolves are similar to adult coyotes in size.  At night, it’s even more difficult to tell the difference (click here to see the two species side by side).

The rule is catastrophic for several reasons.  This species was once extinct in the wild, and slowly began to recover after captive wolves were reintroduced into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.  However, there are still only about 100 wild red wolves in the wild.  With such a small population, each individual is vital to the survival of the species.  But every year, about 7-9 percent of red wolves are killed by North Carolina hunters, a number that will almost certainly increase with night hunting.

Red wolves are also threatened by interbreeding with coyotes.  To prevent this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sterilizes coyotes that live in red wolf habitat.  But shooting sterilized coyotes allows fertile coyotes from other areas to move in and interbreed with wolves.

There are only about 100 red wolves left in the wild, and all of them live in the state of North Carolina.
Presently, the red wolf only exists in the state of North Carolina, and with a population so small and fragile, an increase in red wolf shooting deaths and interbreeding with coyotes could mean they’ll never recover.
Defenders is committed to fighting this rule and protecting these rare and beautiful animals.  Look out for updates as we continue our mission to keep red wolves alive and thriving.

Click here to learn more about the night hunting rule in North Carolina and the challenge filed against it.

Standing Up For Wolves
Posted: 10 Sep 2012
We’re going to court to stand up for wolves.  Today Defenders and our conservation colleagues filed a notice of intent to sue the Obama administration over its regrettable decision to remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Wyoming.  We urged them not to do it, but last week the administration announced their intention to move forward and today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its final notice of delisting in the Federal Register.  The rule will take effect on September 30.   So now it will be up to a federal court to determine the fate of wolves in Wyoming.

Why are we taking this important step?  We should be celebrating the return of wild wolves to the region.  Indeed, the return of the gray wolf to the northern Rockies has been one of conservation’s greatest success stories, and Defenders played a big role in making it happen.  But the administration’s premature delisting of wolves in Wyoming threatens to undermine that success.
This wolf, spotted outside Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest, is one of many that could be legally killed under the state’s management plan (Photo: Sandy Sisti, Wild At Heart Images)
Once removed from federal protection, wolves in Wyoming will be managed by the state, and Wyoming’s official wolf management plan will turn back the clock on wolf recovery.  Outside of Yellowstone National Park, in most of Wyoming, it will be legal to shoot wolves on sight.  In a smaller portion of the state, wolves can be legally hunted with proper licenses and regulations.  Only in Yellowstone itself would wolves be protected – and woe to any wolf that strays outside the park boundaries.  Put simply, Wyoming’s plan means that up to 60 percent of the state’s wolves outside of Yellowstone National Park could be wiped out.
That’s not only bad policy — we think it is illegal. 

Our lawsuit will argue that the Fish and Wildlife Service violated the ESA by failing to consider how important wolves in Wyoming are to maintaining a functioning population of wolves across the northern Rockies.  Under the delisting plan, Wyoming could reduce wolf populations outside Yellowstone NP to just 10 breeding pair or 100 wolves.  This, combined with aggressive wolf management in Idaho, Montana and other areas of the northern Rockies, could bring the regional population well below sustainable levels.  Not only could this undermine regional wolf recovery, but it will undoubtedly hinder the spread of wolves to other areas in the Pacific Northwest and southern Rockies, where they remain federally protected.

We will also argue that the Service’s delisting decision is “arbitrary and capricious” — the legal term for completely irrational.  The Service previously rejected a prior Wyoming plan for failing to maintain at least 15 breeding pair in the state. A federal court also ruled that a second, nearly identical Wyoming wolf management plan failed to satisfy the ESA‘s conservation standard.  The ESA requires states to have adequate rules in place to ensure the continued conservation of the species before it is delisted.  Despite some tweaks, Wyoming’s latest management plan suffers from the same fundamental defects as its earlier plans.  It creates a broad predator zone in which wolves can be shot on sight in much of the state, and it fails to guarantee a minimum of 15 breeding pair within its borders.

