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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The very informative COYOTE YIPPS blogsite had an interesting article from Malcolm Margolin's book entitlted THE OHLONE WAY(Indian tribe that inhabited San Francisco Bay region of California)regarding the docility of the wildlife encountered by European Explorers 200 years ago: ............."Foxes, which are now very secretive, were virtually underfoot"....... "Mountain lions and bobcats were prominent and visible"............ "Sea otters, which now spend almost their entire lives in the water, were then readily captured on land"............ "The coyote, according to one visitor, was "so daring and dexterous, that it makes no scruple of entering human habitation in the night, and rarely fails to appropriate whatever happens to suit it"............ "Animals seem to have lost their fear and become familiar with man," noted Captain Beechey"............. "As one read the old journals and diaries, one finds the same observation repeated by one visitor after another"............. "Quail, said Beechey, were "so tame that they would often not start from a stone directed at them"................... "Rabbits "can sometimes be caught with the hand," claimed a Spanish ship captain"........., "Geese, according to another visitor, were "so impudent that they can scarcely be frightened away by firing upon them".

Malcolm Margolin's book, The Ohlone Way, has a brief description of the setting in San Francisco, including the vast number of animals that inhabited the land before the European settlers moved in, and the behavior of these animals towards humans. I am reprinting this excerpt from pages 9 and 11 of his book.:  

"The environment of the Bay Area has changed drastically in the last 200 years. Some of the birds and animals are no longer to be found here, and many others have vastly diminished in number. Even those that have survived have (surprisingly enough) altered their habits and characters. The animals of today do not behave the same way they did two centuries ago; for when the Europeans first arrived they found, much to their amazement, that the animals of the Bay Area were relatively unafraid of people."

"Foxes, which are now very secretive, were virtually underfoot. Mountain lions and bobcats were prominent and visible. Sea otters, which now spend almost their entire lives in the water, were then readily captured on land. The coyote, according to one visitor, was "so daring and dexterous, that it makes no scruple of entering human habitation in the night, and rarely fails to appropriate whatever happens to suit it."

"Animals seem to have lost their fear and become familiar with man," noted Captain Beechey. As one read the old journals and diaries, one finds the same observation repeated by one visitor after another. Quail, said Beechey, were "so tame that they would often not start from a stone directed at them" Rabbits "can sometimes be caught with the hand," claimed a Spanish ship captain, Geese, according to another visitor, were "so impudent that they can scarcely be frightened away by firing upon them."

"Suddenly everything changed. Into this land of plenty, this land of "inexpressible fertility" as Captain la Perouse called it, arrived the European and the rifle. For a ew years the hunting was easy -- so easy (in the words of Frederick Beechey) "as soon to lessen the desire of pursuit." But the advantages of the gun were short-lived. Within a few generation some birds and animals had been totally exterminated, while others survived by greatly increasing the distance between themselves and people."

"Today we are the heirs of that distance, and we take it entirely for granted that animals are naturally secretive and afraid of our presence. But for the Indians who lived here before us this was simply not the case. Animals and humans inhabited the very same world, and the distance between them was not very great.

"The Ohlones depended upon animals for food and skins. As hunters they had an intense interest in animals and an intimate knowledge of their behavior. A large part of man's life was spent learning the ways of animals.

"But their intimate knowledge of animals did not lead to conquest, nor did their familiarity breed contempt. The Ohlones lived in a world where people were few and animals were many, where the bow and arrow were the height of technology, where a deer who was not approached in the proper manner could easily escape and a bear might conceivably  attack -- indeed, they lived in a world where the animal kingdom had not yet fallen under the domination of the human race and where (how difficult it is for us to fully grasp the implications of this!) people did not yet see themselves as the undisputed lords of all creation. The Ohlones, like hunting people everywhere, worshipped animal spirits as gods, imitated animal motions in their dances, sought animal powers in their dreams, and even saw themselves belonging to clans with animals as their ancestors. The powerful, graceful animal life of the Bay Area not only filled their world, but filled their minds as well."


The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area

The culture of the Indian people who inhabited the Bay Area prior to the arrival of Europeans
Two hundred years ago, herds of elk and antelope dotted the hills of the San Francisco-Monterey Bay area. Grizzly bears lumbered down to the creeks to fish for silver salmon and steelhead trout. From vast marshlands geese, ducks, and other birds rose in thick clouds “with a sound like that of a hurricane.” This land of “inexpressible fertility,” as one early explorer described it, supported one of the densest Indian populations in all of North America.

