Last December I spent a few days in western Wisconsin with a group of avid wolf supporters including Rachel Tilseth of Wolves of Douglas County and members of Rod Coronodo’s Wolf Patrol. We were there during the wolf hunting season, specifically the time when hounds could be used to track down and kill wolves. We drove the back roads along the Wisconsin-Minnesota border looking for hound hunting activity. By that time, the snow had melted and there weren’t many hunters out, but it was a powerful experience being in the presence of people whose dedication to wolves takes them out of their comfort zones and into the field.
Since wolves in the Great Lakes regained protection under the Endangered Species Act in December of last year we’ve all been breathing sighs of relief. But good news in the wolf world often is short lived so many folks in Wisconsin and elsewhere are still battling to keep them safe.
A story on a Wisconsin news station released yesterday reported that the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has completed its Wolf Protection Plan. According to this plan the Red Cliff Reservation will be considered a wolf sanctuary and if hunting is legalized again, it would not be allowed on their land. There is to be a six mile buffer zone around the reservation to protect wolves as they leave and enter the area. Red Cliff Reservation is on the tip of the Bayfield Peninsula in far northern Wisconsin and it encompasses approximately 14,000 heavily forested acres. Sounds like prime habitat for wolves, or Ma’iinganag as they are known to the Red Cliff Tribe. I suggest you take a look at the plan, it’s full of interesting information on wolves and their importance to the Chippewa people.
Another group, Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf has recently released a full length documentary, aptly named Political Predator, about the wolf hunting situation in their state. This film is an educational and insightful look at the background of how wolf hunting has been managed (or not), the powers behind the harvest, and the opinions of those who do not see the need or value of the hunt. Enjoy the movie and use the information to further educate yourself about wolves in Wisconsin. The more we know, the more powerful will be our voice.
I first met Gail McDiarmid and Marilyn McGee when they asked for my assistance in editing Running for Home, their youth book on the return of wolves to Yellowstone. But Gail and Marilyn are advocates for more than Yellowstone wolves. Living in the southeast, they are in close proximity to Canis rufus, the red wolf. Their latest venture focuses on educating others, both young and old, about this unique and highly threatened species. I am deeply inspired by their work and reminded that each and every one of us can contribute in our own way toward an atmosphere of co-existence with wolves and other predators.
And their project comes at a good time, as the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recently requested that the USFWS gather up and remove the red wolves they released there, saying that 64 of the wolves were set loose on private rather than public land. The state agency, which governs hunting and fishing in N.C. is asking the USFW to stop their efforts to reintroduce the red wolf in the southeast. I have no inside information on the details of this issue, but it sounds like there is some bad blood between these two agencies, or at least a vastly different philosophy on the importance of protecting endangered animals.
But Marilyn and Gail will continue their efforts to teach people about red wolf, and coyotes as well. They have started a new outreach program specifically on coyotes, partly in response to the coyote killing contests held in North Carolina and elsewhere.
Below is Marilyn’s intriguing story of how she and Gail became involved with “reds” and are spreading the word of how important it is to protect these beautiful animals:
Seven years ago, gravel country roads lead sister’s Gail McDiarmid and Marilyn McGee to one of North Carolina’s most unique wetland habitats, the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Lured in by the soft, dangling Spanish moss, they discovered bogs, marshes, hardwood and cedar swamps. And it was also there that these southern ladies first heard one of the most soulful songs of the south.
Synonymous to the Carolinas, one often associates sweet tea, shrimp and grits, and lighthouses to this region. But to these curiosity seekers this part of eastern North Carolina meant learning more about the elusive and endangered red wolf.
Kim Wheeler, Executive Director of the Red Wolf Coalition, and former outreach coordinator Diane Hendry, took Marilyn and Gail into the Sandy Ridge enclosure to observe the shy, red wolf in captivity. After hours of discussion, both sisters realized that they were seeing the Southeast’s least known treasure.
Even though they have lived in the south their entire lives, neither knew the red wolf existed or the daily challenges it faced. The more they found out about the red wolf’s plight, the more they wanted to know!! Obsessed with learning, the ladies began reading science journals, interviewing the experts, and observed both gray and red wolves as often as possible. They have dedicated their free time to developing a Red Wolf Outreach Program for the public about North Carolina’s top predator.
When working with students of “all ages,” Gail and Marilyn realized the importance of capturing the attention of their audience. Whether the presentation was at a campground, within the walls of the public library, an assisted living facility, or in an elementary school or University, the goal of the programming was to teach in an entertaining fashion.
