Two Poachers Found Guilty of Killing Juneau’s “Romeo” Wolf

On a September day like any other, Juneau resident Harry Robinson and his dog, Brittain, left home to meet a friend for their morning stroll. But the friend, usually so dependable, never showed.

The trio-minus-one made the customary rounds, searching for signs of the third, who was nowhere to be found.

The missing friend was called Romeo. Though he may have never been aware of it, his name appeared in headlines around the world. Animal lovers everywhere wanted to hear about Juneau’s resident black wolf, a creature that seemed to bridge the gap between humanity and the wild animal kingdom. He attracted crowds to his regular hangout near the Mendenhall Glacier for years until his unexplainable disappearance last September.

Juneau resident Nick Jans, an avid naturalist and wildlife photographer, shared an abundance of experiences with Romeo over the years since they met. He last encountered Romeo a little over a year ago. It was spring but a thick layer of ice still covered Mendenhall Lake, the same location Jans first encountered the creature. But on that crisp April day, Jans gave little thought to the possibility that the encounter might be their last.

“He came over and kind of said ‘hi,’ we said ‘hi,’ and that was it,” Jans recalled.

That final encounter was much like their first, which took place about seven years prior, also on the ice. Jans had spotted wolf tracks while skiing one day and later encountered their owner, then a nameless two-year-old black wolf who was acting “goofy, gangly and clumsy like a teenager.”

“He developed a huge crush on our female lab, Dakotah, and that’s how he got his name,” Jans said. “He would hang around our back door and sometimes be waiting in our yard. My wife Sherrie said, ‘There’s that Romeo wolf again.’ The name stuck.”

Click here to read the rest of the story
Click here for a photo of “Romeo”, on Nick Jans’ website

More Than a Dozen Bear Sightings in Denver Neighborhoods

Deputies are concerned because there have been several bear sightings in populated areas in Arapahoe County in the past few days.

“In this area it’s not expected,” said Lt. Chris George with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department.”However like we said earlier, it’s not uncommon, we can have contact with our wildlife here in the state just about anywhere, certainly unexpected down in this area.”

Tyler Baskfield, a spokesman for DOW said, “We want to remind people to alleviate any attractants from their yards, whether it’s barbeque grills, bird feed, pet food. Anything that may attract bears. You need to remember, bears have powerful noses and trying to pack on weight so they’re going to go for any easy meal sources here along the front range.”

Click here to read the story

Federal Judge Blocks Alaska Wolf-Kill Plan

A federal judge on Monday denied the state of Alaska’s request for a preliminary injunction to kill wolves, a step it said was needed to protect a caribou herd on an island in the Aleutian chain that is a subsistence food source for rural Alaskans there.

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland said that while sympathetic to the state’s argument, he had to abide by law when ruling against the state’s request to immediately conduct predator control in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge on Unimak Island.

“Somebody’s governmental pride will be bruised here and there is no avoiding that,” Holland said, before ruling in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Click here to read the story

June 5 & 6, 2010

My wife and I spent a good portion of the weekend at the Capitol Hill People’s Fair in downtown Denver, helping out at the Defenders of Wildlife information booth. We had a great time talking with people about current wildlife news and issues, and I (though I usually avoid captive subjects) took some time to shoot the ambassador birds in neighboring booths.

I was able to get out to the hills on the evening of the 6th – saw 2 foxes, 4 golden eagles, 8 hawks and a ton of deer, but no bear yet…

June 4, 2010

Left the house for some sunset shooting around 5:30. Had Dan or I known that there was a triathlon event going on at Cherry Creek, we probably would’ve gone elsewhere… Anyway, we stuck it out until the race was over, and I’m glad we did. The light was great and the deer really “popped” against the green grass – at the end of the day, we walked away with a few decent shots.

June 1 – 3, 2010

I’ve been sticking around my neck of the woods lately, waiting for coyote pups to emerge from their dens and searching for bears arriving from the high country (no luck yet, though several sightings by others) – patience, patience, patience….

Wise Words

Norm Bishop’s comments at the Montana Wolf Hunt Meeting:

“Without commenting specifically on numbers or distribution of hunting quotas, I offer just these notes for your consideration.

