Sunday, January 30, 2022

Submit Your Comment for Wolves!

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Background - Why Wolves Need Your Voice Now

Wolves in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho are currently not listed as endangered species. Being on the Endangered Species List gives species certain protections under the federal government while the population recovers; since being taken off the list, wolf populations in these states are no longer protected by the federal government, and instead are managed by the state governments. 

This has left wolves vulnerable to political, rather than scientific, decisions of these states. 

  • Recently, Montana's state legislature decided to target wolves, passing bills liberalizing wolf hunting laws. The regulations now allow bounties for killing wolves; allow snaring and longer trapping seasons; allow baiting wolves with meat; allow one person to kill up to 20 wolves each; and allow night hunting on private lands with the use of "artificial lights, thermal imaging technology, or night vision scopes."
  • Idaho, in some areas, allows 11- and 12-month wolf hunting and trapping seasons, resulting in young pups also being killed. The state helps fund a bounty on wolves, and annually kills wolves via aerial gunning. In certain areas, they also allow night hunting; hunting wolves with dogs; using vehicles to chase wolves; snaring; and baiting with meat. 
  • In 85% of Wyoming, wolves can be killed year-round, day or night, by nearly any method, including being chased down on snowmobiles. In the remaining 15% of the state, the Wolf Trophy Game Management Area (WTGMA) bordering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, only 11 breeding pairs of wolves remain - dangerously close to the state's commitment to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs. They know that falling below this number could land wolves back on the Endangered Species List. 

These are not sustainable or ethical hunting practices. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting a Status Review of wolves in the Northern Rockies in deciding whether to restore federal protections for the species under the Endangered Species Act, and they are taking comments on the measure.

Please take a few minutes to submit a comment asking the Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to emergency re-list wolves. 

Be polite and respectful and use your own words! Comments are only counted if they are original. Some talking points:

  • States have demonstrated that they cannot manage gray wolves responsibly. These laws are completely political, and not scientifically justified. State legislatures are now dictating wolf hunting regulations, going over the heads of the actual biologists. 
  • These new laws represent an inadequacy of regulatory mechanisms to sustainably conserve wolf populations in the Northern Rockies. Unregulated killing of wolves is what led to their extirpation decades ago. 
  • The wolf population in the Northern Rockies states is being overutilized for recreational purposes. 
  • An emergency relisting is necessary to prevent further overutilization and to make states revisit their wolf management policies to make them sustainable for the species.
  • If you have ever visited Yellowstone National Park to see wolves, or if you plan to, mention this and how your tourism dollars would be lost if wolves were no longer visible there, impacting local businesses. 20 Yellowstone wolves have already been killed outside the park this season. 

Thank you and please share!

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Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Glimpses of an Extraordinary Old Wolf

Trail camera photo of wolf 32 in 2019.

The former breeding male of the Teanaway Pack, wolf 32, passed away last month at an estimated 12 years old after leading an extraordinary life. He is eulogized in a video by Wolf Specialist Ben Maletzke. Wolf 32 has also been an important part of my life for the better part of a decade, since I began studying wild wolves as a teenager.

The Teanaway Pack was confirmed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2011. At the time, they were just the fourth wolf pack to reestablish in Washington since wolves were extirpated in the 1920s, and the first to recolonize the central Cascade Mountains.

I began tracking the Teanaway Pack in 2013. The first time I came across their tracks, one set was distinctly bigger than the others. Soon, photos from my trail camera allowed me to put a wolfy face to the paw prints. I was 15 years old at the time, and I gave him the nickname “Bigfoot,” though I would later learn that the WDFW assigned him the ID of 32M when they placed a tracking collar on him.

DNA analysis revealed that 32 was born to the Lookout Pack, which was confirmed in 2008 as the very first pack to recolonize Washington. In fact, he was likely part of the first litter of wolf pups to be born in the state in nearly a century. As a grown wolf, he and a female would venture south to form the Teanaway Pack.

I continued studying the Teanaway Pack over the years. I am always happy to find any wolf tracks, but finding 32’s massive, unique prints – with one toe that slightly splayed out from one of his front paws – was particularly special. My mom called them “plates,” and they were nearly as big. 

Wolf 32's tracks in spring mud. 

I never saw 32, and I heard the pack’s distant howls just once. However, I have no doubt that he knew when I had trekked through his territory. Without fail, he would spot my cameras. He would often smell the ground, scan the nearby trees, find the camera and give it a glare before moving on.

Cameras and tracking gave me just a glimpse into the lives of 32 and his family. From what I could tell, he was a devoted father and a benevolent leader.

The current breeding female, 72F, almost exclusively led the pack’s excursions, with 32 following behind her. He carried snacks and “toys” for miles to deliver to the pups and their mother. Between 2014 and 2019, he fathered at least 18 pups, 14 of which survived through December of the year they were born. That’s a pretty good record for a pack of wolves making their living hunting large ungulates while navigating roads and other natural and man-made dangers. Since the pack was discovered in 2011, they were involved in only a handful of confirmed depredations despite sharing the landscape with livestock.

