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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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.

Continue reading “Scientists Debate ‘Magic Number’ of Wolves Needed for Species’ Survival”

Rebel, Rebel

courtesy of the Missoula Independent
by Erika Fredrickson

Black Wolf Yields a Wild Hero

In the next few weeks—from May 7 through May 14—the 34th annual International Wildlife Film Festival screens 100 films that attempt to tell wildlife stories that are both entertaining and accurate. Among those, The Rise of Black Wolf is at the top, as a film that tells a good, solid story without resorting to melodrama. The Montana-made documentary, by Emmy Award-winner Bob Landis, follows almost the entire life of one wolf as he breaks from his pack and lives to be nine-and-a-half years old—one of the oldest wolves documented in Yellowstone National Park. This particular black wolf, known by scientists and wolf enthusiasts as Black Wolf, Casanova, and 302M, has been the protagonist in other Landis films, including In the Valley of the Wolves, and was monitored by the Yellowstone Wolf Project because of his unique behavior.

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Lawsuit Challenges Constitutionality of Anti-Wolf Rider

courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity

Challenge Says Congress Illegally Lifted Wolf Protections in Northern Rockies, Pacific Northwest

The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a challenge in federal district court in Missoula, Mont., arguing that a congressional rider requiring removal of Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains is unlawful because it violated the separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution. The rider was attached to last month’s must-pass federal budget bill by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and marked the first time an animal or plant has been removed from the endangered species list by Congress.

“The wolf rider is a clear example of overreaching by Congress that resulted in the wrongful removal of protections for wolves,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The rider is not only a disaster for wolves but for any endangered species that a politician doesn’t like. Congress has set a terrible precedent that we hope to overturn.”

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Brisk Sales of Permits for Planned Idaho Wolf Hunts

courtesy of Reuters
by Laura Zuckerman

Permits for planned wolf hunts sold briskly in Idaho on Thursday, as most wolves in the Northern Rockies were officially removed from the endangered species list and conservationists sued over the unprecedented removal of protection by Congress.

The end of federal protection means that the roughly 1,200 wolves in Idaho and Montana will be managed by state wildlife agencies. The two states are seeking to kill hundreds of wolves, mostly through public hunting to begin in the fall.

Hunters were lining up in Idaho to purchase “tags” priced at $11.95 to help fill a hunting quota expected to be set at 220 of the state’s 700 wolves. Montana is likely to set the same quota for its 550 wolves.

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Wyoming Elk Researchers to Give Talk About Study

courtesy of The Ravalli Republic
by Perry Backus

Wyoming researchers looking for the cause behind declining pregnancy rates in a Yellowstone National Park elk herd will talk about their study this week in Hamilton.

Sponsored by the Ravalli County Fish and Game Association, the talk begins at 6 p.m. at the Bitterroot River Inn.

“When dealing with wildlife management, you can never have too much information,” said association president Tony Jones. “We’re hoping that some of the things they learned may transfer over to what’s happening here.”

Last winter, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks started an ambitious study in the Bitterroot Valley looking the relationship between elk and predators.

“Big game numbers here are doing the same thing that they’ve seen in Wyoming,” Jones said. “We want to get a better handle on why our big game numbers are on a fast decline … when you have wolves and lots of them, it’s easy to say they are the problem. Sometimes it’s not the wolf that’s doing the bulk of the damage.”

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Montana FWP Wants Quota of 220 Wolves this Hunting Season

courtesy of KULR8.com
by The Associated Press

Montana officials are proposing to allow 220 gray wolves to be shot during the state’s second wolf hunting season this fall.

The figure is the highest proposed quota yet in the state — up from 186 in the canceled 2010 season and 75 in the inaugural wolf hunting season in 2009. The Independent Record in Helena reports Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials say the new quota will result in a 25 percent reduction from the estimated 2010 population of 566 wolves in the state.

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Fish & Wildlife Seeks Accounts of Eastern Wyoming Black Wolf

courtesy of trib.com
by the Associated Press

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants people to report any more sightings of a black wolf that appears to have wandered a couple hundred miles east of Yellowstone National Park.

An officer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agency photographed the wolf Saturday not far from the Belle Ayre coal mine about 10 miles southeast of Gillette.

The wolf wore a radio collar but its gender is unknown. Mike Jimenez, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wyoming wolf recovery coordinator, said anybody who sees the wolf should call him at 307-733-7096.

