Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mission Snapper: Wolf Conservation Center Interns Come to the Rescue

While chilling in his pond, Atka discovered a new roommate - a snapping turtle! Atka howled for help!

WCC interns Mike and Chris, heard Atka's howl and alerted WCC's Maggie that help was needed. The snapping turtle was inside Atka's enclosure (whicj happened to be guarded by a tree frog gate keeper), so before retrieving his reptilian roommate, Atka needed to get to safety. (FYI - both Maggie and Atka are big fans of Polar Bears International!)

WCC Intern Mike letting Atka get a closer look at the snappy tenant and Chris letting WCC staff and volunteers get a closer look.

WCC interns Mike and Chris releasing Atka's former roommate (they named him or her "Marvin") to some more suitable digs. Big thanks to our wonderful and heroic spring interns!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Congressman Smith Reintroduces the Rural Economic Vitalization Act

Representative Adam Smith (D-WA) reintroduced the Rural Economic Vitalization Act (REVA) - legislation that would address the wasteful, environmentally damaging, and economically inefficient federal grazing policy on our public lands (Official press Release from the Congressman's Office below). If you agree that this bill allows ranchers, environmentalists, and taxpayers to finally take some common sense steps to ensure our public lands are safe for our wildlife, please join the Wolf Conservation Center in thanking the Congressman on the following sites:

Press Release from the Office of U.S. Congressman Adam Smith, May 29, 2013 (

Congressman Smith Reintroduces the Rural Economic Vitalization Act

Legislation Would Reform Federal Grazing Program to Protect Environment, Save Taxpayer Dollars
Washington, May 29 - Congressman Adam Smith has reintroduced legislation that would address the wasteful, environmentally damaging, and economically inefficient federal grazing policy on our public lands. H.R. 2201, the Rural Economic Vitalization Act, would change federal law to allow ranchers with grazing permits to voluntarily relinquish their permits to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service in exchange for private market compensation. It would further allow the BLM and U.S. Forest Service to permanently retire the grazing permit.
“The current federal grazing program is among the most economically inefficient uses of our public lands,” said Congressman Smith. “This legislation opens the door for private solutions to a long-standing problem that costs taxpayers millions and has prevented public land ranchers from efficiently utilizing resources available to them.”

Current law does not allow for the retirement of grazing permits. This not only is to the detriment of wildlife, watersheds, and the surrounding ecosystem, which continue to be harmed by domestic livestock grazing, but also to federal taxpayer dollars wastefully spent to continue an antiquated grazing policy on public lands.

“Grazing is an important use of our public lands, but it's a very impactful use", said Rep. Raul Grijalva, who joined Congressman Smith in introducing the legislation. "Excessive grazing impacts wildlife habitat, soil composition, local hydrology, and even heightens the impacts of climate change. Retiring some permits will help save taxpayer money and benefit federal conservation efforts. Right now, when we are looking for ways to save taxpayer money, REVA is a win-win. Ranchers that want to retire their permits should have that opportunity."

“Many permit holders would choose to retire their grazing permit if they could recoup their investment from private funds,” Smith said. “By providing federal grazing permit holders the freedom to exchange permits for market value compensation, this legislation would spur private investment, provide ranchers with the opportunity to pursue new business ventures or retire with more security, and protect public lands from the damaging environmental effects of livestock grazing.”

In addition to the environmental damage, the federal grazing program is heavily subsidized and costs American taxpayers over $115 million a year. The Government Accountability Office reported that the BLM and Forest Service spend over $132 million a year on managing the grazing lands, yet they only collect $17 million a year in fees.

“At a time when the federal government is looking for ways to cut outdated programs and become more efficient, this bill eliminates wasteful spending and saves taxpayer dollars,” continued Smith. “This legislation is a win for all involved. The American taxpayer saves money, ranchers have a choice to retire their permits for market compensation, and public lands are given the opportunity to rebuild their natural habitats, native plants, and wildlife.”

For more information, view the Rural Economic Vitalization Act fact sheet.

