Are There Wolves in Devil’s Garden?

The Gray Wolf population in Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon  has increased to the point that they are no longer listed. In both these areas wolves are now being managed to limit livestock loses.

Both Oregon and Washington maintain web sites providing the public with information about wolf activity.

Washington Update:  http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/updates/update_on_washington_wolves_20170725.pdf

Oregon Update: http://dfw.state.or.us/Wolves/wolf_livestock_updates.asp

California now has at least two breeding pairs of wolves. You can read about them here: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-gray-wolves-northern-california.html

Last June a wolf ran across the highway in front of me while I was driving home from a fishing trip near Lake Almanor. Now we have reports about a breeding pair in that area, so my sighting was not surprising.

It is also not surprising that two wolves tried to run down three bucks I was stalking last week. It happened right in front of me.

It was day two of the 2017 archery deer season in the Devil’s Garden when I decided to hunt a particular spot believing that a buck would show up.

More so than in most places, mule deer bucks in the garden tend to have favorite hangouts and I thought I may have found one.

Leaving my car parked about a mile from the location I was hunting, I started out about 3:00 PM. Walking slowly, I was cautious about making noise or spreading my scent. The wind was blowing up the canyon and I knew that the wind shift would take place some time in the early evening and after that it would steady out. So, with luck, I might have a chance for a stalk without the bucks detecting me.

At a range of about 700 yards from the area I expected that bucks to show, I sat down wearing my guilly-suit that made me very had to pick out. A black cow walked up the draw and when she was about to step on me, I spoke to her and she looked at me quizzically. Then she made her move around me and continued on her way.

While glassing the ridge-line where I expected a buck to come from, two deer appeared – both small bucks. I was pleased to see some action and got up to close the distance between me and them to about 530 yards. There I sat against a tree stump and studied the bucks.

A third buck appeared and apparently it had been there the entire time. It was a big buck and was turning gray. Now I was excited because this third buck was the kind of deer everybody wants a shot at. He appeared to be about 25 inches wide, tall and four by four. But he stayed in the shadows and mostly behind a patch of timber that blocked my view while the two younger bucks remained mostly visible.

The wind did not show any signs of shifting, so I remained at this position for about a half hour while monitoring wind direction.

Without any warning, what first appeared to be two gray coyotes, came charging at the deer that were up wind of them. However it didn’t take long to figure out that these two canines were not behaving like coyotes.

In case you don’t know, I’ll tell you that coyotes and mature mule deer coexist very well with each other. On occasion a buck will become nervous around a coyote, but coyotes weight about 30 pounds which is approximately a quarter the weight of a mature mule deer buck.

A typical encounter between a coyote and a mule deer buck would be that the coyote would hardly pay any attention to the buck. The dog typically would sniff around looking for ground squirrels or voles without showing any interest in the deer.

The buck might face off with the coyote and make sure it doesn’t cause him trouble, but it would hardly run away. Does with young fawns may run from a coyote, but typically they only do that to lure the coyote away from their fawn.

So, back to the wolves. They charged at the buck trotting at attack speed. (I’ve never seen a coyote trot.) They were on a laser path to the bucks when they disappeared from sight at the edge of the small timber patch where the deer were feeding.

For a moment, there was no indication of what was going on. Then the bucks busted out  of the timber at the down-wind side. They were running as fast as a buck can run. They climbed to the top of the small ridge and disappeared in seconds.

Bucks don’t run from coyotes.

I didn’t say anything about wolves for a couple of days. Then a coyote crossed the road in front of me at about 30 yards. He was dinky. That’s when I decided my story was definitive.

The first wolf was coyote colored, but it had short hair. I’ve never seen a short-haired coyote. Maybe scraggly, but not short-haired. The following wolf was slightly smaller than the lead wolf, but its coat was long very similar to most coyotes.

A follow-up phone call verified that two wolves had been sighted in the garden recently, just a few miles from where I saw them.

Wolves are not longer just a thought or a vision in California or Devil’s Garden. They are part of our lives. Forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lassen Gray Wolves

Can’t help but wonder about the wolf I saw crossing Highway 89 near Almanor West last June. It’s been over a year now, but I kept hoping that I’d hear that somebody else saw him – didn’t happen.

Now there’s an entire family of wolves in the area. Apparently related to the infamous OR7, the same wolf that fathered the Rogue Pack. Didn’t take them long to propagate. I have no plans to go to Almanor this summer, but you never know. If I do visit, I’ll try to spend some time scouting around the area where I saw the wolf last summer.

The wolf crossed the road heading south and headed into Collins Pine Timber Company property. I checked a couple dusty roads down stream from where I saw him, but couldn’t pick up his trail.

