Monthly Archives: October 2004

Wolf ad rubs some the wrong way

Rocky Mountain News

By Deborah Frazier, Rocky Mountain News

Don’t mess with Colorado wolf lovers.

Wolf advocates are snarling over a Bush-Cheney television ad that shows a well-fed pack of wolves staring at the camera and then romping off.

“In an increasingly dangerous world . . . even after the first terrorist attack on America, John Kerry and the liberals voted to slash America’s intelligence operations,” the narrator says.

“Cuts so deep they would have weakened America’s defenses and weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm,” the message ends.

“The comparison to terrorists was insulting,” said Pat Wendland of Wolves Offered Life and Friendship near Fort Collins, which owns a refuge for 35 wolves.

Wolves play a valuable role in ecosystems, cleaning up carcasses and culling weak and sick wildlife from the breeding population, she said. “We have worked for years, teaching people that Little Red Riding Hood lied.”

Wendland knows wolves. She and her husband live in a house surrounded by large pens of wolves. There’s also a “house” pack that lives in the home.

“The pack on television looked like they were going to run and play, not attack,” said Wendland.

Other Colorado wolf advocates are howling, too. “Wolves don’t pose a threat to humans, unlike terrorists,” said Rob Edward of Sinapu, a Boulder-based wolf advocacy group.

“Now we have this huge graphic media buy that associates the maligned species with terrorists,” said Edward.

Danny Diaz, the Bush-Cheney campaign’s spokesman on the ads, said the footage came from National Geographic.

“Those funding cuts that Kerry voted for would have weakened America. And weakness attracts those who would do America harm,” he said.

Edward said there has been no verified case in the United States of wolves who live in the wild killing a human.

In this predatory political year, there’s even a Web site, http://www.wolfpacksfortruth.org, that rebuts the wolf-terrorist link, said Edward.

The site chides Bush for weakening federal protection for wolves, he said.

Peter Shadix, an Ohio computer software engineer, designed the Web site and said he’s gotten more than 125,000 hits since Saturday.

“Would the wolves in the ad support President Bush if they could vote? I don’t think so,” said Shadix.

Edward said the ad was typical of campaign ads – inaccurate.

“They don’t look at us as food. Wolves are not out there as a hair-trigger risk,” he said.

Wolf lovers have a friend in the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which said the ad is misleading.

At the center’s http://www.factcheck.org Web site, the center said the first terrorist attack occurred in 1993 and Kerry voted to increase intelligence spending prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

Adding insult to injury, the ad came out during Wolf Awareness Week, said Edward.

Advertisements

Mountain lions integral part of Western Slope

By DAVE BUCHANAN
The Daily Sentinel

Call it puma. Or catamount. Or cougar.

Take your pick, since there are at least 40 English names for what most people call mountain lions.

Whatever name you use, mountain lions area keystone species in the Western ecosystem, said Wendy Keefover-Ring during a 45-minute presentation Wednesday night.

She is director of Carnivore Protection Program for the conservation group Sinapu, and her message was that lions deserve more protection.

Of the eight wild cats that live in North America, three are found in Colorado: the lynx, bobcat and mountain.

Mountain lions are particularly important because they are umbrella species, Keefover-Ring explained.

“Mountain lions need large areas of land to survive, and if we protect lion habitat we are also protecting those other species that need smaller areas,” she said.

Mountain lions are ambush predators, hiding until prey comes close and then rushing out for a short chase before leaping on the prey and killing it by biting deep into the back of the neck. Before wide-scale predator control programs and major habitat loss, pumas occupied the largest range of almost any mammal in North America, second only to humans.

Now mountain lions are known to exist only in the western half of the United States except for a tiny population of cats in Florida.

Because of the mountain lion’s solitary and evasive nature, no one knows exactly how many cats roam Colorado. Earlier estimates of 3,000 to 7, 000 cats have been trimmed to between 3,200 and 4,000 after a recent puma management plan was completed by the Division of Wildlife.

“This is an excellent plan,” said Keefover-Ring. “More valuable information will be gathered by Dr. Ken Logan’s 10-year study of pumas on the Uncompahgre Plateau.”

Logan’s study will be the largest mountain lion study ever conducted in Colorado. During the decade-long project, lions will be captured, sampled, tagged and tracked to learn more about their populations, movements, prey and interactions with people and domestic animals and the effects of hunting.

Also, part of the study will test tools that managers can use to estimate lion numbers.

“The biggest threats to mountain lion populations are habitat loss, roads and overkill by sport hunting,” claimed Keefover-Ring. “By 2025, it’s estimated Colorado will have 6 million people, which means more development and more roads creating more loss of habitat.” Roads cause direct mortality through collisions between lions and vehicles and indirect mortality when they open access to previously unroaded mountain lion habitat.