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom

"Peace begins with a smile." ~Mother Teresa

Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy Memorial Day

Friday, May 24, 2013

Mission Wild -Stories of Lobo Recovery from the Field

Enormous thanks to Wolf Conservation Center friend and supporter, Melissa Ruszczyk, for sharing her experience working on lobo recovery in the field.
Mission Wild
by Melissa Ruszczyk


As a past U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) intern for the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program, I enjoy keeping up with the events and status of the program and wolf packs. Many may wonder how the process goes from taking a wolf in captivity and getting it into the wild. While there is a lot of preparation that I’m not involved in months prior to a release or translocation, this is my account of the big day itself and how the Half Moon Pack went from fences to freedom.When I heard there was to be a wolf pack release in Arizona and a translocation (meaning they’ve had previous wild experience) in New Mexico this spring, I contacted project personnel to see if they needed any help. One week later I found myself at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where USFWS houses Mexican wolves in a remote prerelease captive facility. There the wolves have little contact with people and are not viewed by public in efforts to keep them from becoming habituated to humans, and to promote pack structure and wild behavior. Wolves F1108 (a pregnant adult female) and M1133 (an adult male), newly dubbed the Half Moon Pack, had successfully bred and were up for translocation into the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. Prior to my arrival, USFWS personnel had scouted potential translocation sites in the Gila Wilderness with certain criteria such as high prey density and water availability, and good distances from human settlements and ranches. Once McKenna Park was chosen as the site, a mesh pen was constructed to temporarily hold the wolves. This type of pen allows for the wolves to chew through the mesh and eventually release themselves. Although the wolves can chew through at any time, they were translocated very close to F1108’s due date in hopes she would give birth inside the pen and the pack would establish territory in the area once they chewed out.

The evening following my arrival, a convoy of vehicles including USFWS personnel and interns, Ladder Ranch personnel, volunteers, and the film crew for “The Last Pack: A Return to the Wild”, a documentary about restoring Mexican wolves into the wild, arrived at the facility to capture the wolf pair and prepare them for transportation and release the next day.


After a briefing of capture methods, safety measures and precautions, the wolves were captured and muzzled in their enclosure without sedation. Everyone worked together quickly and calmly to administer subcutaneous fluids, vaccines, and fit each wolf with a radio collar for future monitoring by aerial and ground telemetry, and in the male’s case, GPS location downloads. Once the wolves were both crated in large Vari-kennels, they were escorted by USFWS personnel Sherry Barrett (Recovery Coordinator), Maggie Dwire (Assistant Recovery Coordinator), Colby Gardner (Wildlife Biologist), Susan Dicks, DVM (Wildlife Biologist), Julia Smith (Intern), and myself through the dark about five hours away to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument where they would be packed into McKenna Park the next morning on mules.

Upon daybreak we met with Nick Smith, a former Mexican Wolf Biologist for New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and Jim Brooks, USFWS Supervisory Fish Biologist, who would be leading the mules into McKenna Park, about an 18 mile journey. Susan and Julia would be the first two personnel riding in to camp and begin daily monitoring of the Half Moon Pack after they were released into the mesh pen. As the mules were prepped with camping gear and food, the wolves needed to be prepped for the mule ride. We brought their crates into a barn where we could give the wolves subcutaneous fluids again and transfer them from crates to panniers which would be strapped to the sides of a specially trained mule, Rooster. Shortly after, Nick and Jim arrived with seven mules. Susan and Julia were fitted for their saddles, the wolves were loaded on, we said our goodbyes, and the Half Moon Pack was off to McKenna Park.
As reported from Susan and Julia, the wolves were checked on periodically and did well along the way. When they reached the pen, the food, water, and panniers were set inside with ropes tied to the pannier doors so they could be pulled open from the outside of the pen. Once opened, the wolves came out and ran around the pen exploring their new surrounding and smells. Susan, Julia, Nick, and Jim left quickly to reduce their exposure to the wolves and let them get settled. A few miles away was a U.S. Forest Service cabin where Susan and Julia camped and hiked out from each day to obtain radio signals using telemetry as the method to monitor the wolves.

While Susan and Julia were monitoring Half Moon, I spent the next few days in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area of New Mexico monitoring other established packs. After three days, it was time to trade out with Susan and Julia and also bring in more food and water for the wolves. It was my turn to ride the18 miles in on a mule and joining me was USFWS Wildlife Biologist Melissa Kreutzian for a five day stint of monitoring F1108 and M1133. The day after Nick brought us in, he packed out Susan and Julia.

