The Daily Howler: Not Much Howling To Report Edition … Except For That One Study

Things have gone quiet on the Washington wolf front of late, so The Daily Howler is filing the following Daily Howl pretty much just to keep in practice.

Well, OK, there actually is some news, sort of.

1) WDFW assistant director Nate Pamplin yesterday advised those of us who take note of these things that over the past month his agency’s Ruby Creek wolf-catching crew has:

* Put out a cage trap meant for cougars and locked it open in hopes of luring the habituated lone wolf of the Pend Oreille Valley floor inside (it didn’t show any interest, he reports);

* Tried to dart it from the ground (got close, no bananas, but plan on continuing, he says);

* And may bring in the helicopter once more snow has fallen, making aerial darting easier.

The plan has been to catch it and ship it over to Wolf Haven.

Earlier this fall, WDFW reported having spent $8,000-plus on the attempts, and that’s surely gone up, but in early October Pamplin explained why they’re doing this:

“Wolves generally exhibit avoidance of people even in fragmented habitats where they are likely to have a higher degree of encounters. Aggressive acts toward humans is rare, however, habituation is a known condition that can lead to aggressive behavior.”

2) Read through the Wildlife Program’s weekly reports and you’ll usually come to this line:

REGION 2
WOLVES: Nothing to Report

Wild guess: That’s probably because there’s not much to report from Chelan and Okanogan Counties.

But a local paper has been diligent in its efforts to chronicle all things wolfish. In its edition for the week of November 20, the Methow Daily News reported that the Lookout Pack now consists of four adults, but only one pup that survived the Carlton Complex fire of mid-July.

It was never clear how many pups the pack had this year — five is an average — and at least one died as a result of the fire.

Bottom line: It appears that the pack won’t count as a successful breeding pair this year, according to the local district wildlife biologist.

3) In other news from the Methow, the paper reports that the yearling female wolf captured and collared in the valley earlier this year “seems to be the omega or outcast of the group — a lot of time she is not with the pack,” i.e., the Lookouts, says WDFW’s Scott Fitkin.

That means the data from its collar, which was hoped would help WSU researchers study the movements of wolves around livestock, “doesn’t provide consistent location data for the pack,” the News reports.

4) The investigation into the illegal shooting of a wolf loose upon the Palouse in mid-October is now in the hands of the Whitman County prosecutor, but a recent blog/article differs from previous reporting on charges against the alleged shooter, a local farmer.

The Daily Howler and local radio reported that state game wardens recommended a misdemeanor, but speaking with WDFW’s top fish and wildlife officer, Rich Landers at the Spokesman-Review quoted Steve Crown as saying:

“We’re not recommending anything. We’re simply referring the facts of the case in our report. It’s up to the prosecutor to examine the facts and the case law and decide whether to bring charges.”

Yesterday, Pamplin made this statement to the state’s Wolf Advisory Group and other interested parties:

“In mid-November, we received results from a genetics lab at UCLA that the animal was a pure wolf. We also completed a necropsy on the animal. On November 19, the case package was delivered and discussed with the Whitman County Prosecutor. There was substantial probable cause for two violations, including take of a state-listed species, and negligently shooting from a roadway. For context, significant cases like this are normally filed through the Prosecutor’s Office to ensure the highest likelihood of a successful prosecution, versus issuing a citation directly. This process enables the Prosecutor to take the lead on appropriate charges in the case after reviewing reports and having a discussion with investigators.  The Prosecutor’s Office will make the ultimate decision on how to proceed with criminal charges. ”

5) Speaking of the WAG, a total of 50 applications for positions on the advisory body for 2015-16 were received by WDFW and are now being reviewed.

The current WAG’s term ends at the end of this year and included nine positions that represented hunters, ranchers, wolf fans and others, but that may be expanded to an even dozen, making donut purchases for meetings much simpler.

6) If it’s December, it’s time for the all-important year-end wolf counts to begin.

