Living with Livestock and Wolves: Tools for Coexistence

Living with Livestock and Wolves Cover

Special thanks to Stephanie Simek, WDFW Wildlife Conflict Manager

Western Wildlife Outreach, through funding and assistance provide through Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has created an integrated outreach program that can be presented to interested audiences of all types, although the primary target audience is small-scale livestock producers who want to know more about steps they can take to avoid conflicts with gray wolves.  In order to find the very best approaches applicable to Washington and similar regions,  WWO conducted a search of current research projects and techniques.  Those findings and recommendations are available at the link below:

Gray Wolf Photographed in Mount Spokane State Park leads to WWO Citizen Science Wolf-tracking Expansion

Living with Livestock and Wolves Wolf-Livestock Conflict Avoidance A Review of the Literature

PowerPoint Nonlethal Conflict Avoidance Measures

Fact Sheet 1 Introduction to Washington’s Wolves, Wolf Behavior and Nonlethal Wolf Deterrent Methods

Fact Sheet 2 Assessing Livestock Operations and Choosing Best Methods for Avoiding Conflicts with Wolves

Fact Sheet 3 Range Riders, Herders and Increased Human Presence

Fact Sheet 4 Reducing Attractants, Carcass Management, and Composting

Fact Sheet 5 Fencing, Fladry and Night-penning

Fact Sheet 6 Alarm or Scare Devices and Hazing to Deter Wolf Presence  

        Fact Sheet 7 Keeping Your Dog Safe in Wolf Country

The Insanity of Not Respecting Nature

by Mike Cavaroc, Free Roaming Photography. Reprinted with permission, September 15, 2015

2015 has so far seen a number of increased bison attacks on people in Yellowstone National Park, but despite what many visitors think, rarely, if ever, is it the animal’s fault.

Most people are surprised to hear that bison are responsible for the most injuries in the park. The cause is almost always the same. Someone who thinks of them as big, dumb and slow animals walks up to one to take a picture with it, ignoring the warning signs the animal is showing, and the bison is forced to its last resort: tossing the person up in the air and breaking several bones in the flight, at the very least. After all, they can sprint over 30mph and are anything but docile.

There have also been multiple bear fatalities in recent years just in Yellowstone. Two completely separate incidents were the result of someone hiking into dense bear areas defiantly leaving bear spray behind, claiming they’ve lived here long enough to know how to behave around a bear. Of course if you know what you’re doing around a bear, you don’t need bear spray, but spray isn’t for people that don’t know what they’re doing around a bear. Bear spray is intended for those rare close encounters that you don’t see coming, what’s ultimately suspected of claiming the lives of those two people.

You would think the increased wildlife-human interactions would lead to more education and understanding about our natural world, but sadly, dangerous narcissism (in more than one way) remains high in wild areas. Just recently, a section of the Colorado Trail was closed because too many people were taking selfies with bears. That’s literally telling the world, the animal included, that you have absolutely no respect for the animal or the environment you’re in. Trying to get as close as you can to a wild animal to make sure it’s visible within the picture is for one reason only: to show your friends that you saw something they didn’t. In that moment, you’re completely detached from the magic of the encounter and reverting to completely unnatural behavior in a vain and futile attempt to 1-up your connections online, and everyone they’re connected to hoping they’ll see as well, thereby putting you in the spotlight. The entire point of the encounter is lost entirely. This is not why wild animals are out there. They’re there to keep ecosystems healthy so that we can hopefully continue to have fresh food and water for decades to come.

What’s missed by blatantly disrespecting nature is a chance to understand yourself better which leads to a more rewarding and fulfilling life. Despite our best efforts to deny it, humans are still animals, and humans need a healthy amount of nature. In fact, multiple studies are beginning to show that children need outdoor exposure to properly develop. This is because our mind and bodies still depend on the natural environment for rest and relaxation. Trying to briefly “escape” to nature only carries the burden of trying to escape, so a true immersion into nature isn’t fully possible. Then, when a wild animal is encountered, the competitiveness to outdo friends is still there, leading to unnatural and dangerous behavior in nature. In fact it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that taking a selfie with a bear, or any wild animal, is a form of insanity. The etymology of the word insanity points to two origins that sum up that behavior quite accurately: “unhealthfullness” and “extreme folly.” I don’t think anyone who actually understands what nature is would argue against that at all.

The narcissism of trying outdo other people is completely misplaced in nature. It’s dangerous not just because you’re putting your own life at risk, but should a bear attack you, no matter how idiotic you were behaving, rules dictate that park or forest officials have to kill the bear. To put another life at risk so you can potentially outdo people you know is unquestionably insanity. Of course they probably don’t know that, but to be so disconnected from nature as to have your main goal be to satisfy narcissism at the sight of such a majestic creature would also qualify. Besides the obvious danger of it here, there’s also the danger of getting completely absorbed in the lifeless circle of not getting to understand or truly experience nature, and therefore yourself. This ultimately leads to a bland and unsatisfying life where the absence of nature is artificially and inadequately compensated for through other means, though never achieving the same result.

People often (semi-)joke that there should be a test before admitting people into wild areas. The sad and ironic truth is that most people would fail that test horribly,but raw and wild nature is exactly what they need to be cured of not understanding the natural world, and therefore, themselves.

