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Wolf Watching

Now that wolf hunting is a reality in Wyoming, I’m always loathe to write a post about wolves.  Frankly, I don’t want to give out any information that will help hunters during the fall hunt season.  Last year, the first wolf hunt season, the Wyoming Game and Fish had a quota of eight wolves in my hunt area.  Eight!  There barely were eight wolves here.  The Hoodoo pack had, the year before, driven off most of the other competing packs and were dominating the valley.  So what happened on that hunt last October-December?  Eight wolves were taken, yes, but three of them were from the Lamar Pack in the Park, including the Alpha female of that pack.  During the winter, the entire Lamar Pack, disrupted after loosing their strongest hunter, spent most of their time here, mostly consuming deer, an easy prey. But come spring and mating season, the Pack fragmented, with only three, sometimes four, returning to the Park full time.

A disrupted Lamar Canyon pack in the valley this winter

A disrupted Lamar Canyon pack in the valley this winter

What used to be the best most reliable wolf watching area in the country, the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, is now quite lean. Its a rare day in the Lamar when tourists can view wolves there.  Only three, sometimes, four, adult wolves are left in the valley, although they’ve produced a small litter of pups.  The remainder of the pack has dispersed.

Here in the valley, some of those Lamar wolves remain this summer, and a few have pups in various locations.  Its unclear at this point how many are here, and what will happen to them in terms of new pack formations, nor how many of these wolves will venture back into the Park come September.

Wyoming Game and Fish has a much lower quota this year and that’s because they are getting dangerously close to their relisting number of 100 wolves outside the park, and 50 wolves inside.  As of this writing 23 wolves have been killed in the predator zone alone.   Taken together with the 67 wolves killed last fall, that’s almost 100 wolves out of about 212 before the hunt outside the Park.  Between wolves that are killed naturally, and wolves that are killed by WG&F as predator control, even with new pup counts the line is getting thin.

wolf

This years’ quota is set for four wolves in my area.  So far, I’ve seen several lone wolves and a few reports of a wolf with a pup.  Once again, this fall could easily decimate and disrupt the wolf population here.

Last week I had a wonderful thrill.  Upon returning from a creek expedition I spied a lone wolf mousing in a field next to over 75 cows with calves.  I watched her for over an hour, deftly reducing the ground squirrel population.  She was incredibly focused on her task and I suspect she would be returning to feed some hungry pups with this small meal.  When she got too close in her endeavor to the cows, a large mama would come over and push her further away.  Otherwise, the cows paid her no mind and went about their business grazing undisturbed.  The good news is that these cows are removed to lower pastures come October when wolves tend to hunt in packs and could easily take down a cow.

Hard to see, but the small dot in the foreground is the wolf mousing amongst the cattle

Hard to see, but the small figure in the foreground is the wolf mousing amongst the cattle

I like wolves; and I like seeing them in the landscape.  They are finally re-inhabiting their old nation where they once roamed freely.  Where there are few problems and livestock conflicts, where the habitat is good, where there is room for genetic exchange, it makes little sense to even hunt wolves in these areas.  The wolves here have self-regulated for a long time.  It’s a tough and short life being a wolf.  They fight and kill for territory, and their territory is defined by how many wolves can actually be sustained.  They also work as a family with a close-knit social order.  Disrupting that order continuously exacerbates problems with livestock.   Given the human social and political climate, I don’t see much change for wolves in the immediate future.

Co-existing with Predators

In helping homeowners over the years deal in natural ways with small critters like moles and gophers, as well as larger animals like deer, I found that there is one necessary ingredient–the homeowner has to want to co-exist rather than resort  to lethal controls.

That same principle applies to larger predators in the landscape such as cougars, wolves, bears, or coyotes.  The wolf reintroduction has generated a lot of fear.  But if we want wolves to remain in the landscape, then ranchers will need to learn new methods.  I have always advocated that, just like the homeowners I helped and educated, ranchers need and deserve a helping hand.  This should include public and private monies for education and training.  Instead of ranchers just given a ‘kill tag’ or being reimbursed ad infinitum for predations, they need to be aided in new protection methods with the goal of incorporating those techniques into their regular routine.

There are several private organizations doing just that:  working with ranchers to discover ways to protect their herds and flocks.  Below is a fantastic informative video I hope you’ll watch.  Well produced with the added benefit of wonderful scenery and wildlife footage, ‘A Season of Predators’ gives you a vision of where we must be headed if we are to have bears and wolves remain in the landscape.