Pamplin says that biologists and others this month will take to the air, strap on their snowshoes and practice their howls to survey the state’s known packs and check out areas where wolf reports have come from as part of the annual effort to come up with a minimum count of individuals and successful breeding pairs.

Wolfies moaned about two breeding females killed this year (one by a state-contracted sharpshooter, the other by a poacher), but the technical definition of an SBP is an adult male and an adult female and two pups together at the end of the year. For the time being, we’re locked into a plan that requires 15 SBPs in certain numbers across three discrete areas of the state for three straight years to get to state recovery goals.

Pamplin expects to send USFWS the status of the state’s wolves by March.

7) Speaking of USFWS, a couple weeks ago now I asked spokesman Brent Lawrence in Portland what the timeframe was for a final decision on delisting the species in the Lower 48.

The feds proposed removing gray wolves from ESA protections last year, and there was a quote here or there that it would be done by the end of 2014.

Nope, Lawrence now says.

“At this point, we are not committing to a specific time frame. We had 1.6 million comments (more than anything else we’ve ever done by a huge margin) — all of which have to be read and addressed where appropriate,” he emailed to say.

8) Meanwhile, the pot’s being stirred on social media where the species was Congressionally delisted in 2011.

After one group launched a billboard campaign in Spokane, another in Northeast Washington began crowd-funding a counter one.

The former group, Washington Residents Against Wolves, has since followed up with four more billboards around the Lilac City featuring images of a bull elk, fawn, deer, cow calf, dog and little girl on a swing and asking “The wolf … who’s next on their menu?”

Explained Luke Hedquist, now the spokesman for WARAW:

“What we want is for people to ask very serious questions about the presence of wolves in Washington State before the reality confronts them. We do not despise the wolf for being a wolf. Wolves are efficient killers and can provide a necessary control on ungulate herds in some situations, but the job of ‘predator’ in Washington is already filled by cougars, bears and coyotes. By adding a wolf to the mix, we are forcing predators to compete for a limited prey base and we know they will move on to domestic animals and possibly children as new sources of food.”

Possibly, although approximately zero Little Billies and Sallies have been eaten by wolves in North America in modern times, even in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming where the roots of the kids-at-a-country-school-bus-stop-are-on-the-menu fears can be traced.

Still, reducing the risk is part of WDFW’s rationale for removing the Ruby Creek wolf.

WARAW also trots out fears about wolves spreading disease.

“Wolves can carry the tapeworm, Echinococcosis granulosus, that can be transferred to humans. This worm creates major capillary beds in the liver, lung, brain where they develop into large cysts full of tiny tapeworm heads, also known as hydatid disease. These cysts can kill infected persons unless they are diagnosed and removed surgically,” claims Hedquist

WARAW says that the CDC and other wolf states warn residents about the risk but claims that Washington does not.

Biologists I’ve talked about this have scoffed — indeed, they’re the most likely to be infected — and WDFW’s website says you basically gotta eat wolf poop to catch it:

“Do wolves have tapeworms that can spread to other animals and people?

The Echinoccus granulosus tapeworm is found almost worldwide in canids, including wolves, dogs, coyotes, and foxes. The eggs of this tapeworm are spread in canid feces. Wild and domestic ungulates (deer, elk, moose, sheep, goats, swine, etc.) are the normal intermediate hosts, carrying a cyst form in their organs. When canids (including dogs) feed on these infected organs, they become tapeworm hosts. (For tapeworm life-cycle information, and recent research on this topic, click here)

Humans are very rarely infected, because they would have to ingest tapeworm eggs in canid feces or drink water contaminated with canid feces. The parasites are highly unlikely to be spread by handling ungulate capes or meat, unless those parts are contaminated with canid feces and handlers do not use good basic hygiene. Likewise, if a pet dog rolled in feces infected with tapeworm eggs, good hygiene is required after handling the dog. Humans cannot be infected by ingesting cysts found in ungulates. These parasitic tapeworms are not wind-born nor transmitted in any way other than direct ingestion of eggs in feces.

