Legal Victory Guarantees Analysis of Wildlife Services’ Killings in Northern California

https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2017/wildlife-services-11-01-2017.php.    Coyote photo by Tom Koerner, USFWS.

In response to a lawsuit filed by wildlife advocacy groups, a San Francisco federal court today approved a settlement requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to implement numerous protections for wildlife in Northern California, including a ban on traps and aerial gunning in designated “wilderness areas.”

Today’s settlement also requires Wildlife Services to analyze the environmental impacts of its killing of coyotes, bobcats and other wildlife in 16 counties in Northern California.

The ironically named Wildlife Services is a multimillion-dollar federal program that uses painful leghold traps, strangulation snares, poisons and aerial gunning to kill wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds and other wild animals — primarily to benefit the agriculture and livestock industries.

“This is a big victory for California wildlife targeted by this federal program’s horrifically destructive war on animals,” said Collette Adkins, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney representing the conservation groups involved in the lawsuit. “We’ve saved hundreds of animals that would have suffered and died in traps set by Wildlife Services over the next several years. That feels really good.”

Under the court order approved today, Wildlife Services must provide, by the end of 2023, an “environmental impact statement” that analyzes the effects and risks of its wildlife-killing program in California’s North District. The North District includes Butte, Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity and Yuba counties.

Pending completion of that study, which will include robust public commenting opportunities, the court order imposes several measures to protect wildlife in the North District. It bans the use of M-44 cyanide devices, den fumigants and lead ammunition. It bans aerial gunning and any use of body-gripping traps, such as strangulation snares and steel-jaw leghold traps, in designated wilderness and wilderness study areas. The order also requires Wildlife Services to implement several measures to protect California’s endangered gray wolves from being accidentally killed in traps set for other carnivores. These measures include a ban on Conibear traps and non-breakaway snares in areas used by the wolves.

“Wolves are just starting to return to their native habitats in Northern California, and this settlement provides needed interim protections to protect wolves while a detailed environmental study examines whether lethal wildlife ‘management’ options should even be on the table,” said Kristin Ruether of Western Watersheds Project. “It is long past time that federal agencies stop the killing of native wildlife at the behest of the livestock industry, and ultimately we hope that the added public scrutiny will force a shift to nonlethal options.”

Last year Wildlife Services reported killing 1.6 million native animals nationwide. In California alone this total included 3,893 coyotes, 142 foxes, 83 black bears, 18 bobcats and thousands of other creatures. Nontarget animals — including protected wildlife such as wolves, Pacific fisher and eagles — are at risk from Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate methods.

“For over two decades, Wildlife Services has relied on cruel and outdated methods, such as steel-jaw leghold traps, in California — despite a statewide ban on private use of such devices,” said Tara Zuardo, Animal Welfare Institute wildlife attorney. “Today’s decision from the court ensures the environmental analysis of the program’s killing of wildlife will receive a much-needed update. California wildlife deserves this protection.”

“Wildlife Services’ lethal ‘control’ is ineffective, wasteful and cruel,” said Michelle Lute, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “We are changing this clandestine government program state-by-state until wildlife and people are safe on our public lands.”

“With this victory for wildlife we have demonstrated that Wildlife Services has failed to use the best available science and continues to rely on ecologically destructive and ethically indefensible management practices,” said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote. “It is past time that this rogue agency shifts to more effective, humane, and ecologically sound ways of reducing conflicts between wildlife and agricultural interests.”

“Thousands of California wildlife will now have a much needed reprieve from the federal killing agency,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “This settlement sends the powerful message that Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate killing programs will not go unchallenged.”

The victory announced today is the result of a lawsuit filed in June by the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Project Coyote, the Animal Welfare Institute and WildEarth Guardians.

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Where did Norwegian wolves originate — and are they hybrids?

http://sciencenordic.com/where-did-norwegian-wolves-originate-%E2%80%94-and-are-they-hybrids.  (Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB scanpix)

Those who oppose allowing wolf populations to expand in Norway claim that the country’s wolves have hybridized with dogs, and that the original wolves were smuggled into the country rather than coming here on their own. They argue this means there is no reason to protect the animals, which are listed on the 2015 Norwegian Red List for Species as critically endangered.

In 1978, twelve years after the Scandinavian wolf population was declared functionally extinct, a handful of wolves was reported to have come west from Finland/Russia to take up residence on the Norwegian-Swedish border. In the decades since, that population has grown and expanded — along with opposition to the animals, especially in Norway.

Kjetill Jakobsen, a professor at the University of Oslo, has recently investigated the genetics of both wolves and dogs on behalf of Norskog, a membership organization for Norwegian forestland owners.

The reason Norskog commissioned the research was because of claims that the appearance and behaviour of today’s wolves is different from what might be expected of a wild population, the group said in a press release.

Among the factors cited for this contention is the Scandinavian wolf’s similarity to dogs in its yellowish colour, round eyes, pointed ear shape, white claws and tail tip.

Another reason for the research was to settle the question of where the wolves actually came from, because some wolf opponents have claimed the animals were smuggled into Norway and did not arrive on their own.

