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Wyoming Wolf, Cubs Keep Killing Colorado Rancher’s Cows

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

For nearly six months, Don Gittleson of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, has had a wolf problem. Which came to him all the way from Wyoming

Gittleson is one of a handful of ranchers who has seen firsthand the destruction wolves can cause to the agriculture industry if left unchecked. He has been fighting to keep a former Wyoming wolf and her pack from killing off his livestock.

“We have a yearling and two bred cows that have been confirmed killed by the wolves,” Gittleson told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “One cow was injured, but it’s recovering. We have two dead calves that Colorado Parks and Wildlife haven’t yet confirmed were killed by the wolves and I had some CPW folks out today to check out another calf that’s been injured.”

A former member of a Wyoming wolf pack identified as F1084 broke away its pack about two years ago, according to wildlife officials. She, along with her mate and litter, have been preying on the cows since before Christmas.

F1084 and her mate M2101 had six pups in 2021 and when the pack of eight traveled south out of Colorado, it became the first wolf pack in Colorado since the 1940s.

“[Colorado Gov. Jared Polis] thinks they’re just the greatest things ever,” Gittleson said. “The first couple cows they killed, we weren’t even allowed to chase them off or haze them. After three cows and the neighbor’s dog were found dead, they said we could haze them, but it’s a little late for that now.”

Gittleson could not estimate how much he has lost since the wolves began preying on his cows, but some of his livestock can be worth more than $3,500 per animal. It is safe to say he has lost thousands in just the few cows that have been killed, he said.

The wolves cannot be killed or injured due to federal wildlife guidelines. Gray wolves are also considered endangered in Colorado.

Gittleson has been taking certain precautions around his ranch to prevent the wolves from continuing to prey on his cattle, but so far, not much has worked.

He has placed several miles of fladry, brightly colored plastic streamers that are a preventative measure, around his property. He has used cracker shells, which are like shotgun shells that can be fired into the air to shoot sparks and frighten predatory animals.

He, his wife and his employees have even tried staying with the cows at night, when the wolves like to prey on them, to try and scare them off.

While these fixes have worked temporarily, nothing has been a permanent solution.

“The reason most of these tools work is because the wolves are afraid of you doing them harm or killing them,” Gittleson said. “Here in Colorado, that doesn’t happen. We’ve got a governor that goes out and kisses them, so we don’t do anything to make them afraid of people and slowly get them used to us.”

Since his hands are tied, he has to wait until the federal or state government decide livestock producers can take some sort of action over preying wolves, a move that likely won’t happen for at least a year.

“If you look at other states like Wyoming, for example, and look at the difference between what they paid before allowing wolf hunting and after and there’s definitely a difference,” he said. “But I don’t know how soon, if ever, Colorado is going to be hunting wolves.

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Wildlife Advocates Argue Against Hunting Wyo Wolves After Game And Fish Releases Wolf Report

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s success in maintaining a healthy wolf population is due in part to hunting of the predators, according to a Wyoming Game and Fish Department report, but two wildlife advocacy groups disagree.

This week, the department released its annual wolf management and monitoring report, which showed that as of Dec. 31, there were at least 314 wolves in the state.

The department’s report noted that the hunting of wolves as an important management tool in managing the population. Thirty wolves were killed during the 2021 hunting season.

“Wyoming’s wolf hunting seasons and strategy has been an effective wolf management tool,” said Ken Mills, the department’s lead wolf biologist. “With hunting, the state has met our population objective for four consecutive years.”

Hunting also promotes disease control and helps reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock, according to department spokeswoman Sara DiRienzo.

“We also monitor wolves for genetic diversity — and we know our population in Wyoming is genetically diverse,” she said.

But Wyoming Wildlife Advocates Executive Director Kristin Combs told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the state’s use of hunting in wolf management was heavy-handed and unnecessary.

“As we have now seen in Yellowstone, when a large percentage of wolves are killed by humans, pack sizes decrease and reproduction increases. Killing wolves leads to more wolves being born the next year,” she said. “Trying to maintain a status quo of around 160 wolves in the state with a total of about 300 wolves is manipulating their pack dynamics in ways that can lead to increases in conflicts with livestock.”

She added that the state was setting up a “wolf conveyor belt” and that more wolves would be killed in the future as the state tries to keep the animals sectioned off to only the northwestern corner of the state.

Combs said wolf hunting was not a long-term solution and questioned what data supported the claim of hunting promoting tolerance and co-existence between humans and wolves, as the Game and Fish Department has claimed.

“We should be aiming for nearly zero conflicts by allowing wolf packs to stabilize and using non-lethal techniques that have been proven to reduce conflicts,” she said. “Social science isn’t practiced by the WGFD and making broad sweeping statements that wolf killing leads to public tolerance without data to back it up is just providing assumptions, not facts.

“The WGFD states that wolf populations are kept steady by a hunting season, but do you know what else keeps wolf populations steady? No hunting of wolves,” she continued.

A spokeswoman for the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization working to protect endangered animals, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that wolves were too valuable to Wyoming and the northern Rockies’ wild places “to be needlessly gunned down.”

“We’re hopeful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will restore federal protections to wolves in Wyoming and across the northern Rockies,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the center. “Predictably, the (department’s) annual report shows that wolf-livestock conflicts increased in the area with the highest wolf killing. The science shows that killing wolves weakens packs, harms their ability target native ungulates and makes them more likely to attack livestock.”

In its report, the Game and Fish Department said 2021 marked the 20th consecutive year Wyoming’s gray wolf population remained above recovery criteria.

The report also said that wolves were confirmed to have killed or injured 109 head of livestock last year, 50 cattle, 53 sheep, five dogs and one horse. Thirty-two wolves were killed by the department in an effort to decrease livestock losses.

Combs argued that the number of cattle and sheep killed by wolves was small compared to Wyoming’s total livestock numbers. She added that the sheep killed by wolves were on public land grazing allotments.

“There are only a few producers who are losing livestock to wolves, it’s not a statewide systemic issue,” she said. “Wolf management should focus on providing these producers with financial resources and teaching them techniques that will minimize their losses while keeping wolves alive. In order to graze on public lands, there should also be a requirement for use of non-lethal conflict reduction methods before lethal removal is authorized.” 

Earlier this year, a federal court restored endangered species protections for the gray wolf that were rolled back during former President Donald Trump’s administration, which included relisting the wolf as endangered, except in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Gov. Mark Gordon have argued against Wyoming’s gray wolves being relisted as endangered, noting the species is thriving in the state.

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Three Yellowstone Wolves Killed During First Week Of Montana Hunting Season

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Three wolves that were members of Yellowstone National Park’s Junction Butte pack were killed during the first week of hunting season in Montana, park officials reported Monday.

The pack is one of the most-viewed wolf packs in the world and roams the lands in and around the park’s northern range. It has now been reduced from 27 to 24 wolves with the loss of two female pups and one female yearling.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks confirmed three wolves were killed outside of the park in the general vicinity of where the pack was traveling in mid-September.

Yellowstone wolves in the northern range spend an estimated 5% of their time outside the park, usually in late fall.

For over a decade, the state of Montana limited the number of wolves taken from state wolf management units which are immediately adjacent to the park’s northern boundary. Ninety-eight percent of wolves in Montana are outside those units.

Recent state changes to hunting and trapping have lifted restrictions within these units, making Yellowstone’s wolf population in the northern range vulnerable to hunting.

Montana has also authorized the use of bait on private property to lure wolves. Over 33% of the boundary Yellowstone shares with Montana is within one mile of private property where baiting is now permissible.

“Yellowstone plays a vital role in Montana’s wildlife conservation efforts and its economy. These wolves are part of our balanced ecosystem here and represent one of the special parts of the park that draw visitors from around the globe,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly“We will continue to work with the state of Montana to make the case for reinstating quotas that would protect the core wolf population in Yellowstone as well as Montana’s direct economic interests derived from the hundreds of millions spent by park visitors each year.”

Visitor spending within communities that are 50 miles from Yellowstone exceeds $500 million per year, tens of millions of which is spent by visitors coming to watch wolves and supporting Montana businesses in gateway communities, the park said in a news release.

