Return of the Wolves:The Next Chapter

Mike Jimenez

Mike Jimenez transcript
Wolves2/KUED
 
Interviewer
Tell me your name and title.
 
Mike Jimenez
My name is Mike Jimenez. I work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and I'm a science and management coordinator for the Northern Rocky Mountains.
 
Interviewer
Describe your job as Wyoming's Wolf Recovery Project Leader.
 
Mike Jimenez
So what I do, we've delisted wolves now throughout the Northern Rockies, so we're in a post-delisting period, and so I coordinate that post-delisting monitoring to coordinate with the states how they're keeping track of wolves once they've been delisted. Prior to that I was the Wyoming Project Leader, so I've managed wolves in Wyoming since 1999.
 
Interviewer
Wyoming has implemented a hunting season. Why?
 
Mike Jimenez
So Wyoming has instigated a hunting season just like Montana and Idaho have done, and just like the Midwest states have done--pretty much everywhere wolves are delisted. The main reason is that the wolf population has done very very well, and to the point that nothing's really checked that population growth for years, and all of the states feel that the population's higher than what they can manage effectively, where they're having conflicts with domestic livestock or impacts on small ungulate herds. And there are many many times over recovery goals, so somewhere in between they're going to look for a management objective that stays very high above recovery goals, but at the same time brings the population down so that they can manage them more in proportion to Ungulates that are available and kind of minimize conflict with livestock.
 
Interviewer
Is delisting a good idea?
 
Mike Jimenez
Delisting is a very good idea. From the very very beginning when we first listed wolves, the goal was to set recovery goals, achieve those recovery goals, and once they were achieved the best place for management is the state, not the federal government. And so when in the Northern Rockies we set those goals. We actually reintroduced wolves into Yellowstone and Central Idaho, and those recovery goals were met in 2002, and ever since then the population has grown significantly each year. And we've worked. There's been a struggle. There's been many obstacles for delisting, but delisting is a very very good thing for wolves. It's better for wolves to be managed at a state level. The federal Endangered Species Act is not designed to manage on a day-to-day basis. It's designed, more if you will, as kind of an intensive care unit in a hospital that the population is in need of immediate concern. We brought that population up, now it's time for the states to take it over and it's way overdue.
 
Interviewer
How significant are rancher's losses?
 
Mike Jimenez
Well, it's a relative question. If you're looking at an industry-wide level, there's very few wolves on an industry-wide level and it's insignificant. If you look at a rancher or someone who lives in a rural agricultural community and you have wolves nearby, you can be significantly impacted, and it's not just so much that the number of loss, is that having wolves around. What wolves do is they… What's really cool about wolves in a natural sense is they bring a certain wildness to wherever they exist, and so prey adjust to that wildness having them around. They move around a lot. The behavior changes--all these kind of things is a natural system. It works very well. Imagine if you raise livestock, the exact same thing happens. They move around a lot. You know you can't keep them still. The wolves chase things. Wolves test animals constantly to see if they're vulnerable for predation. So they do that just with domestic livestock. So even if wolves don't necessarily kill things, they interact with livestock. That becomes an issue. If you're a rancher or a farmer, you do just the opposite than what you would in a natural system. You try and tame all of those things rather than have things just running on a natural landscape. You try to tame that and you grow things be it domestic livestock, ag products. Because you've tamed those conditions, wolves untamed things, and if you like wolves that's a neat prospect. If you're somebody that's in an agricultural community, that's very contradictory to what you're trying to do.
 
Interviewer
When a wolf kills livestock, what is the procedure on how you respond?
 
Mike Jimenez
So when wolves kill livestock, since day one we've had a control plan, and the idea was, in order to have wolves on the landscape we knew that wolves would cause some conflicts, and so we developed a control plan from the very very beginning, and the idea was we would not require landowners to pay the cost, or livestock producers to pay the cost of having wolves return. So the idea was to balance that out, that we would… If they killed livestock, we would stop that depredation, be it by initially when we didn't have very many wolves we tried all kinds of nonlethal ways of keeping wolves out of areas, aversive conditioning so that wolves don't hang around livestock so that we'd help ranchers clean up their operations so they don't leave dead things around--all those kind of things. But at some point if wolves are exposed to livestock over and over and over again, they check them out. They look to see if they're vulnerable, and some wolves become very good at killing livestock. So when that happens and we can't stop it, or we couldn't stop it, we would remove or kill those wolves once the population grew. And so initially there weren't very many wolves. The population has grown and grown and grown. Now when wolves kill things we have other agencies involved. They go out to investigate. It's very straight-forward, very diagnostic how wolves kill compared to other predators, and if we confirm that then even when they were listed, we would look and see case by case whether this is something that we're going to let and see and what would happen, or if it's an area that wolves just chronically kill livestock year after year over and over and over again, we would remove those wolves. It would be looked at case by case. And the idea again was to allow the wolf population to grow and keep it in a very viable size, but at the same time protect livestock producers, that even though industry-wide there's not big numbers, if you have problems in your individual livestock producers, that can become a very significant part of producing livestock. So we protected livestock and we protected wolves.
 