Aldo Leopold; forester, wildlife ecologist, conservationist, father of game management in America, lived from 1887 to 1948. In 1944, he reviewed Young and Goldman’s Wolves of North America, which chronicled the extirpation of wolves. In his review, Leopold asked, “Are we really better off without wolves in the wilder parts of our forests and ranges?” He also asked, “Why, in the necessary process of extirpating wolves from the livestock ranges of Wyoming and Montana, were not some of the uninjured animals used to restock the Yellowstone?” Thirty years later, in 1974, the planning began, and in 1995, twenty years later, wolves were restored to Yellowstone.

Leopold’s thinking about deer, wolves, and forests is epitomized by his essay, “Thinking Like a Mountain.” In brief, he shot a wolf. In later years he came to “suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain (and its plants) live in mortal fear of its deer.” To deer, we could add elk. In Yellowstone, the lack of wolves led to woody species like willow and aspen being suppressed by elk browsing. With the return of wolves, willows are growing, once-rare birds are nesting in them, beavers are building dams from the willows, and the wolves are feeding a couple of dozen species of scavengers, including eagles and grizzly bears…”

Click here to read the rest of Norm’s comments

Merry May Memories

It seems like May, one of my favorite months for photography, passed by so quickly this year… I spent a good portion of the month outdoors, and, with patience and luck, was able to see and photograph many of the wild creatures that call Colorado home: moose, elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, lynx, coyote, fox, porcupine, beaver, yellow-bellied marmot, muskrat, black-tailed prairie dog, abert’s squirrel, american pika, thirteen-lined ground squirrel, spotted ground squirrel, golden mantel ground squirrel, vole, great blue heron, canada goose, cackling goose, bald eagle, golden eagle, great horned owl, night heron, glossy ibis, osprey, cormorant, snowy egret, raven, mallard, cinnamon teal, wood duck, ring-necked duck, common merganser, redhead, red-tailed hawk, cooper’s hawk, prairie falcon, magpie, crow, steller’s jay, avocet, killdeer, northern flicker, bullock’s oriole, kestrel, kingfisher, mountain bluebird, broad-tailed hummingbird, red-throated hummingbird and a ton of other small birds.

A few snapshots from last month:

Only a couple of weeks until Spring yields to the dry heat of Summer, bring on the bears!

Care About Bears

WildEarth Guardians –

Mom bears and their cubs are out in full force now looking for food – this time of year it normally includes flowers and grasses – but it can also include opportunistic choices such as birdseed, BBQ left-overs, and unkempt garbage. These are all deadly choices because once habituated to humans, bears will continue to return and when conflict with people occurs, the bears are euthanized.

Bears are sensitive to all sources of mortality. Most bears die from sport hunters, but they are also killed to protect agribusiness, and increasingly from negative interactions with people who further encroach upon bear habitat and migration corridors.

Unfortunately, even with their vulnerabilities, bear quotas are going up, as we saw recently in Aspen where the Colorado Wildlife Commission increased bear shooting licenses in Aspen by 64%! Carelessness by humans will cause untold deaths for bears in Colorado and New Mexico that could be prevented with easy, precautionary measures.

We know you care about bears and so we are enlisting our supporters to help us. We encourage our members and their friends and colleagues to be mindful of bears — whether you live in an urban area like Boulder, Colorado or Santa Fe, New Mexico, or in the hills where bears live. If you recreate in bear country, be mindful, and remind others to do so too.

Click here for the “Care About Bears” Fact Sheet from WildEarth Guardians

Click here for the story on Aspen’s new bear hunting quota

Colorado Bighorn Population Under Threat

In the latest twist of an ecological saga, non-native mountain goats are displacing the sheep along the road from Echo Lake Lodge to Mount Evans’ 14,264-foot summit. The nine goats that state wildlife managers transplanted to mountains near Salida multiplied to more than 1,500 and spread. About 140 live on Mount Evans. Some have crossed north of I-70. Researchers recently recorded an encounter between the species. A snow-white goat approached three bighorn sheep licking salt. The goat lowered its dark horns and charged. The sheep scattered, and the goat took over, savoring the salt…

Click here to read the story

May 30 & 31, 2010

The road to Mt. Evans finally opened on the 28th, so I was really excited to get up there in search of mountain goats. The trip up on the 30th presented some awesome vistas and a couple of marmots, but only one goat – a big billy on the run at about a million yards. Early morning on the 31st, however, made for some great goat shooting.