The Junction Butte Pack formed in 2012 in the northern section of the park. It is the most observed pack in Yellowstone because its members den within view of the Northeast Entrance Road and the road to Slough Creek Campground, providing thousands of visitor’s daily views.

The pack had eight pups in 2021.  

“Montana’s new laws are putting bullets not just into wolves but into the hearts of everyone who loves Yellowstone’s wolf families,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The puppies and yearling wolf were raised inside a national park where people are not a threat. To mercilessly gun them down when they step beyond Yellowstone’s borders is cruel beyond any measure. We’ll continue to fight to stop this senseless killing.” 

In May and July, a slew of organizations — including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, the Sierra Club, the Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians — filed two petitions with the Secretary of the Interior. The groups claim new laws in the states of Idaho and Montana will “drastically reduce their wolf populations.”

Wyoming has at least 327 gray wolves, according to the most recent count. At least 147 of those wolves reside within the wolf trophy game management area, where the Wyoming Game and Fish Department focuses its management efforts.

The wolf population for Yellowstone National Park is estimated at 123 and the Wind River Reservation has around 21 wolves.

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Gordon Confident Gray Wolves Will Remain Off Endangered Species List

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s gray wolves will probably stay off of the endangered species list, said Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon, during a news conference held to announce the state will seek to remove Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears from the list, said he believes wolves have recovered to the point they do not need the protection afforded by the list.

“Wyoming wolves, like grizzly bears, have recovered under the state management and their population has continued to exceed all recovery requirements,” he said.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would review the gray wolf’s status and review whether it should be re-listed under the Endangered Species Act.

But Gordon said the state met delisting criteria for its gray wolf population for the 19th consecutive year in 2020, maintaining a steady population of more than 300 wolves.

“Wyoming’s management strategies have established predictability and stability within the wolf population,” he said. “That lends credence to our balanced approach that conserves wolves and gives flexibility to landowners. We are confident the review will find Wyoming’s wolf management program has been highly successful in meeting our commitment to the long term viability of wolves in Wyoming.”

The state has at least 327 gray wolves, according to the most recent count. At least 147 of those wolves reside within the wolf trophy game management area, where the Wyoming Game and Fish Department focuses its management efforts.

The wolf population for Yellowstone National Park is estimated at 123 and the Wind River Reservation has around 21 wolves.

The wolf population is considered “recovered” when 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs are found outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation. 

Reaching a steady wolf population has been partially attributed to hunting in the northwest corner of the state, according to the gray wolf monitoring report published by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Wolf hunting seasons require hunters to have a license and adhere to set mortality limits and other regulations.

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney said that the efforts to re-list the wolf as endangered were coming from the “radical environmentalist left” and demonstrated the need to reform the Endangered Species Act.

“In Wyoming and across the West, we know that the species has successfully been recovered and that states have demonstrated their proficiency to manage the species,” she said. “Activists should not be able to take advantage of the ESA’s loopholes. We must update this law to prevent this from happening and ensure that local stakeholders and states, as opposed to the federal government, are calling the shots when it comes to these decisions. I will continue to fight for needed reforms to the ESA to protect the people and interests of Wyoming.” 

The Center for Biological Diversity celebrated the review for gray wolves’ protection, but expressed disappointment that more immediate action wasn’t taken.

“I’m hopeful that wolves will eventually get the protection they deserve, but the Fish and Wildlife Service should have stopped the wolf-killing now,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Anti-wolf policies in Idaho and Montana could wipe out wolves and erase decades of wolf recovery. We’re glad that federal officials have started a review, but wolves are under the gun now so they need protection right away.”

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Wyoming Wolf, Originally Thought to Be Male, Is Female and Bonded With Colorado Wolf

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A wolf found in Wyoming that was originally thought to be a male is actually a female and has bonded with a male wolf in Colorado, according to game officials.

This is the first time a pair of bonded wolves has made its home in Colorado in nearly a century, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The female wolf was originally part of Wyoming’s Snake River wolf pack, but traveled to Jackson County, Colorado, (which sits close to Laramie) in 2019. She was originally thought to be male, but has actually been identified as a female and has been spotted traveling with a male.

“The news of potential denning behavior of wolves in Jackson County is a real credit to Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s on the ground scientists,” said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. “We know wolves are resilient, hardy animals and in this case two of them hundreds of miles from their home packs found each other and are now making a home in Colorado. While these wolves have a head start, I look forward to our state moving ahead with a well-planned and inclusive process to restore gray wolves in Colorado, fulfilling the will of the voters.” 

Biologists believe the wolves are preparing a den, raising hopes that cubs could soon be born in the wild.

“I’m so excited that we may soon have new wolf parents in Colorado,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The state’s last confirmed wolf pups were born in the wild almost a century ago. Unlike them, these new pups will not be the last of their kind, but instead could meet potential mates as more wolves are brought into the state.” 

Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Grand Teton National Park collaborated to make the discovery. The female wolf was originally captured and collared by a crew hired by the park in January 2017.

CPW staff will continue to monitor collar data, trail cameras and sighting reports to watch for any additional changes in behavior or denning behaviors that may indicate more wolves in the area. 

Gray wolves in Colorado remain a state endangered species and killing a wolf in Colorado is a crime punishable by jail time, fines and/or the loss of license privileges.

“Confirmation that we have a male and female pair of gray wolves and observing what may be denning behavior in the state is an interesting development as we begin our planning and implementation process for reintroducing gray wolves to the state,” said CPW Director Dan Prenzlow. “We have not yet determined if reproduction has occurred. As we begin the discovery process with our Technical Working Group, we can now also observe how a naturally migrating pair is adapting here in Colorado and use that information to help inform plans moving forward.”

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Wyoming Has More Than 300 Wolves, Exceeding Delisting Criteria For 19th Year In a Row

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming exceeded the delisting criteria for its gray wolf population for the 19th consecutive year in 2020, maintaining a steady population of more than 300.

According to the 2020 Wyoming gray wolf monitoring and management annual report from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the state is maintaining wolf numbers at healthy levels by using hunting, which also helps limit the number of conflicts between wolves and livestock.

The state has at least 327 gray wolves, according to the most recent count. At least 147 of those wolves reside within the wolf trophy game management area, where the Wyoming Game and Fish Department focuses its management efforts.

The wolf population for Yellowstone National Park is estimated at 123 and the Wind River Reservation has around 21 wolves.

The wolf population is considered “recovered” when 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs are found outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation. 

“After having management of wolves returned to Wyoming in April of 2017 we made a strong commitment to ensure we would be responsive and responsible managers in accordance with the plan,” said Dan Thompson, Game and Fish large carnivore section supervisor. “Part of that is providing an accurate population estimate. We are building a dataset that supports our management actions and helps target areas of livestock conflict and areas where there are concerns with how wolves are affecting certain big game populations.”

Reaching a steady wolf population is partially attributed to hunting in the northwest corner of the state. Wolf hunting seasons require hunters to have a license and adhere to set mortality limits and other regulations.

In 2020, hunters accounted for nearly 43% of the 71 wolves to die in the ecosystem. Another 38% of the wolves known to die during the year were killed after they preyed on livestock.

Ken Mills, the report author and the lead wolf biologist for Game and Fish, said seeing success with hunting as a tool to stabilize wolf populations is notable.

“That lends credence to our management approach and how we are going through the recovery process,” Mills said. “It is significant that today we are reaching a point where we have predictability in our management.”

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Cheney, Enzi Applaud Trump Decision To Remove Gray Wolf From Endangered List

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gray wolves were removed from the endangered species list by the administration of President Donald Trump on Thursday, prompting responses from officials all over the nation, including Wyoming’s senator and representative.

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi both issued statements in support of the delisting.

“Delisting the gray wolf has been a long and bumpy road, but I think everyone should take pride in this announcement today,” Enzi said. “States like Wyoming have shown they are able to effectively manage the gray wolf.

“It is important to remember that the purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to get to this point, where a species is fully recovered,” Enzi continued. “I am hopeful that even more species in the future will be able to reach this milestone.”