Hunters, too, have an impact, Keefover-Ring said, by unintentionally overharvesting female lions, which could leave dependent kittens to starve.

“Forty-four percent of the mountain lion harvest in Colorado over the last 10 years has been female lions,” she said. “At any time during the hunting season, 50 percent of the females will have dependent kittens which will starve if left on their own.

“The death of one female can result in the deaths of three to four kittens,” Keefover-Ring said.

The Division of Wildlife has proposed a drop in the annual hunting quota of mountain lions from 790 lions to 567. Keefover-Ring said Sinapu applauds that move but still is pushing for a subquota on the number of female lions that can be killed by hunters.

Keefover-Ring also pushed educating lion hunters in how to identify treed cats as a way to prevent killing females. The Four Corners Houndsmen Association, a group of mountain lion guides in western Colorado, are tackling the education issue a spokesman said recently.

Tom Burke, a state wildlife commissioner from Grand Junction, said he prefers voluntary education efforts over regulation.

“We’re really pushing the education part,” Burke said after Keefover-Ring’s presentation. He said efforts by hunters in the Gunnison Basin to identify and release female cats cut the percentage of females killed by hunters from 44 percent of the total bag to 18 percent last year.

Report will detail how state handles migrating wolves

Trapping, relocating animals one option

By BILL McKEOWN THE GAZETTE

Few animals in the West provoke the kind of emotion that wolves do. Love ’em or hate ’em, everyone has an opinion on the wily critters.

A report due out in October about how the state should handle migrating wolves won’t be out until December. Those writing the report — including environmentalists, livestock producers and biologists — still are wrangling with several contentious issues.

After decades of eradication efforts, the last credible report of a wolf in Colorado was in 1935.

But wolf populations are on the upswing in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, and most experts say it’s a matter of time before at least a few of the highly mobile animals make their way southward.

A wolf was spotted fairly recently near Baggs, Wyo., just a few miles north of the Colorado border. There have been numerous unconfirmed wolf sightings in Colorado in recent years.

A sense that a return of the wolves is inevitable led the Colorado Division of Wildlife this year to appoint what it calls the wolf management working group to make recommendations about how the agency should handle the animals.

One study has found the state’s biggame herds could support 1,000 wolves, but Division of Wildlife biologist Gary Skiba has said human residents’ tolerance for the wolf will play a larger role in setting the upper limit for any wolf population.

Rob Edward of the Boulder-based advocacy group Sinapu and a member of the wolf management group said it’s proven difficult to find consensus among members about how many wolves should be allowed in the state and in what numbers.

Killing the wolves that migrate naturally into the state isn’t an option — at least not a legal one.

Wolves still are a federally protected species.

Edward said the group will have one last meeting next week and try to craft a report.

“We’re still hammering out some contentious, difficult issues, and there’s still a large chasm,” he said.

“It’s hard to say where we’ll go. There’s a possibility we won’t all agree, and there could be some kind of split decision.”

Edward said one problem is the group was given too narrow a charge.

He said members can’t discuss whether wolves should be reintroduced but rather how to manage them if they wander into the state on their own.

He said the federal government has made a false demarcation line using Interstate 70, saying any wolf south of it will be treated as endangered and any wolf north of it as threatened. That makes it difficult to construct a consistent policy in the state, he said.

Tom Bender, a Larimer County commissioner and a member of the wolf group, said participants will be able to hammer out recommendations. But he said they may be less specific than some members want.

The men said participants in the group have agreed that some presence of wolves in Colorado is acceptable and that there needs to be some way to compensate ranchers for livestock losses.

But members still are struggling with several issues:

– Should wandering wolves be trapped and relocated to a specific place, perhaps Rocky Mountain National Park, to create a pack that can be studied? Or should they be allowed to roam unfettered in more wild areas?

– Should wolves be tagged and fitted with collars to track movements?

– Should wolves be delisted as a threatened species north of Interstate 70 even if they are not in the state?

– How can a compensation system be created for ranchers that is equitable and verifiable?

– How will wolves affect the populations of deer and elk?

Edward said the work has been difficult, and there’s a lot more to do, but he said getting people together with strong feelings about the wolf — for and against — has been beneficial.

“There’s a lot more understanding on both sides of the table on concerns and issues,” he said.

“Not every rancher in the group is opposed to wolves, and we’re not opposed to compensation for ranchers.”

After the report is released, there will be a 60-day period for public comment. The Division of Wildlife will use the recommendations to shape policies.