Melissa and I followed Susan and Julia’s routine of hiking up a steep slope of switchbacks for about forty minutes until reaching an area where we could receive signals from F1108’s collar. However, we would have to hike another hour before we could pick up signals from M1133 even though they were in the pen together. From where we could hear both signals in McKenna Park, the pen was still approximately another forty-five minute hike away. We stayed in the McKenna Park area for a few hours before taking another listen for their signals to check if they had changed or not. Upon confirmation of no change, we hiked back to the cabin nestled in a canyon along the confluence of the West Fork of the Gila River and White Creek. For two days we hiked up the mountain, crossed some streams, and made it to McKenna Park without any change in routine. The daily hikes included serene mountain vistas, herds of elk running through the forest, bear tracks along the path, and the occasional horned lizard. However, on the third day when we got to McKenna Park, the receiver was silent. Melissa and I looked at each other bewildered. I hopped up on a fallen log to increase my height in case the wolves’ collars were blocked by something… still nothing. I gave it a minute, walked around and listened again. Nothing. We decided it was time to hike to the pen and do a visual observation to see what was going on. Along the way we discussed potential reasons for no signals to be coming through the receiver. Of course, the wolves chewing out was the first thought but other ideas had come to mind such as equipment failure of the collars or the telemetry receiver, or the wolves digging a den and their signals being blocked by the surrounding dirt. About forty-five minutes later we approached the pen slowly while continuing to check the receiver for signals and looking through binoculars for any signs of movement. After we were certain the wolves were not in the pen, we walked around the outside and found a hole in the mesh where they had chewed through. The Half Moon Pack was fully wild now! We walked around looking for tracks and recording data about what we had found so we could report back to the rest of the team later that evening via satellite phone. On our two hour hike back to the cabin we tried listening for the wolves with our telemetry in hopes of hearing them somewhere in the area but we never did. Back at camp we contacted both the Albuquerque, NM and Alpine, AZ offices to share the news. At dinner that night we toasted our camp mugs by our fire pit and sent well wishes for the new chapter in the lives of the Half Moon Pack.

The next seven days were filled with heavy monitoring of the pack by aerial and ground telemetry and also by the location downloads from the male’s collar to computers every few days. Right away M1133 was on the move travelling further and further away from McKenna Park and F1108, who had stayed near the release site. By the end of the week he had trekked over 75 miles from McKenna Park and was out of the recovery area in poor habitat, and surrounded by human settlements, major roadways, and very little natural prey thus creating a dangerous situation for his survival. Consequently, a week after chewing through the mesh, a decision was made to recapture M1133 and bring him back to Sevilleta NWR. As for F1108, she stayed near the translocation area and is believed to be denning. She is still being monitored by project personnel and efforts have been put forth to assist her with food so she can sustain herself and also the pups. Even though M1133 did not remain in the wild, his genetics will be passed on into the wild population by the pups we hope F1108 will successfully raise.

The experience of translocating F1108 and M1133 into the wild is one that I’ll forever cherish and be thankful to be a part of. Even though things did not go as planned, it’s reassuring to know that one more wolf is on the landscape and in a pristine habitat that’s suitable for her survival and the wellbeing of her pups. We have high hopes for F1108 and the future generations of Mexican gray wolves she will contribute to the wild population.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Proposed Nationwide Delisting of Wolves in Lower 48 is Delayed Indefinitely

Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a five year review for the wolf that recommended stripping Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from gray wolves across the lower 48 states excluding the range of the Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico. At the start of 2013, the agency indicated that it planned to move forward with this action as soon as March. The proposal to remove ESA protections for gray wolves nationwide had hackles raised among Wildlife advocacy organizations, scientific communities, and some members of Congress. Wolves have only just begun to recover in large portions of the Pacific Northwest, California, southern Rocky Mountains and Northeast.  So people asked, how can these populations be considered recovered?

Back in February, Congressmen Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Ed Markey (D-MA) urged their fellow members in Congress to sign a letter to Director Ashe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting that the agency retain ESA protections for gray wolves in areas where they have only just barely begun to recover. Although this letter got an impressive number of signatories, the opposing letter by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) that stated, “Wolves are not an endangered species and do not merit federal protections,” drew more support on the Hill.  With the future for wolves looking bleak, those in support of wolf recovery were elated when last Friday on May 17th, on Endangered Species Day of all days, Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) urged the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to cancel a pending rule that would de-classify many U.S. wolves as endangered. He described the delisting proposal as "scientifically flawed" and due to "cause irreparable harm."

Representative Grijalva's letter was celebrated by scientists and wildlife advocates, wolves had a champion in our Nation's capitol. Is it a coincidence that just three days later government attorneys announced that "a recent unexpected delay" is indefinitely holding up action on the proposed delisting? Since no further explanation was offered, we can only guess.

In the meantime, we welcome a reprieve for gray wolves in California, the Pacific Northwest, the Southern Rocky Mountains and the Northeast and appreciate the champions on the Hill, the scientists in the field, and supporters from around the world who used their voice to force change. To keep the pressure on, please consider urging Interior Secretary Jewell and your representatives to use his/her influence to maintain federal protections for wolves and wolf recovery in the lower 48 states.

Email Interior Secretary Jewell at
Find contact information for your members of Congress here.

