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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, December 30, 2012

Published in the most recent COUGAR REWILDING newsletter, Iowa resident Shane Griffin provides us with an informed narrative of the history of Pumas in Iowa and their current status there.......................Thanks to Chris Spatz and his COUGAR REWILDING colleagues for giving me permission to post this note-------a timely follow-up to Noah Sudarsky's MOUNTAIN LIONS IN AMERICA article that we all enjoyed reading over the past week

Mountain Lions in IowaShane Griffin

My love for the outdoors started when I was a child visiting my aunt and uncle at their rural Nevada, Iowa home. Their home was neatly and respectfully tucked into the woods over-looking a small stream shaded in historic oaks and elms. My cousin and I would spend many hours exploring the woodland and tromping through the narrow creek that wound through their property. I remember looking at the animal tracks pressed perfectly into the muddy banks; some raccoon, some skunk or possum and an occasional dog track. I felt at ease in these woods and it was a refreshing change of scenery from the flat cropland landscape where I lived.

My family moved to Colorado when I was in high school where I spent many weekends with my friends and family camping, hiking and enjoying the mountains. There was always talk of the danger of bears and mountain lions, but I never saw either one nor felt threatened. I may have been more attentive to my actions and of the surroundings, but I never felt stalked or hunted by any of these animals.

Eventually, I returned to Iowa, got married, had children, and lived a busy family life. But I still got outside when I found the chance; I raised my children to respect nature and taught them what I could. We would see deer, raccoons, possum, and the occasional coyote, but nothing more than that. I had always thought of the wildlife of Iowa as safe and preserved throughout history, and likewise, I had always thought of Iowans as respectful guardians of the wilderness and conservation. But one event changed how I view my home state and revealed many fallacies of Iowans' view of nature and wilderness; in December 2011, a mountain lion was shot and killed near Blencoe, Iowa. I had heard reports of mountain lions spotted on trail cameras or being shot by hunters before and thought little of it, but the animal shot in Blencoe triggered something within my soul and roused my imagination from its modern day slumber to investigate the behavior of this animal.

History and Ecology

When settlers arrived in the Iowa Territory in 1833 the state was full of wildlife and its prairies and marshes were pristine. Rivers and streams flowed with clear water with an abundance of healthy fish populations that are now completely absent or less abundant from many of our waterways. Large herds of bison swept across the land while dense flocks of passenger pigeons blotted out the sun. Man's impact was near non-existent, but in 1871 when the last of the ninety-nine counties were settled; the territory's population swelled and in just thirty-eight years the population was 1.2 million people. Wildlife management and game laws were not yet established and the new settlers over-hunted, trapped, or drove out most of the large wildlife; most notably bison, elk, bear, wolves, and mountain lions. The prairie was plowed under and many of the wetlands and marshes were drained to make way for crops, forming the grid-like patchwork of farms and roads that we know Iowa to be today. In a short amount of time settlers had destroyed the prairie ecosystem forever.

It is hard to imagine what Iowa looked like in pre-settlement times, but many historians have compared it to the Serengeti of Africa. Many explorers commented on the abundance of game animals and predators; and some of the first settlers described the landscape and the wildlife they observed in their journals and diaries. A Country So Full of Game: The Story of Wildlife in Iowa, by James Dinsmore, discussed the history, ecology and the extirpation of many of Iowa's native wildlife species, including the mountain lion. Dinsmore writes about the various sightings and encounters recorded by the settlers. Settlers viewed mountain lions and other predators as a threat and the animals were shot, poisoned, trapped and wiped out of the state by 1867 when the last recorded mountain lion shooting occurred in Appanoose County. The loss of habitat and prey may have also added to the extirpation of the animal. In the early 1900s, Iowa formed its first game laws and since the mountain lion was previously extirpated from the state it was simply left off of the books. Today, the mountain lion still remains an unprotected animal in the Iowa.

Since that time, many other game species have returned to their original range or were re-introduced by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. For example, white-tailed deer were completely wiped out of the state because of over-hunting, loss of habitat and lack of game laws. White-tailed deer that are hunted today are the descendents of captive herds that escaped and from individual deer that migrated into Iowa from neighboring states. The mountain lions' prey of choice is deer and Iowa's deer population is so abundant that some residents consider deer a pest.

The mountain lion (or cougar, puma, panther and catamount) is a reclusive animal whose historical range covered nearly all of the United States; it had been pushed into the Rocky Mountains where they are less bothered by humans and have adequate habitat. Isolated populations also exist in the Black Hills of South Dakota and in the Pine Ridge area of Nebraska. The mountain lion populations in the west are currently healthy and thriving with an abundance of prey, intact wildlife management practices and game laws of the species, and a society that is more tolerant toward predators.

Biologically, adult male mountain lions are intolerant of other males and fiercely defend their territory. But female mountain lions are more tolerant of other females and their territory tends to overlap. A female mountain lion will give birth to one or two cubs and the cubs will stay with their mother until 18-24 months of age; then are forced out to find their own territory. Young male mountain lions disperse until they find a female or they can take over another male mountain lion territory with females in it. This dispersal of young males is the phenomenon occurring in Iowa and other Midwestern states. Young males will walk up to one hundred miles in one day in search of new territory. They are looking for one or more female mountain lions and an abundance of food and will not stop walking until they find a suitable territory or die from being run over by cars, shot, or disease.

It is likely the dispersing males are following river corridors into Iowa and other states. River and stream corridors are the highways of wildlife and are sparsely habited by humans and largely untouched by agriculture. They are also heavily wooded and provide the cover necessary to conceal mountain lions during their migratory dispersals. Iowa has many rivers and a large deer population aiding in the movement of the young males in search of a mate. Dr. John W. Laundre, in Phantoms of the Prairie, theorizes that historically the mountain lions primary habitat was the cover and concealment of rivers and streams and not the wide-open prairie. Dr. Laundre writes for this reason the mountain lion of the Midwest should be more appropriately called the "river lion".

At this time, there has been no evidence of females among the sightings and killings of the mountain lions in Iowa, thus no evidence of an established breeding population in Iowa; they have all been young males which is typical. These young males may stay for a while, but are simply passing through the state. So it is difficult for the wildlife biologists to accurately account for how many mountain lions are in Iowa at any one time, but one thing is clear is that the mountain lion is naturally migrating into the state.

Sightings in Iowa

In the 1990's the Iowa Department of Natural Resources began to receive reports of mountain lion sightings in western Iowa. The reports became so numerous that in 2001 the Iowa DNR published a fact sheet on mountain lions and issued a press release of the possibility of free-ranging mountain lions in the state. In August 2001, a mountain lion was struck and killed by an automobile in Harlan, Iowa; marking the first confirmed mountain lion in Iowa in 134 years.

Since 2000 there have been around one thousand unconfirmed sightings of mountain lions reported to the DNR. Unconfirmed sighting are reports from public citizens to Iowa DNR that cannot be verified as to whether it is a mountain lion or not because there is no picture proof to show that is what they saw without a doubt. Mistaken identity accounts for approximately 95% of mountain lion reports; citizens are confusing large dog, bobcats, or feral farm cats for mountain lions. The only confirmations the Iowa DNR will accept are original photos or an actual kill of the animal.

