Tag Archives: cougars

WSU Wolf, Cougar Researcher Resigning In Settlement

Washington State University and a wolf and cougar researcher there are parting ways under a $300,000 settlement.

Rob Wielgus will resign as part of the deal in which neither party admits wrongdoing following an academic freedom lawsuit filed by the professor and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility against the school.


A brief statement from WSU said the money would come from the state.

Over the years, Wielgus garnered attention with his counterintuitive carnivore studies, and was a darling of wolf advocates with his research that appeared to show killing livestock-depredating wolves just resulted in more attacks.

But other researchers found lethal removals could yield different results, and Wielgus began to fall out of favor with some former allies following his summer 2016 claim that a Northeast Washington livestock producer had turned out his cattle “directly on top” of a wolf den but in fact were released 5 miles away and which led to a stunning rebuke from the university.

Subsequent articles by The Seattle Times detail tensions over Wielgus between ranching and political interests and university officials and programs.

In a PEER press release, Wielgus said WSU’s Large Carnivore Conservation Lab, which he headed up, will close.

PEER claimed that without the professor’s work, “Washington lacks a coherent, science-based wolf management policy.”

The lab’s listed assistant director is now WDFW’s statewide wolf specialist.

Predators May Be To Blame For Recent Moose Calf Survival Issues In Part of NE WA

Washington wildlife managers looking into how a growing suite of hungry predators are affecting deer, elk and moose populations believe a Shiras subherd in the state’s northeast corner bears watching.

WDFW reports an unusual signal seen in moose calf survival in east-central Stevens and southern Pend Oreille Counties in recent years.


It was lower in back-to-back years than in a study area just to the south and a cause for concern, biologists say.

“Calf-survival in the northern area, particularly during 2014, was low enough to elicit concern for population stability,” note authors Brock Hoenes, Sara Hansen, Richard Harris, and Jerry Nelson in the just-posted Wildlife Program 2015-2017 Ungulate Assessment.

They’re not sure why that is, except to say it’s probable some — maybe all — of the calves in question ended up as dinner and that more study will help flesh that out.

“Calf mortality occurred irregularly, with no discernible seasonal concentration,” they report. “We are unable to attribute specific causes to any of the calf deaths (the study is not designed to attribute specific causes to any of the calf deaths). That said, it is likely that at least some of the calf deaths were caused by predators.”

Among the toothsome crew roaming this country are cougars, black bears, perhaps a grizzly or two, and wolves.

According to WDFW’s latest wolf map, the Carpenter Ridge, Dirty Shirt, Goodman Meadows and Skookum Packs occur entirely or partially in the northern moose study area, and  all of which were successful breeding pairs in 2016. And in the past the Diamond wolves were here too.


By contrast, in the southern moose study area — Blanchard Hump and Mt. Spokane — there are no known packs, or at least were at the time of the biologists’ review last December.

Their 186-page report was posted late yesterday afternoon, two days before the state Fish and  Wildlife Commission will be briefed on wolves, wolf management and the future thereof by WDFW Wolf Policy Lead Donny Martorello.

It’s important because buried in the aforementioned wolf plan is a section addressing the species’ impacts on ungulates.

If “at-risk” big game herds such as woodland caribou are found to fall 25 percent below population benchmarks for two straight years or others see their harvests decline by a quarter compared to the 10-year average for two consecutive seasons, it could trigger consideration of reducing local wolf numbers if that particular recovery zone has four or more breeding pairs, regardless of statewide delisting.

As for the assessment of the rest of Washington’s moose, as well as its wapiti, deer and bighorn sheep, the report looks at each species, breaking them down by major herds or zones, details recent hunter harvest, and discusses other sources of mortality and factors that may influence population dynamics, before wrapping up with “Sub-herd Concerns” and “Management Conclusions.”

“Using the data at our disposal, none of the ungulate populations in this assessment appear to show clear signs of being limited by predation,” state Hoenes, Hansen, Harris, and Nelson in the executive summary.

That conclusion may not go over well with some Evergreen State hunters concerned about what their and others’ observations are telling them about how the animals are doing in the woods.

And it’s not to say that bucks and bulls, does and cows, calves and fawns aren’t affected in other ways by mountain lions, bruins, coyotes and wolves. They are, of course.

