Friday, November 29, 2013

Images of the Day--Thanksgiving Pumpkins for Wolves

People stuff themselves with pumpkin pie after wolfing down Thanksgiving dinner. However, wolves, coyotes and foxes dined on pumpkins stuffed with canine delicacies at the Wolf Park in Battle Creek, Indiana's annual Pumpkin Party. Just as human families may have simmering tensions beneath the Thanksgiving holiday harmony, wolves too have family feuds. Renki, the male gray wolf (Canis lupus) shown here, once lost a power struggle with his two younger brothers in the park's main pack.

Complex social interactions determine which wolf claims the rights of the alpha, or dominant, animal. Renki's family feud pitted him against his younger brothers, the litter-mates Wolfgang and Wotan (shown here), in a battle for supremacy. The wolves' caretakers eventually had to move Renki into a separate pack to protect him from his not-so-little brothers. Move over Loki and Thor, the brawling brothers Wolfgang and Wotan now have their own dynastic dilemma. Although Wolfgang rose to dominate the pack, Wotan has never completely given up his aspirations to be top dog. Wotan, named for the chief god in the Germanic pagan pantheon, may yet live up to his namesakes' grandeur.

The Wolf Park uses the pumpkins as “enrichment,” or a situation designed to break the daily routine of the sanctuary's wolves, coyotes and foxes. Animals in captivity benefit mentally and physically from enrichment activities and the challenge of figuring out new problems, such as getting at the goodies hidden in a pumpkin. Here, 15-year-old female gray wolf Marion paws at her pumpkin. Like Wolfgang, Marion rules other wolves as an alpha. Marion rose to her status despite being the smallest wolf in the park.

Wolfgang (shown here) and his brothers may have a dysfunctional family, but he still manages to express his artistic side. Wolfgang learned that when he jumps backwards repeatedly his delighted human audience will give him treats. Wolfgang even takes a cue from W. Amadeus Mozart and hops in unison with one of his caretakers while she hums a waltz.

Dharma seems to be using her pumpkin to go trick-or-treating. She lives in the main pack and is mother to Wolfgang's pups. When Dharma herself was a pup, a series of experiments studied her behavior, along with nine other wolf pups, in comparison to that of domesticated dog puppies. Dharma tended to seek out new areas to explore more than the dog puppies. She also showed less interest in unknown individuals and new objects than the dogs.

Dharma and Wolfgang's daughter, Fiona, could try out as an extra in a zombie flick. She seemed to have a knack for nibbling on noggins. Instead of brains inside the pumpkin, Fiona found treats, such as pig ears, cheese and dog biscuits. Wild wolves don't regularly hunt jack-o'-lanterns. However, the skills Fiona needed to get the good stuff out of the pumpkin were similar to the abilities wild wolves use to forage, hunt and share prey.

The Pumpkin Party wasn't a wolves-only event. Hunter and Gypsum, two gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) also got to disembowel a pumpkin. Gray foxes range in the wild from Canada to Venezuela. In the wild, gray foxes themselves can end up as snacks for wolves and coyotes. However, gray foxes have a trick up their behavioral sleeves. Unlike the wily coyotes, the sly foxes can climb trees.

Tricky red foxes can't even be trusted to be red. Devon, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), sports a darker gray coat than his distant relations Hunter and Gypsum, the gray foxes. In the wild, numerous color variations from white to black appear naturally across the red fox global distribution. Red foxes can thrive even in areas with heavy human disturbance, and gained territory from the gray fox as urbanization spread west across the United States.

Willow the coyote (Canis latrans) looks like she suffers from the post-dinner coma that overtakes many humans on Thanksgiving. In the wild, coyotes have been anything but lazy. Like the red fox coyotes have expanded their range as human settlement displaced wolves and other carnivores.

Kailani, the grey wolf in this photo, likes to bite other wolves even more than she enjoys biting this pumpkin. As a pup, Kailani started biting her mother's behind as a play behavior. She never grew out of that phase and continues to nip rumps if an unwary wolf lets her sneak up on them.

One of the wolves that often received Kailani's bites was her sister Ayla. Kailani, Wolfgang and Wotan would gang up on Ayla. Eventually, Wolf Park caregivers moved Ayla to a separate pack along with her father and Renki, the other target of the Wolfgang and Wotan alliance.

More protections proposed after fewer Denali wolf sightings

November 27, 2013 
In this file photo, a wolf is seen in Denali National Park in 2009.
KEVIN POWELL — Anchorage Daily News /
Wolves are being seen less and less by visitors to Denali National Park and Preserve as their numbers continue to decline, according to a new study out Wednesday from the National Park Service.

Opponents of predator control policies blame the state's decision to allow wolf trapping on state land on the east side of the park. State wildlife officials have said in the past that few wolves are killed in the once-protected area. But individual wolf kills can have a greater effect on overall numbers, according to the Park Service.

The impact includes how many wolves people see while riding buses into Denali, the Park Service says.
As part of their routine studies in the 6-million-acre park, Park Service researchers randomly sampled 80 bus trips in 2013 and found that bus riders only spotted wolves on three occasions: 3.75 percent of the time. That follows a downward trend: 44 percent of such visitors saw wolves in 2010, 21 percent in 2011, and 12 percent in 2012, the Park Service says.

The trend seems to correspond with a steady decrease in the number of wolves researchers themselves are seeing. They estimated the park's population at 55 wolves after counts this spring, the fewest since the research began in 1986. And fewer wolves has not resulted in higher numbers of the animals wolves eat, the Park Service says.

Wildlife advocates point to the state Board of Game's removal of a no-trapping, no-hunting zone for wolves on the park's east side, where visitors are most likely to see wolves along the park road.

The buffer was put in place in 2002, and the Park Service proposed expanding it in 2010. Instead, the seven-member Alaska Board of Game voted 4-3 in 2010 to remove the buffer and put a six-year moratorium on discussing the issue except in the event of an emergency.

In a letter Wednesday to Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, about a dozen environmental groups and wildlife advocates proposed a temporary emergency closure to wolf hunting in the area and a "federal-state easement exchange" or land sale to restore the buffer.

At stake, the letter says, are millions of dollars in tourism revenue the state could lose if visitors decide against a trip to Denali -- one of Alaska's most popular destinations for tourists -- because they are unlikely to see wolves.

"Our point here is that even with current public animosities between the State of Alaska and the federal government on such issues, a mutually beneficial deal to sustain and grow Denali's wildlife viewing economy is possible," the letter says.

Asked if the state would consider an easement swap or land sale, Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Wednesday afternoon that the governor had not yet seen the letter.

"We will need some time to review the proposal before commenting on specifics," Leighow said by email.
Board of Game member Teresa Sager Albaugh, who voted to remove the buffer, said in a phone interview that she stands behind the decision.

The board voted to put the buffer in place, at the time, in an effort to manage wildlife according to the values of the federal park, not necessarily in the best interests of the state, Sager Albaugh said.