One additional note I’d make:  Although this video concentrates on wolf management, we, the public, are spending millions of dollars a year funding government killing of predators and ‘nuisance’ animals.  This arm of the USF&W is called Wildlife Services and its main job, unlike its title, is killing predators.  One local man who works for WS told me that he trapped and killed 400 raccoons last year for one farmer.  He also had to kill dozens of feral cats as part of his job.  Ironically, he was also killing the local coyotes that would have kept the raccoon and feral cat population in check.  This is the kind of government subsidization that is ‘old school’.  Instead of simply killing wildlife as well as throwing away all that money that not only doesn’t teach the farmer any practices, but doesn’t teach the local wildlife anything, Wildlife Services could have used those dollars exploring new methods and instructing this farmer in sustainable practices in co-existence.

Having worked with over-populations of deer in suburban areas, I know that deer damage can be controlled.  For instance, deer actually are trainable.  Does teach their fawns what to eat.  Deer can be browsing on one type of flower in the landscape, but miles away won’t touch that plant but prefer another.  Through a variety of means that don’t even include fencing, deer can be ‘taught’ not to eat a particular plant.  As you’ll see in this video, wolves can be taught too, but it takes a bit more work than simply a trap, a gun, or a poison.  This is the kind of ‘work’ where your psyche and body meld into the land.  You’ll have some loss, but the goal is to minimize.  You are working with the wild, not against it, and in doing so there is great pleasure and satisfaction, with the rewards being a feeling of oneness with the Land.

 

The Cry Heard Around the World

With wolf hunts now taking place in all three states around Yellowstone, new issues are coming up.  Although Montana and Idaho had a hunt last year, this fall is Wyoming’s first wolf hunt.

At least 10 collared Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton wolves have been killed in this years’ hunt, and more than half of them occurred in Wyoming.  The last collared wolf killed was taken in my area, hunt area 2, and she was the eighth wolf and so closed the zone.  And this wolf, wolf 832F (F for female), dubbed ‘o6 by Park wolf watchers, was perhaps the most famous wolf in the world, and most loved.  She’d been highly visible in the Lamar Valley since she was born in 2006, and was the alpha female of her pack.

'06 this summer  hightails it away from Molly Pack

’06 this summer hightails it away from Molly Pack

Last spring on a May morning I went to the Lamar and watched her with her son try and scare a grizzly off a dead bison.  On the other side of the grizzly were two wolves of Molly’s Pack, a formidable pack in the Park that had been threatening to kill 06’s pups.  Another wolf from the Lamar Pack, 754, was shot in my hunt zone in November.  At least 2 collared wolves from Grand Teton have been shot, and there’s speculation that as many as 13 uncollared from GT have been taken in the hunt.

’06’s death has been highly publicized all around the world, from PRI to European newspapers.  People from all over the world watched and knew ’06.  In response to public opinion, Montana, who is about to begin their first wolf trapping season, has created a buffer zone around the Park’s northern border.  Just for this hunt/trap season only.  Next year is a different story perhaps.  Although Idaho’s wolf hunting and trapping season is almost endless, the expansive Madison Valley  sits in the way of many wolves migrating from the Park in that direction.

'06 swims the Lamar river, emerges onto the road right in front of tourists.

’06 swims the Lamar river, emerges onto the road right in front of tourists.

Wyoming is another story.  Most of the Park is in WY, as is all of Grand Teton.  85% of the state has been approved by the Obama administration as a predator zone which means shoot on sight (or trap, or bait, or whatever) anytime, anywhere.  So the managed hunt zone, called the Trophy Zone, is essentially the ‘buffer’ zone around the Park.  With the loss of so many study wolves, is the era of Park research over?  And with the hoards of wolf watchers habituating these wolves to a benign human presence, is the era of wolf watching in the Park about to change?  Will it be harder to see wolves in the Park?  And will that bring in less visitors?  And should Wyoming manage their ‘buffer zone’ around the Park with Park research in mind?

I can say that my zone, hunt zone 2, had the highest quota of all the zones.  If you take zone 2 and 3 together, they make up the entire Absaroka eastern side of YNP, with a quota of 16 out of 52 wolves.  This is a rich area for genetic exchange, mostly Shoshone designated wilderness area, and wolves travel frequently in and out of the Park in this area following their prime food, elk.  Those two areas alone, which are a prime buffer zone, make up 1/3 of the state’s quota for 2012!

