Tag Archives: wolves

6 Weeks Of Peace, But ODFW Targets Harl Butte Wolves After 2 More Calf Attacks

Oregon wildlife managers have authorized lethally removing up to four more Harl Butte wolves after two more calf depredations in recent days.

The Wallowa County pack has already been reduced by four following a series of attacks on cattle and the initial failure of nonlethal techniques to stop them.

AN ODFW MAP SHOWS THE AREA OF NORTHEAST OREGON WHERE THE HARL BUTTE PACK RESIDES. (ODFW)

Roblyn Brown, ODFW’s acting wolf coordinator noted that there had been a six-week period without trouble following the removal of four wolves in August, but that ended with a confirmed kill of a calf on Sept. 29 and a confirmed injury to a calf on Oct. 1.

“As wildlife managers, we are responsible for balancing the conservation of wolves on the landscape with our obligation to manage wolves so that damage to livestock is limited. We need to take further action with this pack,” Brown said in a press release.

Along with ODFW staffers, members of a local grazers association have been granted a temporary permit to kill wolves in public and private pastures where their cattle are located.

The agency believes there are nine Harl Butte wolves; any may be killed.

In other Oregon wolf news, a period of quiet with the Meacham Pack has led to the expiration of lethal controls there.

In Washington, WDFW continues to evaluate the Sherman Pack response to a removal and says no depredations have been reported since Aug. 28.

 

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.”

Smackout Pack Removals Finished, WDFW Says

WDFW is officially mum about a lawsuit filed yesterday over its lethal removal protocols but this afternoon said that operations targeting the Smackout Pack are over due to good behavior by the wolves as the grazing season comes to an end.

“This action was consistent with the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan of 2011 and the department’s current protocol,” wolf manager Donny Martorello said in a press release. “Both policies support the recovery of wolves in our state, while also recognizing the need to address repeated predation on livestock.”

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE SMACKOUT PACK NORTHWEST OF SPOKANE IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (WDFW)

The Smackouts of northern Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties attacked three calves late last September and two more in July, leading to the removals of a 30-pound pup and 75-pound adult female in July.

There have been no further depredations by the large pack since mid-July, more than two months ago.

“Our goal was to change the pack’s behavior, and the break in wolf depredations on livestock is consistent with the desired outcome,” Martorello said. “We’ll continue to track the pack’s movements via GPS signals, but the removal operation is now over.”

Yesterday’s lawsuit was filed in Thurston County Superior Court by the Center for Biological Diversity of Arizona and Cascadia Wildlands of Eugene. It claims WDFW “relied upon a faulty protocol and failed to undergo required environmental analysis” before authorizing lethal removals of the Smackouts as well as Sherman Pack this summer.

WDFW says that three different livestock producers affected by Smackout depredations all were using nonlethal deterrents which were backed up by the agency’s stepped-up efforts to prevent conflicts as well.

“The pack has stayed out of trouble for eight weeks and the summer grazing season is coming to a close,” Martorello said. “If depredations resume, WDFW would revert back to the protocol to assess the time since the previous depredations and assess any further actions.”

Pro-Wolf Groups File Suit To Try And Stop Lethal Removals In Washington

Pro-wolf groups from out of state are challenging WDFW’s lethal removals, filing a lawsuit in court today in a bid to prevent managers from killing any more in the federally delisted portion of Washington.

The move could fracture the collaborative work of in-state stakeholders managing the return of a difficult species with longterm recovery goals in mind.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE SHERMAN PACK IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. A LAWSUIT CLAIMS WDFW’S AUTHORIZATION TO REMOVE MEMBERS WAS IMPROPER. (WDFW)

 

It comes after three wolves in the Smackout and Sherman Packs in Northeast Washington were taken out this summer by WDFW as it follows a protocol that blends rancher buy-in and nonlethal deterrents with real consequences for depredating packs by acting faster to head off larger livestock and wolf body counts.

The 619-page lawsuit was filed in Thurston County Superior Court by the litigious Center for Biological Diversity of Arizona and Cascadia Wildlands of Eugene.

