Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Protect Wilderness From State Efforts to Kill Native Wildlife

Idaho Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore said this morning that the agency halted its wolf eradication plan in the Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness yesterday because it "had been ineffective in the last 2 weeks on taking any additional wolves." (a total of 9 were killed).

Moore called the wilderness operation “very similar” to past years’ efforts in the Lolo zone to reduce wolf numbers, though those relied mainly on aerial shooting and trapping. The operation in the Frank Church wilderness “differed because we put one of our folks back there,” he said.

Read more from the The Spokesman-Review.

Whether it was the onus of defending its actions before a federal appeals court or the agency's sense of "mission accomplished," one thing is clear - it is essential that the U.S. Forest Service take its public trust responsibility to protect the wilderness and native wildlife more seriously.

Please join the Wolf Conservation Center and take action by contacting the Chief of the Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, at ttidwell@fs.fed.us to remind him:
  • Our Nation’s Wilderness areas are places for wildlife to remain as wild as is possible in today’s modern world
  • Our Nation’s Wilderness areas are meant to be governed by natural conditions, not special interest groups.
Please be sure to tell Mr. Tidwell  this is not just an issue for one Idaho Wilderness area, but the US Wilderness system.

Please follow The Wildlife News for updates and thank you!

Never Give Up

(photo: Victor Passapera)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Idaho Abandons Wolf Extermination Program!

Two wolf families, the Golden and Monumental packs,  deep within the central Idaho’s 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness are now safe after Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) announced it was halting its wolf extermination program!

Last month IDFG hired a professional hunter-trapper to pack into the largest protected wilderness area in the Lower 48 to eradicate the two wolf packs in the interest of inflating elk populations for outfitters and recreational hunters. In response to this unprecedented move, a coalition of conservationists, represented by the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, asked a federal judge in Idaho to halt the agencies’ wolf eradication plan. Last week the U.S. District Judge for Idaho denied the plaintiffs’ case so the conservationists took their fight to the court of appeals, where they filed an emergency request for an injunction on January 23, and this afternoon Idaho announced plans to abandon their wolf eradication activities!

Please join the Wolf Conservation Center in sending BIG howls of gratitude to Earthjustice, Ralph Maughan, Western Watersheds Project, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and Wilderness Watch for saving the remaining wolves from those two packs.

And shame on Idaho for killing 9 wolves deep in a wilderness area meant to be governed by natural conditions, not special interest groups.

"This is bittersweet news,” said Ken Cole with the Western Watersheds Project. “I am happy that IDFG has relented but it is unfortunate that so many wolves have been taken in this senseless plan to manhandle wildlife in an area that Congress recognized as a wilderness 'where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man'"

Help Our Nation's Prime Wilderness Areas Stay Wild

In mid-December 2013 Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) hired a hunter-trapper to pack into central Idaho’s 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to eradicate two wolf packs, the Golden and Monumental packs, in the interest of inflating elk populations for outfitters and recreational hunters. The U.S. Forest Service, which administers the wilderness, approved the extermination program by authorizing use of a Forest Service cabin and airstrip to support wolf extermination activities.

In response to this unprecedented move, a coalition of conservationists, represented by the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, asked a federal judge in Idaho to halt the agencies' wolf eradication plan.

“A wilderness is supposed to be a wild place governed by natural conditions, not an elk farm,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso. “Wolves are a key part of that wild nature and we are asking a judge to protect the wilderness by stopping the extermination of two wolf packs.”

Unfortunately, on January 17 the U.S. District Judge for Idaho denied the plaintiffs’ case because:

1)  The US Forest Service’s decision to allow IDFG to use the cabin and airstrip at Cabin Creek was not a final agency action that is reviewable.

2) The removal of wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness does not constitute irreparable harm because the actions don’t irreparably harm the species as a whole.
The trapper has killed 9 wolves so far.

Many Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) supporters have been in touch to express their concern and outrage. Sadly, the Idaho wolves targeted by IDFG's hired gun may not be the only lives in danger.  Many worry that IDFG's wolf eradication plan will set a precedent for other states and thus threaten additional wolves and wildlife in other prime wilderness areas.  The Wilderness System is national, and mostly on national forests. While we sincerely hope that the plaintiffs win their pending lawsuit against IDFG's activities in the Frank Church,  it isn't nearly enough.