Hopefully ’06’s death will bring some good and highlight what is wrong with the hunts the way they are managed now.

First, the quotas of 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs per state was set a long time ago when no one knew how wolves would adapt to the Rocky Mountains.  Although Montana is setting their own quota at 400, Idaho which has prime territory and over 70% federal lands, is in a frenzy to eliminate wolves, hunting and trapping 10 months of the year with no quotas.  Wyoming, which has few wolves outside the Park, before the hunt it was around 230, is not only mostly predator status, but is also eyeing that 100 mark as their quota.  These quotas are simply ridiculously low for the amount of good habitat and prey.  Wyoming in many areas is trying to reduce their elk counts by giving hunters numerous tags, but at the same time reducing the predator that could do that job in a better, more effective and selective manner.

This wolf, from my valley, was by the road two years ago.  With the hunts you will no longer see wolves so easily

This wolf, from my valley, was by the road two years ago. With the hunts you will no longer see wolves so easily

Second, trapping is simply anathema to the 21st century.  It is cruel and poses dangers to not only other wildlife, but to pets.  Pelts are sold mostly to the Chinese market, which enrages me more.  This is what happened with our beaver and bison in the 19th century, when European demand had hunters and trappers eradicating our wildlife for hats and coats.  Wildlife as a commodity is simply wrong, just as human trafficking is.

Third, until the predator status is changed so that all of Wyoming is designated trophy status, the Trophy zone around the Park needs to be changed.  Quotas in sensitive areas right around the Park need to be decreased, hunt zones readjusted, and hunt times changed for each area.  Instead of hunting the entire trophy zone Sept or October through December, zones near the Park need to close earlier as the elk begin to come down from the high country and the Park wolves follow.  Once Wyoming predator status is eliminated, wolf hunts should take place only in areas where there are conflicts with ranchers, not in areas with no conflict and lots of wilderness.

Finally, personally I disagree with hunting predators–wolves, coyotes, foxes, cougars, bears, martens, you name it.  Being able to shoot a predator that is eating your sheep or cattle is one thing, hunting them for sport is another.  On the other hand, just seeing a wolf or coyote passing your property doesn’t mean they’re going to cause trouble; and ranchers who are far-sighted and conscious are trying new methods for protecting their flocks and herds.  Yet that being said, for now the delisting not only calls for a hunt, but in the short run of the next ten years, it may be the only way to quiet the loud and contentious opposition to wolves.  Let’s just not undo all the good hard work that brought them here over these last 15 years.

If you want to comment and have your voice heard on the wolf situation in Wyoming, here is a link.   Wyoming wolf hunt 

Two wolves side trot down the road

Two wolves side trot down the road

 

A farewell to a wonderfully curious wolf pup of the Hoodoo Pack

I have been randomly calling the Wyoming Mortality Hot Line or going to the online link to find out how many wolves have been killed (let’s not call it by the euphemism ‘harvested’).  I am especially interested in my Area (area 1).  As of today, 3 of the quota of 8 have been taken.

Today, I just found out that one of those wolves was the yearling pup I’ve seen many times over the last year.

Yearling pup this spring

He was born a year ago spring.  I first saw him with his mom last fall.  She is a black alpha female (not sure if she’s still around) and she was harassing a cow as her pup tried to help.  The cow didn’t run, but just kept turning around and chasing her down.  Finally she gave up.  If prey don’t give chase, wolves usually get confused.  They can too easily get kicked and hurt by confronting large prey from in front.

The pair seemed inseparable and the next time I saw the pup was around January.  He was with his mom loping up a nearby ridgeline.  Mom turned, looked, and sprinted off.  But the yearling was curious and watched me for awhile.  We shared a moment from afar on that cold winter early morning.

The last time I saw him was this spring.  I was hiking down a draw, following a cougar track.  Koda lagged behind.  I was above a creek on a thin deer trail when I spied something odd behind a tree about 20′ ahead.  I stopped and his grey head peeked out.  He’d been curious, watching Koda and I.  When he saw that I noticed him, he ran off to join his mom in the meadow a few hundred yards away.   I sprinted up beyond the trees to catch a glimpse again of the Alpha female. (I was able to snap the photo below of her).  She eyed me warily for a bit then took off with her pup.

