Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Horse-killing wolves put down - By BUZZY HASSRICK

The death of a horse from a wolf attack triggered the killing of two wolves in the Meeteetse area Sunday.

Two more wolves were removed earlier in December, leaving two in the resident Owl Creek Pack, but federal agents will also kill them if depredations continue, said Ed Bangs of Helena, Mont., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's wolf recovery coordinator.

A blue roan gelding, severely injured by wolves in a pasture on the Wood River, made it back to the corral before dying Dec. 26, Bobby Joe Long said.

"He leaned against the fence, bleeding out of his mouth, and died," he said.

The horse had injuries to his neck, stomach and a rear leg but was not eaten, Long added. "I have pictures of two visible canine bites. He had a rip in his belly, and his right rear leg was evidently ripped," he said.

The horse, which he was tending for a friend, left blood on the fence, Long added. The incident probably occurred the night of Dec. 26.

The horse was fine when he was seen Sunday in the corral and found dead Dec. 28 by Long's friend who checks the water every other day.

"He was bloated, and birds had picked out one eye," Long said.

The roan had been grazing with Long's three horses in a pasture 18 miles up the Wood River near Wood River Lodge and about 25 yards from a "fairly busy road," he said.

Any human activity will scare wolves off their prey, Bangs said. "Otherwise, they would have eaten the whole horse."

The roan's death brings the total 2004 confirmed losses in Wyoming to three horses, along with 56 cattle, 10 sheep and one dog, said Bangs, who added that the only horse mortalities have occurred in Wyoming.

The killing of a cow earlier in December caused the removal of two wolves, while the horse death prompted the killing of two more wolves, he said.

The roan's death plus stories about cattle losses to wolves from area ranchers have changed Long's mind about the wolf reintroduction program. Initially he was supportive.

"I thought it was pretty cool that such an animal could be brought back," he said.

At the time the Texas native was awaiting retirement while stationed at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, and planning a move to Wyoming. He was looking forward to hearing wolves howl.

"I anticipated hearing them howl, and not once did I ever give it much thought why they were killed off in the first place," he recalled.

Long heard the howls three years ago in the wilderness.

"I was alone, and it was exciting," he said. "Well, now I've since seen firsthand the devastation they cause and why they were killed off by past inhabitants of the Rocky Mountain region."

Long listed the wolf kills that have occurred around Meeteetse since spring - seven on one ranch, 11 on another and one more recently. In most of the cases, wolves did not eat their kill.

His "traumatized" horses now live on a pasture near town where they must be fed daily, Long said. He continues hearing wolf stories, including one from a man older than 90 who recalled a scarcity of elk and moose when wolves roamed in the past.

Story Copyrighted by the Cody Enterprise is provided by the Oasis Motel/Bobby Joe Long

Roaming wolves
2004 Highlights

On Feb. 14 a helicopter carrying a federal wolf recovery agent, his assistant and four tranquilized wolves landed on a county road outside Meeteetse.

The men, on a mission to collar the wolves so they could be tracked, moved the wolves to a roadside spot and monitored them until they awoke and left.

A rancher who stopped by the site said later the wolves were on private land, leading the Park County Attorney to file littering and trespassing charges against the two men. A federal district judge dismissed those charges, an action that remains on appeal.

The incident prompted Park County to seek a congressional inquiry, an overture Congress declined.

Meanwhile, the state of Wyoming sued the federal government for rejecting the state plan to manage wolves once they are delisted. Park County later became a party to the lawsuit.

During the year, about six northwest Wyoming wolves were killed illegally or by wildlife officials eliminating animals that had preyed on livestock.

Grizzly numbers
2004 Highlights

In preparation for delisting, the Game and Fish Department proposed a "socially acceptable" occupancy area for grizzlies that includes Cody and Meeteetse. The area has been variously criticized as both too small and too large, and the county commissioners responded by requesting that the bears be confined to public lands.

Human-bear conflicts increased during the year as well, with two hunters being mauled and several bears dying as a result. Grizzly deaths exceeded federal recovery guidelines and further fueled debate about how much habitat should be reserved for them.

G&F may cut moose permits
Mar. 29, 2004


With declining moose numbers in northwestern Park County, the Game and Fish Department is proposing to halve the number of hunting permits.