That sentiment had changed by 2010, when board members voted to remove the protections. For Sager Albaugh, federal officials' objectives are less important, she said.

"It's my belief the state of Alaska should be managing for the state's purposes and for the Department of Fish and Game's purposes, as opposed to basically adding state land to a federal area that's already huge," Sager Albaugh said.

The board has used a consistent approach to wildlife management, including predator control, and makes decisions based on what state biologists see in a particular game management unit, not the research on specific animals or groups of animals, Sager Albaugh said. And even if visitors see fewer wolves in Denali, the Game Board's decisions should not hinge on the potential effect on Alaska's tourism industry, she said.
That goes for tourists who come to Alaska to see wildlife and those who pay to come to the state hoping to hunt, Sager Albaugh said. Whoever commands the biggest industry should not determine how wildlife is managed, she said.

"I can't go there. I don't agree with that approach."


Officials: At least 13 wolves killed in Michigan hunt

by NBC25 Newsroom
Posted: 11.29.2013
At least 13 wolves have been killed during Michigan's wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula.
LANSING (AP) -- At least 13 wolves have been killed during Michigan's wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula.

The state Department of Natural Resources updated the results Thursday. The wolf season started on November 15th and runs through December, unless 43 are killed before the end of the year.

It's the first hunt in Michigan since the wolf was placed on the endangered species list nearly 40 years ago. A total of 1,200 people are licensed to participate with firearm, crossbow or bow and arrow.

The DNR had estimated the state's wolf population at 658.


Colchester Zoo wolves 'broke through steel fence'

One of the wolves inside Colchester Zoo's enclosure before the escape Three of Colchester Zoo's timber wolves were shot dead after escaping from their enclosure
A pack of wolves which escaped from a zoo enclosure broke through a steel wire fence despite it being checked daily, keepers have said.
Five of the six timber wolves at Colchester Zoo escaped on Tuesday at about 07:30 GMT. Three were shot dead.
Colchester Council and the zoo have carried out an investigation into what happened and ruled out foul play.
A zoo spokeswoman said managers were "struggling to comprehend" how the wolves had broken through the fence.
She said senior management had "complete faith" in their "competent and experienced staff to continue carrying out these duties as a daily procedure".
'Lethal force appropriate' Essex Police also investigated how the timber wolves escaped and found no evidence of "deliberate damage".
The force learned of the escaped wolves at 08:00 GMT but did not confirm the escape to the media until about 14:00.
The zoo defended its decision to remain open until about 15:00 saying the lower end of the zoo - where the wolf enclosure sits - was sealed off to the public creating a "solid void".
The spokeswoman said the area was "continuously monitored by spotters and managers stationed around the perimeter" to protect staff and public at this time.
Sue Thornton of the International Zoo Veterinary Group, consultant vets to Colchester Zoo, said the decision to use "lethal force" on the wolves was correct.
"The delay of the effects of the tranquiliser coupled with the danger to the public of a category one dangerous wild animal - which a wolf is - means that sadly lethal force is appropriate once the animal has breached the zoo perimeter."


Images of the Day~~Not-Wolves-Wolves

Maned Wolf 
Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus)

The thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus ) aka the Tasmanian Wolf (or Tiger)

Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Coyote vs Red Wolf

What is the Difference Between Red Wolves and Coyotes?
Red Wolves and Coyotes are very closely related and in fact share a recent common ancestor.  The two species do hybridize and produce fertile offspring.  It is usually impossible to distinguish between a Coyote – Red Wolf hybrid and a Red Wolf just by looking at it.  Wildlife Biologists that work with the only known wild population of Red Wolves at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina have to do DNA tests to be sure.

Red Wolves are a critically endangered species with only about 100 individuals existing in the wild in the world, all of them in the Alligator River NWR area of North Carolina.  Coyotes, although not found East of the Mississippi River prior to 1900, are now very common in the wild.
Red Wolves, as a species, are larger in both height and weight.  Coyotes usually weigh between 25 and 35 pounds while Red Wolves usually weigh between 50 and 80 pounds.  Red Wolves are more massive in the head, chest, legs and feet. There can be size overlap between the species.  Some Red Wolves are in fact smaller that some Coyotes.

Coyotes tend to have a longer, narrower, muzzle than Red Wolves do.
Red wolves are mostly brown and buff colored with some black along their backs; there is sometimes a reddish color behind their ears, on their muzzle, and toward the backs of their legs.  However, many Red Wolves can have the same colors as coyotes which tend to be light gray with some black on the tips of their outer hairs.

Red Wolves howls are similar to Coyotes but tend to be of longer duration and lower in pitch.  Coyotes tend to have more yapping intermixed with the howls.  Again, it can be almost impossible to tell the difference in some individuals.

It used to be believed that Coyotes didn’t hunt in packs like wolves but pack hunting coyotes have now been observed in the wild.

The Eastern Coyote is different from the Western Coyote in size, genetics and behavior.  This is due to interbreeding with wolves.  Eastern Coyotes have wolf genes and therefore are taking on wolf characteristics.  This happened when the wolf population in the Eastern United States was hunted almost to extinction and had dwindled to a small enough size that they would breed with Coyotes instead of chasing them off or killing them.

Red Wolves howls are similar to Coyotes but tend to be of longer duration and lower in pitch.  Coyotes tend to have more yapping intermixed with the howls.  Again, it can be almost impossible to tell the difference in some individuals.

If you are anywhere in Eastern North America, outside of coastal North Carolina, and observe a large wolf-like animal, it is almost certainly an Eastern Coyote or possibly a Gray Wolf  that someone had as a pet and dumped in the wild.


Some Red Wolf Facts~~~~~~~~~


Historical Range

The red wolf’s historic range covered the southeastern portion of the United States, reaching as far west as Texas and north to Illinois.

Current Range

One managed wild population of approximately 200 Red Wolves in the Outer Banks area of North Carolina covering 1.7 million acres of private and public land known as Alligator River.  Additional site at St. Vincent’s Island National Wildlife Refuge near Apalachicola, FL.

Preferred habitat is warm, moist, and densely vegetated; although they were also present in pine forest, bottom land hardwood forests, coastal prairies, and marshes.

4 - 5 feet in length from tip of nose to tip of tail; approximately 26 inches tall at the shoulder; 40 - 75 lbs

Red Wolves are mostly brown and buff colored with some black along their backs, often with a reddish, cinnamon color on their ears, head and legs.  Red wolves are smaller than gray wolves and larger than coyotes.  They have tall pointed ears and long legs with large feet.


High pitched howl, low grunts or barks. 

Eating Habits

White-tailed deer, raccoons, and smaller mammals such as rabbits, rodents, and nutria.


Breeding season is once per year, January through March.  1 - 9 pups are born 63 days later in April or May.  Their eyes open at about 10 days, and it is another few weeks before the sire and dam allow the pups to emerge from the den.  Pups remain with their parents until they find a mate of their own, usually at about 2 years of age.  Red wolves are generally monogamous, and will remain with the same mate for many years.

