Monthly Archives: August 2006

New Mexico Game & Fish Considers Changes in Cougar Management

With New Mexico Game and Fish officials asking the public for input on the state’s cougar management plan, a slide show and informational session on the predator set for Aug. 30 is well timed.

The event at the Ruidoso Public Library is co-sponsored by Animal Protection of New Mexico, Forest Guardians and Sinapu, said spokesman Sarah Pierpont.

“Mountain Lions in New Mexico and the West: Natural History, Conservation and Coexistence,” will feature speakers Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, an organization dedicated to the preservation of large carnivores in the Southwest, and Jon Schwedler of Animal Protection of New Mexico.

The program at the library next to Village Hall at the corner of Cree Meadows Drive and Kansas City Street is set for noon as part of the library’s Adult Awareness Program Brown Bag Lunch.

The West’s red-rock canyon country, rugged foothills, and pion-covered mesas provide critical habitat to mountain lions, who also are called cougars, panthers or puma. A charismatic species, mountain lions are an icon of the Southern Rockies, Pierpont said.

The large golden cats, shy and unsocial by nature, prefer rugged terrain that is suitable for ambushing their large prey, such as mule deer and elk.

Mountain lions require expansive habitats because they are an “obligate carnivore,” they only eat meat and their food supply is dispersed over long distances. A male lion requires at least 100 square miles of habitat in the arid West, Schwedler said.

A female cat spends about 70 percent of her lifetime raising young. Born year-round, but with births peaking in the summer and fall months, kittens are totally dependent upon their mothers for their first nine months. They typically spend between 10 and 18 months learning survival skills from their mother, he said.

Common sense precautions, such as traveling in groups while recreating in lion country can eliminate potential human-lion conflicts.

The session Aug. 30 will cover the natural history of mountain lion, skills to successfully co-exist with the large native carnivore and how people can help ensure New Mexico’s proper management of the state’s cougar population improves.

Keefover-Ring, Sinapu’s dir-ector of the Carnivore Protec-tion Program, and Schwedler, APNM’s Cougar Campaign contact, will be touring eight New Mexico cities to present the program.

Schwedler explained that NMG&F officials are proposing increasing the harvest limit of 233 cougars across the state by 17 percent to 273.

Currently, a set number of cougars may be sport hunted and killed within each game unit, but those killed on private land in each area are not counted in the final tally.

Essentially, an unlimited number of the mountain cats could be killed on private land, he noted. “That’s the way it has been for a long time. As far as I know, no other state handles cougar management that way.”

To try to capture some of private land cougar kills, NMG&F officials are considering creating a separate category of management to come up with a sustainable mortality level, combining all private, road kill and sport harvest in a unit added together for a total of 446 cougars statewide.

“Our concern is that is so high, it represents more than 25 percent of the cougars in the state, by (NMG&F’s) own estimates,” Schwedler said.

“If you look at their numbers, the number of females being killed in the sport harvest is going up,” he said. “When it goes over 25 percent, you’re looking at the population not going up. It will be going down. In 2005, 48 percent of the harvest were females.”

Marty Frentzel, chief of public information and outreach for NMG&F, emphasized that the proposals are just that, proposed changes and they are up for debate.

He explained Monday that the number of allowed kills is not going up in all sport hunt zones.

“Some are going down,” he said. “But if you look at the overall numbers, you don’t see that. Cougars do have a significant impact on other animals.”

The overall number includes cougars killed by the predator control program in the state designed to protect livestock.

Frentzel emphasized that the review is the normal setting of two-year hunting regulations.

“This year, we are proposed adjusting the numbers by the zones,” he said.

“It is an increase, but our management objectives probably are not the same as others. Cougars are a valuable big game species. We don’t want to eliminate them, just reduce the number in certain units.”

Only one sport harvest unit has no limit, he said. It’s located in Hidalgo County in desert bighorn sheep country.

Rick Winslow, Large Carni-vore and Furbearer Biologist with the Wildlife Management Division of NMG&F, said the estimated adult cougar population statewide lies between 1,500 and 2,500.

The changes being contemplated are based on new habitat and range ideas for cougar in New Mexico, he said.