All parasites or diseases harbored by any wildlife should be taken seriously. Good hygiene should always be used when handling live wild animals, dead wild animals, their secretions, or their products.

Come on, this is embarrassing to those with legitimate concerns about wolves that this one is brought up yet again.

9) Pamplin also reported to the WAG that “a contract to evaluate the Department’s efforts to develop stakeholder collaboration on implementation of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan” is being pursued.

Sounds duller than doornails in the estimation of TDH (who, if the preceding blog is any indication, knows a little bit about being dull), but Pamplin says “this assessment will focus on the WAG to improve the function of the group, ensure lasting agreement on decisions, and build capacity and trust to reach agreement on future wolf management issues.”

Good luck with that in the era of Facebook management.

10) And finally, in late-breaking news today that totally blows up the sense of quiet around Washington wolf management in recent weeks, the Spokane Spokesman-Review (and numerous other sources) reports that removing wolves that kill sheep and cattle leads to an increased chance of depredations the following year, according to new research from a WSU scientist.

“It’s counterintuitive,” Rob Wielgus, director of the university’s Large Carnivore Conservation Lab, told Becky Kramer about his study. “People think, let’s kill the wolves and get rid of the problem. But it doesn’t work that way with carnivores. Sometimes, the punitive solution is causing the problem.”

It seems, however, that the increase in the odds is pretty low. The abstract of his paper, published at Plos One, argues:

“We found that the number of livestock depredated was positively associated with the number of livestock and the number of breeding pairs. However, we also found that the number of livestock depredated the following year was positively, not negatively, associated with the number of wolves killed the previous year. The odds of livestock depredations increased 4% for sheep and 5–6% for cattle with increased wolf control – up until wolf mortality exceeded the mean intrinsic growth rate of wolves at 25%. Possible reasons for the increased livestock depredations at <25% mortality may be compensatory increased breeding pairs and numbers of wolves following increased mortality. After mortality exceeded 25%, the total number of breeding pairs, wolves, and livestock depredations declined.

By unusual happenstance, earlier today I found myself looking at the USFWS’s latest table of confirmed wolf depredations from the Northern Rockies. (Yes, TDH has no life.) Now, I’m no scientist nor mathemetician, but it seems like there are all sorts of patterns to be found when you compare wolf removals one year to livestock depredations the next and then take into account wolf populations filling good habitat and spilling over into less-good ground.

table

As for what’s happened in Washington, the data is pretty limited, but in 2012, the Wedge Pack was taken out. Two wolves either survived or moved into the territory afterwards, and were implicated in the July 2013 depredation of a calf.

Earlier this year, and at the opposite end of Stevens County, a Huckleberry wolf was taken out after more than two dozen sheep were attacked in that territory. It remains to be seen what will occur in 2015.

In the SSR article, John Pierce, a WDFW scientist, said he thought of Wielgus’s work more as a set of hypotheses, and Kramer paraphrased him saying it “doesn’t reduce the short-term value of killing wolves to halt ongoing livestock attacks.”

“It’s absolutely essential in regards to maintaining social tolerance of impacted stakeholders, such as livestock producers, when we talk about wolf recovery and wolf management,” Jack Field of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association told a radio reporter.

Kramer reported that WDFW officials, who are paying for some of the work, are interested in other facets of the research at WSU.

“We’re hoping to get into a proactive mode,” Pierce told her. “We’re interested in identifying which non-lethal measures are most effective for preventing future conflicts.”

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10 thoughts on “The Daily Howler: Not Much Howling To Report Edition … Except For That One Study”

  1. Dear Andy,

    I read your wolf report and I appreciate your comments–particularly those relating to WARAW which is really part of an “echo chamber” created by the livestock industry by Jamie Henneman. I also agree that this type of fear mongering is counter-productive and distracts from the real issues that need to be addressed. I also find it ironic that ABC and NBC thought that a banker with only a high school diploma was a reasonable counter voice to a PhD scientists or a go to person in terms of parasite epidemiology. Thanks for not falling in that trap.

