Tag Archives: university of washington

Cry ‘Hiccup!’ And Let Slip The Dogs Of Spoor

Dr. Samuel Wasser and his dung-detection dogs are set to begin searching for wolves in Washington’s South Cascades, where the number of public wolf reports is growing but no packs let alone breeding pairs are known to exist.

The University of Washington researcher heads up Conservation Canines, which received $172,000 from state lawmakers earlier this year to survey a 2,000-square-mile patch of countryside between I-90 and the Columbia River.

Conservation Canines field technician Jennifer Hartman and dog Scooby collect a sample during carnivore research in Northeast Washington’s Colville National Forest. (JAYMI HEIMBUCH)

Since 1997, Wasser and his rescue dogs have been deployed around the world to help monitor other species, collecting poop the pups find for labs to analyze.

Sending handlers and their canine companions into the woods and meadows around Mts. Rainier, Adams and St. Helens should produce results faster than leaving it to wildlife biologists chasing down intriguing leads or hoping to cut tracks in winter’s snows.

“Our goal is to maximize coverage of the study area, sampling all areas around the same time, within and between seasons to maximize comparison,” explains Wasser.

“Currently, the plan is for a fall and spring sampling, the latter being important to sample for pregnant females. We are still gathering data to identify the best sampling areas. Cost permitting, we hope to have four teams.”

While WDFW’S latest wolf map shows no known packs south of I-90 in the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast recovery zone, there have been numerous public reports in recent years from the mountains here, as an agency map illustrates. (WDFW)

Wasser has 17 dogs, including Hiccup, who’s also trained to find moose doots.

Which ones are deployed to the recesses of the Gifford Pinchot and south ends of the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests hasn’t been determined yet, but he’s confident in his pack’s abilities.

“If there are wolves south of I-90, the odds of the dogs locating them should be quite high,” Wasser says. “Colonizing wolves range widely, our dogs can cover huge areas, and their ability to detect samples if present is extraordinary.”

Under the state’s wolf delisting scenarios, there must be at least four breeding pairs here to meet the management plan’s current recovery goals.

If wolves are found, that might decrease the need to translocate packs here from elsewhere in Washington, notably the northeast corner where most territories are full and conflicts with livestock occur annually.

State wildlife managers haven’t been inclined to move wolves around, despite that tool in the plan, but earlier this year Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) successfully kick-started efforts to at least consider it.

Legislators also asked Wasser to gather data on the effect any wolves in the region might be having on predator-prey dynamics, and if they’re not, establish base-line data for when they arrive.

Another Study Looks At Effect Our Drugs Have On Puget Sound Chinook

Stephen Colbert’s happy salmon probably should’ve been a little more famished-looking.

Another study on the effects the drugs we take have on some of Puget Sound’s most prized denizens has come out and it shows fish at the mouths of certain watersheds are more likely to be starving at a key time in their lifecycle.

THE LATE SHOW HOST STEPHEN COLBERT GETS A LAUGH OUT OF A HIGH SAMMY THE PUGET SOUND CHINOOK DURING A SEGMENT ON MARCH 29, 2016. (CBS)

Where the 2016 late-night skit focused on illicit drugs and how they made “Sammy the salmon” less wary of predators — “I will fight a grizzly bear!” the puppet tells the host —  the new paper shows that exposure to our medications “may result in early mortality or an impaired ability to compete for limited resources.”

According to James P. Meador of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Andrew Yeh and Evan P. Gallagher at the University of Washington, it’s most pronounced in Chinook, coveted by sport and tribal fishermen.

Essentially, the young salmon are picking up “contaminants of emerging concern,” or CECs, as they swim below wastewater treatment plants as the head for the open ocean.

The scientists did their work with Chinook gathered off the Puyallup and Nisqually Rivers and in Sinclair Inlet, and uncontaminated ones from the Gold Bar and Voights Creek Hatcheries.

An early clue there might be problems in the Puyallup and Sinclair Inlet came after half of those salmon died in transport to the lab, not unlike what happened to rainbow trout exposed to effluent in a previous study.

The study, headlined “Adverse metabolic effects in fish exposed to contaminants of emerging concern in the field and laboratory” and published in the journal Environmental Pollution in February, suggests that upgrades may be needed at our region’s poop purification stations.

“Wastewater-treatment plants have been engineered to clean out trash and remove and disinfect solids, but they mostly can’t screen out drugs that people take — and express through elimination. The drugs pass through the plants into Puget Sound in wastewater effluent,” writes Lynda Mapes of The Seattle Times, who first reported the work.