One of the most ground-breaking and highly-acclaimed titles that Heyday has published, The Ohlone Way describes the culture of the Indian people who inhabited Bay Area prior to the arrival of Europeans. Recently included in the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Top 100 Western Non-Fiction” list, The Ohlone Way has been described by critic Pat Holt as a “mini-classic.”


“A beautiful book, written and illustrated with a genuine sympathy....A serious and compelling re-creation.”
The Pacific Sun

“Remarkable insight in to the lives of the Ohlone Indians.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Margolin conveys the texture of daily life, birth, marriage, death, war, the arts, and rituals, and he also discusses the brief history of the Ohlones under the Spanish, Mexican, and American regimes...Margolin does not give way to romanticism or political harangues, and the illustrations have a gritty quality that is preferable to the dreamy, pretty pictures that too often accompany texts like this.”

About the Author

Malcolm MargolinMalcolm Margolin is executive director of Heyday, an independent nonprofit publisher and unique cultural institution, which he founded in 1974. Margolin is author of several books, including The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco–Monterey Bay Area, named by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the hundred most important books of the twentieth century by a western writer. He has received dozens of prestigious awards among which are the Chairman's Commendation from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fred Cody Award Lifetime Achievement from the San Francisco Bay Area Book Reviewers Association, the Helen Crocker Russell Award for Community Leadership from the San Francisco Foundation, the Carey McWilliams Award for Lifetime Achievement from the California Studies Association, an Oscar Lewis Award for Western History from the Book Club of California, a Hubert Bancroft Award from Friends of the Bancroft Library, a Cultural Freedom Award from the Lannan Foundation, and a Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. He helped found the Bay Nature Institute and the Alliance for California Traditional Artists.

Earliest European view of the Coast People. Unique among California Indians, the double-bladed paddle was a special innovation of the coast people. With its pointed prow the buoyant balsa could carry four people, swiftly and easily, into inlets and coves, from island to island in the bay. The Spanish invention in this view is the woven, striped blanket, made by the woman neophytes at the mission. This is the earliest view we have of the Coast People, made in 1816 by Louis Choris, a world traveler of acute perception who wrote, “I have never seen one laugh. I have never seen one look one in the face. They look as though they are interested in nothing.” By 1816, this was true.6
Image: Bancroft Library (brk00001587_24a)
It is uncertain when the wandering coast people first appeared on Mission Bay. Burial mounds with artifacts and middens dating back to an estimated 3,500 BC were found on Hunters Point, some near the shore at Candlestick Park.9 The people of these mounds may have been the ancestors of the Costanoans, as the Spanish named the coast people. The Costanoan linguistic group, comprised of eight separate languages spoken by 50 autonomous tribes (each with its own dialect), has been traced to 500 A.D. At the time the Spanish arrived the coast people had fished the waters of Mission Bay for 1,275 years. They numbered 10,000, all in the same linguistic group, of which 1,400 are thought to have spoken Ramaytush—the language spoken by the group most closely associated with Mission Bay.10
The Coast People, Half Revealed
We do not know the name they called themselves. “Costanoan” has been the useful descriptive category for the people who belonged to this large linguistic group and lived on San Francisco Peninsula as far south as Monterey on the ocean side. Indians living in the Bay Area today reject “Costanoan” because it is Spanish; they prefer “Ohlone,” meaning “the abalone people,” which is closer to their own conception of their ancestors’ identity

Just as the three Great Lakes States of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan provides suitable habitat for Wolves, so can it do the same for Pumas per the recent Michigan Technological University Study published last November..............However, most experts feel it will take decades for this to happen without human assistance as female Pumas do not wander as widely out of their natal den as males do and there has not been one female "Cat" photographed in the upper midwest despite the multiple Puma sightings in the last several years.............The nearest breeding colony in Nebraska is 900 miles form Michigan's U.P. in Pine Ridge Nebraska with 9 females of the 25 Pumas in this state being killed last year by hunters............Lower and lower the odds are for a female Puma to need to find habitat outside Nebraska with so much vacant habitat in their home state due this hunter persecution............Couple this with the fact that Iowa does not provide safe haven for Pumas(can be shot for any reason) as they attempt to move east and you have it clearly revealed that some type human restoration program is needed for this top trophic carnivore to once again grace our upper Midwest