Several times, they outfitted themselves as characters from the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood. This story allows them to address the fears and misconceptions about the wolf. On another occasion, they dressed as detectives with a spy glass in hand and lead a nature scavenger hunt. Eye catching props and colorful costumes lead to interactive discussions about red wolf behavior. Using artifacts such as pelts, skulls, tracks, and radio collars the participants learned about how this top predator helps to maintain the balance and health of ecosystems.
The song “Country Roads” by John Denver and “The Song of the South” by Alabama are two popular tunes heard along the eastern NC shore. But if left up to Gail and Marilyn, all citizens living in the state will know more about the real stars of the south, the red wolf!
Their dedication to educating the public about the wolf inspired them to write their first book, Running for Home. Their goal in writing is to change attitudes with education, one heart at a time. Gail and Marilyn are also doing outreach programs to educate others about the plight of the much maligned coyote.
And if you haven’t read The Secret World of Red Wolves by T. Delene Beeland, you’ll want it. It is the definitive book on the red wolf, published in 2013.
House Bill 212 endeavors to affirm that trapping is a form of hunting protected under the Montana Constitution. The bill, sponsored by Republican Representative Kirk Wagoner, changes terms and definitions within the constitution so the verbiage encompasses the right to trap, putting trapping in the same category as hunting and fishing which is currently preserved under Article IX, Section 7 of the Montana Constitution.
The Montana Wool Grower’s Association (MWGA) is all for the bill. A recent statement from them points out the antiquated and unscientific thinking behind HB 212, that if something was done a hundred years ago, it should still be done today, with no regard for the harm the action may cause. In the words of MWGA, “…historical evidence indicates that trapping has been taking place in Montana since the great Lewis and Clark adventure in the early 19th century. Further, there is a reason Trapper Peak is named “Trapper” Peak.”
Trap Free Montana Public Lands (TFMPL) is putting forth great effort to raise awareness about HB 212. TFMPL was behind the 2014 ballot measure effort to curtail trapping on public lands. In four months of campaigning, volunteers obtained more valid signatures than any other 2014 initiative, although not enough to get on the ballot largely due to time constraints. A side effect of HB 212 is that ballot issue committees such as TFMPL would need a whopping 50,000 signatures (twice the number needed now) to get their initiative to the voters. This is because if HB 212 passes, TFMPL would be trying to change a constitutional amendment with their initiative. One wonders why HB 212 does not have to meet the same criteria as this bill is clearly an effort to change an amendment.
This is not only an issue about trapping, it’s also about adhering to what the public wants. In 2004 the Montana public voted to enact the inalienable rights of hunting and fishing (per the voter handbook) with no mention at all of trapping. Surely, this was not an oversight. HB 212 is making an attempt to significantly change an amendment without consulting the citizens of Montana. This approach seems underhanded and reminds me of the 2011 budget bill rider that served special interest groups that wanted wolves delisted so their individual states could mange them. Neither are actions approved by the majority.
TFMPL is asking us to say No! to HB 212. This link to legislators is easy to follow, takes only a minute, and can be used by everyone, not solely Montana citizens. When I did this, I checked the out of state box, chose to send my message to a committee, then picked the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee. Next I added my comment as to why I think the bill should not be passed.
We only have until 3 PM Mountain Time on Thursday, January 29, 2015 to submit comments. We’ve had enough success in our advocacy work to know that speaking up can make a difference. Please do so now!
Once again, I look back at the wolf related events of the past year and am in wonder at the controversy these four-legged beasts create. Is there any other creature, other than humans, that continually make the front page, year after year? Wolves are enigmatic animals, but it’s most certainly the people, not the wolves, that create the drama.
The following is a partial list of wolf news, month by month from around the world. There is a mixture of good news with the inevitable bad news. I’ve included hot links so you can read the source article. Feel free to help me out by adding your own news in the comment section. I’m sure I missed a lot as it has been a busy year.
Thanks to Wally Sykes and Rob Klavins for your wolf updates, to Rachel Tilseth with Wolves of Douglas County, and to Defenders of Wildlife for their Wolf Weekly Wrap-Up. And thanks to all of the wonderful folks out there who are determined to make this world a better place for wolves, and in turn, for humans as well. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to get to know many of you in the three years I’ve been writing about wolves and I look forward to meeting more of you in the future. Wolf advocates are some of the finest people around!
A wolf that wandered into Southeast Missouri was shot and killed by a man who mistook it for a coyote. Coyotes are considered vermin there and can be hunted year round. This was the fourth of five wolves that have been seen in Missouri since the species was eradicated in the state in 1950. The man was not charged for his actions.
Journey continues to travel throughout southwestern Oregon. ODFW Wolf Program Coordinator Russ Morgan was interviewed by Jefferson Public Radio about the famous lone wolf. The article says, “He (Journey, not Russ) might be getting bored… there are just no opportunities to find mates in OR-7’s recent territory.”
