An expert panel reviewing a federal plan to lift protections for gray wolves across the US says the government would be based its move on faulty science.
Wolves in Yellowstone, where hunting is forbidden. Many tourists seek to capture the canines in photographs. (Photo: National Park Service)
The scientist panelists determined that the US may not be correctly defining the gray wolves historic territory. That’s significant, because if states in the Northeast and Pacific West served as the historic home for gray wolves, then the wolves cannot be declared “recovered” in those areas. Wolves have been spotted only sporadically in the wilderness region of some of these states, and a few are known to subsist in Washington and Oregon.
The US Fish & Wildlife Service plan asserts that the wolves that once lived in the Northeast were a separate subspecies, thus the gray wolves’ absence in that region would not require a recovery plan under the Endangered Species Act.
Gray wolves have been a political and actual battering post for the past six years as some federal and state authorities sought to remove them from protections under the Endangered Species Act. Gray wolves present in the upper Rocky Mountains and the Upper Midwest were declared recovered over the last three years and delisted from the ESA, enabling the states to take over their management and set up wolf bounty hunting.
A gray wolf (Photo: NPS)
The hunts in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, which have killed thousands of wolves, reducing the number in the Rockies by more than one-third. And they’ve been fraught with controversy. Wildlife conservationists with several environmental groups have argued in and out of court that the wolves are entitled to inhabit the region and that their numbers, which peaked at about 2,200 in the Upper Rockies, were inadequate to sustain a thriving population.
Idaho, Montana and Wyoming game departments in agreement with the federal government are aiming to maintain a collective population of 450 wolves, less than one-quarter of the size of the wolf population pre-hunting.
The review panel, set up by the USFWS, is a step in assessing whether gray wolves can be fairly delisted across the entire US, where virtually no gray wolves currently exist.
The move to wholistically delist the wolves appears aimed at disentangling the federal government from any further involvement in what has been a major battle over the top carnivore. While ranchers and hunters have lobbied for wolf hunting to reduce cattle and sheep predation, wildlife biologists has attested to the importance of the wolf in keeping wild biosystems healthy.
The Center for Biological Diversity would appreciate a little less human fecundity.
But it’s not asking. The Center is offering direct assistance. This year it will again distribute 25,000 free, colorful Endangered Species-branded condoms to raise awareness about how the runaway human population threatens all other populations.
With more than 200,000 people added to the planet every day, wildlife is being squeezed out of habitat and left with diminished food resources. Young people could help if they thought more about their own population plans. At least that’s the message. Make merry! But show restraint.
The CBD, which advocates for endangered and threatened wildlife and plants, has been celebrating the holidays with this unique campaign since 2009.
This year’s, um, packages feature six endangered species, the polar bear, snowy plover, leatherback turtles, panthers, hellbender lizards and the dwarf seahorse. They are being distributed by hundreds of volunteers around the country at holiday parties, churches, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, skate parks, health clinics and yoga studios.
“The Earth’s population now tops 7 billion people, and that has a huge impact on wildlife, climate and the resources we all need to survive,” said Taralynn Reynolds, population and sustainability organizer at the Center, in a statement.
“These are big issues that need to be talked about, and the Endangered Species Condoms give people a fun, unique way to start the conversation.”
Hunters have killed 299 wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, as the trophy hunting season approaches its rough midpoint later this month.
Wolf in Lamar Canyon (Photo: Marc Cooke, Wolves of the Rockies.)
Even more have been killed in the Upper Midwest, where trophy hunting of wolves also is underway. But one ecosystem at a time. First, the Rocky Mountain gray wolves.
Trapping is beginning in the three states and will add to those kill totals in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (tallied through Dec. 6). One can envision that if the season proceeds apace, 500 to 600 wolves will be killed, perhaps more. Last year, the total “harvest” for the season was 611 wolves in the three states. Some pups were born in the interim, but now another 600 wolves are facing the bullet (or a leg trap) in the 2013-2014 hunting.
That would mean that more than one-third of the estimated 1,600 wolves (+ an unknown number of pups) in the three-state region will be gone. (That 1,600 population estimate is the number believed to be alive at the end of 2012, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).)
It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that pretty soon state wildlife officials could get their wish of managing the wolf population down to about 400 animals in the three-state region. Their justification for keeping the wolf numbers low: wolves prey on livestock. It’s a real problem. At their peak, wolves killed hundreds of cattle and calves annually in the three states, according to federal officials.