Parts of upper Great Lakes could suit cougars

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Study found best potential places for cougars to live. Image: Habitat Capacity for Cougar Recolonization in the Upper Great Lakes Region, Michigan Technological University
Study found best potential places for cougars
 to live. Image: Habitat Capacity for Cougar
 Recolonization in the Upper Great Lakes
 Region, Michigan Technological University
By Logan Clark
Don’t call it a comeback. Call it a potential comeback.
Habitat is suitable for cougars to recolonize the Upper Great Lakes region, according to a study out of Michigan Technological University.
The study, published last November in the Public Library of Science, says that cougars were driven out of the Midwest by the early 20th century. Since then, they have persisted only in the West.
This population increase is likely due to more prey availability and the banning of predator bounties and poisoning in the 1960s and 1970s, said one of the study’s authors,  Shawn O’Neil, a doctoral student at Michigan Technological University who studies wildlife spatial ecology.
A cougar walking along a wildlife trail in southern Marquette County, Michigan. Photo: Michigan Wildlife Conservancy
A cougar walking along a wildlife trail in southern Marquette County, Michigan. Photo: Michigan Wildlife Conservancy
“For the most part, as a society, we’ve moved from trying to control and eradicate apex predators to trying to coexist,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil also credits the expansion to the animals’ instinct to avoid inbreeding. They will disperse long distances in search of suitable habitat and new gene pools, he said. One cougar was even thought to have traveled over 1,000 miles from South Dakota to Connecticut, said the study.
O’Neil and his colleagues demonstrated that suitable cougar habitat exists in the Upper Great Lakes by assessing the region’s capacity to support them. That capacity includes food availability and physical characteristics of the landscape. Among those characteristics are elevation, vegetation, distance to water and roads and if they can avoid people.
The study area focused on Michigan and Wisconsin, and extended a model previously developed by researchers at the Cougar Network, a nonprofit organization that studies the species. After comparing results with sightings confirmed by both states’ Department of Natural Resources, O’Neil and his colleagues estimated that more than 500 cougars could be supported in the study area.
That may sound good for cougars, but if recolonization does happen it will undoubtedly bring political and cultural problems similar to that of the wolf, said Adrian Wydeven, a retired wildlife specialist from the Wisconsin DNR.
Wydeven has long studied cougars and other large carnivores. He was involved with investigating the Connecticut cougar that reportedly traveled so far.
He expects fairly negative attitudes from farmers and hunters. Cougars seem to be more feared by people than wolves or bears, he said.
“It may be that if recolonization occurs slowly it will receive better support, but under current conditions, a rapidly growing cougar population would raise concerns,” he said.
Another debate over using hunting to manage carnivores could  well be around the corner, O’Neil said.
“Several states have cougars living right next to major population centers, and this hasn’t seemed to generate the same divisiveness as wolves have,” he said. “So maybe there is greater capacity for social acceptance.”
A large portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is also suitable for cougars, despite the lack of confirmed sightings in this century. But cats will have a hard time reaching the area because it is surrounded by either water or urban farmland, according to Wydeven. Wolves have yet to colonize the area as well, he said. “My guess is that it will be decades and maybe as much as a century or more before breeding populations of cougars establish in the Lower Peninsula.”
The Michigan DNR has started confirming cougar sightings only since 2008. Not one of those confirmations was female. As a result, the agency’s official stance is that there is no breeding going on in the state, according to Kevin Swanson, the agency’s large carnivore specialist.
The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy disagrees. The organization, based in Bath, Mich., specializes in restoring and establishing wildlife habitat. Patrick Rusz, director of the group’s wildlife programs, says that breeding pairs of cougars never really left the Great Lakes.
Rusz, who has a doctorate in wildlife ecology, has been tracking Michigan cougars for over a decade. He is critical of how state officials have handled cougar sightings, pointing out that the agency did not confirm any sightings until 2008, but has confirmed 28 sightings since.
Rusz testified before the Michigan Senate in 2009 that he has found plenty ofevidence of cougar settlement in both peninsulas. Rusz said he believes that the DNR ignores such evidence because it doesn’t want to manage another endangered species.
He said he wants the agency to simply recognize its existence and begin managing for it.
The agency has put together a cougar team to keep up with the increasing sightings. The team is made up of biologists who investigate cougar sightings reported in both of Michigan’s peninsulas.
They have yet to find evidence of a breeding population, Swanson said.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Yesterday in Irvine, California, south of the Los Angeles International Airport, a mom and her two young daughters were in a neighborhood Park, walking their dog at around 6pm...........A Coyote jumped out of "nowhere", landed on top of the one of the 3-year old girls and then ran off.................The girl was not bitten,,,,,,,,,,,She suffered bruises from the fall,,,,,,,,,,The Media immediately reported that she had been bitten on the neck(FALSE).................and failed to report on the fact that the Coyote was likely attacking because of the dog intruding on it's territory, especially offensive and threatening to Coyotes during pup rearing season, which is about 5 to 6 weeks under way(Coyotes breed only once a year, in late January or February, pups born about two months later).................There are a good 1000 "viscious" dog bites on people annually in the USA,,,,,,,,,,,Yet dogs get a pass from the Media,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Perhaps it is long overdue for some basic professional journalism to come back into the writers rooms and tv and radio broadcast centers and focus on "who, what where, when and especially why" events occur.................A little backround reading and asking area biologists some basic Coyote biology questions will enable "hysterics" from being almost a daily part of "animal attacks man" stories going forward