Alpha female; mom of yearling pup killed this week

Last spring I went to a WY G&F information meeting about the hunt.  It was clear that it would go through, starting this October 1.  The quotas were already set, with my area having the largest.  Immediately I knew that this curious youngster would be amongst the first to die.  Wolves have been hunted by helicopters around here for years, but not by hunters on foot.  Although these wolves were wary, they were not yet scared of humans.  The opportunity I’ve had over these last seven years to see wolves over and over again fairly close (I’ve had at least three occasions where I’ve seen wolves 25′ away, eye to eye, both of us curious about one another), has come to a close.  It will be better that way for the wolves.  Within a year or two of these hunts, wolves will not be seen casually in these parts.

Predators by nature and design must be smart.  They need to think and strategize. Wolves cooperate when they hunt and that takes smarts.  Prey are given the gift of speed.  They look, listen and run.  But predators must be more cunning than that.

If you share a moment with one of these magnificent creatures, you realize how intelligent, how full of Life they are.  They embody everything that is wild and free. When they look you in the eye, they see right through you, much deeper than you see into them.   In the end, though I am saddened by the loss of these wolves in Sunlight,  the hot button issues surrounding wolves is not really about wolves at all.

I am reading ‘Shadow Mountain’ by Renee Askins, one of the spearheaders of bringing wolves back to Yellowstone National Park.  I highly recommend this engaging, personal and well-written book.  I end this entry with a quote from Askins book and a fond farewell to that magnificent and curious pup who shared with me not only his inquisitive nature, but his wild and free spirit.

“It soon became clear that in most discussions wolves merely provided a pretext to talk about much deeper and more personal political views, invariably those having to do with control–control of land and control of animals.  Who controlled the “rights” to the animals, who could kill the elk that the wolves would prey upon, who could kill the wolves that killed “too many” elk, who could control which prey species and which predators and where and when and how.  In truth, all of it was a discussion about killing and control veiled in the professional shibboleth of “wildlife management.” Wildlife management is, of course, an oxymoron.  Animals that are truly “wild” are, by definition, not managed.  Yet I would discover…over the next several years a troubling trend toward complete control or manipulation of many “wildlife” populations even within national parks.

Alpha male of the Hoodoo pack

What does a wolf den look like?

A friend of mine stumbled upon a wolf den with pups while shed hunting a month ago.  The pups were about four weeks old, he said.  Apparently, his inadvertent presence caused the wolves to move their pups to another location, for although I put my trail camera on the den site, I never saw any activity and only got this one photo of a male wolf returning to the area to investigate.

I waited a month to be sure that the pups were old enough to have left and inspected the site.  What a feat of engineering.  The den was on a hillside in a small drainage.  The den was essentially a tunnel with an entrance above and below.  My dog is 90 pounds and he was big enough to crawl inside the tunnel entrances, but too big to enter the tunnel connector.  Here he is for size at the lower entrance.

Koda for size

Although this site had been abandoned for several weeks with overgrown vegetation, it was perfectly clean inside and out.  I looked around for bones.  There were some deer bones but quite a ways down hill from the den site.

Upper entrance demonstrates cleanliness

I tried to shine a light as far down as I could, but the den tunnel made a right turn downhill and exited at this bottom hole.

View of lower entrance. Upper entrance is visible directly above

The chosen site was not near an animal trail.  In fact, the trail made by the wolves going back and forth to the den was now overgrown.  Yet I caught a wide variety of animals on my camera.  Of course, the supercilious coyote appeared several times, even spending a long time peeing nearby on a log.  A young black bear ambled bye.

A blue grouse with chicks appeared;

Find her chick!

a cow elk explored the site; and a yet to be identified weasel-like animal that looks suspiciously like a wolverine–all these animals in just a few weeks visited this den site area.  How lucky we are to have such a wealth of animal life in this special place we call the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

 

More Cougars with some Wolves thrown in

I’ve said it before and I’ll write it again:  animals present themselves to you, not the other way around.  And for the last six months, cougars are what have been presenting themselves to me to learn about.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve seen that cougars have been constantly coming into my awareness now since the winter.  Last winter I tracked a cougar in the snows and found over 5 of her kill sites.  Then the last several weeks I found some cougar scat on the edge of the little forest by me.  A week later I found a fairly fresh kill site, just 25 feet from my trail camera.  Too bad cougars don’t use trails.  The kill site was just off-camera by a little bit.