Be Coyote Wise

Courtesy of WDFW “Crossings Paths” Newsletter, February 2015

It’s good to be wise about wildlife year round to avoid problems, but it’s especially important at this time of year to be “coyote wise”.

Coyotes, which are abundant throughout Washington’s rural and urban areas, are paring up and breeding now in late winter to produce pups in April and early May. And coyotes that were born eight or nine months ago are striking out on their own at this time. That means there’s lots of coyotes moving about and making noise, yipping and howling to communicate with each other.

Like most wildlife, coyotes usually avoid people and don’t cause trouble. But coyotes are extremely opportunistic and adaptable to our ways and will take advantage of easy access to food sources. As a canine species, they also view domestic dogs as competitors. These two factors can lead to problems with coyotes now and through summer as young are reared.

Finding food is critical for all wildlife. But mature animals that are reproducing, and young animals that are learning independence, are really driven to feed.

Coyotes are actually omnivores – they’ll eat everything from fruit to large animals. Hungry coyotes will try almost anything.

NEVER intentionally feed coyotes. And think about how you might be unintentionally providing access to food, like unsecured garbage, uncovered compost piles, spilled seed from backyard bird feeders, pet food left outdoors, or even small pets like cats or toy breed dogs left to roam, especially from dusk to dawn.

Don’t feed feral cats (domestic cats gone wild). Coyotes prey on these cats as well as any feed you leave out for the feral cats.

If a coyote finds an easy food source close to people, it can easily become habituated, or so accustomed to people that it becomes abnormally bold. Coyote attacks on humans are extremely rare. Only two such attacks have been documented in Washington – in 2006 a habituated coyote bit two young children in Bellevue and was later euthanized.

Finding mates and producing and rearing young can make adult coyotes more territorial and less tolerant of free-running domestic dogs. Learning how to make a living in the world, independent of a family unit, can make juvenile non-breeding coyotes more competitive with free-ranging dogs.

Avoid running dogs off-leash in areas where you have heard or seen coyotes, especially now through May. Coyotes might aggressively confront dogs running through their denning area, and some dogs are just as likely to curiously sniff out coyotes and end up in nasty encounters.

Coyotes carry parasites and canine diseases, like distemper and parvovirus, that are rarely a risk to humans but could be deadly for domestic dogs. Be sure to keep dogs current on vaccinations and consult your veterinarian if you know of or even suspect a coyote encounter.

More information on becoming “coyote wise” is available at

Doug Smith, Yellowstone Wolf Lead Project Biologist: Laying out the Facts

Originally published January 5, 2014. Reprinted with permission of the Montana Pioneer

Interview conducted by Quincy Orhai

Recently, the Montana Pioneer spoke with Doug Smith, Yellowstone National Park Wolf Project Leader and Senior Biologist at the Yellowstone Center for Resources, about the nature of the wolves introduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, including the “non native subspecies” charge advanced by critics, and about ongoing research on wolves in the park.

MP: What were the genetic sources of wolves introduced into YNP—where did the existing wolf population originate?

DS: Forty one wolves were introduced to YNP in 1995. There were 14 in 1995 from Alberta, and 17 in 1996 from British Columbia, and 10 in 1997 from near Choteau, Montana. We have genetic evidence that some of those wolves went on to breed. So, 10 of the wolves that were introduced were from Montana, and 31 were from Canada.

MP: What were the main characteristics that were different between the wolves from Canada and the wolves that pre-existed here in Yellowstone, say 150 years ago? Is that known?

DS: Not really. All we have are skulls to judge it from. What we know from studying the skulls are that the wolves are essentially the same. The Canadian wolves were about 7 to 8 percent larger than the pre-existing wolves of Yellowstone. Seven to eight percent is within the variation of size difference found in wolf skulls all over North America, so the difference is statistically insignificant. It is important to compare apples to apples, so-to-speak. Pups and immature animals are smaller, and males are about 20 percent larger than females, at full size. It is important to compare similar age and gender skulls to each other. So comparing the handful of skulls that were preserved here as museum samples with over 150 skulls of wolves that have died here since they were introduced, the skulls are essentially the same, but the ones from Canada are slightly bigger.

Taxonomically (classifying in categories such as genus, species, and subspecies), you get differences between species when there are limitations on their ability to mix genetically. Wolves are stopped by nothing. They will cross mountain ranges, rivers, even pack ice. That’s how good this animal is at moving around. So what we have is this constant intermixing of genes that prevents them from becoming really different subspecies. Wolves origin-ated in North America a couple of million years ago. When glaciers connected Alaska and Russia, they crossed over into Russia. They got bigger over there. In the last 600,000 to 700,000 years differently evolved wolves have crossed back to North America in three waves. The remnants of the oldest wave of wolves returning to North America are now the most southern species, and also the smallest, Canis lupus baileyi, the Mexican wolf. The middle wave of evolved wolves returning to this continent from Asia are the gray  wolves we have here now, and the most recent are the largest, the arctic wolves.

MP: Were the wolves introduced into YNP significantly different physically or behaviorally from the wolves that were here?