Would be cool to hear him howl.

https://www.gohunt.com/read/news/new-wolf-pack-confirmed-in-california

Wolf Sighting

I’ve thought that my chances of seeing a wolf in my lifetime were pretty good.

I’ve been in wolf country fairly often. British Columbia, Montana, Alberta and Alaska are the places where I expected to see a wolf. I’ve heard them in Montana three years in a row and observed tracks almost daily while hunting. I’ve seen wolf tracks in Alaska, but not wolves.

Yesterday I observed my first wolf while driving west on Highway 89 on the south side of Lake Almanor. California !

I’ve had my share of inaccurate sightings in my life time-just ask my brother, Rob, who pays no attention to me when I look up and shout, “peregrine!” Only to realize a moment later that it was some other raptor.

However, when it comes to this wolf, it was a no-brainer, so before I start talking myself into thinking I was wrong, I’ll explain why I was right.

A wolf running across a road is a better view than seeing one running in the woods. The light was perfect, but in the woods, the shadows and trees could have made it difficult to be sure.

It didn’t look like any live animal I’ve ever seen before. It was a very large canine, and it loped across the road with long bounds. It was about the same size as the wolf I have mounted life-size in my office, on which I’ve had plenty of time to practice my visuals.

wolf mountIMG_0091

This black wolf (the one in my office) came from Alberta. And, it is a big one. The wolf I saw yesterday appeared to be just as large, if not larger, and it was gray.

I reported the sighting to CDFW and also at the Forest Service Office in Chester. Figured they’d be interested. They seemed so. I also placed a pin on my IPhone GPS and emailed the exact location to the interested parties.

I searched the edge of the road to see if I could find it’s tracks, but could not. If I hadn’t been on my way home, I would have invested more time in follow up searching, but you don’t really need tracks to know what you saw.

Hard to believe that nobody else has seen this wolf.

Apparently it is a lone male wolf, out searching for a female. The deer zone he was in the C Zone and there are currently plenty of deer for him to eat. Also, there are plenty of dead deer along the sides of the highways. I saw at least one or two every day while I was at Almanor.

It would be nice if somebody else sees the wolf to confirm my sighting, but if not, I’ll be the only one who knows for sure. And I’m convinced it could have been nothing else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Wolf Story

In  about December of 2011, a radio-collared wolf moved into Northern California. It took over four years for a different wolf to reach my home. In between those dates, wolves have settled in California and at least one pair of wolves has raised a litter of wolf pups.

During 2012 through 2014, I became somewhat involved with wolves in different ways. While volunteering for the Mule Deer Foundation, I served on a committee of wolf Stakeholders. I did my best to make my opinions known to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife as they created a Wolf Management Plan. (https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Gray-Wolf/Stakeholders)

While hunting in locations where wolves are common (Canada, Alaska but primarily Montana) I gradually became more familiar with wolves in the wild. During Montana hunts in 2013, 14 and 15 I heard wolves howl and eyed tracks almost daily. All the hunters in our camp possessed wolf tags in anticipation of having a shot opportunity.  A few hunters in our camp had sightings of wolves, but no shots were fired.

On those Montana trips I observed mule deer, elk, moose, a big-horn ram, black bear and two grizzly bears – but no wolves. On one occasion a wolf howled very close by. My guide and I expected to see the wolf, but did not. Later we found the tracks of two wolves that had been standing about 150 yards from our position.

Wolves have become a reality in my life, but I have yet to see one alive.

At the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo in February of 2014, I attended a Friday afternoon auction where a trapping experience was auctioned. I purchased the trip with a bid of $1,500. The donor was Trent Packham of Groat Creek Outfitters. Trent lives about 60 miles north of  Edmonton, Alberta.

Eventually we scheduled the trip for early January in 2015 and I purchased ticket to Edmonton for January 3rd, 2015. I began building up my wardrobe of cold-weather clothes.

I expected temperatures as low as any I’d ever before experienced, but it was still a shock to my system when Trent called the day before my departure and told me that it was minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit in Edmonton. I told him I planned to be there the next day.

Then I laid awake that night and envisioned the drive in my rental car in sub-freezing weather through sixty miles of unknown territory. I have to admit that I didn’t want to take that challenge on and in the morning I cancelled my trip.

No regrets, but a couple weeks later, Trent sent me a photo of wolves he had trapped. He said that one of them was the largest wolf he had trapped up to that time. I mulled it over and concluded that maybe I should have a trophy from the trip I did not take.