Life Span

7 - 8 years in the wild; Up to 15 in captivity

Interesting Facts

Some credit can be given to red wolves for control of nuisance species.  Two dietary studies show that red wolves are known to feed on deer, nutria, raccoons, marsh rabbits, and small rodents.  We can assume red wolves contribute to the control of these nuisance species with respect to crop damage by deer, rabbits and rodents; with respect to levee, road and farm equipment damage via nutria; and with respect to predation upon nesting ground birds (quail, turkey, etc.) and sea turtle nests by raccoons.

The red wolf is an umbrella species.  Ecosystems which support and conserve Red Wolves are likely ecosystems which maintain a diversity of other wildlife, plants, habitat and landscape features.  This creates a balanced ecosystem, its predators included, which means relatively healthy prey populations (deer, etc.) available for hunting, wildlife viewing and outdoor recreation, diversity and other functions on the landscape.  In the same respect, red wolves help control over-population of prey species.  There is data showing evidence that sea turtles’ hatching success increases when there are lower numbers of nest raiders like raccoons.  Duke University has a research study, in partnership with Defenders of Wildlife, evaluating “ecosystem services” - air and water purification, flood control, climate regulation and plant pollination - provided by conserving red wolf habitat in North Carolina.

The following is from a quarterly report written by David Rabon, Jr., PhD, Recovery Coordinator for the Red Wolf Recovery Program.

The Red Wolf is one of the most endangered canids in the world.  Once occurring throughout the eastern and south-central United States, Red Wolves were decimated by predator-control programs and the loss and alternation of habitats.  By the 1970s, these activities had reduced the Red Wolf population to a small area along the Gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana.  To protect the species from extinction, the US Fish and Wildlife Service initiated efforts to locate and capture as many Red Wolves as possible for the purposes of establishing a program to breed the species in captivity and one day reintroduce the species into a portion of its former range.  More than 400 canids were captured in coastal areas of Texas and Louisiana, but only 17 were identified as Red Wolves.  14 of these Red Wolves would become the founding members of the captive breeding program and the ancestors of all the Red Wolves existing today.

The first litter of Red Wolves born in captivity occurred in 1977.  Within a few years Red Wolves were successfully reproducing in captivity, allowing the US Fish and Wildlife Service to consider reintroducing the species in the wild.  In 1987, four male-female pairs of Red Wolves were released in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR) in northeastern North Carolina and designated as an experimental population.  Since then, the experimental population has grown and he recovery area expanded to include 4 national wildlife refuges, a Department of Defense bombing range, state owned lands, and private lands encompassing about 1.7 million acres.  However, interbreeding with the coyote (a species not native to North Carolina) has been recognized as a threat affecting the restoration of Red Wolves.  Currently, adaptive management efforts are making progress in reducing the threat of coyotes to the Red Wolf population in northeastern North Carolina.  Other threats, such as habitat fragmentation, disease, and premature mortality, are of concern in the restoration of Red Wolves.  Efforts to reduce the threats are presently being explored.


Putting Politics Before Science Won’t Save the Lobo

A member of the first pack of wolves released into the Apache National Forest. (© ADFG)
A member of the first pack of wolves released into the Apache National Forest. (© ADFG)

A Mexican gray wolf pup howling. (Photo courtesy of the USFWS)
A Mexican gray wolf pup howling. (Photo courtesy of the USFWS)

With winter upon us and the days getting noticeably shorter, so too is the time left to speak out on behalf of Mexican gray wolves. Among the country’s most imperiled species, there are only about 75 lobos left in the wild. The ultimate fate of these iconic animals could be decided in the next year and, troublingly, it appears that the wolves’ best interests may not be the only factors at play.

Scientists agree that there are three things vital to successful wolf recovery – a comprehensive, science-based recovery plan; the release of more wolves into the wild; and at least two new core populations in the most suitable habitat areas in the Grand Canyon region and southern Utah/southern Colorado. But these recommendations are seemingly falling on deaf ears as the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) makes decisions about the lobos’ future management that ignore these basic findings. Worse still, the FWS may be engaging in some backroom dealing with states.

A letter from the director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department to FWS Director Dan Ashe dated August 1st of this year suggests that in a discussion on July 23rd, state and federal officials came to certain agreements regarding the proposed rule changes for Mexican gray wolf management. Not only do the agreements alluded to in the letter imply that the FWS decisions on the wolf were made before due public process, but, what’s worse, they ensure that the lobos are not allowed to disperse outside of an arbitrarily drawn geographic region – which precludes them from reaching the suitable habitat necessary for recovery.

Perhaps if the FWS had taken a hard look at just how significant lobos are to the ecological health of the Southwest before having this private “discussion,” the conversation would have gone a little differently. The FWS proposal not only blatantly ignores best science, but also the opinions of the public. A recent poll conducted by Tulchin Research reveals overwhelming support for Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest. 87% of voters polled in both Arizona and New Mexico agree that wolves are a “vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage;” 8 in 10 of those polled agree that the FWS should make every effort to prevent extinction; 82% of Arizona respondents and 74% of New Mexico respondents agree there should be a science-based recovery plan; and over two-thirds of voters polled in both states agree with scientists who say there are too few wolves in Arizona and New Mexico and that we need to reintroduce two new populations of wolves in suitable habitat in the states.

If these numbers don’t make it clear to the FWS that Americans want to save the lobo, I don’t know what could.

Our nation is one that prides itself on both preserving the symbols of our character and on scientific innovation, so why is it so easy for the government to turn a blind eye to basic, sound science that tells us how to save one of America’s most iconic animals just to play politics instead?

Submit comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service here.

By Eva Sargent, Southwest Program Director


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Image of the Day

vigilantly by Woodpeckar
vigilantly, a photo by Woodpeckar on Flickr.

European wolf

Public Hearing in Pinetop About Mexican Gray Wolves

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A public hearing about the Mexican grey wolf will be held next Tuesday evening (December 3)  in Pinetop.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to relist the Mexican gray wolf as a separate subspecies. They are also proposing to make changes to the rules governing Mexican gray wolves.
The conservation group Defenders of Wildlife says only a few of these changes will actually promote recovery of the gray wolves' gene pool.
The 75 Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona are all descended from only seven wolves. 
Scientists say that more releases of new wolves from captivity are needed to strengthen the gene pool.
All but one public hearing on the issue were canceled because of the government shutdown. A new public hearing has been scheduled for next Tuesday (December 3) in Pinetop. It’s from 6 to 8:30pm at the Hon-Dah Conference Center.
For more information or to make a formal public comment go to

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Image of the Day

siberian wolf by ironpoison
siberian wolf, a photo by ironpoison on Flickr.

DNR: At least 11 wolves killed in Michigan hunt

Sunday, November 24, 2013

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — At least 11 wolves have been killed during Michigan’s wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula.

The state Department of Natural Resources updated the results Monday. The wolf season started on Nov. 15 and runs through December, unless 43 are killed before the end of the year.