Friday, May 17, 2013

It's National Endangered Species Day!

National Endangered Species Day is a day to remind us of the significance of protecting endangered species and the wild habitat they require. For Atka, everyday is Endangered Species Day! He helps people young and old grasp the importance of safeguarding the future of wolves in North America for generations to come. While Atka's future is not at risk, some of his wild brothers and sisters have a less certain outlook. We all have the responsibility to affect the world and today is a perfect day to use your voice in order to speak up for species in need.

The WCC participates in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) and Recovery Plan for two critically endangered wolf species, the Mexican Gray wolf (Canis lupis baileyi) and the Red wolf (Canis rufus). Our participation in SSP captive breeding and our ability to accommodate endangered wolves is essential for these animals to resume their rightful place in the wild. Pleas enjoy this video about the WCC role in the recovery of the Mexican gray wolf.

The Mexican Wolf from Lincoln Athas on Vimeo.

Happy Howls for the Birthday Wolf!

Today Atka turns 11 years old! It's hard to believe our Ambassador pup is all grown up. Seems like it was just yesterday when hundreds of people traveled to the Wolf Conservation Center’s Pup Fair to celebrate arrival of the stunning fellow.

But think of all the people he has touched since his puppy-hood in 2002. Atka has traveled to over 1000 schools, libraries, nature centers, etc... and he never fails to impress the masses with his rock-star attitude. He's a true road warrior, an inspiration, and for the WCC staff and volunteers - the best boss we'll ever have. With the mission to educate people about wolves, their relationship in the environment, and the human role in protecting their future, the WCC family thanks Atka for his valued service. You never know, Atka may be in your neck of the woods soon!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mexican Gray Wolf Pups Arrive at New Home Safely

Sometime on Wednesday afternoon, Mexican gray wolf F749 crawled into her homemade den and quietly gave birth to two male pups while her mate, M804,  patiently waited right outside. Unfortunately, this birthday is bittersweet. Due to the mother’s poor record of keeping her vulnerable and valuable pups alive (F749 has lost several litters in her 11 years, only 2 of her last 19 pups survived), the 2 one-day-old pups were pulled from their parents less than 24 hours after their birth to be hand reared at Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden and eventually placed with Mexican wolf foster parents there.

After collecting her pups, WCC staff brought the brothers to Pound Ridge Veterinary Hospital where WCC volunteer Veterinarian Renee Bayha gave them a bill of good health.  We then continued to Sikorsky Memorial Airport to meet up with a special volunteer, one with wings.  Jim Houser is among the great folks from Lighhawk, a volunteer-based environmental aviation organization that donates flights to conservation groups. Houser donated his time, plane, and fuel to help make this special mission a success.  WCC curator Rebecca Bose kept the boys warm and bottle fed throughout the four hour flight and upon arriving in Indiana, the boys were given to their new temporary caregiver, Dr. Susan Lyndaker Lindsey, Animal Curator at Mesker Park Zoo.

As of today, the pups are reportedly continuing to do well. As for F749 and M804, they've been seen out via webcam and welcomed a large meal, but we can imagine they're extremely confused at this time and hope that they realize on some level that they are a part of something much larger than their pack, the recovery of their imperiled species.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Illegal Baiting Suspected in Killing of Collared Yellowstone Wolf

Gardiner-area landowner Bill Hoppe shot collared Yellowstone wolf 831F of the Canyon Pack over the weekend after losing more than a dozen sheep to wolves in late April. Yellowstone Park wolf biologist Doug Smith said the tracks at the scene indicated that park wolves were not responsible for the sheep killed.  Although this killing appears legal at first sight, Hoppe was issued two shoot-on-sight permits by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) after his sheep were killed, baiting a wolf is NOT legal.  After Wildlife Services investigated the scene where the sheep were killed, Hoppe told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that "he would transplant the remaining sheep and leave the carcasses on a bone pile on his property." Wolf 831F, a wolf that I was lucky enough to behold in October while attending National Wolfwatcher Coalition's "Project Yellowstone" Conference, is guilty only of discovering what she thought was an easy meal.

Hoppe, a cattle rancher, hunting outfitter, and an outspoken opponent of wolf restoration, has a second shoot-on-sight permit he has yet to use.

If you live in Montana or know someone who does, please consider attending Thursday’s FWP commission meeting in Helena, where the commissioners will consider the 2013 wolf hunting season. Wolves need you voice.  Thank you!