DS: The short answer is no. Wolves are ecological generalists. They can live on a variety of things. We looked for wolves that were previously exposed to bison and elk. The Canadian wolves had a small percentage of bison hair in their scat, but primarily elk and deer hair. We thought that was ideal, as that is the same diet—primarily elk and deer—as we have here. The available wolves from Minnesota had no experience with mountainous terrain or herds of elk or bison. We selected wolves from the same Rocky Mountain ecosystem, with the same kind of prey, to enhance the likelihood of the introduced wolves surviving. I want to clarify the misconception that larger Canadian wolves were preying on smaller American elk [thereby reducing the elk population inordinately]. In fact, the much smaller southwestern Mexican wolf brings down elk. The elk the Mexican wolves prey on in Arizona and New Mexico originally came from Yellowstone, as did the elk in Canada. The optimal number of adult wolves necessary to bring down an elk is only four, but a pair of wolves can also kill an elk.

MP: We hear reports that there were wolves already in Yellowstone that could have multiplied without reintroduction.

DS: There were no wolves here when we introduced the current wolves in 1995. There were no specially adapted wolves [as critics have claimed] in Yellowstone that did not run in packs, or use trails or roads, that didn’t howl, and that preyed on small prey, unlike the wolves we have now. There has simply never been a wolf recorded anywhere that lives like that. Furthermore, there is no better bird dog for a wolf than a wolf itself. We had radio collars on all 41 wolves we released over a 3-year period. If there were extant wolves already on the landscape, they would have found them. The wolves we released never turned up any other wolves, dead or alive. And by the way, they rarely eat other wolves that they kill.

MP: Wolves killing other wolves is the main cause of wolf deaths in the park, correct?

DS: Yes, almost half of the 15 YNP wolves that died in 2012 were killed by other wolves. However, for wolves living outside the park, 80 percent of the wolf deaths are caused by humans, mostly by shooting them.

MP: How many wolves are in YNP now?

DS: Last year at the end of 2012 there were at least 83 wolves occupying YNP in 10 packs (6 breeding pairs). This is approximately a 15 percent decline from the previous three years when the numbers had stabilized at around 100 wolves. Wolf numbers have declined by about 50 percent since 2007, mostly because of a smaller elk population.

MP: Would the 1994 population of gray wolves that lived in Montana have naturally recovered, given the protection of the Endangered Species Act?

DS: That was a big opinion-based debate by wolf biologists at the time, led by Bob Ream of the University of Montana. In his opinion, wolves would have recovered given enough time—50, 60 or 70 years. Other people think they would not have made it. Yellowstone National Park and the five National Forests around it can be likened to a huge island. It’s the most impressive wild land we have got in the lower 48, and some people say it’s the most impressive temperate zone wild land in the world. But it’s got an abrupt boundary to it. I frequently fly over here in an airplane, and at the boundary of a National Forest, it turns into a sea of humanity. And wolves are notoriously bad at getting through seas of humanity. Wolves get shot a lot. When we were dealing with a handful of wolves, maybe 40 to 60, how many of those would have been heading this way? So far, we have not yet documented a wolf coming from northwest Montana into Yellowstone. We have documented them coming from Idaho, but that’s a lot closer and the linkages are better, primarily in the Centennial Mountains. Wolves don’t do well over huge landscapes dominated by people. By introducing wolves they were legally not a fully protected species under the Endangered Species Act. People wanted to be able to shoot them when they got into livestock, which they could not have done if they were a fully protected species.

MP: Wolves from Idaho have now invaded the original Glacier National Park wolves, right?

DS: The Idaho wolf population is now fully connected to the northwest Montana wolf population. Interest-ingly, a study of historic wolf DNA from pelts and skulls shows that over 50 percent of wolf genetic diversity was lost when the continental United States population was reduced to a few hundred wolves in Minnesota. Wolves were the top carnivores in North America. Wolves evolved to adapt to the local conditions, and they will do so again.

MP: The tapeworm cysts spread by wolves that critics rail about, what risk to humans does this pose?

DS: The Echinococcus granulo sus tapeworm was already here. Wolves didn’t bring it in. The coyotes, foxes and domestic dogs likely had it before wolves. The human health risk from tapeworms is almost nil. If anyone should have Echinococcus tapeworm it’s me. I’ve handled over 500 wolves in my career. I take their temperature with a rectal thermometer. That’s where the tapeworm eggs come out. I now wear rubber gloves, but I wash my hands in snow, then eat my lunch. I wouldn’t worry much about it.

MP: What are the primary benefits and disadvantages of having wild ranging wolf packs in the Northern Rockies?

DS: The simplest way to answer that is that there is no question that wolves made people’s lives more complicated, and that’s a good reason not to have them. Some people love them, some people hate them, and wolves are a polarizing animal. People have to spend a lot of time dealing with the controversy that comes with wolves. Life is simpler without wolves. I admit that if you are a rancher, having wolves around is worrisome. I understand that it’s not just the cows they kill; it’s the sleepless nights. I think that’s the best argument to not have them.
What’s the ecological value of wolves? I don’t know. It’s a human dominated world. We control everything. So why do we need wolves? Landscapes look the way they do because of agriculture, forestry, hunting, mining, development—all those things trump things like wolves. So you really don’t get huge ecological benefits of wolves outside of National Parks. In National Parks you do. So why have wolves on these huge landscapes where there are people? Good question. The best answer is, because people want them there. You know, there are a lot of people that don’t like wolves. There is an equally large number that do like them, because living in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming is unique and different than living in places like Illinois, Iowa and Arkansas. You have grizzly bears, you have wolves, you have cougars. And that brings in a lot of tourism dollars. Wolves and grizzly bears are the two top attractions to Yellowstone. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are perceived as being pristine, just because of the mere existence of the three large, toothy carnivores. It makes visiting or living here more valuable and a better experience. Economics are more important than ecology when it comes to carnivore populations in Yellowstone National Park.

