Tracking Wolf Releases

It's Not Just Birds . . . Tracking the Canadian Wolf Release
On Wings December 1995 Volume 1: No. 8

On March 8th, three armed agents of the US. FWS threatened and harassed local Idaho rancher Eugene Hussy, a 74 year old man, in an attempt to gather evidence on the recent shooting of a wolf on his property. Mr. Hussy's request that the local Sheriff be present when USFWS personnel searched his property for "evidence" was treated with contempt. When Sheriff Bret Braslou arrived on the scene, the wildlife officers' treatment of both he and the rancher ''border very close to the use of excessive force," according to the 23 year law enforcement officer. Suggestions by Department of Justice (DOJ) officials that both Mr. Hussy and the Sheriff were "obstructing justice" have been met by state and local officials as beneath contempt.

The evidence that the USFWS was trying to obtain was the shell casing from the shot fired that killed a wolf on Mr. Hussy's property. Under the rules governing the wolf reintroduction in central Idaho, the predators can be killed by ranchers if they are attacking their stock. Earlier reports indicated the wolf shot on Jan. 29 was attacking the new born calf.

However, a statement released by the USFWS in the Portland, Oregon office said the autopsies on the wolf found shot to death on Hussy's ranch and the calf found dead at its side "indicate that the dead wolf did not kill the calf," and that the calf "is believed to have been stillborn or to have died from natural causes shortly after birth."

Dr. Robert Cope, who performed the initial autopsy on-site, reported that the calf could not have been stillborn as its lungs were inflated. It appeared to have died from multiple lacerations inflicted by the wolf. By March 9th, the situation had deteriorated further. The DOJ began to claim that local people were organizing a protest of 'thousands' to refuse to pay grazing fees on Monday the 13th. The only such "meeting" in Lemhi County is the regularly scheduled County Commissioners session, which intends to discuss ways of softening the blow of increased grazing fees and which 40 local ranchers intend to attend. DOJ and FBl officials seem to feel that local residents are attempting to steal federal lands and harass land managers' while doing so.

Lemhi County has been entered by the DOJ on a list of counties in the USA who supposedly were attempting to seize public lands and who have passed laws to criminalize the action of the Forest Service and BLM, prior to them having contacted either the county or local land management agencies. The County Commissioners have requested that the DOJ remove Lemhi County from their list and issue an apology to County residents, since this is categorically not true.

Senator Craig was quoted in the Idaho radio broadcast system as saying ''I am mad as Hell that this agency, or any agency, could treat people in this manner."

The head of the USFWS, admitted on Friday, March 10, that her agents made mistakes in serving the search warrant as part of their investigation into the wolf killing. She "did not deny claims by Lemhi County commissioners and Sheriff Bret Braslou that the rancher, Mr. Hussy, may have been intimidated and that Braslou was not consulted." Beattie said that her people should have been more cooperative with local law enforcement agents.

However, the USFWS regional office issued a less apologetic statement. They claimed that the three officers conducted them-selves in a professional manner, and when it became evident that they would be unable to gain cooperation at the site, "the officers prudently withdrew from the area and returned to their office." This is not just an attack on Idaho, not is it a continuation of the "War on the West". It is just a footprint in the environmental extremists' march across America, and they are headed in your direction. It doesn't make any difference where you live; these issues affect. you too.

Editor's note: This wolf update was brought to you through Alliance for America, an incredibly dedicated Grassroots movement.  This article was originally printed  in Idaho Timberland, and is reprinted-here with the kind permission of Alliance for America.)

Latest word on the project is that the USFWS is coordinating with British Columbia to obtain fifteen more wolves for the Idaho project, to be released, perhaps, as early as this January. Releases of wolves in Idaho and at Yellowstone' National Park have cost the taxpayer in excess of six million dollars thus far. Most of the Idaho wolves have remained near their release site. Three wolf pairs were together as of mid-November of this year. Game authorities hope to manage a minimum of ten packs of wolves, each consisting of ten wolves each by the year 2003.

