Wildlife wars

  • Captive wolverine in Montana's Bridger Mountains.

    Daniel J. Cox/NaturalExposures.com
 

They've loped to the southern edge of Wyoming's Wind River Range, and straggled into northwestern Colorado. They've filled Montana forests near Missoula, Helena and Bozeman. They've crossed the Idaho Panhandle, padding into north-central Washington and eastern Oregon. And despite disease outbreaks and being shot by the feds for devouring the occasional cow, every year since gray wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies, their numbers have increased. Until now, that is. 

When U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials removed the wolves from the endangered species list and handed management over to Idaho, Wyoming and Montana this spring, they expected the population, which was around 1,500 at the beginning of 2008, to grow to more than 2,000 by this summer. But a recent census suggests there are now only about 1,455 wolves in the ecosystem. The lack of growth could be due to disease, or to the animals filling up the area's available habitat. Some enviros say it could also be the increased killing of wolves under state management. The finding came as the agency, prompted by a recent court ruling, asked to restore endangered species protection to the animals while it reconsiders the population's genetic viability and Wyoming's management plan, which allows wolves to be shot on sight outside of the Yellowstone area.

Wyoming lawmakers are discussing their options -- which could include suing the feds or modifying the state plan so that wolves can't be killed quite so easily -- in an effort to restore state control. But that possibility looks a bit hazy after another court ruling. On Sept. 29, Washington, D.C., District Judge Paul L. Friedman suspended the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2007 delisting of the approximately 4,000 gray wolves that roam the states surrounding the Great Lakes. Friedman said the agency failed to show that its decision to simultaneously declare the region's wolves a distinct subpopulation and remove their federal protections was legal under the Endangered Species Act. Environmental groups say the ruling, coupled with the Northern Rockies wolf decision, should make it harder to strip endangered species protections in a piecemeal way. It could also be a boon to groups suing to restore federal protection to Yellowstone's grizzly bears, which were delisted in 2007.

The wildlife wars don't stop there, though. Environmental groups have hauled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service back into court over its second decision not to extend Endangered Species Act protections to wolverines. After a court order forced it to reconsider the status of the California red-legged frog, the agency released plans to designate 1.8 million acres of critical habitat for the threatened amphibian -- three times more than what had been proposed under the meddling influence of former Interior Department official Julie MacDonald back in 2006. Meanwhile, another species the agency is reconsidering for federal protection is declining in Nevada. Wildlife officials estimate there are 70,000 to 80,000 sage grouse in the state this year, down from 100,000 in 2005.

At least grizzlies appear to be doing well in northwestern Montana's 7.8 million-acre Continental Divide ecosystem, where they are officially listed as threatened. A five-year, $4.8 million federal study released this month estimates that 765 grizzlies now roam the area -- about two and a half times more than previously estimated. The bears have expanded their range 2.6 million acres beyond recovery area boundaries set in 1993. 

At the state level, critters in parts of Colorado and Montana are getting some unprecedented (if still weaker than hoped for) protection from oil and gas development. Colorado's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has reworked more than 80 of its rules over the last three months, tentatively passing measures in late September that will, for the first time, require companies to consult with state wildlife officials to minimize drilling's impacts on species like mule deer, elk and sage grouse in sensitive wintering and mating habitat. Companies will also have to clump development to preserve more undisturbed land, and avoid drilling and laying pipelines within 300 feet of cutthroat trout streams, among other rules. Meanwhile, the Montana Oil and Gas Conservation Board forbid roads, drilling, and wellpads within a quarter mile of waterways on 16 new leases on state trust lands along the Yellowstone, Shields and Boulder rivers -- all renowned for their trout fisheries.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.