The areas of the South, North and Clarks forks and Sunlight will be combined for a total of five permits, a 50 percent reduction from last year. In the past, the areas offered as many as 25 permits, G&F Wildlife Biologist Doug McWhirter said at a recent meeting of the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

"The moose in Sunlight have been decimated by wolves," an SF&W member said. He then questioned what G&F is saying about wolves and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We're saying what the Legislature says - Sue," G&F Wildlife Supervisor Gary Brown said. "We're going to sue.

The state plans to challenge the service's rejection of Wyoming's wolf management plan.

"But even if we win - even if everything goes perfectly - it'll be three years until we'll manage them," Brown said.

If the state loses the case, he added, the Legislature will have to address the issue, which will take yet another year, he said. Either way, state control of wolves will not happen soon.

"We're a long ways down the road before we manage wolves," Brown said.

Moose did all right without predators, McWhirter said. "Now they have a full complement of predators." he added. Further, the area is not prime moose country.

"Moose aren't doing that well," he said. "The Absarokas aren't good moose habitat.

Some of their habitat was lost in the 1988 fires, the same fires that benefitted the habitat for elk.

Numbers in northwest Wyoming are now approaching G&F herd goals, McWhirter said. He reviewed the agency's data on elk and mule deer, which in general are doing well, McWhirter said.

Asked why so many elk seem to be grazing on private land this winter - with some seen even in the McCullough Peaks - he said predation is probably one of a mixture of factors pushing the elk.

"Some change is going on with their movement," McWhirter said. "No doubt there will be changes in their numbers and distribution."

They have moved to the lower Greybull River, and to discourage the elk from establishing themselves there, G&F added hunt area 66, he said.

The Cody Herd Unit, comprising the North and South forks and Carter Mountain, is "still a little over objective," but G&F is proposing to lower permits to slow the reduction of antlerless elk, McWhirter said. "The trick is going to be maintaining quality bull hunting."

Mule deer populations, like elk, vary in numbers according to area. In the Clarks Fork, fawn ratios are dropping, McWhirter said.

"This herd is growing but very slowly," he added.

Tim Hockhalter said deer numbers have declined in his 30 years of hunting.

"We don't have the deer we used to," he said. "I want to help the Game and Fish program to grow trophy bucks again.

"We can't take out deer hunters and promise 25-inch bucks."

"The answer is simple," McWhirter said. "Kill fewer deer and let them grow older."

"One of the concerns of our group is mule deer," Hockhalter added.

"We don't have the habitat we had 30 years ago, so we'll never have the old deer numbers," Brown said.

Second ranch alleges trespass
March 17, 2004


A second Meeteetse ranch has filed a trespass complaint against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The statements, dated March 6, come from Daniel Ochsner and Susan Barrett, owners of the Flying River Ranch near Meeteetse, and ranch manager Jim Gould. They submitted the information to the Park County Commissioners.

State and federal agency representatives said they are unaware of the incident.

Ochsner and Barrett said they noticed a dark green pickup parked halfway down their driveway the morning of Feb. 15. The truck had several antennas and, in its bed, a white container that extended above the truck box, Ochsner said.

About a half-hour later, they said a F&WS agent, driving the same pickup, arrived at their door and asked to speak with the ranch manager. The person wore a circular F&WS badge with an insignia that also appeared on the truck, Barrett said.

After Barrett explained the directions to Gould's home, she phoned the manager to tell him about the visitor.

"Apparently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent disregarded our instructions and proceeded to head farther into our private property along the (Greybull) river bottom," their statement reads.

After Barrett's call, Gould says, "I noticed a dark green truck on the river below my house driving around." He left his house, walked toward the truck that had a government license plate and reported seeing two men inside the vehicle.

"As the truck got closer to me, I waved to stop them," Gould said. "The truck drove on by me; neither person in the truck waved. The truck went on by my house and on up to the highway."

F&WS agent Mike Jimenez, who was handling wolves in the area Feb. 14, said Wednesday he does not recall returning the next day. He was speaking from a cell phone near Jackson.

Although his calendar was not nearby to double-check, Jimenez said his truck is maroon.

"I don't have a green truck," he added.

The Game and Fish Department uses green pickups, wildlife supervisor Gary Brown said. If G&F personnel are involved in a law enforcement action, they may opt not to contact the landowner.

If they are entering private land to collect specimens, he added, G&F will contact the landowner.

Crowd protests wolf policy
Mar. 8, 2004


A Hot Springs County rancher believes four gray wolves released near Meeteetse on Feb. 14 may have been illegally captured on his land.

