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    A COMPENDIUM FOR THE DRY GARDEN

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Wyoming’s wolf hunt hits hard

I’ve been checking the kill data sheets on the Wyoming Game and Fish predator site every day.  The data is divided into zones, with a quota in each except for the ‘predator zone’.  In the Predator area, which constitutes over 85% of Wyoming, a wolf can be killed, by any means, any time of the year.  In the Trophy Area, its October through December.

My zone is zone 2.  We’ve had early snows, which drives the game further down from the high meadows.  It also makes tracking easier.  Wolves follow elk and so do hunters.  The quota in my zone has been 4 wolves total.wolf

With the large quota of 8 wolves last year that dispersed and mostly destroyed the existing pack, there have been few wolves here.  Park wolves moved in this winter, although their pack was hit hard when several of the members moved outside the Park boundary and were killed, among them the Alpha female. Come spring the Lamar pack dispersed, a few had small litters, and although I’d watched a few lone wolves here and there, the wolf watching here, as well as Lamar valley in the Park, was poor.  Summer in general is a time when wolves are tending their pups and not running in packs.  Fall and winter they ‘pack up’.

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

This morning I looked at the Wyoming Game and Fish ‘harvest’ data (I hate that euphemism.  I ‘harvest’ vegetables and fruits; I ‘kill’ animals), and it appears that over the weekend five (5) wolves were killed in my zone–one over the quota even.  I don’t yet know the details, but I might assume they were running together, adults and pups, and all ‘harvested’ by elk hunters working high up with wolf tags in their pockets.

I find the whole wolf hunt, and how its being handled in Wyoming (as well as Montana and Idaho) a sad state of affairs.  The Wyoming Game and Fish wolf site is extremely lean on data and statistics which makes me distrust what their final count for 2013 will be.  They say they will have, at the end of this hunt, a total of 160 wolves.  Yet with 50 wolves killed this year already in the predator zone and as control, these additional 26 wolves for the hunt amounts to approximately 75 wolves harvested. Wyoming’s final data report for 2012 estimated 186 wolves as of December 2012.  Even with new pups, a kill rate of over 75 wolves will be cutting it close to the agreement with USF&W below:

Under the terms of the delisting agreement between Wyoming and USFWS, the state of Wyoming is required to maintain wolves at or above the minimum delisting criteria of ≥100 wolves and ≥10 breeding pairs in WYO, with YNP and WRR (Wind River Reservation) providing the additional buffer of ≥50 wolves and ≥5 breeding pairs necessary to meet the ≥150 wolf and ≥15 breeding pair requirement for the state.

My valley which is directly adjacent to the Lamar Valley, is a rich corridor that allows for genetic exchange.  The Lamar elk herd migrates here in the winter, returning to the Park in the spring.  The herd has been studied for its low cow-calf ratio, but the results of this study are not being used to make management decisions.  The study shows the biggest impact to this herd has been compressed ‘green-up’ reducing feed quality (think climate change and drought), and to a lesser extent, grizzly take on young as the bears food (specifically cutthroat trout) has been reduced.  With zone 2 as one of the largest quotas in the state for wolves, WG&F is trying to eliminate wolves in this area in order to build up the elk herd population–even though their own studies indicate wolves are not the herd’s main problem.

What must be said, that isn’t being said enough, is what is a landscape devoid of its full suite, bereft of predators, lacking that intricate network of fundamental relationships? Wolves operate as a family unit; they have emotions like ours.  There is something magnificent and whole about having an abundance of wildlife, all of the members of one’s ecosystem, present.  The Land itself becomes alive.  That is why I love living here, and not in a ‘wilderness’ of only pretty views.wolf

I end this post with a quote from Joe Hutto.  He spent a year raising a brood of wild turkeys.  Here he reflects upon his youth when he hunted turkeys for food.  I would like to believe that this is what motivates hunters to kill for trophy or sport, killing an animal that you don’t even eat.  I like to think these wolf hunters are attempting, unknowingly, to touch something magnificent, more alive, and more fully conscious.  And possibly one day they might wake up and instead of killers of wolves, they will be advocates.

“I try to recall whether in my young mind, at that moment, I could have imagined, anticipated, or even longed for the irony of the present moment and this strange continuity.  Like an arrow shot high and blind, it seems as though I have traveled very far although my path was peregrine.  It appears, in retrospect, that my trajectory could only have brought me eventually to this singular experience.  I realize now that as a young hunter, my intent was not merely to kill for food this elusive bird, but was rather my clumsy way of reaching toward something that enchanted and mystified me.”

