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Gray wolves in Washington state : pros and cons

By Ron Malast
Chinook Observer columnist



Let me preface this article by saying that for the past 45 years I have held nothing but admiration for the wolf. Their intelligence, cunning, family orientation and hunting skills and techniques are, in my opinion, unequaled in animal society. I have several treasured pictures of wolves and have observed them several times in a wolf compound (outside of Buckley) and in the Alaskan wilderness. Nature shows, conservationists and state and federal wildlife departments often paint a picture of a noble beast, which it is - but there is also a dark side to the story of the wolf.

With the announcement by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, that it is seeking nominations for a citizen-working group, which will guide the department in developing a conservation and management plan for gray wolves in Washington, "red flags" were the order of the day.

Although gray wolves were eradicated in Washington by the 1930s, sightings have increased since federal recovery efforts were initiated in Idaho and Montana in the mid-1990s. The success of those efforts has prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose removing gray wolf populations in three states and parts of four other states - including Washington - from the federal list of endangered species.

If the gray wolves are de-listed by the federal government, the main difference will be that Washington and other Western states will have the primary responsibility for managing their wolf populations.

A draft plan is scheduled for completion by Dec. 30, 2007, with the final plan by June 30, 2008.

What does that really mean and what impact will it have for Washington residents, hunters, farmers and stock growers?

The states of Washington and Oregon have already experienced the effects of "do-good" voters who have shielded bears and cougars from being hunted with dogs. The populations of these two predators have procreated in the northwest, to the point they have severely affected deer and elk populations, not to mention calves, dogs and cats. There are numerous instances of cougar attacks on people. But the record shows that no one has ever been killed or eaten by a wolf in North America.

Gray wolves actually come in a variety of colors; they can have white, red, black or gray fur. Male wolves weigh on the average of 90 pounds but can range up to 130 pounds and females generally weigh less. They can run 35 miles per hour and jump about 12 feet. They live in packs ranging from eight to 35 members and like maned and red wolves, mate for life. Their life span is eight to 12 years. The wolf's jaw can exert 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch, twice that of a German shepherd; wolves can crush large bones in just a few bites.

There were approximately 3,500 wolves in the lower 48 states and about 10,000 in Alaska. That was the estimate three years ago. In Yellowstone Park, 33 Canadian gray wolves were reintroduced in 1995 and 1996 amid bitter controversy. Ranchers and landowners living outside the park remain on edge. Today more than 300 wolves thrive in the park.

Gray wolves communicate to each other through howling, body language and scent. Howling is used to assemble the pack, talk to other packs, assert territorial claims, or, as a source of pleasure. Experts claim that on a calm night, howls can be heard from as far as 120 miles away. Wolves use their faces and tails to indicate their emotions or status in the pack.

Marcia Armstrong, executive director of Siskiyou County Farm Bureau and Siskiyou Cattlemen's Association says, "Our last remaining industry here is agriculture and cattle and it is already in trouble. Many people here suggest that wolves and maybe grizzly bears should be introduced onto the streets of San Francisco and Sacramento - it seems that the problems of endangered species are always in rural areas and people with all the ideas live 400 miles away from the rural areas. They do not have to contend with the problem."

For some ranchers in economically depressed areas, however, the wolf is fast establishing itself as the icon of their twin tormentors; the faceless federal government and the effete, tree-hugging environmentalists.

I found this one story, "Shocking Wolf Story out of Idaho" written by Scott Richards, a Grangeville, Idaho resident for the past 34 years; it is documented with Idaho Fish and Game reports, pictures and witnesses. It is a seven-page story, but here is a synopsis of that letter:

Scott writes, "The reason I am telling this story is not to debate whether the Canadian gray wolf should or should not be here. I am not going to debate anyone about how many wolfs (sic) are really in the state of Idaho. I will say our elk, moose and deer populations are in serious trouble now! The reason I am telling this story is that I have a conscience, and what happened to my dogs and me on Wednesday May 25, 2006. It's been a few days now and the shock has turned from fear to disbelief, to anger and now the major concern for the safety of anyone who lives or visits our state and plans on going into the wilderness."

The morning started out as he took off with eight (seven experienced, one five month old pup) of his dogs that he was training for bear hunting. "I did not drive too far and the dogs sounded off letting me know that a bear had crossed the road."

About 20 minutes later they had treed a bear, he took a few pictures and went back to the truck to check on his other group of dogs that also had a bear treed. They parked about 200 yards from the second treed bear and heard the roaring barking of dogs then heard nothing. Then Scott and his companion Bryon could hear a bark about 50 yards away in one direction and another bark and a yelp, in another direction.

"As I was running towards the yelp I was stopped dead in my tracks by a big dark-colored wolf. My dog Blackey was being attacked. I stopped about 12-feet from the wolf and even though I was screaming and waving my arms, the wolf did not break from the attack. Every time Blackey tried to run, the wolf would sink its teeth into the dog's hindquarters. All the while I was screaming louder than I ever screamed in my life. As I swing at the wolf and missed, the wolf instantly lunged at me. I remember thinking I was going to die. I ran from tree to tree towards the truck to get a gun. I did not see what took place but what I heard was my dog giving his life to save mine.

