Friday, December 19, 2014

Federal Protections Restored for Great Lakes Wolves



Breaking News! Federal judge Beryl A. Howell overturned decision to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from gray wolves in the western Great Lakes states! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed federal protections from wolves in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan in 2012 and under state management, annual hunting and trapping seasons followed (only in 2013 for Michigan).

In the court order the Judge Howell ruled that the removal was "arbitrary and capricious" and violates the federal ESA.

Big thanks to The Humane Society of the United States and the coalition of wildlife protection groups that made this happen!

Learn more here.

Read the Judge's order here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Red Wolf Homecoming!


 Early one morning in May of 2010, red wolf F1397 quietly gave birth to two beautiful boys, M1803 and M1804 (a.k.a. “Moose” and “Thicket”). Thanks to our webcams, a global audience enjoyed watching the elusive boys grow up and then joined our celebratory howls when both wolves were chosen to embark on new adventures beyond the WCC’s boundaries.

Red wolf M1804 received the “call of the wild,” and was released on an island off the Florida peninsula. M1803’s adventure kept him closer to home, he was transferred to Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo where he struck a love connection and fathered 3 daughters!

The fruitful couple now require larger accommodations so with open arms the WCC welcomes back M1803 with his new lady and kids! With an opportunity for these parents to breed this winter, we hope M1803’s daughters get some siblings this spring. We invite you to meet the family of five as they live on exhibit to educate WCC guests about the importance and plight of their rare species.

The red wolf is one of the world’s most endangered wild canids. Once common throughout the southeastern United States, red wolf populations were decimated by the 1960s due to intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat. A remnant population of red wolves was found along the Gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana. After being declared an endangered species in 1973, efforts were initiated to locate and capture as many wild red wolves as possible. Of the 17 remaining wolves captured by biologists, 14 became the founders of a successful captive breeding program. Consequently, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service declared red wolves extinct in the wild in 1980.

By 1987, enough red wolves were bred in captivity to begin a restoration program on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina. Today an estimated 90-100 red wolves roam the wilds of northeastern North Carolina and another 200 or so comprise the captive breeding program, still an essential element of red wolf recovery. The WCC is currently home to seven red wolves, 9-year-old F1397 and her new 7-year-old companion M1566, living on exhibit is 4-year-old M1803 and his family of females. We invite you to watch this beautiful pack via our LIVE webcam!
Red wolf M1803 (all grown up) on WCC's LIVE webcam

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Grand Canyon Wolf Named “Echo” in World-Wide Contest



GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz.— The endangered female gray wolf recently confirmed north of Grand Canyon National Park now has a name-Echo. Her name was chosen from over 500 entries in a contest sponsored by conservation groups across the western U.S. and by facilities who house and breed wolves for endangered species recovery. Ten-year old contest winner Zachary Tanner from Milwaukie, Oregon, said he chose the name Echo "because she came back to the Grand Canyon like an Echo does."

DNA tests from scat show that Echo traveled hundreds of miles from the Northern Rockies to the Grand Canyon region, an area that scientists identified as one of the last best places in the Southwest for wolves. A government extermination campaign in the early twentieth century wiped out the region’s native wolves by the early 1940’s. Echo is the first wolf confirmed in the area since. She is currently fully protected under the Endangered Species Act, but could be left completely vulnerable to shooting and trapping under an Obama administration plan to strip legal protections for gray wolves nation-wide, ignoring the majority of 1.6 million public comments calling for continued protections.

In his winning contest entry, Zachary said he cares about wolves because "they are a part of the food chain, and they are so beautiful and we need them. All of them. All of every creature. We need them. "

Since the news of her presence on the north rim became public in October, Echo has been celebrated all over the world, including close to home. Contest entries were received from throughout the U.S. and Canada, and from South America, Europe, Africa, and Australia.

Local business woman Ellen Winchester, whose family has owned and lived at the Kaibab Lodge five miles north of the Grand Canyon North Rim for the past ten years, said she and her family feel blessed to have heard and seen this wolf.