In 2011, one mountain lion was confirmed with a trail camera in Clinton County, one was shot and killed in Monona County, and a third was shot and killed one mile north of the Iowa border in Minnesota near Dickinson County. More recently, on October 4, 2012, a young male mountain lion was shot in a residential neighborhood in Des Moines.
This represents a dilemma in the state as this animal returns to its old territory. Fear and wonder abound in Iowans' minds as this elusive creature lurks in what woodlands remain in the state and the issue of protection for this animal remains unrealized. In order for this animal to be protected the Iowa legislature has to legally list the mountain lion as a game animal. Iowans are split on the issue whether to protect this animal or to be able to shoot this animal on sight to prevent it from re-claiming its historical habitat possibly posing a threat to human safety or livestock depredation. Vince Evelsizer, Iowa DNR's Furbearer Biologist, states that "time will tell whether the mountain lion re-establishes itself in the state or not, but there is clear evidence from DNA testing on the few animals that have been killed in Iowa that they are capable of moving long distances into our state from areas like the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Rocky Mountain West, or even from a smaller established population in Nebraska." To allow the animal to migrate to, and establish a breeding population in some of its former range, like Iowa, the animal needs protection and to do so would mean that the Iowa legislature would have to recognize the presence of the animal in the state and legally term the animal "a wildlife species of Iowa." This is easier said than done. Evelsizer states that, "it is up to the people of Iowa and out Legislature to decide this together collectively whether or not they should have this protection, not the Iowa DNR. However, we would provide technical information when asked during this process. Our role would then be to manage them responsibly as we do with other wildlife and we would do this."

Can We Coexist?

Two legislative efforts have been made to place the mountain lion in the Iowa code as designated wildlife, but in an agricultural state like Iowa, the issue became political and the measure failed both times. Without a doubt the biggest opponent of legal protection for the mountain lion is agricultural interest groups. In the early days of settlement, people killed predators indiscriminately to protect their livestock and themselves. The Iowa Cattlemen's Association has a policy that reads, "The Iowa Cattlemen's Association will oppose all attempts to give legal protection to mountain lions, wolves, and bears to protect the interests of the cattle industry and human population." The public has fears of a mountain lion population re-establishing itself in Iowa. The biggest fear is an attack on humans. The last reported mountain lion fatality in the United States was in 2008 in New Mexico. Mountain lions are elusive and tend to leave humans alone. Evelsizer says, "The wild card though is if there is a case of a captive-reared mountain lion that had been illegally released the animal may not be afraid of humans and may present a safety issue or the possibility of a close encounter with a mountain lion." Other concerns of the public may be attacks on pets as mountain lions prey mostly on deer, but they are opportunistic hunters and may take smaller prey, such as raccoons, possum, dogs, cats, and birds. Beyond these concerns the presence of a mountain lion elicit paranoia in the public mind as they may develop a fear of the outdoors.

The Rocky Mountain States have coexisted with mountain lions during and since settlement. If there was a problem with the animal why haven't they eliminated it? Because the humans and the mountain lions have found a way to coexist with little friction and in California there is a ban on mountain lion hunting. California wildlife biologist, Rick Hopkins, makes the argument that "California has the highest human population density and the largest population of mountain lions and yet there have only been thirteen attacks on humans by mountain lions since 1986 and only three resulted in fatalities; during that same time there have been over one hundred humans killed by domestic dogs; and in all of North America there are only one to two documented attacks on humans annually."

Nebraska's Experience

In neighboring Nebraska, the mountain lion had been extirpated and sightings began to occur about the same time as in Iowa; carcasses of killed mountain lions and scat DNA samples that were collected were that of dispersing males. Because of the state's closer proximity to the western states, there were more sightings than in Iowa prompting some action among lawmakers. In 1995, Nebraska legislators voted unanimously to list the mountain lion as a game animal. Legislative Bill 529 gave protection to mountain lion, bear and moose. This designation currently protects the mountain lion with no hunting season. However, farmers and ranchers can legally shoot the animal if it is considered to be threatening livestock. Since this legislation was enacted evidence of a female mountain lion was found in the Pine Ridge area in northwest Nebraska, and in 2006, a female mountain lion and her cubs were camera-trapped in the Pine Ridge area, giving proof to game officials that mountain lions had re-established themselves in the state. Today, "there is an estimate of nineteen mountain lions in the Pine Ridge area and there are still dispersing males throughout the state and their number are hard to collect information for," says Sam Wilson the Furbearer and Carnivore Program Manager of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

There are some differences between Iowa and Nebraska in terms of landscape and population density; however, there are also numerous similarities. Nebraska consists mostly of private land and both states share an agriculturally centered economy. Nebraska has more ranch land and open-grazing livestock which would seem to be easy targets for mountain lions, but the majority of livestock kills are the result of coyotes on smaller livestock such as calves, sheep, goats, and poultry. Western Nebraska is sparsely populated with only twenty-five percent of the state's 1.8 million people living west of Lincoln. Clearly, the legal protection of the animal was the key ingredient to its re-establishment back into Nebraska.

A Challenge for the Future

For the mountain lion to become re-established in Iowa legal action must take place to protect the animal. We must not forget the mountain lion was native to Iowa and other Midwestern and Eastern states and that the animal is simply following a natural dispersal pattern. If mountain lions were to establish a population it may be similar to what Nebraska has experienced. There are some differences between Nebraska and Iowa in terms of landscape and population distribution, but there are some wild parts to Iowa that are thinly populated which could sustain a population.

Mountain lions need large tracts of uninterrupted land to establish a permanent population. The ideal habitat for mountain lions could be on either side of the state along the Missouri and the Mississippi River valleys. Yellow River State Forest in northeast Iowa is the largest state park at 8,000 acres and could sustain several cats. Iowa's Loess Hills in western Iowa would provide enough protected land for mountain lions to gain a foothold and to hopefully hang on. The Iowa DNR reintroduced bison to this area and although the herd is closely managed it is reported to be sustaining. Southern Iowa also contains some areas of habitat that could also be suitable. But humans like the way things are and often resist change. Humans have a drive to dominate the landscape and wildlife and to squeeze out from everything some purpose to fill a need within ourselves, our economy, and society as a whole.

Because of the elusiveness of the animal it is still difficult to know for sure how many there are in Iowa at any one time. Any attempts to study the animal are thwarted by the simple omission from Iowa's Code from laying out the first game laws allowing anybody to shoot the animal without fear of legal action. We are a different people today than in the settlement days. I would like to think we are more intelligent and understanding than our ancestors of the world around us and the impact we have on fragile ecosystems. The return of the mountain lion represents an ecological healing process that is occurring naturally without the meddling hand of man and the mountain lion has every right to be here in this state with us. The restoration of a small part of what our ancestors have lost, and we have never known, is requesting permission to re-enter its natural habitat and co-exist with the rest of us--the "wild" is coming back to the wilderness of Iowa. My hope for the future is that one day I can walk on that small creek, in the shadow of my aunt and uncle's house, and show my children the paw print of a mountain lion alongside the other prints of Iowa's wildlife.

Despite the increase in killing of Pumas in the Black Hills of South Dakota(the easternmost region where Pumas are breeding), sightings continue to pop up throughout the midwest of male cats seeking out new territories and females.................December 12 recorded such a migrating Puma in Dekalb County, Missouri............Confirmed by the Missouri Dept. of Conservation, this Puma is protected by State law unless it threatens humans(who can kill the cat if it is perceived to be a threat to life or property)

Photo Confirms Mountain Lion in Dekalb County, Missouri
By Joe Jerek ;

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has confirmed a photograph of a mountain lion taken Dec. 12 by a trail camera on private land in DeKalb County.DeKalb County, MO - infoZine - According to MDC's Mountain Lion Response Team, widely scattered mountain-lion sightings have been confirmed in Missouri and likely will continue. Some sightings or photographs of mountain lions may be of the same animal, but MDC cannot confirm individual animals without DNA evidence. Evidence to date indicates these mountain lions are dispersing from other states to the west of Missouri. The most extreme evidence of this dispersal occurred in early 2011 when a mountain lion that was killed in Connecticut was genetically traced to South Dakota. MDC has no confirmed evidence of a breeding population in Missouri.

MDC receives many reports each year from people who believe they have seen mountain lions and encourage these reports. MDC can only confirm those for which there is physical evidence.

Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation
Reports of sightings can be emailed to

Mountain lions are naturally shy of humans and generally pose little danger to people, even in states with thriving breeding populations. Although mountain lions are protected by law, Missouri's Wildlife Code, it does allow people to protect themselves and their property if they feel threatened.

As discussed on this blog continually, the Moose population across North America has been fighting a three prong battle against the impacts of golbal warming, winter tick and deer brain worm infestations--------all three adversely impacting the Moose's abiilty to forage successfully ,,,,and to defend itself against its natural predator--the Wolf(where Wolves still exist).................These variables have become acute for the Moose in the Great Lakes region and this has caused the Minnesota Dept. of Resourcs to designate the Moose as a SPECIES OF CONCERN................quite frankly, perhaps not a strong enough precautionary measure as THREATENED OR ENDANGERED which would prohibit us from hunting the creature.................SPECIES OF CONCERN designation simply saids that the DNR will monitor the population further, keeping its eye on whether to do something more for their welfare................Without a kneejerk call to kill more wolves(that is already underway as you all know), the weapons of choice to slow the Moose decline(in my opinion) comes down to expanding the wolf population and reintroducing pumas----and allowing both to do their job of preying on deer.,,,,,expanding the hunting seasons for deer,,,,,,,,,as well as a closing of the Moose hunting season......................Other means may include.closing as many backcountry roads as possible and rerforesting them so as to keep deer(and wolves) from encroaching further into Moose habitat....................Your thoughts please??????

Our view: Moose protection makes much sense

Yes, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is proposing adding the majestic but embattled moose to the state's official endangered species list along with 66 other animals on the decline. But the moose wouldn't be added as "threatened" or "endangered," either of which surely wouldjeopardize the future of Minnesota's once-in-a-lifetime moose hunts. Rather, under the proposal, the moose would be listed as an "official species of concern."

And that'd actually be a very welcome designation, given the moose's dramatic and concerning years-long decline in numbers and a desire among Minnesotans to save the creature for future generations. The action, which can be finalized in the new year, means the DNR finally is "paying attention to what's going on. It's an official heads-up that something is wrong, even if (the moose) aren't endangered yet,'' explained Ron Moen, a wildlife biologist studying moose at the Natural Resources Research Institute of the University of Minnesota Duluth, in a News Tribune report this month.

white tail deer

The DNR begins state protection efforts with the "species of concern" designation and then moves to "threatened" if an animal, insect or plant faces seriousissues. The status can be changed to "endangered" if a species faces potential extirpation, the News Tribune's John Myers reported.

wolf with deer fawn

"The best metaphor I can think of is that this list is an emergency room at a hospital. We bring species onto the list to give them the attention and the management and the healing they need so they can someday get off the list,'' Rich Baker, the DNR's endangered-species coordinator, told Myers. "It's worked well with species like the wolf and the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle. Now we need to give that attention to a lot of other species."

puma seeking deer

Including, most prominently this go-around, the moose, an icon of our state and our north-woods culture and way of life. May the long-legged, long-eared critter get the attention it needs so its numbers can rebound.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Wyoming Game & Fish has a 4 year research study underway to determine the migration habits of Mule Deer............Are they using highway underpasses multiple times during the same migration period?........... Understanding how the deer use these culverts will help keep a more accurate count of the population.............. The project will also help gauge how effective the underpasses are and aid in collecting data to manage the population and figure out where the deer migrate

Trapping and tagging: Data helps biologists understand deer migration;Nichole Ballard

Local sportsmen, students and game wardens joined wildlife biologists in an effort to better understand populations of mule deer.

Wildlife biologist Tony Mong with Wyoming Game and Fish is leading an effort to trap and mark deer using the wildlife underpass five miles north of Baggs on Highway 789. "We know that the underpass is working," Mong said. "We see lots of animals going through the underpass, but we want to dig a little deeper."
The project began last year and is expected to continue for the next four years, Mong said.
"Over the next four years crews will be trapping up to 100 deer per year and attaching the traditional 'visual' ear tags and, on a subset of deer, a 'visual' white collar to make sure we achieve a viable mark-resight sample size," a press release stated.

Deer are baited with apple pulp while a crew hides in a blind and waits to release an electro-magnetic operated net on nearby mule deer, according to the press release.

Wyoming Game and Fish are tracking the deer to figure out if they are using the underpass multiple times during the same migration period, Mong said. Understanding how the deer use the underpass will help keep a more accurate count of the population. The project will also help gage how effective the underpass is and aid in collecting data to manage the population and figure out where the deer migrate, he said.

The project has already given insight into local deer herds, Mong said. Deer have been found to migrate as far as 40 miles, from Baggs to Rawlins — a long range for deer to travel.
Several different methods of tracking the population exist, Mong said. The more information that is collected will contribute to more accurate estimates.

"It goes above and beyond what we're doing already," Mong said. "It gives us better data. If we get better data, it allows us to make better decisions and have more information for the public."
The deer-tagging project will start November 2013. Those wanting to volunteer should be on the lookout for more information at the end of 2013.

Kudos to BOSTON MAGAZINE FOR making cool, calm and collected statements on how to coexist wth Coyotes----- "January typically marks the beginning of mating season for coyotes, a period when they start establishing their territory and make themselves more visible to us than usual"............. "But more sightings(10,000 coyotes call Massachusetts home during the summer months) don't necessarily mean an invasion is under way"........."The good news is that we don't need to be afraid of coyotes—although we do need to think twice about letting our pets roam free during the winter months, when coyotes are hungriest"............"John Maguranis, the animal-control officer in Belmont Mass, recommends approaching Coyotes quickly, maintaining eye contact, and affecting a threatening posture"............ "In other words, wave your arms, shout, and carry on like a madman"

Howl: Mating Season Brings Coyotes to Boston    

What is wrong with our USFW Agency?............They always seem to do things that are diametically opposed to each other.................Restore Mexican Wolves on the one hand(supposedly),,,,,,,,,,,,,,,and then issue an order to trap any incoming Wolves from Mexico or the Rocky Mtns that happen to wander into New Mexico and Arizona...............Are we keeping "zoos" where we restore wildlife populations,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,or are we trying to restore a truly wild footprint to our wildlands?????............Should we not want the genetic variability that incoming Wolves can provide to the 50 Mexican Wolves exisitng in the wild?????...... We cheer THE CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY as they file suit against the USFW insanity..............Let the Wolves come and go as they please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Lawsuit Launched to Challenge Feds' Capture of Endangered Wolves
That Enter Arizona or New Mexico

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency's decision to grant itself a "recovery permit" to live-capture endangered wolves that may enter New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico or the Rocky Mountains. Mexico recently released nine Mexican gray wolves near the U.S. border in the Sierra Madre, and wolves from the northern Rocky Mountains could make their way south at any time.

"It's fantastic that Mexico's working to restore wolves to its northern wilds," said Michael Robinson, the Center's wolf specialist. "And of course, these wolves in northern Mexico don't recognize political boundaries. If they're able to set up a home range that crosses the border, it would be tragic and wrong for Fish and Wildlife officials to then capture them and snatch them out of that home."
gray wolf with pups

Captured wolves will be placed into the captive-breeding program, returned to where they came from, or relocated into the Mexican wolf recovery area. Right now the only Mexican wolves in the two states are in the "Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area," an area between Interstate 40 and Interstate 10 where wolves are considered an experimental, non-essential population and therefore enjoy fewer safeguards. But any wolves entering from Mexico or the north will be fully endangered. The Center's notice argues that Fish and Wildlife failed to give the public an opportunity to comment, conduct an environmental review, or show that capturing wolves would enhance the recovery of wolves.
"Without any review or public notice, the Fish and Wildlife Service has given itself autocratic authority to capture fully endangered wolves," said Robinson. "Taking wolves out of perfectly good habitat makes no sense. We need to recover wolves to the Sierra Madre and Sky Islands, as well as the mountains of northern New Mexico."

mexican wolf

Over the past month, the Center has filed two other lawsuits against the Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of the Mexican wolf — one to compel reform of the stalled reintroduction program in the United States and another to give protection to the Mexican wolf as a subspecies, or distinct population, of the more widespread gray wolf, deserving of its own, modern recovery plan.