It’s the first hunt in Michigan since the wolf was placed on the endangered species list nearly 40 years ago. A total of 1,200 people are licensed to participate with firearm, crossbow or bow and arrow.

The DNR had estimated the state’s wolf population at 658.
Updates on wolf hunt from DNR:


Spirit of the Wolf (Video)

Video combining the song "Spirit of the Wolf" by Matt Stone with photographic images of Yellowstone Wolves by Jimmy Jones, including Female Alpha "06".

For more information on this project:

I wrote the song in October 2011. The imagery of a transcendent wolf spirit came to me as the narrator and storyteller. The story touches on the loss of range and the hunting to near extinction of our wolves, and recounts aspects of the parallel fate of Native Americans.

The song was recorded between July and October 2012 during the making of a full length album, Northern Lights.

The writing of this song heightened my interest in the efforts to conserve and reintroduce wolves into the wild. I had been working on the idea of a video that would accompany the story, with appropriate images from both the wolf and native American themes. When the Wyoming and Montana wolf hunts began to take a toll on the Yellowstone wolves, culminating with the death of Lamar Canyon Alpha Female 06, Jimmy Jones' photographs told a compelling story. The idea of a video with music and photographs of 06 and other Yellowstone wolves took shape. My intention is to use this video to draw attention to the many organizations working to support and advocate for the wolves.

Spirit of the Wolf video
produced by Matt Stone
(c) 2012

Song available on the Northern Lights album:

Photo credits:
Jimmy Jones Photography
Embracing Nature Gallery

Music credits:
Spirit of the Wolf
written and performed by Matt Stone
Recorded and produced by Dave Blackburn, BeatNTrack Studio, Fallbrook, CA
Dayan Kai on wood and silver flutes, Radoslav Lorkovic on piano

Northern Lights CD available through:
and on iTunes

Donation Links:

Wolf Watcher

California Wolf Center

Wolf Conservation Center

Oregon Wild

Western Watersheds Project

Lobos of the Southwest

Wolf Education and Research Center

Wild Earth Guardians

Raincoast Conservation Foundation

In memory of Lamar Canyon 06
May your descendants roam these hills forever

My sincere thanks to Johnsmith, whose songwriting workshops at Esalen have been transformative.


Spirit of the Wolf
(c) Matt Stone (Matthew Stone), 2011, BMI

Lyric Sheet

I stand here on this ridge
My fur covered in fresh snow
And I look down at the lights that fill the valley far below

We roamed these hills forever
We knew these mountains well
And our wisdom has been worn into a thousand forest trails

Our brothers the Comanche, the Cherokee and Sioux
Worshipped the Great Spirit
And taught from our totems too

The ranchers and the trappers
They shot us out of fear
Blocked us off with barbed wire, caught our feet in deadly gear

Late at night, when you're safe at home
You will hear my voice calling, across the valley far below
I am calling to my pack, and am calling to my clan
This is our land! This is our land! This is our land!

I have met the ghost of Black Elk
Running through these granite hills
My heart if full of sorrow for the blood that has been spilled

Trapped into the camps
Some made into slaves
But he never gave up dreaming of the land they took away

Late at night, when you're safe at home
You will hear the voice of Black Elk, when the cold north wind blows
He is calling to his people, he is calling to his tribe
This is our land! This is our land! This is our land!

Oh the mothers who were slaughtered
And their children who were killed
The suffering I've seen is something I can never tell

They told stories of their visions
And they danced around the fires
They kept it all alive somehow through times so dark and dire

Late at night, when you're safe at home
You will hear my voice calling, across the valley far below
I am calling to my pack, I am calling to my tribe
This is our land! This is our land! This is our land!

And now we have returned
Along the mighty Yellowstone
But our brothers never made it, to their ancient land and home

They were scattered on the four winds
Pushed off for mortal gold
But their tie to these mountains is to sacred to let go

Late at night, when you're safe at home
You will hear my voice calling, across the valley far below
I am calling to my people, I am calling to my tribe
This is our land! This is our land! This is our land!
This is our land! This is our land! This is our land!
This is our land! This is our land! This is our land!

I am the spirit of the wolf
And I am witness
To it all

Monday, November 25, 2013

Image of the Day

hudsonbay wolf artis IMG_0038 by j.a.kok
hudsonbay wolf artis IMG_0038, a photo by j.a.kok on Flickr.

Hudson Bay wolves (Canis lupus hudsonicus)

10 wolves killed in wolf hunt

by NBC25 Newsroom
Posted: 11.23.2013

(AP) -- At least 10 wolves have been killed during Michigan's wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula.
The state Department of Natural Resources updated the results Saturday. The wolf season started on Nov. 15 and runs through December, unless 43 are killed before the end of the year.

It's the first hunt in Michigan since the wolf was placed on the endangered species list nearly 40 years ago. A total of 1,200 people are licensed to participate with firearm, crossbow or bow and arrow.
The DNR had estimated the state's wolf population at 658.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

TV or not TV
Scott D. Pierce

FILE - This undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a gray wolf. Federal wildlife officials have drafted plans to lift protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states, which would end a decades-long effort that has restored the animals but only in parts of their historic range. (AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, File)
Monday on TV: KUED re-examines the politics behind wolves in the West
In Return of the Wolves: The Next Chapter (9 p.m., Ch. 7), KUED's John Howe revisits the political controversy surrounding the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park, as well as the decision to remove wolves from their protected status on the endangered list.

This is an issue that isn't going away. And this is an in-depth look at it.

Fans of wolves clash with livestock ranchers

November 22, 2013
Wolves tend to stir up strong emotions from those who regard them as vicious predators and others who see them as magnificent wildlife.

Those feelings were on full display at a hearing Friday night in Sacramento meant to generate public input for a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take the gray wolf off its list of endangered species throughout the lower 48 states.

In some states where the wolves have made a recovery, they are no longer listed as endangered and can be hunted.

In California, a state with no wolves, hundreds packed the hearing room at the Marriott Courtyard Sacramento Cal Expo, some wearing cowboy hats and others sporting caps with wolf ears.

Ranchers, spooked by the yearlong foray of a gray wolf known as OR7 into Northern California from Oregon, told two Fish and Wildlife officials seated on the dais that wolves did not belong near their livestock.
“That’s my livelihood – producing food for you,” rancher Scott Murphy, president of the Siskiyou Resource Conservation District, boomed into the microphone. He said the presence of wolves tended to make cows nervous.

Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe at the McCloud River near Mount Shasta speaks on behalf of wolf preservation. Sisk said, "Our tribe is just like the wolf, almost extinct, and trying to recover. We as people, have much to learn about wolves," at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hearing at the Marriott Courtyard in Sacramento, California, on Friday night, November 22, 2013. JOSE LUIS VILLEGAS

Conservationists said wolves needed continued protection from human hunters. “I would love to hear wolves howl here again,” Gale Lederer told the officials, her voice breaking with emotion. She said Californians had lived with mountain lions and could also live with wolves.