“This is our home and business and we who live in the forest have a healthy respect for the animals. The Kaibab National Forest, The Grand Canyon North Rim and the animals that live there are a legacy for our children and our children's children. I was thrilled to hear wolf song. I welcome Echo to the Grand Canyon, which is my back yard. There is plenty of room for all to live together safely.” said Winchester.

Conservation organizations and wolf species survival plan members across the U.S. collaborated on the naming contest (see list at end).

“This is an exciting, historic development that affirms both the peer-reviewed science that identifies this area as excellent habitat for wolves and the need to maintain Endangered Species Act protections for wolves.” said Emily Renn, executive director for Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project.

Kim Crumbo, conservation director for Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, said. “That a determined wolf could make it to the Grand Canyon region from the northern Rockies is greatly hopeful and cause for celebration, and every effort must be taken to protect Echo and to continue the work to protect the wildlife corridors she used to get here.”

Many contestants said Echo’s story gave them hope as well. Students from Flagstaff and Phoenix, Arizona; Evergreen, Colorado; and Coventry, Rhode Island submitted the second place entry, “Esperanza,” Spanish for hope. The Flagstaff students said they chose Esperanza because “we believe the wolf will give hope to the ecosystem.” Several students also submitted the name “Hope.”

She came, she saw, she made history, and now she has a name!” said Maggie Howell with the Wolf Conservation Center in NY, a facility that houses and breeds endangered wolves for species recovery. “Echo’s wild milestone is a demonstration of the great potential for wolf recovery in areas where this keystone species has yet to take hold.”

It is likely that Echo’s travels led her through Utah to get to Grand Canyon. “In spite of political and physical obstacles, Echo traveled hundreds of miles to demonstrate that Utah and northern Arizona are home to wolves! We should welcome this and future wolves home, and let them live in peace,” said Kirk Robinson, Executive Director for Western Wildlife Conservancy in Utah.

Pacific Wolf Coalition coordinator Alison Huyett said "Just like Oregon's Journey (Wolf OR-7), who took an unprecedented trek down to California and was the first wolf to enter the state in nearly 90 years, Echo's story shows that wolf recovery has just begun in many places throughout the West. Both of these treks highlight the ample amount of suitable habitat for wolves and the need for connected Western landscapes for recovery. Neither Journey nor Echo would have been able to make these landmark journeys without federal protections granting them safe passage."

National WolfWatcher Coalition’s Northern Rockies regional representative Kurt Holtzen said “As well documented by Journey’s travels, wolves disperse widely and over long distances, often through natural and political boundaries. The arrival in Arizona of a northern Rockies wolf, appropriately named Echo, illustrates specifically why wolf recovery is not complete, and why we should maintain federal protection.”

Background The Obama Administration’s planned national wolf delisting would remove federal Endangered Species Act protections across most of the continental United States, and would give individual states, many of which are extremely hostile to wolves, the authority to manage wolves. Without federal legal protections, wolves would not be able to safely move across state lines to suitable habitat, as this one has.

Currently, wolves have returned to less than ten percent of their historic range in the lower forty-eight states. Wolves from the north and south historically met, interbred and thrived in the Southern Rockies and today’s science tells us there continues to be an abundance of suitable wolf habitat in southern Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, including the Grand Canyon area.

Naming Contest Collaborating Organizations • California Wolf Center • Center for Biological Diversity • Endangered Species Coalition • Grand Canyon Wildlands Council • Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project • Great Old Broads for Wilderness • Mexicanwolves.org • National WolfWatcher Coalition • New Mexico Wilderness Alliance • Northeast Wolf Coalition • Pacific Wolf Coalition • Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter • Sierra Club – Rio Grande Chapter • Southwest Environmental Center • Western Wildlife Conservancy • White Mountain Conservation League • WildEarth Guardians • Wildlands Network • Wolf Conservation Center ###

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Senator Gillibrand Sends Letter to Secretary of Interior in Support of Wolves

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Sends Letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell Supporting Wolf Recovery

Expresses Concern for Impending Decision to Remove Wolves from Endangered Species Act

For Immediate Release: December 10, 2014

Recently, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell urging her to continue critical protections for endangered gray wolves. The letter acknowledges the independent peer review that found the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) failed to use the “best available science” when it drafted a proposed rule that would remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states with the exception of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf.

