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    A COMPENDIUM FOR THE DRY GARDEN

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Speak for Wolves

I just returned from 2 nights and 2 days of a Speak for Wolves event in Gardiner, MT, the first one of its kind.  The event was a great success, with some very prominent speakers and filmmakers in the field of conservation.

The event at Arch Park.  YNP historic arch in background

The event at Arch Park. YNP historic arch in background

Friday night I saw Bob Landis’ new film ‘She-Wolf’ which is now on sale in the Park.  She-Wolf is the interesting and unique story of wolf 832f , better known as the Lamar Valley’s famous ’06 who was shot and killed in the very first Wyoming wolf hunt.  Bob answered questions at the end of the film.

This story is extremely personal to me as not only had I watched ’06 many times up close and personal in the Lamar Valley, but after her death in late December 2012, the entire Lamar pack (minus the remaining alpha male) spent the winter in my valley.  During that winter of 2013 I had the opportunity to watch the pack behind my house many times as well as track them.  With the death of their alpha female, they seemed at a loss of how to kill elk, even though there were thousands all around them, and they mainly killed deer.  In the spring they all dispersed–which is a typical disruption when pack members are killed.

'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.

On Saturday there were speakers such as Nathan Varley who runs a wolf watching business in Gardiner with his wife.  He spoke of how these last several years of wolf hunting around the Park boundaries has made his business even harder.  His yearly gross revenue of over 1/2 million dollars brings a lot of business to the Park and surrounding communities. People come from all over the world to see wolves as the best place for viewing them in the wild is Yellowstone.  But some of the viewable packs are gone.  Lamar Valley used to be the premier place for wolf watching, but now has only two wolves that are rare to see.

Louisa Wilcox of Center for Biological Diversity spoke of some of the knotty politics.  Appropriately enough, thunder and lightning cut her talk short.  Public lands ranching and trapping demonstrations–one of the main ways wolves are killed in Montana and Idaho–completed the day’s activities.

Coyote pups

Coyote pups

Saturday night was film night.  Two short films on Wildlife Services (Exposed: USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife) and how they indiscriminately are killing wildlife were shown.  Then Camilla Fox, Director of Project Coyote, presented a film on how Marin County (my old alma mater) ranchers have done away with Wildlife Services and implemented a program of natural protections.  These include guard dogs, better fencing and llamas.  The county has saved over $60 million dollars plus most ranchers have seen either no predation or very little predation by coyotes.  All this and the biggest plus is they are no longer poisoning wildlife.  Instead, the coyotes are doing their job of controlling the rodents around the ranches.

Dr. Robert Crabtree, who has done all the major research in the Park on coyotes, was present for the panel discussion afterwards, as well as George Wuerthner, Western Watersheds Project Oregon Director and author.

Sunday’s event included a wonderful talk and ceremony by Jimmy St. Goddard of the Blackfeet Tribe.  Here’s a short clip of Jimmy giving a prayer in Blackfeet.

Doug Peacock gave a great talk about the plight of the grizzly bear, who the USF&W and the states are just itching to delist in 2015, and how that might impact the numbers of the Great Bear.

All in all it was a great event with talks from dedicated individuals who are working hard to make a difference in our treatment and perception of wildlife and wildlands.

Since I traveled through the Park to and from Gardiner, here are a few of the wildlife shots I took on my journey.

Moose on highway 212 outside the Park

Moose on highway 212 outside the Park

Little Black bear in Yellowstone

Little Black bear in Yellowstone

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Elk lounge on the high school field in Gardiner

Elk lounge on the high school field in Gardiner

Muskrat photo finally!

Muskrat photo finally!

Great Horned baby with mouse

Great Horned baby with mouse

Bison and baby

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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