Wolf-Coyote Hybrids

New Mexico Withdraws From Wolf Recovery ProgramWhat is an Eastern coyote? One theory holds that it is a wolf-coyote hybrid formed when Midwestern coyotes crossed through Canada and mated with Eastern wolves.

Recently, scientists from the US Geological Survey, the St. Louis Zoo, the US Department of Agriculture published a paper in PLoS ONE describing their successful attempts to breed Western wolves and Western coyotes.

The research has implications for the management of Eastern coyotes, and may also answer some questions about the taxonomy of North American wolves. The PLoS One paper offers an excellent backgrounder on the questions surrounding Eastern coyote and wolf genetics in its introduction.

Read a press release from the US Geological Survey, here.
Read the PLoS ONE paper here. It is open access.

Photo: A wolf pup. Not a hybrid.

10 Red Wolves Shot

red wolfTen red wolves have been shot on North Carolina’s northeastern coast in the past year, the Times News reports. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recently expanded coyote hunting in the region to include night hunting with spotlights. There is an open season on coyotes in the five counties where 100 or so red wolves are found.

Conservation groups said immediately that the expanded hunting of coyotes would harm the red wolves, which the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been working to restore in the area. The two species look very much alike.

The Commission recently defended the loosening of the coyote law, and said it would defend itself against a lawsuit brought by conservation organizations to stop the coyote hunting. That case will be heard in February.

Read the Times-News article, here.
Read a Charlotte Observer article on the lawsuit, here.

Photo: Red wolf by John Froschauer PDZA, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife

Are There Wolves in Maine?

Gray_wolfIt’s not news. Every once in a while someone sees something that either looks like a wolf or is proven to be a wolf in northern Maine. Sometimes this matters, such as when, as it did about 20 years ago, the US Fish and Wildlife Service kicks around the idea of returning wolves to Maine. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter. Most of the time, actually.

But now that the US Fish and Wildlife Service may remove all gray (aka timber) wolves from the federal endangered species list, it may matter if there are wolves in Maine. It may also matter if those wolves are gray wolves or eastern wolves (sometimes known as eastern Canadian wolves).

This column in the Bangor Daily News addresses the questions of whether there are wolves in Maine, whether the wolves that may wander into Maine occasionally are eastern wolves or something else, and why any of this matters.

A blogger for the Boston Globe tackled a similar set of issues back in September.

Read the Bangor Daily News story here.
Read the Boston Globe blog here.

Photo: A gray wolf. Not in Maine. Gary Kramer, USFWS

Mountain Lion Research

mo mountain lionWhen it comes to mountain lions making use of suburban habitats, there is no difference between males and females, or resident and transient animals, but sub-adult mountain lions were more likely to be found in the suburbs, a study published in the Journal of Mammalogy found. The study was conducted in western Washington State.

The study suggests targeting problem individual mountain lions, maintaining older age structures and other methods to decrease contact between humans and mountain lions.

Read the Journal of Mammalogy paper, here. (Subscription or fee required for full text.)

Wolves seem to be knocking back the mountain lion population in Wyoming’s Teton Mountains, and they seem to be targeting mountain lion kittens, says Mark Elbroch, a researcher with the Teton Cougar Project in an article in the Jackson Hole News & Guide. It’s competition, not predation, the article states.

The Teton Cougar Project both collars mountain lions and observes them through video cameras set up at bait stations. The article reports that project scientists will publish three papers in the coming year. Read more about the research in the Jackson Hole News & Guide article, here.

The Teton Cougar Project is a partnership between Panthera and Craighead Beringia South.

Photo: Mountain lion, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

Northern Rocky Mtn. Wolf Population Is Down

The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012 Annual Report for the Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) Gray Wolf Population shows fewer wolves in more packs. The overall decrease in the number of wolves is seven percent, the report found. It’s the first decrease in wolf population since wolf collaringrestoration efforts in the region began.

An Associated Press story that ran in the Helena (Montana) Independent Press and elsewhere noted that wolf populations were down 16 percent from 2011 in Wyoming, four percent in Montana and eight percent in Idaho. There were population gains in eastern Washington and eastern Oregon, the article says.

An article in the Spokane Spokesman-Review sites a slightly different number, an 11 percent decrease, and says that state wildlife managers had hoped for a larger decrease in the population.

Read the 2012 Annual Report for the Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) Gray Wolf Population here. (13-page PDF)
Read the US Fish and Wildlife Service press release here. (It is a less a summary of the report than support for current management strategies.)

Read the AP story in the Helena Independent Record, here.
Read the Spokane Spokesman-Review article, here.

Montana Wolf Management Advisory Council also met on the same day the report was released. It suggested a bounty system and creating a list of trappers among other things. Read the article in the [Montana] Missoulian, here.

Photo: National Elk Refuge biologist Eric Cole removes a whisker from a male yearling wolf. The sample can be used for a sample isotope analysis to learn about the animal’s diet. Credit: Lori Iverson / USFWS

More on Minnesota Moose

Minn moose collaringLoss of early successional habitat, more wolves, and increased exposure to brainworm — those are the early theories on why the Minnesota moose population is plummeting. And that’s a whole lot of inference from just two dead moose.

The Duluth News Tribune has an update on the moose study begun by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in January. The DNR tagged 111 moose and planned to follow them for five years — deploying a team to investigate whenever one of the moose died. (We covered it here.)

