Kirk Robinson: We should learn to live peacefully with wild animals in Utah

Pursuing a bear with dogs does nothing to preserve the state’s wildlife.

(Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, via AP) This 2017 photograph provided by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources shows a bear sign.

By Kirk Robinson | Special to The Tribune  | June 10, 2021, 10:00 a.m.

In response to the Salt Lake Tribune’s June 7 article, “Bear capture case illuminates dark side of pursuing wildlife with dogs for ‘sport’”:

The story and the accompanying video are about an incident that occurred three years ago in Grand County, where a black bear was chased by a pack of nine hounds until it dropped from exhaustion, unable even to lift a paw to defend itself from being bitten. The dogs were not called off for about two minutes. Then the bear was put into a dog box and reportedly released again a couple of days later to be pursued again.

Bear and cougar pursuit with hounds is legal in Utah. People who engage in it are not after a kill, just the excitement of the chase. In addition, there are legal hunts for these animals that typically also involve pursuing them with packs of hounds until they are treed or cornered for an easy kill. There is also bear baiting, which involves dumping a pile of smelly garbage in the forest, then shooting the bear with an arrow when it shows up to check out the promise of an easy meal.

It was illegal not to call the dogs off immediately and to cage the bear. But was it fair chase? There is no legal definition of fair chase, but it is usually explained as hunting that gives the quarry a reasonable chance of escape. Does bear baiting satisfy this definition? How about pursuing bears and cougars with hounds? It is true that sometimes the quarry gets away, but it is not easy to do, especially when, as often happens, an animal gets chased repeatedly.

Does being chased by hounds harm the animals? Clearly, it didn’t do this particular bear any good. And what if it was a lactating female with cubs? (The story does not say it wasn’t.) It is illegal in Utah to knowingly pursue or kill a bear or cougar with cubs, but hunters cannot normally tell whether the animal being pursued is a lactating female until they catch it. The dogs pick up the scent and almost invariably bring the quarry to bay before the hunter arrives. Almost never is an enforcement officer on the scene.

Life in the wild is hard for bears, particularly in a drought when food is scarce. The energy budget is slim, especially for sows with cubs. Will a bear suffering a calorie deficit from being chased become more prone to search for an easy meal at a campground or cabin and end up hurting someone? How are the bear and lion cubs affected if mom is killed or is not producing enough milk? These are factual questions with moral implications that should be addressed.

There are no scientific studies showing that pursing bears or cougars with hounds, let alone killing them in general hunts, is necessary for scientifically sound wildlife management. Instead, there is an abundance of research from the last 20 years showing that, ironically, hunting predators causes some of the very conflicts with humans it is intended to prevent.

Despite this, several hundred bears and cougars are legally killed in Utah each year for sport and trophy. On the other hand, no one has ever been killed by a cougar in Utah and only two people have been killed by black bears in recent memory — very hungry ones. Those bears were put down by the authorities.

Most people have by now come to value wild animals as intelligent, sentient and emotional beings with their own needs and interests. Perhaps we would do well to learn to live peacefully with them.

If a bear or cougar should become a serious problem, it can be removed. But we should not pretend that constantly harassing them and killing them accomplishes any good beyond generating revenue for the Division of Wildlife Resources and giving enjoyment to a small number of people.

Kirk Robinson.

Kirk RobinsonPh.D., is executive director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, Salt Lake City.

The Future of Wolves in the American West – Lindsay Larris – March 24, 2021

Gray wolf. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

A series of recent events in multiple states makes far too clear that gray wolves need our help. Despite abundant scientific data indicating that this keystone species remains largely absent from much of its historic range in the American West, gray wolves were removed from the list of species protected under the Endangered Species Act in January. In place of federal ESA protection, states have already begun enacting new policies and, with them, swift and deeply disturbing reminders of how vulnerable gray wolves remain.

In Wisconsin, just weeks after gray wolves were delisted from the ESA, an ill-conceived hunt during the wolves’ mating season left 216 gray wolves dead — approximately 20% of the entire wolf population in the state — during a three-day slaughter.

Meanwhile, in Montana, a state in which wolves lost ESA protections in 2011, not by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but by an undemocratic congressional rider, the federal delisting emboldened politicians to up unscientific efforts to eliminate wolves from the landscape. In the past month, the Montana Senate passed a bill allowing for private bounties for dead wolves and the Montana House passed bills expanding the wolf trapping season and allowing snares in an effort to further decimate wolves.

The traps and snares, which often prolong an animal’s death, are indiscriminate and dangerous not only to wolves but also to non-target species. In a recent six-year period in Montana, for example, at least 350 non-target animals, ranging from mountain lions to companion animals, were caught in traps. Montana’s pending laws to incentivize and further enable wolf killing are not simply inhumane, they severely threaten to undo gray wolf recovery efforts and destabilize ecosystems.

These recent activities follow on the heels of a similarly unsettling example of failed state-level wolf management in Idaho, where wolves have also been delisted since 2011. There, over a recent 12-month period, trappers, hunters, and state and federal agencies killed an astounding 570 wolves, including at least 35 wolf pups as young as four weeks old.

Taken together, the examples of Idaho, Montana, and Wisconsin give us all the evidence we need that state-led “management” does not ensure the protection and recovery of gray wolves.