The rancher, Frank Robbins, was among more than 40 people attending a March 2 Hot Springs County Commission meeting to lodge objections to the way federal agencies have managed wolves in the area.

The group extracted a promise from the commissioners to write to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state and federal legislators and the governor "to tell the feds that monitoring wolves on private property would be considered trespass," Robbins said Friday.

Hot Springs County Clerk Hans Odde said the letter had not been completed Friday, but confirmed it would be written.

Hot Springs County Commission Chairman Charlie Stump said more than 40 people were at the meeting.

"We were caught unawares," Stump said. "They came in to discuss funding" for a citizens' advisory committee.

But he said the commissioners "are concerned about what (wolves) could do to Hot Springs County. We don't see any of the plus side."

The commissioners have asked the Hot Springs County Attorney for an opinion about whether any laws may have been violated in the case of low-flying aircraft or the capture of wolves. And the commission plans to send letters with a pointed message: "We don't want any wolves in Hot Springs County," Stump said.

Meanwhile Ed Bangs of Helena, Mont., wolf recovery coordinator for the F&WS, said his agency is legally allowed to fly 500 feet above any property to monitor wolf activity.

"Air space is public air," Bangs said. "For flying lower, you need a special permit.

"During hunting season we try not to fly or capture," since it would disturb game and irk hunters, Bangs added.

"And we do not land (on private property) without permission - we don't knowingly go on private property at all," Bangs added.

Robbins, who owns the 150,000-acre HD High Island Ranch on Owl Creek near Thermopolis, said he was told by a state predator control officer that eight gray wolves were captured in one net on his land. He was unsure of the date, but said it was likely earlier than Feb. 14.

That was the date Meeteetse rancher Randy Kruger alleges F&WS agent Mike Jimenez and an assistant disembarked from a helicopter on the Larsen Ranch with four tranquilized wolves, which later regained consciousness and left the area.

Robbins believes the wolves released in Meeteetse may have been among the eight captured without permission on his land.

"We think they split the pack," Robbins said, adding F&WS "absolutely" planted the wolves in Meeteetse.

"There is no doubt about it," he added.

Bangs said "because legal action is threatened, we cannot talk about that situation."

Kruger, who also attended the Hot Springs Commission meeting, provided information about the incident to Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric, who has requested a Division of Criminal Investigation inquiry that might lead to charges of trespass.

Robbins, who has lived near Thermopolis about 10 years, said he runs about 3,000 head of Angus cattle. He said one 3-5 year old cow weighing 1,200 pounds is valued at about $1,000.

"We're missing 10-15 head," Robbins said. His neighbor, who runs 300 head, is missing five.

He said his neighbor "has an airplane - he's flown the area" and cannot locate any of the missing animals, said Robbins, who has both wolves and grizzly bears on his land. He said about half his holdings are private property, with the balance leased from federal and state agencies for grazing.

Robbins' land is "five minutes by helicopter, up to two days by horse" via rough terrain from the Larsen Ranch near Meeteetse.

He says the federal government "turned my ranch into a recovery zone for the wolf," adding they "are willing to sacrifice us to get (wolves) delisted."

In 10 years Robbins says he has never received any payment for loss of cattle to predators. In one case he said a predator control officer observed a wolf eating a dead cow, but could not say what killed it.

"They can't verify it, so they don't pay you. But it's still my cow, and if I don't want a wolf eating my cow, dead or alive, that's my prerogative," he said.

Although Robbins' Owl Creek home is about 20 miles from the area where he believes the eight wolves were netted, "We've got wolves right here at the house," he said. "They (wolves) look over a rim to WYO 120."

Agent: Low fuel forced landing
March 2, 2004

Wolves near Dubois, the Washakie Pack, had mostly evaded attempts to collar them until mid-February, when they were spotted between Thermopolis and Meeteetse.

A federal agent boarded a helicopter, darted and retrieved four wolves, processed them and landed with the tranquilized animals while the pilot went off to refuel. The landing site was on a road; the processing site allegedly on adjacent private ranchland.

"We do our best not to go on other people's property," said Mike Jimenez, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's wolf project leader for Wyoming. "We sincerely apologize if we do.

"Our intention was to focus on collaring wolves."

Rancher Randy Kruger, who met Jimenez on site Feb. 14, has asked county officials to consider filing trespassing charges.

"We make a real effort to collar wolves to keep track of them, especially when they are expanding their territory," Jimenez said last week. Collars, which help him locate problem animals, "make it easier for us to resolve conflicts."