Officials estimate that a fully recovered wolf population in the area might consume as many as 1600 head of elk and deer per year. The Farm Bureau Federation challenged the introduction of the wolves last year. The case is .still pending in court. Mr. Hussey remains unenthusiastic about the project and foresees problems arising in the coming winter season.

On Wings February 1997
Volume 3: No. 2

The U. S Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed a plan to establish an experimental population of the endangered Mexican gray wolf Canis lupus baileyi into parts of its historic range in Arizona and New Mexico.

The Mexican gray wolf is the most southerly and the most genetically distinct. of all the North , American gray wolf subspecies, according to the Service. The Mexican wolf, or 'lobo', weighs' from fifty to ninety pounds, stands 26 - 32 inches at the shoulder, and, measures four and one half to five - and one half feet.

In an environmental impact statement issued in December, the Service published its recommendation to reintroduce the wolves onto public lands. After a thirty day period of public review, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt will announce final plans.

The Mexican wolf, and endangered subspecies of gray wolf, was listed as endangered in 1976. Its territory ranged over much of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Northern .Mexico. Due to its reputation as a livestock killer, the once healthy population was virtually extirpated from its range due to intensive eradication efforts by farmers and game managers. The wolves were also adversely. impacted by commercial hunting and trapping.

No wild wolf has been confirmed in its U.S. range since 1970. Its status in Mexico is uncertain. A captive breeding program was established for the gray wolf in the late .1970's. A Recovery Plan was developed for the species in 1982 by the Service, in conjunction with the Mexican Direccion General de la Fauna Silvestre. As of March 1996, 149 were held in captivity in twenty-three facilities in the U.S., and at five in Mexico.

Once a plan is approved, Mexican wolves would be released into the proposed Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, in the Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona. From there, it would be expected to disperse into the Gila National Forest of New Mexico. The White Sands Wolf Recovery Area, located on the  White Sands Missile Range on New Mexico, would provide a second area for release if necessary.

Following what the Service calls the "soft release approach", the wolves selected to be released would be held for up to several months in holding pens in an effort to acclimatize them to their new surroundings. Up to fourteen family groups are expected to be released in the Blue Range over a period of five years, working toward a sustainable population of up to one hundred wolves.

Up to five family groups would be released into White Sands, with the goal of a population of twenty wolves in the next three years. Wolves will be fitted with radio collars prior to their release into the wild, and will be permanently marked for identification.

The designation of the released wolves as an experimental population allows the Service great flexibility in its management activities. The Service cannot designate the wolf habitat as critical under this program, and private citizens will be allowed to take measures to prevent harm to themselves or to livestock under the program.  There are expected to be few, if any, restrictions on human activities imposed, with the possible exception of restrictions around active dens during certain times of the year. Limited road closures could be imposed if illegal wolf killings occur.

Besides the Hussey and (Chad) McKittrick incidents, the most recent casualty in the wolf wars was announced in January. Wolf R-28 was found frozen in the Madison River in Gallatin County, Colorado. Biologists found the wolf after it had been missing for five weeks, with its collar intact and functional. R-28 was a large, 150 pound gray male, who was the alpha male of the Nez Perce pack. It appeared the wolf had been shot several times, and then dumped at the river location. The Service is requesting anyone with information regarding this animal.

In the meantime, Defenders of Wildlife has begun a campaign to lobby the state of New York to call on their governor George Patacki to support a proposition to release a pack of fifteen to fifty gray wolves into the Adirondack National Park. Patacki refuses to support such measures without the backing of the local communities that would be impacted by such an action.

On Wings June 1998
Volume 4 No. 6

Wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park and in central Idaho, and the natural migration of gray wolves into Montana from Canada, is a subject sure to engender argument. Rarely has a wildlife issue so polarized public opinion.

Since early in America's history, the howl of the wolf has struck fear in the hearts of isolated ranchers. Fearful for their stock, ranchers and farmers asked for the help of government in protecting their valuable charges from wolf predation. Thus, as early as 1914, Yellowstone began an eradication program, funded by Congress, to ensure the destruction of "wolves, prairie dogs and other animals injurious to agriculture and animal husbandry." Federal policy actually called for their elimination, and that program was successful.

