yellowstone wolf

Grey Wolf in Yellowstone National Park’s famous Lamar Valley. Image by Jason Williams

“In 1926 the last known wolf was killed within the boundary of Yellowstone National Park and in 1943 the last recorded wolf was killed in Wyoming. After nearly 10,000 years on the landscape, a key species and apex predator was gone. Though a few sightings were reported in the years that followed, it is widely agreed that for all intents and purposes wolves were exterminated from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The systematic extirpation of wolves was done by all means necessary including trapping, poisoning and shooting. The ideal of a predator free landscape made sense in the context of a culture founded on dominion over the natural world as opposed to living in harmony with it. Ranchers didn’t want to lose cattle, hunters feared the loss of game and most everyone agreed that wolves didn’t have much value.

Even the famous conservationist Aldo Leopold agreed with killing wolves until he realized through his direct observations that wolves were valuable to the natural world and health of the ecosystems in which they live. In one of his often quoted passages Leopold laments, “In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy; how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable side-rocks. We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”

Leopold’s realization and later observations fueled a passion for conservation and a preservation of a wild world that included the wolf. As a more modern perspective began to influence land management decisions, a movement began to reintroduce wolves back into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Between 1995 and 1997, the Unites States Fish and Wildlife Service, with the help of the National Park Service, released 31 wolves into Yellowstone National Park. The program was so successful that future planned releases were never carried out. The wolf population increased steadily in Yellowstone and peaked at over 175 wolves in 2003. As the habitat within Yellowstone became saturated and well established packs claimed the best territory, younger wolves began branching out in search of new territory. They moved out of Yellowstone in all directions, including to the south where they found the ideal habitat of Jackson Hole.

After the release of wolves into Yellowstone it became apparent that the wildlife tourism associated with wolves was significant. According to one study (Click here to read), wolf watching in 2005 generated around 35 million dollars in revenue for the three states visited for this purpose (Wyoming, Idaho and Montana). 44% of all visitors surveyed in this study listed the wolf as one of the animals they would most like to see, second only to grizzly bears in terms of visitor interest.

As wolves became more established in Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole they also became more visible. Jackson Hole, including Grand Teton and the National Elk Refuge, was becoming known as a wolf watching destination to rival Yellowstone and the famous Lamar Valley. There were even wolf dens and rendezvous sites being established in places that visitors could easily watch from a safe distance in their natural environment. Places like Elk Ranch, Willow Flats and the wide expanses of the National Elk Refuge (in winter) were becoming reliable places to find wolves, often doing something interesting like hunting, chasing coyotes or even playing. By the winter of 2011/12 our guests were seeing wolves on about half of our safaris! Though some guide services had already started offering wolf specific tours in Jackson Hole, we had been waiting until the sightings were more reliable and the packs were more established and predictable. It was after the frequent and reliable sightings in 2012 that we started to design and promote wolf watching which we expected to especially benefit our shoulder seasons like spring, fall and winter when the wolf watching was often the best. All of the tour businesses and wildlife photographers agreed that the combination of more wolves living in accessible places was creating unprecedented wolf watching opportunities in Jackson Hole.

Unfortunately the steady increase in the wolf population also led to the delisting of the wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act in September of 2012. As an endangered species wolves could not be hunted and even control actions for livestock depredation or other nuisance behaviors were more difficult as they had to be approved by federal agents. The fate of the Wyoming wolf was transferred from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who banned sport hunting and trapping, to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, who immediately created a trophy hunting and trapping season (and predator control program) targeting any wolves that roamed outside the National Park boundaries.
According to the Game and Fish 2012 Wolf Report, at the end of 2012 at least 277 wolves in 43 packs roamed the wild country of Northwest Wyoming. That was after the loss of 136 wolves that year including 120 at the hand of people. Of those 66 were legally harvested as either trophy animals (permit required) or predators (no permit required), 43 were killed by state or federal agents, 5 were killed by cars, 4 were poached and 3 the cause was unknown. Not only were there significantly less wolves to watch, they had been taught an important lesson – people were dangerous and to be avoided!

This first hunt devastated the wolf watching and photography industry in Jackson Hole and shattered the potential for this multi-million dollar industry to flourish! That winter the wolves vanished from sight. They started hunting and moving at night and were being especially careful to avoid being spotted by people. That winter (2012/13) our guides and guests only saw wolves twice in the entire season! Their disappointment was palpable and our loss of revenue dramatic. Not only was this an entirely new dimension to the wildlife related tourism industry in Jackson Hole, it also coincided with our slow seasons, a time when valley businesses struggle to make sales, fill hotel rooms, restaurant seats and certainly sell wildlife safaris. It was an amazingly sudden shift and a lesson to be learned about our wild neighbors. They are smart! The wolf packs that we are starting to know didn’t lose that many members to the hunt but they saw enough of their family killed to completely avoid us. This negative conditioning will most certainly have an impact on our ability to watch and photograph these wolves for years to come.