It claims that WDFW Director Jim Unsworth improperly authorized going after Sherman Pack members in late August in violation of the State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, and Adminstrative Procedure Act, or APA.

That authorization came under new protocols adopted this year following discussion with the Wolf Advisory Group. Now, the number of depredations needed before WDFW begins lethal removals is three including one probable, in a 30-day period, or four confirmed over a 10-month period.

Removals start with one or two wolves followed by a period of observation. Since two Smackouts were killed in July, there have been no further depredations.

The agency’s wolf management plan went through SEPA before it was adopted in 2011, and the lethal removal protocols agreed to by the WAG — of which neither CBD or Cascadia Wildlands are a part of — are said to “flow from” that document.

WDFW did not have an immediate comment about the lawsuit except that officials needed time to read and understand what they’d just received this afternoon.

The suit comes at the tail end of the grazing season. The latest that WDFW has shot a wolf for chronic depredations was Sept. 27, 2012, when the collared Wedge alpha male was killed by a marksman.

“We can’t sit by and watch Washington wildlife officials kill more wolves from the state’s small and recovering wolf population,” said CBD’s Amaroq Weiss in a press release. “Washingtonians overwhelmingly want wolves recovered, not killed. The Department of Fish and Wildlife needs to listen to public opinion and consider the dire environmental costs of killing more wolves.”

A 2014 poll found 63 percent of Washington’s public in fact supports lethally removing wolves to protect livestock with 28 percent opposed. In 2008, those percentages were 61 and 31.

The groups’ press release also plays the taxpayer card, though we’ve previously reported that lethal removals are funded by the agency’s Wildlife State account, which includes revenue from license sales, but not taxpayer dollars.

Despite the removal of almost all of the Wedge Pack, and members of the Huckleberries, Profanity Peaks, Sherman and Smackouts, the state’s population has done nothing but grow at a rate similar to that seen in the Northern Rocky Mountains.

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

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

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.

A MOUNTAIN LION CACHES AN ELK CARCASS. (IDFG)

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.

A LION-CACHED ELK CARCASS. (IDFG)

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.

WOLF-KILLED ELK. (IDFG)

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.

(IDFG)

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.

(IDFG)

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.

ODFW To Remove 2 Harl Butte Wolves To Head Off Chronic Depredations

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

ODFW wildlife managers intend to remove some of the adult wolves in northeast Oregon’s Harl Butte pack to limit further livestock losses as non-lethal measures and hazing have not been successful in limiting wolf depredations.

On July 28, ODFW received a lethal removal request from several affected livestock producers from a local grazing association after two depredations were confirmed in a five-day period. They asked that the entire Harl Butte pack be removed due to chronic livestock depredation. ODFW has decided to deny the request and will take an incremental approach instead, removing two members of the pack and then evaluating the situation. “In this chronic situation, lethal control measures are warranted,” said Roblyn Brown, ODFW Acting Wolf Coordinator. “We will use incremental removal to give the remaining wolves the opportunity to change their behavior or move out of the area.”

AN ODFW MAP SHOWS THE AREA OF NORTHEAST OREGON WHERE THE HARL BUTTE PACK RESIDES. (ODFW)

In the past 13 months, ODFW has confirmed seven depredations by the Harl Butte Pack in Wallowa County, which killed three and injured four calves. Six of the depredations have occurred in an area that supports dispersed livestock grazing in large forested pastures on private and public lands.  ODFW believes that depredations may continue or escalate despite non-lethal deterrent measures in place due to the history of depredation by this pack.

When non-lethal deterrence measures are not sufficient, the state’s Wolf Management and Conservation Plan allows for lethal control as a tool to address continuing depredation. At the request of a producer or permittee, ODFW can consider lethal control of wolves under these circumstances: if it confirms at least two depredations of livestock; if the requester documents unsuccessful attempts to solve the situation thru non-lethal means; if no identified circumstance exists that attracts wolf-livestock conflict; and if the requester has complied with applicable laws and the conditions of any harassment or take permit.