This horrifying slaughter of wolves in just a few states is why WildEarth Guardians has joined a broad coalition to challenge the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to delist wolves in court. Wolves have not recovered in the American West and the decision to delist them goes against the intent of the ESA, which not only mandates the federal government to forestall the extermination of gray wolves but also, crucially, to promote their full recovery across their entire historic range.

To let the work of gray wolf recovery go unfinished would be a tragedy. Being listed under the ESA has allowed gray wolves to begin to rebound in the upper Great Lakes region, yet their recovery there does nothing for the populations of gray wolves throughout the West, where the animals remain largely absent or underpopulated in their historic range. For example, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado have had a few wolf sightings over the past three years, but wolves remain essentially absent from their historical habitat in these states.

The example of success in the upper Great Lakes region should not be used to dismantle wolf protections, but rather to illustrate the continued need for those protections throughout the country where wolf populations remain extremely vulnerable. Only ongoing federal protections, based on scientific data absent from politics and fearmongering, will guarantee gray wolves a continued and healthy future in this country.

Lindsay Larris is the Wildlife Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.

Montana Governor Gets Written Warning After Killing a Wolf

New York Times – by Azi Paybarah – March 23, 2021

A wolf in Yellowstone National Park. (National Park Service)

Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana violated a state hunting requirement last month when he trapped and killed a wolf near Yellowstone National Park without first taking a mandated trapper education course, state officials said on Tuesday.

Mr. Gianforte, who has a license to hunt wolves, received a written warning for the violation, according to Greg Lemon, a spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “We’ve treated this as we would anybody” in a similar situation, he said. “It’s important to us the integrity of our process, no matter who we’re dealing with, is maintained.”

Mr. Gianforte trapped and shot an adult black wolf on Feb. 15 near Yellowstone National Park, the Mountain West News Bureau reported on Tuesday. Morgan Warthin, spokeswoman for Yellowstone National Park, said the wolf, No. 1155, was born in the park, was estimated to be 6 or 7 years old and had been collared by park biologists in 2018.

“Once the wolf left the park, it no longer was considered a Yellowstone wolf,” she said.

Montana regulations require that wolf traps be checked at least once every 48 hours, that wolves harvested be reported within 24 hours and that the skull and hides be inspected within 10 days of being killed, Mr. Lemon said. Referring to the governor, Mr. Lemon said, “Everything had been done the way it was supposed to,” except for completing the wolf-trapper certification class.

Telephone messages left with Mr. Gianforte’s staff on Tuesday were not immediately returned. Brooke Stroyke, a spokeswoman for Mr. Gianforte, told The Associated Press that the governor had “immediately rectified the mistake.” Mr. Gianforte signed up for the first available course, scheduled for Wednesday, Mr. Lemon said.

Ms. Stroyke told The A.P. that this was the first wolf the governor had killed.

The one-time certification class, which lasts about three hours, teaches trappers about wolf biology, best practices for trapping and related regulations, Mr. Lemon said. “The class is geared toward the ethical harvest of wolves.”

The episode came as Mr. Gianforte is expected to receive, and support, several bills aimed at loosening wolf hunting and trapping regulations, including allowing the use of neck snares and offsetting certain costs for trappers.

Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana had signed up for a wolf-trapper certification class to be given Wednesday. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record, via Associated Press)

Critics have urged Mr. Gianforte not to loosen the state’s wolf hunting and trapping regulations.

“The use of neck snares for wolves is particularly cruel,” Kitty Block, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote on her blog last month. “Wolves have extremely well-muscled necks and suffer greatly when trapped in these devices.”

On Tuesday, referring to the governor’s wolf trapping episode, Ms. Block wrote, “Gov. Greg Gianforte should have known better.”

Mr. Gianforte, a Republican former congressman, was elected governor in November, with the support of the Montana Trappers Association.

“Trapping is part of our Montana way of life,” Mr. Gianforte said at the time, News Talk KGVO reported. “Make no mistake, the effort to stop trapping in Montana is an attack on our heritage,” he said.

This was not Mr. Gianforte’s first brush with hunting regulators. In 2000, Mr. Gianforte illegally killed an elk and was issued a $70 ticket by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Mr. Lemon said.

In June 2017, Mr. Gianforte was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management classes for assaulting a reporter the night before he won a seat in the House of Representatives.

Azi Paybarah is a reporter covering breaking news, based in New York. Before joining The Times in 2018 he covered politics for WNYC and The New York Observer. He helped launch the website that later became Politico New York and co-founded the FAQ NYC podcast. He is a lifelong New Yorker and graduate of the University at Albany. @Azi • Facebook

5 wolves found dead in Oregon, US Fish and Wildlife investigates

by Associated Press – Saturday, March 20th 2021

GPS-collared male gray wolf, known as OR-93, has traveled all the way from Oregon down to California’s Yosemite National Park. February 26, 2021 (California Department of Fish and Wildlife)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon authorities say five wolves were found dead in northeastern Oregon in February.

Oregon State Police said Friday that on Feb. 9, a collar on a wolf indicated a mortality signal in the Mt. Harris area in Union County. Police Capt. Timothy R. Fox said in an email that arriving officers found a total of five wolves dead.

He says the cause of death is unknown.

RELATED | Oregon wolf tracked near Yosemite park for first time in 100 years

Fox says all the carcasses were taken to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife forensic lab to determine the cause of death. A state Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman said the incident is under investigation.

No further information was released.