Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wolves Among The Sheep

Wolves Among The Sheep
Posted: 28 Oct 2012
Guard dogs and people must work together to protect sheep.
Suzanne Asha Stone, Northern Rockies Representative

They said it couldn’t be done. That wolves and sheep together on public lands would never work. And certainly the stories in the news bear out the direst examples to prove their predictions. Regionally, more than 1,600 wolves have been killed in attempts to address losses of approximately 3,000 sheep and 1,500 cattle over the last quarter-century. State governments are driving wolf numbers down through hunting, trapping and snaring in large part to “address conflicts” with livestock. But does it really have to be this way?

The return of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) in the 1990s is one of the most ecologically successful, politically controversial and socially polarized wildlife restoration efforts undertaken in the western United States. Despite socio-political conflicts that remain highly elevated today, a new collaborative project has taken root in central Idaho to mediate wolf and livestock conflicts.

In 2007, the Phantom Hill wolf pack began killing sheep in central Idaho’s “sheep superhighway” on the Sawtooth National Forest during the summer grazing season. The pack was targeted for lethal control — a nicer way of saying that the whole pack would be killed by government agents. But if wolves couldn’t survive in the Sawtooths, one of the most pristine and wild national forests in the country, where could they?

It started with a phone call. Mike Stevens, then president of Lava Lake Lamb, called me to discuss the situation. We had already been working together for several years to help Lava Lake successfully avoid sheep losses to wolves. However, that was one producer with about 4,000 sheep. The conflict this time involved more than 12,000 sheep moving in segmented bands across wide swathes of backcountry forests. It seemed hopeless, especially when the kill order had already been made to remove the whole pack.

Red flags, known as fladry, help keep wolves away from livestock.
I asked Mike what he thought of creating a field team to help the herders protect the sheep. We could test some of the nonlethal measures like turbofladry and alarm systems to see if we could effectively protect the sheep from more predation. The biggest hurdle would be the state and federal agencies, which had already decided to kill the wolves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advised the state that the situation was truly hopeless, and that nothing could be done to stop the killings once wolves developed a taste for sheep.

But, to our surprise, the state said they’d be willing to try nonlethal methods if we could stop the depredations. Some expected we would fail, while others, like Rick Williamson from Wildlife Services in Idaho, provided a great deal of advice and field support. Every night our team was in the field guarding the sheep was nerve wracking. If our methods failed, the agencies would remove the pack, and critics of nonlethal methods would point to our failure to justify their reliance on traditional lethal control programs.

No one had ever tried to resolve sheep predations on such a large scale before. We started at 120 square miles the first year, and we didn’t lose another sheep to wolves during the run of our project — though just a few weeks after August, when our project had ended and the nonlethal measures were not in place, the pack killed sheep again. It was amazing how successful our work was, but our skeptics said we couldn’t do it again. They thought that our efforts were just a lucky fluke.

Home away from home
Peter and the other field technicians sleep in small tents right near the flocks of sheep to deter wolves from preying on them during the night.
So we decided to create a formal project to test the methods for three more years to see if they were right. The first year of the Wood River Wolf Project, we lost one sheep out of 10,000 to wolf predation. Even our critics started paying attention. In 2009, we lost more than a dozen sheep in one night because of a failure of communication; one band of sheep  was left unguarded by our team due to a misunderstanding of the number of sheep bands in the project area, which now covered nearly 700 square miles. The rancher (and former president of the Idaho Woolgrowers Association) took responsibility for the losses and asked that the wolves not be killed because of the mistake. Our losses remained low and were always a result of human error, and not the failing of the nonlethal deterrents. We were learning how to use them better every year. And we cautiously began talking more about our success publicly to reporters and even filmmakers.

From 2008 to 2010, we lost a total of 16 sheep out of more than 30,000 collectively, and no wolves had been killed as a result of livestock conflicts in the project area. We held a wrap up meeting and celebrated a victory previously unheard of before our project. By now our project partners included ranchers, state and federal wildlife agencies, county commissioners, university researchers, wolf conservation supporters, and a number of field team members from a wide range of backgrounds. The response from our partners? You can’t stop now — we’re just getting started! Let’s see if we can spread these deterrents to private lands and cattle ranches across the county! We began a new site evaluation system to help sheep and cattle producers determine how to address potential predation risks, and we began holding field training in the use of nonlethal deterrents for our team and local ranchers. We even added our first university intern, who became one of our best field technicians to date.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated our best year yet, which culminated in the Trailing of the Sheep parade. There were a total of 27,305 sheep in our project area this year, and we lost only 4 sheep, all in one night when a band bumped into a new pack of wolves that no one knew existed. We responded with the nonlethal deterrents, and didn’t lose another sheep to wolves in the project area — which now covers 1,200 square miles — for the rest of the grazing season. And our ranching partners are reporting that their losses to coyotes, bears and cougars are down as well.

Five years after we began this effort, documented sheep losses to wolves in the project area are 90% lower than Idaho loss rates reported by the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS). Specifically, our loss rate averaged 0.014% compared to 0.54% in the NASS state-wide estimates during the same period. Best of all, no wolves within the project area have yet been lethally removed because of depredation conflicts. Benefits of the project include reduced management costs, reduced social conflict, and increased ecological functionality and pack stability of wolves. For example, we don’t need helicopters, sharpshooters, traps or even radio collars  — just some elbow grease, common sense and a few tools to implement our deterrents. And our project is a model for new projects in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Mexico, Europe and even dingo conservation in Australia.

Are we done? Is the project finished? Not even close. There are other areas in the county that still need to be addressed. And on a broader scale, we believe that our model should be adapted at the national level to reform our federal wildlife agency programs to make them more cost-effective and more humane. Our federal government kills millions of animals every year to “protect” livestock. We believe our model offers a far better solution that significantly reduces both livestock and wildlife losses. As Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen says, “Because frankly, if you can prevent depredation in the first place, that’s the least costly alternative, and the safest alternative.”

I hope you’ll consider speaking to your congressional representatives and local wildlife agencies about this model, and help us create a better future for all animals who share our wonderful wildlands. It’s going to take a national effort to change how our nation manages conflicts with wildlife, but we’re making a great first step with the Wood River Wolf Project.

For more on how to use nonlethal methods to protect livestock, read our Livestock and Wolves guide

Image of the Day

Canis Lupus Lupus by Kalea In Wonderland
Canis Lupus Lupus, a photo by Kalea In Wonderland on Flickr.

Accelerated wolf harvest rate may reduce the season

In this undated photo, a gray wolf is seen in a wooded area near Wisconsin Dells.

Jayne Belsky via WDNR and AP

In this undated photo, a gray wolf is seen in a wooded area near Wisconsin Dells.