The Mexican gray wolf is the smallest, most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America, and the most imperiled. Trapping and poisoning by the Fish and Wildlife Service, in both the United States and Mexico, prior to the 1973 passage of the Endangered Species Act reduced Mexican wolves to just seven remaining animals. These were caught alive and bred in captivity, enabling future reintroduction efforts in the two countries.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

As many of you know, the 100 Mexican Wolf target set for achievement in 2006 in Arizona and New Mexico has hovered at about 50% of that level for years.................In 2001, the USFW Agency convened a panel of highly respected scientists to evaluate the program. These scientists called for urgent reforms "immediately," including releasing wolves into the 3.3 million-acre Gila National Forest, which is currently prohibited, and allowing wolves to live outside the recovery area, as well as requiring livestock owners to remove or render inedible (as by lime) the carcasses of non-wolf-killed cattle and horses.............More than 10 years have passed, yet none of these reforms have been enacted..............Accordingly, that's why Mexian Wolves.Org has filed suit against the government to compel the implementation of the 2001 scientific recommendations---------You can assist in getting the Government to expand habitat and wolf genes by following the suggestions at the bottom of this Post

We Can Still Save Mexican Gray Wolf

Op-ed, Santa Fe New Mexican, December 15, 2012 --by


For millennia, the Mexican gray wolf served as an engine of natural evolution on the Southwestern landscape, helping keep deer alert, providing carrion for scavenging animals such as bears, eagles and badgers, and discouraging elk from lingering to graze stream-side trees, providing habitat for songbirds, beavers and fish.

Our arid ecosystem shaped our native wolf into the smallest of the gray wolf subspecies in North America, an animal that preyed on the diminutive Coues whitetail deer, and that is the most genetically distinct gray wolf on our continent, and the rarest.

In 1998, the U.S. government reversed course from decades of trapping and poisoning that had eliminated Mexican wolves from the wild and reintroduced a small number of wolves to the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area and set a goal of having at least 100 wolves in the wild by 2006. Unfortunately, this goal has not been met and the population has continued to struggle, not for lack of tenacity on the part of the wolves, but because of polices by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that are badly in need of reform.

Almost 15 years after the first Mexican wolves were reintroduced, a mere 58 wolves live in the wild, leading to inbreeding that researchers suggest may be lowering litter sizes and depressing pup-survival rates.

Wolf numbers have not thrived in part because the Fish and Wildlife Service as a matter of policy has aggressively captured wolves that leave the recovery area and thereby constrained natural growth of the population. The agency has also shot many wolves for preying on livestock, even in cases where ranchers have not done their part to protect their stock by, among other things, removing dead livestock that attract wolves.

In total, the agency has had 12 wolves shot, 35 captured and never released, and accidentally killed 18 wolves it meant to secure alive.

In 2001, the agency convened a panel of highly respected scientists to evaluate the program. These scientists called for urgent reforms "immediately," including releasing wolves into the 3.3 million-acre Gila National Forest, which is currently prohibited, and allowing wolves to live outside the recovery area, as well as requiring livestock owners to remove or render inedible (as by lime) the carcasses of non-wolf-killed cattle and horses.

More than 10 years have passed, yet none of these reforms have been enacted. That's why the conservation group I work for filed suit against the government last month to compel the implementation of the 2001 scientific recommendations.

It is our hope that with implementation of these recommendations, the Mexican wolf can still be saved. The first thing that needs to happen, even before policies are changed, is that Fish and Wildlife needs to use its existing authority to release more captive wolves into the wild, which has not occurred in four years. That would begin to address the Mexican wolf's genetic crisis and give us hope of restoring the wolf's natural role to the Southwest.

In the long run, we hope the Fish and Wildlife Service will take steps to allow Mexican wolves to recolonize a larger area of their former range and serve their important role in shaping Southwest's ecosystems, as well as thrill those who are fortunate enough to hear their mournful howls or see one of these magnificent animals in the wild.

Michael Robinson is a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity in Silver City and author of Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West. (University Press of Colorado)
This Op-Ed ran in Santa Fe New Mexican on December 15, 2012.

Please submit a letter to the Editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican.


Below are a few suggestions for ensuring your message gets through clearly-your letter will be most effective if you focus on a few key points, so don't try to use all of these. If you need additional help or want someone to review your letter before you send it, email it to

Start by thanking paper for publishing this article. This makes your letter immediately relevant and increases its chances of being published.

Convey how important new releases of wolves into the wild are to increase the population's numbers and genetic health, especially now.

Remind readers that, at last count, just 58 wolves, including six breeding pairs, survived in the wild. The wild population is extremely small and vulnerable to threats such as disease, inbreeding, or natural events. The USFWS should end the freeze on new releases of captive wolves into the wild.

State that the USFWS needs to change the rule that prohibits releasing wolves into New Mexico if they have not previously lived in the wild. The USFWS has for years been sitting on the Environmental Assessment that would make changing this problematic rule possible. Allowing direct releases in New Mexico will give wildlife managers the flexibility to get more wolves on the ground, regardless of unexpected events like forest fires. It will allow them to choose the best places for releases to succeed. And it will give these important animals a much better chance at recovery.

Advocate for a new, science-based recovery plan to replace the outdated 1982 plan; the US Fish and Wildlife Service should be doing all in its power to expedite release of a draft plan based on the work of the scientific subcommittee. Development of a new recovery plan that will address decreased genetic health and ensure long-term resiliency in Mexican wolf populations must move forward without delay.

Inform readers that obstruction by anti-wolf special interests and politics has kept this small population of unique and critically endangered wolves at the brink of extinction for too long and can no longer be allowed to do so.

Say that to reduce livestock-wolf conflicts livestock owners should be required to remove dead livestock from public lands or render the carcasses inedible (by applying lime). Dead livestock left lying around on the landscape can lead wolves to become habituated to domestic meat.

Tell readers why you support wolves and stress that the majority of New Mexico and Arizona voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction. Polling showed 69% support in New Mexico and 77% support in Arizona.

Talk about your personal connection to wolves and why the issue is important to you. If you're a grandmother wanting your grandchildren to have the opportunity to hear wolves in the wild, or a hunter who recognizes that wolves make game herds healthier, or a businessperson who knows that wolves have brought millions in ecotourism dollars to Yellowstone, say so.

Describe the ecological benefits of wolves to entire ecosystems and all wildlife. Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.

Keep your letter brief, between 150-300 words.

Provide your name, address, occupation, and phone number; your full address, occupation, and phone number will not be published, but they are required in order to have your letter published.

Please send us a copy at as well to help us track actions being taken for the wolves.

Thank you for taking the time to write a letter on behalf of these important animals who cannot speak for themselves!

As the Ice melts up North, more and more species are bound to be designated by the USFW Agency as "Threatened and Endangered"-----Last week the Ringed and Beareded Seals joined the "threatened list".........Of course, the all knowing Governor Parnell of Alaska protested the move by the science community as his financial political backing hinges on the largess of the Extraction Industries..................Melting snows inhibit the ability of the Ringed Seals to build snow caves to raise their young(similar to the problem that Wolverines have in raising their brood inland) and Beareded Seals need ice packs to last into the Spring so that their young can successfully mature and live on their own

More species struggling because of drastic loss of sea ice
2 seals join polar bears on endangered list
A ringed seal looks out of a snow cave on the ice off of Barrow, Alaska. (Credit: AP)
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Two types of ice seals joined polar bears on Friday on the list of species threatened by the loss of sea ice, which scientists say reached record low levels this year due to climate warming.