What do Americans find Sacred? Bighorn Sheep, the Winds and Selenium

The Light in High Places. Wow, this is a great book by Joe Hutto.  I love the Wind River Mountains so I took this book from the library with that in mind.  But I was surprised how beautiful and poetic Huttos’ prose is.  Although a trained biologist, Hutto is a fantastic writer who expresses his feelings in a rhythm that is natural to Wyoming and close to the pace of the high country of the Winds.

Hutto teams up with John Mionczynski (who has been studying the Bighorn Sheep of Whiskey Mountain since the 70’s) to understand more fully why our native Sheep are in so much trouble.  Starting sometime in and around 2001, he spends his summers living high up on Middle Mountain, in a tent, above timberline at 12,000′, alone.  He sets up rainfall catches, watches ewes, lambs and rams all day, encounters bears, wolverines and a lone black wolf.  He comes to know, summer by summer, each sheep by sight, is accepted by them as almost another herbivore who can mingle among them, and fully describes what its like to live in this rarified environment day by day.

The middle of the book digresses and describes Hutto coming to Wyoming in the 70’s.  He lived on Red Canyon Ranch and worked cattle before the Nature Conservancy bought it; rode and hiked all over the area around Lander and the southern Winds; and tells some wonderful tales of iconic cowboys he knew.

Strangely enough, Hutto and Mionczynski’s findings about Bighorn Sheep were not what I supposed. Although the sheep are vulnerable to domestic sheep diseases, the difficult and puzzling downhill plight of the bighorn sheep is not so simple as exposure to domestics.  The Whiskey Mountain sheep herd do not come in contact with domestic sheep yet their numbers are shakey.  Why?  Many ungulates need Selenium to stay healthy.  Ewes that have experienced selenium deficiencies as lambs will tend toward early mortality, contributing fewer lambs to the herd.  Young lambs require relatively high doses of Se to avoid a form of nutritional muscular dystrophy.  The lamb’s body mines the bones in search of Se when there are deficiencies, causing the lamb to become weak, crippled, have a weakened immune system, and predisposing it to pneumonia and other diseases, as well as predators.

So, what is suddenly causing this lack of Se in these high pristine environments?  Hutto’s answer, from their research, is acid rain.  The rainfall is so acid all summer long, between 3.8 to 4.2 (normal should be on the side of slightly acidic side of neutral which is 7.0), that this in turn changes the soil chemistry which changes the uptake in minerals and nutrients in the surrounding vegetation.  In Hutto’s words:

“The term acid rain is a simplistic epithet that in reality involves not merely a good dosing of nitric or sulfuric acid, but also a veritable witch’s brew of accompanying chemistry including the entire spectrum of heavy metals resulting from fossil fuel and other industrial emissions.  Each time a drop of water falls, these mountains are being doused with a chemistry that includes not only acid in the form of nitrate and sulfur compounds, but could include mercury and other toxic elements that can continue migrating up the food chain.  It is the snow, rain, and glacial meltwater from these mountains that feed the Wind River in its entirety, and the Wind River in turn fills the Boysen Reservoir…”

Are they the 'canaries in the coal mine'?

Supporting their theory was the fact that when a long term drought came to the Winds in the mid-2000’s, the herd became healthier and produced more healthy lambs.  Less acid rainwater, more normal levels of selenium in the surrounding vegetation.  Yet drought also produces less available water in these high places.  A vicious cycle.

This book is science and beautiful prose, but mostly it’s Hutto’s expression of his love for Wyoming, its wildness, and the sheep.  You will not be overwhelmed by facts and figures, but his easy personal style will draw you in.

“Because of the oil and gas boom, formerly protected areas are being opened to new roads and drilling.  Most disturbing perhaps in our immediate vicinity is the opening of formerly inaccessible areas of the Red Desert by the Bureau of Land Management to new drilling operations in spite of the objections and desperate cries of the concerned residents of Wyoming.  The Red Desert is not only the highest desert in North America but a great fragile expanse characterized by a multitude of unique geological, ecological, paleontological, historical, and prehistorical features.  The greater Yellowstone ecosystem, the Wind River Mountains, and the Red Desert are the richest and most environmentally diverse expanse of wilderness left in the lower forty-eight states–the jewel in the crown of American environmental conservation.  Any large-scale industrial development in this remaining wonder of the natural world that contains meager petroleum reserves can only beg the question, What in fact do Americans find sacred.”

Hutto and Mionczynski’s preliminary findings are a warning to all Americans and especially to those of us who live, play and work here.  We live here because of this incredible Land that we love and its wildlife.  Just in my area, politicians are pushing the BLM to open the entire Big Horn Basin to oil and gas drilling.  Right now, we have a healthy Sheep herd in the Absaroka-Beartooth Front. Here’s another reason to rethink this kind of avaricious planning.