Elk Update

More Cervid Contraception: GonaCon and ElkIn February, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission collared 11 elk for a study in north-central Nebraska. There are a few more details in this brief KOLN-TV report.

A new elk study in Montana got more coverage. There, 45 cow and 20 bull elk were fitted with tracking collars. Five of those were traditional radio collars, the rest were GPS collars. The two year study will investigate elk movement patterns and food. Read about it in the Ravalli Republic.

In Wyoming, the concern is the potential to spread of chronic wasting disease at the 22 artificial feeding stations run by the state and one at the National Elk Refuge. Read the opinion piece in the Jackson Hole News & Guide, here.

An opinion piece that is getting a lot of buzz ran in the New York Times recently. It says that wolves did not fix the Yellowstone ecosystem by preying on elk and allowing aspen to grow. No, the article says, the Yellowstone ecosystem is broken, and mere wolves can’t fix it. Read the article in the New York Times, here.

Photo of bull elk courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service


Moose Health in Montana and Minnesota

Minn moose collaringMontana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has begun a 10-year study of moose in the state to try to determine the cause of a 75 percent over the last 20 years, says an article in the Ravalli Republic. The article follows Montanta FWP biologist Nick DeCesare as he tracks one of his collared moose and finds that the moose is haggard, has blue eyes and appears to be blind — all symptoms of arterial worm.

Arterial worm is carried by mule deer, the article notes, and is carried by horseflies. (A situation similar to the brainworm that infects moose in the East, carried by white-tailed deer, although a snail is the vector there.) The arterial worm is a top suspect in moose declines in the West.

Read the whole article, with details of the study, in the Ravalli Republic, here. The article appeared in the newspaper through Science Source, a project of the University of Montana School of Journalism.

Last week a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources press release said that, “Aerial moose survey results for 2014 show no significant change in Minnesota’s moose population even though more animals were seen than last year.” Last year the estimate was 2,760, while in 2014 the estimate is 4,350. The department says the difference is statistically insignificant.

“The higher estimate this winter likely is related to ideal survey conditions rather than any actual increase in the population,” said Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the DNR. “This year’s heavy snows across northeastern Minnesota made it comparatively easy to spot dark-bodied moose against an unbroken background of white.”

The press release also mentions an adult and calf mortality study that is in its second year, and shows 21 percent mortality among adult moose and 74 percent mortality for calves. DNR will collar additional adults and calves to replace the ones that died in the study.

Read the Minnesota DNR press release here.
Read an article in the Austin (Minn.) Daily Herald, here.

Photo: courtesy Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Golden Eagles’ Slow Decline at Migration Site

golden eagle usfwsThe Montana Audubon Society reports that the number of golden eagles migrating along Montana’s Bridger Mountains has declined 35 to 40 percent over the last 20 years, according to an article in the Great Falls Tribune.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, golden eagle numbers in the West are stable, the article says. But the persistent decline in numbers of golden eagles counted each year during a raptor migration watch has the state Audubon group concerned.

The raptor count started in 1992, when 1,579 golden eagles were counted. This year the number was 1,131. While the general trend has been a decline, the numbers did spike in 1999 when 1,870 golden eagles were spotted. The survey takes into account bad weather and resident birds.

Read more about the golden eagle situation at the Bridger Mountains in the Great Falls Tribune, here.

Photo: Golden eagle by Donna Dewhurst, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Veterans and Conservation

Many states have special hunting licenses for disabled veterans. Some states have hunting areas that honor veterans in name or in deed. But Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation gives veterans and conservation a whole new twist. While it’s not news (I could have sworn that I saw it on the front page of the NY Times, but I couldn’t find the article), it is appropriate for the day.

In 2012, Adventurers and Scientists lead three grizzly bear tracking weekends in Montana for veterans and their families.

Read the Sierra Club press release here.
See the Adventurers and Scientists own write-up here, which includes video.
This documentary producer worked with National Geographic to tell the story.

(And yes, we’ve covered Adventurers and Scientists before, here. They are still available to provide adventurers for your hard-to-collect data.)

Thank you to all our veterans, whether they served recently or long ago, in war or in peace.

EHD News

It’s been a quiet summer for epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in deer. Either conditions didn’t favor the biting midges that spread the disease among deer, or the northern states that experience periodic fatal outbreaks of the disease are becoming used to the new normal.

EHD season isn’t over, though, as these two news items show. Reuters says that wildlife managers in Montana are trying to pin down the cause of death for 100 white-tailed deer along the Clark Fork River. EHD had not been previously found in Montana west of the Continental Divide, the article says.

Read the Reuters story here.

In North Dakota, there is no doubt that EHD is the cause of deer deaths there. An Associated Press story says that North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department has suspended the sale of 1,000 doe hunting licenses because of an EHD outbreak that began in August and continues, the article quotes ND wildlife Chief Randy Kreil as saying.