Right now, it’s as natural as it’s ever been in Yellowstone Park. Now we have more predators than we have ever had, which means we have fewer elk, and fewer elk means we have all these other ecological benefits, like beavers and songbirds and fishes, and generally enhanced riparian habitat, because fewer elk means less browsing of riparian habitat. So it’s a more balanced ecosystem. We only get that because we have natural densities of carnivores. As soon as you cross the park line, all the densities of those carnivores go down because humans manage them. And that is fine; it’s not a criticism. The carnivores are on the landscape. That’s the thing that the tourists like, but they are not at their normal densities that would occur if people didn’t manage them.

MP: What about surplus killing by wolves [where, for example, ranchers report wolves killing or maiming a dozen sheep in one night]?

DS: Surplus killing by wolves doesn’t really exist, per-se. We have watched wolves when they have killed more meat than they can immediately consume, and they always come back to finish the carcass unless they are spooked off by people. Hunting success rates for wolves are in the 5 percent to 15 percent range with elk. So they actually get about one in ten of the elk they go after. Eighty five percent to 95 percent of the time, the elk wins, and the wolves get nothing to eat. So, from an evolutionary perspective, if the wolves are not highly motivated to kill whenever they can, they will lose out. Of the 500 wolves I have handled, all across America, in the Midwest, Canada, Alaska, Yellowstone and Idaho, most of them are skinny beneath their beautiful fur. When I have felt their backbones and their pelvises, they usually are skinny. They are just getting by. The prey is better at getting away than the wolves are at killing the prey. So it is so hard to get dinner and when they do get a chance to kill, they kill. That’s how you get so-called surplus killing, when the elk are weak and in deep snow, wolves will kill more than they can eat. Also, defenseless sheep will be killed in large numbers because the wolves can do so. But I would argue that if the rancher didn’t come out the next day with a rifle, the wolves would eat all those sheep, even if it took them weeks to do so.

Wolves don’t kill for the fun of it, when they are likely to get their head bashed in getting dinner. We have seen 15 or more wolves that have been killed by elk, bison, deer and moose. Wolves are risk averse. They don’t want to try to kill something that’s going to get their head bashed in or their stomach kicked in, but when it’s easy, they will kill more than they can immediately eat, but those circumstances crop up pretty rarely. The wolves always cycle back to finish the carcass.

MP: What is the effect of wolves on the coyote population?

DS: Wolves kill coyotes when they approach wolf kills. Pre wolf-introduction, coyotes were living in packs in YNP, and that’s something that’s unusual. When there are wolves around, the coyotes pretty much live in pairs. Coyotes love coming in and stealing from wolves, and that got them killed. According to unpublished research, supposedly the coyote population dropped in half after the wolf introduction. Over 90 percent of the coyotes that are documented as being killed by wolves have been killed at wolf kill sites—they over estimated the wolves being meat drunk. So the coyotes quit running in packs, and went back to living in pairs, and became more wary around carcasses. The coyotes supposedly socially adapted to wolves, and their population went back to pre-wolf levels. This research is incomplete and inconclusive, but fascinating.

MP: Thank you, Doug. We appreciate this opportunity to present knowledge you have gained over the years about wolves, and at the same time address some of the contro-versies.

DS: Wolves are troublesome and controversial. I understand that. A lot of people don’t like them, but a lot of people do like them, and they make money for a lot of people. What I am really after is to get as good a quality of information out there as possible, to help the debate to be a little bit better.  The extreme anti-wolf person and the extreme pro-wolf person are always going to be problematic; they are never going to be happy. But this big group of people in the middle can come together on more than they think. If we can get an established group of facts about wolves correctly understood, I do think we can make progress in treating wolves just like any other animal, like a cougar, like a bear, like an elk. Sometimes and in some places their numbers need to be cut back, and just like any other form of wildlife, they need to be scientifically managed..

It’s Halloween! Let’s Face Our Fears

Ever stop to wonder why Halloween is such a popular holiday?  Most people don’t even get the day off work or school, after all!  Part of the attraction has to do with enjoying the changing season.  Visits to pumpkin patches and the country farm continue to gain in popularity with each new generation.  But another, maybe not so innocent form of Halloween entertainment is also on the rise:  the haunted house/barn/prison/mansion you name it.  Americans love to scare themselves for entertainment!  Perhaps this need for the adrenalin rush of fear is a result of our “tame” existence today in North America where a relatively peaceful day-to-day life lacks the thrill of fear and danger, so we manufacture it and package it for sale.

For the most part such past-times are harmless enough and provide momentary excitement and thrills and chills.  However, real harm occurs when the images from the haunted house become a perceived reality.  When the image of the evil werewolf in the graveyard with burning red eyes gets transposed on the real wild wolves of North America and elsewhere.  Yes, there are monsters among us, but they walk around in human form, not animal. Those are the predators that should concern us.