Wildlife experts say the predation is exaggerated, with some cattle deaths attributable to other factors. In addition, wolf kills of livestock, they say, could be reduced by better managing grazing on public lands and through the use of fladry to frighten the wolves away from herds. Oregon, which passed a coexistence law, is trying to establish a more tolerant approach that provides for wolves and ranches.
But there’s another facet to the wolf debate. Hunters are worried that wolves may be the reason elk herds have declined in some areas. The reasons for the periodic dips, though, are likely multi-faceted, with elk herds suffering from disease and bad weather.
For hunters, this third wolf season is a big victory, except for that Catch-22 that the aggressive wolf killing may extinguish the opportunity for more of the same in the near future. But for the moment, the wolf is a new trophy animal to pursue. Like other trophy targets, such as the black bear and the mountain lion, wolves are killed for sport, for bragging rights, as compared with deer or elk hunting, which fills freezers with meat.
Conservationists are worried about the Rocky Mountain wolves. The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, The Center for Biological Diversity and the National Wildlife Federation are all fighting to restore protections for the wolves, or at least stop the pending removal of protections nationwide.
Wolves in Yellowstone (Photo: National Park Service)
Many don’t believe the Rocky Mountain wolf population, which might have reached about 2,000 at its peak three to five years ago, was sufficiently recovered to sustain the bombardment of hunters. They think hunting will at best drive the wolves into remote regions, where they may or may not survive and will lack important genetic breeding connections to other packs; at worst, bring on a second extinction of the wolves in the lower 48 states. In the latter scenario, history would repeat itself, with hunters and trappers annihilating the wolves in the lower 48 states as they did in the first half of the 20th Century. (A sliver population survived in Northern Minnesota and Michigan.)
Most importantly, the conservation groups say the focus on killing predators overlooks their importance in healthy ecosystems. Sierra explains this on their website:
Wolves are vitally important to maintaining the natural balance, culling out weak and sick animals to keep populations of elk and deer healthy and in check. The rippling benefits of wolf reintroduction can be seen throughout the region– from the reappearance of willow and aspen trees, to the return of beavers, and increased populations of red foxes.
Managing the wolves “down” also ignores that this wild animal once counted the entire country as its native range, notes the Center for Biological Diversity, which is fighting the Obama Administration proposal to lift protections for wolves across the rest of the U.S. (In addition to the three Rocky Mountain states, the FWS has delisted the wolf in Minnesota, Wyoming and Michigan, where hunting also has commenced.)
The Center maintains that wolves are entitled to more space and also that a more tolerant policy toward them would benefit many species.
Since the original wolf recovery plans were written in the 1980s, we’ve learned much more about wolves’ behavior, ecology and needs. We know, for example, that returning wolves to ecosystems sets off a chain of events that benefits many species, including songbirds and beavers that gain from a return of streamside vegetation — which thrives in the absence of browsing elk that must move more often to avoid wolves — and pronghorn and foxes that are aided by wolves’ control of coyote populations.
After their mass extinction in the 20th Century, the gray wolves were placed on the Endangered Species List in 1973 and reintroduced into the Rocky Mountain West in the mid-1990s.
Within a decade it was clear the animals were thriving in the wild spaces of Idaho, Montana and to a lesser extent Wyoming. The habitat was perfect. The wolves were able to live off their preferred natural prey, the elk.
But as the wolves recovered, ranchers experienced their presence as a nuisance or deadly threat, depending on the situation. The wolves preyed on cattle, though environmentalists noted that often lethal encounters took place on public lands near wilderness, and during calving season, drawing the wolves into a situation that could have been obviated by keeping the cattle on fenced or guarded private property.
Wolf pups are expected to regenerate the population, but will they? (Photo: Larry Allen)
Federal and state game officials decided the wolves had become too successful and after several years of trying, they succeeded in removing the wolves from the ESA list, clearing them for hunting. Environmentalists protested, saying the rugged mountain landscape needed this apex predator, who had fit neatly back into the wild ecosystem. But by 2011, the wildlife conservationists lost their last court challenge. The wolves were returned to state management and transitioned from sheltered to trophy animal status, with a number or quota on their back.
The hunts began and even Yellowstone Park quickly lost radio-collared wolves that had been studied by biologists and photographed by tourists for years. The wolves were fair game when they stepped out of the park, where hunting is not allowed. Rifle fire brought down the legendary ’06, a beloved Alpha female that had been the pride of the park.