Not only was this 35 million dollar a year activity destroyed during one fall hunt, Wyoming Game and Fish lost over $460,000 administering their wolf program in 2012! According to their records they sold 4,287 wolf tags for $107,136.00 but spent 569,271.31 on their wolf management program! Of those sold only 187 tags were for out of state hunters meaning that the vast majority of the program was for Wyoming residents and would have generated very little ancillary income for other businesses (average spends for in-state users are demonstrated to be significantly lower than out-of-state travelers).

In 2013 the interest in tags was even lower with only 2,152 tags sold generating $61,416.00 and only selling tags to 140 out-of-state hunters. After spending $541,594.86 on wolf management in 2013, the Wyoming Game and Fish lost $480,000 administering this one program! It’s no wonder the Wyoming Game and Fish is struggling financially and faced a 2 million dollar budget deficit in 2013 alone. Since 2009 the department has experienced an inflation adjusted decline of 13% according to their website.
Given these facts wouldn’t it make sense to reevaluate the way we value wildlife. Is the old paradigm broken? The idea that just because an animal is no longer officially threatened means we should immediately start killing again it is short sighted and given the numbers downright stupid. Wolves in today’s world are worth more alive than dead – the numbers don’t lie. By Wyoming Game and Fish following this old land management ethos, they are costing our community millions of dollars, wasting taxpayer money and taking away good paying jobs (not to mention encouraging people to come and take away such a valuable resource). It’s time Wyoming Game and Fish recognize that there is a better way to manage wildlife. One that is more profitable, more scientifically sound and one that requires spending a lot less money.

If you agree please send a message to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Wyoming state legislators and let them know your thoughts. The legislative session is just starting and Wyoming Game and Fish budget discussions will be happening soon. Let’s send a clear message that these policies are bad for business and bad for wildlife!”
Representative Ruth Ann Petroff
Box 2764
Jackson Wyoming 83001

Andy Schwartz
PO Box 2654
Jackson Wyoming 83001

Senator Christensen
220 West Alta
Alta Wyoming 83414

Director of Wyoming Game and Fish
Scott Talbott
5400 Bishop Boulevard
Cheyenne, Wyoming 82006

**Special thanks to “Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris” for providing this information! (http://jacksonholewildlifesafaris.com/why-wolf-hunting-in-wyoming-is-bad-for-business/)

By On January 3, 2015

About the politics of wolf reintroduction in the Northern Rockies-

“Jim Yuskavitch begins his book with the story of wolf B45, the first Idaho wolf to venture into Oregon. She (B45) was a first generation offspring of the wolves brought down from British Columbia for release in Idaho in 1996. Most of his examples and descriptions early on in the book center on Idaho. Most past books begin with Yellowstone National Park.

As an Idahoan, I enjoyed reading for the first time about the “exploits” of a number of the wolves reintroduced to Idaho. Their stories are as interesting as the many about the individual Yellowstone wolves and wolf pack. I had hoped someone would do this.

Before you are through reading In Wolf Country, he has discussed almost every issue surrounding wolf restoration to the Northern Rockies. Most of these have been topics in The Wildlife News. Our readers will find the book to be a fine companion giving the factual history, the various controversies about the wolves, the players, the politics, and the world view of the ranching and hunting interests that largely dominate the management of the outdoors east of the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada and west of the Missouri River.

The author shows in detail how wolf management is just barely about wolf biology. Instead it deals with people and politics, many of which are guided by beliefs about wolves that include few facts, many errors, and a lot of emotion. I have wondered for years why wolves raise so much hostile emotion in some groups of people. One answer he finds is that the controversy for many on the anti-wolf side is a stand-in for different worldview. Wolf supporters, according to the ideology found in many writings and opinion pieces, value animals over humans. They would push God off his throne ruling over all, but giving  to “man” dominion above all else. Support for predators presumably means hostility to property rights and guns, belief in a overpowerful federal government. Wolves are pretty much a plot to destroy the rural West.