"My friend Bryon came running up and said that he had been able to save two dogs (Snyper and Bullet) while fighting off three wolves." Now armed and with the tracking box in hand they started back towards the dogs. On each different tracking collar frequency there was only one beep every four seconds which means that all three dogs had not moved for at least five minutes. All dead!

Wolves Part 2: Attacks on humans may not be so rare as claimed

Chinook Observer columnist

Nov. 20, 2006

This is the continuing story of areas where the Gray Wolf has been reintroduced or areas that they have dispersed to from Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

As we left off last week Scott Richards and his friend Bryon had been training their bear hunting dogs outside Grangeville, Idaho when they were attacked by a pack of Gray wolves. Their tracking box told them that three of their dogs had not moved in at least 5 minutes and were probably dead.

Scott reiterates, "I was in a state of shock but I had to find them. We ran in the direction the needle was pointing and in short distance, there she was. She was trying to getup, her stomach was ripped open and her intestines were hanging out a foot. Halley's (the dog) stomach was torn open in multiple spots. She had over 60 bite marks and deep gashes, all over her body. Byron took off his shirt wrapped her up and took off for the vet, but I knew Halley would never make it. I started tracking Blackey next; it did not take long to find him. He wasn't far from where the wolf came after me. He was dead and lying in a pool of his own blood. He was bit and torn and so full of holes, I just fell to the ground crying. I could not stop thinking that he gave his life to save me. I was sitting there when it dawned on me that I must get to my other dog Lady. She was 100 yards away when I got to her, lying in a heap, eyes wide open - I knew that she was dead. It's hard to describe the death these dogs were handed. It was easy to see that the wolves want to cripple their prey, torture it then kill it."

On the way home Scott called Idaho Fish & Game to report what had happen. Scott said, "They were very understanding and I could tell were sincere when they said they were sorry for the loss." They also said that there was nothing they could do for me and that their hands were tied. They said they would write the report and call the federal agent."

In wet muddy areas where elk and moose have always been plentiful, he can no longer find even a track. For as long as Scott could remember when you were in the mountains for any reason a dog by your side was a great defense to warn you of predators. But now it seems as if a dog is nothing more than bait to lure wolves to you. Pretty scary, when you come to think about it.

Could there also be another spin to this experience and others like it?

It certainly is no secret that most conservation groups are advocates of "no hunting" - period. Certainly, one way to reach this end is not to attack the hunters, but to support through Endangered Species Acts those predators who are feeding on the very game species that hunters hunt.

Take for instance the laws that have been enacted through states ballot initiatives in California, Oregon and Washington. These laws, voted in by the people, have outlawed the use of hounds (the most effective method) when hunting cougar and black bears. As a consequence, cougars and bear populations have exploded to such a point that they have decimated certain elk and deer herds and become a documented safety hazard for the general population. State game managers now have to promote special hunts and take other lethal actions to curb the population of "problem predators." Enter the wolf - seems like the perfect plan to end all hunting in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and soon Washington and Oregon. It may take several generations, but believe me; it will happen, if this trend is allowed to continue.

Environmentalists and animal lovers claim that wolves kill the old and infirm wildlife. They claim that they kill only what they need for survival.

D. F. Oliveria, opinion writer-Spokene.net, states that in southwestern Idaho, wolf attacks have killed almost 40 University of Idaho sheep. Oddly, the predators have ignored the ewes and lambs to slaughter rams weighting 250 to 300 pounds ... and then leave the meat to rot.

Studies on the research of Professor Warren Ballard in Alaska documented that wolves will kill about 30 moose per year (per wolf). If you calculate biomass it will probably take 60 or more elk to provide the same amount of biomass. It is also interesting top note that Ballard found no evidence of sickness or debility among any moose killed by wolves.

So, given the research to date, if wolves are not aggressively controlled, and soon, devastation of Montana elk, deer, sheep, moose and goat populations is a reasonable projection. While these animals may not be wiped out to the last animal, uncontrolled wolves will certainly not leave enough for human hunters to be allowed to hunt.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is fully aware of numerous documented attacks on humans by wolves in North America, yet they refuse to write a rebuttal to fictitious statements that wolves are not attacking humans. Instead it is posted on their children's website that wolves don't attack humans! And the list goes on.

Wolves are known man-eaters throughout the world. Try reading Peter Chapstick's book titled "Man Eaters."

The government of India reported more than 100 deaths attributable to wolves in one year during the 1980s.

There are documented attacks and kills on humans reported from China, Russia, Iran, Canada and Asia. One reason that there are so few "documented" attacks in the United States is because biologists require the following criteria for a documented attack;

1. The wolf has to be killed, examined and found to be healthy.

2. It must be proven that the wolf was never kept in captivity in its entire life.

3. There must be eyewitnesses to the attack.

4. The person must die from their wounds (bites are generally not considered attacks according to the biologists).

Such criteria can make it very difficult to document any historical account of a wolf attack on a human.

I guess all we can do is wait and see, the government will surely let us know if they have mismanaged their programs to reintroduce the wolf, won't they? Would they let our children wander into the woods unprotected like Little Red Riding Hood? - Probably so.

A wolf is a wild animal and is going to do what it's heredity has bred it to do.


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