The rest of her story can be found here, and this is where to find the study.

Expanding North Pacific Orca Pods Could Be Driving Down Chinook Size

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

The largest and oldest Chinook salmon — fish also known as “kings” and prized for their exceptional size — have mostly disappeared along the West Coast.

That’s the main finding of a new University of Washington-led study published today in Fish and Fisheries. The researchers analyzed nearly 40 years of data from hatchery and wild Chinook populations from California to Alaska, looking broadly at patterns that emerged over the course of four decades and across thousands of miles of coastline. In general, Chinook salmon populations from Alaska showed the biggest reductions in age and size, with Washington salmon a close second.

NO DOUBT ABOUT IT, ANGLERS AND COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN LIKE TO CATCH BIG CHINOOK — JOEL NYMEYER CAUGHT THIS 40-POUNDER IN THE SAN JUANS A COUPLE SEASONS AGO — BUT HARVEST PRESSURE IS HARDLY THE ONLY REASON THE SALMON SPECIES APPEARS TO BE GETTING SMALLER OVER TIME. A NEW UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON STUDY SAYS IT’S DUE TO COMPLEX INTERACTING FACTORS, AND RESEARCHERS HYPOTHESIZE THAT EXPANDING KILLER WHALE POPULATIONS IN THE NORTH PACIFIC ARE TARGETING BIG CHINOOK TO MEET THEIR DIETARY NEEDS. NYMEYER HOOKED HIS KING NEAR POINT ROBERTS WHILE TROLLING A HERRING BEHIND A FLASHER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

“Chinook are known for being the largest Pacific salmon and they are highly valued because they are so large,” said lead author Jan Ohlberger, a research scientist in the UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “The largest fish are disappearing, and that affects subsistence and recreational fisheries that target these individuals.”

Chinook salmon are born in freshwater rivers and streams, then migrate to the ocean where they spend most of their lives feeding and growing to their spectacular body size. Each population’s life history in the ocean varies, mainly depending on where they can find food. California Chinook salmon tend to stay in the marine waters off the coast, while Oregon and Washington fish often migrate thousands of miles northward along the west coast to the Gulf of Alaska where they feed. Western Alaska populations tend to travel to the Bering Sea.

After one to five years in the ocean, the fish return to their home streams, where they spawn and then die.

Despite these differences in life history, most populations analyzed saw a clear reduction in the average size of the returning fish over the last four decades — up to 10 percent shorter in length, in the most extreme cases.

These broad similarities point to a cause that transcends regional fishing practices, ecosystems, or animal behaviors, the authors said.

“This suggests that there is something about the larger ocean environment that is driving these patterns,” Ohlberger said. “I think fishing is part of the story, but it’s definitely not sufficient to explain all of the patterns we see. Many populations are exploited at lower rates than they were 20 to 30 years ago.”

It used to be common to find Chinook salmon 40 inches or more in length, particularly in the Columbia River or Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula and Copper River regions. The reductions in size could have a long-term impact on the abundance of Chinook salmon, because smaller females carry fewer eggs, so over time the number of fish that hatch and survive to adulthood may decrease.

There are likely many reasons for the changes in size and age, and the researchers say there is no “smoking gun.” Their analysis, however, points to fishing pressure and marine mammal predation as two of the bigger drivers.

Commercial and sport fishing have for years targeted larger Chinook. But fishing pressure has relaxed in the last 30 years due to regulations to promote sustainable fishing rates, while the reductions in Chinook size have been most rapid over the past 15 years. Resident killer whales, which are known Chinook salmon specialists, as well as other marine mammals that feed on salmon are probably contributing to the overall changes, the researchers found.

“We know that resident killer whales have a very strong preference for eating the largest fish, and this selectivity is far greater than fisheries ever were,” said senior author Daniel Schindler, a UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences.

While southern resident killer whales that inhabit Puget Sound are in apparent decline, populations of northern resident killer whales, and those that reside in the Gulf of Alaska and along the Aleutian Islands, appear to be growing at extremely fast rates. The paper’s authors propose that these burgeoning northern populations are possibly a critical, but poorly understood, cause of the observed declines in Chinook salmon sizes.

Scientists are still trying to understand the impacts of orcas and other marine mammals on Chinook salmon, and the ways in which their relationships may have ebbed and flowed in the past. It may not be possible, for example, for marine mammals and Chinook salmon populations to be robust at the same time, given their predator-prey relationship.

