Predator control ain't easy


I recently returned from a wolf hunt. The trip was part of my research for an upcoming story on how wolves, once endangered, are now being managed in the Rocky Mountains.

Our experience of managing predators in the West goes far beyond wolves, however. There's plenty circulating in the news on this topic right now; here's a round up of some of the most recent stories.

Dennis Wagner from The Arizona Republic has been writing doggedly about the botched trapping of Macho B – at 16, the oldest wild jaguar known at the time and the only confirmed one living in the United States. Unfortunately, in 2009, some overzealous wildlife biologists with Arizona Game and Fish Department, as well as Emil McCain of the Borderland Jaguar Protection Project, illegally baited and snared him. He fought ferociously once trapped, badly injuring his leg and was slowly succumbing to hypothermia and stress when the two biologists darted and collared him. He was recaptured 12 days later and euthanized due to kidney failure.

As the Republic's Wagner has written lately, it seems that McCain's illegal, jaguar-killing actions, for which he was later given five years probation, were in part driven by federal money. It seems he snared Macho B in order to collar him and attract a $771,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The grant was to study jaguars as part of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which mandated a 700-mile long border barrier.

Ron Thompson, the large-carnivore biologist for Arizona Game and Fish and McCain’s supervisor, told investigators:

“I think everything boils down to two things. One is ego and the other is money. ... When the fence started to go up and the prospects of millions of dollars for supportive projects went up, then immediately, the interest broadened.”

In other predator control news, this week, members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee met to discuss opening the charismatic bruins to hunting once they are delisted as an Endangered Species.

“We have grizzly populations expanding into places that are not suitable habitat,” committee chairman Harv Fosgren of the U.S. Forest Service told the Missoulian. “We need to show we’re willing to step up and manage those bears.”

In a statement released last Thursday, the committee said hunting would help “manage distribution, promote coexistence and help minimize conflict” with grizzlies.

Back to wolves, two weeks ago, the eighth collared wolf from Yellowstone National Park met her death. She had strayed just north of the park, and was killed, legally, by a hunter.

Biologists who had spent years tracking her, and other collared wolves, see these deaths as a loss to science. In response, the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks commission decided to prohibit hunting and trapping in two areas north of the park, to protect the collared wolves.

This action is being contested for possibly violating public meeting law, but as of this writing, the ban stands.

The inevitability of conflict over predator management, of course, begins with the fact that we manage them at all, retired biologist Harley Shaw told me in a phone conversation this week. As an Arizona Game and Fish Department biologist, Shaw spent his career researching mountain lions and advising administrators on the science. The sides of the conflict were the same in the 60s and 70s, he says, as they are today. Environmentalists want to see nature left alone versus hunters and ranchers who see nature destroying their livelihood.

“Having been involved in one level or another (with predator/human interactions), I have to say, I don’t think I have any more answers now then when I started."

Neil LaRubbio is the editorial fellow for High Country News. His Twitter handle is @VictorAntonin.

Photos provided by Arizona Game and Fish Department, Buridans Esel and TwelveX

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