Monthly Archives: December 2006

Leave them be: Hunting lions on open space is a bad idea

Recently, Colorado Wildlife Commissioner Rick Enstrom (whose term ends March 1), proposed hunting lions on open space as a way to prevent conflicts with humans (“DOW: Give hunting a shot,” news, Dec. 19).

Should Front Range open-space managers accept this idea? No. Hunting mountain lions does not prevent lion-human conflicts. Mountain lions maintain territories called “home ranges.” If the lion in a home range is removed or killed, then the vacancy likely will attract a younger, dispersing lion. Younger lions are more likely to have negative interactions with humans than are older animals. Ironically, hunting lions exacerbates conflicts with humans, because the lions’ social structure is disrupted, which invites in animals with less capable deer-hunting skills.

More importantly, mountain lions rarely bother people, so hunting them to prevent future attacks is simply an over-exaggerated notion. In Colorado, since 1890, there have been only two confirmed fatalities from lions, and both took place in the 1990s. Nationwide, 17 fatalities have occurred since 1890. Added to that, there have been approximately 100 non-fatal attacks in the nation in the past 100 years. The numbers of attacks is very low because mountain lions do not view people as prey. If they did, there would certainly be more attacks, because mountain lions are skilled ambush predators, and are capable of taking down an animal many times their own size, such as adult elk.

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CWD Spreads in Wyoming — The Irony of It All

The Star Tribune reports that Wyoming officials have detected chronic wasting disease in new areas of the state (click here to jump to the article). According to Scott Talbott, assistant wildlife division chief with Game and Fish, “We’re concerned that CWD continues to spread to new parts of the state”. Hmm . . . if they are so concerned, why can’t they admit that the lack of wolf predation as an ecological force (in most of Wyoming) may actually be aiding the spread of CWD?

Just as the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone has produced rapid and permanent ecological changes, including the recovery of riparian plant communities (click here for a list of articles), horse-sense says that the effect of a coursing predator would be to reduce the prevalence of a neurological disease such as CWD. Such an assertion may seem like a stretch, but remember that an animal with CWD will be more vulnerable to predation because the disease manifests in ways that cause the animal to be less coordinated and perhaps less responsive. Moreover, coursing predators generally reduce the density of their prey on the landscape, thus reducing the likelihood of elk and deer grazing over the same exact locations (and thus swapping spit). Click here for an article on the buzz about this hypothesis amongst scientists.

Hunters in the Cowboy State would do well to plead with the Department of Game & Fish (and ‘Governor Dave’) to join the 21st century and open the door to wolves. Unfortunately, Wyoming officials seem hell-bent on relegating wolves to Yellowstone (click here for article). Talk about fiddling whilst Rome burns.

Regulations Fence Out Successful Wolf Reintroduction

PINOS ALTOS, N.M. The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit Dec. 14 to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement reforms to the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program that a scientific panel had urged back in June 2001.

The lawsuit will jumpstart recovery for the animal that the service itself, after having spent decades trapping and poisoning Mexican wolves in the Southwest and Mexico, identified as North America’s most endangered mammal.

In planning the 1998 reintroduction, the service projected that by the end of 2006 more than 100 wolves would roam the Gila and Apache national forests in New Mexico and Arizona. According to the 1982 Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, this would be one of two populations that together would comprise an initial step toward recovery of the Mexican wolf .

However, the population declined from 55 animals counted at the end of 2003 to 35 counted at the end of 2005. Despite an increase expected this year, the population is significantly below 100 animals.

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Agency Proposes to List Polar Bears as Threatened

WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 The Interior Department proposed Wednesday to designate polar bears as a threatened species, saying that the accelerating loss of the Arctic ice that is the bears hunting platform has led biologists to believe that bear populations will decline, perhaps sharply, in the coming decades.

Many experts on the Arctic say that global warming is causing the ice to melt and that the warming is at least partly the result of the buildup of heat-trapping gases from tailpipes and smokestacks in the atmosphere. The plight of the polar bear has been held up by environmentalists as a symbol of global warming caused by humans.

But in a conference call with reporters, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said that although his decision to seek protection for polar bears acknowledged the melting of the Arctic ice, his department was not taking a position on why the ice was melting or what to do about it.

While the Bush administration takes climate change very seriously and recognizes the role of greenhouse gases in climate change, Mr. Kempthorne said, it was not his departments job to assess causes or prescribe solutions. That whole aspect of climate change is beyond the scope of the Endangered Species Act, he added.

The scientific analysis in the proposal itself, however, did assess the cause of melting ice. Most of the studies on the Arctic climate and ice trends cited to support the proposed listing assumed that the buildup of heat-trapping gases was probably contributing to the loss of sea ice to date or that the continued buildup of these gases, left unchecked, could create ice-free Arctic summers later this century, and possibly in as little as three decades. Continue reading

Santa, the environment tops my list

Gray wolf.  Courtesy of Tim Springer.  Copyright 2004.Dear Santa,

You sleighed into Fort Collins a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been honing my Christmas list ever since. I’ve tried to be nice this year (not naughty), and now I’m sitting on your lap to give it a go.

My visit coincides with the Dec. 15 deadline for our newly elected state senators and representatives to submit their bills for the 2007 Colorado legislative session. As an environmentalist, I can think of no better Christmas gift than if five new bills get introduced and make it all the way to the governor’s desk next May.