Applause and jeers greeted the testimony, much of which strayed from the main point of the proposal.
After being all but killed off in the lower 48 states by the 1970s, federal officials contend the gray wolf has recovered in sufficient numbers, mainly in the upper Midwest and the northern Rocky Mountains, to no longer be in danger of extinction.

To remain on the list, a species “needs to be in danger of extinction now,” or likely to become extinct in the future, Gary Frazer, assistant director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, told the crowd. There are more than 5,000 gray wolves in the contiguous United States, including about 1,700 in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and 3,700 in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

To gauge public sentiment for its plan, the Fish and Wildlife Service is holding hearings in four Western cities: Sacramento, Denver, Albuquerque, N.M., and Pinetop, Ariz.

Beverly Williams of Merced, California, and of the group "Defend Rural America" holds posters for the lifting of preservation of wolves at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hearing at the Marriott Courtyard in Sacramento, California, on Friday night, November 22, 2013. JOSE LUIS VILLEGAS

Another part of the proposal involves protecting the tiny number of Mexican wolves – about 75 in the wild and 300 in captivity in Arizona and New Mexico – as an endangered species.

Oregon, where OR7 traveled from, and Washington state have populations of fewer than 50 wolves each.
OR7, tracked via a GPS collar, returned to Oregon in March, but some believe more Oregon wolves could eventually make their way to the far corners of Northern California. That has prompted both concerns from ranchers and a move to enact state protections.

Environmental groups have petitioned the state to protect wolves under the California Endangered Species Act, a separate state law. That petition is still pending.

Officials at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife expect more wolves to eventually disperse into California. They are working on a recovery and management plan for the species.

In the meantime, wolf advocates have been showing up in force at the federal hearings, along with a smaller number of ranchers. About 350 wolf advocates marched from a nearby hotel and dominated a hearing Tuesday in Denver, The Denver Post reported.

Speakers for and against the preservation of the gray wolf take turns at the microphone at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hearing at the Marriott Courtyard in Sacramento, California, on Friday night, November 22, 2013. JOSE LUIS VILLEGAS
 The turnout was similar Friday in Sacramento. The ranchers who spoke were often met with skeptical outbursts from the crowd. Those who called on federal officials not to delist the gray wolf as an endangered species received loud applause and cheers.

Hearing officer Mike Chapel had to repeatedly ask for respect and silence from the crowd.

One of the first speakers – Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe of American Indians, near Mount Shasta – provoked a loud round of applause after she said that the wolf had long been a spiritual figure for her tribe.

“The wolf is our teacher,” she said, explaining that its extended pack relationships served as an example for human families. She likened the hunting of wolves out of fear to the killing of American Indians.
“It is kind of odd people would be deciding the fate of the wolf,” she said.

Another rancher, Jerry Bacigalupi, said, “Cattle and wolves will not mix.” And Carolyn Laughlin, who lives near the Sutter Buttes, said the sheep raised there are the wolves’ likely prey, should they return to California. “Our sheep, this is their predator,” she said.

The public comment period on the federal plan continues through Dec. 17.


Image of the Day

Tundra Wolf, Alaska by nature.54855
Tundra Wolf, Alaska, a photo by nature.54855 on Flickr.

Tundra wolf (Canis lupus albus)

Wolf Weekly Wrap-Up

© Didier J. Lindsey

A temporary success story for gray wolf advocacy, but a deadly loss for red wolves…

You heard our cry! – We’ve asked you to join our advocacy effort protesting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to strip federal protections from most gray wolves in the lower 48 states and you came through with flying colors! Hundreds of supporters showed up at this week’s wolf hearings in Denver and Albuquerque, proving one thing: one of Defenders’ greatest assets is the conviction and dedication of its members.

Here’s the breakdown:

Wolf supports show up for the Denver Hearing outside of  Paramount Theater.
Supporters line the streets in advance of the public wolf hearing in Denver this week.

On Wednesday, in Denver, nearly 100 people joined Defenders’ pre-hearing event to prepare testimonials.  The energy of the night was fueled by a series of motivating speeches delivered by supporters and wolf experts alike as supporters lined the city block around Paramount Theatre in advance of admittance to the hearing.  In total, there were close to 400 people in attendance. This just goes to show a passionate base of support for the gray wolf and underscores the dedication and commitment of the folks at the event – many of whom are Defenders’ supporters.

For almost 3 hours, the USFWS heard from predator-friendly ranchers, ethical hunters, children, grandparents, teachers, biologists, and Coloradans who ardently spoke about the value of having wolves in the wild. Children as young as 7 years old told the Service that they were the “voice of their generation” and talked about the intrinsic importance of predators on the landscape.

Even if you were not there in person, your voice was heard. Jonathan Proctor, Defenders’  director of the Rockies and Plains Program gave a great testimony on behalf of the 4,500 Coloradans who signed Defenders’ letter of protest. Only one person (a representative from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation) spoke in support of the delisting. In a word: we rocked!

The fun continued on Thursday, in Albuquerque, where we had a similarly great turnout at our pre-hearing prep event, with 110 supporters signing in and walking to the hearing together. In total, 500 folks attended the event, 69 of whom testified — 48 in favor of continued federal protection and 21 opposed.  The Koch brothers-funded, Tea Party-esque group Americans For Prosperity, was present at the event and attempted to use government protection of wolves as a tactic to support their larger anti-government agenda. For example, they also asked attendees to sign a statement saying “Exempt Me” from Obamacare.  David Speady with AFP stated “big carnivores simply can’t live in populated areas, and the lower 48 are settled. There’s a reason we don’t have grizzlies in CA–they can’t coexist. Same for wolves.”  As always, their testimony was grossly inaccurate and displayed a deep lack of understanding about how the natural world works.

There are two more hearings set to take place Friday, November 22 in Sacramento, and Tuesday, December, 3 in Pinetop, Az. We’ll provide you the highlights in the coming weeks, but all in all, if this week has proved anything, it has shown that Defenders’ strength lies in the hearts and minds of the passionate individuals and members who represent this organization across our country. Thank you for your continued and unwavering support as we continue to fight for the gray wolf.

red wolf
A rare red wolf at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina.

Nearly 10 percent of the wild red wolf population killed since January 1, 2013 — While we can savor temporary success with our gray wolf advocacy, we did get some bad news about the plight of red wolves in the east. On Monday, November 18, North Carolina authorities found a red wolf dead in Washington County, N.C., killed by a gunshot wound. In addition, this week officials also found a broken collar of another red wolf, but have been unable to locate the wolf’s body; they suspect the animal was killed and the collar cut off the body. The wolf’s body found on November 18th is the fifth wolf killed in the last month and a total of eight red wolves have been shot in North Carolina since January 1, 2013. That’s approaching 10 percent of the 90-100 estimated wild red wolf population.