New research is beginning to show how wolf packs affect mule deer and whitetail behavior in North-central Washington, leading to different use of habitat than before.

The authors also acknowledge that limitations in the data sets “might preclude the ability to detect impacts of predation on a specific ungulate population.”

But the assessment is another way WDFW is attempting to show hunters it is keeping its eye on wolf impacts as numbers of the wild dogs near recovery goals and the conversation begins to turn to post-statewide delisting management.

Biologists will also take to the air and woods again soon for year two of a half-decade-long predator-prey study in the Okanogan, and Huckleberry and Selkirk Ranges.

IDFG Reports Results Of Elk Calf Mortality Study In Couer d’Alene, St. Joe Basins


By Laura Wolf, Wildlife Regional Biologist

The Panhandle region placed 172 GPS radio-collars on 6-month old elk calves in the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe River drainages since 2015.  A couple reasons we collared so many elk was to determine survival rates and for those elk that didn’t make it, find out why they died.


The GPS collars have a signal that activates once the collar hasn’t moved for several hours, indicating a mortality.  Next, the collar sends an e-mail to biologists with the location of the collar.  It’s pretty amazing technology, something that wasn’t available just a few years ago, and it’s giving us new insight into what’s affecting the elk population.  We try to hike out to every dead elk within a day or two of receiving the mortality signal so we have the best chance of figuring out what happened.

It can be difficult to look at a partially consumed elk carcass and determine how the animal died.  The more of the elk that is there, the easier it is to figure out what happened.  We want to find out why it died, or in our language, determine cause-specific mortality.  That’s why we try to get to the elk as soon as possible.

Once we get to the location and find the elk, we take a crime scene approach.  We conduct a careful search around the carcass looking for predator tracks, hair, drag trails in the dirt or snow, broken branches that indicate a chase, and blood on vegetation or the ground.  Next, we perform a necropsy (basically an autopsy for an animal).  We skin the entire animal looking for teeth or claw punctures and bruising on the skin or muscles (which means that something injured it while it was still alive).  We look for broken bones, parasites, and abnormalities of the internal organs.  Lastly, we saw open a femur bone to examine bone marrow.  Bone marrow is normally hard and white and is the last fat reserve the body uses during starvation.  Soft and red bone marrow means the elk was in very poor condition when it died.

The two most common predators that kill older calves in the Panhandle are mountain lions and wolves, but their kill patterns are quite distinctive, hence the crime scene approach.  Lions tend to ambush and bite the neck or throat of their prey.  The attack site and the kill site are often close together.  Lions often drag their prey to a more hidden spot and will cache the animal by covering it with snow, leaves, or needles.  Lions have a habit of shearing hair, which looks like someone cut the hair with sharp scissors.   Lions often enter the chest cavity first and eat the internal organs.


Wolves, on the other hand, are not ambush hunters.  They typically chase their prey long distances, biting hindquarters, flanks, neck, and face.  Wolves will eat the animal where it died and often scatter the carcass throughout the site as each wolf takes its own piece to consume.  Wolves will often chew on all the bones.  The site of an animal killed by wolves is often a much messier scene than that of one killed by a mountain lion.  There’s often very little of the carcass remaining when we get there.


So, what have we learned?  In the normal to mild winters of 2015 and 2016, 80% of the elk calves survived from January to June; 14% were killed by mountain lions, 3% were killed by wolves, 1% died of disease, and 2% were unknown deaths.  A survival rate of 80% for 6 month old calves is very high.


In the colder, snowy winter of 2017, 50% of the elk calves survived.  Interestingly enough, the predation rates were similar to the milder winters; 16% were killed by mountain lions and 6% were killed by wolves.  Starvation (16%), heavy parasite loads (2%), and disease (2%) accounted for the difference in survival rates among the winters.  Calves were in worse body condition in 2017 as determined by bone marrow condition.  We could not determine cause of death in 8% of the cases.


What do these calf survival rates mean for the elk population?  We are working on some modeling now, incorporating other information like cow survival rates, calf:cow ratios that we get during our winter aerial surveys, and the percent of spikes in the harvest.  Once we get the results of the modeling , we’ll report to you on that.

Our jobs can certainly be gruesome at times, but it rewarding to determine what is happening with our elk populations so we can make informed management decisions.