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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Wyoming Governor Mead Won’t Follow Montana Governor on Wolves

courtesy of The Billings Gazette
by Joan Barron / Casper Star-Tribune

Gov. Matt Mead said Thursday that he still believes a “congressional fix” is the best way to resolve the legal issues over wolf management in the state and region. Mead, in a brief interview, said he understands the frustration of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, which is shared by Wyoming and Idaho.

Schweitzer is defying the federal government by encouraging livestock owners to kill wolves that attack their animals even in areas where it is not currently allowed. He also plans to have state agents kill wolves that are harming some elk herds.

“I think you have to be cautious about telling people to go break federal law,” said Mead, a former chief federal prosecutor for Wyoming.

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Montana Governor Notifies Interior of New Wolf Management Directives

courtesy of KECI.com

Governor Brian Schweitzer today sent a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar notifying Interior of new directives regarding wolf management in Montana. Text of the letter below:

February 16, 2011
The Honorable Ken Salazar Secretary U.S. Department of the Interior 1849 C Street NW Washington, D.C. 20240

Dear Secretary Salazar:

I write to you today regarding wolf management in Montana.

While almost everyone acknowledges that the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population is fully recovered, as the Governor of Montana I am profoundly frustrated by the lack of any actual results that recognize Montana’s rights and responsibilities to manage its wildlife. Montana has for years done everything that has been asked: adopting a model wolf management plan; enacting enabling legislation; and adopting the necessary implementing rules. Our exemplary efforts have been ignored. I cannot continue to ignore the crying need for workable wolf management while Montana waits, and waits, and waits. Therefore, I am now going to take additional necessary steps to protect the interests of Montana’s livestock producers and hunters to the extent that I can within my authorities as governor.

First, for Montana’s northwest endangered wolves (north of Interstate 90), any livestock producers who kill or harass a wolf attacking their livestock will not be prosecuted by Montana game wardens. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) wardens will be directed to exercise their prosecutorial discretion by not investigating or citing anyone protecting their livestock.

Further, I am directing FWP to respond to any livestock depredation by removing whole packs that kill livestock, wherever this may occur.

Still further, to protect the elk herds in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley that have been most adversely affected by wolf predation, I am directing FWP, to the extent allowed by the Endangered Species Act, to cull these wolves by whole-pack removal to enable elk herds to recover.

At this point, I can do nothing less and still maintain my commitment as Governor to uphold the rights of our citizens to protect their property and to continue to enjoy Montana’s cherished wildlife heritage and traditions.

Sincerely,
Brian Schweitzer GOVERNOR

Dangerous Threats

– NY Times Editorial

Representative Denny Rehberg, a Republican and Montana’s House member, boasts that he brings Made-in-Montana solutions to Washington. His latest, proposed last week in a speech advocating states’ rights to the State Legislature, is to put a judge “on the Endangered Species List.”

The congressman had in mind Judge Donald Molloy of the Federal District Court for Montana, though he didn’t name him, because of a ruling the judge made reinstating protection of the Endangered Species Act for gray wolves. He did not mean that Judge Molloy should be protected and nurtured, which is the actual purpose of the species law.

Mr. Rehberg’s spokesman said: “Denny did not threaten anyone, let alone a federal judge. Nor would he.” But to the judge’s children, writing in protest on Sunday in The Independent Record, a daily newspaper in Helena, Mont., the words made a threat, “either veiled or outright,” and that was “not acceptable.”

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Elk Foundation, Wildlife Federation: Hunting Groups Clash Over Wolves

courtesy of The Missoulian
by Rob Chaney

Two of Montana’s biggest hunting advocates are in a dogfight over how best to control wolves.

For the past week, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Montana Wildlife Federation have been trading insults and accusations about whose wolf-management strategy best serves hunters in the Rocky Mountains.

The groups’ letters left many in the conservation community disturbed over what some called a battle for the loyalty of Montana hunters, and what others suspected was an early exchange of fire in the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg.

Wildlife Federation habitat committee chairman Skip Kowalski’s Feb. 1 guest column in the Missoulian started by questioning the motives of “some wolf-obsessed hunters and their politically incompetent organizations” who hurt hunting “with hot-worded hip shots and potshots of contempt for the values of the millions of non-hunting American people who care deeply that endangered species should be preserved.”

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GOP Budget Bill Lifts Wolf Protections

courtesy of The Bellingham Herald
by Matthew Brown – Associated Press

A Republican budget bill would strip gray wolves of Endangered Species Act protections across most of the Northern Rockies – an indication the new Congress intends to move swiftly to settle the long-running legal skirmish over the predators.

Biologists estimate that more than 1,700 wolves inhabit the region, in at least 115 packs that are taking a mounting toll on domestic livestock and big game herds.

Two prior attempts to lift protections for the predators were reversed by a federal judge in Montana following lawsuits from environmentalists. Now lawmakers want to shield the Department of Interior from future legal challenges, effectively making Congress the final arbiter on whether wolves have recovered.

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