Coyote: 3-year-old pounced on by coyote, wild animal also threatens family dog

While most evening-time dog walkers certainly need to be careful for a chance encounter with a wild animal like a coyote, these confrontations are usually uncommon occurrences. Yet for a 3-year-old girl and her family, the infrequent happened at the local Irvine intersection of Silverado and Equinox. A mother and her two young daughters were out for an after-dinner walk with their pet dog at roughly 6 pm on Friday when they heard a rustling nearby.

There was little time to react before the threatening thing pounced. The mother said that as one of her children went to pick up some dog waste with a small paper baggy, a coyote suddenly emerged from some nearby shrubbery. It leapt on top of her and appeared to bite her neck. According to Lieutenant Kent Smirl of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the mother and several other passerby sprang into action, scaring the wild animal away before it could cause serious harm.

KTLA News added this evening the 3-year-old coyote attack victim should count herself very lucky. Although she suffered some bad bruising from the attack and falling to the pavement, her skin was not punctured in the incident. Medical officials on the scene determined she had not been bitten, and it was thus unnecessary for the child to receive any shots for rabies. The young girl was still taken to a nearby hospital, but she was released within the hour.

Coyote “Attacks” and the Media, OR “Messaging”

The following news item and video (click on the link) serve as a departure point for exposing the truth about most reported “attacks” by coyotes, and for explaining coyote “messaging”: “Caught On Camera: Dog Attacked By Coyote”.

Although the video purports to show an “attack”, it does not do so. By calling this an “attack”, the article is creating a news story through sensationalist hype and playing on people’s fears. It sells well, it’s exciting, and it raises the fear level to a frenzy that, for most folks, justifies killing coyotes. It is irresponsible journalism, but it is how the press has been handling almost all reports regarding coyotes. We have suggested to journalists and news stations that they please contact biologists trained specifically in coyote behavior to help them get correct information out to the public, and this article does at least list what folks can do when they see a coyote. At the same time it calls what happened an “attack” which is blatantly incorrect.

What the video does show is a few seconds of a dog running from a coyote chasing it. Also, the article reports a couple of sightings, and that the dog, Lexus, came home with a few scratches. These are the facts from which this “attack” article is spun. But the dog wasn’t maimed, he wasn’t hurt, and there’s no proof at all that he was “attacked”. That he “got away with his life” is pure fabrication and sensationalistic.

 If anything at all, the dog was simply “messaged” to stay away for intruding or even chasing the coyote. That’s it.

I’ve been photo-documenting urban coyote behaviors, including their interactions with humans and pets, in urban parks for eight years.  I have only seen coyotes chase dogs in the manner shown in the news video clip, when a dog has gone chasing after the coyote first, or when the dog has intruded on the coyote in some way and then decided to run off. Dogs are constantly intruding on coyotes. A coyote’s nipping message is their attempt to drive the dog away, not maul him to death. It’s how they protect their territories or dens and it’s how they drive intruder coyotes away.

