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NRCC Newsletter

March 2020

Colorado has its first wolf pack. So what?
by Matt Barnes, NRCC Research Associate

The Southern Rockies have their first wolf pack since the 1940s: a group of six wolves in the northwest corner of Colorado—and probably crossing into Utah and Wyoming. The last wolves documented in Colorado were in 2015, one photographed by a trail camera in North Park, and one shot by a coyote hunter in nearby Middle Park. Over the quarter century since the Northern Rockies reintroduction, until 2019, only a few isolated individuals have found their way across Wyoming to Colorado, but all died or left the state without finding mates. 
 
These wolves, dispersers from the Northern Rockies, are fully protected under the Endangered Species Act and managed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Notably, Colorado’s policy has always allowed any natural dispersers from out of state. 
 
The announcement of the pack came from Colorado Parks and Wildlife the day after the state announced that a citizen’s initiative for reintroduction would indeed be on the ballot this year.
 
The obvious question is what does the presence of a pack mean for the upcoming ballot initiative? That depends on your perspective... and however you see it, this probably won't change your perspective.
 
From a conservation perspective, these are likely the most valuable individual gray wolves alive today, other than endangered Mexican gray wolves.
 
From a population biology perspective, one family is a far cry from a population—and these wolves could be killed, either illegally, or legally in Wyoming (where they are delisted), leaving Colorado once again without a wolf pack. And we certainly don't want the genetic bottleneck of a population founded by siblings. Natural dispersers are good, and the idea behind a reintroduction is that there would indeed be genetic interchange with the Northern Rockies population.
 
From a legal perspective, a reintroduced population—unlike these wolves—could be declared "experimental, non-essential" under section 10(j) of the ESA, which would greatly increase management flexibility, especially in cases of wolf-livestock conflicts. Additionally, there would be a compensation program to address conflicts. So even if you don't want wolves, if they're coming anyway, there are benefits to taking a proactive approach. 
 
From a hunter’s perspective, it might seem scary. Data shows that in the Northern Rockies, elk populations have actually increased since wolf reintroduction. Still, the actual correlation of wolves to elk population is in debate. But you won’t read any of that in hunting magazines.
 
From a ranching perspective, it seems scary too. Wolves kill what they see as vulnerable prey, and most people would assume that includes livestock. Actually, where wolves and cattle exist together in the Northern Rockies, confirmed livestock loss is less than 1% of all livestock—even if we double the number of confirmed predation losses to account for ones never found. Of course, those losses aren’t distributed equally, and a few places have significantly higher losses. Most ranchers are still focused on “predator control” and haven’t yet realized they can have more effect on predation by changing some things about how they manage their cattle. Some of those techniques have been developed and promoted by conservationists—including a handful of NRCC Research Associates—but you won’t read much about that in the ag rags.
 
Ultimately, wolf restoration isn't primarily about science or data, or whether there are already a few wolves in a corner of the state. It's about worldviews and values, particularly how we see the human animal in relation to the rest of the more-than-human world. The ballot initiative asks us Coloradoans whether we’re willing to share the top of the trophic pyramid with another carnivore—one that’s part of our natural heritage. And for those of us whose ancestors spent the last century making the West safe for sheep and cattle, the initiative seems to ask whether we can repudiate that cultural heritage.
 
Like all politics, the issue is not done justice by the simple left-right classification. It’s much more accurately described as a three-way conversation between traditional, modern, and postmodern worldviews, which evolved, and could only evolve, sequentially; each transcending the previous with a fuller, yet still partial view of humans and nature. What’s less obvious is that each worldview has positive and negative values. The progressive sees that humans are part of nature (and vice versa), but needs to embrace the positive values and address the concerns of traditionalists and modernists, in ways that they can hear.
 
One group of wolves (or conservationists?) out ahead of the rest reminds us that we can resist change, or we can lead it. In Colorado, on one level, that might mean a reintroduction with state control and management flexibility, rather than letting wolves come on their own and remain fully protected under federal control. On another level, it might mean that instead of paying ranchers for what society doesn’t want—conflicts—the state could pay them for producing what society does want—wolves—while incentivizing conflict prevention. It might mean that we share the stories of ranchers and hunters who have learned to live with wolves in the Northern Rockies. It certainly means that conservationists need to find ways to partner with traditional land users and find solutions that transcend yes-or-no.