On February 1, 2014, OR 4, Journey’s father, was darted from the air and his radio collar was replaced. ODFW reported that his previous GPS system quit working in late December. OR 4 is one wolf the ODFW wants to keep an eye on to help monitor for livestock depredations. In fact, this is the fourth time they have changed collars on this canine senior citizen.
Western Washington nonprofit Conservation Northwest offered a $7,500 reward (see comments below for addendum on reward) for help in solving the case of a wolf illegally shot and killed on February 9, 2014 in northern Stevens County. The wolf was a collared female that had been a member of the Smackout pack until they disbanded in April of 2014.
After being extinct in Germany for over 150 years, Canis lupus has made a comeback. This February 18, 2014 article in The Olympian reports that there are now 150 wolves in 35 packs in Germany. Scat studies show that fifty-two percent of the wolves diet is roe deer, 25 percent red deer, 16 percent is wild pig. Sheep, cattle, goats and pets combined comprise less than 1 percent of the diet. But as you can imagine, problems exist between humans and wolves, especially when fueled by the mythology and fairy tales of this long inhabited land.
Wolf numbers in Washington are stable. The annual count done by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) reported that there are 52 wolves in the state, only one more than in the 2012 count. Five packs were counted in both years.
Wolf tracks are found on Mount Hood in north-central Oregon!
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fish released a pair of Mexican wolves in the 4.4 million acre Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA) that expands into Arizona and New Mexico. They also announced that a second pair would be released the following week. At the end of 2013 there were 83 wolves in the the BRWRA, with 60% of them wearing radio collars. Out of the fourteen known packs, seven of them produced pups in 2013. Two Mexican wolves had already been suspiciously killed in 2014, one in Arizona and one in New Mexico.
April was a good month for Mexican wolves. Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed two anti-wolf bills. SB 1211 would have allowed ranchers to kill these animals on public lands. HB2699 called native Mexican wolves varmints and sought to end the 16 year recovery program.
In the southeast, a court in North Carolina granted a temporary injunction against the shooting of coyotes in five counties in the Red Wolf Recovery Area. It has been reported that at least 50 red wolves have been shot when mistaken for coyotes. since 2008. With only 100 of the endangered red wolves in the wild, every effort must be made to protect them. Red wolves, as well as coyotes, can still be shot if they are caught preying on livestock.
When biologists checked their trail cams in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest of southern Oregon on May 7, 2014 they saw evidence that Journey had found a mate. The black female (later dubbed Wandering Wanda by Bob Ferris of Cascadia Wildlands) was captured on a couple of photos. In one she was squatting in a decidedly female way. As it was denning season, there was speculation that the pair may have mated and were caring for pups.
Implementing 13 years of data on 280 collared wolves in Yellowstone National Park several biologists, including Doug Smith and Dan Stahler, provide evidence that wolves regulate their populations. Their findings were published in Journal of Animal Ecology on May 21, 2014.
Author and environmentalist Farley Mowat, of Never Cry Wolf fame died at age 92 on May 6, 2014. He wrote over 40 books in his lifetime.
The month started out with a bang as the ODFG released the news that Journey was a father. He and the black female had indeed denned up and were raising a family, the first in the Oregon Cascades since the 1940s. John Stephenson, biologist with the USFWS took a photo of two pups, a black and a grey, peeking out from beneath a log. The origin of the black wolf is still unknown but scat samples have been collected to help determine this.
A few days after the new Oregon pack was photographed, the California Fish and Game Commission voted 3 to 1 to add wolves to their state Endangered Species List. This will allow protection for Journey and kin if and when they disperse south a few miles into California.
OR 18, a two year old Oregon wolf from the Snake River pack was illegally killed in Montana after he traveled through Idaho to enter the Bitterroot Valley of the Big Sky State. This is the first known Oregon wolf to have died in Montana, primarily because they don’t make it through Idaho alive. Five Oregon wolves had died in that state so far. The nonprofit group Wolves of the Rockies added $2,500 to the $1,000 reward originally offered by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The first Speak For Wolves event is held on June 27-29 in Gardiner, Montana.
Oregon representative Peter Defazio fires a letter off to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell requesting that buffer zones be established around our National Parks to protect wolves. In Yellowstone alone, twelve wolves were killed as of March 2013 when they left the park.
A litter of five wolves are born in Mexico, the first litter born in the wild there for over 30 years. The Mexican grey wolf was extinct in the wild by the late 1980s. Reintroductions using captive animals began in 1998 in Arizona. All living Mexican greys come from only seven founding wolves! Later in the month, six more Mexican grey wolves were released in the Gila Mountain Wilderness of New Mexico.