I called Trent and asked him the price of the cape of that wolf. He came up with a number – $882 USD out the door. Then I asked if he knew a taxidermist who could do a good job of mounting the wolf – life size. He said that Scott Holman was the go-too guy and gave me his contact information:

SCOTT HOLMAN TAXIDERMY
661 24TH ST.
BRANDON, MANITOBA, CANADA
R7B 1X8
204 725 4474
sholman@westman.wave.ca
http://www.holmantaxidermy.com

Now it was quite a trip from Alberta to Manitoba and then to California, but this wolf puts OR7 to shame when it comes to miles traveled. The cost of taxidermy:$2205 USD. Just in case your thinking you might want to do this, here’s the breakdown.

 

Invoice Image (25) cropped

Scott sent me photos of various poses and this is the one I selected.

pose IMG_1840

Scott built the wolf and occasionally checked in. A couple months ago the wolf was finished, but then he had to wait for a CITES permit. Cost of the trip from Manitoba to Livermore: $671.04 USD.

It took about three weeks for the crate to make it through customs in North Dakota and then on to California. The crate arrived last Friday March 19, but it will be a while before I am ready to open it. Here’s a photo of the finish product as taken by Scott Holman.

wolf mountIMG_0091

Can’t hardly wait to open my present, but it may take a while to finish creating his final resting spot.

 

 

 

 

 

The Stuff That Wolves Are Made Of

Not that I don’t like wolves, but if it had been up to me, I’d have built a (metaphorical) fence along the border with Oregon to keep the wolves out of our state. I didn’t want to add wolves to the list of problems we have related to managing our deer and elk.

So, now it’s time to adjust.

Deer and elk are the stuff that wolves are made of. If you worship wolves you have to love deer and elk. They are inseparable.

Now that the wolf is a listed species in California, I see two possible choices – ignore the critters and wait to see what happens or prepare for them by building up our elk and deer habitat.

I’d prefer to be proactive, but it will take a lot more than my support to make a wolf plan successful.

We need more of the stuff that wolves are made of.We need more ungulates and we need them in a big way.

If we set the table and prepare the venison, the guests will arrive and be happy.

Ungulates are to wolves what grass is to elk and buck-brush is to deer. Current California does not currently have enough food for wolves. Our habitat is fragmented, neglected and unproductive. Without large-scale habitat manipulation, neither deer, elk nor wolves will be successful in California  – wolves listed or not.

Ask any hunter and he’ll tell you that deer numbers are declining in California. and that we have few elk. Ask and old hunter and he’ll tell you about the good-old two-deer days when you could hunt the Sierra Nevada mountains from the Oregon border to Mono Lake with one deer tag during a season that lasted from August to November and also purchase a second deer tag to hunt blacktail in the Coast Range.

However, now that wolves have been elevated to a status of “Endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act, there may be an improved chance to fund habitat improvement on a landscape scale for their primary source of food. Deer and elk thrive in young habitat. The best example of that is habitat that has been hit by fire. Old shrubs that have reached maturity don’t have nearly as much food value as shrubs that have recently sprouted. A forest that has burned can provide exceptional habitat for several years after the fire and that habitat can continue to be treated by mechanical means to extend the period of productivity indefinitely.

Deer and elk are capable of expanding their numbers rapidly in response to optimum habitat conditions. This is prime time for building deer and elk herds.

Although setting fire to the woods can be accomplished as part of a habitat project, there is liability and also human-related environmental issues to deal with. Accidentally burning down a private residence cannot be justified by a desire for increased habitat. And, air quality concern as monitored by the air quality people trumps many potential fire projects in California, but not all.

Policy changes are sometimes better than cash. A fire doesn’t have to be prescribed in order to be an effective habitat producer. An awareness of how we recover forest from wild-fire could generate progress in the habitat production arena.

Policy changes by forest managers could have a significant impact upon habitat recovery after wildfire. If habitat improvement could become a primary concern during the first years after large wildfires, prescribed burning could be replaced by, or augmented by, unplanned natural fire – a good example of turning lemons into lemonade.

At this point it is unclear as to whether current law under the California Endangered Species Act or Environmental Quality Act will be an effective tool for funding habitat for ungulates and wolves on a meaningful scale. But during this period of flux, between a Fish and Game Commission commitment to list and the effective date of the listing is a time to be opportunistic. The rules are being formulated right now.

And, we must not forget that wolves are still federally listed in California, so maybe there’s opportunity for funding at that level.

Another avenue to consider is to lobby for legislation that would require mitigation to offset any loss of habitat for wolves, deer or elk. The listing creates support for legislative activity and lawmakers are watching. How about a statewide policy of “no net loss of habitat for deer, elk or wolves.” Such a statewide policy should be attractive to deer hunters.

Forest grazing practices are another large-scale habitat consideration. When properly managed sheep and cattle can contribute to a healthier forest  by making more habitat accessible and palatable to ungulates. Is California’s range-land functioning optimally?

