Sunday, January 24, 2016

Wolf management reaching new levels of success in region (& 2 rebuttals)

Getting aggressive early with livestock-killing wolves works better than gradually ratcheting up the response, according to research published last November by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Liz Bradley.
“Killing livestock is a learned behavior,” said Bradley, based at the Region 2 office in Missoula. “You might have a pack in an area for several years and not have a problem, and then, boom, you have a livestock kill, and then it happens again and again and again. There are many variables, but if you decide removing wolves is the best option, you’re better to take more earlier than picking away at them.”
Ten years of data looking at how wolf-pack size and distribution predict livestock attacks has helped wolf managers improve their tools for protecting cattle and sheep. Livestock deaths have shown a steady decline in the past several years.
“When wolves were just starting to come back – when they were still federally protected – the goal was get them recovered and off the endangered species list,” Bradley said. “Sometimes those removals were conservative – one here and one there, to see if that would work. What we found was those small removals weren’t effective.”
In a cursory view, Bradley’s results seem obvious: Remove a wolf pack, remove a livestock problem.
“What’s counterintuitive is you end up killing fewer wolves in the long run that way,” Bradley explained. “Maybe you have an incident and you kill a pack of six. That’s different than if you take three out every year, and the remainder have pups every year, and you end up taking 12 or 15 wolves over five or six years. If you removed that pack up front, you only take five or six, and give a chance for another (non-depredating) pack to move in.”


Rob Wielgus runs the Large Carnivore Lab at Washington State University. He worked on similar studies that showed killing wolves can lead to more livestock losses. But he said the difference depends on the size of landscape you look at.
“The results back up both of us,” Wielgus said. “If you have a depredating pack and wipe them out right away, you won’t get depredation elsewhere. But if you don’t kill them all, the remaining animals disperse to surrounding areas and pass on their depredation skills. And that’s where you get increased depredation. You have that whack-a-mole effect.”
You also risk new conflicts. States like Montana and Idaho must keep their wolf populations above certain thresholds or lose their local authority to the federal government. Places with new wolf populations, such as Washington, must show a measured response if they also want local control of what’s still a threatened or endangered species there.
Killing wolves that kill livestock defines reactionary management. Bradley, Wielgus and most other wolf researchers agree getting ahead of the problem is both cheaper and more effective. Wielgus said a two-year experiment with non-lethal wolf controls in Washington bears that out.
“We’ve been radio-monitoring hundreds of livestock and dozens of wolf packs,” Wielgus said. “So far, of those who’ve implemented the procedures, we’ve had zero depredations over two years. The results are astounding.”
The procedures include posting cowboys around cows and shepherds around sheep, removing carcasses promptly, placing fladry and portable fencing around pastures and related tactics. Washington has paid for the ranchers’ extra labor through grants funded by a license-plate fund and contributions from state and private agencies.
“We’re trying something different over here, and so far I’m real happy with the results,” Wielgus said. “A couple years ago, everyone was screaming and going crazy about wolves. Now it’s quiet. It’s good.”