Male and female wolves tend to disperse far from their home packs between 1 and 3 years of age. That’s probably what this wolf is doing, Jimenez said Wednesday.
“It’s difficult to say whether this wolf will stick around, or whether it’s dispersing, and it could be miles away a week from now and nobody ever sees it again. We don’t know,” he said.

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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Initiates ‘Flex’ Plan for Wolves in Wyoming

courtesy of New West
by Brodie Farquhar

Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are exploring an idea whereby Wyoming could gain state management over wolves, retain the wolf’s dual status of trophy and predator and reduce wolf numbers outside of Yellowstone, down to 10 breeding pairs and 100 animals.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead spoke of the plan’s details during a Tuesday press conference.

“We’re trying to get out of this stalemate,” Mead said.

The key to the plan, which was originally suggested by USFWS, is what Mead called a “flex line” adjustment to the current boundary line separating trophy wolves in and immediately around Yellowstone, and the rest of the state where wolves are regarded as predators and can be shot on sight.

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Wolves to Come Off Endangered List Within 60 Days

courtesy of The Associated Press

Federal wildlife officials say they will take more than 1,300 gray wolves in the Northern Rockies off the endangered species list within 60 days.

An attachment to the budget bill signed into law Friday by President Barack Obama strips protections from wolves in five Western states.

It marks the first time Congress has taken a species off the endangered list.

Idaho and Montana plan public wolf hunts this fall. Hunts last year were canceled after a judge ruled the predators remained at risk.

Protections remain in place for wolves in Wyoming because of its shoot-on-sight law for the predators.

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US Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs to Retire

courtesy of The Helena Independent Record
by Eve Byron

Ed Bangs, who for 23 years led the effort to reintroduce and recover healthy wolf populations in the northern Rocky Mountains, is retiring from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in June.

As the federal agency’s wolf recovery coordinator, Bangs was the face of the polarizing wolf reintroduction, conducting thousands of international, national, state and local interviews and holding hundreds of highly charged meetings, all to explain the effort as part of a massive public outreach effort. At various times, depending on the stage of the reintroduction, he was heralded as a hero while simultaneously being denounced as a wolf lover or hater, depending on people’s perspective.

Yet somehow he managed to charm many on both sides of the wolf wars, with a mix of humor tinged with a reputation for fairness.

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Congress Measure Against Wolves seen as Precedent

courtesy of The Idaho Statesman
by Matthew Brown – Associated Press

The White House is poised to accept a budget bill that includes an unprecedented end-run around Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in five Western states – the first time Congress has targeted a species protected under the 37-year-old law.

Lawmakers describe the provision in the spending bill as a necessary intervention in a wildlife dilemma that some say has spun out of control. Sixty-six wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies from Canada in the mid-1990s; there are now at least 1,650.

But legal experts warn the administration’s support of lifting protections for the animals opens the door to future meddling by lawmakers catering to anti-wildlife interests.

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Latest Studies on Yellowstone National Park’s Wolf Packs Shows Stable Population

courtesy of the National Parks Traveler
by Beth Pratt

National Parks Traveler Contributing writer Beth Pratt recently caught up with Douglas Smith, who has been studying wolves for more than 30 years and who currently leads the wolf project in Yellowstone National Park. He is the co-author of Decade of the Wolf, a book that details the historic wolf restoration in Yellowstone. The two talked about the current status of wolves in the park and their impact on elk populations.

Do you think the population has stabilized?

“To a degree, and I guess the message from this trend is “less is more.” The wolves for many years overshot the capacity of the ecosystem, and now we are seeing a balance—a balance of all parts not just wolves. When wolves weren’t in Yellowstone the system was out of whack because there were tons of elk and tons of coyotes and other things suffered as a result. Now there’s greater balance among both plant and animal species.”

“I imagine this is more what Yellowstone was like before it got changed because of European humans. From research we know when you have a full suite of carnivores, you have lower densities of the main prey species, but you also have really resplendent and luxurious vegetation. Because without predators the herbivores are mowing it all down. In the lower 48 we eradicated wolves before we knew what they did, so we have these erupting game populations that exceed what a healthy ecosystem can sustain.”

Many have been critical of the wolves for reducing the elk population and don’t see a decrease in elk as a positive development.