A couple of days on an alpine mountaintop with my wife and her mom, a great way to spend Memorial Day weekend, thanks guys!

May 28, 2010

My buddy Rob and I headed for the mountains at 6AM for bighorn shots, but soon changed our minds and decided to go on a moose search instead. Winter Park turned up nothing of interest besides a colony of nesting swallows, so we continued up the road to Rocky Mountain National Park. As soon as we reached Grand Lake we spotted a scraggly red fox with a bird in it’s jaws, slowly skirting the lake shore. We were pulling over and getting into position for shots when three dogs appeared, running full-speed after the fox – the fox easily outran the dogs, gave them the slip in a stand of pines, then crossed the road directly in front of us and safely made it’s way up the hill and to the den with the bird breakfast in it’s jaws.

Several groups of cow elk were out roaming the Kawuneeche Valley (as always), but we continued with the mission until we reached the Coyote Valley trailhead – finally, a moose! The lone bull moose with brand new horns poking through his head was about 100 yards or so off of the road, kneeling down on it’s front legs grazing. Rob stuck near the car while I (as always) took off in search of a different vantage, setting up the tripod in a marsh about 40 yards from the car. After 5 minutes of shooting, the bull began to pay close attention to us, and started walking straight at me. As he was making his way toward me I realized that all four of his hooves were extremely overgrown (the front right hoof was the shortest, at about 10 inches), it looked like he was wearing those long, pointy, curly boots – they didn’t seem to be uncomfortable, just cumbersome. He walked to a willow bush about 25 feet from me, then turned and walked right between Rob and I toward the road. A truck spooked the moose and he ran down the road, his giant, curved hooves loudly clip-clapping. He ran off of the road, right past me and into the marsh.

We spent a while with the big guy, then headed out of the park. Passing through Grand Lake, I spotted a couple of people on a road above the highway looking intently into the trees – a mama moose and two tiny calves, what luck! These two little guys were less than a week old (according to local experts that had “known” this particular mama moose it’s entire life – it’s great to meet other people who really “know” the animals in their area), and they couldn’t be any cuter. Still unsteady on their long legs, it was a joy to watch them wobble around behind mom as she grazed on a hillside about 25 feet from us. The next hour or so was spent with the moose family, chatting with friendly folks who would come to adore the toddlers in between shots.

After a while mom took the babies up to the top of the hill and out of sight, so we headed to the car. Local experts told us that this mother moose had ditched her two yearlings last week, and they’d still been following her around from a safe distance. We drove about a half mile down the road and there were the yearlings, right on cue. We spent some time shooting the two yearling moose, then headed back to town – mission accomplished!

Why Restore Wolves in Colorado?

Colorado Needs Wolves

Predators play a dynamic and essential role in maintaining the health of ecosystems. Wolves prey mostly on animals that are young or elderly, sick or injured, and weak or unfit, thus helping to keep prey populations healthy and vigorous. By preventing large herbivores such as deer and elk from becoming overpopulated, wolves help maintain native biodiversity. When deer and elk become too abundant for their habitat, they overgraze and destroy the plant base, making the habitat less suitable for other species.

The complete removal of wolves from Colorado by 1943 has altered the natural relationships among animals and plants ecologically associated with wolves. This disruption led to increases in some species and declines in others, adversely affecting biological diversity. Removing large predators allowed smaller, more generalized predators to increase their numbers, range and exploitation of food sources. For example, when gray wolves were eliminated, coyote numbers exploded.

Here are a couple of excellent documentary videos that better explain why Colorado needs wolves:

Return to the Wild: A Modern Tale of Wolf & Man
A fair and open-minded look at the re-introduction of the gray wolf to the Northern Rockies, the friction it has caused, and the passionate debate it has stirred. The goal of the documentary is to address the issue of how man and predator can co-exist, in the hope of finding a balanced solution that addresses the needs of the ranchers, wildlife supporters, hunters, and most importantly, the wolves themselves.