The Senator stated, “Specifically, the Northeastern ecosystems are lacking a top carnivore as evidenced by large deer populations. A necessary element for maintaining healthy ecosystems is the presence of large carnivores at ecologically effective population densities.

“I couldn’t agree with the senator more,” said wildlife biologist Dave Parsons, a science advisor for Project Coyote and the Northeast Wolf Coalition. “She has a keen understanding of the ecological importance of wolves and the ESA mandate for the use of best science in making decisions about their recovery and future conservation.”

Senator Gillibrand is not the only elected official to express such concerns. In December, 2013, Congressman Raul Grijalva and 83 colleagues wrote and urged Interior Department officials to “listen to the many wildlife and conservation scientists who believe this proposal is premature.” In March, 2014, following an independent peer review of the scientific basis for delisting gray wolves, Congressman Peter DeFazio and 73 colleagues also wrote expressing concerns about the proposal. They recommended that the proposed rule be rescinded immediately. In addition, in 2013, a team of scientists wrote about in the scientific journal Conservation Letters, “[The USFWS] entirely ignores a significant body of scientific knowledge... the proposed rule would set an unfortunate precedent with far-reaching consequences, including dramatically limiting recovery efforts for other species protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA).”

“These Congressional letters reflect the intent of Congress in drafting the ESA and the will of the U.S. citizenry who want the spirit and letter of our most powerful environmental law to be upheld for the gray wolf,” said Adrian Treves, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at University of Wisconsin–Madison, Science Advisor for Project Coyote and Northeast Wolf Coalition.

“It is apparent that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service presided over a process in which political and economic considerations were at the forefront - not science,” stated Maggie Howell, coordinator for the Northeast Wolf Coalition and Executive Director of the Wolf Conservation Center in New York.

The Senator added, “The 2011 gray wolf delisting, specific to the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes region, has already lead to dramatic reductions in wolf populations, partially due to inadequate regulatory mechanisms and post-delisting monitoring as mandated explicitly by the ESA.”

The Senator concluded by recommending that the Secretary “not delist the gray wolf…further evaluate the scientific material used for this determination… and develop a recovery plan for wolves that includes continued legal protection in order to enhance restoration and recognizes the need to restore and protect the important ecological role for wolves across the United States.”

Read Senator Gillibrand’s letter to Secretary Jewell here.
Read Congressman Raul Grijalva’s Congressional sign-on letter to Secretary Jewell here.
Read Congressman Peter DeFazio’s Congressional sign-on letter to Secretary Jewell here.
Read Bruskotter et al. in Conservation Letters here.

Contacts:
  • David Parsons: Science Advisor for Project Coyote and Northeast Wolf Coalition; 505-908-0468; ellobodave@comcast.net
  • Maggie Howell: Coordinator for the Northeast Wolf Coalition and Executive Director of the Wolf Conservation Center in New York; 914-763-2373; maggie@nywolf.org
  • Adrian Treves: Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at University of Wisconsin–Madison, Science Advisor for Project Coyote and Northeast Wolf Coalition; 608-890-1450;adriantreves@gmail.com
###

Northeast Wolf Coalition
Northeast Wolf Coalition is working group of partner organizations, and scientific advisers that collaborate on the critical issues that relate to wolf recovery in North America. Visit:http://www.northeastwolf.org/


Project Coyote
Project Coyote is a North American coalition of wildlife educators, scientists, predator friendly ranchers, and community leaders promoting coexistence between people and wildlife, and compassionate conservation through education, science, and advocacy. Visit: http://www.projectcoyote.org/


Wolf Conservation Center
The Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY is an environmental education organization committed to conserving wolf populations in North America through science-based education programming and participation in the federal Species Survival Plans for the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf and red wolf. Visit: http://nywolf.org/


Monday, December 8, 2014

Wolves at Our Door?

