Monday, January 21, 2019

Fact Check: Has the U.S. Wolf Population Recovered?



As the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Congress slink around Washington conniving ways to claim wolf populations have recovered and wolves should be removed from the Endangered Species List, I sit in Gardiner, Montana, at the north entrance of Yellowstone, wondering what “recovered” really means. 

During the last eight years I’ve lived in or next door to Yellowstone’s wolf country. I’ve watched lots of wolves, talked with lots of experts, heard lots of opinions. I’ve even written a best-selling book about wolves. The recovery of America’s wolf population matters to me.

About 6,400 gray wolves survive in the lower 48 now. Is that a lot of wolves—has the population recovered? To answer that question, I hunted for historical records of gray wolf numbers.

A map in “Yellowstone Resources and Issues Handbook” shows that gray wolves once roamed all but seven of the lower 48 states. Today’s range is almost the opposite: gray wolves are in only nine states: Oregon, Washington, California, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. In all, wolves cover about 10% of their historic range in the Lower 48. That doesn’t sound recovered to me. 

But it does to the Fish and Wildlife Service. They actually want to delist gray wolves nationwide. The Center for Biological Diversity has sued to stop such delisting. The Center wants a national wolf recovery plan instead of national delisting. Such a plan would enable wolves to establish viable populations in areas with small, recovering populations, including California, Oregon, and Washington. The plan would also promote recovery in areas like the southern Rockies, Dakotas, and Adirondacks, which have suitable wolf habitat but no wolf populations.

If wolves haven’t recovered their range, have they recovered their numbers? In an article in the March 2011 “Yellowstone Science” historians Lee Whittlesey and Paul Schullery report the results of analyzing hundreds of historical records. They found that naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton estimated about two million wolves roamed North America and northern Mexico before the arrival of Europeans. They uncovered a record of scientists that used DNA testing to estimate that 380,000 wolves lived in the western US and Mexico prior to their eradication in the early 1900s. Today only about 2,200 gray wolves survive in the American West. Surely, that’s not recovered.

The picture isn't much prettier in Yellowstone, a place famous for wolves. Whittlesey and Schullery looked at the historical wolf population in and around the park and determined that wolves were once "widespread and abundant." Today about 100 wolves are protected in Yellowstone—and liable to be shot legally when they step paw outside the park. Or illegally while within the park as the Canyon alpha female was.

The historians also found records that in the 1860s several hundred thousand wolves roamed the region that would become Montana. Today, about 900 wolves manage to avoid Montana’s abundant traps and guns. Recovered?

Whittlesey and Schullery quote those DNA scientists as recommending an even more ambitious restoration effort in the West, an effort that “…would restore wolves to past population sizes and enable them to significantly influence the dynamics of the Rocky Mountain ecosystem.”

Scientists have shown that the presence of wolves helps the ecosystems where they are allowed to survive. Given continued protection they would help improve even more ecosystems. I think that more restoration—more protection—sounds like a good goal. Much better than delisting and the inevitable slaughter of wolves that will surely follow.

Other Fact Checks:

Rick Lamplugh writes to protect wildlife and preserve wild lands. His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves and the award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, are available signed from Rick or unsigned on Amazon in paper, eBook, or audio book formats.


Rick's new book, The Wilds of Aging, is the prequel to In the Temple of Wolves and is available signed or on Amazon.



Photo of Wapiti Lake pack by Mary Strickroth

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Upcoming Appearances in Montana, Washington, and Arizona



I'm excited to announce these events, one each in January, February, and March. Whether you attend Writer's Night, the Red Barn Speaker Series, or Sedona Wolf Week, please come up and introduce yourself. I'd love to meet you. Details:

Writer’s Night: Livingston, Montana. January 10 
Pine Creek Lodge
You can enjoy the fine food at Pine Creek Lodge, and I'll read excerpts from my last three books, the bestseller, In the Temple of Wolves; the sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and the prequel, The Wilds of Aging. Original recorded piano music composed by Suzannah Doyle will accompany two of the readings. I look forward to sharing an evening with you in this intimate venue. More info 

Leavenworth, Washington. February 27
Wenatchee River Institute, Red Barn Speaker Series
Wolves carry more baggage than any other wild animal I know. Sometimes the baggage is negative, like the stereotypes perpetuated by children’s stories such as The Three Little Pigs. Sometimes the baggage is positive, like the belief that wolves single-handedly save ecosystems. Somewhere between those extremes rests reality. This multi-media presentation explores with a balanced perspective the impact of these essential predators. More info

Sedona, Arizona. March 28
Sedona Wolf Week, An Evening with Rick Lamplugh
Wolves: Beyond Myth and Fantasy: I invite you to join me on this journey of facts and feelings. I will use readings from my bestsellers, In the Temple of Wolves and Deep into Yellowstone, accompanied by original music; videos; and slideshows to explore wolves and go beyond the myths and fantasies that so often dictate how we treat and mistreat these essential predators. More info

[If you would like to discuss my speaking at your event, please email me at ricklamplugh@gmail.com]

Rick Lamplugh lives in Gardiner, Montana, and writes to protect wildlife and preserve wild lands. His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves and the award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, are available signed from Rick or unsigned on Amazon.


Rick's new book, The Wilds of Aging, is the prequel to In the Temple of Wolves and is available signed or on Amazon.


Author photo by Mary Strickroth

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Recommitting to Advocacy


I write to protect wildlife and to preserve wild lands. The path I took to end up here started one winter seven years ago. That was the first of three winters that my wife Mary and I volunteered and lived at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the heart of Yellowstone wolf country. Part of our job was helping seminar participants spot wildlife. Wolves topped the list of animals to see. 


HTML5 Audio Player
Practically every day I watched wolves.I learned to identify specific wolves. I saw how some had distinct personalities. I observed wolves interacting within their pack, and I watched rival packs fight over food or territory. I learned how wolves changed the behavior of elk. And I listened to lots of experts describe in depth what we saw. 

Slowly, I began to understand how essential wolves are. Not just in Yellowstone. Not just in the Rocky Mountains. Wolves are essential wherever they’re allowed to live.

Some evenings I’d go to our cabin exhausted from a day of wolf watching. I would journal about what I had seen, heard, felt, learned. As the winters added up, I found myself wanting to learn even more about wolves. I read books and journal articles. I interviewed experts. Eventually those early journal entries and later research came together in a book, In the Temple of Wolves: A Winter’s Immersion in Wild Yellowstone.


As that book became an Amazon best seller, I realized that I owed wolves a debt. If I was going to profit from a book about them, I needed to pay them back. One way I could do that was to speak for wolves, to advocate for them. So I waded in.


Over the last seven years I’ve spoken to individuals and groups. I’ve written articles and used social media to advocate. I’ve produced slide shows and podcasts. I’ve talked with legislators at our state capital and In Washington D.C. I’ve written another book entitled Deep into Yellowstone: A Year’s Immersion in Grandeur and Controversy. All to speak for wildlife and wild lands.

And I have the wolves in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley to thank for starting me down this challenging and satisfying path as an advocate. As a new year and another Yellowstone winter begins, I want to take a moment to reaffirm my commitment to another year speaking for wildlife and wild lands. I hope you join me.   

Rick Lamplugh lives in Gardiner, Montana, and writes to protect wildlife and preserve wild lands. His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves and the award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, are available signed from Rick or unsigned on Amazon.


Rick's new book, The Wilds of Aging, is the prequel to In the Temple of Wolves and is available signed or on Amazon.


Photo by Mary Strickroth.