Please join the WCC and take action by contacting the Chief of the Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, at ttidwell@fs.fed.us. Our Nation's Wilderness areas are places for wildlife to remain as wild as is possible in today’s modern world,  governed by natural conditions, not special interest groups.

Please be sure to tell Mr. Tidwell  this is not just an issue for one Idaho Wilderness area, but the US Wilderness system.

Please follow The Wildlife News for updates and thank you!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Words of Wisdom

Friday, January 24, 2014

Grand Teton National Park Wolf Shooting Shrouded in Secrecy

"Wolf hunting is never legal in Grand Teton National Park, including inside privately owned inholdings," Grand Teton spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said. 

Yet, the shooting death of a Grand Teton National Park wolf remains shrouded in secrecy. Wyoming Fish and Game spokesperson, Mark Gocke, said, "This falls under that state statute we have,” referring to a law that prohibits the release of information related to wolf hunting.

Since wolf hunting is never legal in Grand Teton National Park, this wolf was *not* killed as an act of "hunting." So why the secrecy?  The Wolf Conservation Center believes citizens have the right to (1) know the name of the accused and (2) be assured the accused will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if a crime occurred.

Read more.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Critically Endangered Loba Needs Our Help

Critically engendered Mexican gray wolf M795 was born in the wild, but because federal agencies still don’t require livestock owners using public lands to take basic steps to prevent conflict, the elusive 11-year-old lost his freedom.  He and his mate were blamed for livestock losses in October of 2013 so U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) put a removal order on both wolves and M795 was captured and brought to the Wolf Conservation Center to live out his remaining years.

Since 1998, the government has removed over 55 wolves from the wild. Most were trapped and 13 were shot by predator-control agents. Please consider taking action to prevent another lobo from losing her freedom.

Although M795's former mate, F1056, has avoided capture thus far, her days on the wild landscape are numbered.  At last official count, there were only 75 Mexican gray wolves in the wild, making them the most endangered wolf in the world. Every single wild Mexican wolf is essential, so please join the Wolf Conservation Center and take action today by urging decision makers to let the loba remain in her rightful place in the wild. It's too late for M795, but F1056 has moved on with a new mate and hopefully long future where she belongs - in the wild.

Our friends from Mexican gray wolves makes it easy to help.  They offer effective talking points and contact information here.
Thank you!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Never Stop Howling

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Winter is Welcome for Arctic Wolves

Wild Arctic gray wolves (Canis lupus arctos) live primarily in the Arctic, the region located above 67° north latitude. These fascinating creatures are designed by the pressures of nature and are well adapted to survive on the icy landscape. Atka, like his wild counterparts, has two layers of fur: the long guard hairs that form the visible outer layer of of the coat and the soft dense undercoat. The coarse guard hairs determine a wolf's appearance/color and works like a raincoat, protecting a wolf from rain, snow, and sleet. The insulating undercoat is usually gray in color and keeps the animal comfortable in cold temperatures. Additional adaptations to reduce heat loss include slightly shorter nose, ears, and legs than other gray wolf subspecies, and hair between the pads of his snowshoe-like feet. His fluffy tail can also keep this nose warm and cozy. Thanks to these special features, Arctic wolves can survive in temperatures as low as minus 70° Fahrenheit.

See if you can spot Atka on the snowy terrain on his LIVE webcam!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Wild Is Calling

The wild is calling. Our lobos are ready.

(photo: The New Yorker)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Medical First to Enhance the Genetic Health of the Endagered Lobo

Wolves are “mono-estrus” -- breeding only once a year during the winter months. Hence, winter is an exciting time for wolves in North America and the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) too! This year the WCC is hosting four breeding pairs - two Mexican gray wolf pairs and two red wolf pairs. Although not every genetically valuable wolf in the SSP program will get a chance breed, many will still be able to make a valuable contribution to the recovery of their rare species.

Later this season we’ll be collecting semen from all our male lobos. The genetic material will be stored for potential future use, an important option when trying to maintain diversity with a species that was once extinct in the wild. In order to give all our male lobs this opportunity and in what is understandably a medical first, we took extra measures to allow lobo M904 to be a part. Last Saturday the 11-year-old underwent a reverse vasectomy. He was given the vasectomy years ago in order to allow him to live year-round with his female companion but thanks to the expertise of an AMAZING team of doctors, the lobo is fertile once more!  He's currently on the mend and back with his companion, Mexican wolf F628.  They'll also be able to remain together through the winter months of romance because the female was spayed back in 2011.