Ringed seals, the main prey of polar bears, and bearded seals in the Arctic Ocean will be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced.
A species is threatened if it's likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout a significant portion of its range.The listing of the seals came after federal scientists did an extensive review of scientific and commercial data. It has no effect on subsistence hunting by Alaska Natives.
"They concluded that a significant decrease in sea ice is probable later this century, and that these changes will likely cause these seal populations to decline," said Jon Kurland, protected resources director for NOAA Fisheries' Alaska region.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell late Friday called the science behind the decision speculative and said the state will consider legal action. The state unsuccessfully challenged the polar bear listing.
Millions of ringed seals and hundreds of thousands of bearded seals can be found off, Parnell said in a prepared statement. "The ESA was not enacted to protect healthy animal populations," Parnell said. "Despite this fact, the NMFS continues the federal government's misguided policy to list healthy species based mostly on speculated impacts from future climate change, adding additional regulatory burdens and costs upon the State of Alaska and its communities."

Ringed seals are the only seals that thrive in completely ice-covered Arctic waters. They use stout claws to dig and maintain breathing holes. When snow covers those holes, females excavate and make snow caves, where they give birth to pups that cannot survive in ice-cold water and are susceptible to freezing until they grow a blubber layer.Hungry polar bears often catch breeding females or pups by collapsing lairs.Decreased snowfall, or rain falling on lairs instead of snow, is a threat to seal survival, the agency said.

Bearded seals, named for their thick whiskers, give birth and rear pups on drifting pack ice over shallow water where prey such as crab is abundant. When females give birth, they need ice to last long enough in the spring and early summer to successfully reproduce and molt. The projected retreat of sea ice from shallow shelves decreases food availability, the listing petition said.

Bearded Seal

The listing is a major victory in efforts to save the animals because of the additional protections provided under the Endangered Species Act, said Shaye Wolf of the Center for Biological Diversity, who wrote the petition leading to the listing consideration."The seals need all the help that they can get," she said by phone from San Francisco.The development, however, is bittersweet, she said. While the Obama administration has acknowledged the threat, not enough is being done to limit greenhouse gas pollution behind the loss of sea ice, she said.

The NOAA Fisheries decision affects four subspecies of ringed seals around the world. Arctic Ocean seals off Alaska's coast and seals on the Okhotsk and Baltic seas were listed as threatened. A subspecies in Lake Ladoga in northwest Russia was listed as endangered.The listing covered two subspecies of bearded seals: the Beringia population, which includes Alaska, and bearded seals in the Sea of Okhotsk.

Designation of critical habitat for the seals will be considered later. The agency said the listing decision will not mean any immediate restrictions on human activities.It does mean that federal agencies that issue permits or pay for projects that might affect a threatened species must consult with NOAA Fisheries to make sure activities do not jeopardize the animals.

One step off of the top of the charts for Grizzlies,(The Kodiak Griz sets the standard for size), the Coastal Griz can top 700 pounds and stand over 6 feet tall...............Salmon is truly a "species of interest and impact" allowing the Coastal and Kodiak to feast on a protein source that just is not available to inland Grizzlies...............19 beautiful photos of this immense Bear for your viewing pleasure!

Coastal grizzly bears enjoy the salmon run
These bears are big for a reason: they eat a lot. Check out these photos captured in the summer, when salmon swim up river to their spawning grounds and brown bears enjoy the biggest feast of the year.

Jaymi Heimbuch;

grizzly bear in stream
All photos: Jaymi Heimbuch
Massive. Powerful. Fast.
The coastal grizzly bear of Alaska is one of the largest subspecies of brown bear with males growing to more than 700 pounds and standing more than 6 feet tall. The only subspecies that grows larger is the famed Kodiak bear. The secret to the size of coastal brown bears is fairly simple: they eat — a lot. With an incredible sense of smell and a broad diet, coastal grizzlies can feast on anything from grasses and berries to clams and salmon, their most famous food source. Salmon is a protein and fat source that grizzlies living farther inland don't have access to, which means they can't grow as large as their cousins living along the ocean's edge.
During the late summer, as salmon are coming in from the sea and swimming up rivers to spawning grounds, coastal grizzlies enjoy the biggest feast of the year. Splashing through rivers chasing fish, coastal grizzlies gorge on salmon to store up as much fat for winter as possible. This is one of the best times of year for these bears, and witnessing their feasts (and food comas) is quite the experience. Enjoy these images of coastal grizzly bears in the middle of the salmon runs in Alaska's Katmai National Park.
grizzly on river bank
Coastal grizzly with mountains in background
coastal grizzly with salmon in mouth
coastal grizzly close-up
coastal grizzly in the river waves with salmon
grizzly gallops through water
grizzly sleeps after feeding
bear looks into the camera
grizzly eats a salmon
grizzly snoozes with bird in foreground
grizzly walks
wet grizzly bear in profile
grizzly bear in the grass
grizzly bear snoozes in the sand
grizzly scratches its ear with back paw
wet grizzly gallops
Long view of two grizzly bears
grizzly bear seen from behind with mountains in background

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Western Arctic Caribou Herd in Alaska has drastically shrunk from 500,000 in 2003 to 300,000 today.............The herd's ecological importance is incredible................. It affects the entire food chain, all the way from bacteria to the biggest predators, such as wolves and brown bears.......... They affect the vegetation not just by what they remove with their lips by but trampling............. They not only remove nutrients and energy from the environment, but contribute back towards the whole cycle with their feces and urine................. They shed antlers and eventually their bodies and skeletons after death..........Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game Caribou Biologist Jim Dau saids the folloiwng about what he believes to be the key reason for the 40% decline in the herd------In the last six, eight, ten years, we've had more rain on snow events than we used to............. We've had more moisture fall, and it's created icing conditions that seal the food (under the ice)............ There's food down there, but either the caribou can't get to it, or when they finally do get to it, they've expended more energy getting there than they get out of it.............. I think that is what tipped the balance and started this herd going down......Warming weather brings ice instead of snow............Wolves and Brown Bears take advantage of the weakended herd...............

Where's Rudolph? Inside the Decline of Alaska's Caribou

The antlered herd's population is declining – what's going on in the Alaskan wilderness?

By Molly Loomis; 
(© Martin Smart / Alamy)

As Christmas approaches, young eyes will be focused on the sky searching for a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer—or are they caribou? The differences between the two are mostly taxonomic—both are subspecies of Rangifer tarandus, but Jim Dau of Alaska's Department of Fish and Game is quite familiar with the subtleties of the antlered cousins.
Dau studies the Western Arctic caribou herd, among the largest in the world at 300,000 strong, that ranges over an area about 143,000 square miles in northwestern Alaska. While those figures might sound impressive, the caribou population has been steadily declining since 2003, when the herd peaked at nearly half a million. The decline is a source of concern for biologists studying the trend's effects on the food chain, as well as for the more than 40 native villages that rely on the animals for food and as a cultural centerpiece.

The herd's calving grounds are located within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, also home to North America's largest coal deposit. Currently, the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the NPR-A, is in the last stages of finalizing the NPR-A's new management plan—a document that will be instrumental in dictating the future of the Western Arctic caribou and to what degree energy development might infringe on the caribou's turf.
Dau has spent the last 25 years living in remote Arctic villages in order to study the regal beasts.

The Western Arctic Caribou herd's annual migration may not be as famous as the reindeers' mythical trip on Christmas Eve, but it's amazing in its own right.
During the fall migration caribou are often spread throughout most of their range. For the Western Arctic Caribou Herd this encompasses about 143,000 square miles. An individual caribou from this herd may migrate 300 to 500 straight-line miles from the beginning to the end of its migration. Of course, caribou don't move in straight lines, for more than several seconds anyway, and an individual may travel several times that distance during the course of a migration as it searches for food, evades predators and seeks out other caribou.