Of course, he is careful to point out that there are ranchers and hunters who do not subscribe to idea that wolves-put-on-ground represents some cosmic battle between good and evil. Many just go along with what they see as the dominant opinion where they live or work. In the rural towns social pressure makes it hard to differ on this subject and often costly for those of their number who have a less emotional view to speak up. An example he uses is the Wallowa County, Oregon unsuccessful attempt by the Barking Mad Farm Bed and Breakfast to get a conditional use permit to expand onto property zoned for agriculture. The application was made into a much larger issue and something to be stopped because the kind of tourism the expansion might generate, it was argued, would bring the wrong kind of people as visitors to the county and give support for wolves. It would threaten priority of ranching there. If I recall correctly, that this dominance of ranching was explicitly stated by opponents of the permit.

He also retells Don Peay’s successful effort in Utah to extract large sums of money from the Utah Legislature to lobby to prevent the federal government from introducing wolves to Utah, something no one was asking the government to do. Peay, who founded Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, was also successful getting a Utah ballot proposition passed making it so that it would take a supermajority (2/3) in future for any other ballot proposition to directly change the rules and take of hunters and fishers.

To date, not many books have written about the work in Idaho by the Nez Perce Tribe (Tribal Wolf Recovery Team) which was tasked with managing the reintroduced wolves when the Idaho Legislature rejected doing so, though they claimed that role later. A major task, and one that continues to a lesser degree, was to estimate the number of wolves and wolf packs in Idaho each year and collect information on their whereabouts and habits for the Department of Interior to asses the degree to which the recovery effort had succeeded.

Yuskavitch was able to go on a number of trips to the woods with the Team. His observations were interesting, both of finding the wolf packs, and finding the people who actually feared them in remote and small, Elk City, Idaho. I can testify to the correctness of his observations because at the time I had an in-law who lived there. Observing the fear his girlfriend had of the unseen menace, and how hard it was to abate it, shocked me. She had seen what she thought were wolf tracks on her property. I told her I found something far worse she needed to pay attention to — spotted knapweed just getting started.

This author, like many others, debunks the common idea that wolves are especially dangerous to people. No, it is not the case that they are fixin’ to eat us, but want to eat all the other animals first. He relates his conversation with Utah State University Professor Dan McNulty pointing out that wolves are quite weak for large carnivores; far from being killing machines. Compared to the cougar, for example, they are less muscular, have a weaker bite, have weak legs when it comes to attacking. Their legs are “just sticks,” and they cannot rotate them at the knee. Their claws do not grab or hold.

He has two chapters that are pretty much about hunting; wolf hunting and hunting deer and elk. There is a chapter on the return of wolves to the Pacific Northwest with stories about “Journey,” wolf OR7 and other important Oregon wolves.

He concludes that “Wolves are Here to Stay,” and that hunting wolves actually facilitates their dispersal to places far from their birth.

I have only touched on the many topics of the book which is available in paperback for order on-line. It was released just before the New Year. It is hardly a dull academic tome despite its many facts and analysis of the policy controversy. For the person greatly interested in wolves on the ground in the West, the book should be of intense interest.”

About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.


collared wolf killed

An animal seen north of Grand Canyon on Oct 27, 2014. (Photo Source: Arizona Game and Fish Department)

December 30th, 2014

“A hunter has killed a three-year-old female gray wolf 5 miles east of Beaver, Utah, wildlife officials have confirmed.  The 70-pound animal was wearing a radio collar which indicated it was collared in Cody, Wyoming, in January of 2014.

The hunter called law enforcement officials after noticing the collar.  The hunter says he believed the animal to be a coyote.  Wildlife groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, are calling for a full investigation, which the US Fish and Wildlife Service says it will conduct.

This is the first documented killing of a gray wolf in Utah since wolves were reintroduced into Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s.  It is not the first documented sighting of a gray wolf in Utah — a 3-year-old male was found dead in a leg-hold trap in 2006 and another, collared, male was trapped near Morgan in 2002 and returned to Yellowstone.  It is likely that other wolves, as yet undetected, are roaming the state.

For the past two years Utah has offered a $50 bounty on coyotes.  More than 7,000 coyotes were turned in for the reward during the second year of the bounty.

“This is a very sad day for wolf conservation and for Utah. All competent wildlife biologists already know that coyote hunting, including our state bounty program, is ineffective, and therefore a waste of money – and now we see that is is also a threat to other wildlife and to wolf recovery,” said Kirk Robinson, executive director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, based in Salt Lake City.

It is possible that this animal could be the wolf sighted near the north rim of the Grand Canyon in October, but her identity has not yet been confirmed.  The wolf’s description and the location where she was found — near the southern end of the Tushar Mountains — means she was likely the Grand Canyon wanderer, said Michael Robinson, wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.