    In terms of the effectiveness of predator control this is a complicated issue that tends to get lost in sound bites. I recently attended a symposium at UW where Wielgus and others presented their work. The general conclusion was that culling (i.e., random killing of predators) was not effective unless you had population level impacts. Surgical killing of individual predators worked sometimes but there were concerns about social structure and other disruptions causing more problems than were solved. This work is reinforced by studies of coyotes and mountain lions where it has been shown that coyotes respond to lethal control by reproducing at a younger age and having larger litters and that when you kill a tom cat protecting territory that cat is quickly replaced by several younger animals and predator pressure is increased.

    Thanks for taking a reasonable path and checking with experts.

    Bob Ferris
    Cascadia Wildlands (and a hunter and wildlife biologist)

    1. How dare you talk (counter productive), when you, a supposed professional of conservationists every where, put down cattlemen like you did on one of your latest posts….. (pampers wearer)… maybe you should also be going for Charmin, for A- holes like your self.
      If you are the chief of that tribe at Cascadia Wildlands , start acting like a leader, rather than an amateur like me….
      You expect everyone to come to the table and try to get along, while you are still casting stones….

      1. One very important point that came out of the recent “wolf symposium” at the UW was the importance of not demonizing the “outgroups,” those outside where the power of the moment lies, and advice that goes for both sides. We all have valid concerns.

        AW
        NWS

  2. All in all this is a well written and fair representation of facts, however:
    Your examination of wolf removals and then looking at subsequent incidents of depredation, is a simplistic and invalid method of trying to spot a correlation. You did however qualify yourself correctly: “I’m no scientist nor mathemetician.” The correct methods for establishing a correlation requires a larger set of data. In the case of this study data covering multiple states and 25 years was used. The analysis of data for correlation is a complex process that is best handled by a computer and a data analysis expert. Quite often raw data is of little real value but is used by individuals to base questionable claims by selecting specific pieces of data, as you say: “… there are all sorts of patterns to be found.”
    You select this quote “The odds of livestock depredations increased 4% for sheep and 5–6% for cattle”. Elsewhere in the report is this statement “contrary to the “remedial control” hypothesis, each additional wolf killed increased the expected mean number of livestock depredated by 5–6% for cattle and 4% for sheep.” I don’t understand why these statements are different, the one not specifying “per wolf taken”.

  3. I would be cautious of two things, gentlemen: assuming that the analysis by Wielgus and Peebles is the be-all, end-all answer to that data set and all situations — as we have seen with initial theories about Yellowstone, wolves, elk and beavers, a well-publicized initial take may yield different interpretations over the long term — and knowing several I have much respect for wildlife biologists, but it is dangerous to downplay the lack of university qualifications among others in the wolf world. Coming out of college I could have told you far more about Shakespeare, basalt and swill than wolves, which were then filtering into MT and about to be captured in Canada and returned to the US.

    AW
    NWS

  4. On the Tapeworm issue, your reply to the agency information is, “Come on, this is embarrassing to those with legitimate concerns about wolves that this one is brought up yet again.” But you don’t tell me why you find this information to be of ’embarrassing’ quality. Please give some facts to explain why you dismiss the provided information. Thank you.

  5. I do not find ot “ironic” that the “lamestream media” relied upon unqualified spokespersons for their information. As we know, the media are now marketing “info-tainment” instead of trying to present objective research or reports. They want ratings and as the saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.” When I was interviewed by NBC’s environmental reporter, the editor too out the most of the interview because it might have upset our Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Consequently, the brief report included editorial remarks that favored the Department and justified their removal of an entire pack of wolves in an area where anti-government wolf haters had refused to participate in preventative measures that could have protected their livestock.

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