Predators, reintroductions, and harsh reality
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1999:
DENVER, EUGENE––Three of
the first four Canadian lynx who were released
into the Rio Grande National Forest of southcentral
Colorado by the state Division of
Wildlife during the first days of February
starved to death by March 23.
C-DoW had confidently predicted
that the reintroduction would succeed, and
would keep lynx off the federal endangered
species list. C-DoW biologist Gene Byrne
even suggested that the department might reintroduce
wolverines, too, as early as next year.
By mid-March, however, C-DoW
had recaptured the last of the released lynx, to
avoid losing her to starvation, and was holding
eight more until later in the year, when
prey might be more abundant.
That gave the Colorado legislature
more time to try to stop the project with a bill,
ratified by the state house agriculture committee
on February 4, which would prohibit any
species reintroductions within the state without
specific legislative approval.
Against the opposition of ranchers,
but with the support of developers, hunters
and loggers eager to avoid critical habitat protection,
C-DoW had contracted to buy up to
100 live-trapped lynx from Canada and Alaska
during the next two years.
Caught in leghold traps by fur trappers,
the lynx were reportedly already underweight
upon arrival in Colorado.
“We knew we could expect a 50%
loss rate,” said Byrne.
Lynx have never been successfully
reintroduced anywhere. An attempt failed in
1989 to reintroduce them to upstate New York.
Lynx may persist, however, in
some places where they have not recently been
seen. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
reported on January 23 that lynx fur had been
recovered from tree crotches at five locations
in the Oregon Cascades. The finds could
increase restrictions on logging, roadbuilding,
predator and hunting in the Willamette,
Mount Hood, and Deschutes national forests.
Wolf in Oregon
Wise-user fears associated with the
rediscovery of lynx in Oregon were whetted on
February 11 when a female wolf named B-45
wandered into the state from Idaho. Her presence,
had she remained, could have brought
many of the same restrictions as might follow
the lynx rediscovery––at least until wolves in
the Pacific Northwest come off the federal
endangered species list.
Apparently seeking a mate, B-45
was a missing member of a reintroduced pack.
Her pack reportedly had a history of attacking
livestock. She eluded capture until March 22,
when she was net-gunned and flown back to
the designated reintroduction area near the
The 1995 reintroduction of wolves to
Yellowstone National Park and north-central
Idaho has now produced populations of 111
wolves in Yellowstone and 113 in Idaho.
Some of the wolves have spread into Montana
and Wyoming. The reintroduction has
increased tourism, but hunter and rancher
opposition to it hasn’t waned.
“If the wolf recovery program goes
on unchecked, it will put us out of business,”
hunting guide Scott Farr told a January 5 public
meeting in Boise. “Ranchers and sportsmen
may have to unite and remove the wolf.”
When wolf numbers in the northern
Rockies reach the target level, probably by
2001, wolves there could lose federal endangered
species status––but only if the involved
states agree to take over wolf management.
So far, the Idaho state legislature
has refused to authorize such state involvement
in the reintroduction. Federal wolf reintroduction
funds for Idaho have therefore
gone to the Nez Perce tribe.
Great Lakes wolves
Wolves in Minnesota, Michigan,
and Wisconsin could lose federal protection as
early as next year––if state legislatures cooperate.
A year-long series of facilitated meetings
among interested parties supposedly established
an agreement on the terms of wolf management
post-federal protection, but the deal
fell apart when the Minnesota house of representatives
tried to open hunting and trapping of
wolves, beginning in January 2000, with
hunting and trapping seasons to remain in
effect as long as the state wolf population
remained above 1,400. The current
Minnesota wolf count is circa 2,400. A state
senate bill would preclude any hunting or trapping
of wolves for at least five more years.
Recent public opinion polls show
that about 79% of Minnesotans believe wolves
should not be hunted or trapped.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
on March 15 released four Mexican gray
wolves into the Apache National Forest, in a
second attempt to restore wolves to New
Mexico and Arizona. The first attempt largely
failed in 1998 when five of the first 11
released were shot and one disappeared. Three
were recaptured. One wolf-shooter claimed he
thought the wolf was threatening his family,
and was not charged with an offense, though
forensic evidence reportedly contradicted his
story. A reward of $50,000 for information
leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever
shot the other wolves remains unclaimed.
The new Mexican gray wolf release
sites were more remote and were more intensely
policed, but one of the wolves turned loose
in the second attempt was nonetheless found
dead near Highway 191 just six days later.
The New Mexico Cattle Growers
Association meanwhile sought to stop the
planned release of nine more Mexican gray
wolves later this year with a bizarre lawsuit
which contends that the wolves are actually
wolf/coyote or wolf/dog hybrids; that wild
wolves already exist in the area, negating need
for reintroduction; and that wolves compete
for food with endangered spotted owls.
Commented Southwest Center for
Biological Diversity founder Kieran Suckling,
“This is a great example of what we call cowboy
Alaska & elsewhere
Wolves may eventually be reintroduced
to the Olympic peninsula, in
Washington, and to the northeast––but any
such plans remain hypothetical. The proposed
Olympic reintroduction is strongly opposed by
U.S. Senator Slade Gorton (R-Washington),
and the New Hampshire state house of representatives
on February 10 passed both a bill
and a resolution seeking to forestall any effort
to restore wolves to the White Mountains.
So far, such a restoration has only
been suggested by some conservationists.
Alaskan legislators and wildlife officials
are still trying to get rid of the wolves
• A bill now before the Alaska legislature
would repeal the ban on aerial wolf
hunting approved by state voters in 1996;
• Freelance biologist Gordon Haber
charged in late January that the DFG biologists
supervising a neuter/release wolf reduction
program are routinely chasing wolves in an
inhumane manner, often causing them injury,
and warned that DFG failure to protect the
wolves of Denali National Park from hunting
and trapping near the edges of the park has all
but exterminated the Toklat pack, continuously
monitored by Haber and other biologists for
more than 60 years;
• The Board of Game on March 13
doubled the wolf bag limit per hunter in the
most heavily hunted part of Alaska from five
to 10, and approved same-day airborne brown
bear hunting. Both moves are meant to make
more caribou and moose available to humans.
In Japan, meanwhile, the 350-member,
five-year-old Japan Wolf Association
hopes to move public opinion toward returning
wolves to Nikko National Park. The last
Japanese wild wolf was killed in 1905.