Thirty-eight wolves have been killed in the first two weeks of the Wisconsin wolf hunting and trapping season, according to a report issued Monday by the Department of Natural Resources.
The kill total represents 33% of the wolf harvest quota for non-tribal hunters and trappers.
The season opened Oct. 15 and is scheduled to run through Feb. 28 or until harvest quotas are met.
At the rate wolf kills are being recorded, the season could end by late November.

Twenty-one wolves have been taken by trappers using foot-hold traps; the others were killed by hunters using firearms. Twenty-seven animals killed were male.
The wolves were harvested in 21 counties, including six wolves in Price and four each in Bayfield and Oneida.

The agency also reported 769 licenses had been sold as of Monday morning, including six to nonresidents. The state authorized the sale of 1,160 licenses.
The DNR set the statewide wolf harvest quota at 201 wolves, 85 of which are reserved for members of Ojibwe tribes. Tribal leaders have voiced strong opposition to the state's wolf hunting and trapping season; tribal members aren't expected to kill any wolves.

Wisconsin had a population of 815 to 880 wolves at the end of last winter, according to the DNR. Wolf populations typically double after pups are born each year, then decline to an annual low in late winter due to various sources of mortality.
The season is the first regulated public wolf harvest in state history. The DNR's goal is to reduce the wolf population to a "more biologically and socially acceptable level."

With no experience managing the wolf as a game species in Wisconsin, DNR wildlife managers were unsure what success rates hunters and trappers would achieve. The relatively high success has surprised many wildlife managers.
Hunters and trappers are required to report taking a wolf within 24 hours of the kill. Two of the wolf management zones have reached more than half of their non-tribal harvest quota.


Wolf Hunting Not Allowed on Three Minnesota Reservations

Credit: junglewalk.com
October 29, 2012

Grand Portage, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) --- Two Northeastern tribes in Minnesota have decided to not allow wolf hunting on their reservations when the season opens on November 3rd in Minnesota.

The Tribal Councils of the Bois Forte Chippewa and the Grand Portage Back of Lake Superior Chippewa have decided that their reservations at Nett Lake, Lake Vermillion and Grant Portage will not be open to wolf hunting.

In addition, the 1854 Treaty Authority, an inter-tribal organization that regulates hunting by Bois Forte and Grand Portage members within a 5-million acre territory in northeast Minnesota, has also decided that it will not allow the hunting of wolves.

The three reservations are depicted in Zone A on the map in the MnDNR Wolf Regulations. Tribal officials advise that going on Indian lands to take game, including wolves, is a federal crime under Title 18 of the United States Code and that they would seek the prosecution of violators.

The Tribal Councils say that hunting wolves for sport is inconsistent with a tradition of subsistence hunting and that for some members, hunting wolves presented conflicts with cultural practices.
The Minnesota wolf season starts on November 3rd. Hunters and trappers can take 400 wolves during the season, out of the estimated 3,000 wolves in the state.

Posted to the web by Krista Burns


Monday, October 29, 2012

Brookfield Zoo Wolf Heads for the Harsh Wilds of New Mexico

Ernesta is moving today. She leaves a comfortable suburban home for a chance to learn survival skills in preparation for a very different life in the backwoods of New Mexico.
It sounds like a reality TV concept, but Ernesta is a wolf. And she exemplifies some of the important work going on at Brookfield Zoo, which has long been a leader in conservation efforts like the one Ernesta is supporting---preventing the extinction of Mexican gray wolves from their range in the American southwest.

 Brookfield Zoo Mexican gray wolf

She has been groomed for this day since she arrived in the western suburban zoo in 2010. Despite two million visitors tromping through the park every year, Ernesta and the other Mexican gray wolves are handled in a way that minimizes human contact. Everything from the sightlines of their enclosure, to their very limited interactions with zookeepers, is intended to prevent the wolves from becoming used to humans. Humans have not been very good to Mexican wolves, wiping out the population and then taking a significant toll on the lobos that have been reintroduced to Arizona and New Mexico since 1998. Despite a lot of effort, only 58 of the highly endangered animals remain in the wild.

Brookfield Zoo Mexican gray wolves
And if Ernesta is going to add to those numbers, she will have to learn some more skills that will keep her alive. Before going out into the wild, Ernesta heads to the Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wolf Management Facility at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, NM where she will learn what it takes to make it on her own. Most importantly, that means learning to hunt the right kind of prey. At Brookfield Zoo, she ate elk and deer, while receiving aversion therapy to beef. Avoiding cows is the first step in avoiding trouble---a tough lesson learned by a Mexican gray yanked out of the wild this week for gobbling livestock. The captured wolf is lucky to be going to a new home in a conservation center; others in the region have simply been gunned down, trapped or poisoned.

 Brookfield Zoo Mexican gray wolf

Even though Mexican grays are rarer and genetically distinct from other wolf species in North America, their problems are not unique---wolves are controversial all over the country. Conflicts between ranchers and wolves have created a massive policy battle in the Northern Rockies, where wolves were reintroduced in the 1990’s and eliminated from Federal protections by way of policy language slipped into last year's federal budget.

 Brookfield Zoo Mexican gray wolf

And here in the Upper Midwest, management plans for wolves in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota have been controversial since those populations were removed from the Endangered Species List last year. But criticisms of the re-introduction plan, not to mention the level of anger and fear around the wolves in the Southwest, has led to significantly more political strife, conflict and fear from the locals---as reported by Denver Post:
“That fear of wolves is most apparent in one southern New Mexico county where local officials have built cages at bus stops for children to wait in if wolves are spotted in the area.”
Ernesta has gotten plenty of prep from Brookfield Zoo, with more to come in her temporary New Mexico home where she will find a mate before heading out into the harsh, high-elevation backwoods where she is meant to run. We wish her luck in her new digs. The Mexican gray wolf population needs her, as does the out of whack ecosystem she will eventually be joining. We are glad the zoo was able to help.

Brookfield Zoo Mexican gray wolf

Wolves enjoy Halloween by eating jack-o-lanterns

Sunday, 28 Oct 2012

Wolves enjoy Halloween by eating jack-o-lanterns
BATTLE GROUND, Ind. (WLFI) - The wolves at Wolf Park are celebrating Halloween a little early.

"Well they're getting carved jack-o-lanterns stuffed full of treats," head animal curator Pat Goodmann said. "We call it the pumpkin party and the wolf's Howl Night is Howl-o-ween."

These aren't just any jack-o-lanterns. Goodmann said these pumpkins are filled with yummy treats only a wolf would like.

