As hunting and poaching reduce wolf populations, this wildlife advocate tries to stay optimistic by considering a national plan to INCREASE the number of wolves. Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes to protect wildlife and preserve wildlands. His new book, Deep into Yellowstone: A Year’s Immersion in Grandeur and Controversy, is available signed from Rick at bit.ly/2tIEt62, or unsigned on Amazon: amzn.to/2tgPU3E. His best seller, In the Temple of Wolves, is available signed at bit.ly/1gYghB4, or unsigned on Amazon at amzn.to/Jpea9Q.
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A Mexican wolf pup born this spring at Brookfield Zoo and released into the wild as part of a species recovery program was tracked down in New Mexico and is healthy, the zoo announced this week.
In April, a wolf named Zana gave birth to a litter of five pups at the zoo. Days later, two of the pups – Connie and Dennis – were transferred to the den of the San Mateo wolf pack in New Mexico.
Their move was proposed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as part of a cross-fostering initiative, where young pups are transferred from their litter in captivity to another litter of similar age in the wild. The program aims to diversify the genetics of the species, which is the most endangered subspecies of wolf in the world.
Shortly after the cross-fostering effort began in 2015, a Mexican wolf born at Brookfield Zoo and released into the wild was found dead in western New Mexico. USFWS conducted an investigation but was unable to determine the exact cause of death, spokesperson John Bradley said.
The cross-fostering program has, however, had more positive outcomes.
Last year, two Mexican wolf pups born at Brookfield Zoo – Blaze and Brooke – were released into the wild in Arizona.
“We’ve had a couple definite successes where we’ve had a pup be found and then actually meet up with a female and start breeding,” Bradley said. “That is the real key to success, that they grow up to an age where they can breed and they breed with someone not in their immediately family.”
Last month, USFWS biologists located Connie in New Mexico and fitted her with a GPS radio collar before releasing her back into the wild to join her pack. Like all newborn wolf pups, Connie was too small to be equipped with the collar when she was released from the zoo shortly after birth.
Dennis, Connie’s brother, has not yet been located, but the biologists are hopeful that they will be able to locate and collar him during an upcoming annual census.
“The genetics of this particular animal – the Mexican gray wolf – is very narrow,” said Joan Daniels, curator of mammals at Brookfield Zoo, which participates in the recovery program. “So there’s not a lot of genetic diversity in the population. [Cross-fostering] is used to increase the number of pups in a litter or change out the genetics between two different litters.”
Mexican wolves were once common in the Southwest but were wiped out in the mid-1970s, with only a few of the animals remaining in Mexico. Starting in 1998, 11 Mexican wolves were reintroduced to the wild in Arizona after being bred in captivity.
Although their numbers have grown, there are still only about 300 Mexican wolves in captivity, and another 97 in the wild, according to the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife.
In return for releasing Connie and Dennis, Brookfield Zoo received sibling pups Mateo and Springer from the wild. The zoo says they are thriving in their pack.
“I find them absolutely fascinating,” Daniels said of the wolves. “They are incredible parents, and the ability to see them here at the zoo has been wonderful because we get to experience them rearing their babies and watching them very tenderly take care of the puppies. They’re very protective of them.”
For several days after birth, Mexican wolf pups cannot hear, and their eyes remain closed, Daniels said. In the cross-fostering program, the wolf pups must be transferred to their new pack relatively soon after birth – before they have become too attached to their mothers.
“We let the mom bond and nurse with the puppies for a few days, and then we coordinate the cross-fostering within 10 days of birth,” Daniels said. “If you wait too long, their eyes open and it’s not as successful.”
An anti-wildlife congress wants us to believe America’s wolf population has recovered. Author and wildlife advocate Rick Lamplugh wonders if it has. Listen now!
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A federal program hit pause this week on its involvement in Colorado predator-killing plans.
Wildlife Services, a United States Department of Agriculture program, was tasked with killing Colorado mountain lions and black bears as part of two Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans.
But conservationist groups sued over the federal government’s involvement in state plans, and it’s unclear whether CPW can continue to kill predators without Wildlife Services help.
In a legal agreement with the conservationist groups, which was made public on Monday, Wildlife Services agreed to conduct a new environmental analysis of the plans by Aug. 1, 2018, and not kill any bears or mountain lions in the meantime.
The predator control plans are meant to boost dwindling mule deer population in the Piceance Basin and Upper Arkansas River areas.
CPW and Wildlife Services began trapping and killing predators this year in a 500-square-mile area west of Rifle and a 2,370-square-mile area in south-central Colorado. CPW hasn’t shared how many animals have been killed.
The Piceance Basin plan allows wildlife crews to capture up to 15 mountain lions and 25 black bears annually for three years using cage traps, culvert traps, foot snares and hunting dogs, then shoot them, according to CPW documents. The Upper Arkansas plan allows crews to trap and kill an unspecified number of mountain lions over a nine-year period.
CPW spokeswoman Lauren Truitt declined to comment on whether killing will continue without federal involvement, saying CPW hasn’t reviewed statements about the lawsuit. Wildlife Services representatives didn’t return a phone call from the Coloradoan requesting clarification, and Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center said he’s unsure whether killing will continue.
Wildlife Services’ new environmental analysis will consider environmental impacts of the predator control plans and their alternatives, Bishop said.
“This agreement represents a sign of good faith moving forward to do the right thing when it comes to Colorado’s wildlife and ecosystems,” he said in a statement. “It’s a big swing to go from deciding to ignore the best available science to halting potentially harmful wildlife killing while improving the science.”