Writer Marybeth Holleman speaks aboutAmong Wolves, her recently published book on the much respected Denali wolf researcher Gordon Haber. Haber worked for thirty some years, following packs in Denali and trying to educate the public and authorities that these animals are intelligent and valuable beings. He was killed in a plane crash in the Alaska bush in 2009.
This is the month of the Huckleberry pack fiasco in Washington state. Stevens County rancher, Dave Dashiell reported that wolves from the Huckleberry pack had killed at least 24 of his 1,800 sheep since mid-August. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife gave the OK to lethally remove up to four members of the Huckleberry pack. A 66 pound female was killed from a helicopter and three weeks later, it was released that she was the three year old alpha female.
ODFW releases the news that scat studies show Journey’s mate, Wandering Wanda, is related to wolves in the Snake River and Minam packs of NE Oregon. Of course, these wolves came originally from Idaho so she may have made the long trip from there to find her new partner. The studies also prove that the pups (now up to three) are legitimate offspring of Journey and Wanda. Not that there was much question of that!
The fight continues to stop a Predator Derby to be held in January 2015 on public lands near Salmon, Idaho. Representative Pete Defazio (can we come up with a special award for this guy?) writes the BLM stating, “…this proposed activity is clearly inconsistent with BLM’s mission ‘to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
For the first time since the 1940s, a grey wolf was seen in the Kaibab Plateau, just north of Grand Canyon National Park. The collared wolf, later determined to have dispersed from the Rocky Mountains, was named Echo in a contest sponsored by several conservation groups. Milwaukee, Oregon resident, ten year old Zachary Tanner chose the name Echo. He said he came up with this name, “because she came back to the Grand Canyon like an Echo does.”
Wolf hunting in Wisconsin begins again on October 15. This will be the third season since the delisting. Wisconsin is the only state that allows wolves to be hunted with the use of hounds. A group called Wolf Patrol spearheaded by former Sea Shepard rebel Rod Coronado, goes to the field to observe the hunt, to report activities to the public and watch for infractions of the law.
The long and arduous battle by Keep Michigan Wolves Protected and many others is won when voters rejected the passing of laws that would have allowed the second season of wolf killing in Michigan to begin. 22 wolves were killed there in the 2013 season. This action led to a relatively peaceful year for the 700 some wolves living in the beautiful state of Michigan. Meanwhile, Isle Royale wolf numbers continue to drop and the controversy continues as to whether a relocation effort should be put into action.
Early season for wolves in Minnesota is set to start on November 8 and ends November 23. Late season runs from November 29 until January 13, with trapping allowed from November 29 until January 31. Harvest limits may alter the season dates. The previous winter’s wolf count reported 2,423 wolves in 470 packs. Wolf hunting licenses cost residents $30 and nonresidents $250.
Conservation Northwest, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, The Humane Society of the US, and the Woodland Park Zoo offer a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the poacher of the Teanaway Pack breeding female. She was killed in Washington’s Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in October 2014.
Most likely under similar circumstances, two Mexican greys were found dead in New Mexico. The USFWS is investigating the case.
The Wisconsin wolf hunt ends on December 5, 2014. 151 wolves were killed.
Remember Echo, the collared wolf seen by the Grand Canyon? A wolf fitting her description was shot by a Utah hunter near the Colorado/Utah border. No, he was not charged. Despite the fact that Echo wore a conspicuous radio collar and weighed twice as much as a coyote, the hunter told authorities that he mistook her for a coyote and so was not cited.
How right she is. Enough is enough, and those who understand the importance of wolves in the ecosystems of our world will continue to advocate for their existence in 2015, 2016, 2017, and however long it takes. Happy New Year to all!
Sport hunting and trapping of wolves in the Great Lakes region must end immediately, a federal District Court has ruled. The court overturned a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision that removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves living in the western Great Lakes region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
The Humane Society of the United States and a coalition of wildlife protection groups, including Born Free USA, Help Our Wolves Live and Friends of Animals and Their Environment, filed suit against the USFWS’s premature December 2011 delisting decision. The decision threatened the fragile remnants of the gray wolf population by confining wolves to a small area in the Great Lakes region—where state politicians and agency officials have rushed forward with reckless killing programs that threaten wolves with the very same practices that pushed them to the brink of extinction in the first place.
Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS, said, “In the short time since federal protections have been removed, trophy hunters and trappers have killed more than 1,500 Great Lakes wolves under hostile state management programs that encourage dramatic reductions in wolf populations. We are pleased that the court has recognized that the basis for the delisting decision was flawed, and would stop wolf recovery in its tracks.”