“Basically, we are not done trying to integrate the changes yet, so the proposed rule change available on the G&F Web site is not the final version,” Winslow said. “We always accept public opinion. Two more Game Commission meetings are scheduled dealing with the current changes to the regulations for the next regulation cycle of 2007-2009.”

Schwedler said the number of days it takes a hunter to kill a cougar has been going up since 1969 and the level of success is going down, which would indicate the resource is declining, better habitat is needed and the female subcategory should be modified and protected as a source of replenishing the population. When females die, they may leave orphaned cubs who also will perish without the protection and nutrition from the mother.

The animals harvested should be examined for age, condition and sex, no matter where or how they are killed, Schwedler said.

He placed the population estimate of cougars at a lower figure of about 1,400.

“With an annual sport kill number at 273 and sustainability mortality figure at 446, that’s pretty scary,” he said.

The groups also want to see more NMG&F outreach for residents to learn how to live with cougars in their communities.

“We don’t want to wait until someone loses a pet,” Schwedler said. “If you have mule deer in your backyard, don’t leave pets outside overnight” The cougars will be drawn by the mule deer herd, but are opportunistic and will kill smaller prey such as cats and dogs.

The next Game Commission meeting is set for Sept. 28-29 in Tucumcari, Frentzel said. People are welcome to present oral comments.

Written comments may be submitted by Aug. 30 by e-mail to Darrelweybright@state.nm.-us or by regular mail to New Mexico Game and Fish, Attn: Darrel Weybright, Big Game Program Manager, P.O. Box 25112, Santa Fe, NM 87504.

Check for the time, date and location of other commission meetings on the department Web site at

Dianne Stallings
Ruidoso News
August 25, 2006

Click here for original article


Bear Aware: Bear Activity Increases During Fall

Beginning now until winter begins, bears will be persistently looking for food to bulk up for hibernation.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) reminds homeowners it is especially important to take care not to attract bears with garbage or other food sources. Because bears are eating more and more everyday, people might see more bears near their homes.

Tonya Sharp, district wildlife manager in Teller County, explains that if a bear enters a homeowner’s yard it doesn’t mean the animal is going to cause problems.

Who's dumpster diving?  Photo:  Colorado Division of Wildlife“Just because a bear is near your house doesn’t mean it is being aggressive,” said Sharp. “Black bears are not aggressive animals – it’s probably looking for food. The closer we get to winter; bears will be searching for food up to 20 hours-a-day.”

While bears eat some meat, they are not predators in the same sense that mountain lions are. Bears might kill chickens, rabbits and other penned livestock, but generally do not stalk food the way a lion will.

Up to 90 percent of a bear’s diet is vegetation. The 10 percent that is carnivorous usually consists of insects and carrion (dead animals).

“When a bear is eating it is generally not aware of anything else,” Sharp said. “If someone yells at a bear and it doesn’t move, it doesn’t mean it’s being aggressive.”

Colorado’s black bears are currently in a transition period, moving from grasses, forbs, flowers and other summertime foods to berries and acorns. As bears become more active in their search for food, it increases the chance of encounters between people and bears.

Biologists estimate that adult bears need to consume up to 20,000 calories per day in the fall to store enough fat to sustain them through hibernation. Even when acorns and berries are plentiful, bears will try to find the easiest source of food available. “If that food is in a backyard, that’s where they’ll go,” Sharp said.

“Bears are looking for high-calorie food, and they can find that in things like dog food, bird seed and human food scraps,” Sharp said. “Bears can be tough, persistent, intelligent and aggressive animals when they want something, but if human food is not available, they’ll go someplace else to find something to eat,” she said.

The longer a bear hangs around where people live, the more dangerous it is because it becomes habituated to humans. In some cases, trapping, relocating or destroying them must be considered, said Sharp.

The DOW takes a dual approach to solving bear conflicts. The first line of defense is to inform homeowners, campers, hikers and others on how to protect themselves in bear habitat. Rather than immediately removing problem bears, wildlife managers ask people to first remove whatever might be attracting the bruins in the first place.

Wildlife officers will use rubber buckshot, pepper spray, and other techniques to persuade bears to leave an area. If those methods fail, wildlife managers will consider trapping and relocating bears. Anything that can attract bears must have been removed beforehand, however.