However, other wolves are likely wandering through Utah.  The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is almost 200 miles south of Beaver.  A photo of what appears to be a wolf crossing Highway 14, 70 miles south of Beaver, was taken early in December, and the wolf shot may be the animal in that photograph, said DWR director Greg Sheehan.”

**Special thanks to Wolf Park for providing this information! (http://blog.wolfpark.org/collared-wolf-shot-and-killed-in-utah/)

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

mexican gray wolf recovery

“Conservation organizations on Wednesday sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force it to complete a long overdue, legally required recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf, the lobo of Southwestern lore.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona, aims to enforce compliance with rules the agency adopted 38 years ago to guide recovery of the federally endangered species driven to near extinction by wolf extermination campaigns of the 19th and 20th centuries.

It asks the court to declare the agency in violation of the Endangered Species Act, and order it to “prepare and implement a scientifically based, legally valid” final recovery plan within a year of the court’s judgment.

The Mexican gray wolf was reintroduced into a small area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico in 1998 as part of a strategy to reach a population of 100 wolves, including 18 breeding pairs, by 2006.

Today, the population stands at 83 wolves, and five breeding pairs. They are managed under restrictions that do not permit the mobile, clannish hunters to colonize new territory, increasing the likelihood of inbreeding, according to the lawsuit. The restrictions also allow excessive killing and removal of wolves that take livestock, the lawsuit says.

By the agency’s own assessment in a recent draft environmental impact report, the existing population is “considered small, genetically impoverished, and significantly below estimates of viability appearing in the scientific literature.”

Sherry Barrett, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican gray wolf recovery coordinator, was unavailable for comment.

Plaintiffs including the Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Endangered Wolf Center, the Wolf Conservation Center and David R. Parsons, a biologist who served as the agency’s Mexican gray wolf recovery coordinator from 1990 to 1999, accuse the agency of yielding to political pressure from ranchers, hunting groups and state officials in Utah, Arizona and Colorado.

In a letter to former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in late 2011, for instance, Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert urged that Colorado and Utah be excluded from what he described as “the Mexican gray wolf equation,” on grounds that those states were not “within its core historic range.”

The agency, in 2013, published documents based on recent genetic research showing that the species scientists know as Canis lupus baileyi ranged as far north as Utah and Nebraska.

“Unfortunately, when confronted with views from various interest groups — particularly livestock industry organizations, state wildlife agencies and the less enlightened hunting organizations – the agency takes a head-in-the-sand approach,” Parsons said in an interview. “What seems to be driving things in this case are the politics surrounding the Mexican gray wolf.”

Since 1982, the agency has convened three different scientific teams to prepare a formal recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf.

The most recent effort produced a draft recovery plan in 2012 that recommended establishing two additional Mexican gray wolf populations, one in the Grand Canyon and another in the southern Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. The overall goal was to create three self-sustaining sub populations totaling 750 wolves.

The plan also suggested several areas of suitable habitat for reintroduction efforts including land in Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah and southern Colorado.

That plan, however, was never published, and the recovery team that produced it never reconvened to review the proposal’s viability, according to the lawsuit.

“The agency has caved in to demands of the anti-wolf states,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “Meanwhile, decades after it decided to reintroduce it into the wilds, the Mexican gray wolf remains on the precipice of extinction.”

Posted: Wednesday, November 12, 2014 1:15 pm

“Consider this loaded question: Should grizzly bears, wolves and cougars be hunted for sport? Worldwide, given their rarity and declining numbers, should lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars and tigers?

Across North America we find ourselves in another big game hunting season. For many the harvest is as much about putting meat in the freezer — a form of modern subsistence — as it is about the profoundly personal act of communing with nature.

From an early age, a lot of us were taught two guiding ethical principles: Don’t take the life of an animal unless you intend to eat it, and, if you do kill, there ought to be a good reason.

As states sanction hunts of iconic predators (grizzlies and black bears, wolves, mountain lions and coyotes), there remains a fact: People will eat little of those animals that they kill.

The search for a rationale in targeting predators must necessarily speak to reasoning beyond the simplistic argument advanced by fish and game departments that selling hunting tags generates revenue.

The issue of whether there’s an underlying moral — and compelling biological — justification for killing predators is taken up by two university professors in a new thought-provoking scientific analysis, “Wolf Hunting and the Ethics of Predator Control,” soon to be included in a new book, “The Oxford Handbook of Animal Studies.”

