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Wild Wolf Encounters
Songs for a Beloved Friend
This hawk and her mate have become increasingly frequent visitors to my yard with its bird feeders. I think she is a Cooper’s hawk, and not a sharp-shinned, and here’s why:
Cooper’s are bigger, 14-20 inches – crow size – as opposed to 10-14 inches – dove or jay size – for the sharp-shinned. This is a big bird. Eyes are closer to the front of the head than those of a sharp-shinned.
Feathers on top of head are darker than those behind the neck, giving the bird a capped appearance,as opposed to a uniformly dark cap and nape in the sharp-shinned.
Listen to the call: It may be a post-dinner song, somewhat defiant, as if to say: “Well, I have to eat, too!”
But check out these links from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website and decide for yourself:
Identifying the Cooper’s Hawk
Identifying the Sharp-shinned Hawk
Tricky Bird Identifications
Cooper’s Hawk photo
As a somewhat belated warning, the flickers call after-the-fact in imitation. Their normally slower-paced mellow cry becomes faster and more shrill: “Be mindful: Hawk was just here and may come again!”
Familiar friend, well met
unmistakable ecliptic companion
keeping company nightly
not to be lightly missed
(late Monica, too)
Some photos from our spring trip:
On September 23, 2014, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (the Court) issued an Opinion¹ and Order² overturning a 2012 rule promulgated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS, the Service, or the agency). The 2012 rule removed wolves in Wyoming from the protections of the Endangered Species Act and allowed them to be managed by the state of Wyoming. The Court order vacating this rule means that Wyoming wolves are once again listed as endangered and are subject to federal, not state, control.
This is how it happened. But first, a bit of explanation/history:
USFWS is the federal agency charged with carrying out the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA or the Act) and making scientifically-based decisions about which land animals should be listed under the Act or removed from listing. The Service listed wolves as endangered in 1973, the year the Act was promulgated. In the following years, the agency developed a recovery plan, presiding over the 1995-96 re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone, and establishing a recovery goal totaling at least thirty breeding pairs/300 individuals in the three Rocky Mountain states with suitable habitat: Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. Much of this habitat is located in or around the Greater Yellowstone Area, which includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
The re-introduced wolf population in these three states reached the minimum recovery goal in 2000, and the Service began to take steps to de-list them shortly after. In 2009 the agency approved management plans for the states of Montana and Idaho but declined to approve Wyoming’s plan, which they deemed inadequate to meet minimum recovery requirements. A Montana federal court refused to permit de-listing/management of wolves piecemeal by state, rather than for the recovery region as a whole. Then Congress passed legislation permitting a state-by-state de-listing in this instance. At that point, wolves could be managed by (i.e. hunted in) Montana and Idaho, but they were still protected under the ESA in Wyoming. (See pages 6-9 of the Opinion for a review of the history of de-listing efforts.)
In September 2012, the Service decided that Wyoming’s regulatory changes governing wolves justified approval of its management plan. Wolves in Wyoming were removed from federal control under the ESA at that point and became subject to state management.
Plaintiffs³ in these consolidated cases asked the Court to overturn the 2012 rule on three grounds:
1) The Service’s decision to de-list was arbitrary and capricious because Wyoming’s regulatory mechanisms are inadequate to protect the species, unenforceable, and non-binding;
2) the level of genetic exchange and diversity does not justify delisting; and
3) the gray wolf continues to be endangered within a significant portion of its range.
The Court agreed with Plaintiffs’ first contention that Wyoming’s existing regulatory mechanisms did not adequately protect the species, as required by USFWS’ own standards. The Court found sufficient scientific grounds in the record to sustain agency conclusions that levels of genetic exchange supported de-listing and that the wolf was not endangered in Wyoming within a significant portion of its range.
In other words, because of the high standard of deference a court must by law show to agency decisions, the Court here upheld USFWS’ conclusions that 1) appropriate genetic diversity exists to consider the species recovered in Wyoming; and 2) the species is not endangered within a significant portion of its Wyoming range. The only matter being decided is the Service’s conclusion that Wyoming’s regulatory scheme for wolf management adequately protects the species.
The Court goes on to confirm that, under the record, USFWS based its Wyoming de-listing decision upon a minimum requirement of 10 breeding pairs/100 individuals in the state, with the critical understanding that Wyoming would maintain a numerical but unspecified buffer to ensure that this minimum was never violated. Idaho and Montana each have specific and enforceable buffers of 5 additional breeding pairs and 50 individuals over the minimum requirements. (That is a 50% numeric buffer in each state.) Wyoming’s buffer was a promise to protect, an assertion that Wyoming had the authority, intention, and will to protect the minimum by creating a buffer. This assertion was not written into law or regulation, and was, the Court said, therefore not enforceable. The Court concluded it was improper, i.e. arbitrary and capricious as a legal standard, for the Service to de-list wolves in Wyoming when an integral component of its management plan (“a necessary predicate for the de-listing” [page 21 of the Opinion]) was legally unenforceable.
Therefore, the result is, the September 2012 USFWS rule permitting wolf de-listing in Wyoming is vacated, and the 2009 rule, under which wolves in Wyoming continue to be subject to the protections of the ESA, is re-instated by the Court.
Wyoming immediately responded by enacting emergency and admittedly temporary regulations designed to meet the Court’s concerns. The state petitioned the Court to alter or amend its ruling, promising that permanent regulations would be enacted before the emergency rules expire.
That still sounds like a future promise. It’s unclear what the next steps will be. It is possible the Court will permit Wyoming in a quick fix to enact enforceable buffer requirements. Most likely the state of Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will need to return to square one (the 2009 rule), where the give and take of proposed rule and regulation will be tempered by public comment.
In any case, this is a beautiful time for those of us who love and appreciate wolves. We can breathe again. And it was a special joy to get this news while in Yellowstone and the Tetons.
There are interesting rumblings from the Court in two footnotes, one on hunting management practices and numbers, and another on maintenance of genetic diversity:
Footnote 11 on page 27, Opinion:
11 Because Wyoming’s regulatory scheme is inadequate for failing to legally obligate the state to manage the species at the levels FWS determined necessary to warrant delisting, the Court does not reach the question of whether other provisions within the scheme, such as those governing lethal take permits, are adequate. (My emphasis.) and
Footnote 13 on page 32, Opinion:
13 Plaintiffs also argue that state management of the species will diminish genetic connectivity in the northern Rocky Mountain region because FWS unlawfully assumes that (1) the wolf population in the region will be maintained above recovery levels, (2) the management approaches of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming take into account and limit the impact of hunting during important dispersal periods, and (3) human-assisted migration will be sufficient to make up for lack of natural genetic connectivity…. Because the Court finds that Wyoming’s existing regulatory mechanisms are inadequate given that the state’s promise to maintain the wolf population at levels required to warrant delisting is unenforceable, the Court does not reach the question of how specific regulatory mechanisms will affect genetic connectivity in the future. (My emphasis.)
¹ “Opinion” is the opinion dated September 23, 2014 in consolidated Civil Cases No. 12-1833 (ABJ) and No. 12-1965 (ABJ) from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
² “Order” is the order dated September 23, 2014 from this Court in those cases.
³ Plaintiffs include, among others, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), The Humane Society of the United States, and the Sierra Club. Defendants and intervenors include the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state of Wyoming, the National Rifle Association, among others.
The only times I have seen a grizzly sow with cubs have been from the car. That’s probably a good thing. Apparently if she chooses the time and place of an encounter, it’s OK to be around humans. Surprising her in the backcountry is a different story.
Then she doesn’t really want to kill you – just to neutralize you, i.e. to ensure you are not a threat to the family. Just what that entails depends upon the circumstances. Over the years I have developed some theories about bears. Men may be more at risk than women. Bears know the difference (just like my collies do when I walk at night), and the attacks, while always isolated and infrequent, seem to involve men more often. Also, if you are hiking on a trail, bears expect you. The trail must smell like humans, so your being there is probably no surprise. Bears can hear and smell really well, so seeing one on the trail is highly unlikely. They are eager to avoid an encounter.
Off trail is different. Madame Grizzly may attack first and ask questions never. Bear spray will be of no use, since bears move like greased lightning. We choose to be quiet on the trail and hope for the best. We do go to Yellowstone to see wildlife. Others wear bells, which we don’t hear until the wearer is in plain view; carry spray; or even blow a whistle or carry a radio. The National Park Service makes people frantic with their bear attack warnings.
On our last trip to Yellowstone, a fellow was hiking down the trail with an unsheathed ax. I wondered on what life form he planned to use this weapon and was quite relieved to get back to the car. How can we worry about grizzlies when humans are so unpredictable?
This poem was written about another trail…
Bear convention down the trail
round toes, pointed nails,
big tracks, little tracks,
grizzly bear, black.
Native woodsmen won’t be seen,
not, at least, today,
scent of human signals them
to simply melt away.
from Songs for a Beloved Friend, Poems and Essays for the Planet
Back to Yellowstone tomorrow!
I can’t get this right, so I’m posting two poems. Feel free to leave me feedback about which one you prefer or don’t.
Shards of rage and jealousy
pierce the soul
pain’s disposition a lasting bequest
recovery uncovered – life’s unwelcome guest
(Recovered) Alcoholic’s Lament
WARNING: DO NOT APPROACH
Rage and jealousy lie buried together
in a shallow grave
scrape the surface and find them
companions fit to shatter any structure
crumbling all foundations
Shards may pierce your soul
Some of you will worry, so I feel compelled to add that this is not about me or my family.
The Scream is in the public domain.
This July we backpacked into Wolf Lake in Yellowstone National Park. Wolf Lake ranks as one of my most special places. Its beauty is wild and calm; the Gibbon River babbles through the meadow here. In a short while, the river’s flow and drop become ferocious. But at Wolf Lake, the world is gentle.
The bugs were wicked, but the chance to spend time in the park and on the water made them bearable. Comfortable in the backcountry now, in a way I never was as a young adult, I can relax and enjoy my surroundings.
Time changes when one backpacks. There is no need to mind the clock, to rush along and be back to the car before dark. Distance is halved; there’s plenty of time to sit by lakes and streams, to watch birds and waterfowl, to contemplate the clouds, and to swim if one chooses. We did choose.
The first time we swam in Wolf Lake, loons and geese came out of nowhere to greet us. I thought this was a coincidence, until it happened every time we got in the water. Loons were nesting in our favorite spot, so we camped farther afield.
Loon voices are varied and magical. Visit this Cornell Lab of Ornithology website to hear them. Here’s our audio file with one of their calls.
In the evenings, we heard another loon call sounding much more like a wolf than a bird.
On the return trip, we stopped at Ice Lake for lunch and a swim. The swans, normally so aloof, started moving toward us the moment we got in the water. So did the loon. (The same or a different one?) Who were these strange water creatures?