Last week I hiked up a drainage located  within a smallish draw.  I climbed high, then worked my way horizontally around the draw, finally descending via a creek with snow-melt in it.  As I was climbing to the ridgeline that was a rocky crescent, I pushed aside some brush and saw a large cave rock shelter.

Koda guards a cougar densite

Koda was ever anxious to run right in and stick his nose inside.  I called him off.  There might be something dangerous inside.

After determining all was quiet, I went to investigate.  This had been a cougar den, and one used this year.  I could tell from the smelly scat at the entrance.  The sticks and duff had all been pushed consciously to the front, and at the farthest rear of the cave was a neat round bed.  This was really exciting.

Den site of a cougar. Duff in front.  Bed at back end (where it’s dark in photo)

I began pushing farther uphill towards the rocks, looking out for sign of kills along the way.  Sure enough, there was a lot of evidence of deer predation here.

Rocky ridge I hiked to.

One thing I pondered was the lack of water.  A small creek was running several drainages over with snowmelt, but all the other drainages were bone-dry.  The canid dens I’ve seen are all close to a water source.  I thought about cougars in the Southwest, a super-dry area, and wondered about their use of water, especially with kittens.

Eventually I worked my way over to the drainage with water.

Drainage with some water I followed and found lion tracks

Coming round a curve, I found a large cougar print in the mud.  I understand that instead of following trails, like bears or wolves, cougars like to follow drainages.  I wished I could have taken a cast of that.

I followed the drainage down until I came to a downed large tree .  I went one way and Koda went around the tree on the opposite side. Above the creek,  I was following a deer trail now and called the dog back to me.  As he came across the creek, I noticed something move behind a tree about 25 feet ahead on the trail.  It was grey.  I peered to get a better look and there was the  yearling wolf I’d caught on the trail camera just days before.

This curious yearling wolf was watching me from behind a tree.  

She’d been curious, watching me.  When she noticed I’d seen her, she bolted.  I called the dog, who luckily was behind me, to a ‘heel’ and we moved ahead until we had a view of the hillside meadows.  There was her collared mom.  I kept the dog beside me, tried to take some photos while I walked out of the area, all the while we kept our eyes on each other.  She’d move a bit away, then stop and eye me.

Female collared wolf.  She’d move uphill, then stop to see where I was

I thought about how curious wolves are, and how these wolves, though cautious, are fairly used to people.  Most of the time I see wolves around here, they prance ahead, then stop to watch; easy targets once hunting season on wolves will begin next fall.  I fear these two wolves won’t live to see another spring.

I was still stoked from that morning for several days.  What a lot of wonderful wildlife adventures.  Then just a few days later, I walked at dusk to the mailbox.  Cougar prints crossed the driveway, still damp from recent rains.  Now I had my casts!  A perfect week and a lot of cougar lessons besides.

Cast of cougar prints–right side is rear on top, front on bottom. Cougar was going at a fast trot. Left print is a direct register

 

Wolves, cougars, and the little woods

There is so much wildlife activity in the little piece of woods and meadows next to my home that I don’t need to venture much farther than ‘around the block’.  Sometimes just sitting on my front patio is enough.

Besides the nesting bluebirds and house wrens, the red-tailed hawk making its’ rounds, and the pair of Golden Eagles soaring above, there are morning and evening visits from does and bucks in velvet, and an occasional turkey.

But the unseen action is taking place when I’m sleeping.  Now I’ve caught two different wolves on my trail camera set up in the woods.  On the 2nd of May I clocked this black female passing south early morning.

Solitary female probably from the old Sunlight Pack that was killed off last year by another pack

And now on the 12th I caught another wolf, unknown, heading north almost at the same time in the morning.

first shot from trail camera

Yearling pup from the pack presently occupying the valley

Of course, coyote is always running through the woods so trail photos of him abound.

Coyote. Easy to tell wolf and coyote apart

Usually when I retrieve my trail camera I’m expecting to see dozens of only deer photos so I have been pleasantly surprised.  Here’s a nice buck photo.

Lastly though, here’s the most unexpected.  Last week Koda dragged me over to some strong smelling scat.  It was a large pile on top of an older pile, definitely cat, and I mean big cat.  The deer are still low and some must be having their fawns.  Of course, this winter I spent tracking a cougar and understanding in greater depth their sign.  Yet I was surprised to see that a cougar was this low and so close to the houses.  Granted, the summer residents aren’t here yet, but there is the occasional activity still.  I made a mental note of where the scat was–on the far side of the woods–but saw nothing else.