In its 111-page ruling, the court chided the USFWS for failing to explain why it ignored the potential for further recovery of wolves into areas of its historic range that remain viable habitat for the species. The court also noted that the USFWS has failed to explain how the “virtually unregulated” killing of wolves by states in the Great Lakes region does not constitute a continued threat to the species.
Following federal delisting, Wisconsin and Minnesota rushed to enact emergency regulations to allow the first public hunting and trapping seasons in the Great Lakes region in more than 40 years. The states authorized some of the most abusive and unsporting practices, including hound hunting, snares, baiting, electronic calls and the use of leg hold traps. Wisconsin’s wolf hunt ended this year after killing 154 wolves – 80 percent of them in leghold traps. And in Minnesota, 272 gray wolves were killed – 84 percent of the wolves in this year’s late season were trapped.
The Michigan legislature also passed three separate laws to designate wolves as a game species, in its zeal to allow the state to authorize a trophy hunting and trapping season for wolves, and to undermine a fair election by Michigan voters on wolf hunting. However, in response to a referendum campaign launched by The HSUS and other animal welfare and conservation groups and Native American tribes, the 2014 wolf hunt was canceled and voters in Michigan soundly rejected sport hunting of wolves in the recent November election.
Despite rhetoric from state politicians about wolf depredation of livestock, a new study of 25 years of wolf data has shown that hunting wolves may increase livestock losses. Michigan lawmakers relied on false stories about wolves to push through a hunting season, and had to apologize for misleading statements.
Today’s ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia follows another ruling by the same court in September that rejected the USFWS’s decision to delist wolves in the State of Wyoming. The HSUS was also a plaintiff in the Wyoming litigation.
The plaintiffs in the Great Lakes lawsuit were represented in the case by Schiff Hardin, LLP and attorneys within The HSUS’ Animal Protection Litigation section.
It was a little like coming home. The two story farm houses, the flat horizon, and the fields of corn stubble covered by snow looked much like Iowa, where I grew up. But I was keenly aware of one major difference between the two states. Wisconsin has wolves. Iowa doesn’t, at least not yet.
I spent last weekend in Western Wisconsin researching a story for Earth Island Journal. I met with Rachel Tilseth, wolf advocate and author of the informative blog Wolves of Douglas County, as well as members of the Great Lakes Wolf Patrol, a grassroots organization spearheaded by Rod Coronado (formerly with Sea Shepard). The mission of Wolf Patrol, whether in the Great Lakes or Montana, is to document the wolf hunt, educate the public, observe for poachers, and make sure hunts end when they are supposed to.
Their efforts, along with Rachel’s Twitter storm, no doubt influenced Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to stop this year’s wolf hunt when they did. There was talk that the hunt would continue longer, as some zones had not killed their quota, even though the overall quota of 150 wolves had been met. The extended season would have allowed hound hunters more time to go after wolves. This atrocious sport, allowed only in Wisconsin, did not legally begin until the regular wolf season ended on December 1.
On the morning of December 4 the DNR still hadn’t made a decision on when to close the hunt. Rachel and Wolf Patrol encouraged their supporters to call the DNR and demand that enough wolves had been killed. A few hours later, it was announced that the hunt would close the next day at noon, allowing for the required 24 hour notice to hunters.
I spent that final day of the hunt traveling the rough gravel roads of Wisconsin with Wolf Patrol. The only place we saw hound hunters was at the local cafe, where they sat for hours, dressed in camouflage, talking and drinking coffee. It was a relief when noon came and the hunt was officially over. But as Rod Coronado said, it was a hollow victory, because the training will continue. Hound hunters can train their dogs on wolves, bears, coyotes and other animals year round, with no restriction on pack size. As you can imagine, dogs entering wolf territory are prime targets as the wolves instinctively protect their homeland. So far this year, thirty hounds have been killed by wolves. One can’t help but wonder if the maximum $2,500 payment given to hunters by the state when dogs are lost to wolves has something to do with these losses. And one also wonders how many wolves are killed and never reported during these horrific encounters.
So although the season is officially over, when fresh snow falls in rural Wisconsin, wolves and other wildlife will continue to face bloody confrontations with hounds as hunters train their dogs year round. Once again, a minority of the population, one that finds entertainment in violent acts, continue their sport in an era when this activity should be known only as a cruel mistake of the past.
Articles have appeared telling us that efforts to trap OR 7, better known as Journey, have so far been unsuccessful. U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, John Stephenson along with another biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, recently backpacked into the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and stayed there for a week with the intention of trapping Journey, his mate, or their pups in order to collar them. All wolves eluded their efforts. The battery on Journey’s collar is due to expire soon and his signal will be lost, making future capture of the pack even more difficult. Besides, its getting pretty chilly for backpacking.