Myths of werewolves, wolves stalking and killing humans, movies like “The Gray” and movies/books like the Twilight series help perpetuate the myth of the wolf as a dangerous predator on humans.  It carries over to comments from our politicians and policy makers who want to see the wolf hung in the court of  public opinion, not managed by science as the  apex carnivore needed  for healthy ecosystem maintenance.  So enjoy Halloween.  Go out trick or treating with your kids.  But help them to understand the difference between our real, wild gray wolves who should be admired as any other wild animal for their ability to survive and thrive, part of a healthy, largely intact ecosystem and the pretend “scary” wolves/werewolves of TV and the movies.  Wolves pose almost zero threat to humans, with only two deaths being attributed to wolves in the last 60 years.  On the other hand, the sedentary life style of children today who often avoid outdoor play and recreation poses a real threat to the safety and health of today’s children, who are experiencing a high rise in the rate of obesity and diabetes.

So, enjoy Halloween, marvel at the changing leaves and admire the big orange pumpkins. Carve a jack o’lantern and eat sweets in moderation.  And teach your children to respect all nature, including wild wolves.

Bears Without Fear: A Book Review

by David Stalling WWO Guest Blogger

We fear bears, bears fear us and fear leads to conflict. Bears ultimately suffer. My biggest fear regarding bears is that we won’t give them the respect and space enough they need and deserve to survive into the future. Bears are neither the mystical beasts nor the dangerous vicious killers we sometimes make them out to be; they are bears. The more we get to know and understand them the less we fear them and the better we can all get along.

Kevin Van Tighem of Canmore, Alberta, knows bears and (considering all the time he’s spent around bears since he was a child in the early 1960s) it’s probably safe to assume a few bears know him. A naturalist, hiker, hunter, fisherman and biologist who recently retired as the superintendent of Canada’s Banff National Park, Van Tighem has combined his extensive knowledge and experience with research and fine writing to produce a wonderful, informative book called Bears Without Fear (Rocky Mountain Books, 2013).

“They haunt the edges of the forests of our imagination. Since the dawn of time, humans and bears have lived uneasily together. . . There was a time when humans had little defense against bears. Now, in most cases, bears have no defense against us.”

Van Tighem

With human populations and development continuing to expand, and critical bear habitat shrinking, how can we ensure wild bears always grace our planet?  “Bears and humans can share our increasingly crowded world safely,” Van Tighem writes.

“But for that to happen, we need to learn to respect bears for what they really are, and to see that the choices we make almost always affect bears and other wildlife.”

Through facts, stories and photos Van Tighem’s book helps us better understand bears and how to live with them. Sections include the history of bears in human cultures, myths about bears, and the natural history and habitats of black bears, grizzlies and polar bears.  A section about bear research includes studies on how to reduce human-bear conflicts, and the book concludes with lists of places to see bears and tips for keeping ourselves and bears safe while in bear country.

“While it remains true that bears are capable of attacking and killing people, it remains no less true that they almost always chose not to,”  Van Tighem writes.

“The most dangerous thing about a bear is not its claws, teeth or disposition; it’s how we react to it.”

When we destroy their habitat, cause unnatural mortality, or they perceive us as an imminent threat to their young or their food, Bears don’t have a lot of choice as to how they react. We do.

“Past human choices have brought us to a time when almost every bear species in the world is under threat,” writes Van Tighem. “The choices we make tomorrow – about resource development, roads, agriculture and tourism, as well about our own personal behavior in bear country – will determine the future of the dwindling bear populations that survive today.”

Bears Without Fear is packed with knowledge to help us better understand bears; let’s hope it helps us all make better choices.

You can find more of David’s posts on nature at

Why I Hunt: Thoughts from a Wolf-Loving, Elk-Killing Tree Hugger

by David Stalling, Guest Blogger, August 2013

“When the buffalo are gone, we will hunt mice, for we are hunters and we want our freedom.” — Chief Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux, 1831-1890.
I’m a wolf-loving tree hugger and I hunt. I kill and eat wild elk.Does this seem contradictory? It’s not if you consider our Nation’s conservation heritage, and see that most of our conservation heroes–including Theodore Roosevelt (who created national forests and wildlife refuges), Aldo Leopold (author of the conservation classic, “A Sand County Almanac“) and Olaus J. Murie (founder of The Wilderness Society)–were all hunters.

I can understand people’s disdain for hunting. As Edward Abbey (himself a hunter) once wrote, “Hunting is one of the hardest things even to think about. Such a storm of conflicting emotion!” I can’t speak for all hunters, but will try and explain why I choose to hunt.

I love elk. They are a magnificent, mysterious and powerful animal. I spend all the time I can in elk country, year-round, hiking, backpacking, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, observing and admiring elk. And yet, each year during bowseason I head into elk country with the intent to kill one. Why? Partly because I can think of no more ecologically-sound way to live in my part of the world. I cherish wild elk meat; it’s healthy, and it’s derived from healthy, native grasses and forbs in the wilderness near my home.

I like to think I’m a vegetarian of sorts, living off the the wild grasses, sedges and forbs that grow near my home. Most these plants are not directly palatable to humans, so I let elk convert them to protein for me. Perhaps someday I can travel through the digestive system of a grizzly and fertilize the vegetation that elk eat: Seems only fair considering all the elk I’ve killed and eaten.

We’re all part of this land.