Private land can be a very important niche in wildlife management. The private sector can manage habitat  while avoiding the limitations of government bureaucracy.

Before hunters take a leap of faith in full support of California’s new wolf era, I’d expect them to require that a commitment from all parties to the sanctity of the hunting culture and the proven value of regulated hunting as a game management and habitat-funding tool.

Exactly how can habitat improvement be funded? How can forest management policies be changed? The details are the question. A status of “Endangered” can only turn into funding or improved policy if the public pushes for it. The public outcry to list the wolf will be fruitless if that same public does not lobby for the funding and policy change necessary to make the listing successful.

Is it possible that hunters and non-hunters could join forces to create an unprecedented mandate for habitat improvement in our state? Could traditional conservationists and environmentalists become an undeniable force that rocks the wolf-ungulate ecosystem?

For years conservationists have unsuccessfully attempted to elevate the quality and quantity of deer and elk habitat in California. The wolf listing could be the catalyst that allows meaningful large-scale habitat improvement to happen. It’s time to choose our course.

It’s too late to build the fence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on Listing Wolves Under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA)

A CESA listing can create opportunity for wildlife. The State has many programs that can have the effect of enhancing wildlife habitat to offset habitat losses to roads and development. Because the wolf listing is so unique, I imagine it will take a while for California to figure it out.

Wolves live on ungulates – deer and elk. In a perfect world,  California should step up and fund a campaign to improve habitat for wolves in California, which really would be a campaign to improve deer and elk herds. That may be wishful thinking, but we need to conserve our wildlife resources. If we don’t, we won’t have wolves, deer or elk.

Ball-park estimates are that a wolf will eat about two elk a month – a pack  of five about 120 elk a year. California doesn’t have an elk supply large enough to sustain many wolf packs.

Because elk are in short supply, people who support the concept of  large numbers of  wolves in California are banking on wolves prospering on a diet of mule and blacktailed deer. Mule deer have not proved to be a sustaining source of food for wolves, but the coast range and western slope Sierra’s may have blacktail herds that wolves can rely on.

California will have as many deer and elk as the habitat will support. It’s hard to know exactly how wolves will enter into the equation, but adding a new predator won’t make deer and elk management easier. Nor will it expand hunting opportunity for people who would like to hunt elk in California at least once in their lifetime.

On the other hand, the State of California has indirectly made a commitment to the welfare of deer and elk, because without deer and elk, there will be no wolves.

It is possible that, in the short term, wolves will only be transients in California – coming and going with ungulate populations trends and movements. In the meantime, Oregon has the elk needed to feed wolves and California not.

Nobody knows for sure what will happen from here. Theories abound. But, wolves have been expanding their territory rapidly and will likely continue to do so for a while.

 

 

 

Here’s How the Environmental Protection Information Center Reports the Wolf Listing

“Great news for wolves! Early this afternoon, the California State Fish and Game Commission voted three to one to grant protections to Gray Wolves under the California Endangered Species Act.

The decision came after three hours of testimony from nearly two hundred members of the public, many of who were dressed in gray and wearing paper hats shaped and painted like wolves. One especially endearing comment, which made the entire hall smile, was delivered by two-year toddler Madrone Shelton who clearly stated to the Commissioners, “protect wolves.”

Cuteness was in the air when a new photo from the Oregon Department of Wildlife surfaced that verified California’s famous wandering wolf, OR-7 and his new mate, had successfully sired a litter of puppies!

This announcement further cemented the need to list the wolf under the California Endangered Species Act. It is likely that OR-7 and his family will travel back into California once the pups are old enough, and protections under the law will help ensure their future safety.

The serendipitous humor of OR-7’s activities could not be better timed. Back in February, the very day that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told Commissioners that listing was not warranted because there were no wolves present, OR-7 jumped the border back into California; and again, as if on cue, today’s news of OR-7’s puppies happened within minutes of the Department’s stating that there is still not a breeding pair of wolves in California and that the other wolf that has been spotted with OR-7, may not be female.

We think OR-7 was trying to tell us something—that California is wolf country and that we will have wolves within our state in the very near future, so be prepared!

Meanwhile, the process for developing a California Wolf Management Plan is still underway. EPIC, and other groups representing a diverse set of interests, are helping the Department of Fish and Wildlife develop a management plan that balances the biological needs of wolves and the needs of society.

For more than two years, we have worked to get protections put in place for Gray Wolves. We could not have done it without you. Together we have sent more than 4,000 comments to Commissioners and today we were delivered a sweet and satisfying victory for wildlife protection.

Let us celebrate this announcement by sending out a collective howl for the future of California’s wolves, “Ahh-wooooooo!”

 

Take note of their advertisement. DONATE. I wonder what they do with their money? Habitat work I hope.

RF