Generally, across the country, wolf populations came under control, so much control, in fact, that they became essentially wiped out in this country. But not entirely, it is essential to remember. In 1973, the Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act, which mandates recovery plans for all endangered and threatened species, regardless of cost. And the gray wolf, while still hated and despised by the ranching interests, came under its protection.

By 1980, a recovery plan for the species had been drafted, and the public relations campaign initiated. By 1987, calls for reintroduction into the Yellowstone ecosystem and other areas in the West had begun. School children were enlisted by the great green groups to send letters to Washington urging the wolf's return to the West, and the money coffers were filled with donations from those who would willingly go back to nature.

By 1995, the wolf had come to symbolize the return of the old West, and the noble wolf became the charismatic megafauna of choice, attracting funds on a level comparable to the ever lucrative dolphin or baby seal. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and an animal rights group, Defenders of Wildlife, began planning to trap over one hundred gray wolves from Canada, and release them in United States, in Wyoming and Idaho.

The releases were allowed, according to Babbitt, et al, under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act, which allowed species to be imported into areas they formerly occupied, so long as there is no potential for the species to repopulate the area on its own. The goal of the Service was to manage a minimum of ten packs of ten wolves each, to be achieved by the year 2003. By 1995 and 1996, the Service had imported and released sixty-six Canadian gray wolves to Yellowstone and central Idaho, against the wishes of local farmers and ranchers. However, the Service was able to give lip service to the ranchers' concerns by designating the animals as a non-essential experimental population, thus theoretically removing them from the restrictions of the Endangered Species Act.

On January 12, 1995, the first wolves from Alberta, Canada, arrived at their holding pens in Yellowstone. Just days thereafter, fifteen more wolves were released in Idaho. On March 21, amid much fanfare, the doors to the holding pens in Yellowstone were thrown open, and the wolves released. These releases were made at a cost to the taxpayers of over six million dollars.

Officials had estimated that a fully recovered wolf population might consume as many as 1600 dead of elk and deer annually. But even before the Yellowstone wolves had been released, ranchers' worst fears were realized. Despite assurances that wolves would not damage livestock, by January 19, 1995, Canadian Wolf B-13 made the first kill.

The first person to have suffered financial loss directly attributable to the reintroduction of gray wolves to Idaho was rural Lemhi county rancher Eugene Hussey. Wolf B-13 was shot by 'person or persons unknown' as it munched on a calf owned by Mr. Hussey. Dr. Robert Cope, a local veterinarian, performed a necropsy on the unfortunate animal, and concluded that the calf had been healthy, had nursed, and had then been eaten alive by the wolf.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, however, in their zeal to protect the rights of the murderous wolf, sent three armed agents to the 74-year-old Hussey's ranch on March 8, in an attempt to gather evidence of a crime. Apparently, the agents were attempting to locate a shell casing from the shot that killed B-13. Hussey requested that the local sheriff, Bret Braslou, be called, to be present while the USFWS agents performed a search of the property, but that request was scorned. When Braslou arrived anyway, Braslou described the agents' treatment of him and Hussey as "bordering very close to the use of excessive force."

Although ranchers and others are permitted under the exempted, experimental population regulations to shoot animals preying on domestic livestock, the Service released a statement saying that the 'autopsies' on the wolf and the calf found at Hussey's ranch "indicate that the dead wolf did not kill the calf," and the calf "is believed to have died from natural causes shortly after death."

This, of course, is directly contradictory to the local vet's evaluation. His findings indicated that the calf could not have been stillborn, as its lungs were inflated, and appeared to have died from multiple lacerations inflicted by the wolf. By this time, the town was festering. Lemhi county came under the intense scrutiny of the Department of Justice and the FBI, who seemed to believe the citizens were organizing in protest of increased grazing fees and were about to attempt to seize federal properties and harass land managers. Senator Larry Craig told Idaho radio listeners that "I am mad as hell that this agency, or any agency, could treat people in this manner."