Interviewer
Wolf advocates see an allegiance to ranchers. Is that accurate?
 
Mike Jimenez
So if you like wolves and you'd like to see more wolves in more places, you see how we manage wolves as, "Wow, you're biasing it to ranchers." If you don't like wolves you say, "Holy mackerel we hate these things. They weren't here. You brought them here," we see an allegiance to the environmental side. And both sides push that argument very hard. So I would say reality is probably, again, in the middle. We drew up a plan in 1994 when EIS was written, and the plan was very clear. We would protect wolves, and endangered species protected supersedes other management actions, other federal agencies, other states. It's a very powerful piece of legislation. So to think that that somehow caters to ranchers or livestock producers is probably not very realistic. It's a very powerful piece of legislation, and we put wolves, and wolves have expanded into rancher's back pastures and they can't do anything about it until they were delisted, so the idea that that caters to ranchers, it's understandable, but it comes from a very pro-wolf side. On the other side, ranchers do the same thing. "We didn't want them. You brought them here. You cater to the environmental side," and we've had to balance that act. And so what we've done for the last, since these were, 1987, '86 when they first came into the Northern Rockies on their own, is we've balanced that out, that we allow wolves to exist places where they don't cause major chronic problems, and once the population grew and we had science behind us to say this population can easily stand that kind of mortality… We don't manage wolves pack by pack, wolf by wolf. We manage on a population scale like any other wildlife management is done, and once wolves grew, that population grew. We no longer look for how do we stop these little conflicts going, or put a bunch of people in front of wolves. We manage on a population scale and we try to make it cost-effective, still protect wolves, make it minimal conflicts with people, and keep the wolf population viable and large enough so that it stays viable. And so the approach from management from day one is hit this happy medium, which obviously both sides would always take issue with. And the end result, I would offer, shows that that was a very sound approach. In a very short time we've taken a species that didn't exist here in the Northern Rockies, and we have a very viable, robust wolf population that continues to expand because of that approach--that we did not cater to ranchers. We did not cater to environmental groups. We try to cater to both by coming with a compromise and bringing those two groups together to find some common ground, and the common ground was kind of rationally managing wolves so that you achieve both goals; recover the population, minimize conflicts.
 
Interviewer
What kind of actions are taken against problem wolves?
 
Mike Jimenez
So again, in the early days when the population was small, we wanted the population to grow, so it was very restrictive what we would do, and we did… This was back in the 1990's, the late '80s. We used all kinds of ways, and there's lots of… This is nothing new, so there's lots of techniques of trying to keep one animal away from it's prey, be it coyotes, wolves, bears--anything from aversive conditioning, electric fences, fladry lights, more people on the ground, extra riders; the list goes on and on. It works on some levels. Some levels it works for a while, some levels it doesn't, but once the population grew, it's not very effective to manage a wildlife population by constantly having human intervention in order to keep that from causing trouble, so once the population grew to where it was several times, our recovery goals are that the population never drops below ten breeding pairs and a hundred wolves in each of the three states. The states agreed, and we require them to manage at 15 breeding pairs in a hundred. So that would be 450 wolves. As long as the population never gets below that, we know in our science, and our records show very clearly, the population will always continue to grow and be viable. We now have 16, 17, 1800 wolves at least in the Northern Rockies, so the idea of using those concepts and those approaches from the ones we used 20 years ago where we tried to keep wolves away from livestock, that's probably, there's a little time lag there. That's probably not a very effective way to manage wolves. Now the states want to be able to manage them at a lower population. They don't want to have, and it's not necessary to have human intervention all of the time, so when wolves cause problems, we allow people to kill those wolves, and the population doesn't blink an eye. It does very well. The social structure of wolves we've seen year after year after year is not disrupted, and people like to identify with that social structure, that it's similar to people and somehow if you remove wolves, that will affect wolves' social structure. We found very clearly that wolves are very adaptable and we don't intentionally remove wolves to disturb wolves' social structure, but we know that when wolves are removed either by hunting by control, those social structures are very very elastic and plastic and they adapt to that, and that's why wolves have done so well for time beginning. They've evolved, and they're very very persistent and very cool animals that way. And so we try to manage wolves from that perspective, not from a people perspective of if we constantly have human intervention somehow we'll minimize problems. We don't think that's necessary.
 
Interviewer
Do wild wolves belong in the Rockies?
 