The likely reason for this surge in deaths is North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s newly adopted hunting rule which allows hunting of coyotes by day and at night with spotlights in wolf territory. Since coyotes and red wolves are very similar in appearance and stature, this rule puts red wolves at risk of being shot accidentally. In 2012, Defenders and several other groups  filed a court challenge against the NC Wildlife Resource Commission requesting a suspension to this rule. While the rule was temporarily suspended in 2012, it went into full effect this summer, and we are seeing the deadly effects.  We continue to work the legal angles on this issue, and we need your help.

Click here to support our work and help us end these senseless killings.


Friday, November 22, 2013

CA wolves: Endangered species needs help to be saved

Posted:   11/20/2013

In the months since the wolf known as OR-7 slipped quietly out of California following a stay of more than a year, state officials have been working to complete their review of whether to award state protections to gray wolves. 

The word out of Sacramento this week is that a preliminary state study undergoing peer review tries to make a case against protecting wolves. In fact, OR-7's historic 500-mile journey from Oregon to California makes a very strong case for why wolves need protecting here, offering on-the-ground proof of what top researchers have said for decades: Recovering populations will return to California's thousands of acres of prime, upland wolf habitat.

The question is, will California be prepared to manage them when they get here?

It's a question taking on new urgency as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rolls into California on Friday for a public hearing on the Obama administration's proposal to strip most wolves in the lower 48 states of Endangered Species Act protections. If the service follows through, wolf recovery will be left almost entirely to the states.

Already we're seeing how that's likely to work out for wolves. In the northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions, where wolves lost federal protection over the past two years, more than 2,200 have already been killed in state-sanctioned hunts.

Shortly after OR-7 arrived, it became clear the sentiments driving those hunts are shared by some Californians. In the Klamath-Siskiyou and Modoc plateau regions that are home to many of California's 6 million head of livestock, cattlemen and some elected officials didn't hold back on the vitriol, according to news reports. "We would like to see them shot on sight," said the chair of the Siskiyou County board of supervisors as OR-7 first approached the California state line in December 2011. "If I see a wolf," said a Modoc County supervisor a month later, "it's dead."

OR-7 was lucky to get out of California alive. Like fledgling populations in Oregon and Washington, wolves returning to California will need state protection to survive. In California, historically a leader in conservation issues, the evidence has always suggested most voters support the return of wolves. During the two-month comment period that followed the state Fish and Wildlife recommendation that gray wolves be considered for state protection, the state received some 7,000 letters in favor, and only 33 in opposition.

A national poll conducted earlier this year found that only 1 in 3 voters favored the Obama administration's plan to drop federal protections for wolves, while a majority supported returning wolves to prime habitat in the Rockies, Northeast, Pacific Northwest and California.

The politically driven federal delisting proposal is premature, unsupported by the best available science. It fails to ensure wolves have been recovered to significant portions of their historic range. Nowhere is that more evident than here on the West Coast, where wolves are just starting to make a comeback. With only about 100 wolves in Washington and Oregon, they can hardly be considered recovered.

Scientists have identified more than 145,000 square miles across Washington, Oregon and California capable of supporting around 1,700 wolves. But OR-7's test-drive through Northern California was a timely reminder that without state protection, the return of wolves is likely to be a sad, short-lived chapter with a violent end.

Amaroq Weiss, a Petaluma biologist and former attorney who has been working to recover wolves in the West for 17 years, is West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity. She wrote this for this newspaper.

Friction Over Wolf Reintroduction Spills Into CO

November 21, 2013
By Valerie Richardson
The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to rule on the wolf proposals sometime after public hearings conclude Dec. 3

DENVER—Wildlife lovers clamoring to bring gray wolves to Colorado may want to pay attention to those wooden outhouse-style structures in rural Catron County, New Mexico.  They’re called “kid cages,” and they’re built to protect children waiting at school bus stops–from wolves.
“The wolf issue is an example, especially with the kid cages, about how you’re putting the interest of wildlife over the interests of human beings,” said filmmaker David Spady.
“Every American should be concerned about seeing kids in cages and wolves out wandering around freely.”
Spady’s remarks came during a Tuesday screening of his film, “Wolves in Government Clothing,” a documentary on the impact of the 1998 wolf reintroduction on those living in the rural West.

The film focuses on rural communities struggling to cope with the economic and safety issues that accompanied the wolves, including livestock depredations, reduced elk and moose herds, and fewer hunting opportunities, not to mention chilling close encounters with wolf packs. “There are certain predators that don’t mix well with populated areas, and most of the lower 48 is populated,” said Spady. “It’s not like the backwoods of Alaska or northern Canada. We’re populated.”

The screening, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity-Colorado and the Centennial Institute, coincided with a Fish and Wildlife Service public hearing on the wolves’ status at the Paramount Theater in Denver. That was by design. Spady is holding screenings prior to five public hearings on the agency’s proposals to lift the endangered-species status of Canadian gray wolves in the Northern Rockies while increasing protections for the Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico.

From the perspective of species recovery, the Canadian gray wolf reintroduction has been a huge success. In 2012, wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains numbered 1,674 in at least 321 packs, far exceeding the agency’s goals.

Even so, the delisting proposal is meeting with furious opposition from environmental groups and wildlife advocates who fear the move will signal an open season on wolves.

At Tuesday night’s hearing, every one of the 100-plus speakers offering comments was staunchly opposed to removing the federal protections. Many of the speakers identified themselves as volunteers with the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, and more than a few wound up in tears. “You guys, you, we entrusted you to take care of our beloved wildlife, lands and waters, to take care of this land, and you need to be the watchdog so the states don’t open it up to an open slaughter for these wolves,” said Betty Neuenschwander.

The wolves are already delisted in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, where state wildlife officials are now in charge of managing the population and have allowed controlled hunting. About 90 wolves have migrated to Oregon and Washington, where they are still protected.

Many speakers said they were concerned that the delisting would slow or halt the migration of wolves to Colorado. “Will I ever see a wolf in Colorado?” said seven-year-old McKenna Miers. “I oppose your plan because no one will ever see a wolf in Colorado and they will be extinct.”

Spady acknowledged that the wolf-reintroduction effort has taken on “this iconic sort of mystical status” among wildlife advocates. “Most people that don’t deal with wolves, they grew up painting pictures of them as kids, and it’s more like a teddy bear than it is something that’s threatening,” said Spady. “It’s really people who are having to live with them that are having the issues.”

He pointed out that grizzly bears once roamed California—there’s even one on the state flag—but nobody in California is seriously calling for a grizzly reintroduction. “California, where they once had grizzly bears everywhere, doesn’t have that animal in the state because they’re just impossible to manage in populated areas,” said Spady. “And they’re trying to force wolves in populated areas through these programs, and it’s just not working.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to rule on the wolf proposals sometime after public hearings conclude Dec. 3.


