Defenders In the News
Though the gray wolf is indigenous to Colorado, a wild pack hasn’t been seen here for nearly a century. The last were killed in the first half of the last century as part of a nationwide campaign — in many cases, encouraged by federal and state bounties — to eradicate the wolf from the American landscape. Since the mid-1990s, however, active efforts to restore the wolf to areas both north and south of Colorado have brought about a resurgence of the animal. Stable packs now make their homes in Yellowstone National Park, as well as parts of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, New Mexico and Arizona.
“We should be grandfathered in.” That’s how the manager of the Lower Yellowstone Project irrigation district in Montana put it. His farmers have been using a dam on the river to supply water to their fields since time immemorial—or for 112 years, anyway—and see no reason to change. But the pallid sturgeon would certainly say it should be grandfathered in too. The monster fish has depended on the river for 78 million years, roughly since Tyrannosaurus rex ruled this region. The problem is that the farmers and their timber-and-rock dam are now killing off the sturgeon. Intake Dam is an unimpressive structure, located near Glendive, Montana, just before the Yellowstone River joins the Missouri River. The dam—really just a weir—stretches for 700 feet across the Yellowstone but does not even rise above the water surface in some seasons. The irrigation district has to pile on new stones each year just to make it back up enough water for its purposes.
Volunteer researchers have gathered more information on one of the most elusive and rarest of Montana's wild animals. The Wolverine Watchers program spent from December through April looking for wolverines, fishers and other forest mammals. Defenders of Wildlife and 150 volunteers set up wildlife monitoring stations form Florence to the south end of Hamilton in the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains. It partnered with Forest Service biologists who are studying animals in the southern Bitterroot National Forest. Wolverines are shy predators known to live in Montana's high country. They are rare.
Last Nov. 1, about 400 spectators watched in delight as 10 huge, shaggy bison rumbled out of a holding corral onto 1,000 acres of windy shortgrass prairie, 30 miles north of Fort Collins, Colorado. The fenced grassland here is part of some 32,000 acres of city and county natural areas stretching from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. Local managers plan to gradually expand the herd’s range to 2,500 acres as it grows through a combination of natural reproduction and more reintroductions. The herd already has its own Facebook page and, of course, a limited-release commemorative microbrew, Prairie Thunder Imperial Brown Ale.The release restores the bison to the merest sliver of the species’ vast historic range, and yet it represents a major conservation success. These animals are descended from the bison in Yellowstone National Park, the only population to survive wholesale slaughter by settlers during the late 19th century, and the last major reservoir of bison genes that have not been polluted by cattle DNA from cross-breeding.
Defenders of Wildlife has walked off the Red Wolf Recovery Team, claiming it’s headed for a “dead end,” meeting only once in the past five months. The only wild population of red wolves on earth is in a five-county area of eastern North Carolina where they were reintroduced. The population includes only 45 red wolves. Environmental groups had contested the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission’s management of the nearly extinct population, even filing a lawsuit to restrict coyote hunting in red wolf territory to avoid red wolves being mistaken for coyotes and shot.
Bill Moore isn’t surprised that Oregon’s wolf population has surpassed 100 for the first time since the animals returned to the state about a decade ago. Indeed Moore, who raises cattle near Unity in southern Baker County, believes there are far more than 100 wolves roaming the state. “You can’t count all of them,” said Moore, a past president of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. “I think we’ve already got considerably more wolves than their estimate.” The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), which manages wolves in the state and compiles the annual population estimate, doesn’t discount that possibility.
A proposal to remove a rock weir from Montana’s Yellowstone River so an endangered, primeval fish species can reach its spawning grounds could cost far more than government plans to construct a new dam and fish bypass at the site for $59 million. Environmentalists who back the no-dam proposal say it would be worth the added expense to ensure the recovery of a small population of endangered pallid sturgeon on the lower Yellowstone. But a representative of farmers who rely on water diverted by the weir, which is a kind of dam, warned that removing it could leave them short.
President Obama designated three new national monuments in the California desert Thursday, expanding federal protection to 1.8 million acres of landscapes that have retained their natural beauty despite decades of heavy mining, cattle ranching and off-roading. The designation was requested by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who for a decade has sought to protect land that wasn't included in the 1994 California Desert Protection Act. That measure covered nearly 7.6 million acres, elevated Death Valley and Joshua Tree to national park status and created the Mojave National Preserve.
We are going to have a viable population of wolves in the far northern reaches of California, and it will be with the grudging cooperation of our ranchers. That was the takeaway from a public hearing held last month in Yreka (Siskiyou County), where the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife invited public comment on its draft plan for accommodating our new four-footed residents, and where there were as many Stetsons in the audience as you’d see at a cowboy poetry convention. Yes, there was some foaming at the mouth, some evidence of the government-hating libertarianism this region is known for. “We don’t want people in Sacramento telling us how to live our lives,” grumbled one rancher.
Right whales won’t really be much more protected off South Carolina waters, even though it’s now designated critical habitat. Federal fisheries managers on Tuesday expanded the habitat for the perilously endangered right whale, a move that includes adding to the winter calving grounds off the state coast as far as 35 miles out. The designation of the waters comes 10 years after the first reports of newborn right whales off South Carolina startled observers.