View From Kaktovik, Alaska on Polar Bears and Global Warming

courtesy of Alaska Dispatch
by Will Rose and Kajsa Sjölander

Beaufort Sea polar bears find themselves in the crosshairs of global warming, forced to adapt to less and less ice that’s critical to the way they hunt and survive.

As Arctic sea ice retreats up to 700 miles from the shoreline during summer months, bears must either head north or swim south to land as the ice breaks up. In 2011, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service scientists working in the area have counted 49 bears within 10 miles of Kaktovik, the largest concentration of the estimated 70-80 spread along the coastline.

Those bears represent up to 10 percent of the southern Beaufort population, estimated at 1,500 animals five years ago by U.S. Geological Survey.

The number of polar bears coming to land is increasing over the past decade but scientists are unsure why. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the primary threat to polar bears is the loss of sea ice habitat due to climate change. Whale remains left by local substance hunters may be another factor.

“A lot of bears showed up just after a big wind storm,” said polar bear guide Robert Thompson of Kaktovik. “Biologists said they saw eight dead polar bears floating in the water. We believe the thin ice broke up beneath them so they had to sink or swim.”

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Wandering Wolf Now Too Famous to be Shot?

Courtesy of MSNBC

A young wolf from Oregon has become a media celebrity while looking for love, tracing a zigzag path that has carried him hundreds of miles nearly to California, while his alpha male sire and a sibling that stayed home near the Idaho border are under a death warrant for killing cattle.

Backcountry lodge owner Liz Parrish thinks she locked eyes with the wolf called OR-7 on the edge of the meadow in front of her Crystalwood Lodge, on the western shore of Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon, and hopes someday she will hear his howls coming out of the tall timber.

“I was stunned — it was such a huge animal,” said Parrish, who has seen her share of wolves while racing dog sleds in Alaska and Minnesota. “He just stopped and stared. I stopped and stared. We had a stare-down that seemed like a long time, but was probably just a few seconds.

“He just evaporated into the trees. I stayed there awhile, hoping he might come back. He didn’t.”

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Bears in Alaska’s Largest City Still Not Ready to Hibernate for Winter

courtesy of Alaska Dispatch
by Craig Medred

The much-touted Big Wild Life of Alaska’s largest city is proving a bit too wild for Anchorage cross-country skiers looking to embrace the plentiful early-winter snow.

It’s bad enough to worry about grizzly bears all summer while mountain biking and running Hillside Park trails in Alaska’s largest city, they say; having to worry about them in winter, when they should be sleeping, is a bit much.

“I can’t imagine carrying bear spray on the ski trails,” said long-time Anchorage resident Chip Treinen earlier this month, but after a running across way-too-fresh bear tracks on the Spencer Loop he was wishing he was packing some. “We were kind of spooked.”

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Judges: US Wrong to Lift Protection for Yellowstone Grizzlies

courtesy of MSNBC
by Miguel Llanos

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday lost a court battle in its bid to lift federal protections for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park area.

The service had been arguing that a strong rebound by the local grizzly population, now estimated at around 600, warranted lifting the protections. But a federal appeals court upheld a lower court decision, ruling that the service hadn’t properly weighed the impact of a declining food source: the whitepark pine.

The 9th Circuit Court judges wrote that a study used by the service “to demonstrate long-term grizzly population growth included data only until 2002, before the ‘epidemic of mountain pine beetles’ began to kill the region’s whitebark pines.”

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Behind the Scenes in the Lives of Captive Wolves

courtesy of High Country News
by Ceiridwen Terrill

When we started the 2 o’clock tour at the Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center in the mountains above Colorado Springs, the wolves were napping, just as wild wolves do in the middle of the day. A woman in jeans and cowboy boots served as guide for our group — eight random travelers, most of whom simply had seen the road sign, pulled in and paid the $10 fee. She led us from one enclosure to the next to see animals with names like Princess and Wakanda — tossing them treats from a Ziploc bag, so we could hear their jaws snap shut. Then she led us in a group howl, hoping that some of the wolves would join in. “Ready?” she said. “One, two, three. …”

Our first collective howl sounded more like the bawl of a dying cow, and a couple of the wolves flicked their ears as if irritated. “You guys are pathetic,” the guide said. “Let’s try it again.” Finally a wolf stood up, shook the dust from his coat and gave a half-hearted howl. As the guide directed us toward the gift shop, where a bottle of wolf fur cost four bucks, she tossed a biscuit over the fence. The next tour would be in an hour. The Wolf & Wildlife Center hosts thousands of visitors each year in its mission to “educate the public … about the importance of wolves, coyote and (foxes) to our ecosystem.” It even takes wolves as “ambassadors” into classrooms and other public settings ranging from Colorado’s ski towns to inner-city Denver.