From: Adirondack Explorer 
November/December, 2014; "Viewpoint" p. 36 
by Maggie Howell and Diane Bentivegna

No other North American mammal inspires such a wide range of human emotions as the gray wolf. Feared and admired, cursed and revered, wolves are the stuff of legends and a symbol of America’s vanishing wilderness. Their reputation is larger than life; their role in the restoration of America’s wildlife heritage is bigger still. The passionate positive and negative responses that wolves inspire in people have left the issue of their recovery in suitable habitat throughout their historic range both contentious and undecided, but also full of promise.

The howl of the wolf has been silent in the Northeast for over a hundred years. Over three centuries, as the great eastern forest was turned into farmland, wolves were shot, poisoned, trapped, and burned. By the mid-1800s, wolves were eliminated in northern Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. By 1900, they were gone from the Adirondacks.

Today, scientists recognize the ecological importance of the wolf. As Aldo Leopold, Adolph Murie, and others argued eloquently decades ago, apex predators, especially wolves, are essential for resilient, healthy ecosystems. And with the support of the American public and the safety net of the Endangered Species Act, the wolf was able to return to portions of its native range in the Lower Forty-Eight.

Some wolves came back on their own. Minnesota wolves reclaimed adjacent states in the western Great Lakes region. Some wolves got help. In one of those rare moments when stars align in the political sky, the federal government gave the green light to return wolves to the northern Rockies. Here in the Northeast, there are no plans for a reintroduction. Wolves, however, are wanderers, and have demonstrated that they are capable of epic treks. In recent years, there have been several reports of wolves from Canada crossing the frozen St. Lawrence Seaway into Maine, of wolves traveling south from Yellowstone into Utah and Colorado, and of one wolf, OR-7, becoming the first wild wolf to enter California in over eighty years.

But just as wolves are beginning to reclaim territory, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is pushing a plan to remove federal protections from nearly all gray wolves in the contiguous United States—a move that, if implemented, will threaten the fragile populations still trying to make a comeback on the American landscape.

In March, the Northeast Wolf Coalition submitted comments opposing this proposal. According to a peer-reviewed report by an independent panel of scientists produced by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, the service’s move to strip federal protection nationwide is flawed. The peer-review committee reported that "there was unanimity among the panel that the [delisting] rule does not currently represent the ‘best available science.'”

Nevertheless, the delisting seems imminent.

Studies have shown that the Northeast has enough prey and habitat to support wolf recovery, and public surveys demonstrate support as well. If wolves do return to the region, however, their long-term survival will depend on their official status at the state level.

Presently, none of the five states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York) affords wolves any protection beyond a prohibition on hunting or trapping. None of the states has a management plan to address the potential return of wolves. None promotes wolf recovery, and none has a plan to protect wolves from being killed, whether accidentally or intentionally. Growing evidence suggests wolves are attempting to naturally recolonize the region. But because all five states sanction policies that encourage the unregulated killing of wild canids (i.e., coyotes), this evidence is in the form of dead wolves.

The State & Tribal Wildlife Grants Program is federally appropriated monies dedicated to the prevention of endangered species listings. The program provides funding to state fish and wildlife agencies in every state, territory and the District of Columbia and is matched with state and private funds. State and Tribal Wildlife Grants have funded the development, revision and implementation of State Wildlife Action Plans. Updating these plans will enable state wildlife agencies to integrate the latest information about wolves and leverage more state wildlife grant funding to promote their return. New York and other states will have a chance to improve the chances for the wolf’s recovery when they update their wildlife-conservation plans by 2015.