Meanwhile, in another ecosystem, the Upper Midwest, wolf hunts also began as the FWS lifted wolf protections for Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. At this point in the 2013 season, 27 wolves out of a quota of 132 have been killed in Minnesota; 219 out of a quota of 251 in Wisconsin and 19 out of a quota of 43 in Michigan, where there are many fewer wolves. Grand total in the Upper Great Lakes wolf hunting territories: 370. (The hunting quotas have been less aggressive relative to the total population in Minnesota, but wolf hunting has been controversial with conservationists questioning, and sometimes protesting, game officials.)
With wolf hunting underway in the states where the wolves mainly reside, the Obama Administration officially proposed lifting ESA protections for all wolves in the lower 48 states (except for a small section of AZ and NM where the Mexican wolf struggles near extinction). This proposal has been hugely upsetting to environmentalists, who had hoped the animals would be allowed to randomly reestablish themselves in states like California, Utah and Colorado or New York, where wooded, mountainous areas offer ideal habitat, but which have not had wolf populations for decades. Wolf migration into potentially “friendly” states would give the wolves a foothold on survival, they say.
The public has until Dec. 17 to comment on the plan to lift protections across the U.S. The Center for Biological Diversity has set up a protest letter for use by those who support wolf conservation.
Hunters opened fire on Michigan’s wolves today, the first day of the first wolf hunt in the state since the animals were delisted from the Endangered Species Act protections.
Michigan is following Minnesota and Wisconsin in setting up trophy hunting of wolves, following their delisting across the Upper Midwest, a traditional stronghold for gray wolves. Wolves also have been delisted and are being bounty hunted in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, where their population was restored over the past two decades.
The hunting of wolves, which led to their virtual extinction in the U.S. in the mid-20th Century (a small population remained in the Northern woods of Minnesota), has been controversial in both the Rocky Mountain and Midwest regions, and not the least in Michigan.
In Michigan, wolf advocates say that the high livestock predation figures that were used in one region to justify the wolf hunt were the result of problems at a single ranch where caretakers failed to properly dispose of livestock carcasses. The situation invited scavenging and predation by the wolves; they were essentially baited.
Here’s how Nancy Warren of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition explained the situation in a guest column in Michigan Live:
The stated goal of Management Unit B is “to reduce chronic livestock depredations” and DNR [Department of Natural Resources] used statistics from 2010 to defend the hunt. But, close examination of the records show that from 2010 through the present, livestock depredations were confined to 10 farms within Unit B with a total of 113 individual livestock animals were killed by wolves during this period.
One farm, with known poor animal husbandry practices and a record of not properly disposing of carcasses accounted for 87 of those losses (77%). Only one other farm recorded losses in double digits with 10 verified livestock deaths (9%). Two producers each lost three animals the rest lost one or two animals over the 3 ½ year period. When livestock losses are put in perspective, it is evident that a wide scale hunt spread across Unit B is not warranted.
Warren and many other wildlife advocates say that remedying predation of livestock by inaugurating recreational hunting is overkill because livestock operators have always had rights under the law to shoot predators. This protection for ranchers has been virtually universal, across the Midwest and Mountain states, with ranchers given the right under the law to shoot known predators on their property.
Still, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has determined that the wolves’ rising population requires their removal from special protection under the ESA, and has returned authority for managing the wolves to the states. In essence, the wolves’ rebound has been their undoing.
Last night in the Michigan peninsula, members of the Saginaw Indian Chippewa Tribe gathered to honor the wolves with a candlelight vigil. As reported in Michigan Live, tribe members recalled their shared history with the wolves and retold stories about how wolves and humans once hunted together.
“Wolves are a part of our creation story and an intrinsic part of our culture,” said Frank Cloutier, a spokesman for the tribe.
Michigan’s trophy hunters can kill or “harvest” 43 wolves this season across three regions, where a cumulative estimated 650 wolves reside. A license is $100 for residents, $500 for non-residents.
The addax — only about 300 remain in the wild. (Photo: ConservationCenters.org.)
The desert-dwelling addax is an antelope found in small pockets in North Africa, in Mauritania, Chad and Nigeria. The species (Addax nasomaculatus) was first described by the French zoologist Henri de Blainville in 1816.
Addax have a distinct tuft of dark-brown hair on their heads, and both adult females and males have long, twisted horns which are on average about 72 cm long.
They are well known for their astounding adaptations to living in an extremely harsh climate; for example, they have splayed hooves and short legs to allow them to travel on sand. Addax are also called white antelopes because, while their fur is grayish-brown in the winter, it gradually fades to white for the summertime to reflect heat.
