Wyoming wolf population falls 15 percent – Wyoming Department of Game and Fish released their 2012 wolf report this week. At the end of 2012 there were a minimum of 277 wolves in the state compared to 328 at the end of 2011, a decline of about 15 percent. A total of 136 wolves died from all causes during the calendar year: 120 from direct or indirect human activity, 14 from natural causes and two from unknown causes. In just a few months after wolves were delisted in Wyoming in September, hunters killed 41 wolves in the trophy game management area and another 25 wolves were killed in the predator zone. Forty-three wolves were killed by state and federal agents in response to livestock losses, five were killed in vehicle collisions, four were killed illegally and two were killed (mysteriously) by “other” means. The only good news, if you can call it that, is that the state may be forced to lower its hunting quota next year in order to maintain 10 breeding pairs outside of Yellowstone National Park.
The wolf population could not withstand another 52-wolf quota without coming dangerously close to the required minimum set in Wyoming’s delisting plan. — Mark Bruscino, Wyo. Game & Fish large carnivore program supervisor
Legislative updates – Sometimes no news is good news, and most of the bills we’ve been following did not advance any farther. The one exception is SB 397 in Montana, which (thankfully) went down in a blaze of glory last night on a committee vote of 17-4. Earlier in the week, 26 opponents attended a House committee hearing, many of them from different hunting organizations that support fair-chase ethics and do not want to see predators carelessly slaughtered. Further opposition came from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks representatives who said that managers already have the tools they need to keep predator and prey species in check. In fact, the only people who supported the bill were spokesmen for Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a known anti-wolf group that has long espoused getting rid of predators by any means necessary in order to artificially boost elk and deer populations. But most Montanans know that a healthy, balanced ecosystem relies on sustainable numbers of both predator and prey. And while human hunters play a role in keeping game species in check, they are no substitute for having wolves, cougars and bears on the landscape as well.
Meet the Wenatchee wolves – Washington has confirmed its tenth pack and two more wolves, bringing the total number of wolves to at least 53. At the end of last month the state Department of Fish and Wildlife caught two wolves on a remote camera in Pitcher Canyon in the Northern Cascades region. One of the wolves, a 1.5-year-old female dispersed from the adjacent Teanaway pack and the other wolf has not yet been identified. We wish these wolves in central Washington the best of luck and hope at least some of them keep heading west toward the Olympic Peninsula. There’s plenty more excellent wolf habitat to explore!
Farewell, Commissioner Ream – Mark another casualty of partisan politics in Montana. Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commissioner Bob Ream tendered his resignation yesterday after state senate Republicans told him they planned to oppose his confirmation. Rather than suffer through a “sham hearing,” Ream decided to leave his post. He announced his decision in a letter to Gov. Bullock outlining his impressive credentials and many accomplishments, including 28 years at the University of Montana and 16 years in the Montana House of Representatives. Ream was always a voice of reason and a strong advocate for using sound science as the basis for wildlife management decisions; he will be sorely missed.
Californians in cahoots – Two of our colleagues in California teamed up with a pair of excellent op-eds this past week. Lauren Richie, formerly Defenders national wolf coexistence coordinator and now associate director with the California Wolf Center, wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that the return of wolves to California is a testament to the success of the 40-year-old Endangered Species Act. Restoring wolves in the Northern Rockies under the Act has allowed populations in Washington and Oregon to recover as well, including the dispersal of OR-7 to northern California. But Lauren argues that California now has the opportunity to chart a different course by laying the groundwork for peaceful coexistence with wolves. By fostering collaboration instead of controversy, wildlife managers can help ranchers find ways to share the landscape with wolves rather than killing them unnecessarily, as is the case in the Northern Rockies.
Amaroq Weiss, also a former Defender and now with the Center for Biological Diversity, picked up on a similar note in the Sacramento Bee, noting that Oregon’s recent experience can be instructive for California. She writes that livestock conflicts in Wallowa County, Oregon, which had been a hotbed of wolf attacks, have decreased 60 percent even while the wolf population has continued to grow. The reason? Ranchers have been forced to adopt nonlethal management strategies because of a lawsuit that has temporarily prevented the state from killing wolves. Meanwhile, livestock losses in Idaho have increased substantially even though more than 700 wolves have been killed there in the last two years. Biologists have suggested that killing wolves only disrupts pack structure and makes it more difficult to hunt wild game. As a result, the remaining wolves are more likely to opt for easier prey like livestock than try to chase down an elk or deer, making it even more important for ranchers to take extra steps to protect their animals and deter wolves.
Montana wolf council meeting now – Montana residents, don’t forget that today is the first meeting of the Wolf Advisory Council in more than five years. The meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. at FWP headquarters in Helena. Live video streams will be available at FWP regional offices, and an audio stream will be available online. Public comment will begin at 2 p.m. Click here for more details.