Feds' push to end endangered protection for gray wolves ignites foes

By Bruce Finley
The Denver Post
Posted:   11/20/2013

Karen Anderson, center left, and Melissa Chiariello wear wolf-head caps while waiting in line to participate in a public comment session inside the Paramount Theatre on Tuesday night. (Karl Gehring, The Denver Post)
Federal authorities in charge of saving wolves from extinction ignited outrage Tuesday when they made their case to end protection of gray wolves — and shift resources to the recovery of Mexican wolves.

The senior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists, running a public hearing at the Paramount Theater in Denver, said reintroduction projects succeeded and gray wolves are no longer endangered.

But more than 350 wolf advocates, who paraded from a nearby hotel and dominated the hearing, oppose the federal push to lift protection. They favor continued federal protection so that wolves that wander beyond their current stronghold in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho will have a better chance of survival.

"How can the job be done when only 8 percent of wolves' historic habitat is occupied?" Defenders of Wildlife regional director Jonathan Proctor said. "We want wolves in the southern Rockies, which is tremendous habitat that is suffering because of the lack of wolves."

If federal authorities remove gray wolves from the endangered species list as proposed, it would be up to state authorities in Colorado, California, Utah and elsewhere to decide whether hunters and landowners could kill wolves. Hunting wolves already is allowed in the northern Rockies, and about 56 were killed in Wyoming this year.

"You don't want a situation where you backslide," said John Kostyack, vice president of the National Wildlife Federation, which opposes delisting gray wolves and includes hunters among 4 million members and supporters. "You want to have fully recovered wolf populations that no longer require help of the federal government. How do you get to that point? You try to have multiple populations, well distributed, at different locations."

Ranching groups, worried about losing livestock, strongly back the federal push to end federal endangered-species protection for wolves. "The gray wolf recovery effort has already been successful, and we don't believe Colorado is appropriate habitat for wolves," said Terry Fankhauser, vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association. "As for the Mexican wolf, we've got strong evidence that this is not part of its historic range."

Wolves are "very voracious," said Dick Ray, a cattle rancher, farmer and outfitter from Pagosa Springs.
"Delist everything," including Mexican wolves, Ray said. "Let the states manage them. There are places that some would work. The question is how many are too many."

Ray was among several ranchers who attended the public hearing but were aced out of testifying orally because 151 opponents of delisting signed up first. Federal officials said written testimony submitted by the ranchers would carry equal weight.

If federal protection ends, Colorado officials said this week that any wolf that wanders into the state must be allowed to live.

However, "wolves kill livestock," Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said, and current state policy also directs state biologists to work with ranchers to remove such wolves.

The overall gray wolf population in the Lower 48 has reached more than 5,000 since reintroductions began in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, said Mike Jimenez, the federal biologist coordinating wolf science and management in the northern Rockies.

Yet, after federal protection was lifted in reintroduction states, state authorities allowed wolf hunting, starting in 2011. Federal data show wolf populations in the northern Rockies have decreased by 7 percent to 1,674 from 1,750, Jimenez said.

Public hearings, like the one held in Denver, are planned for New Mexico, Arizona and California. A decision on delisting gray wolves and on ramping up protection for Mexican wolves is expected next year.
Public sentiment, on all sides, is proving intense. "Wolves are beautiful animals and have an incredible social structure. Predators always have had a special significance in our culture," said Gary Frazer, assistant director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, who led the Denver hearing.

What the federal proposals are really about is shifting attention away from one subspecies, the gray wolf, to another, the Mexican wolf — which is immediately imperiled and could vanish, Frazer said in an interview. "We need to focus our limited resources on that sub-species."


Another endangered red wolf found dead in NC

Red Wolf
These about 100 remaining red wolves in the wild, plus about 200 in zoos and breeding preserves, are all that remain of the species. Contributed photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Published: Thursday, November 21, 2013
A sixth red wolf in the past month of the fewer than 100 now in the wild was killed by apparent gunshot and recovered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday. The federally protected wolf’s body was recovered from private property north of Swan Quarter, in western Hyde County, one of five North Carolina counties that now form the only free roaming habitat to the species declared extinct in the wild in 1980.

David Rabon, Fish and Wildlife Red Wolf Recovery Program coordinator since 2009, said the death brought the total of red wolves to 14 that have died since Jan. 1. Three were struck and killed by vehicles, one died as a result of non-management related actions, one died from undetermined causes apparently resulting from an illegal take, and nine were confirmed or suspected gunshot deaths.

While the mortality number of the protected species this year is 40 percent fewer than last, Rabon said, “the gunshot mortality is higher.”

Information directly leading to an arrest, criminal conviction, civil penalty, or forfeiture of property in the death of the endangered species may be eligible for a $26,000 reward. “The Fish and Wildlife Service offers a reward but the level of attention that this has brought has grouped a number of organizations together that don’t always think alike,” he said. “Pledged contributions by North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Red Wolf Coalition, Humane Society of the United States, and the Center for Biological Diversity show broad solidarity in support of this incredible tragedy,” Rabon said.

The reward being raised high enough could help flush out the shooter of one of the world’s most endangered wild canids, once common throughout the southeastern U.S. but decimated due to intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat, said Rabon.

Of the six radio-collared red wolves found dead in the last month in Hyde, Washington, and Tyrrell counties, only one cut-off radio collar was found. Red wolves are also found in Dare and Beaufort counties as principal habitat and occasionally in adjoining counties.

Rabon, a biologist working with the Red Wolf Program since 2000 before becoming coordinator, said, “There is no record of a red wolf ever attacking a person unprovoked. Wolves in general are not a threat to people. I recognize people’s concern about large predators but wolves are not aggressive; they are more inclined to stay away from people,” he said. He advised that anyone seeing a wolf in their area make a loud noise, such as by shooting into the air, and it will scare the wolf away.

These about 100 remaining red wolves in the wild, plus about 200 in zoos and breeding preserves, Rabon said. About 17 red wolves were captured along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana after the species was declared endangered in 1967 and 14 of them became founders of a successful zoo-based breeding program. The first litter was born in captivity in 1977 and by 1987 there were enough to begin the restoration program on the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina and now includes three refuges in northeastern North Carolina.

Red wolves prey on a variety of mammals like raccoons, rabbits, white-tailed deer, and nutria and other rodents. They are most active at dusk and dawn and generally avoid humans.

The red wolf is protected under The Endangered Species Act and the maximum criminal penalties for the unlawful taking of a red wolf are one year imprisonment and $100,000 fine per individual.

Anyone with information on the death of this red wolf or any others, past or future, is urged to contact Resident Agent in Charge John Elofson at 404-763-7959, Refuge Officer Frank Simms at 216-7504, or North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Officer Robert Wayne at 216-8225.


Cattle ranchers track wolves with GPS, computers

November 10, 2013
Becky Kramer The Spokesman-Review 
Tyler Tjomsland photo. Rancher John Dawson and his granddaughter Kelsey move cattle out of a corral and onto a truck Wednesday near their ranch in Colville.
COLVILLE – Before the sun breaks over the mountains, Leisa Hill is firing up a generator in a remote cow camp in eastern Stevens County.
Soon she’ll be poring over satellite data points on her laptop, tracking the recent wanderings of a GPS-collared wolf.