Mike Jimenez
One of the most interesting things that I've found is that almost all people feel, like wild wolves belong in the Rockies, be it wolf advocates or people that raise livestock or hunters… The concern is is that it's kept at a manageable level or in proportion, and that populations don't get high so that the impacts of wolves aren't severe. So you end up talking to hunters that are really ethical hunters, and they all think it's cool having wolves around, or they think it's cool seeing tracks, howls. Where they think contrary to that is when, even if it's a perception, is that they feel wolves are impacting their hunting or bringing their hunting down. Livestock producers don't have a problem with wolves. They do have a problem with wolves that kill livestock, or they have a problem with people, urban people, telling rural people what to do, or the federal government telling states what to do. It's much more a fad issue. And so wolves definitely have a place in the Rockies in the wild. Most of the people that live there are supportive of that, but they're all in favor of keeping it in a reasonable size and proportion, and each area has to come to some consideration or decision based on that. But it's interesting, the extreme sometimes dominate the conversation, but in the middle there, most people that's not the issue. It's much more too many of these other things that come with wolves; feds telling states what to do, us versus them arguments.
 
Interviewer
Describe shoot-on-site permits.
 
Mike Jimenez
Well so what shoot-on-site permits, we use to use those even when wolves were federally listed, so again, when wolves kill livestock we go in and investigate. If it's a confirmed problem we try to stop it, and initially we might ask the rancher to make sure he's not leaving dead livestock around or make sure everything's ok. Once we feel comfortable with that and the rancher… You know it depends on the rancher or who is producing it, where it is. Is it in an area that chronically wolves go after livestock? Or is it just, boy this has never happened before. We might ask the rancher, "Lets wait and see." And we'll monitor and we'll help him out any way we can. If it's in an area that is chronically caused, it has wolf problems over and over and over, wolves, for whatever reason kill livestock there, the population is many many times over recovery goals, many many times over what the states want, we remove. We kill those wolves when they chronically kill livestock. If we can't do that we ask the rancher to help us out and we offer to help him out by issuing a permit that allows him to shoot a specific number of wolves on his property. And when they were federally listed it would just be on his deeded property, and he could shoot wolves to protect his property, and that had a very finite time to it, frame to it, so it could be up to 45 days, but it might be for a week. It might be for two weeks. It would be the same number of wolves that we're trying to remove by an agency control to remove wolves. And again, it was to help, ask him for our help because we're not able to remove these cattle or sheep-killing wolves, or it could be 4-H, your kid's 4-H project, your dog, your horse. It's not always this big rancher. Sometimes wolves kill domestic pets. And so we would issue shoot-on-site permits. In Wyoming we only issue them for when they killed livestock. In the other states when wolves were listed, you could even get a shoot-on-site permit for other things; llamas, donkeys, those kinds of things as well. So again, the intent was, it was very controlled and focused shooting-on-site on private property, a specific number of wolves. It focused that control even more finely than an agency's control, and it tried to help ranchers or people that live in an area where they are having trouble with wolves.
 
Interviewer
What do you see as the biggest areas of conflict?
 
Mike Jimenez
The biggest areas of conflict is that the wolf is symbolic to people and people don't like to give up their values and the things that are used as symbols of those values. So a lot of this has to do with, I should say a little of this has to do with wolves and managing wolves and reducing livestock conflicts or conflicts with people and letting the population grow. That's the easy part of wolf management. The biggest conflicts are, it's framed as a wolf conflict, but it's really a people conflict. So you have, it's a cost-benefit if you will. So you have people that don't live in rural agricultural communities thinking it would be really cool to have wolves, and where wolves live is in rural agricultural communities. Those communities go, "You know, we really don't want them," and so the conflict becomes not so much of wolves, that oh they kill livestock; that's a small piece of the puzzle. The real conflict is how do you maintain a tolerance of wolves in an area where they can be… You're going to pay the cost of having wolves if you live in a rural community. Where the people that benefit from wolves that live in more urban or suburban areas; how do you balance that out? And that's the real conflict, and you try to get both sides to understand and respect the other person's perspective on things, and so if you live in an urban area, it's really cool to come to a national park. It's the best of the best. You get to see wolves, experience them. It's a naturally regulated system. It's really really cool. If you try to carry that same perspective into an agricultural community, it puts that community… It just denies that community of the reality of what it's really like to have wolves around people, livestock, pets--they do cause problems. And so having the ability, of the urban side of having the ability to go, "Here's where wolves fit, that's cool. We're not going to make them fit everywhere." That's the biggest conflict. The other side, "We don't like wolves but therefore we don't want any wolves." That's the biggest conflict, and the catch is to bring the two together, balance those opposing opinions and say, there is a common point here and we can rationally manage wolves, minimize conflicts, and have wolves in many many places, but not everywhere, and both sides have to respect that. And that's the biggest conflict.
 