Mollie Beattie, then head of USFWS, admitted shortly thereafter that her agents had made mistakes in the execution of the search warrant, admitting that her people should have been more cooperative with local law enforcement agencies. The local Service office persisted in their stance however, stating that their agents had comported themselves in a professional manner, and that when it was evident that they would not gain the subject's cooperation, "the officers prudently withdrew from the area and returned to the office." After investigation, the USFWS concluded that neither Hussey or his employee shot Canadian Wolf B-13, or knew who did so.

Mr. Hussey has since filed a lawsuit against the federal government and is seeking compensation for the loss of the calf. Other wolves that were part of the reintroduction project also fell victim to man. Charles McKittrick was sentenced to six months in prison for killing a wolf that had strayed out of Yellowstone. He had been convicted in October 1995 of possessing, killing and transporting the wolf, in April that year.

But in another sense, all the wolves in the reintroduction plan were victims of man. Even as green groups such as the Defenders of Wildlife make poster-mammals of these creatures, they are fully aware that native populations of wolves had never disappeared from the United States. The Service, too, was fully aware that at least five breeding pairs of wolves existed in Idaho, and had a map recording wolf sightings there dating back to the early seventies. The wolf population in Montana was healthy, due principally to the fact that wolves are no respecters of borders, and they had been migrating here from Canada for some years.

But there are no photo-ops in these clandestine crossings. Better a picture of Bruce Babbitt loosing the beasts into the wild to loosen the wallets of an unsuspecting public. Reintroduced populations have increased well in the States, and both the Yellowstone and the Idaho populations should exceed one hundred individuals this year, in some cases as a result of matings with native wolves. The Montana population of border-crossers also tops one hundred.

With the realization that wolves were repopulating themselves well without the intervention of man, the invocation of 10(j) becomes faulty. By removing the full protections of the ESA from the reintroduced population, it was also effectively removed from the wolves in the (unrecognized) native population.

In response to a lawsuit from the Wyoming Farm Bureau and other interested groups, Casper, Wyoming federal judge William Downe ruled that the reintroduced wolves and their offspring should be removed, since the Endangered Species Act would not "allow reduction of protections to existing natural populations in whole or in part." However, he stayed the order pending appeal.

Babbitt has vowed the keep the wolves in this country. The Justice Department has appealed the removal of the wolves on behalf of the Department of the Interior, and Secretary Babbitt has stated that he will do everything he can to keep the animals in the U.S. Losing the appeal might be problematic for Babbitt, and he has already stated that the government has no place to put the wolves if they are ordered removed.

Canada does not want the wolves returned: they are shot from helicopters there, as vermin. Zoos do not have room for them, Babbitt says, and the American public, ranchers excluded perhaps, would not allow the wolves to be killed. And what of the offspring of matings between the native stock and reintroduced stock? Some days it just doesn't pay to fool with old Mother Nature.

Living With the Consequences

With the Fish and Wildlife Service happily planning to repopulate the United States with the likes of the grizzly bear, the cougar, the gray wolf, and other predators, it stands to reason that people are going to be forced to find new ways to deal with them. Conflict will be inevitable, as people and animals vie for the same habitat, and in some cases, the same food supply.

Coyotes have particularly proliferated in the last few decades, and have adapted well even to city life, where they take an occasional cat or pampered pooch. Populations in some areas of the country are increasing at such a rate as to have outstripped the growth of their normal prey, and have taken to attacking livestock. Those problem beasts are often promptly dispatched lethally by the USDA's predator control people, to the dismay of the animal rights people, who would prefer that the errant beasts be relocated to some other area.

In Ontario Canada alone, the agriculture ministry spends between $500,000 and $750,000 annually compensating farmers for losses due to coyote predation. But Canadian ranchers soon may be experiencing better living through chemistry, now that the government there has approved the experimental import of a product long used in Wales to keep animals from crop acreages.

The product, called fox oil, is a tarry substance produced by distilling animal bones that have been turned into charcoal by heating them from 700 to 1,000 degrees. centigrade for about eight hours. Trade-named Renardine, the foul smelling substance is supposed to repel predators.