Wolf 32 with one of his pups.

In October of 2014, 32’s mate, 38F, was illegally shot and killed. 32 continued to raise the pups with the one remaining adult in the pack. Three of those pups survived at least a full year, and WDFW placed GPS collars on two of them. Both young wolves, a male and a female, later embarked on epic dispersals.

When my cameras first photographed 32, he was already at least six years old. The average lifespan of a wild wolf is just 4 to 5 years. He remained a robust-looking wolf, but his age began to show over the years. Moving with his pack, he kept up their swift trot, but when traveling alone, he walked at a slow pace. His gentle, bear-like face became more grizzled. In 2017, he sported a limp while escorting his four pups past my camera. We can only guess how many injuries he sustained over his lifetime and how much pain he may have lived with in his later years. Life is incredibly tough for a wild wolf.

A mysterious black wolf appeared in the Teanaway territory last year. This was a surprise given that all of the Teanaway wolves were gray and the pack is very isolated from other wolf populations. 32 continued to travel with his family until around February of this year. Soon after, the black male wolf began traveling with the pack, and it seemed that 32 had been displaced.

It’s heartbreaking to imagine that 32 was alone for the last few months of his life. It is also extremely impressive that, at his age, he survived as a lone wolf until July when WDFW found his body. He apparently died of natural causes.

Wolf 32, or “Bigfoot,” was a remarkable wolf and a quiet neighbor. He was a true Washingtonian, from his first howls in the Methow Valley twelve years ago to his last in Kittitas County. With less than 200 wolves in all of Washington, this individual made an incredible contribution to wolf recovery, and his legacy will undoubtedly influence wolf recolonization throughout the Cascades for decades to come.

More personally, I am thankful that I was able to know him in some small way. I first crossed paths with him at 15 and now, as a 21-year-old pursuing a wildlife biology degree, I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from him and his pack. Years of observation allowed me to discover my passion for tracking and to understand how wolves move across the land. 

I will miss knowing that he's out there, and seeing his enormous, unforgettable tracks in the dust and snow year after year. Though I never saw him with my own eyes, the old wolf left his mark on me, and the hills he roamed for a decade are a little less wild without him.  

                                            Wolf 72F followed by 32M and their grown pup.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

What should you do if you encounter a wolf?

Recently, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife published a video to educate folks about wolf encounters as the Oregon wolf population grows. It shows a video taken by an ODFW summer intern when she encountered a wolf while hiking alone. The video shows a wolf trotting toward the intern, unaware that she is standing there at the edge of the field. However, the wolf runs away when the intern says something to let it know she's there. 
(Turn on the volume and watch in full screen!)

From the intern who took the video:

      "I have worked around wild wolves for a few years now, and there are a few questions that I’m frequently asked: 
      Am I afraid of encountering wolves? 
      Is it safe for me to be alone in an area where wolves might be? 
      Do I carry a weapon to protect myself from a wolf attack?
      I’ve had jobs involving tracking and monitoring wolves for the last three summers, and since 2017 I’ve had 6 encounters with wolves where the animals were aware of my presence (and there have been at least two times wolves were nearby and I didn't know until later). Even though I was hiking alone during two of those encounters, the wolves turned and went the opposite direction every time.
      Luckily, I was able to film this particular encounter with a wolf in Oregon. Being somewhat familiar with wolf behavior, it was clear to me that this wolf was unaware of my presence as it loped toward me. However, I can understand how someone with less experience with wild wolves could feel threatened in this situation. It seems that every year, stories surface about wolves “surrounding” or approaching people, especially during hunting season when folks are dressed in camo and imitating animal calls. Several wolves have been shot in Washington, Oregon, and other states by folks who felt threatened by their presence or approach.
      Wolves are often portrayed as man-eaters, whether as the Big Bad Wolf devouring Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma or a pack of wolves pursuing Liam Neeson in The Grey. These scary representations of wolves lead many people to believe that wolves view people as prey.
      I am always vigilant when I’m in the woods, and I always carry bear spray because I never know what situation I might walk into with any species. Where there are wolves, there are also bears and cougars (and people). However, I don’t fear a predatory attack from a wild wolf. Except under extremely unusual circumstances, wolves are simply not out to get us, and often all it takes is a shouted “hello” to scare a wolf away.
      By definition, wild animals are never completely predictable. Sometimes wolves, instead of fleeing, might be curious or defensive (especially if there are dogs involved). I can’t say that wolves pose zero threat to people – but that goes for any wild animal. Living, hiking, hunting, or otherwise recreating in the wild means being prepared for and accepting a certain level of risk. However, having wolves on the landscape does not make it any more dangerous.

If you are out hunting or hiking and you see a wolf or wolves near you, don't assume that they are coming to attack you. Stand up, wave your arms, and shout to make sure that they know you're there.

If you feel threatened by a wolf, act aggressively (look big, shout, throw things) and calmly leave the area. Never run from a wild animal."