Special thanks to all who made this procedure possible! Thank you Dr. Sherman J. Silber for performing the procedure with Kathleen Lenahan, surgical assistant, and to the pair for joining us all the way from the Infertility Center of St. Louis! Also howls of gratitude to Veterinary Eye Specialists Dr. James Gaarder and Dr. Jane Cho for lending the WCC a surgical microscope to help make the procedure a success! And of course, warm howls of thanks to the amazing Charlie Duffy of Norwalk Veterinary Hospital for his time and expertise last weekend and for all the support over the past decade. THANK YOU!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Congressman Moran Champions Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 because Americans believed that protecting our wildlife was an obligation to future generations, our nation’s environmental health, our fellow creatures, and the heart of the American way of life. It included wildlife ranges and habitats irrespective of political boundaries because these habitats, which are vital to species survival, cross arbitrary lines.  For nearly 40 years, the ESA has helped prevent the extinction of our nation's wildlife treasures

With extinction there is no turning back, no second chance. For species deserving protection, delaying a decision to provide protection and recovery will bring the most vulnerable species even closer to the brink of extinction, restrict the options available for achieving recovery, and increase the eventual cost of the recovery process.

Although the ESA is often considered the most successful piece of environmental legislation ever passed, it remains contested and controversial, particularly on the question of balancing economic and environmental health. Sadly, many of the industries and special interests responsible for the original habitat destruction which inspired the ESA have been fighting for years to destroy the Act itself, and have seized upon the wolf as the excuse to finally exterminate it.
Recently, the Wolf Conservation Center’s Advocacy Team launched a campaign in opposition to

 “The Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act” (S. 1731), a bill that proposes to amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 by permitting governors of states to regulate intrastate endangered species and intrastate threatened species. That means this bill can potentially threaten the heart and spirit of the ESA and the thousands of species it safeguards by allowing individual states to favor political special interests and ignore critical federal mandates which are vital to preserving the rich biodiversity that remains in the United States.

Based on the continued efforts of our campaign and the overwhelming response of our supporters, it is clearly evident that the American public will not tolerate this extreme assault to gut this law. In recognition of this growing voice, the WCC Advocacy Team reached out to Congressman Jim Moran who is currently serving his twelfth term as U.S. Representative from Virginia’s 8th District. A senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Congressman Moran serves as the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment.  Throughout his two decades of service in the House of Representatives, Congressman Moran has demonstrated vigorous and unwavering leadership in support of the environment.  In response to our outreach regarding his position on Senate Bill 1731 and its companion bill in the House, H.R. 3533 he said,

“The ESA successfully brought the gray wolf back from the brink of extinction.  Unfortunately, easement of federal protections is allowing states to again treat these wolves as predators, rather than a necessary, important part of the ecosystem. Science, not prejudice and fear, should guide the federal Endangered Species Act. This legislation is not needed and would enflame a race to exterminate, not protect the gray wolf.”    ~Congressman Jim Moran, 8th District, Virginia

Those who seek to gut the Endangered Species Act are violating a decades-old bi-partisan consensus among Americans that wildlife and ecologies are invaluable and worth protecting. Just as the quality of our air and water cannot be left to the individual States, neither can the continued healthy survival of our critically endangered wildlife. On behalf of thousands our supporters who continue to participate in our campaign, we wish to express our sincerest gratitude to Congressman Moran for his steadfast commitment to defending and preserving the integrity of the most historically significant environmental law of our nation, the Endangered Species Act.

To add your voice to the groundswell of growing opposition to Senate Bill 1731, please click here.  When you sign the Popvox campaign, your vote goes directly to the lawmakers who represent you! If you like, you can also send a short *optional* message along with your vote. Please ask your representatives to oppose the bill too. Thank you!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Idaho's Wolf Extermination Plan Has Hackles Up

A coalition of conservationists, represented by the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit on January 6, 2014 to save wolves from a gun-for-hire in one of our nation's premiere wilderness areas.  The case challenges U.S. Forest Service’s approval of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s (IDFG) plan to exterminate two wolf packs in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness on the grounds that it violates several laws, management plans, and policies which are meant to protect wilderness characteristics, wildlife, and natural processes within wilderness.