This series of 17 slides shows what happens when coyotes and larger dogs engage. When a coyote approaches a dog, it does so by making quick, short charges and quick retreats, where it is always ready to run off if the dog faces it. Coyotes aren’t animals who will take chances of being injured, so they avoid all-out fights with dogs. Please remember that running away by any animal raises a coyote’s adrenaline and incites a coyote to chase. We advise people never to run from a coyote for this reason.

 For more information on dog encounters, see video presentation, “Coyotes As Neighbors” and posting of March 30th: Pupping Season: What Behaviors to Expect If You Have A Dog, and What You Can Do,.

Pupping Season: What Behaviors to Expect If You Have A Dog, and What You Can Do

Coyote pupping season is in full swing, which is obvious from coyote behaviors I’m now observing in our parks. Since mating occurred through mid-February and, now that it is mid-March, dens are being selected and dug. In preparation for the big event, all coyotes, especially males, are vigilantly contributing their share to the process: they are safeguarding their family territories to help make them safe for pups. Where does this come from?
We all need to become aware of coyote behaviors so that we can know how to prevent issues. Coyotes don’t like canine intruders in their territories: they even don’t allow non-family coyotes in. All canines, be they wolves, dogs, foxes or coyotes, don’t really like each other and all will exclude the others, as well as members of their same species who are non-family members, from their territories. This is instinctive behavior. We can’t really change their instincts for survival, but we can learn about them and understand them, and modify our own behaviors, so that all of us — human, cat, dog, coyote — can coexist. The guidelines are few and simple.
What behaviors might you see at this time?
1) Coyotes want you and your dog to know they are around so that you’ll know that the area has been taken and is not up for grabs. One way of letting us know this is being more conspicuous. Increased visibility is a “message” to everyone and it’s a pretty basic way of letting us know they are around.
2) Coyotes also may actually approach dogs to get them to “move on” or “go away.” As you are walking along, a coyote could hurry in your dog’s direction and could even try to sneak up from behind in an attempt to give your dog a little nip or pinch on the hind quarters. Remember that they are approaching your dog, not you. They could try to do this when you aren’t looking at them, even if your dog is leashed. Their aim is not to maim, but to firmly “message” your dog to leave.  A small abrasion or scratch may result. You can prevent this.
What you need to do during this season is:
1) Be aware, alert and vigilant as you walk your dog during this pupping period. If you see a coyote, even if it’s out in the distance, make sure your dog is on a short leash and continue walking on and away from the coyote. Nonetheless, the coyote, or coyotes, could hurry in your and your dog’s direction — they have a job to do which is instinctive: know what is happening and be prepared.
2) If and when a coyote has come within 30-50 feet — just stop and face the coyote eyeball to eyeball — usually this is all you’ll have to do for the coyote to move on. If the coyote remains there, step in his direction and clap your hands or toss a small stone in his direction (not at him so as not to injure him), if the coyote moves, continue on your way, keeping an eye on him and without running. If he makes a second attempt, do this again with a little more energy. He’ll run off, and you, too, should walk on out of the area.
[For more information on coexisting between people, pets and coyotes, see“Coyotes As Neighbors”, a one-stop video presentation, created by Janet Kessler based on her photo-documentation of coyotes in urban parks].

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Just as Bison and Wolves were being systematically eliminated from our western states post the Civil War, so too was native Cutthroat Trout....In a fine new book entitled TROUT CULTURE, writer Jen Corrinne Brown provides a sobering tale of us humans going forth with "bumper car" abandon, decimating native Cutthroat fisheries, restocking rivers with non-native fish, exhausting and decimating "natures design"...........Paradoxically, by the time the West was being sold by boosters as a wild, pristine trout-fishing destination, the native trout populations had been decimated and private interests as well as state and federal agencies turned to fish culture (raising fish in hatcheries to be planted in the wild) to replace them....................The first stocking efforts were haphazard............. In some cases young trout, called “fingerlings,” were brought in by the railroads (which benefited from tourism) to be sold cheaply or given away to anyone who wanted a bucketful............By the late 19th century state and federal trout hatcheries had been established throughout the Rockies to keep up with the demand.................Most of the trout stocked were nonnative species: brook trout from the East Coast, brown trout imported from Europe and rainbows from the West Coast............ The indigenous cutthroats didn’t compete well with any of these introduced species and interbred with the rainbows, turning once pure strains of wild fish into mutts............... The theory seemed to be that one trout was as good as another, and rainbows became a favorite of fish culturists because they were the easiest to raise in hatcheries............. By the early 20th century, several subspecies of cutthroats were extinct..............It wasn’t until the rise of the modern environmental movement of the 1960s and ’70s that fishermen began to chafe at the artificiality of their trout fisheries and to belatedly consider the fates of native nongame species like chubs, suckers and pike minnows.......... Until then, these species had often been poisoned by state fish and game agencies to make room for more stocked trout