"Vienna sausages, Slim Jims, I think I saw some hamburger buns in there and of course everyone's favorite: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam," Goodmann said.
Goodmann said while it's a fun way to interact with the wolves and have some Halloween fun it also provides environmental enrichment.

"You need to do things for them so that every day is not like every other day in captivity and ideally they should have a habitat that allows them to do as much as their natural behavior as possible even though they are in captivity," Goodmann said.

At Wolf Park the main pack has seven acres to roam and hunt small prey, but Goodman said the wolves still like special treats every once in awhile.

"Getting them [treats] in carved jack-o-lanterns is fun for the humans and it's fun for the wolves because they get to figure out how to get into the jack-o-lanterns and get the treats out," Goodmann said.

A day humans and wolves can have a howling good time.


We didn’t have to kill the Wedge Wolf Pack

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The removal of the Wedge wolf pack was an avoidable response and we can find ways to reward responsible ranchers who use nonlethal ways to protect their cattle, writes guest columnist John M. Marzluff.

Special to The Times
AS a wildlife scientist involved in endangered species recovery and a student of the interactions between humans and animals that many despise, I have closely tracked the recent removal of the Wedge wolf pack from Northeast Washington. As citizens and agencies proffer explanations, there has been little rationale retrospection. I offer one in the hopes of changing how future human-wolf conflicts will be resolved.

The removal of the Wedge pack was an avoidable response to disingenuous ranchers who took advantage of the unwillingness of conservation agencies and advocacy groups to spend political capital. Len McIrvin, owner of the ranch where wolves had killed cattle, refused to implement the many successful predator deterrents used by his fellow ranchers, for example, range riders, guard dogs, electric corrals and electrified flags, also known as turbo flaggery.

Conservation agencies rightfully offer financial incentives to those who willingly use deterrents, but they do not penalize those who choose not to. This is reasonable for a rancher grazing on private land, but when public resources are used — as in the case of McIrvin’s cattle grazing in the Colville National Forest — then consequences should be stipulated and penalties should be levied.

By spending heavily to satisfy a single citizen, our agencies squandered public funds, devalued the sacrifices made by the many well-behaving ranchers who take proper precautions to limit wolf-cattle interaction from the outset, and disregarded the majority of U.S. and Washington citizens who support wolves and the economic windfall for hunters and wildlife viewers alike. Conservation-advocacy groups have publicly condoned the use of lethal force and now are stinging from its application.

In hindsight they call for stronger proactive measures, but their early willingness to back a strategy that assumed killing wolves was necessary to their survival has set back wolf recovery and allowed members to shirk their responsibility as a voice for nature, first.

What can we do now to avoid future pack removals? Broadening ownership of our wolves and their interaction with our neighbors is an important start.

The state could help by creating a wolf license plate or an annual “wolf stamp” that would allow all Washingtonians to bear the costs of sustaining wolves. Revenues could fund innovations that strengthen local economies dependent upon wolves. These might include rancher investments in herd safety or, for those wishing to diversify their income streams, startup costs for wolf tourism businesses.

Tailoring proven tactics such as mimicking the dolphin-safe tuna campaign to certify “wolf-safe beef” could aid ranchers who act responsibly by allowing consumers to reward their sacrifice. Local economies would grow as independent assessors certify herds that coexist with wolves, ranchers cooperate to develop marketing strategies, and local processors prepare and ship the meat to our urban marketplace. Beef that was raised in conflict with wolves would garner the rancher less at market.

If grazing fees were also linked to stewardship, it would cost more to produce. Federal agencies could hike grazing fees for ranchers who choose not to employ wolf deterrents.

As we learn to be better wolf neighbors, we should also teach wolves to be better human neighbors. Wolves are smart and living in a pack means they can learn from one another, but dead wolves don’t learn. Teaching wolves that cows and sheep taste bad is possible by tainting meat with sickening agents, a tactic proven effective at shifting the diets of other predators.

For centuries, we Westerners have waged war on our wild dogs, but we seem incapable of learning from our mistakes. Let us begin to learn.

Our ecosystems function poorly, our cultural identity narrows and our economy suffers when we refuse to tolerate wolves. Our future holds more conflicts with wildlife, but by learning to live with other forms of life, even those our ancestors reviled, we not only improve our ecosystem’s resilience, we show our uniqueness as a species.

John M. Marzluff is a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington and author of “Gifts of the Crow,” which addresses nonlethal animal control.


MINNESOTA'S WOLF HUNT--What the hunters think

Of the 10 buddies Mike Lee hunts with, he and three others got wolf permits. They hunt just south of Duluth and saw wolves last year.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune


Hunt begins: Saturday, along with deer season
Late wolf hunt (trapping allowed) begins: Nov. 24
3,600 Wolf hunting permits awarded for the deer season
2,400 Permits for hunting and trapping wolves awarded for the late wolf hunt
400 Quota for wolves allowed to be taken combined during the two hunts (200 each)

Many Minnesota hunters won't get a shot at seeing a wolf

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • October 29, 2012
One-half hour before dawn Saturday, wolves will again be hunted in Minnesota. Not like they were a half-century ago, with strychnine and airplane gunners, but by a smattering of deer hunters toting high hopes and high-powered ammunition into the state's north woods.

Mike Lee will be among them. Last year, some of the buddies he hunts deer with just south of Duluth saw a wolf pack run down a doe and kill it.
So he applied for a Department of Natural Resources wolf-hunting permit, and beat roughly 1-in-3 odds to win one of 3,600 permits issued by lottery for the deer season. "I was more than happy to take advantage of the opportunity," said Lee, 40, of Hugo.

But in this most divisive of hunts, which has pitted wolf protectionists nationwide against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and many of the state's sportsmen and women, Lee, like most deer hunters with wolf permits, knows it's a long shot he'll even see a wolf from his deer stand -- and a longer shot still he'll shoot one.

That's because wolves, while at times appearing ubiquitous to northern Minnesota livestock producers, remain widely dispersed over the northern third of the state -- only about five animals per 40 square miles -- and because many wolves will "disappear," experts say, and move only at night when 160,000 deer hunters decamp to the state's wolf country beginning Saturday.

"I've thought about it a lot," said DNR wolf specialist Dan Stark of Grand Rapids. "My guess is that about 70 wolves will be taken during deer season, out of a quota of 200."
The number of wolves killed during deer hunting, and the number that fall in a second season that begins Nov. 24 to another 2,400 hunters and trappers, will fuel what is likely to be an ongoing debate about how many wolves inhabit Minnesota.