Since gray wolves were reintroduced in the Rocky Mountains in 1995, and removed from federal Endangered Species Act protection in 2011, their relationship with human neighbors has evolved.
“It’s the same with any large mammal species out there,” said University of Montana Cooperative Wildlife Unit leader Mike Mitchell. “There are places where people tolerate them, places where they enjoy them and places where they get into trouble. We may be managing the wolf population so there are fewer conflicts with human interests now. State management offers some assurance we have possibility to control what’s going on. That’s a different place for people to be when thinking about wildlife.”
Mitchell and his team members have been refining ways to count wolves in the wild without the expensive assistance of a large radio-collar program. That’s essential because wolf population numbers form the measuring stick gauging how well management tools work.
The 2015 wolf census won’t be ready until March. The 2014 report pegged Montana’s wolf population at 554, down from 627 in 2013. That included 134 packs of two or more wolves, 34 of which qualified as breeding pairs.
In 2014, federal Wildlife Services officials reported 42 livestock losses to wolves, compared to 78 in 2013. Government hunters or private citizens killed 57 wolves in 2014 in response to livestock incidents. Hunters and trappers took 94 wolves during the 2013-14 season, and 119 during the 2014-15 season.
“It appears the population is leveling off,” Mitchell said. “That could be due to a hunting season that’s more liberal. Or it could also be due to wolves having reached carrying capacity. The truth is probably somewhere in between.”
It also may mean wolves are becoming a two-sided management challenge. There’s one bag of tools to work with wolves and livestock. A different bag may be necessary to work with wolves and wildlife.
Montana’s elk herds are over population objective in large parts of the state. But for years, FWP fielded complaints from hunters that wolves had eaten all the elk. Both statements appear to be true.
“One place that really stands out for being out of balance is Mineral County,” Bradley said. “It’s still a very hot-button issue there, with a high density of wolves in a difficult place to hunt and trap. They have a declining elk population, but they don’t have much of a livestock population like other places. It’s very much a big-game management challenge.”

Matthew Koehler

For Immediate Release, January 5, 2016

Legal Petition Seeks Extension of Federal Monitoring for Northern Rockies Wolves

New Study: Hunting Likely Spurring Harmful Declines in Northern Rocky Wolves
Five conservation groups filed a petition ( today requesting that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue monitoring northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves for another five years. The existing monitoring program, which is required by the Endangered Species Act after protections are removed for a species, is set to expire in May. The monitoring is crucial to ensure that the wolf population doesn’t slip to levels at which Endangered Species Act protections are again needed.
The groups based today’s request in part on a new study in the journal Science that found the Fish and Wildlife Service and states of Montana and Idaho have underestimated the impacts and risks of aggressive hunting policies for gray wolves instituted since protections were lifted. Since federal safeguards were first stripped in 2009, more than 2,300 wolves have been killed by hunters or trappers in the two states.
“This research confirms what many scientists have been saying all along,” said Andrea Santarsiere, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Aggressive hunting of wolves is harming the gray wolf population in the northern Rockies. Left unchecked, the numbers will continue to decline — a sad fact for an animal that we fought so hard to bring back from the brink of extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service clearly needs to continue to keep an eye on this situation.”
In first removing Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service said that the required post-delisting monitoring period would be extended for an additional five years if any one of three criteria are met. One criterion requires an extension if a significant change in state law or management would significantly increase threats to the wolf population. Both Idaho and Montana have repeatedly increased hunting and trapping quotas in an effort to substantially reduce wolf populations, which according to the new study are almost certainly resulting in population declines.
“Antagonism towards wolves is one of the main threats that put them on the endangered species list in the first place. This has hardly changed, and the states have further demonstrated their continued aggression towards wolves by increasing killing efforts and liberalizing hunting and trapping of wolves” said Ken Cole, Idaho director for Western Watersheds Project. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should extend their oversight of wolf management by the states to ensure stable and viable wolf populations”
“As a backcountry elk and deer hunter myself, I find it appalling that in Montana hunters and trappers can legally kill up to five wolves annually, including deep within our Wilderness areas,” said Matthew Koehler, director of the Montana-based WildWest Institute. “Essentially this allows hunters or trappers to legally wipe out an entire wolf pack.”
“Furthermore, since politicians – including Montana Senator Jon Tester – removed ESA protections for gray wolves in Montana and Idaho via a rider attached to an unrelated spending bill, we’re seen an increase in unethical and disgusting wolf-killing contests in the region,” said Koehler.
“Given these circumstances, requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue monitoring northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves for another five years is the right thing to do scientifically, as well as ethically, to ensure that wolves are not once again hunted and trapped to the brink of extinction,” explained Koehler. “I call on all my fellow hunters who claim to support the ‘North American Wildlife Conservation Model’ to support more this legal petition.”
Idaho has been especially aggressive in trying to reduce the wolf population. In 2014 the Idaho Legislature created the Idaho Wolf Control Board, allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars to killing wolves. Idaho has also contracted with the federal Wildlife Services to hunt, trap and aerially gun down wolves in the Lolo Zone and hired a professional trapper to eliminate two wolf packs in the Frank-Church-River-of-No Return Wilderness last winter. The agency has also turned a blind eye to an annual predator derby contest, in which participants win cash and prizes for killing wolves and coyotes, despite an agency policy condemning predator hunting contests as unethical.
“Idaho has been waging a war against wolves in the Lochsa and North Fork Clearwater basins, one of the wildest areas in the lower 48 states,” said Gary MacFarlane, ecosystem defense director of Friends of the Clearwater. “Further monitoring of this ill-advised program is needed.”
“The primary threat to wolves is active eradication efforts occurring throughout the Rocky Mountain distinct population segment,” said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands. “Continued monitoring of this still-fragile population is without question necessary and critical to the wolf’s recovery in the United States.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service has argued that the wolf population has stayed relatively constant despite hunting, but according to the new study this conclusion is questionable. Among other problems, Montana has changed its counting methodology after delisting, and Idaho continues to rely on a convoluted mathematical equation that is likely to overestimate the wolf population, making it difficult to accurately determine population trends.
“Idaho and Montana aren’t safe places for wolves right now,” Santarsiere said. “This is no time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to walk away from its duty to ensure this population survives and thrives. We know these wolves have been hammered by hunting and aggressive state policies and still need help.”