The addax is primarily active at night due to the harsh heat of the Sahara. During the daytime, addaxes sometimes dig “beds” in the sand to shade themselves from the sun, and for protection during sandstorms. They form nomadic herds which spend most of their time wandering in search of food, mainly of grasses, shrubs and herbs.
Addax are so well suited to the desert that they are able to get all the water they need from the plants that they eat.
Addax are critically endangered, with fewer than 300 estimated to be left in the wild. The main cause for their decline is hunting, as their short legs make them easy targets, but they’ve also struggled from drought, desertification, and habitat loss due to agriculture. Unfortunately, many large reserves in several North African countries have stopped sheltering them.
In 2007, about 550 addax were re-introduced in Morocco and Tunisia into fenced areas, where they have legal protection. Hunting of addax is also prohibited in Algeria, Libya and Egypt. There are at least 1,600 captive individuals in European and North American zoos and ranches, with breeding programs in North America, Japan and Australia.
Facts about addax:
Addax herds used to have as many as 20 individuals, now there are only sightings of 4-5 member groups
Addax live an average of 19 years in the wild, and 25 years in captivity
Male addax reach sexual maturity at age 3, while females mature by only one and a half years
Baby addax weigh only about 5.7 kilograms or 12.5 pounds.
One of the only two non-extinct genera of the family Elephantidae, African elephants are the remnants of a long line of ancient and mysterious creatures such as wooly mammoths and mastodons.
An elephant named Echo (Photo: Amboseli Trust for Elephants)
There are two species of African Elephant (although this is still controversial): the African forest elephant and the African bush elephant, which is the largest living terrestrial animal. Bush elephants have a wide but fragmented range in most of Sub-Saharan Africa. Forest elephants have a much smaller range, residing mainly in the tropical rainforests of the Congo Basin.
African elephants, in comparison to Asian elephants, are on average larger with gray or brownish-gray skin.
They form complex bonds and relationships with each other, living in matriarchal family units of around 10 members, consisting of females and their young, led by a female elder. These family units may then join each other to form what is called a “kinship group” or “bond group,” which could contain over a hundred elephants. After the males in a family unit reach puberty, they leave to form alliances with other males.
African elephants are herbivorous, feeding mostly on grasses, shrubs, roots, bark, fruit, flowers, and leaves. They mostly spend their day in search of food and water, taking mud or dust baths, caring for their young, and socializing. Sometimes they dig in the ground or venture into caves to find minerals.
The IUCN lists the African elephant as vulnerable, and although they are adaptable to various habitats (savanna, miombo woodland, bushlands, swamps, grassy plains, etc), these areas continue to diminish due to human expansion. But the other significant threat African elephants face is poaching, for both meat and ivory. For centuries elephants have been slaughtered for their prized tusks, but only during the 1970s and 80s did this start to escalate in response to growing demand in Asia.
African elephant (Photo. WGBH.org)
According to the African Elephant Conservation Trust, Kenya’s elephant population declined by an estimated 85 percent between 1973 and 1989. Additionally, close to 70 percent of their range is unprotected, meaning that they are increasingly susceptible to accidents with people, possibly resulting in injury or death for either party. Tens of thousands are still killed annually.
People who want to help save this magnificent animal, can adopt one through World Wildlife Fund, or donate to organizations who are working to conserve and educate people about elephants.
Facts about African elephants:
African elephants can eat 300 to 400 lbs of vegetation per day
They have the largest brains of all terrestrial animals, and are considered as intellectually superior as apes, and dolphins
They emit a wide variety of vocalizations (most of which cannot be heard by the human ear due to their low frequencies) which are essential to communication within herds
They can live up to 70 years, be up to 13 feet tall, and weigh up to 10 tons
Before mating, African elephants will call to each other and intertwine their trunks
Male elephants (called bulls) have temporal glands on the sides of the faces which secrete a fluid during a period called “musth,” during which they experience high levels of testosterone and become aggressive
The upper lip and nose of an elephant form a trunk, which serves as a fifth limb for producing loud vocalizations, feeding, drinking, bathing, touching, and other social behaviors
“Pygmy elephants” are actually thought to be African forest elephants
In family units, females who will watch over calves which are not their own are called “allomothers”
Update June 7, 2013: It’s official, the FWS has posted a new rule that would remove protections for gray wolves across the country, except for the Southwest’s Mexican wolf, which would be declared an endangered subspecies.