Click here to watch or download “Return to the Wild”

Restoring the Wolf, Restoring the Wild
I was thrilled when one of my favorite wildlife conservation groups, WildEarth Guardians, contacted me about using some of my photos for their “Restoring the Wolf, Restoring the Wild” photo essay, narrated by Alan Arkin!

“The release is a celebration and a call to action. From the snowy peaks of the Colorado Rockies to the Mexican border and all throughout the American West, wolves are a symbol of freedom and wildness to cherish and protect.” – WildEarth Guardians

Click here to see the photo essay

May 26, 2010

Excellent day for photography… I spent sunrise shooting bighorn rams in Clear Creek canyon, nothing like the sound of butting horns in the morning – sunset, I focused on the moon through the trees, the high-pitched howls of Plum Creek coyote pups floating by in the wind. Life is good.

Yellowstone Wolf 690F Killed Near Butte, Montana

Wolf number 690 from Yellowstone National Park had seen her pack ravaged by disease and attacks by other wolf packs before she wandered south of Butte. The 2-year-old female that was stricken with mange was shot recently by a rancher when he spotted the black wolf attacking cattle. State wildlife officials inspected the collared wolf and found she was from the former Druid Peak pack, which no longer exists after members caught mange and then dispersed into the hostile territory of other packs…

Click here to read the story

Colorado DOW – How to Build Wildlife-Friendly Fences

Every year, thousands of big game animals and birds die of injuries caused by fences. However, as a new Colorado Division of Wildlife publication explains, it is possible to build effective fences that meet the needs of landowners and that minimize harm to wildlife.

The new publication, “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind,” explains how to build a variety of wildlife-friendly fences. It also includes instructions on how to construct enclosures around areas to exclude wildlife. When properly built, fences can allow wildlife to move through an area, both in their normal daily movements and in seasonal migration patterns.

The information offered by the publication is based on long-term research and observations by wildlife officers and biologists. In addition, private landowners provided suggestions and designs that they employ on their properties.

“Fences are major investments for landowners,” said Pat Tucker, coordinator of the Habitat Partnership Program for the DOW. “This publication isn’t the final word on fencing but it does show real life examples of fence designs that work for both landowners and wildlife.”

A research study of 600 miles of fence line conducted by Utah State University examined carcasses of animals found hanging in the fences, dead animals next to fences, and different types of fences. Here are some of the key findings:
– woven-wire fences topped with a single-strand of barbed wire were most lethal to wildlife;
– one big game animal was found tangled for every 2.5 miles of fence;
– one animal was found dead next to fences every 1.2 miles;
– most animals died by getting caught in the top two wires while trying to jump;
– 70 percent of all mortalities were on fences higher than 40 inches;
– young animals are eight times more likely to die in fences than adult animals;
– 90 percent of the carcasses found near fences were of young animals that had been separated from their mothers.

Click here for the new DOW publication, “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind”

Wolves: Separating Fact From Fiction

By Jeff Welsch
Communications Director, Greater Yellowstone Coalition – Bozeman, Montana

Never let facts get in the way of some good hysteria.

That seems to be the mantra of the fringe anti-wolf crowd as it once again seizes on the iconic animal’s imagined evils in yet another attempt to revisit the futile notion of a second extermination.

Pick up a newspaper in any part of Montana, Idaho or Wyoming these days and there’s a fair chance you’ll read a screed about the latest reasons why the big, bad wolf should be banished:

They’re eating all the elk.
They’ve got tapeworms.
They’re Canadian.

Let’s start the myth-busting from the top:

They’re eating all the elk: Yes, it’s true, wolves eat elk. It’s just as true that elk are doing just fine in Greater Yellowstone and beyond.

Hunter success rates are high. For instance, in Wyoming’s prized Jackson herd, in the heart of prime wolf and grizzly country, an average of 36 percent of hunters have harvested an elk over the past 10 years. Compare that to a 20 percent success rate in neighboring Colorado, where there are essentially no wolves and the elk population is triple the size.