Meeting information

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Red Wolf Captive-to-Wild Foster Program

The red wolf is one of the most rare mammals in North America. About 100 red wolves roam their native habitat in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina and approximately 200 comprise the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (RWSSP) in facilities across the United States. As a participant of the RWSSP, the WCC is thrilled to be home to five red wolves including one breeding pair, F1291 and M1394. We are especially excited to be hosting red wolves that were selected to breed because there is a chance that some of their potential pups will be given the opportunity of a lifetime - a future in their ancestral home in the wilds of North Carolina! The Red Wolf Recovery Plan employs a pup fostering program to introduce captive red wolves into the wild. Adult captive red wolves are not candidates for release.

Captive-to-wild fostering is a coordinated effort by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Red Wolf Recovery Program, and the RWSSP. Fostering is a method which allows genetically valuable captive-born red wolf pups to become integrated into the wild red wolf population. The pup-fostering method has been extremely successful for nearly a decade, this video from the North Carolina Zoo depicts the first ever foster event from 2002!

Every spring, red wolf field biologists in North Carolina listen for the whines and peeps of wild red wolf pups as they search for dens. When biologists locate dens, each pup is counted and tagged and blood samples are collected before the pup is carefully returned. Some of these dens will serve as the foster home for captive born red wolf pups.

As soon as captive red wolves are born at the any of the participating RWSSP facilities, the host organization alerts the field biologists of their great news. If the captive born litter is robust and the date of births match those of wild red wolves, a couple of 7 to10-day-old pups (number of pups depends on the size of the litter) are removed from the litter and transferred to North Carolina. Ideally, each year a few captive born pups are blessed with this opportunity and are embraced by their wild foster parents. The pups then develop in the wild and thus gain survival skills required to mature and reproduce.

Yesterday, WCC Curator Rebecca Bose looked around F1291 and M1394's habitat for clues of impending parenthood and was blown away by the pair's architectural skills upon discovering an amazing den! We're keeping our fingers crossed that the red wolf pair will be able to contribute to the wild red wolf population with some pups in the coming weeks!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Wolf Conservation Center Prepares for Mexican Wolf Pups

Sometimes preserving and endangered species requires unusual steps. This week the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC)  will be among the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan (MWSSP) participants  taking extraordinary measures to aid the recovery of the critically endangered Mexican wolf (a.k.a. lobo).

In order to maintain genetic diversity within the Mexican wolf population, the  MWSSP management group  determines which captive lobos will be permitted to breed by using software developed for the population management of endangered species.  Wolf unions are chosen based on the genetic "value" of the individuals and the benefits their offspring would potentially contribute to the diversity of their rare species. Wolf couples with low inbreeding coefficients produce offspring that will best enhance the wild lobo gene pool. Lobo genetics are a matter of concern for the MWSSP because the founding population of all lobos here on Earth today can be counted on two hands (not including your thumbs!)

Although Mexican Wolves M740 and F749 were likely unaware, in 2012 scientists all over North America are crossing their fingers that the a vital pair would prove fruitful. They had the lowest inbreeding coefficient in the MWSSP. So you can imagine the excitement when during an early morning in May, F749 quietly had eight pups under a thicket. All five boys and three girls appeared to be in good health so WCC staff followed protocol and stayed out of the lobos' way to allow the new parents do their job. Sadly, all 8 pups died within a month’s time. MWSSP procedure prevented WCC staff  from intervening and with our vast wild enclosures, it was impossible to determine what was ailing the newborn lobos.  While this loss was devastating on many levels, it did prompt the implementation of new MWSSP protocols for selective emergency intervention.

For the 2012-2013 wolf breeding season, F749 was chosen to breed with a former companion, Mexican wolf M804. The pair is an excellent match genetically, and supporters who have been spying on the two via our WildEarth.TV Webcams can attest that the couple appears to find comfort in each other's company. So here we are a year later, and F749 appears to be pregnant again.  However, due to the  mother’s poor record of keeping her vulnerable and valuable pups alive (F749 has lost several litters in her 11 years), we will be pulling the pups no later than 18 hours after their birth to be hand reared and eventually placed with captive lobo foster parents. Ideally we would hand raise the pups at the WCC, but unfortunately we do not currently house a pair of lobos that have successfully raised a litter of their own. So, after we pull the pups, we’ll transport them to the Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden in Evansville, IN where they will be hand raised and fostered with a Mexican wolf couple with a stellar record of raising pups successfully.

In coming days we hope to announce the birth of a robust litter from F749, but it will be bitter sweet knowing that she will not be a part of their development. It takes tough and sometimes heart breaking decisions to preserve a species. We can only hope that F749 and M804 realize on some level that they are a part of something much larger than their pack, the recovery of their imperiled species.