Gray wolves in Wyoming were removed from the endangered species list in 2017. In other states where the wolves remained on the endangered special list, their management and protection will be taken over by state and tribal wildlife management agency professionals.

“This final rule puts the process of managing the gray wolf back where it belongs – in the capable hands of individual states,” Cheney said. “Over the past decade, our courts have been abused by radical environmental groups filing frivolous lawsuits to prevent states from managing the gray wolf population, despite repeated delisting decisions.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will monitor the species for five years to ensure its continued success. The agency made its final determination to remove the wolves from the list based on a thorough analysis of threats and how they have been alleviated, as well as efforts by states and tribes to manage the species for healthy populations.

“We are proud of our efforts in Wyoming to conserve the gray wolf’s habitat and population in consultation with federal agencies,” Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman said. “Populations continue to thrive in the northern Rocky Mountains because states implemented scientific measures that balance the needs of the species and our residents at the same time. Today’s decision to delist the gray wolf in the lower-48 states is further proof that population recovery goals can be met when all levels of government work together in a collaborative manner.”

The gray wolves were first listed under the Endangered Species Act more than 45 years ago.

Not all of the responses to the delisting were positive.

“Again and again the courts have rejected premature removal of wolf protections,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But instead of pursuing further wolf recovery, the Fish and Wildlife Service has just adopted its broadest, most destructive delisting rule yet. The courts recognize, even if the feds don’t, that the Endangered Species Act requires real wolf recovery, including in the southern Rockies and other places with ideal wolf habitat.”

In total, the gray wolf population in the lower 48 states is more than 6,000, greatly exceeding the combined recovery goals for the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes populations.

The gray wolf is the latest in a long list of endangered species recoveries that includes the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, American alligator, brown pelican and 48 other species of animals and plants in U.S. states, territories and waters.

“For over ten years the State of Wyoming, together with our sister states of Idaho and Montana, has demonstrated the ability to manage an ever-increasing delisted wolf population,” Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna said. “Wyoming accomplished this with a steady hand despite periodic re-listings mandated by the courts. State management succeeds in large part because state management plans are developed in close collaboration with local, directly affected interests.

“We commend the USFWS for this nation-wide delisting that is long overdue,” Magagna continued. “Successful delisting of this high-profile species will serve to incentivize diverse partnerships that can expedite the recovery of many other listed or imperiled species,” 

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Pittsburgh Family Spots Pack of Wolves; Doesn’t Attempt to Pet or Ride Them

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Not every tourist to Yellowstone deserves to be described as a “touron” (the combination of the words tourist and moron).

Put Kristie Campbell and her family from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in that camp.

While driving to Old Faithful, the family saw a pack of wolves cross the road and did a lot of things right.

They slowed and eventually stopped the car.

They seemed to know right away that the animals they spotted were wolves, not dogs.

They didn’t get out of the car and try to pet them.

They didn’t try to take them home.

Perhaps most impressively, they shot their video horizontally and not vertically.

Instead they proceeded slowly and acted thrilled that they spotted wolves.

“There’s another one,” one of the family members screamed.

“Oh my God, there’s two, there’s three!,” they yelled over each other.  “There’s the whole pack!”

“There’s six. There’s seven,” they continued like they were auditioning for Sesame Street.

When the last wolf crossed the road, one member of the family (perhaps a wildlife biologist) opined that it looked tired.

“He must have been chasing something,” she said with authority. “He looks tuckered out.”

“That is amazing,” another chimed in.

In short, the tourists acted like responsible visitors and should give us all hope that not all tourists act like Yellowstone National Park is a petting zoo.

Campbell family: You made Pittsburgh, PA look good. You are a credit to your community.

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Wyo Moose Population Drops Amid ‘Perfect Storm’ Of Issues

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Wyoming Moose
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By Nicole Blanchard, Cowboy State Daily

Hundreds of people on Facebook were alarmed recently when a graphic shared widely on social media showed Wyoming’s moose population has been decimated in recent years, dropping from more than 10,000 animals in the mid-1990s to 1,500 by 2017. 

Between 2011 and 2012 alone, the graph showed the population plummeting by more than 4,000 animals. Wyoming Sen. Ogden Driskill shared the image on his Facebook page, pointing toward the rising wolf population as the culprit for the decline, like many others did.

“At what point do the moose become endangered and we start killing wolves to save an endangered species????” Driskill wrote in January.

The graph is not entirely accurate, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials.

“That graph had quite a few errors in it,” said Doug Brimeyer, the department’s deputy chief of wildlife, including the fact it showed a steep 2012 population drop that was actually the result of a change in the way the agency estimated moose numbers.

But the state’s moose population has declined significantly in recent years because of a mix of factors, Brimeyer said.

“I think it’s unfair to put it off on one single cause, because I think moose have faced the perfect storm of issues,” he said.

Currently, the statewide moose population is Wyoming is just under 3,500 animals, Brimeyer said. And the graph shared on social media isn’t all wrong — the population has been trending downward since hitting 10,000 in the mid-1990s.

“Overall, we’ve seen some significant declines over the last 25 years,” Brimeyer said. “Historically, it’s obviously a declining trend.”

Moose challenges

The “perfect storm of issues” that moose are facing is widespread. Officials in Idaho, Utah and Montana have reported similar population declines, a trend that’s raised concern since the early 2000s.

“They’re influenced by a whole variety of issues,” Brimeyer said.

Predation from wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions plays a role.

“Wolves start showing up in the late ‘90s,” Brimeyer said. “Around the same time, grizzly bears start expanding their range. They’re all a piece of the puzzle. I don’t want to diminish the role that predation played, because it’s pretty significant.”

Brimeyer said wolf hunting seasons are successfully keeping the predators in check in Wyoming, which could prove beneficial to moose.

In addition to predation, moose are threatened by other environmental factors, from massive wildfires that destroy habitat to tiny parasites that can bring mighty moose down from the inside.

Brimeyer said warmer, drier weather in Wyoming in recent years has made it easier for parasites like winter ticks, which attach themselves to moose in the fall, to stay alive and feed on the moose.

“In dry falls, those animals tend to pick up a lot of (winter ticks), which can affect their ability to maintain their nutritional status,” Brimeyer said. “Some of these animals can carry a very high tick load.”

A 2018 study on New Hampshire moose found that animals with high ticks loads died of emaciation and malnutrition linked to the arachnids.

Wyoming moose have also been affected by a carotid artery worm, a parasite transmitted by horseflies that constricts blood flow and can lead to death. The parasite’s target host, deer, are often asymptomatic.

“The moose is the wrong host for this parasite, so they have symptoms where they start walking in circles and eventually die,” Brimeyer said.

Humans aren’t blameless in the decline, either. Brimeyer said the department has seen an uptick in vehicle collisions resulting in moose fatalities.

Saving the moose

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has long been looking for ways to boost struggling moose numbers. Over the last 15 years, Brimeyer said, the agency has consistently decreased moose tag numbers and changed the structure of its hunting season to give the animals a better chance at recovery.

In the 1990s, Game and Fish changed regulations to ban hunters from harvesting cow moose with calves at their side. Around 2000, the agency eliminated cow moose hunts in some units. 

“In the ‘90s, we were harvesting over 1,000 moose,” Brimeyer said. “In 2019, we harvested about 300 moose.”

The efforts could be paying off — although it is difficult to determine because moose are notoriously difficult to count. Despite their huge size, moose are elusive and largely solitary.

“Right now, there’s no feasible census techniques out there,” Brimeyer said, adding that Game and Fish Department is working on trail camera counts, as well as DNA sampling of hair and fecal pellets to try to identify animals.

Still, department counts show some potentially good news for moose. Calf ratios are improving in Western Wyoming, where officials counted more than 2,000 specimens in 2018.

“We’re optimistic that Wyoming’s moose populations are beginning to change a bit,” Brimeyer said.

Colorado Wolf Reintroduction: Why it Doesn’t Make Any Sense

in Cat Urbigkit/Column
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Wolf advocates are celebrating the 25-year anniversary of transplanting wolves into Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho, at the same time the campaign heats up for the ballot-box measure to conduct a similar transplant program on Colorado’s western slope.