The reasons given for the collaring effort are so the USFWS and the ODFW can continue doing research on the wolves but also to help them monitor for the pack’s involvement in livestock losses. Stephenson is quoted as saying “ranchers in southern Oregon are worried,” and “Generally, wherever you have wolves in proximity to livestock you do get some level of depredation.” Radio collared wolves are much easier to locate. They often become the infamous “Judas wolf” by giving away the location of their pack so they can be lethally removed by Wildlife Services or other entities. There are dozens of examples of this, including the Wedge and Huckleberry packs in Washington.
But there are other, perhaps more far-reaching reasons to put those heavy, unattractive collars on at least a handful of wolves. Imagine if Journey had been a wolf without a collar, like his mate, known as Wandering Wanda. The world would know little to nothing about his amazing 3,000 mile venture from NE Oregon, into California, and back into Oregon. We would not have gained a vast amount of knowledge about the dispersal of wolves, nor would we have this poster child for the importance of wildlife corridors that enable animals to traverse the back country with some element of safety. Journey also represents how Oregon and California are doing a good job in preserving wild and open spaces so that an apex predator like the wolf can repopulate their native territories. And if Journey had been collarless, he may well have been shot and his death never revealed. Who knows how many dispersing wolves this happens to? The one who recently made it all the way to the Grand Canyon is one lucky wolf.
The argument for and against collaring wolves is an interesting one. Do we need to manage them as much as we do, or should wolves be allowed to lead a less accountable life? What are your thoughts?
Wolves don’t live in a world unto themselves. They, like all species, exist in an interactive and pulsating place, one that is increasingly influenced by humans and their influence. Good or bad, a significant part of human influence has to do with finances. Money talks, and it speaks both for and against wolves, depending on the source. We hear a lot about prominent groups that use their wealth to kill wolves. But Ted Turner, who has a net worth of 2.2 billion and owns over 2 million acres of land, is using his money to help them.
I learned about Turner’s far-reaching philanthropy last evening at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. The lecture I attended was the first in a Pacific Northwest tour entitled, “Two Talking Wolves” featuring writer Todd Wilkinson, who just released the paperback version of his book, Last Stand, Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet, along with long-time environmental advocate and Cascadia Wildlands executive director, Bob Ferris. The Ashland talk, as well as the one tonight in Roseburg, includes Mike Finley, who, among dozens of other attributes, was supervisor of Yellowstone National Park when wolves were relocated there in 1995 and 1996.
Capitalism, as demonstrated by Ted Turner, has tremendous potential to reduce the damage done to the environment and its inhabitants. Turner’s vast Flying D ranch near Bozeman, Montana is home to 5,000 bison, a ton of elk, as well as the Beartrap pack, one of the largest groups of wolves in the country. The Beartrap is one lucky pack. Turner doesn’t shoot them when they ingest his resident ungulates. He wants them there, because he likes wolves and also because when wolves dispersed from Yellowstone to the Flying D, Turner achieved the rare distinction of owning land with biological wholeness, a place with an intact collection of native creatures. He’s even rewilding prairie dogs, with a quarter of a million of the little rodents tunneling away so far. The cascade effect is in action here; black footed ferrets, our most endangered mammal, find homes in the prairie dog tunnels.
Turner’s resources serve a multitude of organizations, as we learned from Mike Finley, president and treasurer of the Turner Foundation. Finley calls foundations “change agents,” as they have a way of getting things done that the government is unable to. The best way to gain an appreciation for the generosity of this foundation is to check out the appendix in the back of Willkinson’s book. There are seventeen pages, each page with three columns (and the print is small) listing the organizations that received money from the Turner Foundation up until September 13, 2012. The total giving was $385 million. The groups benefiting range from the Montana Zoo to the Alzheimer’s Association, from the China Women’s Hotline to the Wildlife Society. The organizations are as diverse as is imaginable. No one can accuse Turner or his foundation of being narrow minded in their choice of beneficiaries.
If you live near Roseburg, Oregon don’t miss the chance tonight to hear Mike Finley’s part of the conversation. Finley is well known for his proactive work in the National Park System. In 1988, as superintendent of Everglades National Park, he pushed for a law suit against sugar cane growers to stop their pollution of the “River of Grass.” In his position at Yosemite, Finley limited the number of visitors allowed in the valley to prevent harmful overcrowding. And at Yellowstone, he used the same determined approach to help bring wolves back to the park. Finley currently serves on the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission where last week, he stood up against the proposal to increase the spring bear hunt in southern Oregon. He is also a graduate of Southern Oregon University.
