Wolves In The News

UPDATED FEB. 17, 2011: A pair of wildlife biologists in western Okanogan County say they believe the Lookout Pack’s alpha female was illegally killed last spring.

Previously, indications to this reporter were that the animal had died but not necessarily been killed.

In other wolf news around the region:

an Idaho Congressman “fast-tracked” legislation to delist the species to a federal budget bill

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer told ranchers north of I-90 to go ahead and shoot wolves harassing their cattle;

a billboard offering a $10,000 reward for info on an Oregon wolf poached last summer was tacked up along Highway 82 outside La Grande

and the Washington Cattlemen’s Association filed a lawsuit to force the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to conduct a status review of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies.

“It is regrettable that it requires litigation to prod the Fish and Wildlife Service to fulfill its statutory duties on species review,” said Jack Field, WCA’s executive director in a press release.  “We are bringing this action in order to make sure that the Service is following the law, and is guided by solid science, when it makes regulatory decisions.”

Schweitzer’s letter reads:

February 16, 2011

The Honorable Ken Salazar
Secretary
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20240

Dear Secretary Salazar:

I write to you today regarding wolf management in Montana.

While almost everyone acknowledges that the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population is fully recovered, as the Governor of Montana I am profoundly frustrated by the lack of any actual results that recognize Montana’s rights and responsibilities to manage its wildlife. Montana has for years done everything that has been asked: adopting a model wolf management plan; enacting enabling legislation; and adopting the necessary implementing rules. Our exemplary efforts have been ignored. I cannot continue to ignore the crying need for workable wolf management while Montana waits, and waits, and waits. Therefore, I am now going to take additional necessary steps to protect the interests of Montana’s livestock producers and hunters to the extent that I can within my authorities as governor.

First, for Montana’s northwest endangered wolves (north of Interstate 90), any livestock producers who kill or harass a wolf attacking their livestock will not be prosecuted by Montana game wardens. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) wardens will be directed to exercise their prosecutorial discretion by not investigating or citing anyone protecting their livestock.

Further, I am directing FWP to respond to any livestock depredation by removing whole packs that kill livestock, wherever this may occur.

Still further, to protect the elk herds in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley that have been most adversely affected by wolf predation, I am directing FWP, to the extent allowed by the Endangered Species Act, to cull these wolves by whole-pack removal to enable elk herds to recover.

At this point, I can do nothing less and still maintain my commitment as Governor to uphold the rights of our citizens to protect their property and to continue to enjoy Montana’s cherished wildlife heritage and traditions.

Sincerely,

Brian Schweitzer
GOVERNOR

Back to the Lookout wolves. The female, part of the state’s first confirmed breeding pack in 70 years, has been missing since last May, when the signal from its radio collar abruptly ceased.

Why has been unclear, but in an article printed last week, local Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin told a reporter for the Methow Valley News, “circumstances around her disappearance indicate that somebody killed her.”

The article continues:

“We stopped seeing her at exactly the same time we stopped being able to receive any signals. She was probably shot and the collar destroyed,” John Rohrer, a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist, said this week. Rohrer said there has been no sign of the female since May 2010.

The biologists believe she was killed because she wore a collar that had a “mortality switch,” which would have started giving off a different signal if the wolf became immobile for more than 24 hours, or if the collar had fallen off, Rohrer explained.

The collar had been functioning until the signal suddenly disappeared, along with any sign of the wolf. Wolf team members flew over the wolves’ territory to try to pick up a signal, but found nothing.

Rohrer and a WDFW staffer in Olympia clarified the thinking as the biologists’ own, not the official positions of WDFW or the USFS.

That wolves are poached is nothing new — the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that 10 percent of annual deaths in the Northern Rockies are tied to illegal kills.

Currently, the U.S. attorney in Spokane is investigating the December 2008 death of another member of the Lookout Pack.

Washington’s statewide wolf population is estimated at 20 to 25, with at least half of those in the Diamond Pack in Pend Oreille County and two or three in the Lookout.

It’s unclear whether the two- to four-member group known as the Salmo Pack dens on the Washington or BC side of the border while another pack, Cutoff Peak, occasionally strays into Washington, but is considered an Idaho group. There are also wolves in the Blue Mountains, but no confirmed pack on the Washington side.

With breeding season on the horizon, the Methow Valley News reports that biologists are closely watching the remaining wolves to determine if any is a  female.

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