In two different years, during the height of the fall migration, I've watched as the entire herd stopped. Not for four or six hours but for two to three weeks. Then, within a several-day period, they resumed the fall migration. They must have keyed off some large stimuli, such as weather. But I don't think it was just that because their halt and resumption of travel were so synchronous. It seemed like caribou that were separated by tens of miles and large geographic features, such as mountains, were somehow aware of each other's movements. I don't know how they could do that, but I suspect we grossly underestimate the sensory capabilities of caribou.

Rut happens during the fall migration, which is really an exciting time. Group sizes tend to get a little bigger during rut, and bulls become totally obnoxious chasing cows, other bulls; they pose to show off their antlers and grunt continually. It's the only time of year that bulls vocalize.
In the spring, pregnant cows start migrating north about three weeks ahead of the bulls, and it's pretty much a steady plod with these big long lines written out in the snow. It's just beautiful to see these almost serpentine trails weaving out over the hills and mountains.

The Western Arctic Herd is the largest in the United States—aside from bragging rights, what's the significance?

The herd's ecological importance is incredible. It affects the entire food chain, all the way from bacteria to the biggest predators, such as wolves and brown bears. They affect the vegetation not just by what they remove with their lips by but trampling. They not only remove nutrients and energy from the environment, but contribute back towards the whole cycle with their feces and urine. They shed antlers and eventually their bodies and skeletons after death.
 They're also incredibly important to people. The Inupiaq people have subsisted on marine mammals and terrestrial mammals, like caribou, for thousands and thousands of years, but it's more than just a source of protein for them. Caribou are really central to their cultural identities and many of their customs, such as the development of extensive social networks for sharing subsistence food that go along with hunting and using caribou.
They're also incredibly important to the commercial operators who transport hunters, hikers or floaters, the people who come up here from the Lower 48. Regardless of where people live or why they visit remote portions of Alaska, an opportunity to see thousands or even tens of thousands of caribou in a one to two week period is truly memorable.

What's to blame for the herd's declining numbers?
I've lived here and been a biologist for 25 years; I fly up to 600 hours a year looking at caribou and I talk to literally hundreds and hundreds of people, asking them the same question you just asked me. I don't have any hard data to tell you.

Here is what I think is going on. In the last six, eight, ten years, we've had more rain on snow events than we used to. We've had more moisture fall, and it's created icing conditions that seal the food. There's food down there, but either the caribou can't get to it, or when they finally do get to it, they've expended more energy getting there than they get out of it. I think that is what tipped the balance and started this herd going down.

I can also tell you I've seen more wolves in the last three to five years than I ever have, and brown bear numbers seem to be going up. That's what virtually every villager I talk to tells me as well.

If caribou numbers continue to decline, how will this look from a biological perspective?

The decline of this herd will have a ripple effect that will be felt by virtually all animals, species and all the people that use them. Some years some villages have had a really tough time getting caribou. They don't sit at home waiting for caribou, they a take moose instead. So there's a shift by people towards other animals they can eat. Predators are the same way.

These oscillations are absolutely natural. Part of me wonders if it may be necessary for caribou habitat to be able to enjoy periods of time when caribou numbers are low so that they can kind of rejuvenate too.

After three decades studying the Western Arctic herd what keeps you interested?
You hear this in all walks of life—the more you know the more you realize you don't know—especially now when there are so many more tools available to analyze data.
But, what really keeps me most interested isn't in the office. It's out in the weeds; it's out in the country. What floats my boat is to be out looking at the land, looking at the caribou and all the other animals that share that country with them.


Hard to fathom that with annual average temperatures seemingly up 3 or more degrees from the 100 year average that the snow brought on by Hurricane Sandy would cause early denning for Black Bears in West Virginia..............Early snows that bury acorns and beechnuts for sustained periods will cause Bears to go to den early-----but lately such early snows tend to melt quickly with weather warmups that instead can keep Bears in the woods longer, forestalling denning

Metro News: The Voice of West Virginia

Early Denning of Black Bears
Chris Lawrence;


Hurricane Sandy's punch to West Virginia in the form of snow has brought a harsh taste of early winter to the West Virginia mountains.  The snowfall arrives well over a month ahead of the bear hunting season for houndsmen in the state.
Typically a snowfall the size of Sandy's Blizzard would spell trouble for bear hunters in the state's high mountains.  The mast buried under the deep snow would tend to drive the bears into hibernation.  The question on the minds of hunters now is how that will impact bears by happening this early.
"The big thing we're concerned about is just duration," said DNR District Biologist Rob Sylvester. "If this is really the beginning of a long, cold winter and we have a lot of snow then yeah, you may see some bears denning early.  But if this storm breaks up and it kind of clears up and we see the ground again, it may not be as bad as some people think."
Bears are driving into hibernation by the lack of food and not necessarily by the snowfall.  The first to go to den will be the pregnant sows.  They would only be a few weeks away from denning up regardless of the weather.  

"Mast conditions are the key and this year, it's a decent year," Sylvester said. "It's spotty, but typically when you have those very poor mast years is when it will drive bears into the dens."
Time will tell according to Sylvester about whether the early onset of winter has an impact.

Disease and Weather extremes are the root problem of population changes in Montana Mule Deer Pronghorn, Elk and Whitetails............With these factors veryt much at play, Bears, Wolves, Pumas Bobcats, Lynx and Coyotes have an easier time notching meals...........Wake up Montana Wildlife Agency,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,focus on the root problems,,,,,,,,,,,,,not the Carnivores

2012 Montana big-game season: Fewer hunters, fewer animals killed

Nonetheless, the check station data does detect trends, and the trend this year seemed to be fewer hunters. Why? I can speculate on a couple of possibilities.One is that gas prices were up again this year, although they tended to fall toward the end of the season. Economic surveys often show that gas prices have a huge effect on discretionary travel. Some hunters may not consider a trip to hunting camp unnecessary, but it can be a luxury for those scrambling to make ends meet.


Another possibility is that there are fewer big game animals in certain regions of the state. Antelope numbers, in particular, were way down this year in much of Eastern Montana after the double whammy of a harsh winter in 2011 and disease outbreak in 2010. That resulted in far fewer licenses being issued, so not as many people traveled east.

Mule deer and whitetail numbers have also dipped in various pockets of the state, again due to the harsh winter of 2010. Whitetails also suffered from another outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease in areas like along the Milk River in northeastern Montana. Mule deer numbers generally follow a cycle where they dip about every 15 years or so before climbing again. But they may also be in a vise squeezed between growing competition with the more adaptable and prolific whitetails, as well as the expansion of elk to more areas of Eastern Montana.

The extremely dry spring and summer, which reduced the amount of forage as well as created numerous wildland fires, certainly would contribute to animals being in poorer shape in terms of body fat going into this winter. The effect of that forage shortage is more likely to be reflected next spring in a reduced crop of fawns and elk calves. But it also may have driven animals to different locations and prompted different travel patterns from forage to bedding sites that could have confounded some hunters.


The dry, warm fall could also have meant that hunters delayed their early season trips in hopes of colder, wetter weather later in the season. Then when the weather did hit in mid-November, snowfall was so heavy and made travel so difficult that many hunters probably delayed again rather than risk driving on sketchy roads.

Of course, there's always the recruitment vs. retirement of hunters that looms as a factor as well. Hunting remains popular in Montana compared with other states, but as the bulk of the population ages — the Baby Boomer generation — there's likely to be an attrition that isn't compensated for by new hunters entering the system.

I always wonder, too, if the more sharp political debates about land access, the presence of wolves, differences over Fish, Wildlife and Parks policies and the politicization of hunting and hunting topics have pushed some of the more marginal hunters to simply quit because they're tired of all of the controversy, as well as locked out of traditional hunting areas.Maybe you, as a hunter, can give me some insight. Drop me an email or add your comments to this story online.