Each captive wolf has its own story, as does every captive-wolf operation. It was almost feeding time when I arrived at Mission: Wolf, a remote 200-acre sanctuary nestled at the southern end of Colorado’s San Isabel National Forest. Wearing blue rubber gloves, two knife-wielding volunteers sawed through frozen meat. They’d cook the meat, which had been donated, in a giant pot mixed with vitamins and kibble, and then serve it to the 29 resident wolves, using white five-gallon buckets with each animal’s name printed on the side: Nyati, Ned, Merlin, Orion, Lily … and Soleil, a female rescued from an owner who wanted a fighting wolf and kept her chained to a tree for five months.

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Should State Approve Wolf-Control Measures on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula?

Courtesy of Alaska Dispatch
by Rick Sinnot

Near the end of the movie “Season of the Witch,” a small band of medieval adventurers is surrounded by howling wolves. The monk says, “Wolves.” Another character asks, “What’ll we do?” Nicolas Cage, playing a knight in tarnished armor, says, “Kill as many as you can.”

Welcome to wildlife management as it is currently practiced in Alaska. Not so different from the way it was practiced in the Middle Ages.

I am not opposed to reducing numbers of wolves to increase numbers of prey animals — wolf control — so long as wolves constitute a serious problem and the program is scientifically justified, temporary and cost effective. Wolf control for the sake of killing wolves is none of the above.

This week, in Barrow, the northernmost city in the United States, the Alaska Board of Game was scheduled to consider wolf control proposals for two game management units on the Kenai Peninsula: 15A and 15C.

Why was the board considering wolf control plans for the Kenai Peninsula at a meeting in Barrow?

When the board adopts a predator control plan, it takes 60 days before a program can be implemented. Ted Spraker, a board member from the Kenai Peninsula, was bound and determined to start shooting Kenai wolves this winter. But the board tabled both proposals until their Anchorage meeting, scheduled Jan. 13-18, 2012.

Board members, including Spraker, found serious flaws in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s documentation and expressed concern that a required feasibility plan wasn’t completed before the meeting.

Now most Alaskans wouldn’t get a chance until next year to examine the reasons why the department believes wolf control is justified on the Kenai Peninsula. The reasons are not persuasive.

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Lone Wolf Goes the Distance

courtesy of KTUU.com
by Ned Rozell

Somewhere in the rolling tundra east of Deadhorse, a lone wolf hunts. The 100-pound male will take anything it can catch, or find – a ptarmigan, a darting tundra rodent, a fish, the scraps of a carcass, or, if lucky, a moose calf or caribou. Hunger is a common companion, but the wolf somehow survived when his mate probably died of it last winter.

That event may have triggered the lone wolf’s incredible summer journey from south of the Yukon River to the crumbling shores of the Beaufort Sea. The wolf has traveled about 1,500 miles in four months, according to biologist John Burch, who works for the National Park Service.

Burch has studied wolves and the things wolves eat since the mid-1990s at Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Last November, he was part of a team that helicoptered to Copper Creek, a remote tributary of the clear-running Charley River. There, he tranquilized a healthy male wolf and fitted it with a satellite radio collar. The collar transmits GPS coordinates from the wolf every few days, which has allowed Burch to follow the wolf¹s trans-Alaska trek this summer.

Burch would have preferred that the wolf remain near Yukon-Charley, 2.5 million acres where the Yukon flows into Alaska. The wolf’s collar is expensive and would give useful information about one of a dozen wolf packs
that use the preserve as part of their home range. But the lone male is telling the biologists a different story about wolf behavior – what happens when a pack breaks up.

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Does Science Back up Alaska’s Policy of Killing Grizzly Bears?

courtesy of Alaska Dispatch
by Rick Sinnot

Four years ago the Alaska Legislature offered Gov. Sarah Palin and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game a special deal: $400,000 to “educate” voters on predator control. The money — spent mostly on a video, glossy brochures and public presentations — was meant to persuade and reassure Alaskans that predator control is essential and effective.

Firmly convinced he’s doing the right thing, the new director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation at Fish and Game, Corey Rossi, is taking predator control to new levels. For the first time since statehood, Alaska has targeted grizzly bears for large-scale population reductions, not by hunters but by agents of the state.