Then today while returning the chip to the trail camera, Koda got a sudden urge.  I’ve learned to trust his instincts and smeller so I followed him.  And not more than 50 feet off trail from my camera was a cat kill.  The deer had already been consumed with just its legs left, but there was the tell-tale mound of the formerly covered carcass, the plucked fur, and another smelly scat on top of it all.

Cougars pluck their carcasses. Bears pull the skin back.

I found a jaw of a young deer, although the legs were too big to be a fawn, so maybe this deer had been a yearling.  This is the first time I’ve seen cougar sign in the woods or a cougar kill so low.  The crazy thing is those cougars are so stealthy that there were no tracks, and besides, my trail camera was almost right there and I didn’t get any photos.  The cat, you see, didn’t use the game trail like the Canids and Ungulates do.

Telltale sign of where a cougar covered its’ kill. Plucked fur abounds.

Last chance to have your voice heard on Wyomings’ wolf delisting plan

Comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding Wyoming’s wolf delisting plan MUST be received within a 100 days on or before January 13, 2012.  This is our last chance to be heard regarding this plan.  I sent a letter to Wyoming Game and Fish before the comment closing date which was on a Thursday.  The following tuesday they announced their acceptance of the plan.  Had they read my comments?  I doubt they were reading over the weekend.

But these are the Feds and the ones who have initiated the deal and done the science.  The more comments, maybe we can actually hold them to the science instead of the back door political deal Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar maneuvered with Wyoming Governor Matt Mead.

Folks,  wolves do not belong to Wyoming and Wyoming politics.  Wolf recovery and management shouldn’t be based on the demands of the Elk Foundation, the NRA, or the Safari Club International.

In the USF&W website maze, I found it hard to locate the information as to where to send comments so I will print it here.  I am also copying an attachment from a letter from the Sierra Club Resilient Habitat department regarding talking points you might include in your letter.  Please take a moment and have your voices heard.  Thank you.

A majestic predator that deserves to take its place in the ecosystem

Tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that its draft rule to delist wolves in Wyoming is flawed and should be withdrawn. Submit your comment today!

 

Written comments can be submitted by one of the following methods:

1) Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Enter “FWS-R6-ES-2011-0039” in the “Keyword” box and check “Proposed Rule” in the “Document Type” box.

2) U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. [FWS–R6–ES–2011–0039]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.

 

Consider making the following points in your comments:

  • This plan is virtually identical to multiple plans that have been rejected previously by both USFWS and federal courts because of their unacceptable impacts to wolves and the lack of regulatory mechanisms to conserve wolves as required by the Endangered Species Act.
  • Wolves should be managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department across the entire state, not as “predator” in 88% of the state (where they can be killed by any means by anyone, without a license) and “trophy game” in an arbitrary zone around the national parks. No unregulated killing of wolves should be allowed.
  • The proposed “flex-zone” area south of Grand Teton National Park is not grounded in sound science. The USFWS has arbitrarily drawn this line where wolves will receive limited protection as ‘trophy game” for only 4 months of the year. The USFWS admits that this will only likely protect half of the seasonal dispersal of wolves and that only 35% of dispersing wolves will probably reproduce. This proposed zone will almost certainly not protect effective dispersal because wolves will be hunted during the period of protection and very likely be eradicated (through unlicensed killing) from the area for the remaining 8 months of the year.
  • The USFWS will allow Wyoming to define “unacceptable impacts” of wolves on elk and other ungulates (which will almost certainly result in wolves being killed), yet Wyoming’s plan has not defined any criteria for determining “unacceptable impacts” by wolves. Currently, all of Wyoming’s 35 elk management units are at or above the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s numeric objectives for those herds.
  • The USFWS disingenuously concludes that the Wyoming dual classification (trophy game/predator) plan is biologically sound because the remainder of the state is unsuitable wolf habitat. However, the proposed predator zone has contributed 3 breeding pairs, and 6 of the state’s 30 packs have entire or partial territories within this zone.
  • Relying on the indiscriminate shooting of wolves as the primary management tool to reduce wolf conflicts is not a strategy for success. Wyoming should work with stakeholders to promote tolerance and prevent conflict by implementing nonlethal, proactive wolf deterrents and livestock husbandry practices. There are active and successful programs working with ranchers and wolf managers in other states and this could be expanded to Wyoming if state and federal agencies are willing to work collaboratively and support these management tools.
  • Wolves play a key role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, beavers, songbirds and many other species are making a comeback. These benefits must be recognized in any management plan.
  • Millions of people come to Wyoming every year for the chance to see a wolf in the wild. Wolves in Yellowstone alone generate an estimated $70 million annually in cumulative impacts from wildlife viewing.