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including the Western Environmental Law Center, WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity, argue predators aren’t to blame for the dwindling mule deer population in Colorado. They point instead to habitat infringement by oil and gas development.
But CPW research indicates that predation, not oil and gas development, is the major cause of shrinking mule deer population in the two predator control plan areas, officials previously told the Coloradoan.
The state’s mule deer population currently sits at about 80 percent of wildlife managers’ desired population of 560,000.
Wildlife Services has also agreed not to use or fund the use of M-44 sodium cyanide capsules — so-called “cyanide bombs” — on public lands in Colorado. The conservationist groups alleged earlier this year that the traps, meant to protect livestock from predators, kill wildlife and pets indiscriminately, the Associated Press reported.
CPW and U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswomen told the Associated Press the traps haven’t been used on public lands in decades.
Wolf expert Carter Niemeyer trapped, collared, tracked and sometimes shot wolves during a long career with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist with 30 years experience said it is unlikely a wolf shot by an Oregon elk hunter was attacking the man.
Carter Niemeyer, who lives in Boise and oversaw or consulted on wolf recovery work throughout the West, also said descriptions of the bullet trajectory — in one shoulder and out the other – raise doubt about the hunter’s account that the wolf was running at him when he fired.
“That’s a broadside shot, not a running-at-you shot,” Niemeyer said. “If the bullet path is through one side and out the other, it indicates to me an animal could have been standing, not moving, and the shot was well placed.”
A bullet that hit the wolf as it was running forward most likely would have exited out the hips or rear end, Niemeyer said. He acknowledge the bullet or fragments could have deflected off bone, but said a forensic exam would have to explain that. Michelle Dennehy, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman, said the agency did not request a necropsy because the cause of death — gunshot — was known.
Niemeyer said the hunter’s account of taking a “snap shot into a ball of fur” is unlikely.
“I have to tell you I doubt the story,” he said.
Niemeyer, 70, said he’s hunted predators for 52 years as a government hunter and a taxidermist, and has dealt with fellow sportsmen and shooters for decades. “I’ve heard every story,” he said. “This story is very suspect to me.”
The elk hunter, Brian Scott, 38, of Clackamas, Ore., told Oregon State Police that the wolf ran straight at him. Scott told police he screamed, took quick aim and fired his 30.06 rifle once. Scott said he saw nothing but fur in the rifle’s scope as the wolf ran at him, according to published reports.
In an interview with outdoor writer Bill Monroe of The Oregonian/Oregon Live, Scott said he was terrified.
“People envision this jerk hunter out to kill anything, but that’s not me,” he told Monroe. “It frustrates me they don’t understand. I’m a meat hunter. I was looking for a spike elk. This wasn’t exciting. It ruined my hunt.”
Scott told Monroe he didn’t think he had time to fire a warning shot. He could not explain the bullet’s path, which entered the wolf’s right shoulder and exited the left, other than perhaps the wolf turned at the last instant or the bullet deflected.
Niemeyer, the retired wildlife biologist, said wolves will “turn around and take off” when they realize they’re near a human. Niemeyer said he had “many, many close encounters with wolves” while doing trapping, collaring and other field work for USFWS in Idaho, Oregon and elsewhere. He said wolves sometimes ran at him and approached within 6 to 8 feet before veering away.
Wolves are potentially dangerous, he said, “but all my experience tells me it would be fearful of a human.”
People in such situations should stand up if they are concealed, show themselves, and yell or throw things, Niemeyer said. Hunters could fire a shot into the ground or into a tree and “scare the hell out of them,” he said.
“That would have been the first logical thing to do,” he said. “The gunshot and a yell from a human would turn every wolf I’ve ever known inside out trying to get away.”
He also suggested people venturing into the woods should carry bear repellent spray, which certainly would also deter wolves, cougars or coyotes.
“If everyone shoots everything they’re afraid of, wow, that’s not a good thing,” he said.
Niemeyer acknowledged his reaction is based on years of experience with wolves.
“People say, ‘That’s easy for you to say, Carter, you worked with wolves for 30 years and you’re familiar with their behavior,’” he said.
The shooting happened Oct. 27 in ODFW’s Starkey Wildlife Management Unit west of La Grande, in Northeast Oregon.
Scott, the hunter, told police he was hunting and had intermittently seen what he thought might be coyotes. At one point, two of them circled off to the side while a third ran at him. Scott said he shot that one and the others ran away.
Scott went back to his hunting camp and told companions what had happened. They returned to the shooting scene and concluded the dead animal was a wolf. The hunter then notified state police and ODFW, which investigated. Police later found a shell casing 27 yards from the wolf carcass. The Union County district attorney’s office reviewed the case and chose not to file charges.
The Portland-based conservation group Oregon Wild raised questions about the incident. Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild’s field representative in Northeast Oregon, said he’s seen wolves in the wild several times and backed away without trouble or harm. Even the late OR-4, the fearsome breeding male of the infamous Imnaha Pack in Wallowa County, retreated and barked when it encountered Klavins and a hiking party.
“This (hunter) may have felt fear, but since wolves returned to Oregon, no one has so much as been licked by a wolf, and that’s still true today,” Klavins said.
“What has changed is we now have wolves on the landscape, 10 years ago we didn’t,” Klavins said. “Especially in the fall (hunting season), armed people are going to be out encountering wolves.”
Oregon Wild believes poachers have killed several Oregon wolves, and USFWS on Nov. 6 offered a $5,000 reward for information about a collared wolf designated OR-25 that was found dead Oct. 29 in South Central Oregon.
Klavins said wolf shooters might now use a “self-defense” claim as a “free pass to poaching.”