Making Room for Wolves

The wolf that passed through Northern California last year, revealed that, if left to a natural progression,  California will be a home for wolves at some time in the future. Without protection, wolves could be kept in check at the border, but a majority of the California public wants wolves -not to mention that they are federally protected as an endangered species.

Therefore, the question is not if, but when. A flurry of wolf-related human activity is taking place. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has asked the California Fish and Game Commission to list the gray wolf as endangered. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has made it clear that they do not believe the gray wolf is endangered per the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

In anticipation move, CDFW, has begun to work on a management plan for wolves and has made a commitment to finishing the plan by the end of 2014. Wolves are leaving a wide political wake as they work their way from Yellowstone towards the Shasta Cascade.

It is now a foregone conclusion that wolves will once again live in California. Almost all of California has been home to wolves at some time in the past. However, things are much different today from the time when grizzlies roamed the central valley and wolves hunted for Columbia black-tailed deer in the Bay Area.

Tule elk were once on the verge of extinction, but hunters brought them back.

Tule elk were once on the verge of extinction, but hunters brought them back.

The perfect wolf food is elk meat. It’s obvious that one mature elk provides enough food to feed a pack of wolves for a few days. A moose is even better, but California (to my knowledge) has never been a home for moose. Deer on the other hand have always had wide distribution throughout California and to a limited degree are still here and available to feed wolves today.

According to CBD’s petition, wolves were most abundant prior to European occupation of California. Think about the food base for wolves at that time. There were deer virtually everywhere. Herds of tule elk lived in the Central Valley and Coast ranges. There was no human interference, except for the primitive California tribes.

In 1800, California habitat was primarily inhabited by wildlife. Today California habitat is primarily inhabited by people and people are very demanding.

What will the wolves eat? In the northern counties where elk have made a comeback, they will eat mostly elk, because that is what wolves were designed to do.

To occupy any territory in sustainable numbers, wolves must form packs so they can breed and form a sustaining social network. A pack may be five wolves that are the offspring of the breeding pair. While a lone wolf may be able to live off ground squirrels, mice, road kill and an occasional coyote, a pack requires the calories provided by ungulates. Young wolves that are unable to hunt for themselves will not survive without the meat of large ungulates like elk.

Wolves will prey upon Columbia black-tailed deer and mule deer, but the hunters in the pack will be required to work very hard to kill enough deer to feed a growing family. And, currently California deer densities are low, requiring a pack to hunt over a large area. Therefore the potential density of healthy wolves inhabiting California is very low.

If wolves are going to make it in California, without eating beef or mutton, compensation must come from somewhere. That’s why wool growers and cattlemen are concerned.

Either predation from coyotes, bear and mountain lions will have to decline, or sportsmen will have to reduce their take. In a perfect world, the promoters of wolves would lobby for additional wolf habitat and help supply funding. Those who look forward to having wolves in California must be prepared to share the costs, but will they?

While sportsmen would probably just as soon let the wolves stay in Oregon, they also appreciate wild animals and have a connection with large predators. Hunters can live with wolves as long as there is enough habitat and management to keep them in balance within a shared ecosystem.

What sportsmen cannot tolerate is adding a new face at the table without a budget that tells them where the extra food is coming from. In other words we need changes to create habitat for wolves which means more elk and deer. Without adequate shared habitat and proper management tools, wolves will create chaos. Once wolves reach a sustainable population, it will be necessary to manage them with lethal means. This means either population reduction by paid depredation or public hunting. California are your ready?

Where can new habitat come from?  More government funding for land management agencies so additional habitat can be created on our vast public lands. That means tax payers will have to respond. We need changes to air quality control regulation so that habitat-enhancing controlled burning can take place to create more ungulate food for deer that wolves eat. We need better management of natural burn areas to allow brush to grow instead of poisoning deer food with herbicides.

If the people of California are willing to take on the financial responsibility for feeding a new member of the wildlife family, then bring on the wolves. But like a young couple wanting children, Californians must take this wildlife management responsibility seriously.

Hunting and Wildlife Populations

When a game bird population is high, the compensatory effect of hunting is greatest.

When a game bird population is high, the compensatory effect of hunting can be most beneficial.

I’ve most often seen the term “compensatory” used when describing the effect of hunting on game bird populations. At first glance, one might assume that the population of game birds at the end of a year which included hunting, might be the total number of birds at the start of the year minus the sum of birds killed by hunters and the birds which died from natural causes. In this case, the number of bird deaths would be additive.

A key to understanding the compensatory concept is the realization that changes in population density impact habitat and bird health. Therefore, when birds are removed from the population early on in a season, the remaining birds benefit from the population decrease. They have fewer birds competing with them for food and therefore are more likely to remain healthy and survive.