From the news release: “In the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains, the gray wolf has rebounded from the brink of extinction to exceed population targets by as much as 300 percent. Gray wolf populations in the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segments were removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 2011 and 2012. “
From Green Right Now Reports
The second full season of sport hunting took a heavy toll on the U.S. Rocky Mountain Wolves, reducing their population by about one-third, “a level of human-caused mortality that is unprecedented” in the history of the Endangered Species Act, according to wildlife experts.
A billboard installed outside Yellowstone National Park by Predator Defense.org.
At that kill rate, the wolves could soon be a downward spiral threatening their survival, less than 20 years after being reintroduced into the Northern Rocky Mountain states. That’s according to wildlife proponents, who have been speaking out individually and through a professional society as the extent of the damage to wolves becomes clear.
“If this level of mortality continues or even increases, particularly as states consider increasing quotas and season lengths, recent simulation modeling casts serious doubt on the long-term viability of the population,” the American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) wrote in a May letter to incoming U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
The solution, the group said, would be to slow the hunting and re-institute protections for the wolves across the American West, most parts of which had not yet been re-settled by the wolves before they were delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2011 (2012 in Wyoming).
After the delisting, the states inhabited by the wolves were allowed to set up hunting seasons on them.
Wolves decline 34 percent in one year
An estimated 1,674 wolves remained alive in the five-state region of the Northwest after the 2012 hunting season, down from the 2,569 wolves that were “known to be alive sometime in 2012,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in its 2013 review of the wolf population.
Hunters killed the majority of the wolves and government game officials shot a smaller percentage of the total, killing wolves believed to have preyed on livestock, predominantly in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, the states with the highest concentration of wolves, according to FWS statistics.
The season also saw the loss of some iconic Yellowstone National Park wolves that had been studied and viewed by thousands of tourists. Yellowstone is where the grey wolves were reintroduced in 1994-5, using wolves from Canada. At the time, the gray wolf was virtually extinct in the U.S., except for a long stable population in Northeastern Minnesota and on Isle Royale in Michigan.
The federal government declared the population recovered in 2009, a prelude to their later delisting after court challenges by environmental groups.
Biologists are worried that the wolves may not withstand the onslaught of hunting, which could disrupt the packs ability to breed.
Some experts have said that number is ridiculously low target; the greater Rocky Mountain area in the U.S. could maintain upwards of 2,000 wolves and as many as 7,000 if certain habitats were restored.
The federal government, though, has said a contingent of 450 wolves would be sufficient to survive, intermingle and maintain their genetic viability in the Pacific Northwest.
Biologists have been debating the population goal for years. They successfully helped push the goal up to 450 from the original target of 300. Now, though, they’re worried that wolf goals should be reevaluated in light of vigorous sport hunting and a proposal at the Fish & Wildlife Service to delist the gray wolves in all the U.S. states.
The letter from the mammal society points out that there is still much uninhabited land that’s suitable for gray wolves, especially in Colorado and Utah, and that across the nation only 6 percent of the historic range of the non-Mexican gray wolves is populated with the apex predator.
This year’s past “offtake” of 861 wolves was very high and portends trouble ahead, said Dr. Bradley Bergstrom, a biology professor at Valdosta State University and chair of the ASM conservation committee.
“The prognosis for gray wolves, especially in the Northern Rocky Mountains is uncertain, if they continue to suffer high rates of human-caused mortality, year after year, which is exactly what the states intend,” Bergstrom said.
Hunting impacts ripple through the wolf populations, disrupting even surviving packs, which have lost leaders or breeding adults, he said.
Hunters happy, wildlife experts not so much
Bergstrom points to a 2010 study by Montana State University biologists that predicts the hunting, instead of strengthening the wolf populations as game officials argue, will cause chaos in the highly structured packs and worsen mortality from other causes — creating an “additive” negative effect.
” Using previously published data from 21 North American wolf populations, we related total annual mortality and population growth to annual human offtake. Contrary to current conventional wisdom, there was a strong association between human offtake and total mortality rates across North American wolf populations,” report authors Scott Creel and Jay J. Rotella in their report.
“Human offtake was associated with a strongly additive or super-additive increase in total mortality. Population growth declined as human offtake increased, even at low rates of offtake. Finally, wolf populations declined with harvests substantially lower than the thresholds identified in current state and federal policies ….”
Creel and Rotella are saying the wolves could be easily pushed over the edge by the aggressive hunting quotas and rigorous “controls” imposed by state and federal (Wildlife Services) agents.
Wildlife biologists say wolves are important top predators who help keep ecosystems in balance.
Their research also suggests that the disruption to wolf packs could increase predation on livestock, as surviving younger wolves turn to easier prey.