 

What is the wolf experience?

Wolf hunts are going on right now.  I recently read that in Montana you can shoot a wolf, tag it, and walk away, leaving the carcass to rot on the ground.  In Idaho, the wolf hunt is practically year round with no legal limits.  Idaho’s first legal wolf trapping season is about to begin.  They want to reduce their population from about 1000 wolves down to 150. Wolf haters always like to talk about dogs being prey for wolves.  The amount of dogs killed by wolves is miniscule–mostly sheep dogs watching their flock in open country. Traps for wolves, on the other hand, will certainly kill or maim a lot of dogs.

Last winter my dog almost got caught in a leg trap intended for a bobcat.  Luckily, I say almost.  The trap was set close to a large tourist pull-out that houses one of the only toilets along a major road.  Although not illegal, I considered the trappers’ choice of placement highly unethical, and frankly lazy.  People stop there for a rest and let their dogs out for a break.  

When I was a kid growing up, my parents impressed upon me the two taboo subjects you should never talk about in a social setting–religion and politics. These were surely the firecrackers that would ignite a fight when you just wanted peace and a good time.  Why? Because religion and politics are the stuff of emotion, not logic.  Today, living in the West, I add one more subject to that list–wolves.

I’ve pondered why wolves are on this list.  Really, they are just an animal doing what they were born to do. There are lots of other predators that we don’t place in the same category.  Eagles, weasels, mountain lions to name a few.  Only wolves have that magnetic polarizing effect.

Why?  I’m going to venture a wild hypothesis:

On a warm June night, I’m returning from a meeting in Cody.  It’s dusk and I’m beginning my drive home.  The massive up-tilt of red rock, called the Chugwater Formation, forms the cornerstone of the grassy large ranch that sits at the base of the mountain road.

Chugwater sandstone

The land slopes gradually upward, then with increasing steepness the views widen of this deep impressive drainage.  I’ve always loved this part of the ascent.  I can sense the specialness of this place, where once buffalo grazed.   Indians used this area as a drive, the ancient cairns stand as sentinels where they hid as the bison rushed through.

As I climb up the road, the view of the valley is most exquisite.   A cattle guard on the highway marks the boundary between the private lands below and the Shoshone National Forest above.  As my car crosses the grate, like a shot, three wolves run like hell across the road.  I press hard on the brakes to let them pass,  Full of life and energy, in my imagination, I see their excitement as the anticipation of their upcoming evening hunt.

The vision of those wolves will stick in my mind forever.   It was as if the Force of Life itself flew past me in a vision.

A wonderful chapter in Henry Beston’s The Outermost House describes a trip he made by boat to a rock full of birds.

The tiny island was so crowded that chicks were falling over the cliffs, eggs were being stepped on by birds and breaking, the energy of Life, and Death, one entire cycle, overwhelmed him to a point where he was almost sickened.  Raw creation.

I read that book as a teenager.   In it I understood that Life itself, that teeming, raw, primal energy of our Existence, permeates everything.  In fact, that energy of Life is so powerful that even death can not nullify it.

“There has been endless time of numberless deaths, but neither consciousness nor life has ceased to arise. The felt quantity and cycle to death has not modified the fragility of flowers, even the flowers within our human body.” **

And in a flash I understood what I, and all those who are traveling with me in this modern world, are afraid of.  We are afraid of life, which is a strange thing to say considering how hard we try and hang on to it.  But really, we are constantly suppressing it, attempting to harness and control it, create little niches where we feel safe and comfortable.  That is why it is easier for us to destroy, tear things apart, sullen our environment, attempt to control the forces of nature, and create the illusion of predictability, than to embrace Life.   To be in life implies being overwhelmed, swept away, carried like a raft in a great ocean, humbled, acknowledging our smallness and our connectedness.

I once made a trip to the Charlotte Islands, a land that even Canadians call “what Canada used to look like”.

