Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Sony A200 w/ Sony 75-300mm lens @ 300mm
1/100 sec @ f5.6 iso 400
© G. Runco / Teklanika Photography 2009

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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 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

Lessons from Wolves

courtesy of Izilwane.org
by Jami Wright

Gray wolves have long been the focus of a contentious battle in the Rocky Mountain West, where wolf populations were decimated due to habitat degradation and aggressive extermination tactics. However, the species began their route to recovery in 1995 when, following the discovery by ecologists and biologists that restoring an apex predator to its natural habitat may increase local biodiversity, the federal government reintroduced the Gray Wolf (Canis lupis) into the Northern Rocky Mountains. The ecological impacts of wolves continue to teach scientists about the complexity of wildlife conservation and management. Much of that complexity lies in human perceptions regarding the social impacts wolves have on people, which often represent deeper conflicts among cultures, usually relating to land use.

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Wyoming Wolf Numbers up, Depredations Down

courtesy of Wyoming Star-Tribune
by Whitney Royster

While Wyoming’s wolf population outside Yellowstone National Park increased in 2010, depredation losses were the lowest on record since 2003, according to an unofficial year-end report published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Although the official report won’t be available until March, it is estimated that Wyoming’s wolf population outside Yellowstone National Park increased by about 9 percent to about 247 wolves, while depredations decreased to a total of 64 animals. In 2009, an estimated 222 animals were killed by wolves.

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Kathie Lynch’s Yellowstone Northern Range Wolf Update – January 2011

by Kathie Lynch

Winter holiday time in Yellowstone glowed with magnificent mauve, apricot and pink sunrises. Hoar frost glittered on bare trees and bushes like bright, twinkling stars, while bitterly cold temperatures of -22F and mountains of sparkling snow guaranteed a white Christmas.

While finding wolves was sometimes challenging, fox watching was incredible. In the past, the hardest part of achieving a “Three Dog Day” (seeing a wolf, coyote and fox) was finding a fox. This time, foxes were everywhere.

The star of the show was a rare dark phase red fox, which looked almost black and is sometimes called a cross fox. It delighted everyone in the Lamar Valley with its careful listening for voles under the snow and head-first dives.

With only three wolf packs (Blacktail, Lamar, and Agate) as likely wolf watching possibilities in the Northern Range, I felt lucky to see wolves almost every day of my two week stay. One day I saw no wolves and one day we could only find one–a sleeping one, at that! Another day, dawn to dusk effort on the part of devoted wolf watchers only produced two black ears behind a bush.

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Judge Sides With Wyoming in Wolf Case

By Jeremy Pelzer

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wasn’t justified in rejecting Wyoming’s wolf management plan.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson didn’t require the FWS to accept Wyoming’s plan. However, he stated that the FWS’ insistence that Wyoming list wolves as a trophy games species throughout the entire state was “arbitrary and capricious” and should be set aside.

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The Big Bad Wolf Makes Good

by Chip Ward

At long last, good news. Fifteen years have passed since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and the results are in. The controversial experiment has been a stellar success. The Big Bad Wolf is back and in this modern version of the old story, all that huffing and puffing has been good for the land and the creatures that live on it. Biggie, it turns out, got a bum rap.

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Some Hunters Like Predators, Dislike ATV’s

by Tom Wharton

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers’ core value is to keep as many of the remaining 80 million acres of roadless lands in the National Forest system as possible from being developed.

The group rejects the idea that there are “good” and “bad” wildlife, and instead supports the concept that predator and prey are part of the same web of life. It calls for an appropriate balance of predator and prey in natural systems based on sound science that includes hunting.

“I like the experience of being in a place where I am not at the top of the food chain,” said Eckerle. “You have a different outdoor experience in grizzly country. You look over your shoulder to see what’s near you. It’s the same with wolves. It’s really not wilderness when there are no other predators as part of the system.”

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Study Finds Wolves Genetically Diverse, Dispersing

by Cory Hatch

Wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains are genetically healthy and have migrated and bred successfully among subpopulations in central Idaho, greater Yellowstone and northern Montana, according to a new study.

Authors of the study analyzed DNA samples from 555 wolves, beginning with the reintroduction of a few dozen wolves in 1995 and running through 2004, when the population had grown to about 850 animals. The study was published in the October issue of Molecular Ecology.

“We found that genetic diversity was high and maintained throughout the study period for the three recovery areas,” the authors said. “Overall, genetic diversity throughout the [northern Rockies] was comparable or greater than estimates for other gray wolf populations.”

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