To collar wolves, he typically traps in the summers, a labor-intensive technique, and darts in the winter.

"This pack was difficult to trap," he said.

The wolves had been in Dubois since 1998, and the ones that caused problems had been removed, Jimenez said. Only one of the pack had a collar, which he described as "old, old."

On that Saturday morning, a pilot on a routine surveillance flight located the pack between Thermopolis and Meeteetse and called Jimenez.

"We jumped at the opportunity," he said, quickly arranging for a helicopter and a helper. "We had a tiny window to go after them."

The chase began on BLM land, with the duo positioned with dart guns.

"You're roaring along, chasing these things, 50 feet above them," he added.

And the wolves take defensive maneuvers individually.

"They don't run as a group," Jimenez said, and after one is hit, the rest "scatter all over the countryside."

His system is to chase and dart as many as possible and then gather up the sleeping animals for checkups and collars. The process took a while that day.

And in the process, Jimenez said he had no time to consult a map for indications of land ownership. The fourth wolf they picked up was located in rocky, rough terrain.

"We couldn't land and work there safely," Jimenez said.

So they flew to the nearest flat spot - the LU Ranch Road west of WYO 120. The handlers moved the four wolves down the bank while the pilot left to refuel.

"We put the wolves into the shade to protect their eyes," Jimenez said, because their eyelids remain open after darting. He was eating lunch when Kruger drove by and stopped.

"We were exhausted," Jimenez added. "We weren't hiding. We really don't sneak around."

He introduced himself to Kruger, gave him a business card, explained what they were doing and invited him to examine the wolves and take a picture.

"We had a pleasant conversation," Jimenez said. "He never told me we were on private property."

When Kruger answered that he was running cows nearby, Jimenez wrote down his cell phone number, saying, "Don't hesitate to call me if there are any problems."

Jimenez added that they were not relocating wolves.

"We don't move wolves," he said. "They move all by themselves."

Collared wolves - four darted and one net-gunned and released - tend to leave an area after they are handled.

Last Thursday morning, Jimenez said the pack had been located "way back in the mountains already.

"We will monitor them."

County backs rancher


County commissioners Tuesday will consider seeking a congressional investigation into the handling of four wolves on a Meeteetse area ranch Feb. 14.

Commission chairman Tim Morrison, who is from Meeteetse, said rancher Randy Kreuger called him with information about the incident and asked him to pass documentation of it to the county attorney.

"This is a terrible thing for a landowner to have to deal with," Morrison said. He said he has known Kruger for some time, and finds him to be "responsible, calm and reasonable."

But coming upon Mike Jimenez and another person on his property near four tranquilized wolves in the same area where his cattle were about to calve deeply upset Kruger, Morrison said.

"Nothwithstanding any local charges (the Larsen Ranch Co. may file trespass charges against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Congress needs to look into it," Morrison told fellow commissioners during a special meeting Friday.

"If they (F&WS) are doing it there, they're going it other places," Morrison added. "What are they doing in the rest of the state? There has to be an investigation."

He said the result of a congressional inquiry is unclear, except that it could "find out what happened, hour to hour," from the perspectives of both the rancher and government.

Another outcome of an investigation, Morrison added, is, "Congress might get insight into what's happening here" and understand the "stress recreating of wolf habitat has on our way of life."

Commissioner Tim French said the "biggest consequence of an investigation is loss of credibility and a giant black eye" for the F&WS.

"I don't feel any trust with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," commissioner Marie Fontaine added. "Ed Bangs said they didn't realize they were on private land ... there are so many questions."

Kruger said the wildlife agents appeared to be "hiding in the bushes under a high bank by a road" when he drove past and spotted them. The tranquilized wolves were lying nearby.

"If you have nothing to hide, why are you out there hiding?" French asked. "Did those two guys fall from the sky with a wolf under each arm?"

Morrison said Kruger was "stressed," and "didn't know if they had a right to be there," adding, "there were two of them and one of him."

"Just be up front," French added. "But hoping you're not seen? That's just suspicious, to me."

Commissioners plan to include the matter on their regular meeting agenda Tuesday. They will ask Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric to attend, and will decide at that time whether to pursue a congressional investigation.

Rancher: Wolf agent 'trespassed'
Febuary 25, 2004


A Meeteetse rancher says the federal official in charge of wolves in Wyoming illegally handled four wolves in his calving pasture recently.