The DNR uses various data, including annual scent post indices, to estimate the state's wolf population at 3,000. But the animals haven't been fully surveyed for about five years, and groups arguing against the hunt could be bolstered in their view that fewer wolves roam the state than the DNR believes if hunters and trappers fall short of their combined 400-animal harvest quota.
"The DNR talks about how many wolves there are in the state, but they don't know," said Maureen Hackett, a Twin Cities psychiatrist who founded the group Howling for Wolves, which opposes the hunt.

"If only 90 to 100 cattle were killed by wolves in the state last year, could we really have 3,000 wolves?" Hackett said. "I think the population is exaggerated. And holding this hunt without a recent baseline population of wolves is reckless. The DNR has no idea how many wolves Minnesota has, and no idea how many will be killed in this hunt. Because they don't, the hunt shouldn't be held."

The state Supreme Court on Friday declined to hear an appeal by Hackett's group and the Center for Biological Diversity of Tucson, Ariz., asking that the hunt be stopped. But the Humane Society of the United States and the Fund for Animals have notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they intend to sue the agency in an attempt to return Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan wolves to the Endangered Species List.

The states regained wolf management from the federal government in January -- a move applauded by Julian Brzoznowski, a retired cattleman living near Orr, Minn., about an hour south of International Falls.

Unlike Hackett, Brzoznowski believes far more wolves exist in the state than the DNR says.
"I started having trouble with wolves killing my cattle in 1975, shortly after they went on the Endangered Species List," said Brzoznowski. "At the time, the DNR said Minnesota had only 400 wolves. But in the first month, the government trapped 50 of them off my place alone. That was back when they live-trapped wolves and moved them 25 miles or so away and let them go.

"The DNR was wrong about the number of wolves in the state back then, and they're way off now."
Still, Brzoznowski believes only about 40 wolves will be killed during deer season.
"Wolves aren't going to walk by deer stands," he said. "They're too smart for that."

One factor: Wolves are wily

Longtime Minnesota wolf researcher Dave Mech says too many variables exist to predict how many wolves will be killed by the 3,600 deer hunters with wolf permits.
Whatever the number proves to be, it won't necessarily be indicative of the wolf population's size, he said.

"I won't be surprised by any outcome of the hunt," Mech said. "I wouldn't even guess at the number of wolves that will be killed."
One unknown, he said, is the whereabouts of hunters with wolf permits.

The permits were issued randomly, not by specific area. So it's possible that permit holders will be too concentrated or, conversely, too spread out, to encounter many wolves.

Additionally, wolves are extraordinarily effective at detecting and avoiding people.
"The chance for random encounters between wolves and hunters isn't good," he said.
Across central and northern Minnesota, deer hunter densities vary widely, DNR data show, from about 40 per 40-square-mile area (the size of an average Minnesota wolf-pack territory) near the Boundary Waters, to as many as 600 hunters per 40 square miles near Lake Mille Lacs.

Another unknown is hunter "effort," said DNR wildlife research manager Lou Cornicelli, noting that Minnesota deer hunters average only about five days a season pursuing whitetails.

"And about 60 percent of the state's deer harvest occurs during the first three days of the season," Cornicelli said. So most wolves killed by deer hunters probably will be felled during that period.
Those that aren't, Mech said, will head for the hills.

"Wolves will sense the presence of hunters and retreat to swamps or deeper into the woods and wait there," he said.
Visions of a fur rug
In the 27 years he's hunted deer south of Duluth on the border of Namadji State Forest, Mike Lee has been fairly successful.
"We've got about 10 guys who hunt together, and we've always been able to shoot enough deer," he said.

Until last year, when the group bagged only two.
Lee blames an increased presence of wolves in the area for the lack of deer.
"About half of our group saw wolves last season while deer hunting," he said, "including the pack that ran down the doe."

Still, Lee and the three others in his group who drew wolf permits have no special wolf-hunting tactics planned while on the lookout for deer.

"If I'm lucky enough to get a deer, I'm going to field-dress it within shooting range of my stand, and maybe a wolf will come to the guts," he said. "The other guys will probably do the same. That's it. Nothing out of the ordinary.
"But if I do shoot a wolf," he added. "I will definitely have a nice rug made from its pelt."


A really asinine commentary from the other side of the debate


 Complete and utter drivel! Read only if you want to become angry:

Wolf hunt debate: Have scientists fallen prey?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rarest dog: Ethiopian wolves are genetically vulnerable

26 October 2012
By Matt Walker
Editor, BBC Nature
 Ethiopian wolf: BBC Nature

Populations of the world's rarest dog, the Ethiopian wolf, are genetically fragmenting, scientists say.

Fewer than 500 of Africa's only wolf species are thought to survive.

Now a 12-year study of Ethiopian wolves living in the Ethiopian highlands has found there is little gene flow between the small remaining populations.

That places the wolves at greater risk of extinction from disease, or habitat degradation.

In a study published in the journal Animal Conservation, Dada Gottelli of the Zoological Society of London and colleagues in Oxford, UK and Berlin, Germany, quantified the genetic diversity, population structure and patterns of gene flow among 72 wild-living Ethiopian wolves.

Red dog

Learn how the last bastion of the Ethiopian wolf is shrinking fast
Watch how Ethiopian wolves are adapted to hunt very specific prey

The team sampled wolves living within six of the remaining seven remnant populations, as well as from one population at Mount Choke, that has since become extinct.

They found that genetic diversity was relatively high for a species that has declined to fewer than 500 individuals.

That may be because discrete populations of wolves survived in Africa after the last glaciation period, which ended 18,000 years ago, and a number of rare gene types became fixed and maintained in these separate groups.

However, this isolation is now working against the wolves.

Researchers studied gene types at 14 separate locations on the wolf genome. They found that there is now weak gene flow between the Ethiopian wolf groups.

That could be because, like other canids such as grey wolves and red foxes, Ethiopian wolves prefer very specific habitats and are unlikely to travel long distances.

That makes it unlikely that the wolves will join other groups, which would provide an opportunity to mix their genes.

More worryingly, the researchers also found that sub-populations within each population are also isolated.

Fresh blood

The Ethiopian wolf separated from its wolf-like ancestor 100,000 years ago when it colonised the Ethiopian highlands.

Today it is adapted to life above altitudes of 3,000m, where it preys almost exclusively on high-altitude rodents.

But only six populations survive, with a further three having become extinct over the past century.

Ethiopian wolves are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of rabies, a fatal disease that has reduced some populations by up to 75% within a few months.

Another major threat to their future comes from habitat loss and fragmentation, which may be accelerated by climate change.

The concern raised by the study is that the limited gene flow between Ethiopian wolves makes them increasingly vulnerable, as they might not have the genetic diversity needed to fight off disease or adapt to new habitats.

The limited migration of wolves also increases the risk of inbreeding.

The scientists say that efforts must be made to reconnect these isolated populations, by creating habitat corridors linking them.