Wilkinson has been a journalist and writer for over twenty-five years. His 1998 book, Science Under Seige: The Politicians War on Nature and Truth, sheds light on how the government puts politics in front of truth, often ignoring evidence discovered by their own scientists. He spent seven years on the biography of Ted Turner and his book is filled with revealing interviews, showing us a side of Turner that is rarely made public.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of “Two Talking Wolves” is hearing of the camaraderie between the presenters. Wolf advocacy goes back a long way and when Finley was in Yellowstone working toward the return of wolves, Bob Ferris was in Washington D.C., speaking for Defenders of Wildlife on the reasons why wolves should live in the park. He admitted that he had to testify that yes, of course all the wolves could be rounded up if need be after their release. After all, they all wore telemetry collars. I envision his fingers crossed behind his back, knowing how difficult this task would actually be. Ferris was also part of the team that went to Ft. St. John B.C. to capture wolves for the Yellowstone and central Idaho reintroduction. He has a keen interest in what goes on in the human mind regarding wolves, believing that understanding the root cause behind the war against wolves is essential to solving the problem.
Ferris and Wilkinson met each other years ago while working on a swift fox project on the Blackfoot reservation in Browning, Montana. They hit it off, no surprise, and have maintained a friendship ever since.
Ferris also talked about OR 7 and his mate, Wandering Wanda, the name he coined for the female black wolf. He pointed out that Wanda has a story as fascinating as Journey’s but she isn’t getting the same attention. Ferris predicted years ago that wolves would return to his home state of California. Journey, and perhaps Wanda as well, have made this come true. And no doubt their pups will disperse into the Golden State sometime soon.
Between the efforts of Wilkinson, Ferris and Finley, there are decades of work toward creating a saner, safer world for wildlife as well as for human beings. And Ted Turner adds his own style of environmentalism to the mix, one that throws in the benefit of his assets. While it’s easy to become discouraged about the problems we face in defending wolves, something Bob Ferris said comes to mind. “If we are frustrated by the lack of progress, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t working hard behind the scenes.” Two Talking Wolves” provides proof of this. Be sure and attend if you can. Visit Cascadia Wildlands website. Details of the upcoming talks are below.
If you have suggestions about venues we should investigate or people we should contact along this general pathway, we would be most appreciative. We are also flexible in terms of presentation format and audiences. Carolyn Candela at Cascadia Wildlands will be helping with logistics on this tour, but please feel free to contact any of us about opportunities or interest (bob[at]cascwild.org), (tawilk[at]aol.com) or (Carolyn[at]cascwild.org).
I’m nearly done reading the captivating book, Among Wolves. This work is comprised of the late Gordon Haber’s essays, field notes, scientific papers, photographs and even Tweets, as well as personal commentaries from those who knew him best, including the pilots who flew Haber over the vast Denali National Park so he could pursue his exhaustive study of wolves.
I’ll be writing a review for EcoLit Books after finishing Among Wolves but I am so enamored with the book that I wanted to share some of it with you now.
Alaska writer Marybeth Holleman compiled the words and pictures and created a book that does justice to the vast body of work done by Haber in the forty-three years he spent as a student of Canis lupus. Among Wolves is a readable and informative text that is accessible to all. There is science here but also anecdotes and meaningful insights. Holleman writes that Haber “…was, above all, a scientist-one who never forgot the initial sense of wonder, curiosity and excitement that drew him to study wolves. He was never afraid of drawing conclusions from his research, or of voicing those conclusions.” (pg 12). Haber’s passion for his work is apparent throughout the pages of this book.
Perhaps because he didn’t work under the thumb of a Federal or state agency (his research was funded by sources such as Friends of Animals), Haber portrayed wolves differently than most biologists. He built on what was already known about them, adding depth and dimension to more basic facts and figures.
One section I especially enjoyed was Haber’s description of the den areas of several of the packs he studied. In 1966 and 1967, Haber mapped out the underground structure of the Toklat pack’s homesite. In order to do this in his typically thorough manner, he crawled into each of the dozen or so tunnels that made up the den area. He found the burrows clean and dry and the ground of the major chambers lined with a thick layer of wolf underfur, providing a soft bed for the thirteen newborn pups the two breeding females produced that year.
This particular homesite was one of a cluster of dens within an eight mile radius. The packs, Haber learned, tended to use several sites each summer, depending on prey availability and disturbances by humans. He believed they also moved from one to the other to help train their young to travel. The homesites not only contained dens, they also had an above ground layout with lookouts for adult wolves, interconnecting trails, and play areas for pups. Tunnel entrances usually faced the south, allowing for early sunshine in the spring. Water was nearly always close by. And the sites were often constructed in elevated areas, providing wolves with good views to watch for prey and predators alike.