“It’s incredibly painful dealing with people who don’t like wolves and say they have devastated the elk herd. And it’s difficult to talk to people who just want Yellowstone to be an elk farm. Yes, with carnivores you have fewer animals to hunt. But this is the way it was in Yellowstone before we interfered and we need to know what it was really like and be honest about it. I’m not saying I am in favor of predators being everywhere, but what’s happening here is a system being restored to balance.”

“When we start killing predators because we want more animals to hunt, it becomes agriculture. It’s like spraying weeds. Is that what we want the forests and the landscapes of the West to be, a big farming operation? An author I read recently said when wolves go, wilderness goes and I agree. I don’t want the world to be so highly manipulated that we have no place where wild nature can just be.”

“I hunted elk for four days this year and I didn’t get one and I am not disappointed. So I had four great days in the wilderness hunting and I did not take a shot. And I will do it again next year and if I don’t get one I am okay with that. I don’t live on elk. It’s a recreational pursuit. I don’t need to kill an elk to feed my family and I would say there are very few people who do.”

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‘Wolfer’ Author to Discuss Hunting Predators, Appreciation for Reintroduction

courtesy of The Missoulian
by Perry Backus

Carter Niemeyer didn’t set out to become an expert on wolves. For the first 26 years of his career, the author of “Wolfer, A Memoir” was the man behind the gun who killed predators that threatened livestock.

This week, Niemeyer will tell that part of his story in appearances around Missoula. He’ll also let people know how he learned to appreciate the need to bring wolves back to the American West.

Right out of college, Niemeyer moved to Montana from his home state of Iowa and used trapping skills perfected from childhood to kill coyotes, foxes and black bears as a government trapper for a little-known agency called Animal Damage Control. When wolves began crossing from Canada into Montana and ranchers started complaining about predation of sheep and cattle, Niemeyer was called upon to investigate livestock deaths. A nonprofit group called Defenders of Wildlife compensated livestock owners for animals that officials like Niemeyer confirmed were killed by wolves. Livestock producers wouldn’t be paid without confirmation. The results of the investigations were often the difference between life and death for wolves. That conflict often led to face-to-face confrontations with people on both sides of the wolf issue.

Niemeyer was not a rubber-stamp kind of guy. His detailed forensic investigations with their meticulous scientific notes and refusal to back down from furious landowners and environmentalists caught the attention of officials preparing to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Niemeyer became part of the team that captured the Canadian wolves that became the nucleus of the packs that roam the Northern Rockies today. Along the way, he gained respect and understanding about the predator and the polarizing effect it had on the human population. Niemeyer saw there were two sides to this story and his search for the middle ground cost him friends and respect with Animal Damage Control officials (now called Wildlife Services).

He left the agency in 2000 for a job overseeing wolf recovery in Idaho for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By the time he retired in 2006, Neimeyer had handled more than 300 wolves. “Not once did any of us ever have a close call,” he said Monday from his Boise, Idaho, home. “We weren’t stalked. We weren’t chased. There were no problems at all.”

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Congress, in a First, Removes an Animal From the Endangered Species List

courtesy of the NY Times
by Felicity Barringer

Congress for the first time is directly intervening in the Endangered Species List and removing an animal from it, establishing a precedent for political influence over the list that has outraged environmental groups.

A rider to the Congressional budget measure agreed to last weekend dictates that wolves in Montana and Idaho be taken off the endangered species list and managed instead by state wildlife agencies, which is in direct opposition to a federal judge’s recent decision forbidding the Interior Department to take such an action.

While the language on the Rocky Mountain wolves was a tiny item in budgetary terms, environmental groups said it set an unnerving precedent by letting Congress, rather than a science-based federal agency, remove endangered species protections.

The rider is the first known instance of Congress’ directly intervening in the list. While Congress overrode the protections extended to a tiny Tennessee fish called the snail darter about two decades ago, it did so by authorizing the construction of a dam that had originally been tabled to protect the fish. In that case, Congress did not overturn scientists’ findings about the fish’s viability.

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Of Wolves, Elk, and Men: an Interview with Yellowstone’s Wolf Project leader

courtesy of Examiner.com
by Beth Pratt

For over thirty years, Douglas Smith has been studying wolves, and has worked on the wolf restoration project in Yellowstone since it’s inception. But this year during his annual winter research, he was taken aback by the sight of a remarkable wolf his team captured for study, 760M, now the largest wolf ever recorded in Yellowstone.

“I’ve handled hundreds of wolves, so I have sort of gotten hardened to the process. He was something—not just another wolf. As a scientist you always take the viewpoint that you can find answers. And for the first time I thought that this is a wolf who truly has secrets.”