"It may be necessary in the near future to artificially increase population size and restore gene flow between nearby populations," the researchers write.

That could mean moving male wolves between populations to trigger fresh breeding.

Studies on other species of wolf have showed that moving just one or two males in this way can dramatically increase genetic diversity.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Image of the Day

wolf autumn by alainverheij
wolf autumn, a photo by alainverheij on Flickr.

State high court refuses to halt wolf hunt

  • Updated: October 26, 2012 
White Earth tribe declared its reservation a wolf sanctuary.

This image provided by Yellowstone National Park, Mont., shows a gray wolf in the wild. Hunters will be able to shoot as many as 220 gray wolves in Montana this fall under rules adopted Thursday July 1 

The Minnesota Supreme Court has rejected the latest effort to block a wolf hunting season that is scheduled to open Nov. 3.

Without comment, the court denied an emergency motion by the Center for Biological Diversity and the group Howling for Wolves to stop the wolf hunting and trapping seasons -- Minnesota's first since the region's wolves came off the federal endangered species list last January. The order was signed by Chief Justice Lorie Gildea.

The two wildlife groups argued that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) failed to follow proper procedures for taking public comments before issuing regulations for the upcoming seasons. DNR officials disputed that.

Collette Adkins Giese, the attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said she was disappointed by the decision.

But, she noted, the underlying case will still be heard by the Minnesota Court of Appeals next year. "The question has not been answered on whether the hunt is illegal because of rule-making violations," she said.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr praised the ruling, saying it resolves uncertainty over the hunt.
The DNR plans to let hunters and trappers kill 400 wolves out of a population estimated at 3,000.
Also Friday, the White Earth Reservation Tribal Council said it has issued a proclamation providing that all lands within the boundaries of the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota be set aside as a wolf sanctuary.

No hunting, trapping or possession of wolves will be permitted within the boundaries by any person, Indian or non-Indian, the council said.

Of 3,600 wolf permits the DNR had made available to hunters, 614 remain unsold, the agency said on Friday. The surplus permits will be available on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at noon Monday to hunters who applied for, but did not receive, a first-season wolf permit.

Any leftover permits will be available to other hunters beginning at noon on Nov. 1, whether or not they entered the state's application lottery.

The DNR allocated a total of 6,000 wolf licenses for the fall and late-season hunts. The remaining 2,400 licenses are for the late season, which begins Saturday, Nov. 24, and ends Thursday, Jan. 31.
Trapping is legal in the late season.


Second wild red wolf found slain in North Carolina

- 2010 Charlotte Observer file photo
One of a pair of red wolves lies in a 50 ft. x 50 ft. fenced enclosure in the alligator River National Wildlife Refuge June 17, 2010.

RALEIGH -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering $2,500 for information about a red wolf found dead in Beaufort County on Oct. 12, apparently of a gunshot wound – the second rare wolf killed in North Carolina in two months.

Friday’s announcement came less than a week before Wake County Superior Court is scheduled to hear a complaint against a rule that allows hunters to shoot coyotes at night. North Carolina is home to the world’s only wild population of red wolves, with only about 100 living in an area that spans five northeastern counties, and red wolf activists worry hunters will mistake those wolves for coyotes.

“This is not just an endangered species,” said Derb Carter, the Southern Environmental Law Center attorney who is representing wildlife and environmental groups in the case. “It’s a critically endangered species, and this is the only wild population in the world.”

The groups specifically hope to block the night hunting rule, which was enacted in August, in the five counties where red wolves live, Carter said. The state legislature approved night hunting as a way to control coyotes, which are non-native predators that prey on poultry, small livestock and pet dogs and cats.

The Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Welfare Institute are plaintiffs in the case, which was announced Tuesday and is partly a response to a wolf found shot near Creswell in Tyrrell County in early September.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is offering a reward for information related to that death as well. The maximum penalty for illegally shooting a red wolf is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The law center also has sent a letter to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission charging that the commission has violated the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing coyote hunting at night. The groups will file a federal action unless steps are taken to protect the wolves, the letter states.
The commission’s executive director, Gordon Myers, said the night hunts cannot violate the federal act because red wolves are treated as a non-essential experimental species, and don’t enjoy the same protection as an endangered species.

“We don’t believe this is in any way a violation of the Endangered Species Act,” Myers said.
He said while wolf deaths are a concern, the commission needed to give residents a way to handle livestock-killing coyotes and is working to educate hunters on how to distinguish between the two animals.

“It’s trying to strike a balance,” he said.

Officials don’t yet know what time of day the two wolves were killed, and the number of wolves killed since the injunction passed has been typical for this time of year, said David Rabon, Red Wolf Recovery Program coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Still, the concern is that the coyote policy could cause an uptick in shootings, Carter said.
“Wolves are most active at night, so the chances of shooting one are greater,” he said. “The details aren’t available, but any wolf shooting is unlawful.”

Predator control programs and the loss of their natural habitat decimated the Southeast’s red wolf population in the 1960s, and they were declared extinct in the wild in the 1980s. In 1987, wolves born in captivity were reintroduced into the wild in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeast North Carolina, and the population area has since expanded to encompass 1.7 million acres.

Wolf hunt takes off - Biologists say 24 wolves killed since archery, rifle season

October 25, 2012   • 

Montana’s wolf season is off to a fast start, with 24 of the large predators killed after a six-week archery season and just over a week of rifle hunting.

Biologists with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks are hoping to reduce the number of wolves in the state in an effort to cut down on predation and game animals and livestock attacks. The FWP Commission this year approved an aggressive wolf hunting season that includes no statewide quota, a season longer than four months and trapping.

As of Wednesday afternoon, hunters had killed 24 wolves. And the kill was well distributed, with wolves taken in 12 of the state’s 17 wolf management units.

Mike Thompson, Region 2 wildlife manager based in Missoula, said the Bitterroot range along the Idaho border is among the areas that biologists would like to see wolf numbers brought down.
“We are really hoping that people will give it a try and work at it,” he said of wolf hunting from Lost Trail to Lookout passes, which straddles the border. “There are a lot of wolf packs in that country and they’re very well distributed.”


Across the state line in Idaho, hunters had killed 65 wolves in a rifle season that began Aug. 30. The season there continues through June in some districts where biologists are trying to reduce wolf numbers. In addition, trapping in Idaho begins Nov. 15 in some districts; others don’t allow trapping.
Montana will have its first wolf trapping season this year, which begins Dec. 15 and runs through February. It is open to trappers who have completed a course put on by FWP.