Elk harvest
As I mentioned, elk seemed in many areas to be the one place where harvests had climbed above last year. That wasn't the case in southwestern Montana's Region 3, which has traditionally been the most popular place in the state to hunt elk, but there's a reason for that drop.The elk harvest in Region 3, according to check station results, fell from 352 in 2010 to 207 in 2011. This year's results showed a further drop to 191 elk harvested, but there were two fewer check stations on the roster and the Gallatin check station was open only the first and last weekends of the season. Given those considerations, it's likely the elk harvest was better than or equal to last year in Region 3.

The region has definitely seen an overall decline in the elk harvest in the past 20 years. According to the state's elk management plan, "Generally, bull harvest in Region 3 averaged about 2,000 in the early 1960s, 3,000 in the late 1960s through the mid 1970s, about 4,500 in the 1980s, and about 6,000 bulls in the 1990s. The high harvest of 1991 was an anomaly because of the harvest of substantial numbers of bulls from Yellowstone National Park normally not accessible during the general season."
Last year, Region 3's entire elk harvest was 8,590, almost half of which were bulls — 4,139. That's fairly comparable to 2008, when 7,723 elk were taken, 4,211 of which were bulls.

The decline in the elk harvest has no doubt been affected by large predators such as wolves, grizzly bears, black bears and mountain lions preying on elk and elk calves. Elk have also expanded their range to more portions of Eastern Montana and are known to stack up on private land where no hunting or limited hunting is allowed during the elk season. The state is working on a process to reach these "harbored" elk to try to provide more opportunity for hunters as well as bring elk populations within management goals. Stay tuned for how that may alter future hunting seasons.

Elk study
Adding to our understanding of elk, a recently published University of Alberta study has shown that elk are more "frequently and easily disturbed by human behavior, such as ATV drivers, than by their natural predators like bears and wolves."

This could be interpreted to mean that if you want to find elk, get as far away from roads and motorized trails as possible. There's an old piece of advice for you.

Researchers spent 12 months in southwestern Alberta studying elk herds made up of females and their calves. They found that with just one vehicle passing by an elk herd every two hours, the animals became disturbed and more vigilant. The increase in traffic meant the elk ate less, possibly affecting their health and calving success. Not surprisingly, "the researchers found that the highest level of disturbance happened on public lands where the effect of hunting and ATV use was cumulative."

Coyotes and Black Bears should be left to run free in New Hampshire as the Whitetail Deer population has remained quite steady over the past 10 years......Even with huter take of deer up 4% in the recently concluded deer season, the 12,000 deer(14% of the herd) taken out of New Hampshire woodlands is not enough to foster a healthy forest environment that allows for optimum plant, bird and animal diversity............Pumas and Wolves needed in New England to truly enhance the regeneration of the woodlands there..........With so many problems caused by deer overabundance, it’s tempting to see the problem as an act of nature, like a lightning strike or a blizzard............. But it is humans who are at the root of our deer problems, not nature...... The good news is that what we have caused, we have the power to correct...........When mountain lions and wolves were eliminated from the Northeast, human beings became the white-tailed deer’s major predator............. Today, coyotes, bobcats, and black bears do prey on white-tailed deer, especially fawns, but most biologists will tell you that in a healthy ecosystem this predation is not a major population check............ Similarly, a particularly harsh winter may kill many deer in northern New England, but elsewhere winter weather has a relatively minor effect on the deer population as a whole.........

Hunters Take 4% More Deer In 2012

Credit NH Fish and Game
A mild winter meant the best deer season since 2007. The deer harvest is controlled by Fish and Game, which issues permits based on the size of the state's deer herd.Preliminary numbers for New Hampshire's deer hunt are in, and it was a good year for hunters. A mild winter meant big deer populations, and a 4% increase on the hunting season from last year.
   According to Fish and Game before the hunting season started there were about 85,000 deer in the Granite state. This year, hunters took about 14 percent of those animals, just fewer than 11,600 deer.
Sullivan, Strafford and Rockingham counties had the highest number of kills, and Belknap, Carroll and Cheshire had the least. It was the biggest dear season since 2007.

Deer hunters weren't the only ones to find burgeoning populations to harvest. Bear kills were up by 39 percent, and turkey hunters took 60 percent more birds during the fall season.
 Too Many Whitetails?
Photo by Gerry Lemmo.
Bill Schmidt, of Elysian Hills Tree Farm in southeastern Vermont, says his current deer problem is not as bad as it was twenty years ago. Back then, the deer had a habit of congregating in his 20-acre Christmas tree plantation and nibbling certain balsam fir trees down to broomsticks.While his Christmas trees have been spared of late, his woodlot still bears testament to the uneasy tension between forest health and deer populations. Things aren’t as bad in southern Vermont as they are in, say, suburban Connecticut, where the forests have been fundamentally altered by deer, the forest floor stripped of wildflowers, and saplings overtaken by species that are unpalatable to deer. But a problem does exist.

Schmidt has seen hardwood seedlings – maple, ash, and oak – with the distinctive frayed edges that show a deer has nipped them to the ground with its lower incisors, then ripped the top off with a pull. He’s seen more beech and birch, an increase in hay-scented fern and non-native species such as buckthorn and barberry, none of which deer like to eat. There are forested areas on his 130-acre farm where new trees just cannot get started.  Schmidt manages his land not just for trees but also for the wildlife that lives there. He likes that his property is home to deer but would prefer that there were fewer of them.

The perception gap
Around northern New England and upstate New York, many landowners, foresters, and wildlife enthusiasts have similarly conflicting feelings about deer. The million-dollar question is: how many deer are too many? Is it when the population density reaches a certain number, like 16 or 20 deer per square mile? Is it when hunters complain that the deer are too skinny and that there are no trophy bucks? Is it when the deer population exceeds the habitat’s carrying capacity? Or when environmental impacts, like loss of wildflowers, become noticeable?

It’s none of these things, says Thomas Rawinski, a botanist with the U.S. Forest Service in Durham, New Hampshire, and an expert on deer overabundance. While all are factors, the criterion that tops all others is the cultural carrying capacity: the number of deer that people are happy having around.
“Every person has a different life experience with deer,” says Rawinski. “They may be orchardists or farmers, or they may have had a vehicle collision or Lyme disease.” All of these influences must be included in the process of deciding how many deer there should be. “Wildlife is owned by everybody, so everybody needs to make the decision.”

An example of these differing reactions can be seen on Bill Schmidt’s tree farm. In southeastern Vermont, deer densities have fallen from a high of 40 deer per square mile in the ’60s and ’70s to half that today, according to Shawn Haskell, the deer project leader for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. Haskell believes this deer density – roughly 20 deer per square mile – is the right number for a healthy deer population that is in balance with its environment. Still, a recent public comment period revealed that the region’s foresters would like to see the deer population reduced to a quarter of what it is today. At the same time, hunters in the area are complaining that deer numbers are down; they’re advocating for more deer.

Deer in the headlights
Foresters often have a front-row view of the damage “too many” deer can cause to the landscape. Wildflowers, such as trillium and showy lady’s slippers, can be especially hard hit. “Each adult white-tailed deer eats about 2,000 pounds a year,” says Charlie Fiscella, New York State chapter president of the Quality Deer Management Association “That’s one ton. Go out with clippers and see how long it takes you to clip one ton. It’s hard to do that, especially when the habitat is marginal.”

The Nature Conservancy is just finishing up a study finding that deer are one of the top threats to a healthy forest in New York State, and that oak and maple seedlings are a deer’s favored food source. Since woodlot owners and foresters are also fond of oaks and maples, the deer’s impact is deeply felt. As these commercially valuable hardwood species start disappearing, forest composition can be skewed to favor birch, beech, and hophornbeam.

When deer pressure is overwhelming, you get no seedling regeneration at all. This allows invasive species to fill the void and dominate the ecosystem. As the invasives grow, the deer continue to eat native plants and avoid the invasives, thus giving the invasives a perpetual advantage.