It’s my view that to support such efforts requires either a blissful or willful ignorance of the Endangered Species Act and the science underlying its application.

I’ve long been a fan of the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) purpose to provide programs for the conservation of imperiled species, just as I am also a critic of efforts that leave species under federal protection long after the biological justification for doing so has ended.

The ESA isn’t meant to be a popularity contest for charismatic species; science is to be the driving factor for conservation of truly imperiled species. The act defines species to include “any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.”

It’s with the act’s noble goals in mind that I became fascinated with the distinction of unique ecological units, and how such units are defined and managed. We find these distinct ecological units in populations here in Wyoming, from the Kendall Warm Springs Dace (a fish), to the Big Piney Milkvetch (a beautiful high-elevation cushion plant).

But in terms of defining unique ecological units, definitions exist in two worlds – one in science, the other in policy. When it came to the wolf reintroduction program for Yellowstone, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service brazenly proclaimed “a wolf is a wolf” in selecting wolves from northern Canada to be placed in Yellowstone park.

The Canadian wolves came from packs located some 550-750 miles north of Yellowstone, and from a different subspecies of wolf than was native to the Yellowstone region. The National Park Service (the same agency now aerial gunning mountain goats in Grand Teton National Park because they are non-native) fully supported the move.

Wolf managers purposefully ignored the biological implications involved in selecting Canadian wolves. Since wolf reintroduction is now 25 years behind us, why should we care now? Because what comes next may have huge impacts.

There is no doubt that Mexican wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, is a distinct ecological unit. It primarily inhabits Mexico, but our nation’s recovery program is focused in Arizona and New Mexico.

Should voters force the release of northern gray wolves into Colorado, those transplanted wolves could pose a threat to the survival of the truly endangered Mexican wolves found to the south.

Female wolf with pups at a den in Sublette County, Wyoming in 1906. Photo by Vernon Bailey. Wyoming State Archives.

It’s a concern that scientists have written about long before the ballot measure became an issue: “Interbreeding of Northwestern wolves from Canadian sources and Mexican wolves does not represent the historical cline of body size and genetic diversity in the Southwest.

If Northwestern wolves come to occupy Mexican wolf recovery areas, these physically larger wolves are likely to dominate smaller Mexican wolves and quickly occupy breeding positions, as will their hybrid offspring. Hybrid population(s) thus derived will not contribute towards recovery because they will significantly threaten integrity of the listed entity.”

So if you are an animal advocate concerned about upholding the integrity of the ESA and actually conserving critically threatened species, you won’t be supporting the transplantation of northern wolves within such close range to Mexican wolves.

While I doubt that we will ever recover Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico (Mexico provides its habitat stronghold and that is where hope resides), I have no doubt that transplantation of a more abundant and widespread northern gray wolf type into Colorado will hasten the decline of the Mexican wolf population in America.

The Northern Rockies wolf reintroduction program has become so “successful” that the transplanted wolf population has expanded to other states in the northwest, including Washington and Oregon.

Wolf expansion into Washington has become complex in that the wolf population in Washington is now composed of a combination of two specific wolf ecotypes: the coastal rainforest wolf (from coastal British Columbia and southeastern Alaska), which is declining in numbers; and the more abundant Northern Rocky Mountain (interior forest) wolves resulting from the Yellowstone reintroduction program.

The coastal wolves (sometimes called the Pacific Northwest wolves, or Alexander Archipelago wolves) are known for behavioral, morphological, and genetic differences that separate them from inland wolves. The wolves have gained fame for their reliance on salmon as a primary food source.

To further complicate the plight of distinct wolf populations like that of the Mexican wolf are red wolves – a distinct wolf species more commonly known from the failing recovery program in North Carolina, but originating in Louisiana and Texas.

While red wolves were declared functionally extinct in the wild, there have been recent discoveries of red wolves surviving in wild enclaves in both Texas and Louisiana in the last few years – survivors of remnant populations.

As the researchers note, “rediscovery of red wolf ancestry after almost 40 years introduces both positive opportunities for additional conservation action and difficult policy challenges.” But we can’t even discuss those policy challenges while wolf advocates continue with the cavalier “a wolf is a wolf” policy in public discussions.

It is possible to support wolf conservation by opposing transplants of wolves without a full understanding of the complexities involved. To learn more about the intricacies of wolf subspecies and hybridization, don’t look to propaganda presented by advocates, but check out the work of the National Academies of Science Wolf Taxonomy Committee.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Wolf Pups Killed on Road Became Used to Humans, Officials Say

in News/wildlife
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

To many in northern and western Wyoming, wolves are now a part of everyday life. Ranchers, wildlife enthusiasts, backcountry hikers and Sunday drivers are conscious of the presence of wolves – even if they can’t be seen.

In November, two wolves in Yellowstone National Park were hit by a vehicle. 

The pair of black wolf pups from the Junction Butte Pack, one of the most visible packs in the Park, were struck on the road between the park’s northeast entrance and Tower Junction. 

According to park officials, the pups had become habituated to humans due to a number of hikers who violated the required 100-yard barrier between people and wolves. Because they had grown accustomed to humans, the pups had several close encounters with visitors – which eventually led to their deaths, as they started spending more time near the highway. Officials said they attempted to haze the wolves away from human hangouts, but were unsuccessful.

Ken Mills is a large carnivore biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department who focuses on the state’s wolf population. He said officials don’t often have to use hazing, because the animals tend to shy away from humans.

“We have tools such as cracker shells shot out of a shotgun or a specific cracker shell gun that explode and make noise, and we use those to haze different species,” he explained. “We do have available what we call ‘turbo fladry,’ which is an electrified single strand wire fence with red flags hanging off it, and those can be effective to keep wolves out of specific areas, say, a calving pasture. We’ve used flashing lights before.

“Any sort of negative interaction with a person would scare a wolf away,” he added.

Yellowstone National Park biologists report that there were at least 80 wolves in nine packs living primarily in the park at the end of December, 2018. 

According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, that number is included in the total estimate of 286 wolves that reside within the state’s borders – which is down significantly from the 2017 count of 347, and is the fewest recorded since the department took over management of the species in 2012.

A total of 177 wolf mortalities were documented statewide in 2018, according to the Game and Fish Department. Mills said the decline in the population is due to a combination of factors.

“It’s partly hunting and there was some disease operating in the population, because it had been at high density for a number of years,” he said. “So that initial decrease in 2018 was from a combination of disease, from hunting, and from other human-caused mortality.”

In 2018, the Game and Fish Department implemented a wolf hunting season, with an objective of reducing the population to around 160 wolves in the Wolf Trophy Game Management Area. 

According to the 2018 annual report from the department, 90 percent of wolf deaths that year were human-caused, either through hunting, conflict control or predator control measures. The other 10 percent died of natural causes or the cause of death was unknown.

Despite the high mortality rate last year, Game and Fish reported that the wolf population is still significantly higher than the target number set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“(The 2018 count) was near our population objective, which is quite a bit higher than the minimum recovery criteria, what we’re required to maintain following de-listing,” Mills pointed out. 

While hunting allows the Game and Fish Department to control the population, the novelty of wolves being present and visible in northwest Wyoming can itself pose a danger to the animals, as demonstrated in the deaths of the wolf pups this winter.

“Visitors must protect wolves from becoming habituated to people and roads,”  said Doug Smith, Yellowstone’s senior wolf biologist. “Stay at least 100 yards from wolves, never enter a closed area, and notify a park ranger of others who are in violation of these rules.”  

Chronic Wolf Depredation

in Cat Urbigkit/News/Column/Agriculture
wolf
Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit
2498

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I recently attended a meeting of fellow sheep and cattle producers who raise livestock in the part of Sublette County that is outside Wyoming’s trophy zone for wolves.

Wolves in the trophy zone are subject to regulated harvest as determined by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WG&F) with hunting seasons and quotas, but in the predator zone, wolves can be killed at any time, for any reason.

If a livestock producer has wolves preying on their livestock in the trophy zone, it is the WG&F’s responsibility to both take care of the problem and to provide compensation for livestock losses to wolves. Not so in the predator zone. Although there is no regulation on the “take” of wolves in the predator zone, there is no state compensation program for livestock losses due to wolf depredation.

