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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