Cougars under siege from growth

By Joey Bunch
Denver Post Staff Writer

Evergreen – Kate Wellington found herself in an unnerving position on two consecutive mornings last week: staring down the whiskers of a mountain lion.

The Evergreen resident was on a morning hike Wednesday with her dog near her home on Myers Gulch Road. Up a ravine, blond with autumn grass, a cat of the same color gnawed a deer carcass. By the time she saw it, the cat was just 8 feet away, Wellington said.

She screamed and a neighbor came running, hurling rocks. The wildcat scrammed. But on Wellington’s walk the next day, the cougar was back, perched in the middle of the trail. This time, Wellington was mad and armed, she said.

When the cat prowled within 3 feet of her, she thumped it on the head with her walking stick. The cat recoiled, snarling. This time the neighbor’s dogs helped chase it away.

“The land is being so encroached upon, and the deer population is so out of control, that you’ve got more lions and more people closer together,” Wellington, a 30-year resident of the area, reasoned on Sunday.

And she is right, said wildlife experts.

Suburbia has become lion country – as delicious deer, elk, raccoon and household pets flourish near civilization and as Front Range home development crawls into the foothills.

Wildlife managers estimate that Colorado has about 5,000 mountain lions, the local vernacular for cougars, pumas, catamounts and panthers.

Yet only two deaths have been attributed to cougars in Colorado: a high school senior training for cross-country on a trail in Idaho Springs in 1991 and a 10-year-old boy in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1997. The big cats have injured seven people in Colorado in the past decade, according to the state Division of Wildlife.

“It’s not a function of more mountain lions,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, a wildlife specialist. “There are just more of us gobbling up their habitat.”

Sinapu, a Boulder-based wildlife group, is offering a series of free lectures about the secretive cats this month. It’s also pressing the state for a hunting limit on female lions to help expand the cat’s population in appropriate areas.

In November, the state will begin a 10-year, $2 million study of mountain lions to measure their population and their interaction with prey and humans, Division of Wildlife spokesman Todd Malmsbury said.

Whether it’s from more houses, more recreational areas or more hunting, encounters with humans will squeeze out the lions, said Keefover-Ring, Sinapu’s director of carnivore protection. And if the species suffers, so will the Western wilds. Mountain lions thin out deer and elk, and keep them from overgrazing an area.

There also is an aesthetic that’s at risk, she said.

“Mountain lions are an icon – a symbol of the West,” she said. “And if we have these cats in the ecosystem, then we have a functioning ecosystem.”

Lectures about lions

Wendy Keefover-Ring of the Boulder-based conservation group Sinapu will present “Mountain Lions in the West: Natural History, Conservation & Co-Existence” at these venues at 7 p.m. on the listed days:

Oct. 12: CCAH Arts Annex, 580 La Fontana Plaza, Carbondale

Oct. 13: First Congregational Church, 1425 N. Fifth St., Grand Junction

Oct. 14: Noble Hall, Room 125, Fort Lewis College, Durango

Oct. 20: Humane Society Building, 2323 55th St., Boulder

Oct. 26: Buchanan Park Recreation Center, 34003 Ellingwood Trail, Evergreen

Bring on that old lanky dog (and be sure to eat the elk)

by Rob Cordery-Cotter
Writers on the Range

For my son’s last day of summer vacation, I took off from my veterinarian practice, and off we went to northern Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. We climbed around on some boulders, got rained on and we saw elk, lots of elk.

I have seen my share of elk throughout the West, but this particular group we observed were a ragtag group indeed. One bull sported last fall’s polished antlers still stuck on his head; several spike bulls carried stunted sets in velvet. The lady elk around them seemed utterly disinterested in this group of males, as if they were seriously considering forming a commune and foregoing the upcoming rut altogether. With boyfriends like that in the offing, who could blame them?

The aspen stands behind these elk had been pruned to precisely elk-snout height. We walked along a stream in the park and noticed that the willows lining its banks were pretty much chewed to the nubs.I am not the only one to have noticed the sorry-looking bulls, disenchanted cows and absence of shrubbery.

The Park Service is now examining various alternatives to deal with a surfeit of elk with little else to do but eat the place to the ground and collide with tourists’ automobiles. Proposed alternatives make for interesting reading; They include everything from “culling” elk with high-powered rifles to placing lady elk on the pill. I was nearly surprised not to see a faith-based initiative to preach abstinence to nubile young elk cows, but I digress.