These homesites were used over and over again by the Denali wolves. The area Haber mapped out was known to be in use for at least twenty years before he crawled into the tunnels. But Haber as well as his predecessor, Dr. Adolph Murie, believed the sites had housed wolves for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Haber didn’t like the word “pack.” He saw wolf groups as families, believing the term pack failed to “convey the fascinating essence of what sets wolf social organization apart from the organization of other species.” (pg 244) The Toklat wolves, in his estimation, were “one of the world’s oldest known nonhuman social groups in the wild,” (pg 238) comparing them to the chimpanzees Jane Goodall studied in Gombe National Park, Tanzania.
The Toklat family had long and lasting relationships. One primary breeding female held her position for fourteen years. Non-breeding wolves were very involved with training and rearing the young. Females who weren’t mothers even nursed other female’s pups. Hunting techniques were honed by this group and practices passed on from generation to generation.
Homesites reminiscent of villages and complex social structures can’t help but make one think of human culture. If family groups of wolves are allowed to exist for long periods of time without destruction they can offer us insights into our own past and current societies.
A vocal opponent of the Alaskan tendency to eradicate their wolves, Haber said, “Numbers are secondary to relationships and actions. It isn’t about numbers, it’s about traditions and cultures.” (pg 237)
Wolves are not isolated entities, they are complex social creatures. Even if hunting and trapping does not lead them to a threatened or endangered status, this random killing destroys much more than an individual wolf. As Haber said, “…although wolf numbers often rebound from public hunting, trapping, and heavier agency killing, at least in the short term, the repercussions are distinct and long-lasting. There are lost traditions, fragmentation, and continued mortality long after direct killings. Effects can be felt for generations.” (pg 246)
Haber’s death in 2009 at age 67 was a profound loss, yet his writings remain to be used to help us understand wolves as the intricate and essential species they are. Among Wolves should be required reading by those who believe managing these animals is only a matter of counting them. Perhaps someday, the rest of the world will catch up with the progressive thinking of Gordon Haber.
(Quotes are from Among Wolves by Gordon Haber and Marybeth Holleman, University of Alaska Press, 2013)
It appears that Journey’s mate made the same arduous trip he did, but without the fanfare. The black female, who is now mother to a litter of pups, is most likely from a pack in northeast Oregon.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, scat samples were collected in May and June of this year from the southwest Cascades where Journey and his family reside. The scat was examined by scientists at the Laboratory for Ecological, Evolutionary and Conservation Genetics at the University of Idaho. Results reveal that the black female is related to wolves in the Snake River and Minam packs of northeast Oregon, perhaps at the half-sibling or aunt-uncle level to the alpha females of these packs.
However, as John Stephenson biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service points out, “It could be she also came from an Idaho pack that had dispersers. She may not be the girl next door, but it’s possible. That’s the neat part of the story. It was kind of a needle in a haystack once she did get out all this way. It shows they have ways of finding each other.”
The genetic study also showed that the black female is all wolf, not a wolf-dog hybrid as a few has believed.
Wherever she’s from, Wandering Wanda, as some folks call her, went on a very long walk-about. And because she doesn’t wear a collar no one was aware of her travels. This is in sharp contrast to Journey’s trip, one that’s been followed by thousands of people across the globe as his GPS coordinates were shared (after the fact, for safety reasons) by the Oregon and California Departments of Fish and Wildlife.
The mysterious black female is an enigma, one that evokes many questions. We wonder not only where she is from but what travails she may have met in her travels. Did she bring down deer or elk on her own or did she rely on carcasses and small game? It appears she stayed away from livestock or we certainly would have heard about that. And how did she end up in the same location as Journey? No doubt it was not happenstance. ODFW spokesperson Michelle Dennehy reports that wolves follow scent markings left by other wolves that leave their homeland to seek new territory. This makes sense, however, Journey left his family of origin three years ago. Do scent trails last that long?
Wanda’s story is fascinating and we certainly don’t need or expect to have all the answers. It’s good enough to know that she is there and that wild wolves have instincts and skills and sometimes sheer luck that allow them to perform such miraculous feats. There is certainly a larger force at work here as well. Wolves and other large predators are returning to their native lands all across the world, despite the obstacles of humanity that cross their paths. This lends hope to an otherwise despairing situation, where wolves continue to be killed for being wolves.
Good luck to Journey, Wanda, and their pups. May they roam the wilderness of southeast Oregon and into California as well, helping to return the landscape to the true and diverse wilderness it once was and perhaps will be again.