I hunt to experience and celebrate a fundamental connection with nature, because we must all kill to eat, and eating elk nourished on native grasses and forbs has as low an impact on the environment as any of the alternatives. Even eating soybeans and soy-based products supports an agricultural industry that displaces and destroys wildlife habitat to grow a non-native plant, requiring irrigation, pesticides, herbicides, fossil fuels, trucks, roads and industry to be shipped around the country. Not to mention the thousands of deer and other wildlife killed to protect valuable agricultural crops. Most people are not aware of the impacts of their lifestyles and actions, or they choose to live in denial. Aldo Leopold wrote: “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

We all kill to eat.

Everything we do has consequences. Whether we choose to eat vegetables or meat, store-bought food or homegrown, cattle or venison, we all contribute to the death of animals so we can eat. I choose to eat the wild meat of elk, mule deer and antelope. And the money I spend in pursuit of these wild animals, through license fees and excise taxes on hunting equipment, helps protect the wild places that sustain them and sustain me. It’s the most efficient, environmentally sound and sustainable way I know to live in this somewhat arid western landscape we call Montana. And the countless days and hours I spend pursuing elk and mule deer through the rugged mountains in the wilderness area where I hunt have provided me with a keen understanding and awareness of these incredible animals and their habitat, which has fueled a passion for the protection of wild elk, deer and other wildlife, and the wild places they roam.

North America’s system of wildlife management, of which regulated hunting is an integral part, is a tremendous achievement. The value of wild elk and deer to hunters supports the protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat for an array and abundance of wildlife, including large predators and threatened and endangered species, and supports ecologically-based research and management. It’s a sustainable system that gives many hunters a stake in wildlife, and fuels public understanding and concern for conservation.

I am growing increasingly angry over the ongoing loss of crucial wildlife habitat from human subdivision and development; the people who want to mine and drill our last remaining wild places; the people who deny and evade critical topics such as climate change, and the people — and a society — that seems to put greed, profit and money above all else. Throughout the West, homes are rapidly replacing critical elk and deer winter range, calving and fawning habitat and migratory corridors. Not only elk and deer suffer, but all wildlife that depend on that habitat, including everything from ducks and trout to grizzlies and pine martens. My love for wild elk and deer provokes a strong desire to protect their habitat; That desire is fueled, in part, by my passion for hunting and the meat that sustains me.

Hunting has a large ugly side, to be sure, which seems to be growing larger. I sometimes feel like an anti-hunter who hunts. Far too many hunters reveal a disturbing lack of knowledge of, or concern for, wildlife and wild places and actually promote efforts — and support the politicians and organizations who push for efforts — to erode and degrade our wildlife and last remaining wild places. They are as detached from the wilds as as most Americans are, and increasingly replace knowledge, skills and effort with technology and other short cuts; They selfishly do everything and anything they can to boost their egos and overcome insecurities by killing other creatures; They fear and hate wolves, they fear and hate grizzlies, they fear and hate wilderness, they fear and hate the wilds; They fear and hate to actually hunt. They just love to kill.

Several national surveys have shown that only about 10 percent of hunters fall within a “naturalist” group of hunters who seek an intimate bond to the wilds and cherish and fight to protect wildlife and wild places. Having worked for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen Conservation Project and the National Wildlife Federation; Having served two terms as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation (Montana’s largest and oldest hunter-angler conservation association); Having helped found Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, and being a part of a great dynamic group called Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, I am fortunate to have met and worked with many dedicated, conservation-minded hunters working hard to protect our fair-chase hunting and angling heritage and the wildlife and wild places we all cherish. I’m also grateful to live in a place like Missoula, Montana, where even hippies hunt and fish.

I can think of no better lifestyle than roaming wildlands as a participant of nature, taking responsibility for the deaths I cause, and securing my own sustenance. In his essay, “A Hunter’s Heart,” Colorado naturalist and writer David Petersen summarizes it nicely:

“Why do I hunt? It’s a lot to think about, and I think about it a lot. I hunt to acknowledge my evolutionary roots, millennia deep, as a predatory omnivore. To participate actively in the bedrock workings of nature. For the atavistic challenge of doing it well with an absolute minimum of technological assistance. To learn the lessons, about nature and myself, that only hunting can teach. To accept personal responsibilities for at least some of the deaths that nourish my life. For the glimpse it offers into a wildness we can hardly imagine. Because it provides the closet thing I’ve known to a spiritual experience. I hunt because it enriches my life and because I can’t help myself . . . because I was born with a hunter’s heart.”

to read more of David’s blogs visit

Working Towards Carnivore and Livestock Conflict Avoidance


Its been an eventful week for Western Wildlife Outreach.  We attended the annual meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee in Dubois, Wyoming.  Our new WWO Bear Safety Brochure debuted there, and won wide approval.  You will see it distributed at a wide number of locations across the West beginning this summer/fall.

We also benefitted from the sharing of approaches for bear awareness and outreach/education with other NGOs and government wildlife managing agencies.  The State of Wyoming and their partners have done some really innovative projects with small communities such as converting old horse trailers into garbage conveyance trailers for neighborhoods where other “bear aware” approaches to keeping garbage away from bears would not be cost effective.

The good news for bears and their allies in Washington State is that funding is falling into line so that the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be able to initiate the NEPA process for preparing an Environmental Impact Statement to address options for Grizzly Bear Recovery in the North Cascades Ecosystem beginning as early as 2014. With perhaps fewer than 20 Grizzly bears remaining in Washington’s North Cascades, the effort cannot happen too soon.