Mike Jimenez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not have permission to be on private land when he was discovered with four tranquilized wolves south of Meeteetse on Feb. 14, rancher Randy Kruger said.

Larsen Ranch Co. owners say they may ask Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric to file criminal trespass charges against the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Unclear is whether the federal official found the wolves on private land or transported them there.

F&WS officials could not be reached for comment, but agency representatives have called rancher Ralph Larsen to apologize, his son-in-law Randy Kruger said.

A ranch stockholder and employee, Kruger said Wednesday he was driving across a pasture off Gooseberry Creek at 3 p.m. Feb. 14 when he "caught two men hiding in the bushes." They were under a high bank by the road, out of sight.

"It seemed quite alarming to me," he added. "I stopped to see what they were up to."

They had four wolves laid out, tranquilized. Kruger identified the men as Jimenez and Wes Livingston of Cody.

"They acted guilty, in my view," Kruger said. "They said they were trying to get the wolves collared.

"They were on our deeded land and in our calving pasture."

Because about 350 bred calves are on nearby land and due to calve March 20, he told the men, "We don't need this sort of thing."

Kruger drove on to a shop about one mile away and later thought he heard a helicopter, figuring it had left the men to go get fuel. The two men apparently had no vehicle.

"It's aggravating and upsetting," Kruger said. "It's causing me loss of sleep. It's a matter of terrorism."

The men told Kruger they had trapped and collared the wolves "in the area." When Kruger drove off, the wolves were beginning to stir.

"They were nice, well-fed looking wolves, right in their prime," he said.

Kruger presented the information to Park County Commissioner Tim Morrison on Wednesday morning and said Morrison will turn over the details to the county attorney to decide about "prosecuting the Fish and Wildlife Service or letting it go."

"We're pushing them to file charges," said Joe Tilden of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, who thinks the men flew in with the wolves. "Where does the federal government have the right to land on private property?"

For two men to be hiding in the brush with wolves strikes him as odd.

"It's bizarre," Tilden said.

During his recent trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with F&WS officials about the wolf issue, he recalled them asking him to place their faith in them.

"They want us to trust them when they're doing this kind of stuff?" he asked. "I back Larsen and Kruger 100 percent. It's pretty blatant."

Wildlife: Livestock predation, wildlife issues drive worries
Feb 18, 2004


Six county commissioners from two states agreed Tuesday that counties in the West should consider suing the federal government about wolves.

"If the state's not going to sue, maybe it's time for us to," Park County Commission Chairman Tim Morrison said during a Tuesday work session in the courthouse.

Carbon County, Mont., commissioners participated. Attending from Red Lodge were John Prinkki, Albert Brown and David Davidson.

The six commissioners concurred that in part because of wolves, several problems are emerging in this area:

"We will visit with other counties when we are in Cheyenne (for legislative meetings)," Morrison said.

As counties, he said, "We need to put ourselves in the driver's seat of litigating instead of the environmental groups."

"And I think you'll find agreement, at least in the Big Horn Basin," Morrison added.

"And when you file, you can file in your court," said Gary Lundvall, a former Park County commissioner and Wyoming Game and Fish Commission member.

"We should all file a petition to delist, with 90 days (for action) - then we proceed with litigation," Lundvall added.

Brown, a Carbon County, Mont., commissioner, said his area already is "losing land to subdivisions because of wolves."

And he said that situation demands more county services, such as law enforcement patrols and road maintenance as well as improved infrastructure such as replacing bridges. He cited a 428-lot development proceeding near Grove Creek on land that was previously used for agriculture.

Commissioner Tim French said while farmers and ranchers prefer retaining ownership of their land to leave to their children and grandchildren, "If you're going broke, you've got to look at your options."

The commissioners also agreed that delisting wolves is not working, nor is deciding how they should be designated, as predators or as trophy game species.

"Whatever we can do together is still not working," Morrison added. "We're still not dealing with the problem: we've got wolves at our back door."

Morrison said because of proposed wolf recovery zones, "once they're recovered they're recovered - otherwise the entire state will become a breeding ground for the entire U.S."

The Montana commissioners said both Montana and Wyoming need "grassroots efforts" such as counties banding together, combined with pressure on federal legislators, to make necessary changes in laws governing wolf management.

Brown said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "put wolves in Yellowstone Park" and created a recovery area 300 miles around the park, then "tied all the dollars to Yellowstone and openly admitted (they) knew wolves would leave."


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