“If the reasons for the bear being there in the first place are still there after we trap a bear, we’ve only solved the immediate, short-term problem. In most of those cases another bear moves in and takes its place,” Sharp said. “It’s critical that we work toward solving the problem permanently.”

The towns in Colorado that have had the most success reducing bear conflicts are the ones that have adopted community-wide standards. It only takes one person in an entire subdivision who refuses to remove attractants to cause bear problems for everybody.

Sharp encourages anyone who lives in bear country to “bear-proof” their house. She recommends keeping all lower level windows and doors secured and installing an electric fence around chicken coops, rabbit hutches and areas where livestock feed is stored.

Bears have a highly developed sense of smell. We might not be able to smell food inside a freezer, but a bear can. “Anyone with a refrigerator or freezer in their garage should remember to keep the garage door closed,” she added.

Over the past decade, bear management has become more challenging because Colorado’s human population has grown and expanded into bear habitat. “It might seem like there are more bears causing trouble. The fact is that we still have about the same number of bears but we have a lot more people living and recreating in places where bears live,” said Sharp.

Colorado is home to between 8,000 and 12,000 black bears. Black bears are between 4-6 feet long and weigh between 150-450 pounds. They may be black, brown and even cinnamon in color.

The DOW offers these tips to reduce bear problems:

Keep garbage in airtight containers and stored in an enclosed area such as a garage or shed. Place the garbage cans outside just before scheduled pick-up, not the night before. It is also important to clean your garbage cans with ammonia on a regular basis in order to remove food smells.

Take down bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders, at night. Bird feeders have been found to be a common attractant for bears. Empty shells of sunflower seeds and other birdseed can still attract bears by scent, so be sure to clean up any shells under the feeder area.

Do not leave pet food or bowls outside. Feed pets inside or bring the bowls in promptly after feeding.

Do not put food items such as meat, fruit, or vegetables, in your compost pile.

Clean up fallen fruit from bushes and fruit trees.

Keep lower windows and doors closed and locked. Bears have been known to tear screens off trying to get at food they can smell inside.

Put an electric fence around chicken coops, rabbit hutches or areas where livestock feed is stored.

The DOW urges you to keep your property clean of bear attractants. It is important that bears forage on natural food sources in order to maintain healthy populations throughout the state with a minimum of human/wildlife conflicts.

Forests placed on road to ruin

Even in the face of the recent cooling trend of the real estate market, the hottest deal in America seems to be on the land most coveted by millions. Of course, you have to be willing to destroy it to buy it.

Last week, nearly 140,000 acres of undeveloped public land were sold to oil and gas companies seeking to further expand their network of roads and wells into formerly protected roadless areas within the national forest.

According to unofficial numbers provided by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which oversaw the auction, the highest bidder paid $850 an acre, and the highest amount received for any particular parcel of acreage was $395,000.

Of that chunk of real estate, about 20,000 roadless acres sold were right here in Colorado: 9,000 in the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre- Gunnison National Forest, more than 4,000 acres in the White River National Forest and 6,000 acres on the Colorado – Utah border in the Manti-La Sal National Forest. While you can expect the roads to soon follow, don’t expect an invitation to use them.

Click here to read the full story by Scott Willoughby, Denver Post Staff Writer.

Cougar Range Map Expanded to Include North Dakota Badlands

The Cougar Network announced today that it has modified its “Big Picture” map of known cougar range to include the Badlands region of North Dakota. This decision was made after a careful review of the available data and consultations with biologists from the North Dakota Game & Fish Department.

In 2005, the North Dakota legislature directed the NDG&FD to assess the status of mountain lions (Puma concolor) in North Dakota.

During the past year, the Department:
1) reviewed reported sightings of lions from the recent past (2001-2005),
2) surveyed North Dakota hunters for additional sighting information,
3) mapped suitable lion habitat throughout the state,
4) initiated an experimental mountain lion season with a quota of five animals.

Data from verified sighting reports and the experimental season confirmed several mountain lions in the Badlands area, including adult males as well as females with kittens. This data confirms that lions have recolonized the area as a resident, breeding species.