Taking the Bait

The Rockies were sold as a pristine

 trout-fishing destination only 

after native populations were decimated.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

When most people hear the name Ted Turner, they either "knee-jerk" to eccentric, reclusive billionaire or perhaps to the man who started the TBS cable network, ultimately merging his media empire with Time Warner...........So many of us are surprised to know that Turner is the largest private land owner in the USA with all of his holdings in conservation easements, with his son Beau Turner heading up what is called THE TURNER FOUNDATION--------The Turner Foundation invests in select national and priority state level efforts to conserve wildlife and habitat.................. States with priority consideration include South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Montana, New Mexico, and Alaska............. In addition, the foundation prioritizes the following regions for wildlife and habitat conservation grantmaking------the Southeastern Coastal Plain (specifically GA and SC); the Florida Panhandle and the Red Hills Region of north Florida and southwest Georgia; the Sky Islands region of southwestern NM, southeastern Arizona, and northern Mexico; the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem north to the transboundary Flathead; and south central/southeastern Alaska..........So with all of this in mind, it is truly disheartening to know that the New Mexico Wildlife Commissison has withdrawn state support for Mexican gray wolf recovery work at Turner’s Ladder Ranch, bowing to pressure from Ranchers and other single minded zealots who blame 100 Wolves for all of their financial woes............Humans as the smartest of all in the animal kIngdom????? ......New Mexico starkly reinforces that we humans are perhaps the stupidest in all of creation; not being able to recognize the benefits of how wolves, pumas, bears and other trophic creatures keep our lands healthy, beautiful and majestic----- "I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer"............. "And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades".................... "So also with cows"............. "The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf's job of trimming the herd to fit the range".............. "He has not learned to think like a mountain"........... "Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea."--Aldo Leopold(Thinking like a Mountain)

Billionaire’s Bid to Save Rare Wolves Ends Up on the Brink of Extinction

In New Mexico, state game commissioners unhappy with federal wildlife policies have taken aim at a closer target: a conservation program owned by Ted Turner.