Interviewer
So there's a romantic notion of wolves?
 
Mike Jimenez
Well it's romantic on both sides. So both sides put a huge amount of symbolism on wolves, and so if you like wolves, wolves are very symbolic of spiritualism. Native American hunters put a lot of spiritualism into wolves. You see wolves as part of wilderness, complete ecosystems. You see wolves very similar to people--they have families or packs and there's loyalty. You add all of these things to wolves and if you want to say that's romantic I suppose that would be, but that's the symbolism for people that like wolves. If you don't like wolves, or society got rid of wolves because they killed livestock, they competed for big game, they were challenged; they lived in the same places where people did, and nothing to do with us--this goes back hundreds of hundreds of years--wherever you've had wolves and people that tension has always existed, until recently it's been fairly negative and people see wolves as a pest, as a competitor, as something that needs to be tamed or removed. Those opinions have changed in the last four or five decades to where people appreciate ecosystems, natural resources, environments, those kinds of things. So people are now seeing the value of animals, which they have immense value to bring back into ecosystems. The catch is, allowing one side, we're not going to make you suddenly become different and the other side saying, the only side this is going to work is if you become different, that's the challenge of how do you have both sides respect each other. You don't have to change. I'm not threatening your values, but here's where I can come, and the other side does the same and good management finds a place in the middle there where you can have wolves in lots and lots of areas, but you can't have wolves in places where there is huge conflicts.
 
Interviewer
Why feeding frenzies?
 
Mike Jimenez
Feeding frenzies, like with the domestic sheep?
 
Interviewer
Yes.
 
Mike Jimenez
So what animals, predators are very good at preying at things and the two kind of general things they prey, what they select, is availability and vulnerability. So whatever kind of prey is out there, potential prey, if they're available they run through them and they check them out, and they look for vulnerable animals. They don't kill indiscriminately. Wolves are very systematic, and they kill based on what's available and what's vulnerable. They're very very good at it. In a natural situation they check out and they search, they spend a huge amount of time searching, so every time they're spending looking and catching things, that's using up energy, so they try to balance it. They use this optimum, if you will, strategy to forage, so they try to maximize that, and they get familiar with the areas. They have home ranges, territories that they defend against other wolves, other animals. They know that area very well, and so they know where to look for prey, and that oftentimes defines a home range of a wolf. So they spend a huge amount of time looking for say, elk, deer. They spend a huge amount of time. They test it; they get them to run. They chase them. They see which ones are a little slower or faster, whatever. They pick out vulnerable animals; older animals, younger animals, less experienced animals, or animals just in a location that's more to the advantage of a wolf. So they spend a lot of time looking, a lot of time chasing. Then you got to catch it. Once you catch it then you got to subdue it, then once you subdue it you actually have to kill it, and so there's these several processes that happens. Predation is not this simple, go out, kill something and eat. There's a huge amount of energy expended. A lot of times they don't succeed in finally killing it, but they go and expend energy going through the process, and they don't get energy back by killing it and feeding on it. So when they do kill something, they risk injury. Most of the time they kill animals that are much much, many times bigger than they are. They kill. They just have teeth. They don't have claws or they can't handle their prey, so you have to go out and kill those animals that are many times bigger than you are with your teeth. It takes a lot of energy to do that. You want something in return. By far most time what they do is they eat it. Sometimes under certain conditions, deep snow conditions, they kill things; White-Tailed Deer is a good example. White Tailed Deer have a hard time in deep snow and wolves will chase White Tailed Deer. They oftentimes kill, well not oftentimes, but sometimes will kill more deer than they'll eat at one sitting. They may have killed two or three deer. They don't kill hundreds or tens of, you know. They may kill a few more deer than they eat. A lot of times wolves do that, and they may not consume it as much, and sometimes they'll do that and other scavengers will clean up the carcasses. And again, but this is the minority part of their behavior. The majority of their behavior is they go out, they kill things, they eat them, but under some conditions they do this where they kill more than they eat. Other times they'll kill things and then they'll come back to it, many times back and repeat that and they'll come back, and especially in the winter. If it's very very cold, sometimes it freezes over and they can't eat it and they'll go and find something else. Sometimes they're disturbed off a carcass, and they'll go, and other times some packs will come right back and feed on it again. So you get a variety. If you like wolves, it's just wolf behavior and you call it surplus killing. If you don't like wolves it's called sport killing and it's over-exaggerated and it's kind of like a fishing tale that wolves kill hundreds and hundreds of things. The one exception would be domestic sheep. The sheep are so vulnerable that wolves, bears, coyotes oftentimes surplus kill, and it's just so easy to kill sheep that they'll kill and that process doesn't click off of predation, and they kill many more than they would eat at one sitting.