A hint of dog

Jakobsen believes that his preliminary research does not allow him to establish where the Scandinavian wolf comes from. The genes of the Scandinavian wolf are quite similar to wolves from the rest of Europe, he said.

On the other hand, his research does suggest that there has been no recent inbreeding between wolves and dogs — at least not in the material he and his
colleagues have examined.

“We did find some dog variants, and that’s natural. The wolf is the origin of our domestic dog breeds,” he said. “But there is no more interbreeding with dogs in the Scandinavian wolf population than is found in other populations.”

Both new and old wolves

Jakobsen and his colleagues at the University of Oslo looked at 10 wolves that had been culled in recent years and four wolves that were born in the 1960s. These were compared to wolves from Sweden, two from the east, in Russia and two from Slovakia. In addition, the researchers studied dogs from Norway and wolf dogs from the Czech Republic.

“Of course, we wanted a bigger sample size, but the material we studied wasn’t that small either,” Jakobsen said.

Nevertheless, he still believes that he doesn’t have enough data to say with certainty where the Scandinavian wolf population came from.

To protect or not

The question of the origins of the Scandinavian wolf population has been a hot debate in Norway for many years.

The reason the issue of origins is so controversial has to do that the Bern Convention, which protects wild populations of European plants and animals. Under the Bern Convention, Norway has an obligation to protect its wolf population, as long as it migrated here naturally.

The research on this issue to date has established that the wolf travelled to Norway on its own from the north of Finland and Russia.

However, this research has been attacked by wolf opponents, who claim that the wolf was smuggled to Norway.

Two researchers at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Øyvind Øverli and Torstein Steine, ​​have also questioned the wolf’s genetic origins. However, one Norwegian weekly, Morgenbladet, has reported that the two scientists, who have not studied wolves, have been used by organizations and parliamentarians who are opposed to having wolves in Norway.

New research supports previous findings

On behalf of the Storting, the Norwegian Environment Agency recently submitted a report that addressed the questions of hybridization and origins of the Scandinavian wolf population.

Three independent American researchers combed through existing research on these questions. Their conclusion, cited by the Environment Agency, was that “the current literature is adequate to conclude that the existing Norwegian/Scandinavian population derives from immigration from Finland and Western Siberia. In addition, the existing population does not show evidence of hybridization with dogs.”

Nevertheless, Arne Rørå, Norskog’s Managing Director, stated in the organization’s press release that this research review shows the opposite of what was established by the University of Oslo’s research.

“Norskog’s report points out that genetic signatures from the majority of the male animals that founded the Scandinavian wolf population cannot be found in the genetic material currently available from Finland and Russia,” Rørå says in the press release.

An additional study

The Environment Agency is now preparing to fund a new survey to look at an expanded sample of genetic material. The call for proposals to do the study will be announced nationally and internationally.

“The work will probably require what is called a whole-genomic method, or an approach based on very extensive DNA mapping. There will probably be a need to collect new samples, and old samples must be re-analysed. This work may take several years,” Ellen Hambro, Director General of the agency, said in September.

Øystein Flagstad, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, was involved in a large study in the early 2000s that showed the Scandinavian wolf population had its origins in a handful of individuals that came from Russia and Finland in the 1980s and 1990s.

“This was a solid study that is well-known and is often referenced,” he said. Nevertheless, he welcomes the new study.

“I know that new surveys using new high resolution methodology can provide an even more nuanced picture of the origins of the Scandinavian wolf population,” he said.

New Videos Highlight NWRC Carnivore Research

https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDAAPHIS/bulletins/1bf6ca5#.We-Rk7CXuZQ.facebook

Videos Highlighting Carnivore Research – Now Online

Several new online videos are now available highlighting carnivore research at the National Wildlife Research Center’s field station near Logan, Utah.

The National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) is the research arm of the USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services program. At its headquarters office in Colorado and at several field stations across the country, the Center employs scientists, technicians, and support personnel with expertise in a variety of scientific disciplines. Together, these experts develop new tools and techniques for solving problems between people and wildlife.

To learn more about NWRC’s Utah field station, its employees, and their work related to carnivore ecology and predation damage management, please visit the APHIS YouTube site or click on the video links below.

 

Biologists test hazing methods to keep Wolves at bay in Oregon

https://www.heraldandnews.com/news/local_news/watching-for-wolves/article_c90dac04-2132-5a22-a6da-397062da5c08.html

By LEE JUILLERAT For the Herald and News.  October 17, 2017.

Blaring sounds of a car horn rattled the nighttime calm. Beacons of light sporadically swept across otherwise invisible fields. A massive bonfire, one large enough to roast a thousand marshmallows, torched flames into the blackness.

 

Every 20 or 30 minutes Tom Collom pulled what looks like an old-fashioned television antenna and radio from his pickup, then slowly revolved it toward the forests flanking the eastern edge of the Sky Lakes Wilderness. He was listening for a beeping sound from the VHF collar placed around a 2-year-old female wolf, dubbed OR-54, on Oct. 7.