Please, Santa, consider these gifts for both the people of Colorado and for our beautiful Colorado landscape:

1. Instream flow rights. Believe it or not, we need to change state law to make it possible to keep water in our rivers. There are people, organizations, cities, and even farmers who want to donate water to our rivers, but our convoluted water laws keep it from happening. The law now says we have to “use it or lose it.” We need to change the law to allow our rivers to flow freely again.

2. Wolf reintroduction. Imagine the howl of wolves roaming Colorado. Imagine Colorado elk being chased by wolves. There are wolves in the states around us – Wyoming, New Mexico and Montana – and the Colorado Division of Wildlife has already changed its policy to allow for wolves. It’s time now to reintroduce these critters into our wild landscapes. A bill in the legislature could make it so.

3. Plug-in hybrid cars. Never mind those old 2004 Prius gas-guzzlers. These new-generation Prius cars plug right into your electrical outlets, and they get up to 200 miles per gallon! To make it possible, we need tax credits or the redirection of other transportation money – let’s quit paying for gas to fund Osama bin Laden and his pals in the Middle East, and let’s get some meaningful hybrid-car funding mechanisms passed through the state legislature.

4. Solar panels on our roofs. Jimmy Carter did it 30 years ago on the White House roof, and we still haven’t done it here in Colorado. We’re poised to spend tens of billions of dollars on new power plants in the next decade, but only a fraction of that on renewable solar energy. Imagine if we passed a bill to reinvest a portion of that power plant money and put it in household solar panels. Colorado citizens could spin their electric meters backward and we’d save billions on electricity and curtail millions of pounds of air pollution.

5. Water conservation. Water districts around Colorado are preparing to spend more than $5 billion on new dams and reservoirs, but the state still has no water conservation standards or incentive programs. Let’s require that water districts and cities have aggressive conservation programs, and then let’s teach them how to reinvest 20 percent of that $5 billion and put it into water conservation for homes and farms. We’d never have to build another dam, and we’d save our rivers, save water, and save lots of money.

Now, Santa, I know I shouldn’t ask for more, but I have two additional requests. First, all my environmental friends have been beat down, trammeled, ransacked, pillaged, and burned over the last decade by the state and federal administrations. To be honest, my friends act like an abused spouse who has learned helplessness and has become psychologically paralyzed.

For them, I ask that you give renewed hope. With hope, I believe they can find the passion and energy to continue working hard to preserve our state’s environment.

And second, there’s lots of folks in the state legislature who are feeling nervous about supporting strong environmental values. They believe in protecting the environment, but they don’t want to stick their necks out for fear of losing the next election.

For them, I ask that you give courage. It is courage that will support their voice so they can stand up at the state Capitol to protect our environment.

And Santa, I smell a little cognac on your breath, so I wonder if I might request one more little gift: Can you ask Al Gore to run for president?

Sincerely yours,

Gary Wockner

Gary Wockner, Ph.D. is a writer and ecologist. He is a resident of Fort Collins. Reach him at  This article first appeared in the Rocky Mountain News.

Lynx Poaching Reward Soars to $10,000

Lynx chasing hare.  Copyright 2001. Eyewire Royalty Free.

The Denver-based Animal Assistance Foundation has pledged $2,500 to help find the person or persons who recently killed two lynx in southwest Colorado.

The pledge by the Animal Assistance Fund brings the total amount of reward money in the lynx cases to $10,000. In early November, the Colorado Division of Wildlife announced that it would pay a $500 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the case. Several other conservation organizations followed immediately with their own pledges for reward money. The other organizations include: Sinapu, Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, Center for Native Ecosystems, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Colorado Wild, Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, and Wilderness Workshop.

“The Colorado Division of Wildlife is very appreciative of the support from these organizations in this effort,” said Patt Dorsey, area wildlife manager for the DOW in Durango. “The DOW continues to investigate these cases. As always with these types of cases, we’re hoping to get some help from someone who might have some information about either of these incidents.”

Two lynx were shot and killed sometime at the end of October. The first lynx was shot twice by a high-powered rifle in the Hermosa Park area about 35 miles north of Durango near the Durango Mountain Resort ski area. The second lynx was shot at close range with a shotgun on a road just north of Silverton.

The DOW is reintroducing lynx in the mountains of Colorado. The first lynx were released in 1999. About 200 lynx are believed to be alive in Colorado’s southern and central mountains.

If anyone has information about any of these incidents, they are asked to call the DOW office in Durango at (970)247-0855; or Operation Game Thief at 1-877-265-6648. Information can be given anonymously.

To read more on this story, click here.

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Agents, landowners killing more wolves

Our colleague in Idaho, Ralph Maughan, reported brought the following story to our attention in his blog today:

Wolves challenging bison.  Courtesy NPS, 2004.

Wolves caught eating what they shouldn’t are paying a higher price these days.

A record number have been killed this year in the northern Rocky Mountains for going after cows, sheep, dogs and other domestic animals.

So far, 152 wolves have been shot by government agents or private landowners, about 50 more than last year and an eightfold increase from five years ago.

In Wyoming, one-quarter of all wolves living outside Yellowstone’s protective boundary were killed after reports of attacks on livestock.

Wolf managers are taking a more aggressive tack with problem wolves mostly because the population in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho has soared beyond expectation in recent years.

“We’ve got a recovered population so we’re pretty hard on them if they get into trouble,” said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

There are at least 1,264 wolves in the three states, according to new figures provided Monday.

That’s roughly a 20 percent increase over 2005, which is on top of years of steady growth since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995 and 1996.

To read the complete article from the Billings Gazette, click here.