“When you have predators and prey interacting in a real ecosystem, everything can’t flourish all the time,” Schindler said. “These observations challenge our thinking about what we expect the structure and composition of our ecosystems to be.”

Co-authors are Eric Ward of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Bert Lewis of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

This study was funded by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Still Another Study Pokes Holes In WSU Professor’s Wolf-Livestock Attack Findings

Yet another study is casting doubt on a Washington State University professor’s much-lauded 2014 conclusions about cattle depredations and wolves.

A Washington Policy Center brief out yesterday says that Dr. Rob Wielgus’s findings that killing wolves for livestock depredations leads to a higher risk of attacks the following year had “serious methodological flaws and critical omissions in its analytical methods.”

Write authors Todd Myers and Stephen Sharkansky, his “main conclusions are, at best, unsupported by the data, if not refuted outright. His central conclusion that killing wolves increases depredations of cattle and sheep is based on a false statistical argument unsupported by reasoned analysis.”

A GRAPH INCLUDED IN A WASHINGTON POLICY CENTER BRIEF ON RESEARCH INTO WOLF REMOVALS AND LIVESTOCK LOSSES SUGGESTS THAT AS WOLF NUMBERS GREW, ATTACKS ON CATTLE AND SHEEP DID AS WELL, A “COMMON-SENSE CONCLUSION” IN THE WORDS OF THE AUTHORS. (WASHINGTON POLICY CENTER)

They say the reason for increasing losses of sheep and cattle is simply increasing wolf populations. A retired federal wolf manager has stated that 20 percent of packs will depredate.

WPC’s work will be panned by some in the wolf world as that of a conservative, free-market think tank with a pro-ag agenda in part.

But it does follow on similar findings by University of Washington researchers earlier this year.

Using the same open-source data, statisticians there could not replicate Wielgus and coauthor Kaylie Peebles’s results either.

“Rather than more culling of wolves leading to more killings of livestock in the following year, our results indicate that more culling of wolves would lead to fewer killings of livestock in the following year than expected in the absence of culling,” wrote Nabin Baral of the UW’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences in the College of the Environment, et al.

Before that Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks researchers found that for wolf recovery over the long term, it may be better to kill an entire livestock-depredating pack now rather than just one or two of the predators at a time in hopes of ending the attacks because in the long run, you have to kill more wolves.

To be clear, that’s not the current tack that Washington wolf managers are taking.

It’s based on plenty of nonlethal work, set numbers of attacks over periods of time and then incremental lethal removals to stop a pack’s bad behavior, followed by a period of observation and continued conflict-avoidance work, and either more removals if attacks resume or an end to lethal operations if they don’t.

With the Smackout Pack of Northeast Washington this summer, taking out two members in July appears to have changed that large group of wolves’ behavior, at least for now.

(Of note, that appears not to have worked in Oregon with the Harl Butte Pack, which is attacking cattle again.)

The goal is ultimately to quickly reduce the number of dead livestock and wolves.

“Data in Wielgus’ study actually support the current Washington state strategy of removing wolves where there is conflict with a rancher, consistent with the common-sense conclusion that removing wolves reduces livestock deaths,” write WPC’s Myers and Stephen Sharkansky.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the wolf management spectrum, Arizona- and Eugene-based pro-wolf groups will now get 48 hours notice of WDFW lethal removal actions after filing a lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court, a bid to be able to possibly stop them.

“There hasn’t been any loss of department authority or ability to take action,” state wolf manager Donny Martorello told the Capital Press.

He said that WDFW was “disappointed” in the lawsuit filed by the “out-of-state groups” — Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands — and said the agency is “committed to continue working with our citizens, stakeholders, wolf advocates, hunters and livestock producers as we have in the past. We will deal with the litigation and lawsuit, and keep moving forward.”

Neither CBD or CW are on WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group. One organization that is offered a tepid response to their lawsuit.

“Though not based in Washington, these groups have the right to seek to improve our state’s wolf management process using legal means. It will be up to the courts to decide the validity of their claims,” noted Chase Gunnell of Conservation Northwest. “However, we’re concerned by the way in which these groups dismiss the collaborative process in Washington, a process that’s making significant progress towards coexistence and tolerance for wolves, all while our wolf population continues to grow by more than 25 percent annually. We sincerely hope that this lawsuit doesn’t throw the baby, or in this case the wolf pup, out with the bathwater, so to speak.”