The state does have a program to help local predator boards pay for wolf control in the predator zone when there are confirmed livestock depredations, but again, no compensation program.

At the meeting, I listened to two of my neighbors who belong to a grazing association discuss their historic annual herd death-loss rate of 2%, and how that rate has now increased to 10%. The increase comes despite the application of intensive animal health protocols, and active herding by range riders living with the cattle. This is the same scenario as that faced by cattle producers experiencing grizzly bear depredation on their herds in the Upper Green River region of the same county.

With losses now 10% or more, several Upper Green producers said they wouldn’t be able to stay in the cattle business without the WG&F compensation program.

Two of my neighbors in the predator zone ended the grazing season short a total of 48 calves. A few calves were verified as wolf kills, but the majority of the missing calves simply disappeared, as is typical when a large carnivore species preys on livestock in rugged terrain. If each of those calves were sold at $700 per head this fall, that’s a loss of $33,600 in revenue between the two neighbors.

Five other neighboring producers (including me) didn’t disclose their losses, but all had enough losses to wolves to bring us all into the same room for a discussion. I can think of two other neighboring producers who weren’t able to attend the meeting but are in the same boat as the rest of us.

Our portion of the southern Wind River Mountains has become known as a chronic wolf depredation area. This area was not included in the trophy wolf zone specifically “because of the high potential for persistent conflicts with domestic sheep and cattle that are grazed on both public and private lands in these areas.”

There are other areas of the state’s predator zone in a similar situation, including in areas in Lincoln, Park, and Fremont counties. Wolves have even hit herds in Natrona and Carbon counties.

The livestock losses in our region are occurring with relatively high hunting pressure on the wolf population, since wolves can be taken anytime and without a permit in the predator zone. As one young cattleman questioned, “Who thinks this is working, when you’ve got wolf hunting and calf losses are at 10%?”

Hunting pressure has made wolves in the predator zone smarter and more elusive, but it has not stopped wolves from killing livestock – as we all knew it wouldn’t. But it has made controlling problem wolves more difficult.

Without radio collars on wolf packs in the predator zone, we have no way to monitor wolf pack movements, so we lack a method of tracking problem wolves. When we did place a radio collar on a wolf on our place, she would be at our ranch one night, and 15-20 miles away the next night. We always know the wolves will return, but what we never know is when. Sometimes it’s three or four nights a week, but sometimes it’s only about once every three weeks.

What has now been proven is that the Wyoming legislative declaration of wolves outside the trophy game zone as a predatory species with no limits on take does little to resolve depredation problems. While hunters can legally kill wolves at any time in the predator zone, most have learned that it’s easier to talk about hunting wolves than actually succeed at killing one. Even when they succeed in harvesting a wolf, most often they are not targeting wolves involved in livestock depredations. 

Targeting depredating wolves requires a sustained effort by skilled professionals: USDA Wildlife Services, the professional animal damage control experts that wolf advocates love to hate. After our recent livestock producer meeting, Wildlife Services agreed to devote more ground time to our chronic damage area, and within a few days was able to trap and radio collar another female wolf – a member of another wolf pack living in the area. With this federal agency’s help, we hope to get more collars placed on wolves in the predator zone. Then we can respond to livestock depredations by taking not just any wolf, but the wolves responsible for livestock depredations.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

On Bone Broth, and Coexistence

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Agriculture
Guardian dogs
2455

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The morning after Thanksgiving our house was once again filled with the smell of cooking turkey. But this time it was because we were boiling the carcass remains from the previous day’s feast. The bones are placed in the garbage once the broth is complete, but we pour the bone broth with chunks of meat in canning jars for reheating and pouring over the kibble of our working livestock guardian dogs on cold winter mornings.

Bones from a beef roast, leg of lamb, or leftover bird carcass all provide for delicious bone broth that can be used to make soup, but we like providing a nutrition boost for hard-working dogs and females raising pups.

livestock guardian dogs

On Thanksgiving we got the turkey in the oven before daylight and proceeded to outside chores at the first welcoming rays of light. The sheep were still on their bedground with their dogs, so we went across the ranch to check our game cameras, a vital part of our wolf monitoring program.

Fresh wolf tracks in new snow confirmed that wolves had paid an early-morning visit to our sheep range – their third nocturnal visit in a week. A resident female wolf that we helped radio collar a year ago has mostly kept to herself, but after we eliminated her mate a few months ago, she’s brought in another large male to the ranch, and their excursions are becoming more frequent. This male wolf’s track is large and distinct, and I suspect it’s the elusive male we had trouble with last fall and winter.

After we lost our two top guardian dogs, the male had become emboldened, and as I checked the cameras every morning, I would find his tracks atop my boot prints from the day before. As I tracked the wolf, he tracked me, marking and tearing up the ground where I walked, and he began coming to the rocks behind the house. He avoided the cameras, approaching them from behind, until one night in a fit of rage last November he attacked a camera, taking 85 selfies in the process.

That’s when we spooled up the guardian dogs, penned and fed the sheep, and set out wolf traps. After splitting up his pack, the male disappeared from our range. It had been quiet since I’d last come across his sign, but looking at those fresh tracks in the snow, it’s with a tense familiarity.

We follow the wolf tracks through the area our sheep flock grazed the day prior and see where the wolves and the guardian dogs each marked the same territorial boundary. The sheep and their dogs use the area during the day before being pushed toward the house every afternoon. The wolves wait until darkness falls across the range before moving in to explore where the sheep had spent the day.

Two nights ago, the wind-driven snow pushed the flock into the protected cover in the bottom of Sheep Creek. We tracked the wolves up the drainage to within a half-mile of the flock as they moved in response to the sheep movement below. The tracks in the snow left by the wolves, the guardians, and the sheep, lays out the reality of coexistence on the ground. The wolves are nearby, but are currently maintaining a certain distance.

It’s been a hard-fought coexistence. We deferred grazing this range one year and a pack of six wolves took over the range as their own. When we moved in the next year, the wolf pack come within a quarter-mile of the house and our penned sheep, causing massive brawls between the warring canine cousins. The wolves killed pronghorn antelope and mule deer within half-mile of the house, and the pack lounged atop the rocky ridge overlooking our headquarters, as our guardian dogs struggled to widen the territory of protected space. We had guardian dogs injured and killed, dozens of sheep injured and killed, and we’ve injured and killed wolves.

The sheep flock has its own guardian dogs that move with the flock as it grazes, as do the cattle, and we also have a guardian dog pack that controls the area around the ranch headquarters and pens. The wolves are no longer able to roam the ridge overlooking the house because that territory has been taken by the guardian dogs.

The biggest risk is to the sheep, with their smaller size and ever-changing grazing pattern. The livestock guardian dogs have managed to impose a restricted buffer of protection around the flock, but we know that any weakness of the dog pack – or any strengthening of the wolf pack –will cause this uneasy coexistence to end. 

So we prepare the bone broth, to boost our working dogs on cold winter mornings, to nourish them for whatever may lie ahead.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Are “Guard Coyotes” A Thing?

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing
Guard coyotes
A coyote paruses the Wyoming range. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)
1993

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Predator-prey systems (including predator-livestock conflicts) are complicated, multi-faceted, and site-specific, but an Oregon Extension publication has provided a broad solution for those of us in animal agriculture, virtually eliminating the need for lethal control of predators: Keeping well-behaved breeding pairs of coyotes in place in their territories to exclude other coyotes that may kill sheep. Thus, keeping these “guard coyotes” and “guard wolves” in place serves to protect our livestock.

Using Coyotes to Protect Livestock. Wait. What?” is the title of an article posted by the Oregon State University Extension Service that has garnered much attention (and is widely shared among animal activists) but its claims have received little scrutiny. The Oregon paper is rife with oversimplification and omissions, but I’ll limit myself to a few points that are important since they form the premise of the entire piece.

Oregon Extension dives into the issue by citing a USDA study as claiming “researchers found that as more predators were removed, more livestock were killed.” Now that’s an interesting slant, and it’s absolutely true: the researchers did find that more predators were removed and more livestock were killed. To Oregon Extension writer, that apparently means that when you remove predators, more livestock are killed. So the message given to the masses is that “Coyotes can protect your livestock from predators” and we should all be protecting our livestock with these “guard coyotes.”