Smith points out that 760M lives in the most remote area of the Yellowstone and of the lower 48 states. “I just started thinking in my head as I looked at him that this is the kind of wolf that remoteness produces.” At 147 pounds, 760M replaces the previous record holder for the largest wolf in Yellowstone, 495M, who weighed in at 143 pounds. But as Smith observes, 495 is still a pretty remarkable wolf. “495M is a pro. He’s doing great. We think he’ll turn 7/8 in April, so he’s past his prime, but he’s still hunting bison. And that is what is interesting about wolves, there is no such thing as a generic wolf.”

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Missing Idaho Snowmobiler Found Safe, Spent Night near Trio of Wolves

courtesy of KTVB.com
by Ty Brennan

The snowmobiler who went missing in Elmore County Sunday was found alive and well Tuesday morning.

Col. Tim Marsano with the Idaho Air National Guard said they found 54-year-old Craig Noll of Boise during a helicopter search shortly after 8:30 a.m.

Noll had been missing in the Bennett Mountain area, about 30 miles northeast of Mountain Home, since Sunday afternoon. He was snowmobiling with two friends Sunday when they became separated in fog and heavy snow.

“I noticed there were a couple of wolves running around some trees over there, I walked back about 500 yards, started setting up my shelter under this tree and these three wolves were about 50 yards away just sitting there watching, just watching the whole thing you know,” said Noll.

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Spotting Wolves for Would-be Watchers

courtesy of the Billings Gazette
by Donna Healy

At first light, Big Blaze, a black wolf with a white chest, trotted across a distant slope, following the scent trail of the Blacktail pack.

At a turnout overlooking the valley, spotting scopes set in snow were trained on the wolf.

A day before, the Blacktail pack fed on an elk carcass nearby. Big Blaze, one of the pack’s older males, was losing no time rejoining the pack.

The sun, rising over the Yellowstone River valley in March’s morning chill, lent the landscape a pristine glow. Casual tourists, missing from the scene, were replaced by wolf-watchers and park researchers.

Karen Webb and her husband, Alan, came from England to see Yellowstone’s wolves. Wolves were their only reason for visiting America, Karen Webb said.

“I never understood why Americans use the word ‘awesome.’ It seemed like the strangest of words, until the first time I stood here in the silence on a cold icy morning,” she said.

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Groups File Settlement on Wolf Delisting

courtesy of the Helena Independent Record
by Eve Byron

Ten environmental groups and the Department of Interior are asking U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy if he would reconsider his ruling last year that returned wolves in Montana and Idaho to the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.

But at least three other groups that had joined in the wolf lawsuit say they’ll continue to pursue the case, wondering aloud why some plaintiffs “gave up” when the judge had ruled in their favor by saying that wolves can’t be considered a recovered species in two states but not in adjoining ones.

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If Wolves are De-listed, Balyeat Wants Spring Hunt

courtesy of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle
by Daniel Person

Sen. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, argued Tuesday for a spring wolf hunt, saying his bill to establish the season would allow Montana to get a handle on its wolf population and make it harder for environmental groups to stop wolf hunts with lawsuits.

But a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks official said the bill could give Montana hunters a bad name by raising the prospect that wolf pups could be orphaned or killed.

Balyeat told the Senate Fish and Game Committee that his bill, Senate Bill 402, is contingent on Congress passing legislation to strip gray wolves in the state of Endangered Species Act protection, a provision that has been put forward in both the Senate and the House this year.

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Wyoming Wolf Bargain in the Works

courtesy of Jackson Hole News & Guide
by Cory Hatch

Wyoming and the federal government will head back to the negotiating table after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed with a court decision to reconsider Wyoming’s wolf plan.

The agency Monday withdrew its appeal of the court decision. U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson in Cheyenne last year said the Fish and Wildlife Service ignored science when it rejected Wyoming’s plan.

“We will continue ongoing negotiations with Wyoming to reach agreement on a wolf management plan that satisfies the Endangered Species Act,” acting Fish and Wildlife Director Rowan Gould said in a statement Tuesday. “Rather than lose more time in court with an appeal that won’t help resolve the problem, the Service looks forward to working on a plan that can meet the state’s needs while ensuring maintenance of a viable and sustainable recovered wolf population that is connected to other populations in Montana and Idaho.”