In this situation, the livestock producers have maintained a significant human presence in the area of the depredations. Human presence is recognized as one of the best non-lethal methods to limit wolf-livestock conflict in dispersed grazing situations because wolves tend to avoid people. The producers coordinate between themselves, their employees, a county-employed range rider and a volunteer to ensure daily human presence coverage of the area. They increase human activity in areas when they see wolf sign, learn (through telemetry of a radio-collared wolf) that wolf activity is in close proximity to livestock, or when livestock show behavior that could indicate wolf presence.

The increased human presence has given the livestock producers and the range rider multiple opportunities to haze wolves that were chasing or in close proximity to livestock.  On seven different occasions in June and July 2017, wolves have been hazed away from cattle by yelling, firing a pistol, shooting at, walking towards, and riding horseback towards the wolves.

Producers or their employees have also been spending nights near their cattle. Several producers are keeping their stock dogs inside horse trailers at night (as wolves are territorial and may attack dogs). Other producers are changing their typical grazing management practices including bunching cow/calf pairs in a herd (which enables cows to better protect themselves) or delaying pasture rotation to avoid putting cattle in an area where wolves have been.

While investigating reported livestock depredations, ODFW looks for attractants to wolves such as a bone pile or carcass that may contribute to the conflict. Livestock producers have also been watching for vulnerable livestock and carcasses in order to keep them from becoming wolf attractants and have been quick to remove them. Three injured or sick livestock were moved to home ranches for treatment and to protect them from predators. One dead domestic bull was removed from an area of concentrated cattle use (a pond). ODFW has not identified any circumstances or attractants that could promote wolf-livestock conflict in this area.

All these methods used by livestock producers have complied with Oregon’s applicable laws.

The Harl Butte Pack’s first depredation of livestock was confirmed in July of last year. ODFW received a request for lethal control in October 2016, after the fourth confirmed depredation. The department denied this request because most cattle were being removed from the large dispersed grazing pastures and out of the depredation area, so future depredation was unlikely.

The situation is different now because cattle will be grazing in the area on public lands until October and private lands into November, so ODFW expects the depredation will continue.

“Based on the level of non-lethal measures already being used and the fact that wolves are likely to be in the presence of cattle in this area for several more months, there is a substantial risk that depredation will continue or escalate,” said Brown.

ODFW intends to remove up to two adult uncollared wolves from the Harl Butte Pack by trapping or shooting from the ground or air. Once two wolves have been removed, the removal operation will stop. If two wolves have not been killed after two weeks, ODFW will assess whether removal efforts will continue another two weeks. If a new depredation occurs after the removal of two wolves, lethal control may resume.

About the Harl Butte Wolf Pack

The Harl Butte wolf pack may have formed and bred as early as 2015 though they were not documented until 2016. ODFW counted 10 wolves at the end of last year and observed seven wolves in the pack in March.  One wolf in the pack, OR50, was collared in February 2017 and is believed to be the breeding male of the pack.

The pack is expected to have bred this year, and their weaned pups would now be about four months old, though the exact number of pups is unknown.

RMEF Sees Silver Lining In Court’s Great Lakes Wolf Listing Ruling

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION

Unlike its decision earlier in 2017 upholding efforts to delist wolves in Wyoming, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia chose not to do the same in the Western Great Lakes states.

“We are disappointed with this latest ruling, but the court wholeheartedly rejected a number of claims by environmental groups regarding wolves and wolf management,” said David Allen, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president and CEO. “The court undid a number of roadblocks thus providing a path forward.”

 

Positive points from the decision:

  • Rejected an environmental group argument that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) did not use the best available science
  • The Endangered Species Act allows the FWS to delist a distinct wolf population segment
  • Supported FWS’s reliance on state management of wolves and other wildlife in the Western Great Lakes states
  • Upheld the FWS’s determination that disease and human mortality do not pose a significant threat to the wolf population
  • There is no permanent barrier to delisting wolves

“This latest ruling came six years after the FWS tried for a third time to delist wolves in the Great Lakes. We call on Congress to approve and pass a legislative fix to halt this non-stop litigation that frustrates successful wildlife management,” said Allen. “These environmental groups continue to use the wolf as a fundraising tool while overlooking and ignoring each state’s approved wildlife management plans.”