Biologists estimate there are a minimum of 653 wolves in the state in 130 different packs, but say the number is likely up to 30 percent higher. FWP has set a target population of 425 wolves by the end of the hunting season and made regulations more liberal to achieve that. Last year hunters killed 166 wolves statewide, falling short of the total quota of 220 that biologists had set.

Only one wolf was killed by an archery hunter in Montana this year, said Quentin Kujala, FWP wildlife section coordinator. Another six wolves were taken during the backcountry rifle hunt for elk, which is limited to only a couple remote wilderness areas.

The rifle season for wolves began this year on Oct. 15, the day after the archery season ended. Hunters killed a few wolves during those five days before the deer and elk season opened last weekend. And that put thousands of hunters in the field, causing the kill to pick up.


Kujala said this year’s longer, more liberal season reflects the healthy population and a desire to give hunters more opportunity to kill a wolf. For example, because there are no quotas by district, hunters don’t have to check to ensure that an area hasn’t closed.

“There’s a finiteness to the number of times that a hunter and a wolf run into each other, that allows us to have general seasons,” Kujala said.

The best wolf hunting is in the northwest corner of the state, Kujala said. He said hunters who are targeting wolves, rather than just hoping to bump into one while pursuing deer or elk, should head toward Regions 1 and 2.

And Kujala said they expect to see a small group of hunters who become proficient at killing wolves. Already this year, they’ve seen successful hunters who also killed a wolf last year.

John Fraley, Region 1 spokesman in Kalispell, said thus far they’ve had seven wolves killed in the region, coming from five of its six wolf management units.

“It’s been very geographically spread out,” he said.

Area wolf kill numbers listed:

In Western Montana’s Region 2, nine wolves have been taken since the season started, according to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

In Southwest Montana’s Region 3, eight wolves have been killed.


Wolf Weekly Wrap-up

Posted: 26 Oct 2012

Till next season… – The Wood River Wolf Project finished its fifth season this month, having lost just 4 sheep out of 27,305 that move through the million-acre project area—a 99.99% success rate! We’ll have a full review from project manager Suzanne Stone early next week, but also check out last Friday’s write-up in the Idaho Mountain Express. To celebrate the end of the season, our field crew was invited for the first time to participate in the annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival in Sun Valley that honors the culture and heritage of raising sheep. It was an honor to take part and shows how Defenders’ efforts are slowly gaining acceptance in the community.

Don’t shoot red wolves! – Defenders took action this week with the Southern Environmental Law Center and other groups to protect red wolves in North Carolina. The state had previously agreed to allow night hunting of coyotes in areas where wolves also live, and at least one endangered red wolf has died as a result. Red wolves are small and can be very hard to distinguish from coyotes at any time of day, let alone at night. Here’s what Defenders senior staff attorney Jason Rylander had to say:
 “With fewer than 100 red wolves in the wild, we cannot afford to lose a single one to accidental shooting. Spotlight hunting of coyotes is a new and unnecessary threat to the conservation of red wolves.”
Read more in The Mountaineer
. What’s next for Washington? – Over the weekend, the Seattle Times reported on the ongoing controversy in Washington surrounding the removal of the Wedge Pack. While there’s little agreement about how to resolve future conflicts, it’s clear that no one is happy with the current direction in which wolf management is heading. Many ranchers have been reluctant to adopt proactive strategies to prevent livestock losses, while the state has been quick to blame wolves based on shoddy evidence. Our best hope is to find ways to work directly with ranchers to help provide them with the tools they need to coexist with wolves on the landscape.

First hundred wolves killed across Northern Rockies – At least 121 wolves have been killed so far this hunting season across three states: Idaho hunters have removed 65 since the end of August; Montana hunters have taken 25; Wyoming hunters have killed 23 in the trophy game area, another 2 were lost to other causes and 8 have been killed in the unregulated predator zone. With rifle season just starting in many states, those numbers are likely to rise sharply over the next couple months.

Read more in the Missoulian.


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Center for Biological Diversity's 2012 Rubber Dodo Award.

Center for Biological Diversity

Rubber dodo award
The votes are in, and the results couldn't be clearer: Senator James Inhofe -- one of Congress' staunchest deniers of climate change -- is the winner of the Center for Biological Diversity's 2012 Rubber Dodo award.

The Center gives out the award every year to the worst of the worst -- those in a class of their own for their monumental opposition to protecting wildlife and the environment.

More than 15,000 Center supporters cast their votes in this year's Rubber Dodo contest. Other official nominees were Sen. Jon Tester, whose legislation was instrumental in stripping federal protections from wolves in the Rockies, and Shell Oil, which is dead-set on drilling in the Arctic Ocean, no matter the cost to polar bears, walruses, the climate or our health.

(There were plenty of write-in votes, too, including President Barack Obama, former Gov. Mitt Romney, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Monsanto and the Koch brothers.)

But the results are clear: Senator James Inhofe is the worst of the worst.

When it comes to denying the science and reality of climate change -- aka the single-greatest threat to life on Earth -- the Oklahoma Republican is simply peerless, a driving force behind the tragic lack of U.S. action on global warming.

The Center's hardworking staff, which fights all the time for the protection of wildlife and a livable climate, can attest to the fact that this year's Dodo recipient is richly deserving.

2012 is on track to become the warmest year yet, with some 40,000 new temperature records. Arctic sea ice melted to a record-breaking low; there were droughts, crop failures, massive wildfires, floods, and other dire signs that global warming is tightening its grip.

Senator Inhofe and his cronies claim it's all an elaborate hoax, and stubbornly block meaningful action to combat the crisis.

Well, we're not going to take it lying down. The Center's redoubling efforts to expose the truth and science on global warming and push the country toward a safer, saner future that reduces carbon pollution and preserves a world for all species, great and small.

For the wild,

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Image of the Day

People watching by Donny60
People watching, a photo by Donny60 on Flickr.

Crying Wolf: New Mexico’s wolves fight for survival

MW_1_lgLaura Paskus
A wolf pup curls up at southern New Mexico’s Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility.

Jean Ossorio recalls the first time she spotted a Mexican wolf. It was 12 years ago this month. In the spring of 2000, biologists had released two adults and three pups into eastern Arizona as part of an ongoing program to restore wolves to the Southwest. As soon as restrictions on the area were lifted, Ossorio and her husband visited. Hiking back to their car after checking out the release pen, they heard deep howls, about 20 seconds apart, from the hillside to the south. Looking up, Ossorio spotted an ear and part of a face behind a ponderosa pine.

“For just a second or two I saw him, and he dashed to the east,” she says, chuckling when she recalls that her husband just saw “fur flying.” Later, they learned they’d glimpsed the alpha male of the Hawk’s Nest Pack.