From Dubois, Wyoming we headed back to Ketchum, Idaho, to join up with colleagues working on livestock and wolf conflict avoidance in Idaho and Washington at a two-day training session sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife who have been true pioneers in this field, winning praise from livestock producers, elected officials and wildlife managers alike. It was a “hands on” training session and we visited some beautiful sheep and cattle producing operations where we practiced setting up temporary fladry fencing, and participated in RAG box demonstrations. RAG boxes are noise and light motion-activated wolf deterrent devices that are installed along a fence or fladry line.  They are carefully placed to detect wolves if they approach the enclosure, and when activated, make very loud, disturbing noises accompanied by strobe lights.  When property employed, wolves are dissuaded from venturing near livestock.

Blaine County, Idaho is a unique region of the State where many residents strongly support carnivore and human coexistence  It is also home to the Wood River Wolf Project, where Defenders of Wildlife have worked with local sheep producers and herders to implement conflict avoidance techniques that have resulted in zero sheep losses to wolves in an area where wolves regularly den and have their rendezvous sites. The long-time herder from Peru works with two herding dogs, a livestock guard dog and an extremely well-trained horse.  He moves the sheep herd up and down slope each day so that the sheep can access water, but avoid damage to sensitive stream environments. For much of the year, he lives out on the range with the sheep in a sheep herder’s wagon. At this point, with the active support of Blaine County elected officials, every sheep producer in the County is enrolled in the Wood River Project and actively use carnivore conflict avoidance measures.  Cattle producers in Blaine County are getting on board now as well.

Such techniques are new to Washington State and just beginning to catch on with ranchers in certain areas where wolves are returning to the landscape.  Over the next 12 months and beyond, Western Wildlife Outreach will be partnering with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington State University Extension, Washington Cattlemen’s Association and other NGOs to create a far-reaching program of information, education and technical assistance regarding the proper selection and implementation of a wide variety of effective carnivore conflict avoidance measures such as those used by the Wood River Wolf Project. Carnivore and livestock conflict avoidance practices when done properly are better for the producers’ bottom line, better for the livestock, better for the carnivores. We all win!

Orphaned Cougar Kittens Get New Homes, Provide Education


RICHARD A. BEAUSOLEIL, Bear / Cougar Specialist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Guest Post

Between 2002 and 2012, 26 orphan cougar cubs have been reported to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), captured by staff, and placed with facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) throughout the country (Table 1, Figure 1).  In addition to over 15 million visitors per year at these facilities, innumerable television and newsprint stories have covered the capture, transport, and arrival of these animals reaching out to countless millions more people.  This has not only resulted in high quality cougar educations programs benefiting people who may never have the chance to see a cougar in the wild, but also brought prominent national attention to WDFW.

The process of responding, capturing, providing care until the arrangement are finalized, and transporting animals requires organization, commitment, and on occasion, personal donations of time and money.  In almost all cases, orphaned cougars are reported to WDFW by a member of the public concerned that the animals will not survive on their own.  In many cases, the reports are given without the reporting party knowing the specifics; only that the kittens have been seen for some time without an adult.   If it’s the first sighting, and we do not have background knowledge, we ask that they leave the animals alone and keep us posted; this avoids removing kittens that are not orphaned.  Usually within few days, additional information is obtained and we are more certain that the adult is no longer present and a response is initiated.  In addition to using several types of box traps, kittens have been captured using WDFW’s Karelian Bear Dogs, and also by hand on several occasions.  Once captured, all kittens are tested for FeLV, transported to a veterinarian, given a thorough examination and care is administered if needed and biological measurements are gathered and recorded.  Health certificates are then issued to facilitate transfer.  Many times, kittens need to travel by aircraft to their final destination.  Regulations require an absorbent material be used as a base layer in the crate, windows and doors be covered with breathable burlap, doors securely locked, and food and water provided.  Flights are almost always direct to the destination.  As much as possible, we keep the reporting party involved throughout the process; this had resulted in respect, credibility, and much appreciation.  We acknowledge the assistance of Michelle Schireman, North America Section AZA Felid TAG Puma Population Manager & Regional Studbook Keeper, who has been an invaluable collaborator in placing these animals.

Table 1.  Orphaned cougar kittens donated to AZA accredited organizations from Washington and annual visitation at these facilities, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2002-2012.
Date Found

# Kittens



Location Found

AZA Accredited Facility

Annual Visitation

May 8, 2002





Zoo New England, Boston, MA


August 21, 2004


2F, 1M

16 weeks


 Memphis Zoo, Memphis, TN

1 million

May 11, 2006





Oregon Zoo, Portland, OR

1.5 million

October 15, 2006



5 weeks

Walla Walla

 San Diego Safari Park, San Diego, CA

1.8 million

February 1, 2007



8 weeks


Dakota Zoo, Bismarck, ND


February 6, 2007



6 weeks


 San Diego Zoo, San Diego, CA

4 million

December 5, 2007



5 weeks

Cle Elum

Topeka Zoo, Topeka, KS


December 14, 2007


2M, 1F

14 weeks

Cle Elum

1 M placed with Henry Dorly Zoo, NE

(2 died of starvation in quarantine)