The publicity campaign, Rossi, Governor Sean Parnell and the Alaska Legislature would like you to believe that scientific experts on predator and prey populations — particularly the professional wildlife biologists and researchers with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game — unanimously support killing bears to increase numbers of moose and caribou.

But some of those experts have questioned the efficacy and advisability of reducing numbers of grizzly bears in a peer-reviewed article in the latest edition of the Journal of Wildlife Management.

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Soldotna Officer Kills Bear in Residential Area

courtesy of Anchorage Daily News
by Associated Press

A police officer in Soldotna has shot and killed a large brown bear in a busy residential area after the animal charged him.

Police Chief John Lucking says Officer Victor Dillon spotted the bear crossing into a yard Thursday afternoon. Dillon thought it was likely an injured one that had been reported scavenging in the area for several days. The officer went looking for the bear on foot, armed with a shotgun. The next time he saw the bear it charged him, veering slightly as it approached, and he fired and killed it.

The chief says the bear likely was attracted by a fresh caribou head within a few feet of where the bear was shot. Lucking says someone apparently had just butchered the caribou and the smell and head attracted the bear.

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Michigan Man Killed by Grizzly in Yellowstone

courtesy of MSNBC
by Matthew Brown

Wildlife agents were trying to capture a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park on Monday after it killed a Michigan hiker in the second fatal bear attack this summer at the famed park.

The body of John Wallace, 59, was discovered Friday in a backcountry area known for its high population of bears. An autopsy concluded he died from injuries sustained in a bear attack.

After a fatal mauling last month — the first inside the increasingly crowded park in 25 years — authorities let the responsible grizzly go because it was protecting its cubs.

This time, rangers have set traps with the intent to capture and kill the bruin that attacked Wallace. Its guilt would be established through DNA analysis connecting it to evidence found at the mauling scene, park officials said.

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The Casual Violence of Driving

courtesy of High Country News
by Tom Carter

Slow is not always beautiful, but it’s the best way to experience the West — for better or worse. When I’m cross-country bicycling, I’m out in the air where I can smell everything, including the road surface, petroleum exhaust and carrion, especially deer that have died after being hit by vehicles.

Of course, roads are necessary in the rural West — without them we’d be even more isolated than we are — but they are also one of the most disruptive events for wildlife in the history of evolution. Zipping along at 65 or 75 mph or even higher speeds, we become agents of death to all manner of other creatures, whether they walk, fly or slither. And sadly, we don’t even realize what we’re doing. What happens if we try going slower?

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Groups Seek Protection for Wolf Subspecies in Southeast Alaska

courtesy of Anchorage Daily News
by Becky Bohrer

Environmental groups want special protection for a subspecies of gray wolf found in Southeast Alaska old-growth forests.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace say the Alexander Archipelago wolf is threatened by unsustainable logging and road building in the Tongass National Forest.

The groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Endangered Species Act protection for the wolf. An agency spokesman hadn’t seen the petition Wednesday.

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Bold Black Bears Causing Trouble in Juneau

courtesy of Anchorage Daily News
by Abby Lowell

It’s shaping up to be an extremely busy bear year in Juneau.

Locals have shared stories of bold black bear cubs entering downtown homes and the calls stemming from these sightings have kept officials like Ryan Scott, area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, busier than normal.

“I can’t exactly say why,” he said, “but we seem to have a bumper crop of young bears this year.”

He said the organization’s call log has already surpassed last year’s total tally by a long shot.

Scott said Fish and Game employees are systematically working through bear issues and taking steps to prevent unwanted encounters.

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Bears Trapped in Downtown Juneau

courtesy of Anchorage Daily News

State biologists have trapped a black bear in downtown Juneau, but they say it’s not the nuisance bear they were looking for.

Fish and Game biologist Ryan Scott says the agency received reports of a mother and cub causing disturbances in the area. He says the wrong female bear was caught Wednesday.

Scott says that bear will be relocated out of town and that the agency will continue looking for the mother bear.

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Wolf Recovery Leader Not Your Average Bureaucrat

courtesy of High Country News
by Ray Ring

Ed Bangs has long been a lightning rod for the controversy around the return of wolves to the U.S. Northern Rockies. Based in Helena, Mont., he led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf-recovery effort from 1988, when the region had only a few naturally occurring wolves, through the reintroduction of Canadian wolves in 1995 and ’96, until his retirement in June 2011. During those years, the number of wolves in the region increased to more than 1,700. A plethora of lawsuits, alarmist headlines and political maneuvers culminated with Congress removing most of the region’s wolves from the Endangered Species List (an action also being challenged by lawsuits) just as Bangs retired.