As of 2015-16, there is an estimated minimum population of 3,762 wolves in the Great Lakes states. Minnesota’s wolf population is approximately one and a half times above objective. Michigan’s wolf population is more than 200 percent above its state plan and Wisconsin’s wolf population is more than 250 percent above objective.

RMEF recognizes that predators have a proper place on the landscape but that they need to be managed just as elk, deer and other wildlife are managed in accordance with the North American Wildlife Conservation Model.

WDFW Reports More Sherman, Smackout Pack Depredations

Washington wolf managers are reporting a new pair of depredations by packs already in trouble for recent attacks on cattle.

They say that the Shermans of Ferry County injured a calf not far from a pair of previously confirmed depredations on BLM land. The calf was so torn up it had to be put down, WDFW reports.

WDFW’S 2016 YEAR-END WOLF MAP SHOWS THE ROUGH BOUNDARIES OF THE STATE’S 20 KNOWN PACKS, INCLUDING TWO NEW ONES CONFIRMED LAST YEAR, SHERMAN AND TOUCHET, ON EITHER SIDE OF EASTERN WASHINGTON’S FEDERALLY DELISTED ZONE. (WDFW)

GPS data and tracks at the scene put at least two members of the pack at the attack.

WDFW reports the producer has been using five agency-contracted range riders since early May, and has also increased human presence on the grazing area.

The other two attacks were investigated July 12 and June 12.

One more depredation before mid-August could put the Sherman Pack in jeopardy under WDFW’s new protocols that allow for lethal removal to begin if three attacks (three confirmed or two confirmed and a probable) occur in a rolling 30-day period.

Four confirmed attacks across a year also qualify, and that’s the case in Stevens County already with the Smackout Pack

The agency says it was responsible for killing a calf in a private, fenced 40-acre pasture near the producer’s home last week.

WDFW investigated July 22 and said that GPS data from two collars puts the wolves at the scene at the time of the attack.

It’s the fifth by the Smackouts since last September, and on July 20, WDFW announced it would begin incremental lethal removals to stop the attacks. An update on that operation is expected later this week.

WDFW Reports Second Sherman Pack Depredation, 5 Recent Wolf Deaths

The Sherman Pack attacked and killed a calf for the second time in a month, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The confirmed depredation was outlined today in a wolf update from the agency.

(WDFW)

The fresh carcass was found Wednesday, July 12, by a range rider, similar to last month, and also within 200 yards of that wolf kill, on a Bureau of Land Management grazing allotment in Ferry County.

According to WDFW, bite marks and other wounds on the calf as well as GPS collar data from the Sherman male “clearly indicate a wolf depredation.”

The producer uses five range riders and has been patrolling the area since even before turning their cattle out in late May on private ground, say state wolf managers.

They say there are no known dens or rendezvous sites in the area.

Under the agency’s new protocols, just three depredations, including one probable, in a 30-day period, could lead to the beginning of lethal removals. Last year it was four confirmed.

In other Washington wolf news from the update, WDFW reports that a Goodman Meadows Pack male that was captured in collared in January was legally harvested in Idaho;

That a Dirty Shirt Pack male that dispersed to Salmo Pack country in April was subsequently lethally removed by British Columbia officials trying to protect rare woodland caribou;

That the deaths of another Dirty Shirt wolf as well as one from the Loup Loup Pack are under investigation;

And that a wolf that had been part of the Huckleberry Pack in 2014 was recently mortally wounded by a vehicle collision further north this month and was dispatched by WDFW staff.

Killings wolves in Washington is illegal, and west of Highways 97, 17 and 395, where they are listed under ESA, a federal offense.

The update also includes proactive deterrence measures being used on a number of packs, recent activities of those wolves and community outreach provided by WDFW and volunteers.

Pretty interesting reading.

 

WA-ID-BC Border Caribou Herd Down To 10; New Film Highlights Plight

A caribou herd that roams where the borders of Washington, Idaho and British Columbia converge is down to 10 animals, a new low, with the recent death of a mature bull.

The news was confirmed this morning by a tribal biologist after it was announced last night at the premiere of a movie highlighting the precarious state of mountain caribou habitat in the Inland Northwest.