Populations are still above wildlife-agency objectives in some places, leveling off in others, and lower elsewhere. Where elk numbers are lower, wolf predation is just one of many factors. In most cases, suppression of wildfire and corresponding reduction of elk habitat is a prime culprit.

Hunter complaints about not seeing as many elk are more about wolves changing ungulate behavior than population declines. Elk simply aren’t lingering where they once did.

Moreover, keeping elk wary has had an extraordinary impact on habitat, especially in Yellowstone National Park. Willows, cottonwoods and aspen are regenerating after seven decades of elk over-browsing, re-opening areas to other wildlife.

This “trophic cascade” phenomenon moved one northwest Colorado rancher to shift his thinking on wolves after they moved into his lands. At first wary of the wolf’s impacts on cattle and elk herds, he now welcomes their presence after seeing how they apparently helped restore his dying aspen stands.

Click here to read the rest of the story

Wolf Packs Denning Throughout Wyoming

Biologists using aircraft to look for radio-collared wolves say more than 20 wolf packs in northwest Wyoming have likely denned, including five in the Jackson Hole area.

Most recently, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wyoming wolf management coordinator Mike Jimenez found probable den sites for the Phantom Springs and Pacific Creek packs, both located in or near the northern part of Grand Teton National Park. Other local packs that have denned are the Buffalo, Antelope and Pinnacle packs.

Elsewhere in Wyoming, the Absaroka, Beartooth, Chagrin River, Hoodoo and Sunlight packs appear to have moved to denning sites. Between nine and 11 packs in Yellowstone National Park have also denned.

Click here to read the story

Montana Seeks Several Changes for 2010 Wolf Hunting Season

For the 2010 wolf hunt, northwestern Montana would have a total of nine wolf management units with a total quota of 122 or 133 wolves; western Montana would have two management units with a total quota of 26 or 31 wolves; and the three proposed management units in the southwestern portion of the state would have a total quota of 38 or 52 wolves.

Click here to read the story

Idaho F&G – OK on Traps & Bait in Wolf Hunts?

Trapping and baiting led to wolves’ extermination from the Northern Rockies in the early 1900s, said Jesse Timberlake, a conservation associate with Defenders of Wildlife’s Boise office.

“We’re very worried that they’re steamrolling ahead, without taking time to consider whether the methods are ethical and allow for fair chase,” Timberlake said. “The hunting community’s standards say that animals must have a fair chance.”

Click here to read the story

May 1 – 14, 2010

Busy couple of weeks at work, not a whole lot of time for photography…

Soggy spring is in full swing – the bears should start showing up more frequently in their usual spots pretty soon (only one bear pair sighting so far at Roxborough, though several bobcat sightings), can’t wait to get out there early on my next day off!

Kathie Lynch: Reconfigured Yellowstone Packs at Denning Time

Yellowstone field notes. April 10 -18, 2010. By © Kathie Lynch.

During my Spring Break in Yellowstone National Park (April 10-18, 2010), I managed to see at least one wolf every day, but it wasn’t as easy as it used to be.

There are really only 17 wolves that might typically be visible in the Northern Range (nine Blacktails, five “Silvers,” and three in 755M’s Group). Sometimes the three Canyons or some of the seven or eight Quadrants help out by dropping in to the Mammoth area for a visit.

The most exciting happening was the rediscovery of the Druid Peak pack two-year-old “Black Female” (formerly called the “Black Female Yearling”). She had not been seen since March 9. So, on April 17, we were delighted to find her taking turns with a grizzly scavenging on a carcass below Hellroaring.

Before that it had been almost a month since a Druid had been seen (571F on March 24). The other missing Druids and last confirmed sightings include: alpha 480M (February 9), 690F (March 10), “Dull Bar” (March 9, with the “Black Female”), “Black Bar” (end of January), and “Triangle Blaze” (January).
The Druid “Black Female” moved well and seemed to feel fine, but she is still ravaged by mange. She has a rope tail, but she does have some hair on her head and back. We were so thrilled to see this spunky survivor and are hoping that, with the coming warmer weather, she may be on the road to recovery.