A maze of small inlets and calm channels, the cold waters are so clear you can see over 50′ down riding in your kayak.  You are tide pooling without waiting for the lowest tides.  The waters were alive with life in a way I had never seen tide-pooling in Northern California.  Instead of dozens of sea stars, you saw hundreds on a rock. Masses of jellyfish small and large swam by you.  Everything I saw in the Northern California shores were multiplied one hundred-fold here.  These were the remnants of waters we still hadn’t polluted, a glimpse into the original primordial oceans that birthed us.  Life at this level looms on a mind-boggling yet fearsome scale.  Somewhere in us we say that this amount of energy must be controlled.

And that is where I come back to these wolves.  The vision of my wolves, running ecstatically across the road, in total abandon to their Existence, is an affirmation of that immense, wondrous, yet terrifying Power that is the Universe itself.  Wolves, in their ceaseless energy, their joie de vivre, their deep intelligence, embody the purity of   Life.

Maybe that is why humans have spent so much time and effort trying to control, even eliminate them. They are the emblem of true, unabashed, Freedom.

**Da Free John

 

Kye Oh Tay

The notion of the trickster and the culture hero, together, is fascinating to me.   Around the West, coyote was the hero of these tales.  In the Northeast it was Raven, and in the South and Eastern United States it was hare and rabbit.

But what is a trickster?  And what is a culture hero?  In reading about ‘culture hero’ definitions, it is a mythical animal or creature that brings important things into this world, such as the animals, or humans, or gives fire to humans and teaches them how to grow or find food.  Coyote fills this bill in many stories.

Coyote blends into the landscape with deer in background

And the trickster?  That is harder to define.  A trickster is the embodiment of opposites, of extremes.  He makes you laugh at the absurd, or at his foibles.  Jung described the trickster as the ‘shadow side of a culture’, all the things that you can’t admit to or hide now out in the open and that energy is expressed and released through story.

I am intrigued by the trickster, because no matter how much you read about it, the trickster is enigmatic and can’t be grasped.  Coyote stories remind me of a tradition I studied for some time–Tibetan Crazy Wisdom. These Enlightened Adepts taught through living paradox; their life and teachings (if they had a teaching at all) were expressions of their unconditional freedom.  They lived lives outside the conventional agreements of morality, religion and social contracts.  Their very existence in Time and Space exploded and confounded our idea of living as limited mortal beings.

Coyote, as creator and destroyer, rogue, knave, fool, giver of fire to humans but also of birth and death is the Crazy Adept of many American Indian cultures.

Coyote hunting ground squirrels

But what is interesting to me is simply how confounded I am when I read Coyote stories.  I think “I don’t get it” and that is exactly it.  It is funny and silly yet profound and sacred at the same time.  There is a depth that is untouchable and indescribable.  And still my question remains “why Coyote?”   We can tell the story about how coyote has defied extermination by the White Man, and lived to spread ten-fold instead.  Or how he might follow a trapper, dig up his traps, urinate them and run off to the hills.  Surely these tell of Coyote’s cunning.  But I suspect the native peoples understood many more attributes of coyotes that white men overlook because our culture has seen them only as pests and predators to be extirpated.

Coyote catching grasshoppers

In choosing Coyote as their culture hero and trickster, native peoples have bestowed a great honor as well as power to this creature.  Coyote is given the power to stop the mind just as the Zen Masters’ stick might give the blow of Enlightenment to his student.  Coyote frees us from stodgy mind, creating an opening for creativity, inspiration, and True Religion.  Coyote embodies our dualistic nature, Yin and Yang, Good and Evil, Form and Formless.  In the embrace of Paradox, we are Free.  Coyote is here to guide us through his Crazy Wisdom, his Tricksterness, beyond Time and Space.

That is a great power.  And so I am still puzzled, speechless, and confounded by The Trickster–and that is as it should be, I suppose.  I feel that I need to observe and understand coyote more deeply so that his hidden blessing will be revealed.

It was a cold night. Winter was beginning to set in.  My window was slightly cracked and, at 2am, I awakened to the songs of a ‘Medicine Dog’–a lone coyote howling just outside near the front lawn. Since Koda has lived here, the coyotes take a different route home at night, so this was a rare visitation.  In my sleepiness, it seemed like the right thing to howl back.  After some responsive singing between us, it became clear that this was a pup of the year, calling for his pack and I was only confusing him, so I stopped singing his songs back to him.  And sure enough there soon came faint replies far up the mountain from where the coyotes den in the spring. The teenager took off to meet his brothers and I fell soundly and happily back asleep.