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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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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Just retired Wyoming Game & Fish biologist Mark Bruscino commenting on the status of largecarnivores in the "Cowboy State"-------"In the 90's our focus was keeping every Grizzly Bear alive".."People did not how to coexist with carnivores".........."I don't think there is a social or legal situation today where you could eradicate any of these species through human persecution"............. "There would be no social backing for eliminating wolves or grizzlies".............."For wildlife agencies, the future challenge will be managing larger numbers of predators and minimizing conflicts"........... "The modern world is a complex place for large carnivores".............. "Managing these animals is easy, managing the controversy is hard"

Biologist reflects on

 changes in wolves, 

grizzlies and lions in Wyoming

Bear 104 wasn't always in trouble – she was almost always in trouble.
She walked through campgrounds and hung out on roadsides near Cody in the early 1990s. Neither was a good place for a grizzly bear.
She inevitably ended up near people despite several relocations. Today, her future would have been uncertain. A grizzly bear isn't generally allowed to walk through campgrounds year after year. But, the early '90s was a different time, said Mark Bruscino, former large carnivore section supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Grizzly bears were on the endangered species list, and their numbers seemed to be dropping. They were hit by cars or killed when they spent too much time around people.
Bear 104 had more cubs than any other grizzly in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. She was critical to boosting numbers.
It fell to grizzly bear managers like Bruscino to keep bears like 104 out of trouble, alive and reproducing. He and other wildlife biologists spent night after night scaring bears away from lodges, pelting them with rubber bullets to keep them off roadways and sometimes running after them on foot in the dark to keep them from Dumpsters.
Barb Franklin, a former wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, remembered a multiday vigil she and Bruscino kept in a popular campground outside of Cody. Bear 104 and her cubs killed a cow elk that had been wounded by a car and dragged it into the crowded campground. The two biologists cleared everyone out, closed the gate and then spent days telling people they couldn't sneak around it to see the bears.
"It was a combination of taking care of the bears and public safety," she said.
That was more than 20 years ago, before bear numbers climbed and petitions moved through the courts to try and remove them from the endangered species list. It was before gray wolves were reintroduced into Wyoming, protected and then removed from the list and mountain lion numbers exploded.
Bruscino retired from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Sunday, after more than 30 years working with Wyoming's largest carnivores. In those years, he witnessed a dramatic shift in the attitude towards large predators, and believes the animals are in a better place now than they've been in a century. Most importantly, some of the conflict and emotion has faded. It leaves more room, some argue, for discussion about the animals' future.
Back from the brink
One of Bruscino's first projects with large carnivores in Wyoming was working with mountains lions in the mid-1980s. The lion population in the southern Big Horn Mountains was growing, and conflicts with domestic sheep increasing.
It was unknown territory. Mountain lion populations, like other large predators, had been cut to low or nonexistent levels. People didn't know how to coexist with the carnivores.
"When the West was settled, carnivores competed with man and caused damage primarily to livestock," Bruscino said.
In an organized campaign that often involved poison, government and private citizens systematically removed most predators in Wyoming. Lion numbers were limited, wolves eradicated. Grizzly bears were on the brink, with maybe as few as 135 living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
With the Endangered Species Act of 1973 came a shift in attitude toward predators. People slowly began seeing them as a valuable natural resource rather than simply a threat to lives and livelihood, Bruscino said.
Some carnivores, including mountain lions, responded to added protections. Others, such as grizzly bears, seemed to be decreasing.
Bruscino started working with grizzlies in the early '90s.
"Our focus at that time was keeping every bear alive," he said.
In addition to scaring bears away from dangerous areas like roads and campgrounds, Bruscino and others also worked with ranchers, outfitters and landowners to bearproof their property.
More bearproof camps, garbage dumps and ranches meant fewer conflicts.
"They did what needed to be done and we turned around the decreasing trend in the number of grizzly bears," Bruscino said. "They had the ability on a daily basis to effect change and they deserve a lot of credit."
Now, at least 600 grizzly bears live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, probably more, he said.
Several years ago, Bruscino went from working on grizzly bear conflicts to managing all large carnivores in Wyoming including the delisting of wolves.
Until the reintroduction in the mid-'90s, a restored wolf population in the Northern Rockies was considered a fantasy, said Suzanne Stone, northern Rockies representative for the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife.
Stone started working with wolves and in wolf conflict management 25 years ago. She remembers a reintroduction process that included death threats, standing-room only meetings and armed guards.
"People think wolves are volatile now," she said. "It's nothing to what it was 20 years ago. People were threatening to shoot each other."
As years passed and wolf numbers and range expanded, opposition seemed to wane. People seemed to realize that wolves only affect a small portion of the population. They also learned wolves could be managed like other species, Stone said.
"We grew up with scary stories, all of us did. The 'Three Little Pigs,' 'Little Red Riding Hood,' they were shrouded in mystery and most of it was negative," she said. "Having wolves here was a way for people to re-establish for themselves the reality of wolves."
Meetings that used to have hundreds of people now have dozens or fewer.
A different future
Stone still worries about the future of wolves in the Rockies. They have come a long way, but far fewer wolves roam the landscape than other big predators.
"It's not so much about numbers as range and integrity of the population," she said.
A lawsuit by Defenders of Wildlife and a handful of other groups is pending to stop Wyoming's management plan.
Bruscino, on the other hand, said the future has never been better for Wyoming's predators.
He watched as each of the species expanded its range and population.
"I don't think there is a social or legal situation today where you could eradicate any of these species through human persecution," he said. "There would be no social backing for eliminating wolves or grizzlies." For wildlife agencies, the future challenge will be managing larger numbers of predators and minimizing conflicts. The modern world is a complex place for large carnivores, Bruscino said. "Managing these animals is easy, managing the controversy is hard."
Reach Open Spaces reporter Christine Peterson at 307-746-3121 or christine.peters

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