Not only that, but with fewer game birds in the population other sources of population depletion may be impacted. For example predator populations may decline. Or, a decrease in population density may prevent the spread of disease that might otherwise occur.

In a perfect world, precisely the right number of game birds are killed by hunters, thereby reducing the population to where a high percentage of the remaining birds survive. When this is the case, the effect of hunting is negligible.

DSC_0518 rooster

Another case that clearly demonstrates the benefits of using compensatory mortality is when a severe weather event causes a dramatic decrease mule deer habitat and food supplies. By removing deer from a specific herd, the remaining animals in that herd will have a better chance of surviving. If there’s only enough food for a predictable number of deer to live through a tough winter, game managers may call for a special hunt to reduce the population and prevent mass starvation.

Unfortunately other limitations make it difficult to manage precisely.

Duck Hunting Franks Tract

Floating duck blinds on Franks Tract as viewed from the Webb Tract Levee looking across False River

Floating duck blinds on Franks Tract as viewed from the Webb Tract Levee looking across False River

(For a better view, click on the photo)

Thirty years ago, Franks Tract was open to free-lance duck hunting. During the early season we periodically pulled my Boston Whaler up to the berm and hunted ducks – mostly mallards. We killed a few, but the action was slow (only for those who were really motivated). Eventually the State took more control over the hunting and now it is strictly managed as a State Recreation Area.

I haven’t heard many reports lately about the quality of the hunting, but I frequently hear shooting from the direction of these blinds. Here’s a link that will provide information about drawing a permit for a blind on Franks Tract.

Mountain Lion Scat

Some time last year, I spied a scat that appeared to be from a mountain lion, so I made a short video of it. Afterward I stashed it away on my computer and did nothing with it. But earlier today I came across it and decided it’s worth showing, so here it is.

I’ve found mountain lion scat on many occasions. In the case of the freshest scat, I also watched the lion from about 20 yards. He walked across the road right in plain sight.

If you ever come across a very fresh mountain lion scat, you will notice that it has a very obnoxious fowl smell unlike anything you’ve smelled before.


Lola Meets Mr. Bobcat

A little over two years ago, Lola and I came across a bobcat while walking our normal hiking route. The cat didn’t hang around very long and Lola became quite excited, but that was the end of it.

A few days ago we were walking the route again, and Lola began barking in the exact spot where the cat had been hiding on the previous encounter. I immediately reached for my iPhone and you can see for yourself what happened. This is a testimony to the fact that wild animals have places where they hang out repeatedly over time. This cat was probably laying in the same spot as on the previous encounter over two years prior.

Although Lola probably outweighed the cat by 25-30 pounds, the cat was the taller of the two and seemed to have little fear of the dog.

Montana Safaris Donates Deer Hunt to MDF Livermore 2014 Banquet

The Bob Marshall Wilderness is a huge expanse of mule deer country.

The Bob Marshall Wilderness is a huge expanse of mule deer country.

This is a all inclusive wilderness pack-in horse-back hunt for one hunter – 8 days. Includes a free upgrade to a wolf combo hunt. Also may be upgraded to an elk/deer/wolf combo hunt (arrange with outfitter). All meals, guides, horses and complementary shuttle to the airport are included. Deadline to apply for tag/license/permit is March 15, 2014. Total cost of deer license is $570.

Note: Because the 15th of March falls on a weekend this year, on-line tag applications can be completed on Monday, March 17th.

Check out their website at

Montana Safaris, Lorell or Rocky Heckman

200 US Hwy 89

Vaughn, MT 59487


Dates: General Rifle Season

Additional hunters: $2,700

Location: Bob Marshall Wilderness

Check out the banquet flyer by clicking on the links below:

Flyer front page

2014 flyer pg 2

2014 ticket order form

Fish the Fall River and Golf at The Fall River Country Club.

Your host for this two-day trip will be Rob Lawson of Lawson’s Wildlife Adventures.

Lodging will be at the Fall River Inn and all meals for the two-day stay are included.

Rob Lawson will be your guide while you fish the Fall River and/or Bidwell Reservoir. You make the choice and Rob will take care of the rest. Fishing in the Fall River will be from Rob’s 14′ Aluminum Boat while fishing at Bidwell Reservoir will be from float tubes provided by Rob.

Bring your fly rod and golf clubs to the Fall River Inn and enjoy this two-day sojourn in the Shasta Cascade Country.

Stacks Image 13

One of the fishing options is Bidwell Reservoir where you may catch a giant rainbow like the one pictured.

Green fees at Fall River Country Club are not included, but Rob will transport you to the club and pick you up when your round is complete. You can fish one day and golf the other or do all in one day.

Here are links to the MDF banquet flyer.

Flyer front page

2014 flyer pg 2

2014 ticket order form