At issue is Wyoming’s law and plan that would allow wolves to be killed by any means at any time in roughly 88 percent of the state.

Only in northwestern Wyoming would wolves be managed as trophy game, where they could be hunted according to regulation and season.

Today, wolves, remain protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. They were restored to Idaho and the Yellowstone area starting in 1995 with the goal of turning over management to states once established in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

Gould said state rule is still the goal. “We strongly believe that the recovered Northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment of gray wolves is most appropriately managed by states and tribes under approved state management plans,” Gould said.

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Shades of Grey in Northern Rockies

courtesy of Al Jazeera
by Kavitha Chekuru

Ice-crusted snow blankets the mountains and grass as the temperature sinks further and further below zero.

This is winter in Yellowstone National Park – a time of year that constantly tests the endurance and survival of wildlife here in the heart of the American West.

Except for the grey wolf. Winter does not weaken them – it’s when they thrive the most.

Watching them run through the park’s deep snow with ease, it’s easy to forget the political wrangling taking place in Washington, DC that could well determine their fate as politicians seek to strip the wild canine of its endangered protection.

Few animals have been as controversial in the United States as the grey wolf.

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Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery 2010 Annual Report

courtesy of the US Fish & Wildlife Service

The 2010 wolf population within the Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population
Segment (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, and a small
part of north central Utah) is roughly the same as it was in 2009 with at least
1,651 wolves in 244 packs, and 111 breeding pairs.

Confirmed cattle death losses in 2010 (199) were virtually the same as in 2009 (193). However,
confirmed sheep (249) and dog losses (2) in 2010 were much lower than in 2009 (749 and 24
respectively).

In 2010 MT removed 141 wolves by agency control; ID
removed 78 by agency control and another 48 by public hunting; and in WY, 40 wolves were
removed by agency control. No wolves were removed by agency control in OR or WA. A lone
depredating wolf was killed by agency control in UT.

Click here to read the annual report

Kathie Lynch on Yellowstone Wolf Mating Season

by Kathie Lynch
courtesy of The Wildlife News

Yellowstone’s February wolf breeding season gave us have high hopes for the arrival of new pups this April. Although only six ties (matings) were actually observed this year, they included the alphas of all three packs which are most often seen in the Northern Range (Lamar Canyon, Blacktail, and Agate)–a very good sign for wolf watching this spring and summer!

February weather ran the gamut from unusually warm, sunny afternoons of 45F temperatures and snow-free roads to biting winds and bitterly cold days when the thermometer never got above 7 degrees. Low visibility and ground blizzards sometimes made driving a white knuckle experience, with unplowed turnouts and deep, drifted snow across roads in the Lamar Valley and on the Blacktail.

Despite the wintry weather and fewer than 100 wolves in Yellowstone, we still managed to see wolves, or at least one wolf, almost every day. The Lamar wolves proved to be the most reliable, although even they frequently disappeared from view for several days at a time, no doubt hunting or doing boundary checks throughout their large territory.

One wickedly cold, blowing, no visibility day, it took until 5:52 p.m to find a wolf. Finally Lamar 776F bolted across an opening above the Confluence and was visible for about two seconds. The only redeeming factor was the incredible chorus of howling from the rest of the pack, hidden in the trees, that immediately followed. Believe it or not, that did make the 11 hours of searching worth the wait!

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Montana House Votes to Nullify Endangered Species Act

courtesy of Associated Press
by Matt Gouras

Republicans enthused by Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s recent tough talk on wolves are getting closer to using an ancient “nullification” doctrine to disregard the federal law protecting endangered and threatened species – a plan the governor quickly dismissed as “off base.”

Excited tea party politics in the Legislature have spawned increasing belief in Thomas Jefferson’s late 18th-century “nullification” idea that aims to give states the ultimate say in constitutional matters and let them ban certain federal laws in their borders. Conservatives stoking anti-federal government sentiment are not dissuaded by the legal scholars who say the notion runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution that considers federal law “the supreme law of the land.”

Republicans running the Montana House used their big majority Saturday to endorse nullification of the federal Endangered Species Act in Montana with a 61-39 vote – even though dispatching with the act would cost Montana roughly $1 billion in federal funds that comes with strings attached.

Schweitzer, a Democrat, quickly warned the lawmakers he doesn’t like their idea – even though just days earlier he encouraged ranchers in northern Montana to shoot wolves that harass their livestock and defiantly said state agents may kill packs of endangered wolves.

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