-  The Salem Statesman Journal area published a great article about the video and what to do during a wolf encounter:

-  This is a good video about hiking with dogs in wolf country:

-  The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has some excellent information on how wolves behave and what to do if you encounter them:

-  This video from local news station Central Oregon Daily has more great Oregon wolf footage and advice from ODFW Wolf Coordinator Roblyn Brown:

-  Learn more about Oregon's wolves:

More on wolf encounters: 

Wolf pups are extremely curious and, for lack of a kinder term, a little dumb. They may be more likely to approach a person or vehicle out of curiosity. NEVER FEED WILDLIFE. If a pup approaches you, do the young wolf a favor and shout or throw things at it to make sure it stays afraid of people. This will keep the wolf safer in the long term. A wolf that loses its fear of people is more likely to be shot or hit by a car. 

In the handful of cases where wolves have attacked people, it often turns out that they had been fed or had been finding food in campgrounds or dumps. Wolves that appear to have lost their fear of people are considered habituated and are often killed by wildlife managers for public safety. Keep wildlife wild.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Wolves and Prey

Wolves have a reputation for killing needlessly or for fun, but in reality wolves work hard and rarely succeed when hunting large prey like elk, moose, bison, and deer. In Yellowstone National Park, wolves only successfully make a kill in about 1 of every 5 hunting attempts! 
Elk are large, smart animals, and they've evolved alongside wolves for thousands of years. It's extremely difficult for wolves to take down healthy adult elk. Wolves can be injured or killed by a kick from an elk. For this reason, wolves tend to target very young, old, or unhealthy elk. Even so, it takes a huge amount of energy for wolves to chase and (if they can) take down prey.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Working With The Wood River Wolf Project

I spent most of August around the West learning about wolves, wolf recovery, and livestock.
A big highlight was volunteering for the Wood River Wolf Project, which is based in the middle of wolf and sheep country in Idaho. The project, with Lava Lake Lamb, works collaboratively with livestock producers in the community to prevent depredations (killing of livestock) by wolves and other predators. They work with ranchers to implement proactive, nonlethal deterrents including livestock guardian dogs, foxlights, starter pistols, and fladry. They have found that the comprehensive and correct use of these tools has led to a direct decrease in attacks on livestock by wolves - as well as other predators like bears, cougars, and coyotes.
Not only do these methods help ranchers, they also help wolves. When ranchers and their livestock can successfully share the landscape with wolves, it means that less wolves are killed through "lethal control actions" in response to wolf depredations on livestock. Proactively preventing depredations often works much better than reacting after attacks happen.
While volunteering with the Wood River Wolf Project, I helped to conduct howl surveys. Howl surveys involve playing a recorded wolf howl in the backcountry and listening for responses. Responses can determine where and how many wolves might be in a particular area. This helps herders and range riders know where it's safe to move sheep bands and when particular proactive tools should be used.
The Wood River Wolf Project and the livestock producers who put time and energy into living with wolves are a model for wolf/livestock coexistence across the country and world. It was a privilege to work with them and Lava Lake Lamb and to learn more about ranching in wolf country!
Help support other ranchers taking on predator coexistence here:
Specific breeds of Livestock Guardian Dogs help to discourage wolves from approaching livestock during certain times of the year.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Springtime for Wolves and Livestock

Springtime means a new generation of wolf pups, but it also means a new generation of sheep and cattle for the summer grazing season. This can lead to conflict between wolves and livestock, as wolf families work to feed their growing pups and young livestock are especially vulnerable. This time of year, it's especially important to use proactive tools like range riders, foxlights, fladry, and others to protect livestock from wolves. About 80% of wolves in a population don't cause problems for ranchers. But it's important to be proactive and make sure those wolves don't start associating livestock with food as they hunt wild prey for their pups.

Photo of Spruce at Wolf Haven International.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Meeting with the Washington Wolf Advisory Group

       Yesterday I had the opportunity to address Washington state's Wolf Advisory Group, or the WAG. The WAG is a group of stakeholders (hunters, ranchers, and conservationists) that provides different perspectives and recommends strategies for reducing conflict with wolves to the Department of Fish and Wildlife as wolves return to Washington. 
       Because the members of this group have radically different views on wolf management, they had had trouble being productive and respectful towards each other when the group first started out a few years ago; so the department brought in a professional human/wildlife conflict facilitator to help improve the process and build trust between the members. As part of that, the facilitator is having the WAG meet with members of the public with various perspectives on wolves and how they should be managed. In May, the WAG met with some ranchers in wolf territory; yesterday, I voiced my opinion as part of the conservation community; and later, they will meet some hunters. 
        When I spoke to the WAG, I talked about my experiences studying wolves in the wild, why I think wolves are important, and what I think about the conflicts in Washington and in other places. I also talked about my experiences here on Kids4Wolves, interacting with you guys on Instagram and Facebook but also hearing from kids who are hunters and ranchers and have a different opinion about wolves than I do. I talked about how nasty these online conversations sometimes start (as some of you guys may have seen), but also how often we can get to a place where we respect each other's views even if we disagree. I think respect is essential if we want to accomplish anything. Hopefully the members of the WAG can respect each other and get something done for wolves and the communities that live alongside them.