So far six moose have died, the article says. Four of those deaths have been pinned on capture-related mortality. The percentage is about average for moose captures, the article says.

The two other moose were killed by wolves. The article reports on another researcher in conducting a separate study who found that one of his wolf-killed moose had pneumonia.

There are many more details about the early days of the study in the article. Read the Duluth News Tribune article here.

Photo: A moose being collared, but not necessarily for this project. Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Lots o’ Legislation

Gray_wolfI know, you are trying to focus on science and have no interest in the political scene. And I know that lots of bills get passed, but few of them become laws. Every once in a while, it is worth mentioning the gears of law, though. In this case it is worth mentioning because both the Idaho and Utah legislatures were very busy in late February creating new laws about endangered species.

The Associated Press reported that a bill that passed the Idaho Senate “would make it against state policy for federal officials to introduce or reintroduce any threatened or endangered species in Idaho without state approval.”

But there’s not much more than that on the bill. Read it the brief piece on The Oregonian website, here.

Utah was extra busy. They’ve got three bills in the works. One House bill would, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune, “allow county assessors to reduce a property’s tax burden if its value is impacted by designation as critical habitat for threatened or endangered species.”

Another House bill, “asks the federal government to not designate any private land in San Juan County as sage grouse habitat,” says the Salt Lake City Tribune. And a Senate bill which, “endorses Iron County taking over recovery of the Utah prairie dog” from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Utah legislature also put $300,000 in its budget to prevent the federal government from reintroducing the gray wolf into the state, another Salt Lake City Tribune article says. The article says that federal officials deny that any such reintroduction is planned.

Read the Salt Lake City Tribune article on the wolf payment here.

And props to Brian Maffly, the Salt Lake City Tribune reporter on both of those stories for making dull legislative news lively and easy to understand.

Photo: gray wolf by Gary Kramer, used courtesy USFWS

Yellowstone Wolf Study Threatened

Gray_wolfThe loss of several collared wolves to hunters has put a decades-long study in Yellowstone National Park in jeopardy, the Great Falls Tribune reports. “So far this year, hunters have killed 12 percent of the park’s wolf population…” the article states.

Because humans have been no threat to wolves for decades inside the national park, the wolves are naive when they encounter hunters just outside its borders. Some are dead within hours of leaving the park, the article says. Montana has allowed wolf hunting since 2009, Wyoming introduced wolf hunting this year.

The research conducted on collared wolves in the park has resulted in 68 papers in peer-reviewed journals, the article says. It also notes that the death of a few key wolves has threatened the existence of entire packs within the park.

Read more in the Great Falls Tribune.

Photo: Gray wolf by Gary Kramer, courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

Coyote/Wolf Hybrids in the East

A recent study published in Molecular Ecology, which studied the hybridization between eastern wolves, gray wolves and coyotes in and around Algonquin Provincial Park (APP) in Ontario found that about 36 percent of the animals tested were hybrids of two or three of the three Canis types.

West of the park the genes tested switched sharply from eastern wolf to coyote and hybrids. South and northwest of the park, the genes were a bit more complicated. However, the most remote locations with the most moose also had the animals with greater wolf ancestry.

The eastern coyote is generally larger than its western counterpart, and it appears to behave differently, too. The genetics of the eastern coyote could help inform the management of coyotes in the region, so papers like this are worth noting.

Reading the article in Molecular Ecology requires a subscription or a fee, but you can access it here.

Photo: coyote, by Steve Thompson, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife

Wolf News

Generally we don’t cover wolves because the news has more to do with politics than with scientific research. However, wolves have been in the news a lot these last few months, as several states had their first wolf hunting seasons, and state wildlife departments play a starring role, so it makes sense to at least round-up some of these stories. Fittingly, the first one is:

Minnesota wolf management is based on sound science and conservation principles
In response to a petition to stop the state’s first wolf hunt, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued this press release. (Press release)

Wolves kill bear hounds in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources notices aren’t on-line, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a similar notice. Find the link to the records mentioned, here.

Wolf season closes in one of Montana’s management districts
(Flathead Beacon)

Wyoming wolf hunt began Oct. 1
(Wyoming Star Tribune)

Fish and Game Commission Vote Clears Way for Further Study of Wolf Status
The California Fish and Game Commission will perform a 12-month status review of the gray wolf before deciding if it warranted endangered species status. (Press release)

Mexican Wolf Not a Subspecies, Feds Say
WildEarth Guardians press release, here.
Federal Register, here.

Guarding Sheep to Save Wolves
A New York Times article on a Defenders of Wildlife program to use nonlethal deterrents to keep wolves away from sheep.

News from the Wyoming wolf hunt
(Jackson Hole Daily)

Classes preach caution during Montana’s first trapping season
(Missoula Independent)

Hunters ready for 1st wolf hunts in Wis., Minn.
(Associated Press/Seattle Times)
(Also, Wisc. hunt in Chippawa Herald)

Wolves play a role in Okanogan County (Washington) elections
(Wenatchee World)

Wildlife groups step up to stop [Minnesota] wolf hunts
(Minnesota Daily)

Big mamas help wolf pups thrive [in Yellowstone]
(Billings Gazette)

Oregon wolf collaring and depredation records
(Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Minnesota DNR studies wolf behavior as hunting season approaches
(Minnesota Public Radio)

Recent killing in Washington reignites wolves-livestock debate
(AP/Bellingham Herald)

Photo of gray wolf by Gary Kramer, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service