Most ranchers, though, welcome the wolves’ decline, seeing it as a way to protect their herds. Wolves were blamed for the deaths of 194 cattle and 470 sheep in 2012 across their territory in the Northwest states, according to FWS statistics.
In the interest of keeping predation to a minimum, the states’ management plans aim to unabashedly reduce wolves to a level where they cannot have much effect on livestock, and will be pushed into the outback (or into the interior of Yellowstone National Park), where they can feed on their traditional prey of elk.
Once the wolves are confined to suitable habitat, they can replenish their packs every year with new pups, according to the delisting plan.
From the perspective of hunters, trappers and game management, the recent wolf season was a rousing success. The state of Idaho sold 43,246 hunting tags and trappers bought 526 tags. The trapping season proved to be “very effective,” accounting for more than 33 percent of the harvest total, according to the Idaho management update of January 2013.
With so many tags sold, the hunting appears capable of paying for wolf management, though the report notes that monitoring the wolves will become increasingly difficult as radio-collared wolves are shot and killed.
But the hunters’ success has been disheartening to those who want to see the wolves stay firmly established as apex predators in the Rocky Mountain West, or even retain their presence in Yellowstone, which lost at least two resident wolves who left the protected area only to meet with a human with a gun. The dead wolves included the famous female leader of the Lamar Canyon pack., known as 832F.
These deaths, and the proposed new rule to remove any protections on wolves, led wildlife experts at several universities to also write to the Interior Department, renewing calls to officials to base their decisions on the science, which shows that wolves could rightly populate many wild spaces in the U.S..
“The gray wolf has barely begun to recover or is absent from significant portions of its former range where substantial suitable habitat remains. The Service’s draft rule fails to consider science identifying extensive suitable habitat in the Pacific Northwest, California, the southern Rocky Mountains and the Northeast. It also fails to consider the importance of these areas to the long-term survival and recovery of wolves, or the importance of wolves to the ecosystems of these regions, wrote the professors.
Wildlife groups protest zealous wolf reduction plans
Several other groups have jumped into the fight for fair treatment of the wolves, including the Humane Society of the U.S., which is fighting for a voter referendum to settle calls for wolf hunting in Michigan. (Here’s a blog about why the USHS is getting involved.)
In the past two years, the gray wolves of the Upper Midwest, cousins to those in the Rocky Mountains, have lost their endangered species protections, with both Minnesota and Wisconsin inaugurating wolf hunting seasons, and wolf advocates protesting them.
The pro-wolf groups say there’s no need to “harvest” wolves from biosystems that have been stable for decades, such as those in Minnesota and Michigan. Wolf populations have grown there, but the wolves have also dispersed to other regions as wolves do to maintain adequate territory.
Predator Defense, an Oregon non-profit, also advocates giving the gray wolves wider berth. The group argues that top predators — wolves, bear, cougar — should be left to nature to manage, not hunters, because their populations are self-limiting.
This summer, Predator Defense is taking its message to the tourists who flock to Yellowstone National Park, many of whom hope to see a wild wolf, installing billboards outside the park’s entrances.
“Coming Soon: A world without wolves? Stop the Killing!” the billboards, providing fodder for discussion as families wait in line.
“Most Americans have no idea wolves are being slaughtered by trophy hunters and trappers,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense. “There is no scientific or ethical justification to support the hunting and decimation of wolves or other predator species. In fact, these actions are contrary to the best available science.”
Part of the genus Pongo, there are two species of orangutan: the Bornean and the Sumatran orangutan. The name comes from two Malay and Indonesian words that together mean “person of the forest”. They are endemic to Malaysia and Indonesia, and are not found naturally outside of Asia.
Deforestation in Southeast Asia has hit them hard. Of all great apes, orangutans spend the most time in trees, hardly ever touching the ground. They eat mainly fruit, as well as leaves, bark, flowers, insects, and occasionally some meat. Though they have complex social bonds, they are also the most solitary of the great apes.
A Bornean Orangutan (Photo: Julie Langford, Wikimedia Commons)
Bornean orangutans are endangered and have been estimated to have decreased 50% in the past 60 years. There may be fewer than 45,000 left living in the wild, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Critically endangered Sumatran orangutans are even more threatened, having lost 80% of their population in the past 75 years. They used to be present all throughout Southeast Asia, but deforestation from logging and palm plantations has fragmented their habitat and curtailed their range. Because of this, they live almost exclusively in trees. The most recent estimates taken nearly 10 years ago indicate that only around 7,000 are still living, a number that has likely declined, according to the IUCN Red List .