Read the AP article in South Carolina’s The State, here.


Grizzly News

Yellowstone grizzlyThere’s lots of news about grizzly bears out there this month.

Is the Kangal, a Turkish breed of dog, more effective in protecting livestock from grizzly bears and wolves than the breeds traditionally used in the United States, such as Great Pyrenees and Akbash? A Utah State University doctoral student is studying the issue, with funds from National Wildlife Research Center, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services. Read the story in the Great Falls Tribune.

In Montana, the use of electric fences is increasing to protect livestock, bee yards and other attractants from grizzly bears. The NGO Defenders of Wildlife helps fund the fences, which have proven to effectively deter grizzly bears. Read the story in the Great Falls Tribune.

An editorial in the Caspar Star-Tribune says that Wyoming governor Matt Mead needs to have some facts to back up his wish to have grizzly bears removed from the federal list of threatened species and he needs to share those facts with the public. Read the piece in the Caspar Star-Tribune.

Scientists from Oregon State University and Washington State University have published a paper in the Journal of Animal Ecology showing that the return of wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem has meant more berries for bears. Read the press release on EurekAlert here.

Alberta Environment, Alberta Parks, Parks Canada and the University of Alberta are studying grizzly bear population, density and distribution in an area of Alberta. DNA analysis has already revealed 100 grizzly bears in the region. Read the story in The Western Producer.

Shoshone National Forest officials have temporarily banned soft-sided tents at campgrounds because of more grizzly bears than usual in the area. Read a very brief article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Photo: Grizzly walking in flowers in Yellowstone by Terry Tollefsbol

NPR on Sage Grouse Initiative

Sage Grouse vs transmission linesOn Wednesday, NPR had a piece on the Sage Grouse Initiative in Montana. There are photos and audio (or you can just read the article).

The initiative was started by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the piece says. It was joined by The Nature Conservancy, universities and state wildlife agencies. The initiative’s key tools seem to be portable electric fences, and widely distributed watering sites. That’s because having cattle graze intensely in small areas, leaving the grass in other areas to grow tall, as the sage grouse like it, is the goal of the program.

While sage grouse are found in only a few states, the effort to keep the species off the federal endangered species list should be of interest to all wildlife managers, particularly those managing other species at risk. At what point should we take action to keep a species from being listed? At what point does the species need to be listed so the protections of the Endangered Species Act can kick in and save it from extinction?

Stay tuned.

Photo: Greater sage grouse by Stephen Ting. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Avian Salmonella in Montana

Red_CrossbillThe Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks has reported an avian salmonella outbreak in Billings, Montana, the Billings Gazette reports.

Wildlife managers were tipped off to a problem by a large number of dead birds in people’s backyards, the article says. One homeowner found 50 dead birds. Some of the dead birds were sent to the US Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin and were diagnosed with avian salmonella.

Both the article and information from the National Wildlife Health Center say that humans are susceptible to some strains of salmonella that infect birds, so people should use caution when cleaning bird-feeders in a 10 percent beach solution — preferable in a bucket outside.

“Most of the dead birds are red crossbills.” the Gazette article says, noting that this species is particularly susceptible to salmonella.

Read the Billings Gazette article here.
Read the National Wildlife Health Center fact sheet here. (PDF)

Photo: This red crossbill is in the Deschutes National Forest Located in Oregon and does not have salmonella. By Dave Menke, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Mountain Lion Caught Fishing

The Missoulian reports that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear manager Jamie Jonkel caught something unexpected on the trail camera he set up to monitor a trout spawning stream on a tributary of the Blackfoot River. He expected to get videos of black bears catching rainbow trout. And he did.

But he also got a video of a mountain lion pouncing on a trout and then another shot of the lion with the trout in its mouth.

See the article for speculation about how rare or common this behavior is in mountain lions, as well as speculation for its cause. For the record, the article says that the area is good mountain lion habitat with plenty of game.

Read the article in the Missoulian, here.

Montana Takes Over USGS Gauges

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks needs river gauges to determine fishing (and boating) conditions, so when the US Geological Survey said it was going to stop maintaining four of the state’s river gauges because of the sequester’s funding cuts, the state said it would  keep the gauges going.

According to an Associated Press story that ran in the Flathead Beacon, the USGS says it saves about $16,000 a year for each gauge it shuts down. USGS staff visit each gauge about ten times a year to make adjustments for silt build up, channel changes, debris and other river events.

That article and other in the Billings Gazette and Ravalli Republic don’t make clear whether state personnel will take over maintaining the gauges or some other arrangement has been made. It does seem clear, however, that the arrangement will last until September.

Montana’s Department of Natural Resources is also contributing to keep the gauges operational, the Flathead Beacon article says.

Read the whole story in the Flathead Beacon, here.
Read the Billings Gazette article here.

Read the Ravalli Republic article here.