But what the USDA paper actually stated was this: “There is a strong correlation (probably causative) between predator-livestock conflicts and the subsequent removal of predators.” That makes sense: predators are removed in response to conflicts. It doesn’t claim that because predators are killed there are increased conflicts with livestock.

And what both the USDA paper and the Oregon Extension article fail to mention that the wolf population that was the subject of the USDA paper had increased 336% during that same time period, from 152 to 663 animals. The truth is that as the predator population increased, so did the number of livestock killed by wolves, as did the number of wolves killed in response to depredations. Leaving out this important fact changes the entire narrative.

It reminds me of the fun research paper published in a major medical journal last year in which researchers concluded that parachute use did not significantly reduce death or major injury when compared with an empty backpack if you have to jump from an aircraft. What’s important to know about the parachute study is that the people who jumped from the aircraft in the study did so while the aircraft were parked on the ground, jumping about two feet. If we omitted this fact, the entire narrative would be different.

The Oregon writer then focused on a 13-year study at the University of California Hopland Research and Extension Center, claiming “researchers found that trapping of coyotes did not reduce sheep losses.” What the researchers actually found was this: “the number of sheep killed and kill rates decreased with increasing numbers of coyotes removed.”

But the Oregon writer then added, “In fact, scientists found that as trappers worked more hours, more lambs were killed by predators.” What the researchers actually found was “There was a positive correlation between the number of lambs killed per year and number of trapper hours worked” per year, and “There was also a positive correlation between the number of coyotes removed per year and number of trapper hours worked” per year. Sounds a lot different when all the facts are presented, doesn’t it? Context is important.

Coyote in Wyoming. (Photo credit Cat Urbigkit)
Coyote surveys a snowy meadow in Sublette County, Wyoming. (Photo credit Cat Urbigkit)

But the Oregon writer plucks a few sentences from a detailed research paper, while ignoring the all-important context. Broad statements, including “Most coyotes do not kill sheep” are not accompanied by citations or context. And although the Oregon writer claimed that sheep are “usually ignored by adult coyotes in an unexploited, stable population,” the Hopland researchers found “All breeding pairs in territories with access to sheep eventually killed sheep” – regardless of whether these pairs successfully bred or whelped pups. The researchers also noted that at Hopland, “all pairs with access to sheep eventually killed sheep, suggesting it is unlikely that there are nonkilling pairs when sheep are present year-round.”

But according to Oregon Extension, with the use of a proper nonlethal program, “lethal control should not be necessary except as a last resort to selectively target and kill a demonstrably habituated, dangerous, or chronically depredating individual.”

Such broad statements lack credibility. Even the scientific literature cited by the Oregon author don’t make such claims. One paper noted regional differences in sheep production and coyote depredation, suggesting “preventative, selective removal of breeding female coyotes prior to whelping, but too late for replacements to breed, may be the most effective lethal control strategy” in the Intermountain West where the spring-summer lambing season coincides with pup-rearing. In contrast, “corrective, selective removal of breeders in response to depredations may be the only effective approach to coyote control” in north-coastal California where sheep are present in pastures year-round and the lambing season begins in late fall.

When I read the Oregon Extension piece, I wondered how such a piece had made it past fact-checkers. I hadn’t heard of the author, so I did an online search and found he is a member of the Benton County, Oregon team advising area ranchers on nonlethal methods of predator control.

Four of the six program advisors are affiliated with Project Coyote, the California “compassionate conservation” organization seeking to change human attitudes towards coyotes, wolves “and other misunderstood predators by replacing ignorance and fear with understanding, respect and appreciation.” These are the people telling livestock producers how we are to successfully coexist with predators.

I am offended when those who know little or nothing about animal agriculture and specific conditions in the field try to tell me how to run my ranch. Now consider how my fellow producers will feel when they learn their advisors weren’t being entirely truthful in the first place. Lying by omission is knowingly peddling a storyline to drive a false narrative.

Now that I’ve added some context to the “guard predator” hypothesis, I’ll add that there is some validity to the concept, which has been oversimplified nearly to the point of unrecognition by the Oregon Extension piece. We’ve left non-depredating coyotes in place on our home place, and watched their numbers grow to a pack of seven adults that hunted pronghorn antelope on their crucial winter range. We left the pack in place until the next spring when they took to killing lambs on our lambing grounds. We’ve done the same with a local wolf pack – they’ve left our well-guarded sheep alone for now, but I know it’s only a matter of time before the quiet is once again broken.

I’ll take livestock guardian dogs over guard coyotes and wolves any day.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Retired At One: The Story of Boo

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/Agriculture
Boo a Wyoming livestock guardian dog
1593

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I could hear the livestock guardian dogs raising hell that morning a little over a year ago when I stepped outside to begin to check how all the animals had faired during the night. The sheep had fled their bedground, and most of the dogs were half-crazed in their aggression directed toward the rocky ridge that rises just behind our house, so I knew that wolves had paid a nocturnal visit. I spotted six-month old Boo flat on her side in the sand along the ditch, just below the rocks. I called out to her, but she didn’t lift her head. I hurried over to her wounded, bleeding body, but Boo remained unmoving except for her naturally stubbed tail, which she wagged gently when I said her name. In the wee hours that summer morning, the wolves had caught young Boo and taken her down. 

I screamed for help, and within minutes Cass had scooped the limp dog up into his arms, cradling her in the back of the truck as we hurried toward the house. As we’ve done before, I called the vet clinic an hour away so they would be ready for our arrival.

We had high hopes for Boo’s survival. As the vet shaved her bloody mane, he noted that much of the blood in that section of her body wasn’t Boo’s: she had inflicted some bites on her attacker during the battle. But she had deep bite wounds to her neck, the top of both hips, and nasty scrapes on her underside. She was hypothermic, going into shock, so the team administered antibiotics and painkillers before placing her in warming blankets. They would clean out her wounds once she rested a little, giving the painkillers time to work.

Boo recovering on the living room couch after being wounded in a wolf attack in Sublette County. (Photo courtesy of Cat Urbigkit)
Boo recovering on the living room couch after being wounded in a wolf attack in Sublette County. (Photo by Cat Urbigkit.)

None of us believed her wounds were life-threatening that morning. But after I left, and the vet went to clean the wounds, he found just how severely the wolf had injured our brave Boo. It grabbed her neck in its powerful jaws, clamped down and shook her. The other dogs must have intervened, or else Boo wouldn’t have survived.

It would be a long 24 hours of waiting to learn if the damage was simply too much for Boo’s young body to bear. But while the vet clinic crew worked on her, Boo continued to wag that silly tail. When I went to see her late that afternoon, she woke up long enough to wag while I kissed her velvety nose. Sweet, sweet girl.

I went up the mountain that evening and sobbed, as only a mountain could cope with such sorrow. Later that night as I slept fitfully, the wolves returned to our pastures, but the remaining guardian dogs kept them from inflicting further damage. The wolves moved on, into the neighbor’s cattle herd, killing two calves.

Armed with wound-care instructions and medications from the vet, we brought Boo home the next afternoon, as her best chance for recovery would be in familiar surroundings. Jim and Cass took turns carrying Boo outside so she could relieve herself, and would then carry her back to the security of the house, gently placing her in a favored spot on the couch. We brought lambs into the yard so she could spend a few minutes each day interacting with those she loves best. The next week was a blur, filled with rough days for the young dog, and for us as the wolves made repeated night-time visits, trying to get into the sheep flock. We killed a few wolves but others remain, and I suppose there will always be wolves here.

Boo’s body eventually recovered from the attack, and she tried venturing back out with the range sheep, but she no longer had the heart for it. The attack had changed her, and she was afraid. 

Boo now spends her nights locked in the safety of a kennel, and ventures out during the day to the relative safety of the ranch yard where there are always a few sheep and guardian dog retirees. She plays joyfully in the ditch in the summer, and naps on the hay feedline set out for the sheep in the winter. She hunts gophers in the sagebrush and seems content enough with her new life, but I wonder if she’d be better off as a couch dog in a house full of children. Every now and then, we’ll see a flash of her old spunk, and it saddens me that such a young dog has chosen to retire from a life she loved. The wolves changed her.