Paper and palm plantations, roads, and increased urbanization isolate the communities, causing genetic drift and susceptibility to human disasters and hunting. It’s estimated that orangutan communities of less than 50 are not sustainable and will become extinct within 100 years.
Other threats include hunting and illegal pet trade.
Facts about orangutans:
Orangutans are the only primate where “bimaturism” is present in males, meaning they can take two distinct forms as adults. Flanged males are twice the size of females, have facial disks and can be aggressive towards other males. They are able to make a special vocalization to attract females and intimidate males. Unflanged males are the same size as females and do not possess any of these characteristics.
They are the largest mammals living in trees.
Sumatran orangutans are more social than Borneans, and will gather to eat together at certain trees
Bornean orangutans are darker and have shorter beards than Sumatran orangutans, though both species have the reddish-brown hair that distinguishes them from the black-haired apes found in Africa.
They build nests of branches and leaves in the forest canopy where they sleep at night
Sumatran orangutans have been observed using tools for various tasks, and have passed down the knowledge of these methods through generations.
What you can do:
Consume less paper and use recycled or sustainably grown paper products.
Learn about how the demand for toilet paper and tissues has destroyed much of the Sumatran rain forest; and the latest progress to stop this destruction at World Wildlife Fund’s website.
Avoid palm oil products in foods and beauty products whenever you can. This can be tricky, you must look for the many ways palm oil is identified — Cetyl Palmitate, Palmitic Acid, Hydrated Palm Glycertides, Palm Oil Kernal, Palmate, Palmitate. In addition, many other items are likely to be derived from palm oil, such as Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, typically found in soaps and personal products. Find out more on the Say No to Palm Oil website.
Donate your cell phone to your local zoo to support environmentalism that can help endangered species.
Keep up with the news about orangutans at Borneo-based Orangutan Outreach, the world’s largest rehabilitation and advocacy for orangutans, or follow regional groups around the world. In the U.S., the Orangutan Conservancy in Calif. advocates for these endangered apes. Conservancy groups around the world received some good news in early Feb. 2013, when the world’s largest paper product Asia Pulp and Paper announced that it would no long expand operations into native forests in Indonesia, but would move new operations to “open land and scrubland.” That concession came after years of pressure from groups like Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network and World Wildlife Fund.
(B.C. Riley writes about nature and the environment. She is a student intern for GreenRightNow, studying to be a wildlife biologist.)
Red Wolf and pups (Photo: Greg Kosh, US Fish and Wildlife Service.)
Red Wolves, commonly mistaken as coyotes, have stunning copper and gray coats. They live in packs composed of one alpha male and one female, along with their litter. When their pups are age 2, the males begin the search for another female to start their own packs, and their parents continue having litters once a year.
This majestic creature was reintroduced into North Carolina in 1987 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 7 years after being extinct in the wild. They are now critically endangered, with at least 100 believed to be surviving in the wild. Thankfully, their population is rising, but it is still limited to the Southeast region of the US, in an area far smaller than their original range.
Facts about Red Wolves:
Red Wolves mate for life, forming strong bonds with their partner
They are mostly nocturnal, preferring to roam around at dawn and dusk
Pups stay with their parents until about age 2, and usually live 6-9 years (although they can live up to 15 years in captivity)
Red Wolves weigh 45 to 90 lbs, about the same as German shepherds
The major threat to the red wolf population is hybridization with coyotes. At the time they were reintroduced into the wild, the coyote population was small, but has recently begun to flourish in some areas. In addition, vehicle deaths and accidental gunshot deaths endanger the few red wolves left.
A recovery program for the red wolves continues to aid in their conservation, and hunting red wolves is now illegal. Find out more about red wolves and the recovery program at the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wildlife does not respect property boundaries. Therefore, protecting endangered species cannot be accomplished on government-owned lands alone. The cooperation and assistance of private landowners is essential. However, some landowners see government biodiversity programs, such as the Endangered Species Act, as a threat to independent management of their property.
The March issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management presents a study of landowners’ attitudes toward a voluntary incentive program. Such incentive programs offer benefits to landowners for managing their properties to support biodiversity, including endangered species.
The study took place in six counties in Texas, inviting landowners to participate in a habitat management program to benefit the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler, both endangered songbirds. Cost sharing and other assistance was offered to clear brush and cedars, preserve oak-juniper woodlands, and perform a prescribed burn during the five-year term of the program. Landowners also would gain improved grazing capacity, water conservation, and enhanced wildlife habitat on their lands.