Mexican Gray Wolf
Mexican gray wolf. (Photo: Joel Sartore/Getty Images)
Taylor Hill is TakePart's associate environment and wildlife editor.
Supporters of the endangered Mexican gray wolf on Tuesday in Santa Fe, New Mexico, demanded that state commissioners reverse their recent decision to close down a wolf recovery program.
The program, which operated for 17 years at a New Mexico ranch owned by billionaire media mogul Ted Turner, has successfully released around 100 of the nearly-extinct wolves back into the wild.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has called Ladder Ranch and two other pre-release facilities “integral” to Mexican wolf recovery efforts.
But now Ladder Ranch's part in Mexican gray wolf recovery is itself in danger of disappearing, and its supporters charge that the reason is opposition to any federal policy that seeks the recovery of wolves in the wild.
A controversial vote
On May 7, New Mexico's game and fish commissioners, all appointees of Governor Susanna Martinez, a Republican, withdrew state support for Mexican gray wolf recovery work at Turner’s Ladder Ranch.
For nearly two decades, the New Mexico game and fish commissioner routinely renewed Ladder Ranch’s permit. But this year, the commission raised new objections to the federal government's handling of the wolf's recovery.
“Our biggest issue is that there is no recovery plan in place,” said state game and fish director Alexa Sandoval during the May 7 meeting. “We don’t know what the end game is for the Mexican wolf population. And so at this point, the department is not in support of the Mexican Wolf Program.”
Michael Robinson, a wildlife conservation activist with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, believes the commissioners are more motivated by a “vendetta” against the wolf species than the lack of a federal recovery plan.
“This group is appointed by Gov. (Susana) Martinez, who has put representatives from the Cattle Growers Association—whose primary goal is the eradication of predators—and representatives from Big Game Forever, in favor of removing all wolves from the wild,” Robinson said. Since federal wildlife policies aim “They’re trying to force policy change by depriving managers of the infrastructure they need to manage the wolves.”
The commission has not responded to requests for comment on its decision.
In an editorial, the Albuquerque Journal called the commission’s decision “petty” and “unproductive,” noting that it came despite enthusiastic public support of Ladder Ranch wolf recovery program. “Turner should be allowed to use his property as he wishes in cooperation with the federal government, and the commission shouldn’t flex its self-granted power to punish a private landowner to make a statement,” the paper stated.
The 156,000-acre ranch, set in pine forests in the foothills of New Mexico’s Gila Mountains, provides critical habitat and management for endangered animals such as the black-footed ferret, the bolson tortoise, and the Mexican gray wolf.
A Mexican wolf held at the Turner Endangered Species Funds' Ladder Ranch. (Credit: TESF)
About a half acre of the ranch is reserved for five special pens, where wolves about to be released into the wild are placed. In this “pre-release captive facility,” wolves encounter minimal human contact, and the animals are fed sparingly to acclimate them to life outside captive breeding programs.
“We’re just a very small component of a ship,” said Mike Phillips, executive director of the Turner Ranch Endangered Species Fund, who has worked in wolf recovery for 35 years. “A ship that the commission feels doesn’t have a rudder, so they’ve decided to oppose the ship’s components, too.”
Dozens of different organizations have written to the governor in support of Ladder Ranch's wolf recovery program, said Robinson, but their requests to reverse the commission's decision have gone unacknowledged so far.
Back from the brink
Long hunted to prevent wolf kills of cattle and elk, Mexican gray wolves had almost vanished by the mid-1950s. Once numbering in the thousands in their historical range of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, the population was down to just seven animals by the time the species was given federal endangered species protections in 1976.
The federal government rounded up the seven last wild wolves to begin a captive breeding program, which has increased the Mexican gray wolf's numbers to 250 in captivity among some 55 facilities, including zoos, wildlife centers, and the three special “pre-release” centers that include Ladder Ranch.
Since 1998, when 11 Mexican gray wolves were released into Arizona and New Mexico, the population in the wild has grown to 109.
Still, nearly 40 years after gaining federal protections, the Mexican gray wolf has yet to get a full recovery plan. Federal wildlife officials have set a management “rule,” adjusted in January of this year, that increases the species' roaming area about 10 times from its 1998 level, and sets a goal of 300 to 325 wolves in the region.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has never established a target population that would trigger the end of federal endangered species status, which provided an opening for unsympathetic game commissioners when Ladder Ranch's permit came due for renewal.
“The million dollar question is, how many wolves are enough?” asked commissioner Thomas Salopek at the hearing. “100? 300? Is it going to be 500 or 1,000? I can’t go any further if we don’t have a known number.”
Sherry Barrett, Mexican wolf recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, said that the agency is developing a formal recovery plan, but that no timetable has been set for finishing it.
A cloudy future
Phillips said the future for Mexican gray wolves would be unclear even if Ladder Ranch wasn’t being forced to shut down its program.
The 18 or so free-roaming wolf packs in Arizona and New Mexico are slowly reproducing and reestablishing the species' numbers. Many of the wolves in the wild today were born in the wild, not captivity.
But every Mexican gray wolf alive today is descended from a severe genetic bottleneck formed when the species was down to seven individuals—a “genetic disaster” as Phillips sees it. So pups bred in captivity for release into the wild are crucial to restoring Mexican gray wolves, and any curb to those programs puts the whole species at risk.
“The clock is the Mexican wolves’ enemy,” Phillips told the commission before its controversial vote in early May. “Every generation that passes is a little less genetically robust then it was before the clock started.”
Why You Should Care
Wild wolves are revered by many as symbols of freedom, nature, and true grit. But the need for healthy populations of Mexican gray and other wolf species goes beyond appreciating their good looks and charisma. As apex predators, wolves sit at the top of the food chain, where they're crucial to ecosystem health. Wolf predation helps keep the populations of big herbivores like elk and deer, as well as small animals like mice and rabbits, in balance with the surrounding ecosystem.