More good news–the alpha of 755M’s Group, the infamous “’06 Female,” (originally an Agate and lately of the Lava Creek pack) has chosen to den at Slough Creek! For several days, we had observed the two black males (alpha 755M and 754M) frequenting the area. We were excited when we finally saw the “’06 Female” digging at a den entrance and then disappear into the hole! Since she is the champion hunter of the group, we’re not sure how those two younger males are going to get the groceries without her. But, we’re hoping that all goes well and that we’ll get to see pups come tumbling out in May.

The unofficially named “Silver” pack seems to have settled on the prime vacant territory of Lamar Valley as their new home. The “Silvers” spent most of the week feasting on a bison carcass at the west end of Jasper Bench. Either they’re incredibly lucky at finding dead bison, or they may be one of those rare Yellowstone packs that knows how to kill a bison. Their only problem is fending off invading grizzlies that almost always succeed in taking the kill away from the wolves.

The “Silver” pack appeared to have two pregnant females, the silvery white alpha and the two-year-old gray. Both had been observed to breed with the new black alpha male, 147M. He ousted the former alpha male in February, but then he benevolently let the “Old Gray Guy” remain with the pack. New alpha 147M is a huge favorite of the two young females in the pack. They both delight in jumping all over him and showering him with affection.

The Blacktail pack may also have had two pregnant females, alpha 693F and 692F. Since the new alpha male, “Big Brown,” is the son of Druids 480M and 569F and is also the nephew of the late Blacktail alpha 302M, the hoped for Blacktail pups will be of royal heritage indeed.

The Canyon pack made several visits to the Mammoth area. The pack still consists of just three adult wolves: the former Hayden alpha female (mother of the famous Hayden black pup in 2007), alpha 712M, and a dark gray adult male. Their only pup last year, a black, disappeared in the fall, as did 587M. All of the Canyon males are thought to have originally come from the Mollies pack.
By now, the Canyons have hopefully returned to the south to den. That could save them from conflict with the powerful Quadrant Mountain pack. Besides the Blacktails, the Quadrants were the only Northern Range pack to successfully raise pups (three females) last year. The Quadrants now control Swan Lake Flats and occasionally visit the Mammoth area.

The Mollies males continue to disperse from that large pack. In January, 641M and 586M dispersed to join two Agate females, alpha 472F and her niece or daughter, 715M.

The Agates occasionally appear in Little America but likely also headed south to den. Nine-year-old alpha 472F successfully raised pups in the Antelope Valley in 2006 and 2007 (to the delight of watchers on Dunraven Pass road), but she had no surviving pups the last two years.

The Everts pack is considered disbanded, following the death of the alpha female last fall and the subsequent dispersal of alpha male 685M. He joined the last remaining member of the Lava Creek pack, venerable 471F (born to Agates 472F and 113M). The duo, 471F and 685M, is seldom seen, but they frequent the Undine Falls/Wraith Falls area. The other two known members of the Everts pack, 684M and 470F, are both now considered lone wolves and are often out of the Park.

The large Gibbon Meadows pack has a huge territory that includes the Madison and Firehole Rivers and also part of Hayden Valley. Both of the Gibbon’s longtime alphas, 537F and 482M, have died since last fall, so the pack’s new leadership structure is uncertain.

So many changes have occurred since last fall. Much of the negative change was precipitated by the loss of the alpha(s) in various packs. This contributed to the decline of the Druids, the Everts, and the Cottonwoods, although some individuals of those packs may still exist.

Some positive change came with the arrival of new wolves from outside of YNP. A new pack, the “Silvers,” came in and decided to stay, as did 755M and 754M.
In addition, many wolves moved from one pack to another (147M from Lava Creek to “Silver,” 755M and 754M from the Druids to 755M’s Group, the ’06 Female from Lava Creek to 755M’s Group, 641M and 586M from Mollies to Agate).

The wolves have done their best to set the stage for a rebound. A good pup survival year will help them rise above adversity to maintain their integral and rightful place as a keystone species in the ecosystem.