So today, we filed a notice of intent to sue.  That is not yet a lawsuit.  Under the Endangered Species Act, litigants must give the government 60 days’ notice of their intent to sue over illegal agency action.  The point of this “waiting period” is to give federal agencies an opportunity to correct their errors before litigation ensues.  Alas, in most cases, the agencies decline this opportunity to right any wrongs, and litigation moves forward.

Unfortunately, the 60-day waiting period also means that Wyoming will be free to kill wolves for at least a month before our suit can even be filed.  Many wolves in the predator zone could be eliminated before we get our day in court. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, and it is a shame that the administration has taken this approach. Our hands are legally tied for now, and Wyoming’s wolves will pay the price.

At the very first opportunity, exactly 60 days from now, we will file a complaint in the U.S. District Court.  We will ask the court to declare this rule illegal, and put wolves back on the endangered species list until Wyoming adopts a responsible management plan that ensures the continued survival and recovery of wolves in the region. That’s why we are going to court.  We don’t want to return to the days when wolves were recklessly targeted for elimination, especially not after all the work that’s been done to bring them back.
Wolf Weekly Wrap-up
Posted: 07 Sep 2012 12:50 PM PDT
Casper Trib blasts delisting – Environmental groups aren’t the only ones crying wolf over the Wyoming delisting. The Casper Star Tribune, the state’s largest daily newspaper, published a scathing editorial this week criticizing the state’s insistence on pursuing a management plan that includes a kill-at-will predator zone. Here’s what they said:
“But the bottom line is that Wyoming could put an end to the legal battle at any time and begin effectively managing the species without the fear of renewed federal intervention if it would withdraw its predator policy and make wolves trophy game in the entire state.”
Unfortunately, it’s too late now. Barring some unforeseen miracle, open season on wolves in the predator zone will start Sept. 30 and the regulated hunting season in the trophy game area will begin on Oct. 1.

N.B. – A total of five wolves have already been killed during the hunting seasons in Idaho
and Montana that opened on Aug. 30 and Sept. 1, respectively. 

Wedge Pack back under fire – That didn’t take long. Less than a week after Washington’s Wedge Pack was given a reprieve from a kill order, they were implicated in yet another livestock attack. Only this time, it looks like they might actually be guilty.

We’re still concerned that the state is being too hasty in their decision to kill wolves in response to possible conflicts with livestock. But the evidence in this most recent incident does appear to implicate the wolves. Two injured calves were found with bite marks on their hamstrings, usually a clear indication of an attack by wolves. As a result, the state has again issued a kill order for up to four wolves in the pack.

It’s too bad the state spent so much time investigating false claims of wolf predation when they could have been out preventing conflict. We’d much rather see them focusing their efforts on helping ranchers implement nonlethal deterrents. Otherwise, the cycle of depredation and wolf removals is likely to continue. Finding better ways for livestock and wildlife to coexist is the only real long-term solution.

Read more about the Wedge Pack in the Seattle Times
. Montanans down on wolves – We have our work cut out for us. A recent poll conducted by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks shows tolerance for wolves is dropping in the state. (See full report in the Billings Gazette). The results should be interpreted with a grain of salt, especially since those who dislike wolves are probably the most likely to respond to such a survey. But years of anti-wolf hysteria have clearly influenced public opinion.

That just means we have to redouble our efforts to remind all Americans why wolves are a valuable part of our wildlife heritage. Wolves help create a healthier environment by keeping prey species in check and allowing a greater diversity of plant and animal species to flourish. Further, they provide a boon to local economies through increased eco-tourism. Perhaps most importantly, the return of wolves gives us all a chance to experience the true majesty of America’s wilderness, complete with all its magnificent creatures.

Lone wolf stalks wildfire for food – OR-7 is still on his own in Northern California, but he’s getting awful clever. State biologists monitoring his movements found him within a mile of a large forest fire, on the lookout for smaller prey trying to escape the heat. Read more in the San Francisco Chronicle
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