Boo wasn’t the only dog injured by the wolves last year in our area of the southern Wind River Mountains. Two dogs were killed at a nearby shepherd’s camp, another had to be put down, and huge Bear-Bear fought nearly to death but survived. Two other dogs, our top two guardians, simply disappeared. But the pain is still too fresh for me to tell their story.

Livestock guardian dogs are noble beasts: gentle to weaker animals, yet fierce in their defense of others. Through the repeated wolf chaos of last year, the guardian dogs kept our sheep and cattle safe, even as our neighbors suffered losses. But it wasn’t easy, and it came at a cost.

There are increasing calls for ranchers to use non-lethal means such as livestock guardians to keep livestock safe from large carnivores, as if guardian animals are merely tools to be used. While our guardians are an excellent deterrent to predators, the coexistent relationship with wolves is not non-lethal. Sometimes protection comes at great cost: the death of a beloved working dog, the loss of a working partner.

Some may love the thought of wolves, but we loved Beyza, and Mos, and other dogs we’ve lost to the crushing jaws of wolves.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

The Bloody Sire Inhabits the Sagebrush Sea

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Pronghorn nursery
1516

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

What but the wolf’s tooth whittled so fine

The fleet limbs of the antelope?

What but fear winged the birds, and hunger

Jewelled with such eyes the great goshawk’s head?

Violence has been the sire of all the world’s values.

From: The Bloody Sire by Robinson Jeffers (1940s)

It’s been an interesting week on the ranch, which is located amid the sagebrush sea of western Wyoming. We had our first confirmed depredation of a 20-pound lamb by a pair of adult bald eagles. This was somewhat of a surprise since our livestock guardian dogs tend to harass big birds that come near the flock, and because most confirmed eagle depredations on livestock are inflicted by golden eagles – not bald eagles. I had watched a pair of golden eagles hunting over the sheep flock the week prior and was relieved when a spring snow squall pushed the eagles away from the flock.

While we were on watch to keep eagles away from the lambing flock, our game cameras revealed the presence of a radio-collared wolf making numerous forays onto the ranch, even coming within a short distance from the house. The cameras revealed our livestock guardian dogs tracking the wolf but returning to their sheep a few hours later. This male wolf was new to the neighborhood but is in addition to an adult female wolf we helped collar last December after numerous livestock depredations and removal of several members of her pack. That at least two collared wolves were roaming our lambing grounds along the Wind River Front is a concern akin to a ticking time bomb. There will be violence – the only uncertainty is when.

With everyone on high alert in trying to avert an animal catastrophe, the sheep are bedded on high ground each night about a half-mile from the house. I’m out as the sun starts rising to feed the guardian dogs and see the sheep off to their day’s grazing. We can generally tell by the behavior of the livestock guardian dogs whether there are wolves in the area. When the wolves are making their forays onto the ranch, the dogs are hyped up, driven by adrenaline, and looking for a fight. When the wolves aren’t around, the dogs are much more relaxed.

Pronghorn triplets
A pronghorn antelope doe with her triplet fawns.

Spring seems to have come late to western Wyoming this year, but by the second week of June the pronghorn antelope that shares our range were dropping their fawns in all directions. It seemed nearly every predator we saw in the last few days had a fawn carcass in the grip of its jaws. Worried about the survival rate of these fawns, an event I witnessed gave me hope and reminded me of the Robinson Jeffers poem quoted above.

As I drove down the county road which splits our pastures, I watched a coyote cross from one pasture to another. A mixed group of pronghorn antelope does and bucks were in that pasture, and a doe immediately took to chasing the coyote. It wasn’t enough to chase it out of her immediate vicinity – the doe performed like a good cow horse, meeting every dodge and turn of the coyote with her own maneuvers, and coming so close to stomping the coyote into the dirt.

The doe chased the coyote over half a mile before it fled under the far boundary fence to safety. According to scientific literature, the doe’s anti-predatory defense isn’t unusual, and this aggression exhibited by a prey species toward a predator is nearly always undertaken by adult females. (I also found a great account of a pronghorn doe teaming up with a short-eared owl to harass a coyote away from an active owl nest.)

Pronghorn chases coyote
A pronghorn doe aggressively pursues a coyote.

Generally as wolf densities increase, coyote densities decrease, but we have both species on the ranch, and know that both species prey on pronghorn antelope here. But many predators – from coyotes and wolves to eagles and bears – are successful at searching out newborn prey species that hide.

A study of grizzly bear depredation on elk calves in Yellowstone National Park found the most common hunting technique used by grizzlies was searching for bedded calves, with one bear catching five calves in 15 minutes. Like our pronghorn doe, cow elk will attack predacious bears, as do cow bison.

Research on white-tailed deer fawns in Minnesota found that all radio-tagged fawns in the study were killed by predators, with a near-even split between wolves and black bears.

The first two weeks of life are the most dangerous for newborn fawns and calves, but as each day passes, they grow and gain strength. By the time pronghorn fawns are two months old, they are outrunning predators nearly as ably as their protective mothers.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Range Writing: The Push to Build a Predator Disneyland

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Rocky Mountain Wolf Coalition
1428

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

If one were to believe the spiel, wolf advocates are benevolent custodians of the public interest, and ranchers suffer from “the myth of the wolf” and “a fear deeply ingrained” that can be cured with education. A few recent examples of this custodial role show that the advocates propose “a wolves for thee, not for me” landscape – one in which decisions are made by unaffected residents of population centers on behalf of uneducated rural serfs (serfs whose work feeds the nation and are most impacted by ever-expanding wolf populations).

For example, soon after the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife issued a letter supporting the Trump administration’s proposal to remove gray wolves in the Lower 48 States from the list of federally protected species, Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued a letter “to clarify and correct” the state position, noting that “the State of Oregon and its agencies do not support the delisting of wolves ….”

Citing the statewide wolf population count of 137 animals, Brown noted that the success of wolf recovery in Oregon “is unquestioned,” but added: “Our collaborative work and its success cannot protect imperiled wildlife beyond our borders in other states. Our commitment to the Oregon way gives me great confidence that wolves are on the path to recovery and do not warrant a listing within Oregon, but their listing under the federal Endangered Species Act affords them some protection across their range.”

Thanks Governor Brown, for trying to mandate wolf protection outside your state’s jurisdiction. I’m sure your neighbors to the south – northern California sheep and cattle producers – appreciate your benevolence.

Colorado’s example is even worse. Failing to gain support from state wildlife officials, national park officials, or residents who stand to be impacted by a proposal to reintroduce wolves to Colorado, wolf advocates – led by Mike Phillips of the Turner Endangered Species Fund – now plan to take the proposal to the ballot box.

Rocky Mountain Wolf email pushing a ballot initiative to reintroduce wolves in Colorado.

Phillips headed the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction program for the National Park Service, and currently serves in the Montana legislature. Phillips’s Rocky Mountain Wolf Project includes a “science advisory team” that will seem familiar to those involved in the wolf reintroduction program to Yellowstone National Park. Joining Phillips is Ed Bangs, Carter Niemeyer, and Rick McIntrye. Of course, none of these men reside within the area of impact, but the serfs are to accept their superior wisdom.

The Colorado ballot initiative will allow the heavily populated Front Range metropolitan areas east of the Continental Divide in the state to vote to require state wildlife officials to reintroduce gray wolves to Colorado – but further requiring “such reintroductions being restricted to the public lands west of the Continental Divide” by the close of 2023.

It’s a classic case of “wolves for thee, but not for me” by the benevolent custodians of the public interest.

This isn’t the first time for Colorado residents: In 2016, Defenders of Wildlife and Earthjustice proposed that Mexican wolves should be released in Colorado, to which Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) responded that not only was Colorado not within the historic range of the species, “the cost of living with predators are not borne  by most of our citizens. Agricultural producers and sportsmen will bear the brunt of the cost. Conversely, the benefits will largely accrue to those who advocate for introducing wolves.”