When the stuff is applied around a field, coyotes and other vermin are repelled by the pungent odors, which lat about ten to fourteen days. Initial trials have been favorable, and it is expected that Renardine will be available in Canada within the next several years.

But others of the canine persuasion have had less luck. On April 28, a male wolf was shot and killed by an Arizona camper when the beast allegedly attacked the man's dog. The mate of the slain animal has been captured and relocated to New Mexico. The camper may face charges in the incident.

One of the three wolves brought to Arizona by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt killed a prized cattle dog the last week of May of this year, in the first such incident since the wolves were released March 29. The Queensland heeler was owned by Sam Luce, a rancher who runs about twenty-five head of cattle on private land along the Blue River. Luce was devastated by the loss of his 'little friend.'

The rancher will be compensated monetarily for his loss by the Defenders of Wildlife, an organization which has promised to compensate ranchers for losses caused by wolf predation. They also will pay for veterinary expenses stemming from bite wounds to the neck suffered by the rancher's miniature horse.

The offending wolf was recaptured and taken to Albuquerque, where it will remain until a release date is set for it and up to fourteen other wolves, sometime late this year or early next year.

Bears, too, are increasingly tangling with humanity. Douglas County, Colorado has recently had a few run-ins with opportunistic bears, who have invaded the local subdivisions in search of a few easy meals.

There, local bears are challenging their avian friends at bird-feeders. Local officials are now warning residents to keep dog food and barbeque grills inside, and to remove bird feeders when bears are about. Those bears which persist in unwanted backyard feeding forays have been relocated, but officials are concerned that there are fewer and fewer places to place the animals, as civilization rapidly encroaches their territory.

Grizzly bears have become a serious problem in some areas, and with their reintroduction by the USFWS, more and more conflicts are likely. Attracted by campers, the bears have developed a taste for the foods the campers bring in.

The big bruins have invaded tents, shredding backpacks, foodstuffs, and even campers themselves. Bears that become too conditioned to foraging human camps for food often have to be destroyed Even those that are relocated experience a twenty percent mortality rate.  Now a wildlife biologist, Carrie Hunt, has come up with a solution other than relocation or lethal methods. She has begun using fearless, sixty-pound Karelian bear dogs to teach the grizzlies to stay away from campsites. By repeatedly using the dogs to harass errant bears, the biologist has 'trained' some fifty bears to avoid camps and campers.

Karelian bear dogs originated in Russia and Finland, a fearless breed bred to pursue and track bears. Their quickness and intelligence allows them to deftly avoid being injured by the bears.  Hunt started with one dog in 1990; in 1992, with the acquisition of a mate for her first dog, she began a breeding program which has produced eighteen pups, fourteen of which are now used in bear control.

Hunt's program has seen some success in Glacier National Park; she has been hired by the US Forest Service, and the state of Montana. Yosemite does not use her services, primarily because they feel their bears are too far gone for aversive conditioning.  But one family of bears in Glacier National park was too late for Hunt's efforts. The remains of camper Craig Dahl, 26, of Winter Park Colorado, were found by park rangers on May 20.  Dahl had just recently taken a job driving a tourist coach around the park. Rangers believe he had stumbled across a family of grizzly bears -- a mother and two cubs -- while on a solo hike through the park, ran from them, and was ultimately killed and consumed.

Human DNA was found in bear scat found near the location of Dahl's body. The thirteen year old mother bear was shot by rangers. A two year old female cub was euthanized after she was trapped by park employees. Her brother is still free after attempts to lure him into the trap failed. He, too, will be killed when he is located, as officials believe a food conditioned bear is too dangerous to be considered for relocation or placement in a zoo.

Unwanted animal encounters will likely increase in coming years, as humans move into animal territories, and predators are reintroduced in federal programs originating through the Department of the Interior. In bringing back the big predators, often to the consternation, and against the wishes of farmers and ranchers who must deal intimately with them, the DOI is, in the minds of some, playing God. By deliberately placing large predators in the way of people, it is only a matter of time before some people become prey themselves. Despite our best wishes and intentions, we cannot go back to Eden.