Although most of North Dakota was deemed unsuitable for mountain lions, the habitat suitability map identified the Badlands and associated Missouri River (MR) Breaklands as having a sufficient amount of suitable habitat to support a small resident population. Based on an initial analysis of habitat quality, approximately 2% of North Dakota (suitable habitat in the Badlands and MR Breaklands) could support an average of 45 to 74 resident adult animals under a management scenario with no harvest mortality. This is not an estimate of the current population size, but rather an estimate of habitat potential for the area.

For more information, click here.

Howling Back – Part I

Author’s Note: This essay originally appeared in Comeback Wolves: Western Writers Welcome the Wolf Home (Johnson Books. 2005). It’s an amazing collection of essays, poetry and thoughtful prose. To purchase a copy, click here.

Howling Back

The television image brightens from black to a shadowy, old-growth forest. As glimpses of a wolf moving through the undergrowth flash nervously through the scene—giving a sense of impending doom—a female’s voice drones darkly: “In an increasingly dangerous world, even after the first terrorist attack on America, John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America’s intelligence budget by $6 billion, cuts so deep they would have weakened America’s defenses.” The scene switches to several wolves resting on a hillside, until the observer apparently catches their attention and they rise to give chase. The female announcer continues, “And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.” As the ad fades to black, the voice of President George W. Bush announces his approval of the piece.

Turning off the television, I stood staring blankly at the darkening screen. The ad’s not-so-subtle use of wolves as a metaphor for terrorists left me dumbfounded (click here to watch the ad). Yet the Bush Administration had never proven to be a friend to wolves. In fact, Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton—a Bush appointee—approached her stewardship of the nation’s wolves much like a princess would approach a stinky shirt. This ad, however, was a cheap shot.

After nearly a decade of struggling to build the scientific case and a constituency for wolves in the Southern Rockies, I felt my blood boil at this ad. The political hacks who created it were so proud of themselves they granted interviews to the major media outlets just to discuss their handiwork. They argued that the ad’s imagery “tested as very compelling with focus groups.” Really? What a surprise! The only thing that might have made it more compelling would be seeing the wolves chasing down and devouring the Secretary of the Interior.

I knew that my righteous indignation wouldn’t stop the ad from airing, however. This felt like familiar territory.

Go to: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

Wolf tracks

Conservation Collective Condemns Forest Service’s Proposal for Predator-Killing Plan in Wilderness

Boulder, Co. – Today, thirteen conservation groups based in the Southern Rocky Mountain Region sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service condemning the agency’s proposal to expand predator killing in Wilderness Areas and Research Natural Areas. The Government’s proposal would allow the USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services unfettered access to the most highly protected and pristine natural areas in the country in order to kill wildlife for the benefit of agribusiness. Wildlife Service killed 2.7 million animals in 2004—including nearly 83,000 mammalian carnivores such as coyotes, wolves, bobcats, bears, and pumas.

The Wilderness Act expressly prohibited the non-emergency “use of motor vehicles” any “form of mechanical transport” and the “landing of aircraft” in Wilderness Areas.

Yet, in June the Forest Service proposed to allow Wildlife Service to use mechanical devices, such as aerial gunning planes and helicopters, and ATVs (to carry poisonous baits and traps) in Wilderness Areas for the purposes of killing predators.

The groups request that the Forest Service rescind the proposal because it would reflect a dramatic and dangerous change in wildlife management policy and would violate several federal environmental laws.

Furthermore, Wildlife Services recently failed two federal audits because the agency failed to keep track of dangerous lethal poisons, such as sodium cyanide, that it uses to kill predators.

“Wildlife Services killed more than five animals per minute in 2004,”said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu. “The toll on ecosystems wrought by this one agency is jaw dropping and to let them lose in Wilderness Areas is unconscionable.”

“Wildlife Services is a rogue agency that operates with virtually no public accountability. Now we find that its practices present a national security risk. This is not an agency we want running rough-shod over our Congressionally-protected Wilderness Areas.”
Wendy Keefover-Ring  303.447.8655, Ext. 1#
Director, Carnivore Protection Program,  Sinapu

Lauren McCain, 303.573.4898
Director, Deserts and Grasslands Program, Forest Guardians
For Immediate Release:  August 1, 2006

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