Category Archives: Wildlife Restoration

Wolf at the Door?

Wolf pack

Longtime Denver Post writer, Ric Soulen, opines in his Colorado Journal that the recent decision to relax restrictions on killing wolves in the Northern Rockies is, “completely insane and without any scientific reasoning or humane sense at all and is being perpetrated for obvious political gain.”

We’d like to commend Ric for one of the most succinct summaries of wolf politics we’ve seen in ages. Click here to read his post.


Predators Do More Than Kill Prey

A recent post in the online magazine Science Daily offers an interesting insight into the complex nature of the effects that predation has upon prey and the ecosystem. Those of you who visit this blog regularly, and who are locked in a heated battle of wills over claims that wolves are going to eat themselves out of business might want to read it [click here for the article]. Happy New Year!

Editorial: Tax-free elk reduction

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

Well worth trying

Those who’ve spent much time watching the elk in Rocky Mountain National Park know that the animals often look more relaxed than elk do in, say, the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.

Under natural conditions, the elk population would be controlled partly by predators. By the time Colorado attained statehood, however, hunters had nearly wiped out the elk and their chief predator, wolves. Elk were reintroduced beginning in 1913. Wolves were not.

Controlled hunting in the park ceased in 1969, and the elk population has since tripled, exceeding the park’s “carrying capacity” of 1,600 to 2,100 elk. Hordes of elk fuel tourism. But they harm the ecosystem.

Some elk within the park’s boundaries no longer migrate between winter and summer ranges. The animals are apparently content to gorge themselves on willow and aspen. That over-grazing puts such plant populations at risk, and could cause concomitant damage to beaver habitat.

An environmental-impact statement on the park’s elk-management plan says elk overpopulation is particularly hard on willows and aspen. “Research consistently indicates that a continuation of the high elk densities in Rocky Mountain National Park would result in the complete loss of aspen trees or, at best, existence in a shrub-like state on core winter range areas,” the environmental-impact statement notes.

The loss of aspen, willows and other species reduces the biodiversity of the park. Wolf reintroduction is a more natural alternative, but it is not a short-term solution. Wolves, long demonized in the West, are still a tough sell politically.

The final draft of the park’s elk-management plan, released Tuesday, calls for the culling (meaning the killing) of up to 200 elk per year over the next 20 years. The plan is not to open the park for hunting, but rather to use “qualified volunteers.”

“This is not people out in the woods in orange vests as we envision hunting going on in Colorado wildernesses,” Vaughn Baker, park superintendent, told the Camera.

The plan is to donate the meat from the slaughtered animals to Native American tribes and others. Meanwhile, rangers would try to herd some elk out of the park and also use “adverse conditioning” to encourage them to move where hunting is legal.

Those who care about the welfare of animals are understandably uncomfortable with “lethal reduction” and justifiably eager to see the elk-culling efforts managed in as humane a manner as possible.

The carnivore-restoration group Sinapu has notified the Interior Department of its intention to sue. Sinapu argues that the park service did not adequately consider the reintroduction of wolves as an elk-management strategy.

“Rocky Mountain National Park should do as Yellowstone did and provide leadership for an entire region that’s in need of rekindling wolf predation,” Rob Edward, Sinapu’s director of carnivore restoration, told the Camera. “It’s very clear that the experiences of Yellowstone National Park are directly transferable to the problems here.”

The suit is welcome. Though wolf reintroduction would take some time to achieve its desired effect, it would have the benefit of restoring some semblance of the natural order of things in an area that, incidentally, has just been designated as federal wilderness. Management by wolf would also have the added benefit of sparing taxpayers the expense of unnaturally culling the herd.

Clint Talbott, for the editorial board of the Daily Camera.

Click here for the original editorial.

Operation Estes Storm

Wolf packPark Service releases controversial plan to slaughter elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, eschews wolves

For Immediate Release

(Boulder, CO) The National Park Service today released a final plan to use sharpshooters to kill thousands of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, ignoring important lessons learned in Yellowstone National Park. The plan calls for sharpshooters and other unnatural management activities to be used to reduce and redistribute elk in the Park instead of considering wolf reintroduction.

“Today is a sad day for Rocky Mountain National Park,” said Rob Edward, the Director of Carnivore Restoration for Sinapu. “Today, the Park Service let politics and timidity triumph over science and common sense,” said Edward, referring to the fact that wolves released into Yellowstone National Park had done–in less than a decade–what the Park Service plans to do in Rocky Mountain National Park over many years using sharpshooters.

Edward stated that Sinapu and Forest Guardians intend to sue the Park Service over the plan, and said that other litigation is presently in the works regarding the National Park Service’s refusal to restore wolves as part of the agency’s legal mandate. The two groups filed a notice in November with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and National Park Service Director Mary Bomar indicating their intent to sue over the National Park Service’s lack of planning for wolf recovery within Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The notice gives the government 60 days to respond to the claims raised.

“The managers of our federal lands must be good stewards of the wildlife on those lands,” said Edward. He stated the Endangered Species Act makes very clear that federal land management agencies must act to further the conservation of endangered species. “Why the government would choose to spend millions of dollars and turn our national park into a nocturnal shooting range for a problem that should be solved eloquently, by wolves, is puzzling,” said Edward.