The value of conserving endangered species and preserving biodiversity is an axiom of the twenty-first century. The ecological importance of a top predator such as the gray wolf is undeniable. The return of the wolf will reflect a more fully functional and wild ecosystem in Northeast, with wolves fulfilling a dynamic and evolving ecological function in the changing environments that comprise the region. We have known for years that wolves disproportionately affect their environment relative to their abundance. As top-level predators, they are influential in shaping and maintaining the structure of their natural communities. Their presence and activities benefit numerous other species, helping determine the numbers and kinds of mammals, birds and plants in an area. For example, bears, weasels, ravens and eagles often scavenge on deer carcasses left by wolves. Wolves alter the feeding behavior of deer, which limits over-browsing and prevents the destruction of plants and habitats vital to many species of birds. When wolves recolonize areas, they induce vegetative changes allowing for the return of beaver and migrating birds previously driven out of denuded habitats. Predation by wolves also removes animals that are weaker genetically or harbor sicknesses.

The effects of predators on ecosystems do not operate in isolation but interact in complex ways with other factors, such as the productivity of ecosystems and the diversity of species within them. To enable wildlife managers to best harness the ecosystem services that wolves and other predators provide, there is a need for better knowledge of the processes that govern the strength of their interactions with other species and the complexities of their effects. The Coalition recommends (1) the wolf - C. lupus, C. lycaon, and/or their hybrids - be considered a species of highest priority; that is, it is extremely vulnerable and rare with immediate limits to its survivability based on known problems and known impacts to the population in the region; (2) the states and the federal government work cooperatively to develop and implement a trans-boundary Northeastern Wolf Recovery Plan that affords the protection needed to enhance natural recolonization of wolves to the Northeast; (3) the states work cooperatively to implement comprehensive public education and outreach programs to promote knowledge of the species and the regulations and laws as they relate to the protection of wolves across the Northeast.

The Northeast has unique opportunities and challenges. Without a plan for its recovery, the wolf will continue to be challenged by factors that will preclude its natural return to the region. Many ecologists fear we may not realize the full ecological impacts of the absence of wolves for generations to come. We thus have an obligation to the environment, to the wolf and to future generations to restore the wolf to its rightful place niche on the landscape, in our hearts and in our culture.

Maggie Howell is the executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY, and coordinator of the Northeast Wolf Coalition. Diane Bentivegna serves on the WCC’s Advisory Board and is a member of the Northeast Wolf Coalition.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

You Heard Our Howls!



Yesterday the Wolf Conservation Center invited you to be a part of Giving Tuesday and you heard our howls! Thanks to you, the WCC raised over $60,000! We are humbled by your support and incredibly grateful for the generous matching grant provided by the Toscano family which gave your gifts an even bigger impact.

Thanks again for your support and your commitment to wolves, ecosystem education, species preservation, and environmental advocacy!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Walter Medwid: Time for Change in Managing Vermont's Wildlife

This must-read editorial applies to states nationwide.

 

Walter Medwid: Time for Change in Managing Vermont's Wildlife

Originally posted: VtDigger.org: Time for Change in Managing Vermont's Wildlife
NOV. 21 2014

This commentary is by Walter Medwid, a biologist who lives in Derby, VT and former Executive Director for the International Wolf Center in Ely, MN.

True to Vermont’s values, a board made up of citizens from around the state decides how to manage the state’s fish and wildlife. But, contrary to those values, the people serving on the Fish and Wildlife Board are chosen by the governor from a limited pool of citizens who take part in trapping hunting and fishing. This may seem to make sense, but wildlife is a public resource and not just important to people who are “consumers” of it.

This imbalance in representation came about for two reasons. First, hunting, fishing and trapping have traditionally been considered a mainstream of our Vermont culture. Second, hunting and fishing license fees and federal funds from taxes on certain sporting goods are an important source of income for the Department of Fish and Wildlife and to the governors who have to juggle budgets and appoint citizens to the board. It’s clear why governors would want to cater to that special interest group.