Throughout the wolf battles, people on all sides of the issue respected Bangs for his unusual frankness and good humor. HCN’s senior editor, Ray Ring, talked with the 60-year-old biologist on July 1 about his lifelong interest in wildlife and his reflections on wolves and human society in general.

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The Incredible Arctic Tern

The Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) is an Arctic to Antarctic traveler with annual migrations of up to 24,000 miles round trip, the longest annual migration of any creature on Earth. On its wintering grounds, this Olympic flyer benefits from a “second summer”, giving it more hours of daylight than any other bird.

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In addition to excellent flying abilities, this slender tern is also known for its elegant breeding plumage. The bill, feet, and legs are blood-red. The upper wings and back are light gray, contrasting with a jet-black cap. The tail is long and deeply forked.

Nests of the Arctic Tern are commonly made near fresh or salt water in open, usually treeless environments. The nest is very difficult to spot unless it contains eggs; it is little more than a shallow depression scraped in the ground. Intruders in nesting areas are often met with aggressive dives and pecks on the back or head.

Diet varies from place to place, but fish is the primary food given to chicks. Prey is captured by plunge-diving or dipping. Occasionally insects are taken on the wing.

In Alaska, in addition to its’ wide breeding distribution on the arctic coastal plain of the Beaufort Sea, it nests along the coasts of the Chukchi and Bering Seas and on St. Lawrence Island. There are also breeding sites in the western Aleutian Islands and many sites throughout the Gulf of Alaska, some as far south as Southeast Alaska.

It is not known specifically where Arctic Terns from North America spend the winter, but birds from the entire northern hemisphere are thought to intermingle around Antarctica. Some birds also winter in southern Africa, southern Australia, and New Zealand.

There are no data for general population trends in Canada, Alaska, or on the Atlantic Coast, but declines have been reported within each of these areas. In the Gulf of Alaska, both coastal colony counts on Kodiak Island and surveys at sea in Prince William Sound indicated declines of more than 90%. Except for the effects of the 1964 earthquake in Alaska, factors causing the population decline and preventing population recovery are unknown.

Since Arctic Terns are long-lived, far-traveling, and spend part of their year at each pole, they may contribute valuable insights into numerous scientific questions about birds (e.g. daylight exposure and migration, accumulated environmental impacts, and abstention from breeding and movement as responses to changes in food supplies).

However, the Alaskan population is not monitored and there is a lack of knowledge about most aspects of their population. Very little is known about nonbreeders in the Antarctic and most of the mortality occurs during this part of the yearly cycle. Therefore, we need to begin with a better understanding of the species distribution, numbers, and trends throughout its range.

courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Chicken Coops Prove Irresistible to Urban Bears

courtesy of Anchorage Daily News
by Casey Grove

Chicken coop raids by local black bears are on the rise, just as Southcentral moves into its peak season for bear activity, according to an Anchorage biologist.

In July alone, at least five black bears caught pilfering poultry have been shot, either by homeowners or police, said Anchorage area Fish and Game biologist Jessy Coltrane, who said she suspects more bear kills go unreported.

“Chickens are one of our biggest attractants, aside from garbage and bird seed, and it’s growing because the number of chickens is growing,” Coltrane said.

Coltrane attributes the jump, in part, to a recent city ordinance that makes it easier to keep chickens within the municipality, from its northern boundary in Chugiak and Birchwood south to Girdwood.

Mostly, though, the problem stems from residents’ ignorance about bear deterrence in Anchorage, she said.

“I get, on average, a call a day about a bear getting into chickens,” Coltrane said. “They’re thinking I’m going to come do something about the bears. But what I really want is for them to secure their chickens.”

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UAF Tests Unmanned Aircraft to Study Wildlife

courtesy of Anchorage Daily News
by Dan Joling

Greg Walker is looking to fly in places where blue sky and runways are in short supply.

Walker is manager of the unmanned aircraft program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He’s at the beginning of a project to evaluate how unmanned aircraft can be used to monitor endangered Steller sea lions as they haul out on remote rocky outcroppings of the Aleutian Islands hundreds of miles between airports.

The project is a technology development experiment, evaluating manufacturers’ claims versus researchers’ needs, Walker said from his office at Poker Flat Research Range northeast of Fairbanks.

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Biologist Shoots Motherless Bear Cubs; Neighbors Upset

courtesy of Anchorage Daily News
by Casey Grove

A state wildlife biologist shot and killed two orphaned black bear cubs Wednesday on the Anchorage Hillside, upsetting some residents of the neighborhood.