 

Call for Clark’s Nutcracker Nest Sightings
 
The Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are seeking help in locating Clark’s Nutcracker nests for Research Associate Dr. Taza Schaming’s Nutcracker Ecosystem Project.  Nest sightings will assist studies of the role of Clark’s Nutcrackers in conifer ecosystems, the effects of climate change on the birds and coniferous forests, and educational efforts to elevate awareness.  
 
Very few nutcracker nests have been documented beyond work by Schaming, Dr. Teresa Lorenz, and a few much older studies. Nests are made of twigs/sticks and are ~8-12” wide, ~4-9” high, and 8-60’ off the ground, primarily in conifers.  Nests can be found in live or dead trees, and dense or open stands of trees.  Nest building begins in early March and is the most easily observable sign of nesting. Nestlings fledge by mid-June. 
 
If you spot Clark’s Nutcrackers nesting, please send GPS point and/or other location information, such as tree species and height of nest in the tree, to tazaschaming@gmail.com.

For more information, see www.thenutcrackerecosystemproject.com, nrccooperative.org, and www.birds.cornell.edu.

 
Clark’s Nutcracker feeding nestling.  Photo by Jeff Foott

2020 Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing and Journalism Fellowship



With generous funding from The Pattie and Earle Layser Memorial Fund, this fellowship seeks to intersect science, education, current events, and conservation to effectively communicate the Greater Yellowstone’s natural history and singular importance to society through creative and exceptional writing and subject communication. 
 
Now in its second year, this annual prestigious fellowship of $3,500 is a national call open to creative writers (poetry, fiction, nonfiction) and journalists (writer, photojournalist, videographer, documentary filmmaker, online or print media) who demonstrate serious inquiry and dedication to the Greater Yellowstone region through their work.
 
Celebrated journalist, Todd Wilkinson, NRCC’s Writer in Residence and the founder and publisher of online MountainJournal.org, will serve as a juror for the second year in a row. Joining Todd as a juror this year is NRCC Research Associate, Susan Marsh. With degrees in geology and landscape architecture, and a lifelong interest in creative writing, Susan has combined her interests into a body of work that explores the relationship of humans to the wild. 
 
Additional information and the application can be found on the Wyoming Arts Council website at www.wyomingartscouncil.org. Applications are due March 11, 2020

 

Update from Yonder Lies
 
Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole has kicked off and been received with near-universal acclaim! The podcast and radio program has been trending on Apple Podcast charts and has already seen over 3,000 unique listens, with folks turning in from nearly all 50 states and from almost 30 countries.

Co-hosts Hannah Habermann and Jesse Callahan Bryan
 
The first four episodes covered the controversial founding of Grand Teton National Park, the story of the indigenous history in the Jackson Hole area, highlighted the present work of native activists and conservationists working locally today, explained the contentious mountain goat and bighorn sheep conflict in the Tetons and explored the sustainability efforts of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Upcoming episodes will cover wealth inequality in Teton County and the potential for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the region.
 
The show airs at 12:30pm on Sunday on KHOL 89.1 but is always available at your fingertips on the Apple Podcasts AppSpotify, and on YouTube!

NRCC Executive Director Ben Williamson
at Future West Meeting

 
From February 13 to 14, NRCC’s Executive Director, Ben Williamson attended How to Be a Community Catalyst, a capacity building workshop put on by Bozeman-based organization, Future West. The two-day meeting brought together a diverse set of people from across the High Divide to discuss the vexing community problems and trends faced by small towns. 
 
Issues faced by these communities are as many and variable as the towns themselves. Towns like Jackson, WY, Deer Lodge, MT and Sandpoint, ID seemingly have little in common, but over the two days, the participants found common ground in the imperative for rural towns to continually adapt and redefine who they are. With the goal of revitalization of rural economies, engagement in local decision-making, and collaboration across stakeholders, the workshop worked towards providing the necessary tools and language that community leaders need to have to be effective in their communities.

Ben with NRCC Research Associate and Future West Program Manager, Hannah Jaicks
 

 

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