One clear sign that it may be time to do things differently is the steady decline in sales of hunting and fishing licenses. Since at least 1987, resident hunting and fishing license sales have dropped by double digits, but as Vermont’s culture and traditions have changed, the way wildlife management decisions are made has not. In the 21st century, having a Fish and Wildlife Board with a wide range of stakeholders who represent more contemporary and diverse public values is simply a sign of good government. We look at wildlife far differently than we did 25-50 years ago. Ironically, the consumer-value focus of the board becomes disproportionately stronger and even less representative of public interests as there are fewer hunters and fishers in the state.

One example of our changing views of wildlife is how we now think of predators. We once saw predators such as coyotes as vermin – the only good predator was a dead one. Today, through greater understanding of wildlife, ecology and the environment as a whole, most wildlife enthusiasts see the great value these animals bring to healthy wildlife communities. While many deer hunters see coyotes as a threat to “their” deer, biologists in New York have recently concluded that coyotes prey far less on deer and fawns than hunters believe. Only 10 percent of adult deer deaths are actually caused by coyotes. Biologists there have also found that coyotes hunt and eat beaver far more often than fawns. Regrettably, the board with its narrow focus and representation has, in the case of the coyote, kept the myth of coyote as “vermin” alive and well – they may be killed any day of the year for any reason or no reason. They seemingly dismiss and certainly discount more scientifically-grounded data.

The board’s stance on coyotes is even in conflict with the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s own professional wildlife biologists, who recognize the species’ importance in the natural Vermont community. They stress, “Coyotes fill the role of a natural predator, a role that is important for maintaining the dynamics and health of our ecosystems.”

It’s time for the Legislature and the governor to revisit Vermont’s wildlife laws and the mandate of the Fish and Wildlife Board so they reflect today’s Vermont, where hunting and fishing remains a key part of the equation, but is not the only “voice” represented at the decision-making table.

The board’s decision this year on moose management shows a similar disconnect. Vermont’s moose population is in decline – only half of what it was 10 years ago – and below the number state biologists estimate as what the landscape can handle. Yet instead of suspending the hunting season to allow the population to become stable again, the only consideration by the board was approving how many animals would be killed this year. This default to hunting values over ecological or wildlife-watching and eco-tourism interests reflects a serious lack of serving the entire public’s interests.

It’s time for the Legislature and the governor to revisit Vermont’s wildlife laws and the mandate of the Fish and Wildlife Board so they reflect today’s Vermont, where hunting and fishing remains a key part of the equation, but is not the only “voice” represented at the decision-making table. There should be a wider lens that the board looks through to ensure an ecologically diverse Vermont with healthy wildlife populations; the lens should not only look at game as the paramount product.

The gulf between who the board represents and the people it should be representing is growing and will only expand if the public at large is frozen out of the decision-making process. The response to no representation of the other sectors of Vermonters will surely be the “… rising tide of posted and inaccessible land,” as referenced by a recent fish and wildlife commissioner.

Hunters, trappers and fishers have done some of the heavy lifting when it comes to supplying fish and wildlife programs with money, although as license fee income has declined, support from general revenues has already increased. Logically that trend towards more public funding needs to grow since wildlife belongs to all Vermonters.

Stakeholders who represent the non-consumptive interests – the wildlife watchers (Vermont has one of the highest percentages of residents in the country who engage in some form of wildlife watching) and photographers, those who benefit from eco-tourism, and many more, need to step up to the plate and actively participate in hearings to give their input when decisions are made. They need to do this under a newly designed board. We need to anticipate vigorous debates as this new board reflects wider interests. However, that’s not a bad thing.

These changes would be a return to those Vermont values held so dear for so long – equal representation – equal voice that is true to the population’s needs and growth. Vermont could lead the pack by managing its wildlife this way. Should we expect anything less in a state where citizen involvement stands at the heart of its identity?