Since 1998, when the first wolves were released, Ossorio has spent more than 300 nights camping in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. Straddling New Mexico and Arizona, it’s where the US Fish and Wildlife Service and its state and tribal partners have reintroduced wolves, which had been hunted and trapped to extinction on this side of the Mexican border.

Ossorio and her husband of nearly 50 years have gone out there—camping in rain and snow, firing up corned beef hash for breakfast and hitting the hay early—because for them, wolves evoke wonderment.

Of course, not everyone feels that way.

The epicenter of anti-wolf fervor lies in Catron County, home to about 3,700 human residents and 170 beef cattle ranches. It’s the largest and most sparsely populated county in New Mexico, and more than three-quarters of the county consists of public lands managed by the National Forest Service, the US Bureau of Land Management or the state.

For decades, ranchers in the county have enjoyed cheap forage for their livestock on public lands; it’s not surprising some don’t like the idea of scientists and wolves running around on lands they’ve come to consider their own.

But there’s a sense of scale to consider. Currently, there are fewer than 60 wolves living in New Mexico and Arizona. Meanwhile, there are more than 1.5 million cattle and calves in New Mexico alone. Wolf recovery is supposed to be guided by concern for the rare species—not the one that’s bought and sold, slaughtered and eaten—and yet the federal government has been a poor advocate for its own program, in large part because its officials are intimidated by a vocal minority.

For those unfamiliar with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, its job is enforcing the Endangered Species Act, a law signed by President Richard Nixon in 1973 to protect animals and plants headed for extinction. Under a provision of the law, the agency can also protect troubled populations, even if the larger species is doing fine. For instance, while the Mexican wolf recovery program has struggled—the goal was to have a self-sustaining population of 100 wolves in New Mexico and Arizona by 2006—gray wolf recovery has been successful in the northern Rockies and the Great Lakes region.

In 2009, environmental groups sued Fish and Wildlife, asking it to boost protections for the Mexican wolves, instead of continuing to lump them in with gray wolves as a whole. But, in October, the agency declined.

“That’s very disappointing,” says the Center for Biological Diversity’s Michael Robinson, from his home at the edge of the recovery area in Pinos Altos, NM. The program has been mismanaged, he adds—and, without clear goals, the agency lacks incentive to actually recover Mexican wolves.

Earlier this year, in August, Fish and Wildlife also called out a female wolf that had killed four cows within the past year. At first, the agency issued a “lethal removal order.” After receiving an offer from a wildlife rehabilitation center to host the animal, it relented. It was a typical move on the part of the agency—whose top officials have been wishy-washy at best through both the Bush and Obama administrations—and left everyone unhappy. Ranchers were angry the wolf wasn’t killed. Activists were aggravated that a healthy wolf was removed from her pack. And the flailing reintroduction program was down one more wolf.

The move also opened the program to political criticism: When the female wolf was finally trapped, Gov. Susana Martinez called for the entire Fox Mountain wolf pack to be removed from Catron County.

The Southwest’s wolves play an important ecological role, Robinson says, and recovery also raises ethical questions. “It’s simply wrong for us to condemn them to extinction,” he says. “We don’t have the right to determine which species have the right to share the planet with us.”

Healthy ecosystems exist within a kind of balance. Each time another species blinks out—either through deliberate destruction or benign neglect—that equilibrium trembles. And, in a world that’s changing as rapidly as ours is today, it’s worth wondering what rights we possess as humans—and how we exercise them.


For Wolves on the Brink, A Hobbled Recovery Plan

25 Oct 2012: Analysis

Few creatures in the United States have come as close to extinction as the Mexican wolf, which was wiped out in the U.S. by 1970. Now, scientists and conservationists contend, federal officials are caving into political pressure and failing to implement a legally mandated reintroduction plan.

by caroline fraser

For a melodrama of persecuted fugitives to rival Les Misérables, look no farther than the Mexican wolf, the subspecies of gray wolf that once populated the U.S. Southwest. Hunted and trapped by ranchers and federal agencies since the late 1800s, now detained by the same agencies in pens called “wolf jail,” few species in North America have come closer to extinction. Fewer still have suffered through attempted recoveries so plagued by reversals and allegations of mismanagement.

Like Jean Valjean (#24601), they are known by their numbers. Extirpated in the U.S. and nearly gone in Mexico by the 1970s, the wolves became the focus of a captive breeding program launched by 1980 with a handful of individuals, some interrelated. In 1998, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service — the lead agency responsible for the wolves’ recovery — reintroduced the first of 11 in the wild. That January, alpha female #174 from the Campbell Blue pack was carried into a snowy stretch of the Blue Range mountains of eastern Arizona and her cage door opened by U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. By August, she was dead, shot with a high-powered rifle by an unknown killer. Her companions were slain, disappeared, or removed by wildlife officials for leaving the recovery area, a violation of conditions of their parole.

Arizona Game and Fish Department
A female Mexican wolf paces in a pen before her release into the wild.
Since that time, many scientists and conservationists contend, the Mexican wolf recovery in the wild has been a failure. Even the Fish & Wildlife Service deemed the population “at risk of failure” in its 2010 assessment of the program. The recovery has been shadowed by accusations that U.S. officials have shied away from their obligation under the Endangered Species Act to fully protect Mexican wolves because of vehement opposition from western states. A successful breeding program now maintains several hundred in captivity, but only 58 survive in the wild, a marked contrast to the more than 1,700 gray wolves that have repopulated the northern Rocky Mountains after widely publicized reintroduction efforts.

The main reason for the faltering Mexican wolf program is a set of rules — negotiated between the federal government and the states — more restrictive than those governing any other endangered species reintroduction. The Mexican wolves in this “nonessential experimental” population may only be freed inside a small patch of Arizona, although much of the recovery area lies in New Mexico; those preying on cattle can be removed or legally killed; those straying outside must be trapped and brought back, subverting natural behavior and dispersal. In the temperate Southwest, they are surrounded year-round by cattle, an ever-present temptation, unlike gray wolves to the north, where severe winters limit grazing to a few months.

While defending the program as a success, Fish & Wildlife Service officials have recently expressed frustration with those restrictive rules. Tom Buckley, the agency’s spokesman in the southwest, pointed out that “second and third-generation animals [are] living and breathing in the wild” and called the program “pretty successful.” But he notes that the release area is “full of wolves” with established territories, making future releases hazardous for newcomers and halting progress.