Rancher Nonlethal Wolf Management Cost Effective

If ranchers would do better management of herds with regard to wolves and other predators they could actually make more money per one study referenced below. Killing wolves in general, driving down the population, rather than dealing with chronic, specific offenders, probably does more harm than good. We should also all be aware that many ranchers having wolf problems are grazing on public land and crying wolf. There are 772 permits to graze on national forest lands in MT and 3776 permits to graze on BLM land. Ranchers encroach on wildlife in a huge way but feel entitled to do so as they have a history with the US government of doing so. Also, the number of cattle killed by wolves is greatly exaggerated, 65 out of 5.2 million in 2012 and less (54) in 2013, which is less than 0.002% for which the rancher is reimbursed. Oregon has the most sensible wolf policy: Nonlethal means have to be in place, at least two, and tried, and then only chronic offenders are dealt with in a lethal way. We can live with wolves and true wilderness. Many ranchers who have predator problems, which they usually greatly exaggerate, are in or in very close proximity to national forests, national parks, or on leased public land. They are encroaching on wildlife. But it seems that most ranchers are viscerally anti-wolf in particular and anti-predator in general, and that sportsmen and state wildlife agencies in some states, like MT, want to farm elk in the wilderness and eliminate or marginalize predators and thereby ruin true wilderness of which wolves are a vital part. Older wolves teach the young, most often to stay away from man, and we kill the teachers, leaving juveniles unschooled.
Wolf populations are not increasing in ID, MT, WY or the Midwest. Populations have stabilized despite the state wildlife agencies’ management (killing jihad). Wolves will regulate their own populations relative to wolf pack elbow room and game. Most wolf deaths are from other wolves, 65%. Wolves spend a quarter of their lives learning from elders what to hunt and how to hunt their culturally passed on hunting traditions. Left alone they will stabilize and fill up available niches then disperse to other regions, like to WA, OR, eventually CA. A wolf from this region was just discovered in the Grand Canyon. Killing wolves indiscriminately interrupts families, learning, cultures. Wolf populations in the wolf jihad states of MT, WY, ID have evidently about stabilized; in MT at around 600-700. Killing them is asinine in terms management. In fact is is not intelligent management: it is counter productive.

Study looks at killing wolves and livestock attacks Check out this story on