The cubs’ mother was killed about three weeks ago when a resident shot the animal to protect his property, said Jessy Coltrane, Anchorage area biologist with the Department of Fish and Game. Without their mother, the cubs would have eventually been killed by another bear or died of starvation, Coltrane said.

“The most humane thing is to put them down,” she said. “It is hands-down the least favorite part of my job.”

Coltrane received numerous phone calls about the cubs in the weeks after the sow’s death, she said. But the calls always came in too late to provide accurate information on the cubs’ whereabouts. Then, Wednesday morning, Coltrane said, a caller reported the cubs were in a tree near his house in a subdivision south of Rabbit Creek Road and above Golden View Drive.

“Unfortunately, because black bears are very common in the Lower 48 and up here, there’s not a lot of facilities that want them,” Coltrane said. Any facilities that might have taken the cubs were already full, she said.

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Anchorage Police Shoot Black Bear Attempting to Break Into Home

courtesy of Anchorage Daily News

Anchorage police shot and killed a young black bear that was trying to get into an East Anchorage home Friday afternoon.

The bear weighed about 50 or 60 pounds and was probably a yearling born last year, police Lt. Dave Parker said. It was crawling on a porch trying to get into a home on the 2400 block of Glenkerry Drive around 5:15 p.m. Friday, Parker said. That’s just north of Northern Lights Boulevard near the Anchorage Baptist Temple.

State Department of Fish and Game officials have instructed police to shoot bears that are trying to break into houses, Parker said. They are associating people with food.

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Click here to watch a video of the bear before it was killed

Judge Backs Scientists in Polar Bear Ruling

courtesy of Anchorage Daily News
by Dina Cappielo

A federal judge on Thursday backed a finding by government scientists that global warming is threatening the survival of the polar bear.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that a May 2008 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place the bear on the endangered species list as threatened because of melting sea ice was rational given the facts and best available science. Environmental groups had sued, saying the polar bear needed more protection under the Endangered Species Act. The state of Alaska, under the leadership of then-Gov. Sarah Palin, and hunting groups argued that the listing was unnecessary. They say the bear is protected by other laws and that the scientific case is shaky when it comes to predicting global warming’s toll on the mammal.

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Juneau Man Cited for Feeding Black Bears

courtesy of Anchorage Daily News
by Casey Grove

Alaska Wildlife Troopers recently cited a Juneau man they say has been illegally feeding dog food to as many as 15 black bears at his home.

Arnold W. Hanger, 66, is accused of spreading AttaBoy! dog food on rocks and logs around his property near Tee Harbor, north of Juneau, for years, troopers said. As a result, 10 to 15 bears had been hanging around the area and scaring neighbors, some of whom have small children, trooper Sgt. Matthew Dobson said.

When Dobson drove to Hanger’s house earlier this month to investigate an anonymous tip, he found two of the bears strolling up the longtime Juneau resident’s driveway, the trooper said. Dobson said the bears paid him no mind.

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Kenai River Fishermen Ordered Out of Woods

courtesy of Anchorage Daily News
by Casey Grove

A brown bear sow with two cubs hanging around the confluence of the Kenai and Russian rivers has caused federal wildlife officials to close a nearby wooded area to foot traffic until further notice.

There are no added restrictions for anglers, who, on busy days, flock to the area by the hundreds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The closure affects 29 acres of woods on the north side of the Kenai River near the Russian River ferry and parking areas. Both riverbanks are still open up to 25 feet from the river’s edge, and the ferry and parking area are operating as usual.

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Scientists Debate ‘Magic Number’ of Wolves Needed for Species’ Survival

courtesy of The Missoulian
by Rob Chaney

One of the biggest arguments left unresolved by last year’s wolf lawsuit was the most obvious: How many wolves are enough?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the gray wolf off the endangered species list in 2009, with the caveat that at least 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs endure in each of the three states in the northern Rocky Mountain population (Montana, Idaho and Wyoming). Recent surveys found at least 1,700 wolves in that area – more than enough to justify delisting.

But a coalition of environmental groups sued the government, claiming those numbers were wrong. To survive and thrive, they argued, the population needed at least 2,000 and preferably 5,000 wolves.

FWS biologists said they used the best available science to pick their number. Coalition members cited the well-established rules of conservation biology to justify their threshold. While the scientists dueled, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy decided the case on a technicality and Congress reversed him with a budget rider.

Wolves in the Northern Rockies are now delisted, but almost nobody’s happy.

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