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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.”

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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

 

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