1 million

January 12, 2008



16 weeks


Dakota Zoo, Bismarck, ND


January 18, 2008



16 weeks


Orlando Zoo, Orlando, FL

died in quarantine

April 8, 2008


1M, 1F

13 weeks


Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, LA

2 million

March 13, 2010



14 weeks


Northwest Trek, Eatonville, WA


October 8, 2010





Alameda Zoo, Alamagordo, NM


May 16, 2011



8 weeks


New York State Zoo, New York, NY

died in quarantine

October 30, 2011



6 weeks


Nashville, Zoo, Nashville, TN


November 7, 2011



7 weeks


Houston Zoo, Houston, TX

1.6 million

March 23, 2012



12 weeks


Palm Beach Zoo at Dreher Park, Palm Beach, FL


May 30, 2012


1M, 1F

18 weeks

Lake Chelan

Henson Robinson Zoo, Springfield, IL








Annual Visitation 15 million+ 


Signs of Wolves

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Wolf Tracks

Wolf track
Wolf track

Track Comparison

Because wolves are elusive and are rarely seen, finding their tracks can be an exciting experience. The charts and information below illustrate some of the characteristics that distinguish wolf tracks from those of their close relatives, coyotes and domestic dogs. Each species has four symmetrical toes on the front and hind feet, with the front track slightly longer and broader than the hind. Claw marks are usually evident and the front of a wolf’s foot pad is single-lobed. The differences are not always clear so look for a combination of characteristics before coming to a conclusion.

Relative track size differences in wolves, domestic dogs, and coyotes:

Track size measurements (NOT including claw marks):

Wolves Compared to Coyotes

Adult wolf tracks are larger and more robust than adult coyote tracks. Young wolves’ feet grow large very quickly, and by the time they are about three months old (around July) even young wolves’ tracks are larger than most coyote tracks. Because wolves are much heavier animals than coyotes their tracks will show some spread in their toes, especially on the front track, more often than those of coyotes. In wolves, claws on the front feet are longer than the hind but generally register distinctly in both.

Wolves Compared to Domestic Dogs

Wolf tracks are larger than those of all but the largest breeds of domestic dogs, the genetic descendents of wolves. While many dog tracks can be easily distinguished from wolf tracks, some domestic dogs have tracks that are very similar to wolves, making them indistinguishable in some instances. Use the guidelines below to help in track identification. However, keep in mind that tracks alone cannot distinguish domestic dogs from wild canids with complete certainty.

Toes and Claws

Large dogs often spread their toes with all four toes radiating outward. Spread is less common in wolves and, if it exists, usually only the outer two toes spread. Wolves’ front claws are longer and more strongly apparent in tracks than the hind claws, but can appear distinctly in both. The appearance of claws in dog tracks is variable.

Track Size

The front feet of domestic dogs often have a round appearance with the length and width similar in size. Wolves’ front feet are often more rectangular in overall shape, longer than wide, unless the outer toes have spread. Track size of domestic dogs is highly variable but most dogs leave tracks that are less than 3.5 in. (9 cm) in length, where wolves’ tracks are 3.5 in. (9 cm) and above. Only a few breeds of dogs such as Great Danes, St. Bernard’s and Blood Hounds leave tracks longer than 4 inches. The tracks of German Shepherds, Malamutes, Retrievers and Setters are usually less than 4 inches long.

Wolves Compared to Cougars

Cougar tracks are often confused with wolf tracks. Distinguishing features of a mountain lion track are its roundness, the shape of the planter pad (main foot pad) and asymmetry of both the foot and the individual toes.

Because cats have retractable claws, mountain lion tracks do not usually show claw marks. This is not always true, however, as cougars sometimes use their claws to increase traction on steep or slippery terrain. Claw marks may also be present if the animal is traveling fast. If claw marks are visible, they will be directly joined to the toe, while the wolf track exhibits a 1/4-inch separation between claw and toe.

Appearance of nearby scats and proximity to people should be considered when large canid tracks are encountered. In some remote areas, large canid tracks may result from the practice of using hounds to hunt mountain lions.

Wolf Scats

Wolves produce scats, or droppings, which are usually composed of hair, bone fragments, and other signs of their carnivorous diet. Coyote scats, often smaller than wolf scats, typically contain small mammal remains, berries, or insects, but there can be some overlap in contents and appearance. Domestic dog scats are generally more uniform in texture and shape without noticeable hair or bone fragments. Never touch scats to avoid contracting parasites.

Wolf Scats

  • long and tubular – often strong in smell
  • range from 1 to 1.5 inches (2.45-4 cm) in diameter

Coyote Scats

  • twisted and irregular
  • range from .5 to 1.25 inches (1.5-3 cm) in diameter

Wolves often prey on large animals such as deer and elk. They have very powerful jaws so look for characteristic feeding signs of bone fragments and cracked bones near a carcass. Wolves as well as scavengers will eventually drag off parts of the carcass. Burying an entire carcass is a practice typical of cougars and occasionally bears, but NOT of wolves. If you find a carcass move away from it – bears may take control of a carcass and can be very aggressive.

Please report suspected wolf and wolf track sightings to the Washington Wolf Reporting Hotline at 1-888-584-9038.  
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Poaching Hotline 1-877-933-9847

Visit the Products page to see our Identifying Washington’s Wolves brochure.