The study focused on what factors determined whether a landowner was likely to agree to the incentive program. How central a role farming and ranching played in the lifestyle of the landowner proved to be important. A traditional rancher could be described as “born to the land”—strongly attached to the land through previous generations of family and as a livelihood. A shorter-term, or “reborn,” landowner may be less likely to engage in agriculture and raise livestock, instead owning land for recreation or aesthetic reasons.
Researchers found a more positive attitude toward enrolling in the incentive program among shorter-term landowners. Social variables such as attitudes, beliefs, and motivations, along with demographic considerations, are often underlying reasons for participation or refusal to participate in voluntary incentive programs for biodiversity. Program administrators who take these variables into account can design programs with broader appeal, recruiting more landowners and protecting more endangered species.
The group decided to share the photograph, because snapping such a picture of the elusive and endangered leopard, with a cub, is “nearly impossible,” the WCS team says. It’s the first image of a mother and cub taken since the WCS began conservation work in the region in 2006. WCS works to save wildlife and wild spaces worldwide, through education and management of wildlife parks. It’s flagship is the Bronx Zoo.
Their goal is to change attitudes toward nation and help people see that preserving wildlife is essential to maintaining all life on Earth.
Last summer, however, the WCS reported that it had discovered a robust population of Snow leopards living in the mountains of northweastern Afghanistan, in the Wakhan Corridor.
The discovery offers hope that the mountain cat could hold on when not persecuted by poachers or hunters seeking the cats for the exotic pet trade. WCS-trained community spotters used hidden cameras to document Snow leopards in 16 separated locations.
“This is a wonderful discovery – it shows that there is real hope for snow leopards in Afghanistan,” said Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy Director for Asia Programs, said at the time. “Now our goal is to ensure that these magnificent animals have a secure future as a key part of Afghanistan’s natural heritage.”
WCS works with local communities to manage their livestock and help sustain the area’s wildlife, the leopards but also the ibex and the Marco Polo sheep. WCS also compensates shepherds for predation losses.
Working with the US Aid for International Development (USAID), the WCS helped created Afghanistan’s first national park, Band-e-Amir, which is monitored by 55 surrounding communities.
Life-empowering condom conversation starters from the Center for Biological Diversity.
This campaign, which wraps free condoms inside a package featuring an endangered animal is both edgy and cute. You could even say it’s over the top, but we’re trying to keep the puns to a minimum.
Center staff and volunteers are distributing the condoms to various organizations which will be giving them away at concerts, bars and university events. (Find a distributor.)
The concept, or contraception, shows the direct line from our human tendency to procreate to the sad state of affairs on the planet, where many species are being squeezed out by the loss of habitat. Their perilous position is the direct result of human “progress” and population growth.
As the global human population officially bolts past the 7 billion mark, which is projected to happen by the end of this month according to the United Nations Population Fund, it’s obvious that our sheer human numbers are challenging the planet’s resources.
Consider that the earth now hosts 7 billion people, but only a few hundred Sumatran Tigers, an imbalance we’re well aware of now because of the bizarre release of exotic animals in Ohio this past week.
And those of us who enjoy permanent shelter and a daily diet of prepared food, disposable products and copious fossil fuels are making the situation much worse than our compatriots who make do with less, though many social scientists argue that uncontrolled human expansion is a problem in less advantaged areas as well.
The Center for Biological Diversity, through its 7 Billion and Counting campaign, is just one of many groups trying to get its arms around the population issue:
The human race is not only the most populous large mammal on Earth but the most populous large mammal that has ever existed. Providing for the needs and wants of this many people — especially those in high-consumption, developed countries — has pushed homo sapiens to absorb 50 percent of the planet’s freshwater and develop 50 percent of its landmass. As a result, other species are running out of places to live. — Center for Biological Diversity
For all our innovation and genius, we humans have left a trail of collateral damage that includes the vanishing tigers, beetles and birds featured by the Center’s campaign. That much is quite clear. What people don’t yet see is that we are a step away from joining our animal cousins on the endangered species list, if we don’t employ our higher thinking skills to find sustainable, symbiotic ways to survive, for them and us. The math alone is against us, with the UN Population Fund predicting that earth could contain 10 billion people by 2100.
This is not just a discussion for the agenda, it is THE discussion to have. (And if you were wondering how the environmental movement intersects with the Occupy movement, this is how: It’s all about a more fair and balanced distribution of resources.)
So if a condom package pushes us in the right direction, then great. It’s not like the contemplation has to occur when you’re in the moment, so to speak. In fact, that would be too late.