Author John Vucetich is a well-known Midwest wolf researcher and conservation biologist at Michigan Tech University; Michael P. Nelson is on the faculty at Oregon State University. In their paper they examine why large carnivores — which possess undeniable ecological value — are hunted.

Before we proceed let it be clear that Vucetich and Nelson did not write the paper to advance an anti-hunting agenda. They wanted to determine if any “good reason” for hunting predators exists.

“What counts as an adequate reason to kill a sentient creature?” they ask. “The hunting community has long recognized the value of this question to understanding the conditions under which various kinds of hunting is appropriate.”

Vucetich and Nelson consider the spectrum of societal attitudes toward predator hunting as expressed by trophy hunters, government wildlife managers, those who hunt for food, those who eat no meat and animal rights advocates.

They dissect the premise that predators must be controlled to ensure healthy populations of elk, deer, moose and pronghorn — and even, as is sometimes asserted, to protect people. They test the assertion that the best way of promoting conservation of a species is to place a value on its head and hunt it.

They also scrutinize the attitudes of so-called “wolf haters,” pointing out that unlike hunters of edible big game, whose pursuit seems to make humans more respectful of the animal, many who kill wolves are actually driven by a lack of empathy.

In a statement certain to spark debate, they charge: “Many instances of wolf poaching … are wrong because they are primarily motivated by a hatred of wolves. These instances of poaching qualify as wrongful deaths, if not hate crimes.

“To legalize such killing does not make them any less wrong. Moreover, people who threaten to poach wolves unless wolf killing is legalized are engaging in a kind of ecological blackmail … .”

Vucetich and Nelson also share thoughts about trapping: “A trophy is a kind of prize, memento or symbol of some kind of success. To kill a sentient creature for the purpose of using its body or part of it as a trophy is essentially killing it for fun or as a celebration of violence.

“And although there was once a time when trapping wolves for their pelts might have been a respectable means of making a living because wolf pelts were then a reasonable way to make warm clothing,” they state, “we no longer live in that time.”

Ultimately Vucetich and Nelson conclude that killing predators for sport isn’t justified biologically or on moral and ethical grounds.

They take government agencies and universities to task for not brokering honest discussions about such controversial issues as wolf management and predator control with citizens and students.

So often we do things in our society, they suggest, without bothering to provide the “good reason” for why.

Readers can judge for themselves. A copy of the analysis is attached to the online version of this story.”

**Special thanks to Todd Wilkinson, who has been writing his column here every week for 25 years. He is author of the critically acclaimed book “Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet.”

Updated 4:23 pm, Thursday, November 13, 2014

“BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Four environmental groups filed a lawsuit late Thursday to prevent a federal agency from extending a wolf- and coyote-hunting derby onto additional public lands in east-central Idaho.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Idaho came less than two hours after the U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved Idaho for Wildlife’s request for the derby permit near Salmon.

Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and Project Coyote say the BLM’s actions are contrary to the federal government’s wolf reintroduction efforts.

Amy Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity called the decision “repugnant” and a “slap in the face” to thousands of people who commented against the derby.

She said the BLM “has the authority to make sure wolves are protected and secure on land that’s supposed to be a refuge for this fragile population.”

BLM officials in approving the permit said the impacts of an estimated 500 hunters on about 3 million acres of BLM land over a three-day period on Jan. 2 to 4 will not be significant.

“We are aware of the social controversy regarding the event,” Joe Kraayenbrink, the BLM’s district manager in Idaho Falls, said in a statement. “However, from our analysis, we could not find significant conflicts with other environmental resources that would prohibit the competitive event from occurring.”

The derby last winter was held on private land and U.S. Forest Service land but not BLM land because Idaho for Wildlife didn’t have a permit required by that agency for a competitive event. The BLM permit roughly doubles the hunting area.

“It’s wonderful,” said Steve Alder of Idaho for Wildlife. “That’s going to give us a lot more real estate to hunt on. We expect to get a lot more coyotes, and maybe a wolf or two.”

Hunters killed 21 coyotes but no wolves last year. Alder said the addition of the BLM land, which is usually at a lower elevation than Forest Service land, will likely hold more coyotes.

“We have the right and privilege to do this,” he said.

The BLM permit the group received Thursday is good for five years, and Alder said he plans to hold an annual coyote and wolf derby. He said his group is prepared for the court challenge.

In 2013, Idaho for Wildlife offered two separate, $1,000 prizes — one for the hunter who killed the biggest wolf, the other for the hunter who bagged the most coyotes. The event drew 230 people, about 100 of them hunters.

Alder said he expected up to 150 hunters this winter, and likely more who would take part in some way but not hunt.”



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