If you ask our Founder and Chairman, Ted Turner, what his favorite natural place is - you'll get a response that really hits home.

"It's Planet Earth. The whole place. I've been from the Arctic to the rainforest to the equator to the desert. I've been in over 70 countries. I love this world. I want to see humanity succeed, and learn to live in peace and harmony with the environment and each other." Turner has always been interested in the totality of the planet.
When I was a kid, I read a lot of books about animals in Africa, about butterflies, birds, whales, plants, flowers, trees, everything. The natural world fascinated me.
Ted Turner
In fact Turner believes so emphatically in protecting the environment from further degradation that he views it as no less than, "an effort to ensure the survival of the human species." To that end, the Foundation was created in 1990 and is committed to preventing damage to the natural systems - water, air, and land - on which all life depends.
The Turner Foundation is a family foundation governed by a Board of Trustees, which is made up of Ted Turner and Turner's five children -- Rhett Turner, Laura Turner Seydel, Jennie Turner Garlington, Teddy Turner, and Beau Turner.
Turner Foundation, Inc. has given Ted the opportunity to involve his family and teach them how to become responsible philanthropists and environmentalists. Jennie Turner Garlington, the youngest of the five Turner children describes her experience as "one of the greatest opportunities that any son or daughter can ever hope to have." Garlington's four siblings also share their Dad's passion for environmental causes. "It's allowed me to do some great things," said Beau Turner. "I think Dad thought it was very, very important to start giving money away while he was still around, so he could see what our interest was in all this. And so he could see his children enjoying the giving." Teddy Turner, Ted's oldest son, recalls the first vote the Trustees outvoted Ted on, "we thought it was the end of the world. But he thought it was the greatest thing. I think it was part of the transition he wanted -
Think on your own; do the right thing. Because I'm not always going to be here to tell you what to do.
Ted Turner
When Turner was asked what he wanted the Turner Foundation to do when he's gone, he replied, "I want it to do good, that's all."
The Trustees' passion is not only reflected in their involvement in the Foundation, but also in their personal commitments. Laura Turner Seydel, a strong advocate for environmental and women's issues, is actively involved in a number of environmental organizations and is co-founder of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Chairman of the Captain Planet Foundation and serves on many national boards. Rhett Turner's Emmy-award winning production company Red Sky Productions has produced documentaries for such organizations as The Carter Center, International Crane Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, Yahoo News, and others. Jennie has nurtured her love of media and the environment into an Emmy-award winning show she produces for PBS called Ecosense for Living. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Turner Endangered Species Fund and on the boards of numerous conservation organizations, Beau is committed to inspiring young people to get outdoors and enjoy nature.  He founded the Beau Turner Youth Conservation Center (BTYCC) in Northern Florida which has become a model for outdoor youth centers throughout the state. Teddy is a high school teacher and very active and engaged in education and coastal conservation issues- serving on the Children's Museum of the Low Country and South Carolina Aquarium boards.

Safeguarding Habitat Program
The goal of this program is to protect terrestrial and marine habitats and wildlife critical for the preservation of biodiversity. Focus is placed on protecting functioning ecosystems, including core, intact habitats, buffer zones, and wildlife corridors on both private and public lands. Wildlife communities of interest include far-ranging carnivores, fish, migratory birds, pollinators, and other keystone indicators of ecosystem health. Projects of interest include both ecosystem-based management solutions and local projects that serve as real-world case studies.

The Turner Foundation invests in select national and priority state level efforts to conserve wildlife and habitat. States with priority consideration include South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Montana, New Mexico, and Alaska. In addition, the foundation prioritizes the following regions for wildlife and habitat conservation grantmaking: the Southeastern Coastal Plain (specifically GA and SC); the Florida Panhandle and the Red Hills Region of north Florida and southwest Georgia; the Sky Islands region of southwestern NM, southeastern Arizona, and northern Mexico; the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem north to the transboundary Flathead; and south central/southeastern Alaska.

Internationally, the Turner Foundation supports salmon and marine conservation in the Russian Far East and along the central coast of British Columbia.

Programs and Partners