John Horning, Executive Director of Forest Guardians in Santa Fe, underscored the need for the Park Service to be proactive on wolf recovery. “The vegetation of Rocky Mountain National Park is being rapidly depleted by scores of elk, and the Park Service’s plan is to have sharpshooters kill thousands of these elk under the cover of darkness,” said Horning. “Yet, as we’ve seen in Yellowstone, reintroducing wolves to the park can quickly and permanently restore the balance of nature and bring the entire ecosystem back to life.” Horning pointed to published scientific information from Yellowstone that shows that native plants regenerate more quickly if elk are kept on the move by wolves, and that culling elk is not necessary if wolves are present.

Edward indicated that the plan to cull elk in the park would cost millions of dollars and stands little chance of long-term success.

The Endangered Species Act’s Section 7 requires federal agencies to conserve federally protected species, including taking all measures possible to achieve species recovery. Horning and Edward agreed that the National Park Service is missing a perfect opportunity to meet two conservation objectives under the present plan: restoring wolves and protecting the park’s plants from sedentary elk.


In the Valley of the Wolves

Friend and filmmaker Bob Landis has a new special airing on the PBS series Nature this Sunday called In the Valley of the Wolves. The eight minute promo piece below should be enough to get you to watch the special, but if you need more prodding, consider this: Bob Landis gives selflessly of his time, chronicling on film the remarkable comeback of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. He does it because he is called to do it. He does it because he believes that it is both honorable and important for the world to get a more intimate glimpse of these incredibly important carnivores.

On any given day, one can find Bob Landis at the roadside somewhere in Yellowstone. For this film, Bob spent months following the Druid Peak pack as they went about their business, fought with their rivals, played, hunted and howled. Don’t miss this rare and compelling look into the lives of wolves. You’ll be glad you did.

Forest Service Rubber-Stamps Grazing in Wolf Recovery Zone

Conservation Groups Sue to Protect Lobos and Other Species

SANTA FE, NM – In the midst of New Mexico’s Wolf Awareness Week, Forest Guardians and Sinapu filed suit in federal district court today in order to overturn all decisions in which the Forest Service allowed livestock grazing on the Gila National Forest in New Mexico without public participation or consideration of impacts to endangered species. The Gila, a rich, biodiverse area measuring 3.3 million acres, supports a host of wildlife and protected species, and is ground zero for the Mexican gray wolf. In their lawsuit, the groups say that by overlooking conflicts between wolf recovery and livestock ranching on public lands, the Forest Service has not only broken federal law, but continues to contribute to the lobo’s demise.

A reintroduction program for the Mexican wolf began in 1998, with the goal that, by the end of 2006, the wild wolf population would number 102 animals, with 18 breeding pairs. Largely due to conflicts with livestock, the wild population of Mexican wolves numbered less than 60 individuals, with just 7 breeding pairs in December 2006. Continuing wolf removals in 2007 have further depressed these numbers, leaving the wild wolf population far short of the program’s goal. Continue reading

"Truthiness" Only Gets You So Far

Wolf packThe topic of predators in general, and wolves in particular, conjures much emotion on both sides; one need look no further than the comments posted on various articles in this blog to see how hot people’s blood runs. Look closer at these comments, however, and you’ll notice that where the emotion runs particularly high, the credibility of the statements made often runs particularly low.

Notably, the subject of wolf restoration seems to draw the same tired old assertion that wolves are wiping out their prey. A bit of horse-sense would lead most to the conclusion that if wolves were prone to eat themselves out of house-and-home that they’d have gone extinct long ago. But we strive to go beyond horse sense here. To the largest extent possible, we aim to back-up our assertions with peer-reviewed science. So, in that spirit, I present below a refutation of one such bit of wolf folklore. More importantly, I will edit individual comments to this blog that continue to perpetuate wolf hysteria with links back to this and other posts that refute such myths.

Public dialog is important. Thoughtful, well informed dialog is even more important. So, consider this:

Question: Are wolves responsible (or primarily responsible) for the decline in the density of Yellowstone’s Northern Range elk herd?

Ongoing research in Yellowstone National Park indicates that the decline of Northern Range elk is multi-causal: climate effects due to drought, predation (wolves, bear and cougar), increased hunter harvest of female elk at the time of wolf reintroduction. At the time of wolf reintroduction, elk density was 13-15 elk per square kilometer on the Northern Range, a very high elk density. Now elk density is 6-7 elk per square kilometer, still very dense. Most areas outside Yellowstone National Park are below 1 elk per square kilometer. Therefore elk in Yellowstone National Park have declined from very dense to just dense. Data indicate that fewer elk is proving beneficial to other aspects of the system (vegetation, scavengers, bears, songbirds, etc).

Literature cited:

John A. Vucetich, Douglas W. Smith, Daniel R. Stahler. 2005. Influence of harvest, climate and wolf predation on Yellowstone elk, 1961-2004. Oikos. 111 (2), 259–270.

Roger J. Anderson and Alice Wondrak Biel. 2005. Ten Years of Yellowstone Wolves (1995-2005). Yellowstone Science. 13 (1). 2-45.