That benefit is the pleasure of knowing that wolves are there, to maintain Colorado’s healthy ecosystems. But as CPW notes, “We are unaware of any scientific studies that indicate Colorado needs another large predator in order to restore balance to our natural systems.”

Since the Mexican wolf proposal didn’t fly, and Rocky Mountain National Park rejected the idea of wolf reintroduction there, those proposals have been replaced with the ballot box proposition to release gray wolves into western Colorado. That gray wolves from the north would be placed closer to the Mexican wolf population to the south, perhaps promoting interbreeding between the two and diluting the Mexican wolf genetic pool, isn’t a concern to wolf advocates.

It’s worth taking a look at the “science advisory team” for the Colorado wolf project. In addition to the old guard from the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction, there are numerous others, with their professional affiliations listed. Is this to imply that their agencies support the Colorado wolf project? They don’t.

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project claims to be a “grassroots organization dependent on small-dollar contributions from concerned individuals like you,” yet notes at the bottom of its webpage that it is a “fiscally sponsored project of the Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) organization and the nation’s largest fiscal sponsor.”  The Capital Research Center describes the sponsorship as “using its nonprofit status as a legal umbrella for left-wing groups that have not or cannot apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS. The Tides Center does not directly fund these infant groups; instead, it operates as a feeder, accepting outside donations and redirecting them towards its numerous ‘projects’ with the goal of developing them into standalone organizations.”

CRC notes that Tides is a left-leaning enterprise: “Using a sophisticated funding model, Tides has grown into the leading platform for laundering away ties between wealthy donors and the radical causes they fund—while generating hundreds of new organizations along the way.”

With smug satisfaction, these wolf promoters can be confident their decisions on behalf of the uneducated pastoral populace are justified, never doubting that the negative impacts of wolves on rural residents will be greatly overshadowed by their benefits.

Presenting a Disneyesque worldview while courteously accusing ranchers of being uneducated hicks is modus operandi, rather than facing the reality that when it comes to wolves, things aren’t as rosy when viewed with open eyes.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Unable to eliminate brucellosis, officials focus on containment

in News/Agriculture
Bull and cow elk in a meadow, ALT=Unable to eliminate brucellosis, officials focus on containment in elk and cattle
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Snubbing out a disease that causes cattle, elk and bison to abort their calves may not be feasible, but Wyoming is working to ensure it remains contained.

Brucella Abortus, a bacteria and one of the causative agents of brucellosis, was discovered in two northwestern Wyoming cattle herds in October. The latest in a line of several outbreaks of the disease since 2003, the affected herds were quarantined. But Wyoming State Veterinarian Dr. Jim Logan said the quarantine won’t prevent other herds in northwestern Wyoming from potentially contracting the disease from its primary vector — wildlife.

“In animals, (Brucellosis) is transmitted orally,” Logan explained. “If an (infected) aborted fetus or placenta or fluids get on the ground during the time the bacteria is active, cattle, bison and elk are pretty curious and will lick at stuff like that.”

Brucellosis is at its most dangerous February through June, when the affected species are calving, but he said the bacteria could be active for months if environmental conditions are right.

Humans who are exposed to direct contact with Brucella Abortus are also at risk, said Hank Edwards, supervisor for wildlife health at the Wyoming Game and Fish Laboratory.

“It goes to humans, but it doesn’t cause abortions,” Edwards explained. “It does cause undulant fever, which is not usually fatal, but that means it’s a fever that rises and falls, rises and falls. It is a nasty, nasty disease.”

Both Edwards and Logan said meat from infected animals is edible. “This is not a food safety issue as long as the food is properly prepared,” Logan said. “To my knowledge, brucellosis has never been transmitted in that way.”

It is most commonly transmitted to humans from unpasteurized milk, he added. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 100 people are infected in the U.S. with the disease annually.

Infected wildlife

Introduced to the Greater Yellowstone Area around the mid-1800s, Brucella Abortus spread unchecked through local fauna until the 1950s, Edwards said.

In 1954, congressional funding was allocated for a cooperative state-federal brucellosis eradication program, USDA documents state. At the time, Brucellosis was rampant across the country with about 124,000 affected cattle herds identified through testing across the U.S. in 1956. By 1992, only about 700 herds were affected and in recent years, affected herds nationwide are frequently in the single digits, the USDA reported.

All 50 states are now listed by the USDA as brucellosis-free, but Edwards said Wyoming is home to one of a few remaining Designated Surveillance Areas (DSA) for the disease.

The DSA in Wyoming consists of Park, Sublette and Teton counties in their entirety and parts of Fremont, Lincoln and Hot Springs counties.

Game and Fish Department personnel regularly test the elk and bison populations — the disease can infect other wildlife, but is primarily transmitted by elk, bison and cattle — in the DSA. Edwards said approximately 30 percent to 40 percent of elk and about 60 percent of bison in the area have been exposed to Brucella Abortus.

“This is an incredibly complex disease,” he said. “We now have that disease in our wildlife population and that spills back into our cattle population.”

In some cases, the disease spreads through wildlife herds at state-run feedgrounds, then the infected species move to feed lines on private property where it can spread to livestock.

“We’ve always figured that to control brucellosis, we could eliminate those feedgrounds,” Edwards said. “But, in another case, we found brucellosis in elk herd near Cody, which did not have access to feedgrounds. So, closing feedgrounds is not going to solve the issue.”

While vaccines exist for cattle and bison, one has not been successfully developed for elk. Even if one did exist, Edwards said administering it to the entire elk population of northwestern Wyoming would be extremely challenging. 

“All a vaccine does is limit the severity of the disease,” Edwards said. “It does not stop it from spreading.”

Livestock interaction

After decades of aggressively targeting the brucellosis in the U.S., the federal and state campaigns were successful and the disease disappeared from Wyoming’s log book for nearly 20 years.

One livestock case was recorded in 1988, then Brucellosis in cattle disappeared until 2003, Logan said. Since, about 12 cases have been recorded, occurring in ones and twos every couple of years, he recalled.

“If we get a positive result from a lab test … we immediately quarantine the herd from which the animal came,” Logan said. “That herd will be under quarantine until it has undergone three consecutive negative herd-wide tests.”

In the DSA, livestock producers are required to test their animals regularly. If an animal tests positive, producers are responsible for the quarantine. A positive test in the fall might not significantly affect their livelihood, because the herd would likely be on the home range during the winter months anyway, Logan said. But he explained a positive test in the summer could require the producer to keep the cows at home during prime range season, burning through valuable feed stores needed for the following winter.

There are several theories about the recent proliferation of Brucella Abortus, but Logan said he didn’t believe it could be attributed to a single reason. 

“I think there are lots of factors that come to play in this,” he said. “Some of it is urbanization, some of it is the elk population increase and an increase in large predators. If you look back in history, a lot of this has a lot to do with the reintroduction of wolves (in Wyoming).”

Wolves were reintroduced to the Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and 1996, and a few years later, ranchers started detecting brucellosis in their livestock again.

“What I have been told from various producers is wolves are moving elk where elk had not been before,” Logan said. “As a result, there is more likelihood of interaction with elk and cattle.”

Some ranchers believe using a different vaccine — the original vaccine — would eliminate Wyoming’s livestock brucellosis problem altogether.

In 1997, state veterinarians nationwide banned the old vaccine, Strain 19, because it left a residual trace or “titer” in some animals, creating a false positive for brucellosis in later tests. The vaccine was replaced with RB51, which Logan said is just as effective.

“It creates immunity a little different than the old one,” he said. “But it does not create the titer.” 

For now, constant testing and quarantines could be the best way to manage brucellosis in Wyoming, but Edwards said a solution might be needed soon.

“Brucellosis was introduced into the Greater Yellowstone Area around the Civil War, and for the most part, it stayed there — that’s something we can handle,” he explained. “But in the last six years, we’ve discovered it in the Big Horn Mountains. Here’s the scary part, because we have a disease we can’t really control, if it was to become established in a population like the Big Horn Mountains, there’s not a lot we can do to stop it outside of flying in a helicopter and culling all the elk.”

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