So it was all the more surprising earlier this month, many experts say, when the agency opted for the staus quo and denied a request to classify the Mexican wolf, Canis lupus baileyi, as a subspecies of the gray wolf, Canis
Biologists and geneticists are incensed over what they see as political and bureaucratic interference.
lupus. The protection already enjoyed by the wolf, the agency claimed, had raised its numbers “from none... to 58.” Sherry Barrett, Mexican wolf recovery coordinator, echoed that assessment, arguing that “It’s a big success when you started from no animals in the wild.” But scientists and environmental groups argue that a subspecies listing is essential for a robust recovery, as it would require a new recovery plan and the identification of “critical habitat,” which might extend into the neighboring states of Colorado and Utah.

Biologists and geneticists summoned by the agency to revise the Mexican wolf’s 30-year-old recovery plan have grown incensed over what they see as political and bureaucratic interference. Their fears — that the Fish & Wildlife Service is allowing states to hijack the scientific process — are the basis of a formal complaint of “Scientific and Scholarly Misconduct” filed in June with the U.S. Interior Department, charging that the federal Mexican wolf recovery program has become “the antithesis of scientific integrity.”

The whistleblower organization behind this J’accuse is Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which has harried the agency over the Endangered Species Act since the Clinton years. In 14 single-spaced pages, PEER’s complaint also assails the agency’s National Wolf Strategy, including the controversial, congressionally mandated decision to remove the gray wolf in the northern Rockies from the endandered species list. PEER claims Fish & Wildlife’s decisions have lacked public transparency and review by independent scientists, violating the Obama administration’s promise to honor the best available science.

Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team
A Mexican wolf is released at Gila National Forest in New Mexico in 2010.
PEER has taken up the cause of scientists who recognize that the lobo is the most genetically distinct of all remaining wolf subspecies, a Pleistocene relict of the first wave of wolves to colonize the continent. The Mexican wolf is an irreplaceable fixture of the modern-day restorationist’s fondest dream — that a Noah’s Ark of wolf, jaguar, and the Bolson tortoise may one day revive ecosystems in the Southwest degraded by centuries of overgrazing and development. Since the 1990s, expert panels of wolf biologists commissioned by the Fish & Wildlife Service have consistently advised the agency to follow the science: Modify restrictive rules that require constant trapping and relocating of the wolves, release them in Arizona and New Mexico, and establish several wild populations so that the existing one cannot be wiped out by disease, fire, or other threats.

The agency has consistently declined to do so, dismissing previous panels tasked with revising the recovery plan. Philip Hedrick, an Arizona State University genetics expert who served on those panels, has grown increasingly alarmed by the agency’s failure to act, saying delays erode dwindling chances for “genetic rescue.” Says Hedrick, “The long-term and even the short-term survival of the wild population is in jeopardy.”

Over the years, pups and entire wolf packs have been lethally “removed” or taken into custody following livestock losses by public lands ranchers, who lease forest allotments for cattle grazing. Among them was Mule Pack alpha female #189, who lost a leg to frostbite while caught in a trap. Re-released, she survived on three legs until she disappeared. Overall, the Fish & Wildlife Service has removed more wolves (153) than it has released (92). Nearly half the 88 reported deaths have been caused by illegal shooting, while rural communities have complained ceaselessly of threats to livestock and pets.

The Mexican wolf reinstroduction program has played out on a remote stage, the rugged, juniper-covered canyons, grassy meadows, and heights studded with ponderosa pines of the “Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area” on
Entire wolf packs have been lethally ‘removed’ or taken into custody following livestock losses.
the border between Arizona and New Mexico. To reach it from Albuquerque requires hours of driving, crossing the Continental Divide, passing through the desolate Plains of San Agustin and its strange spectacle of the Expanded Very Large Array, enormous dish antennas trained on black holes. Spotting the elusive creature is nearly as difficult. Smaller than the gray wolf, the lobo is cryptically colored in browns and grays, and its numbers have remained tiny and its movements tightly controlled.

It took until 2010 for a Fish & Wildlife Service assessment to acknowledge that Mexican wolves were “not thriving.” At that point Benjamin Tuggle, director of the service’s Southwest region, summoned a new recovery team. Its science panel was charged with updating the recovery plan “consistent with the best available scientific information.” That year, Obama’s Interior Department adopted a policy demanding “clear and unambiguous... use of science in decision making.”

Scientists began preparing a confidential plan, proposing three populations of at least 250 animals connected by corridors, standard practice in recovering endangered species. Among suitable habitats, the plan identified areas encompassing the north rim of the Grand Canyon and border regions of Arizona and Utah, as well as New Mexico and southern Colorado. That draft document was leaked last fall by state game officials, igniting ferocious opposition from hunters’ groups and prompting an angry letter from the Utah governor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. In an op-ed, U.S Senator Orrin Hatch stated that Mexican wolves “do not belong in Utah” and decried the “environmental extremists” who would put them there.

The science panel nonetheless carried on, completing a longer draft plan by May. PEER’s June complaint quoted Fish & Wildlife Service emails in its contention that federal officials tried to improperly influence the plan’s proposals for wolf numbers and potential habitat, with Tuggle’s staff requesting a range of numbers instead of the “3 x 250” recommendations: “You should not feel undo [sic] pressure at this point to accommodate, per se, but you should recognize that this is his way of telling you… what information he would like to see.”

Furthermore, the complaint argued that the broader National Wolf Strategy paid more attention to state opposition and “political concerns” than to science, proposing recovery efforts only for states without objections, arguably a violation of the law. In June, the American Society of Mammalogists warned the Fish & Wildlife Service that further delays in reintroducing Mexican wolves will cause “irreparable harm,” as captive wolves grow older and genetic opportunities are lost. By September, the FWS had investigated and exonerated itself, finding the complaint “not warranted.”

The Crucial Role of Predators: A New Perspective on Ecology
Scientists have recently begun to understand the vital role played by top predators in ecosystems and the profound impacts that occur when those predators are wiped out. Now, Caroline Fraser writes, researchers are citing new evidence that shows the importance of lions, wolves, sharks, and other creatures at the top of the food chain.
Michael Robinson, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity — one of the groups seeking to have the Mexican wolf declared a subspecies — accused Fish & Wildlife Service officials of “congratulating themselves on releasing wolves and not shooting every one of them.” Robinson called the handling of the program “one of the more spectacular” examples of the agency’s mismanagement, pointing out that its own projections had called for 102 wolves and 18 breeding pairs in the wild by 2006. The refusal of a subspecies listing was political, he said, noting Colorado’s importance as a swing state in the upcoming election.

In the midst of this heated debate, the Fish & Wildlife Service announced in August that it would “lethally control” another wolf for killing cattle. She was the Fox Mountain alpha female, caring for four pups. After wolf advocates protested to the White House and legislators, she was granted a reprieve, with plans made to place her in captivity. She eluded authorities until Oct. 10, when she was caught in a federal trap. A local conservation center has agreed to keep her for the rest of her life.