"IDFG instructed its hunter-trapper agent to exterminate every individual wolf in these packs and agreed to pay him for doing so," the complaint states. The purpose? To "inflate the local elk populations for the benefit of commercial outfitters and recreational hunters."

News of IDFG's plan has spread through the country and conservation groups aren't the only ones taking action.  In a letter, nine-year-old Bella from Larchmont, NY appealed to IDFG to halt their dreadful plan. Sadly, yesterday we learned that at least seven wolves had been killed by the professional trapper already.  Perhaps the lawsuit and compelling appeals from supporters like Bella will offer the remaining wolves a reprieve.  At the very least we can count on a brighter future when children like Bella are grown.

Please consider signing the Endangered Species Coalition's petition asking the U.S. Forest Service to stop Idaho from killing these wolves.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Scientists Allege that USFWS's Nationwide Gray Wolf Delisting Proposal Violates Endangered Species Act

While federal agencies are responsible for the day-to-day enforcement and administration of federal laws, they are not charged with rewriting them!

However, in a compelling academic critique of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's evolving enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, Sherry Enzler (University of Minnesota) and John Vucetich (Michigan Technological University) allege that the USFWS’s proposal to delist the gray wolf is, in fact, a blatant attempt to change the application of the law by repealing two of its most important tenets.

The paper, "Removing protections for wolves and the future of U.S. Endangered Species Act," published Dec. 30 in Conservation Letters, provides a clear and substantive challenge to federal proposals to delist the gray wolf.

Rewrite of species-protection law seen in move to take wolves off the U.S. list

By Ron Meador

From the journal "Conservation Letters" comes a compelling academic critique of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's evolving enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, through some key rewriting of policy that might appeal to satirists like George Orwell or Joseph Heller.

The paper, published last week in the journal's "Policy Perspectives" section, is focused largely on the service's announcement that it will remove gray wolves from federal protection throughout the lower 48 states, following earlier "de-listings" in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, Wyoming and Idaho (as well as states of the northern Rocky Mountains and a scattering of others with few if any wolves).

But the authors — including Sherry Enzler of the University of Minnesota and John Vucetich of Michigan Technological University, who directs the wolf-moose population study on Isle Royale — argue that the service's reasoning in support of its decision on gray wolves changes its application of the landmark wildlife law in two ways that effectively repeal it:
  • First, by redefining the Endangered Species Act's notion of natural range from the territory a species historically inhabited to the territory it currently occupies.
  • Second, by deciding that human activity — especially intolerant activity — in portions of a species' range can justify reclassification of those areas under the ESA as habitat no longer suitable for threatened animals and plants.
Or, as Orwell might have it, a creature's natural habitat is natural no longer once the creature is driven out. For his part, Heller might see it as another Catch-22: The ESA exists to protect plants and animals from eradication by humans, except in those areas where humans prefer to eradicate them.

Clear phrasing in the law
Perhaps the ESA's most important single passage is its clear, plain-language definition of an endangered species as one "in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range" (emphasis added).

That wording may seem obvious today, but as the law moved toward passage in 1973 it was a significant and deliberate broadening from earlier species-protection laws, especially on what the paper's authors call the "SPR phrase" italicized above.

Drawing on statements from U.S. Sen. John Tunney, the California Democrat who was a key author of the ESA and the legislation's floor manager in the Senate, the paper notes his explanation that "a species might be considered endangered or threatened and require protection in most states even though it may securely inhabit others."

This, too, seems commonsensical and until recently, the paper says, the Fish And Wildlife Service considered a species' range to be both its current and historic territory — even, at times, resisting pressures to narrow its focus to current territory only.

But now the FWS seeks to redefine the gray wolf's range as the territory it currently inhabits, and to declare the rest of its former territory as "unsuitable habitat" because people will no longer tolerate wolves there.

How wolves got on list
To understand the significance of this shift, consider that if the newer definition had been in use when wolves were initially listed for ESA protection in 1978 — just five years after Congress passed the law with barely a dissenting vote — they might not have qualified.

At that point, wolves were known to inhabit only two small territories in the lower 48 states — one in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and adjacent Superior National Forest, the other on Isle Royale.

These remnant populations totalling a few hundred wolves, though tiny, appeared to be stable and possibly growing slightly because of wilderness protections. And at that point, of course, Isle Royale had been in their "historic range" for less than three decades.