Buried within the glossy summation of these alternatives was something even more creative: Alternative D, Wolf Reintroduction. This is an odd turn of events for an animal whose relationship with Westerners has been nothing but checkered. No doubt more than one string of Newhouse #14 leg-hold wolf-traps is still hanging around, oiled up and ready to go, in the odd shed or barn. For it wasn’t long ago that the extirpation of every last wolf constituted a national priority. (“We felt guilty and ashamed,” said one government wolf-hunter on strangling wolf pups dug out from their dens, “but it was our duty.”)

How did wolves get in our way? In the latter part of the 19th century, after market hunters had shot all the big game to feed the likes of Denver, ranchmen went on to stock the land with cattle. They did not take kindly to so many unemployed wolves about, particularly since the slow-elk known as cattle were so incapable of defending themselves. The wolves’ success was a major mistake. What Mr. Newhouse’s steel traps could not ensnare, strychnine and abrupt lead poisoning could kill with thoroughness.

In 1913-14, elk were hauled down from Yellowstone country and reintroduced into Rocky Mountain National Park. What market hunters had done, man would now undo. For millennia the wolf had been the stone that burnished the elk to magnificence, but with the wolf even by then a rapidly dimming memory, the elk population grew largely unchecked.

Until the late 1980s, hunting worked to slow the growth of the herds. Increasingly, though, land around the park became off-limits to hunting as human settlement grew. Habituated to humans, the elk sought refuge within the suburban landscape of Estes Park. Today, the guns of autumn can’t keep pace with the burgeoning herds.

Thanks to the Yellowstone experience, there’s another option: bringing wolves back into the picture. Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in the 1990s in part to help cull elk herds, to restore the balance, to bring the elk in line with what the land will carry. Eager tourists throng to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone to howl with these gangly predators; they just want to be among them. I have been there and seen the wolves’ neatly boned kills strewn among the late-summer grass, a windfall of carrion for the grizzly, the wolverine, the raven.

In and around Rocky Mountain National Park, there is chronic wasting disease, unsightly roadkill, beaten-down vegetation. From Yellowstone country the wolf looks on in amusement: “See what you have wrought?”

We know the wolf is on his way back to Colorado. Some already lope here all the way from Wyoming. Some, like the elk nearly a century ago, might just get the VIP treatment, a ride home in a government trailer plus three squares a day.

Welcome home, old lanky dog. Be sure and eat the elk.

Rob Cordery-Cotter is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a veterinarian in the small town of LaPorte, Colorado.

Views vary on gray wolf management plan

By MIKE McKIBBIN

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A group charged with the development of a gray wolf management plan differed on whether the wolf should be accepted in Colorado and how it should be monitored.

Colorado is part of the gray wolf’s native range, but the wolves were eradicated from the state by the mid-1930s. Over the past decade, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reintroduced wolves in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona.

This summer, a gray wolf was killed by a motor vehicle on Interstate 70, after it had migrated from a herd in Yellowstone National Park.

The Division of Wildlife set up a group that includes members of the livestock, environmental and sportsmen communities as well as wildlife biologists, local government officials, federal and state government agencies.

The group met this week at Sunlight Mountain Resort outside Glenwood Springs, and the opinions varied on several issues related to the wolf management plan.

“We had given up on the idea of every wolf that comes across the border should be assassinated,” said sportsmen representative Michael Bond of Littleton. “That’s a concession that we will have wolves in this state.”

“I don’t want any wolves beyond the state lines,” said livestock producer representative Bonnie Kline of Delta.

“If we don’t determine what level of wolf presence to accept in this state, it will be a hard sell to get the public to accept this plan,” said sportsmen representative Dick Steele of Delta.

Whether hunters should help pay for management of the wolves also was debated.

“It will be harder to sell this to those who are opposed to wolves if hunters have to pay for it,” Bond said. “I don’t want the costs borne by hunters or the livestock industry.”

Gary Skiba with the DOW assured livestock representatives if any wolves kill cattle or sheep, those animals will be removed.

Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton suggested a Web site be set up to allow the public to track the movement of wolf packs.

That idea was strongly opposed by Rob Edward of Boulder, a member of Sinapu, a group that favors the return of wolves.

“If you tell people where these packs are, I’m very concerned that will open them up to poisoning,” he said. “You should only tell those who could be directly affected, like ranchers in calving season, on a case-by-case basis.”

Hampton said that was unsatisfactory.

“We need a plan that’s as public-friendly as it can be,” he said. “We should use all the monitoring tools we can because monitoring is the absolute key to preventing predation.”

The group is scheduled to complete a draft management plan when they meet in Grand Junction next month.

The draft then will be open for public comment for 60 days. A series of public meetings will be held across the state to gather more input, said facilitator Connie Lewis.

“We have to plan to manage the wolves when they get here, it’s not a reintroduction issue,” she said.