Biologists do caution, however, that deer sometimes get too much blame for bad forest regeneration. In a forest with even-aged trees and an overstory that lets in no light, it may be the tree canopy that’s suppressing the seedling growth. One study found only subtle differences in a deer-free, full-canopy forest plot.

Jeff Ward, chief scientist of the forestry and horticulture section of The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, based in Windsor, Connecticut, has first-hand experience with deer-caused imbalances. “In one study area where there was a ‘high’ deer herd, there was a 100-acre patch that was almost pure Japanese barberry,” says Ward.

Cases when deer do eat invasive plants can be just as much a problem as when they don’t since eating seeds can help the invasives spread. “Several years ago, we gathered over 5,000 deer poops in a greenhouse to see what would grow from them,” said Scott Williams, a deer biologist at the Experiment Station. Thirty-two species of plant that germinated were not native to the state of Connecticut, including Carolina horsenettle, little hogweed, and lambsquarters. “Deer are able to transport hundreds of exotic plant seeds each day to new locations,” said Williams. “That’s one aspect of superabundant deer that people don’t consider.”

As forest composition changes, animals suffer, especially songbirds. The National Audubon Society reports that eastern wood pewees, indigo buntings, least flycatchers, yellow-billed cuckoos, and cerulean warblers are negatively affected when deer populations exceed 20 deer per square mile. At 40 deer per square mile, an area starts to lose eastern phoebes and robins. Ground nesters, including ovenbirds, grouse, woodcock, whippoorwills, and wild turkeys, are vastly reduced.

Clearly, deer influence the environment, but they can also negatively affect our own health and safety. Deer play a role in the spread of Lyme disease, as well as the emerging diseases babesiosis (which has malaria-like symptoms) and human granulocytic anaplasmosis (which has symptoms similar to the flu). They also cause more-direct harm in accidents with vehicles. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 150 people are killed in these accidents nationwide each year, while thousands more are injured. Property damage from such collisions totals $1 billion.
These experimental Pennsylvania patch cuts were done inside an enclosed area with a controlled deer population. Both cuts are 11 years old. Above, the controlled deer population was 10 deer per square mile. Below, 64 per square mile. Note poor regeneration.Photos by Susan Stout/USFS.

What we hold deer
With so many problems caused by deer overabundance, it’s tempting to see the problem as an act of nature, like a lightning strike or a blizzard. But it is humans who are at the root of our deer problems, not nature. The good news is that what we have caused, we have the power to correct.
When mountain lions and wolves were eliminated from the Northeast, human beings became the white-tailed deer’s major predator. Today, coyotes, bobcats, and black bears do prey on white-tailed deer, especially fawns, but most biologists will tell you that in a healthy ecosystem this predation is not a major population check. Similarly, a particularly harsh winter may kill many deer in northern New England, but elsewhere winter weather has a relatively minor effect on the deer population as a whole.

These days, in most of our readership area, hunting by humans determines how many deer there are. For the last several decades, it has been hunters who played the primary role in controlling the deer population. In some places, though, that is no longer the case. “Today there are fewer hunters, and the hunters are older,” says Rawinski, of the Forest Service. The amount of time each hunter spends in the woods, a statistic called “hunter effort,” has also gone down, perhaps as a result of faster-paced lifestyles, the increased age of the average hunter, or part of the larger cultural trend away from hunting.

That antihunting cultural trend also means more landowners don’t allow it, forcing hunters onto fewer pieces of land, says Fiscella. Deer find smaller hunted parcels easy to avoid, leaving the frustrated hunters behind. Because of this, it is easy for a gardener to suffer from too many deer, while right next door a hunter is complaining about too few.

But even more than land use in rural areas, suburbanization is leading to an increase in deer numbers. “Humans have created a perfect habitat for deer,” Rawinski says of the suburbs.
Gardens and lawns provide wonderful deer food. “[Gardens are] high in nitrogen, and they love it,” says Jeff Ward. “They certainly love mine.” Both humans and deer love edge habitat, the border between forested and open lands, he says.

 When creating more edge habitat for ourselves, by building a house surrounded with lawn in what was once a forest, we also create new habitat for deer. For the deer, this habitat is paradise, because hunting is often not permitted there. For example, in Massachusetts you can’t discharge a firearm within 500 feet of a building. Add to that a regulation saying you can’t shoot a gun within 150 feet of a highway, and suddenly you have very few places in the eastern part of the state where it is legal to fire a gun.

In some states, such as Connecticut, this means that hunters are no longer controlling the deer population. According to Rawinski, “What is potentially controlling the deer in the suburbs is soccer moms in SUVs.” Ward says, “Here in Connecticut, cars are the number one killer of deer.” As many as 13,000 deer a year may be killed by hunters, while cars kill up to 18,000 deer in the state each year.
In Connecticut, with perfect deer habitat and reduced hunting, more deer are killed by cars than by hunters.Photo by Doug Stamm.

Doe, a deer
When an ecosystem becomes unbalanced, it can take decades to bring it back into alignment. In the meantime, landowners looking to mitigate deer damage on their land have limited options. For protecting small plots of land, commercial repellents can be effective under certain conditions. So can fencing, either conventional or electric. Deer become accustomed to scare tactics like motion-activated sprinklers or fireworks long before the neighbors do. Folk remedies like spreading human hair around have not passed scientific scrutiny, but tallow-based soaps have proven useful when deer populations are not already high.

When it comes to reducing the deer population, though, there seems to be no way around killing deer. This is often an unpopular solution, and much effort has been put into finding alternatives. Birth control (immunocontraception) has been highly touted by animal rights groups, but has proven ineffective in practice. The Connecticut State legislature once implemented a buck vasectomy program. “That was a failure,” Ward reports.Some people call for relocating suburban deer to more rural areas, but that’s little more than a fantasy. There are no places looking to take in excess deer from the suburbs, and transporting deer often injures or kills them.

As deer populations grow, deer-herd managers are changing their idea of what deer management should accomplish. Instead of maintaining the deer population, today techniques are being used to reduce the herd size. Since bucks are polygamous and largely expendable from a reproduction standpoint, to reduce the overall population in an area you must kill does.

This strategy doesn’t sit well with all hunters, many of whom have grown up with the idea that a hunter’s responsibility is to protect, and even increase, deer numbers no matter what. Some hunters, and even state legislatures, shy away from the idea of killing does, even when everyone agrees that deer are harming the environment.

Perceptions are slowly changing, though. Today, every state in the Northeast has some form of doe season, and efforts are being made by both hunters and state governments to educate people about the important role hunting plays in deer population control. An alternative to traditional hunting can be seen in southern New England, where professional snipers are paid to cull deer, often at night, often over bait, in suburban developments where hunting is not allowed.
Efforts are being made by both hunters and state governments to educate people about the important role hunting plays in deer population control. Photo courtesy Vermont Fish and Wildlife

Conditions vary from one state to another, from one county to another, even from one ridge to another. In and around Bill Schmidt’s woods in southeastern Vermont, there is some indication that the deer are currently at both the cultural carrying capacity and the biological carrying capacity. Still, a walk in his woods will show evidence of high deer populations in the recent past. The invasive plants that are a big problem in the area were probably originally helped along by deer overpopulation.

Invasives were exactly what kept Schmidt from making a timber cut at Elysian Hills for many years. Invasive buckthorn in a five-acre stand of red pine led him to believe that if he cut the stand buckthorn would take over and few valuable trees would grow. After years of work getting the buckthorn under control, he made the cut last year.

“I’m curious to see what comes in,” he says. Schmidt won’t know the results for several years yet, but maple seedlings sprouting up on his land would not only be the result of successful forest management, but also a hopeful sign that just the right number of deer are calling his farm home.
Madeline Bodin is a freelance writer from Andover, Vermont.
Photo by Drake Fleege