Collom, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Klamath Falls district biologist, spent Friday and Saturday nights camped in a large field northwest of Fort Klamath. Each hour or so he emerged from the large wall tent, one heated with a wood stove, into the sub-freezing night and early morning to listen for the telltale beep. Periodically, but irregularly, he honked the pickup’s horn, scanned the strobe light and fed the fire.

 

A lantern was kept on all night to illuminate the tent, another way of broadcasting a human presence. It’s all part of an effort to disrupt the patterns of wolves seen and heard on recent days and nights in the Wood River Valley, where upward of 35,000 cattle graze each summer.  “We’ll see if we can alter their behavior a bit,” Collom explains of non-lethal measures being taken to prevent wolves from killing and eating cattle and, he hopes, keep them from feeling comfortable because of human presence in the Wood River Valley. “We’re here to intercept them and, hopefully, put a little pressure on them.”

 

Later Friday night-early Saturday, Collom heard a wolf howling “so I fired three rounds of cracker shells and the howling stopped.” Cracker shells are fired into the air and travel about 100 yards before noisily exploding. “It’s pretty loud,” he said. “The folks in Fort Klamath probably heard them.”

 

Efforts to put on pressure started after Mike Moore, an assistant Klamath Falls-based ODF&W biologist, last Wednesday viewed eight wolves in nearby cattle pastures, possibly lured by the unburied carcasses of two cows that had died of natural causes.

 

Then, during his Thursday night vigil, when he awakened from a pre-dawn nap, the monitor that tracks and downloads the pack’s movements showed OR-54 and the pack had passed within 200 yards of the tent.

 

A year ago this month, four cattle grazing on the Nicholson Ranch not far from the campsite variously shared by Moore, Collom and John Stephenson — a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist — were attacked and eaten alive by wolves that biologists believe were part of the Rogue Pack, a growing band of nine wolves that includes 54’s father, the legendary OR-7.

 

On Oct. 7, crews from ODFW and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service trapped a 2-year-old, 80-pound female. After being sedated, biologists took DNA and blood samples and named her OR-54. After being fitted with a VHF collar, which biologists will allow them to monitor the Rogue pack’s movement, she was released. But Collom and Stephenson have experienced problems picking up signals from her collar.

“We’ve got issues with that collar,” Collom said Monday, noting it is working only when OR-54 is with a quarter-mile. “We definitely have a problem.”

 

Earlier Monday morning, while trying to find a signal for OR-54, Stephenson saw the collared wolf with another about the same time the device began signaling. When he fired three cracker shells to scare them away, he spotted four more wolves.

Stephenson, who spent the nights of Monday and Tuesday Oct. 9 and 10 with Jeanne Spaur, another federal biologist, said he and Collom will meet today to determine if the overnight vigils will continue.

 

“We’ll continue until tonight and then we’ll reassess,” Collom said Monday. “We’ll see what tonight brings but we’ll probably keep at it. We’ve definitely altered their behavior.”

Italian wildlife group offers £21,000 reward for information leading to arrest of wolf killers in Tuscany

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/16/italian-wildlife-group-offers-21000-reward-information-leading/  

An Italian environmental organization has offered a reward of $24,755.00 dollars (£21,000) for information leading to the arrest of the killers of wild wolves in Tuscany.

The corpses of two animals were strung up by the neck from a road sign outside the village of Radicofani in the picturesque Val d’Orcia, south of Siena.

The macabre display appears to have been a protest – possibly by a farmer or landowner – against the damage done by wolves to livestock.

The reward has been offered by the Italian Association for the Defense of Animals, which has set up a special telephone hotline for people to provide information.

The association says the money will be paid to “whoever can help to identify and convict those responsible for the killing and hanging of the wolves.”

Canus lupus was on the verge of extinction in Italy until 1971, when the species was given protected status. There are now an estimated 1,500-2,000 wolves roaming the Alps and the Apennine mountains.

It was recently revealed that a small pack of wolves is living just outside Rome, the first time the species has established a presence near the capital in more than a century.

Police and magistrates are investigating the killing of the wolves at Radicofani. “This is a very serious episode,” said Francesco Fabbrizzi, the mayor of the village. “There is a problem with wolves attacking flocks of sheep, but actions of this sort are certainly not the solution. We hope that the investigation will shed light on whoever committed such a barbarous act.”

Legambiente, a national environmental organization, denounced the killing of the animals as “a cowardly act”, while WWF Italia said it was considering taking legal action against whoever shot the wolves, once they are identified.

It is not the first time that wolves have been shot and put on public display in Italy, allegedly by disgruntled farmers.

In April a wolf that had been shot and skinned was strung up from a road sign near the village of Suvereto, also in Tuscany. Giuliano Parodi, the mayor of the village, described the killing as “heinous”.

In January, the body of a wolf that had been decapitated was dumped on the side of a road near the medieval ridge-top town of Pitigliano, in southern Tuscany.

Farmers in some parts of the country say that attacks by wolves on their sheep are now so frequent that they are being driven out of business.