Today, the paper asserts, federal protections have restored wolves to about 15 percent of their historic U.S. range outside Alaska. Whether an 85 percent loss qualifies as a "significant portion" of that range is, I suppose, a matter of opinion. In the opinion of the paper's authors,

Although prescribing a precise value to the SPR phrase is challenging, acknowledging egregious violations is not. Today, wolves occupy approximately 15% of their historic range within the conterminous United States. To conclude that this condition satisfies the requirement represented by the SPR phrases sets an extremely low bar for species recovery.

As for redefining "range,"

Interpreting range to mean "current range" is functionally identical to striking the SPR phrase  from the ESA's definition of endangerment and narrowing the definition to being "in danger of extinction [everywhere]."

Effect on other species
It is difficult to think of a species whose conservation has inspired disputes more bitter and ceaseless than those that swirl around the gray wolf, with the possible exception of the grizzly bear in portions of the American West.

But the FWS reasoning under challenge in this paper could just have easily been applied in the past — or, more important, applied in the future — to the detriment of such recovered species as bald eagles, whooping cranes and peregrine falcons, not to mention the Kirtland's warbler, the southern sea otter, the Virginia big-eared bat and the black-footed ferret.

And it is thinking of those species, along with some 2,000 others still listed, that makes one wonder what coherent philosophy or policy of conservation can justify a redefinition of "suitable habitat" to exclude places made inhospitable by human activity.

Indeed, as the authors point out,

In most cases, species are listed as endangered because current range has been reduced by human actions. The ESA is intended to mitigate such reductions in range, not merely describe them.

As such, a sensible interpretation of range in the SPR phrase is historic range that is currently suitable or can be made suitable by removing or sufficiently mitigating threats to the species.

One always wants to hope that sound science underlies federal policy decisions in these matters. Indeed, we appear to be entering an era of changing climate in which habitats are likely to be remade by forces well beyond the science of mitigation and the capabilities of wildlife managers, regardless of the level of empowerment they may choose to find within the ESA or settled case law.

But with regard to gray wolves, climate is not the critical issue. Human persecution is. And here, too, the authors challenge FWS's fulfillment of their obligations under the ESA, in a section headed "The science of intolerance" (citations omitted):

A central tenet of the proposed delisting rule is: "the primary determinant of the long-term conservation of  gray wolves will likely be human attitudes toward this predator."

Although bound by the ESA to base its listing and delisting decisions on the best available science, the FWS does not refer to any of the scientific literature on human attitudes toward wolves to justify its determination....

The proposed rule also asserts that delisting wolves at this time is critical for maintaining wolf recovery because "keeping wolf populations within the limits of human tolerance" requires humans be allowed to hunt entrap wolves. The best available science does not support this contention.

Indeed, a recent review found no evidence for the claim that the rates of poaching changed with higher quotas of legal harvest, and the recent longitudinal analysis found attitudes toward wolves were more negative during a period of legal lethal control than when the wolves were listed under the ESA … .

Ultimately, there is no empirical support for the notion that continued listing would result in a backlash against wolves.
This article was published in MinnPost.com's Earth Journal on January 7, 2014.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Catty Wolves

During wolf breeding season, we are tasked with separating each pack's non-breeding males and females.  In the wild, wolves naturally avoid breeding with pack members, an innate behavior that decreases the risk of adverse mutations.  For this reason, it's common for young pack members to disperse from their natal pack in order to breed.  Winter intensifies emotions in both wild and captive wolves, but limited by the boundaries of their enclosure, captive wolves are unable to disperse.  With such restrictions, it's necessary that all male family members be kept apart from the females until hormones subside.  This solution prevents inbreeding, but it fails to alleviate some of the tension that builds among same-sex family members.  It's not uncommon for pack females to challenge one another during this season, and with no escape options, this rivalry among sisters can become lethal.  It's not a phenomenon in every pack, but we'll be taking precautions to reduce the risk of injury among one group of sisters who were born at the Wolf Conservation Center in 2008.  It's possible to better manage unruly wolves in estrus with birth control treatments called MGA (melengestrol acetate) and Deslorelin.  These oral remedies have been proven to diminish the competitive behavior that females naturally demonstrate during the winter months.  Come March, hormones will settle and family reunions will follow.