Hill is a range rider whose family grazes 1,300 head of cattle in the Smackout pack’s territory. Knowing the collared wolf’s whereabouts helps her plan her day.
She’ll spend the next 12 to 16 hours visiting the scattered herd by horseback or ATV. Through the regular patrols, she’s alerting the Smackout pack that cattle aren’t easy prey.

Her work is paying off. Last year, 100 percent of the herd returned from the U.S. Forest Service allotments and private pastures that provide summer and fall forage. This year’s count isn’t final, but the tallies look promising, said Hill’s dad, John Dawson. “We’ve lost nothing to wolves,” he said.

Hill’s range rider work is part of a pilot that involves two generations of a northeastern Washington ranch family, the state and Conservation Northwest. The aim is to keep Washington’s growing wolf population out of trouble. Last year, government trappers and sharpshooters killed seven members of the Wedge pack for repeatedly attacking another Stevens County rancher’s cattle.

That short-term fix came at a high political price: The state Department of Fish and Wildlife received 12,000 emails about the decision, mostly in opposition. Two wolves have again been spotted in the Wedge pack’s territory, either remnants of the original pack or new wolves moving in.
It upped the ante for all sides to be proactive.

Ranchers can’t fight public opinion

Many Washington residents want wolves, said Dawson, a 70-year-old rancher whose son, Jeff, also runs a Stevens County cattle operation. “I can’t fight that,” John Dawson said of public opinion. “You have to meet in the middle; you have no choice. We put most of our cattle in wolf territory for the summer,” he said. “I’ve been trying to learn as much as possible about wolves so we can meet them at the door.”

For ranchers, “it’s a new business now, a new world,” said Jay Kehne of Conservation Northwest, a Bellingham-based environmental group that works on issues across Washington and British Columbia.
Conservation Northwest supported last year’s controversial decision to remove the Wedge pack. “We wanted to do what we felt was scientifically right, what was supported by the evidence, what people knowledgeable about cattle and wolf behavior were telling us,” Kehne said.

But the organization obviously prefers preventive, nonlethal measures, he said. Conservation Northwest had talked to Alberta and Montana cattle ranchers who use range riders and was looking for Washington ranchers willing to try it. The Dawsons were interested.

Conservation Northwest helps finance three range riders in Washington – the Dawsons in Stevens County, and others in Cle Elem and Wenatchee.

Hiring a range rider costs $15,000 to $20,000 for the five-month grazing season, Kehne said. The state and individual ranchers, including Dawson, also contribute to the cost.

In addition, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife provides daily satellite downloads on GPS-collared wolves to help range riders manage the cows.

Collared wolves are known as “Judas wolves” for betraying the pack’s location.

The downloads give the wolves’ locations for the past 24 hours, though the system isn’t foolproof, said Jay Shepherd, a state wildlife conflict specialist. Dense stands of trees can block signals, and the timing of satellite orbits affects data collection.

Last winter, the state captured and collared three wolves in the Smackout pack. One of the collars has a radio-based signal that can be detected when the wolf is nearby. The other two wolves received GPS collars. One of the collars has stopped working. The remaining GPS collar is on a young male that doesn’t always stay with the pack.

Ranchers must sign an agreement to access the satellite downloads. “They understand it is sensitive data that’s not to be shared,” said Stephanie Simek, the state’s wildlife conflict section manager.

GPS tracking adds a high-tech element to modern range riding, but much of it is still grunt work. The Smackout pack’s territory covers about 400 square miles. John and Jeff Dawson’s cattle graze 10 to 15 percent of the pack’s territory, but their range encompasses the heart of it.

Leisa Hill’s work starts in early June, when the cows and calves are turned loose on Forest Service allotments and private pastures. The range riding continues through 100-degree August days and wraps up in early November after the first snowfall.

She travels nearly 1,000 miles each month by horse and ATV through thick timber to reach scattered grazing areas. She watches for bunched or nervous cows, as well as sick or injured animals that wolves might consider easy prey.

She’s also alert to patterns in the wolves’ movements. Regular visits to a particular site probably indicate the presence of a carcass.

Hill has fired noise-makers to scare off adult wolves that were in the same pasture as cows. Last year, she spotted four wolf pups on the road.

The 46-year-old prefers to stay in the background, declining to be interviewed for this story. However, “the success of this range rider program is because of Leisa,” her father said. “She knows the range and she understands cow psychology.”

Skinny calves mean a financial loss

On a recent fall morning, John Dawson drove a pickup over Forest Service roads past small clusters of Black Angus, Herefords and cream-colored Charolais cows with their calves. The cows were just how he likes to see them: relaxed, spread out and eating. Calves should be putting on 2 to 3 pounds a day. “When they’re not laying around, resting and eating, they’re not gaining,” he said. Dawson heard his first wolf howl in 2011, the year before the range rider pilot started. He and his son lost seven calves that summer, though they couldn’t find the carcasses to determine cause of death.

The remaining calves were skinnier than usual. They probably spent the summer on the run from wolves, or tightly bunched together and not making good use of the forage, Dawson said. For ranchers, skinny calves can be a bigger financial blow than losing animals. Say a rancher has 500 calves and they each come in 40 pounds lighter than normal. At a market price of $1.50 per pound, “that’s a bigger loss ($30,000) than losing seven calves, which is about a $5,000 loss,” he said.

Over the past two years, the Dawsons have seen robust weight gain in their calves. They credit the range rider program. Earlier this year, Jeff Dawson and Shepherd, the state wildlife conflict specialist, talked with Klickitat County cattle ranchers. Wolves have been spotted in south-central Washington, and some of those ranchers are starting to experiment with range riders. “The success the Dawsons have had has gone a long way to helping promote nonlethal means and proactive measures to reduce conflict,” said Jack Field, the Washington Cattlemen’s Association’s executive vice president.

If ranchers take extra steps to protect their animals, the public is more likely to accept the occasional need to kill wolves that repeatedly attack livestock, said Conservation Northwest’s Kehne. John Dawson and his wife, Melva, spent decades building their ranch, working other jobs while they grew the herd. To preserve that legacy, the family was willing to try new ways of doing business, he said. “I think (range riding) would work for a good share of other ranchers,” he said. But “they have to be open-minded enough to want it to work.”
WSU develops research plan
Washington State University received $600,000 from the Legislature to study nonlethal methods for reducing conflicts between wolves and livestock. One of the proposals is to collar both cattle and wolves, tracking how and when they interact. Robert Wielgus, director of WSU’s Large Carnivore Conservation Lab, is developing the research plan.

A number of Washington livestock owners have already expressed interest in nonlethal methods. Twenty-nine have signed agreements with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife that allow them to apply for matching grants for items such as specialized fencing, guard dogs, range riders, hazing equipment and carcass removal. The program is financed through sales of personalized license plates and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant.