Endangered Carnivore Friday

There seem to be at least three different views of what should be done with endangered species.  1. Recover the species in a specific area; 2. Recover the species everywhere it ever was and 3. Manage for the species in areas where it currently isn’t, but might possibly go under climate change. It’s all a bit confusing to some of us as to what is legally required by ESA and what is just the druthers of some folks.

Oregon Wolves To Be Released in Colorado: Location Unknown

Yes, Colorado already had wolves who wandered down on their own from Wyoming. However a ballot initiative requires them to be reintroduced anyway (political reasons). Here’s a nice article in the Colorado Sun.

The wolves headed to Colorado currently live in Oregon. Once they’re captured, the volunteer flight service LightHawk, which assists conservation agencies with endangered species transportation, will bring them to Colorado.

Western Slope ranchers could start seeing wolves by mid-December. That troubles Lenny Klinglesmith, who runs between 600 and 1,000 head of cattle in Rio Blanco County, southwest of Meeker.

Klinglesmith said stress and anxiety are running high in him and his ranching neighbors, who’ve “been dreading it for quite awhile. Now, reintroduction is almost here but we don’t have a choice. It’s just the stress, not only for me but for our hunting community. They talk deterrents and conflict minimization like it’s easy, but wolves are there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And most [impacts] are going to happen in the middle of the night. It could be Christmas Eve. It’ll change lives forever.”

But Eric Odell, CPW’s species conservation manager, said CPW plans to help them with the transition by contracting a conflict minimization specialist with expertise in wolf reintroduction who has worked with several ranching communities in the past. The agency intends to hire more such specialists. And Odell said CPW has some of the materials needed for deterring wolves on hand, including “fladry” to string around livestock pastures or holding areas, and scare devices like sirens and strobe lights.

“We have some for loan and use, but not enough that will meet the demand,” he said. “And there will be lots and lots of demand.”

It seems to me like the wolves came in on their own, and people were adjusting.  Then came the “reintroduction” effort-voted for by people who live elsewhere and only narrowly passed at all.  I don’t think if a person’s goal was to help heal any urban rural divide, that this effort is helping. Just my two cents.



This is from the Center for Western Priorities newsletter.

Human-driven climate change has led to the species’ decline, with the most recent estimates noting a population of around 300 in the Lower 48. Wolverines rely on deep snow through the late spring to build dens, but in recent decades, snowpack has been decreasing. The species used to roam from the northern United States to New Mexico, but now they exist only in small populations in the Rocky and Cascade mountains.

“The science is clear: snowpack-dependent species like the wolverine are facing an increasingly uncertain future under a warming climate,” Michael Saul, Defenders of Wildlife Rockies and plains program director, told National Parks Traveler. “Now it’s time to support the species’ future by bringing them back to the mountains of Colorado as well.”

I’m wondering why they would pick the most southern part of the range specifically to bring them back, the part conceivably least able to support them based on the warming climate.


Grizzly Bears Translocation to Add Genetic Diversity

This one from Wyofile.

To me if the yellow lines were the target, it seems like the grizzlies are doing fairly well.

“We’re trying to demonstrate to everybody, the courts included, that connectivity isn’t an issue that should impede delisting,” said Ken McDonald, wildlife division chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “Until it’s happening regularly, naturally, we can cover this with human-assisted movements.”

The two grizzly bear populations aren’t far from each other — the leading edges are just 35 miles apart —  but there’s never been a documented case of a Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly traveling to the Yellowstone Ecosystem and procreating. Grizzlies have gone the other direction, trekking north well into Montana, but that doesn’t accomplish the goal of creating gene flow into the isolated population.


Although state wildlife managers have committed to translocating grizzlies into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the current level of genetic diversity is not “in dire straits,” Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team Leader Frank van Manen said.

Frank van Manen, leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, at the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee meeting in Cody in May 2023. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

“We have a little bit lower genetic diversity than other populations, but it’s not declining further,” he said. “It’s moderate genetic diversity, is how I would classify it.”

The genetic augmentation appendix of Montana’s draft grizzly bear management plan calls the ecosystem’s genetic isolation a “long-term conservation concern.”

“The rate of inbreeding has been very low (0.2% over 25 years),” the document states, “and no inbreeding effects have been detected.”

As a geneticist, I would say “if it’s low and not decreasing, it’s not a problem.”

Nevertheless, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen sided with environmental groups in 2018 on the question of genetic diversity, ending a short stint where the Northern Rockies states had jurisdiction over their Ursus arctos horribilis populations.

I went to the link above and this is what the Judge said:

In ordering the re-listing, the judge noted that delisting Yellowstone-area grizzlies might have an impact on other grizzly populations. But he also found threats to the Yellowstone-area bear itself. One worry is that the geographically isolated Yellowstone population may lack the genetic diversity necessary to persist.

The judge, over many pages in his order, mulled arguments about minimum populations, effective population sizes and other important factors, including federal law. He criticized federal scientists for “failing to recognize that all evidence suggests that the long-term viability of the Greater Yellowstone grizzly is far less certain absent new genetic material.

“Despite its recognition that continued isolation poses a threat to the Yellowstone grizzly, there is no regulatory mechanism in place to address the threat,” the judge wrote.

When the Fish and Wildlife Service decided in 2017 to delist the Yellowstone grizzly, the decision that prompted the successful lawsuit, it “misread the scientific studies it relied upon,” Christensen wrote.

“The Service failed to logically support its conclusion that the current Greater Yellowstone population is not threatened by its isolation.” The judge wrote. “The Service has failed to demonstrate that genetic diversity within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, long-recognized as a threat to the Greater Yellowstone grizzly’s continued survival, has become a non-issue.”

So it appears that the Judge is not talking about the actual science, but the FWS not “logically supporting its conclusion.”

Sommers recalls something that Chris Servheen, the former lead government grizzly scientist, once told him. “We also have to remember bears have been isolated on Kodiak Island for 10,000 years and they’re doing just fine, ” Sommers paraphrased.

Alaska’s Kodiak population differs from Yellowstone in that there are about 3,500 Kodiak brown bears. (Many refer to both species as grizzlies, though they are slightly different.)

“How good is the science on the genetics issue,” Sommers asked, saying conservationists call to preserve natural migration corridors between the grizzly recovery zones in the Lower 48 “are just attempts to tie up policy [regarding] land use.

“I think this genetic connectivity issue is a red herring that underlies some groups’ efforts to try to manage, manipulate this larger landscape with regard to how they want to see [land-use] decision on the ground,” he said.

Back to the original article:

Thompson pointed out that genetic diversity was an issue decades ago when the Yellowstone region population was much lower and “bottlenecked,” but nowadays, with many times more bears, it isn’t much of a concern, he said.

“We’ve demonstrated it is not an issue anymore,” Thompson said, “but [translocation] is another way to address the issues that some people have.



3 thoughts on “Endangered Carnivore Friday”

  1. I wouldn’t assume that Colorado is “least able to support (wolverines) based on the warming climate.” Altitude factors into snow as much as latitude, and the ski industry has found a lot of reliable snow in Colorado.

    For grizzly bears, the question is what is “recovery,” so that they could be delisted. The recovery plan said that recovery requires connectivity. In determining recovery, I don’t believe that we can substitute artificial translocation for connectivity (since the purpose of ESA is actually to “provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species may be conserved). If they believe that Yellowstone genetics no longer requires connectivity for recovery, I think they would have to change the recovery plan (and apparently they need a better scientific basis than offered to the court so far).

  2. You left out one carnivore in the news recently.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a draft recovery plan for the Canada lynx, in addition to an addendum to its 2017 Special Species Assessment. The updated information in the addendum was used to write the recovery plan. The Service listed the Canada lynx as threatened in the U.S. in 2000, basing its decision on the fact that national forest plans did not provided adequate regulatory mechanisms. I believe the thinking at the time (I was involved in this) was that amending forest plans with the Lynx Conservation Strategy would provide adequate protection and delisting could occur without developing a recovery plan. After plans were amended, it looks like climate change has become a more important consideration.

    “In 2017, a Fish and Wildlife Service lynx status review found that the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management had added requirements into their management plans that appear to conserve lynx habitat, so the Service says that’s no longer a factor. However, the amount of lynx habitat within the six population units is so limited that biologists say little can be lost.

    “By mid-century, projected climate warming will likely result in substantial loss of favorable temperature and snow conditions in one or two of the five SSA Units that currently support resident lynx populations, depending on future scenarios,” the addendum said. That alone is going to make it hard to conserve 95% of lynx habitat for the next 20 years.”

  3. There’s also some other big news on wolverines (the Politico link didn’t work by the way).

    On November 30, the Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule listing the contiguous U. S. population of the North American wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The final rule comes in the wake of lawsuits filed by environmental organizations challenging the Service’s 2020 (Trump era) decision to withdraw its earlier listing proposals for the species. The Service cites habitat loss stemming from the effects of climate change as the primary threat to the species. The listing authorizes otherwise prohibited incidental take related to forest management activities, but they are accepting public comments and may modify that. (This article includes a link to the final rule.)


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