A SIGN ON A LOGGING ROAD IN 2003 ADVISES HUNTERS IN FAR NORTHERN IDAHO’S GRIZZLY AND MOUNTAIN CARIBOU COUNTRY TO BE SURE OF THEIR TARGETS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It’s a decline of two animals since last fall, when the herd was featured in a New York Times story, and one since an April survey  found 11.

There are now believed to be two yearlings, seven cows — though some could be young males — and one bull left in the South Selkirk band.

New calves could have been born since — along with last year’s pair, there was one in 2015 and 2014 — but other herd members without telemetry could have also died as well. 

Kalispel Tribe biologist Bart George in Ione says the latest one died in a remote area 10 miles north of the Canadian border that required a helicopter to access.

Because of an issue with the mortality signal, the carcass had been pretty well picked over by bears by the time researchers arrived last week, so it’s unclear what led to the animal’s death.

Captured as a 2- or 3-year-old bull, it was one of six South Selkirk caribou collared in 2014 for research. Two others have since been killed by wolves, one by an undetermined predator and a fifth was hit by a vehicle, George says.

Ten is the fewest the herd has ever numbered, though at one time mountain caribou were as numerous as “bugs,” according to a First Nations man interviewed for Last Stand: The Vanishing Caribou Rainforest, which debuted at The Mountaineers building at Sand Point in Seattle last night.

He was speaking about his grandfather’s memories, a time when mountain caribou ranged from the Prince George area of interior BC southeast to the mountains out of Spokane.

Along with providing sustenance for tribes, they were also hunted in Washington — or at least were listed in the 1905 regulations (annual limit one male during a season that ran from mid-September to mid-December).

WASHINGTON’S 1905 HUNTING AND FISHING REGULATIONS, CERTAINLY SOMEWHAT SMALLER THAN TODAY’S TWO PAMPHLETS. (DAN CHRISTENSEN)

“The South Selkirk subpopulation was considered abundant and possibly numbered in the hundreds in the late 1800s,” notes a WDFW status review published last year.

Those days are as long gone as some of the habitat for the lichen-eating herbivores that haunt the heights in winter and valleys in spring and fall.

According to the movie, less than 1,500 mountain caribou remain in what’s considered to be the world’s only inland temperate rainforest, which has provided more than a few of the boards that have gone and still go into our decks and homes, and is also subject to wildfires and bug and disease outbreaks.

It’s believed that as logging has opened up the mountains, moose, deer and elk followed and benefited from the new forage, but also drew wolves, as well as cougars and bears into caribou country. Unfamiliar with the threat, they’ve proven easy prey.

The South Selkirk Herd has declined from 51 in 1993, to 41 in 2003, 27 in 2013, 18 in 2014 and 14 in 2015, according to WDFW.

To save the species, BC began a wolf cull, with 20 removed in the herd’s range in the first two years (and hundreds elsewhere); it’s unclear how this past winter’s efforts went.

Wolves can also be hunted in North Idaho, but are off limits in Washington, though the state management plan has a clause that allows for removals “if they are causing a significant reduction in ungulate populations.”

Further north, biologists are also trying maternity penning to boost herd numbers. They’ve shown some success, but also received criticism.

That was certainly the case in Last Stand and afterwards during a question-and-answer session with the producers and others, where it was pointed out that protecting cows and calves at a vulnerable time came with a significant financial cost.

Overall, I found the 35-minute production to be good and fair, and I appreciated that it didn’t shy away from the threat posed by wolves, and that the producers recognized the loggers taking down the old growth were also human. They told a story about how just before one tipped over a big tree, he excitedly called them over to see a toad he’d just spotted.

As another First Nations man noted in the film, there are no good guys and bad guys in this.

Last Stand was directed by Colin Arisman and produced by David Moskowitz, along with coproducers Kim Shelton and Marcus Reynersen.

A trailer is available here, and it’s scheduled to be seen in Vancouver and Victoria tonight and tomorrow night, and Inland Northwest and Southeast BC locations this fall.

The only question is, will the South Selkirk caribou still be around then?

The movie narrator told last night’s audience the herd numbered 12, even as the producers revised that to 10.