Former USFWS Official Speaks of Malfeasance, Misappropriated Funds, and Transplanting Wrong Subspecies to Yellowstone
BY QUINCY ORHAI
Half a century after the last native Northern Rocky Mountain Timber Wolf, Canis lupus irremotus, was said to be hunted to extinction locally by public and private efforts, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, in 1995, under then Director Mollie Beattie, presided over the introduction of the Canadian Gray Wolf, Canis lupus occidentalis, into the Northern Rocky Mountain eco-system.
According to whistleblower Jim Beers (former USFWS Chief of National Wildlife Refuge Operations), after Congress denied funding for his agency to carry out the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project, the agency acted illegally as it brought the Canadian wolves into the Yellowstone ecosystem.
Speaking in Bozeman in May 2010, at the Gran Tree Inn, before Congress on wolf recovery issues in 1998 and 1999, and in October 2013 to the Montana Pioneer, Beers insisted that, after Congress denied USFWS funding for wolf recovery, the agency illegally expropriated Pitman-Robertson funds (federal excise taxes required by law to be distributed to the states as reimburse-ments), helping themselves to tens of millions of dollars.
When contacted by the Montana Pioneer for this article, Beers further stated, “The General Accoun-ting Office verified that at least $45 to $60 million was taken, diverted, by USFWS from P-R funds.”
Beers went on to say that the Pittman-Robertson excise taxes, by law, could only be used by State wildlife agencies for their wildlife restoration projects. “These funds were then used primarily…to pay bonuses to top USFWS managers that had no right to such funds [and] to trap wolves in Canada, import them, and release them into Yellowstone National Park.”
Beers, a 32-year veteran USFWS biologist, whose job included overseeing the Pitman-Robertson funds, alleges that the agency misapprori-ated monies for the trapping and transportation of Canadian wolves into the U.S. To conceal its misuse of the funds spent on the project, the true number of wolves imported, and the subspecies brought in, USFWS intentionally did not file mandatory paperwork, according to Beers, that would have established a paper trail. Or, he speculates, somehow that paperwork mysteriously disappeared.
Beers also alleges USFWS failed to file an appropriate and accurate Environmental Impact Statement. In recent comments to the Montana Pioneer, he elaborated, saying, “The EIS was and remains a document of lies, misinformation and woefully incomplete coverage of the matter.”
In print and in public speaking engagements, Beers has claimed the Wolf Recovery Project deliberately dismissed established wolf science and research, including known wolf depredation impacts on livestock and wildlife, and ignored the dangers parasites and diseases carried by wolves present to wildlife, livestock, pets, and humans.
The Canadian Gray Wolf, introduced into Yellowstone Park by USFWS 18 years ago, is widely described in scientific literature as thirty to fifty percent larger than the said-to-be extinct local native timber wolf. The initial 14 and subsequent transplanted wolves were captured in Canada, although wolves that were more genetically similar were available from surplus populations in Minnesota, as reveal-ed by the Smithsonian Institution, in a scholarly work titled: Physiological Basis for Establishing a Northern Rocky Mountain DPS [Distinct Population Segment Area].
The importation of Canadian Gray Wolves was criticized at the time by American biologists who believed the larger wolves would kill more elk, a position many now say has proved correct, and that the introduction of a non-native sub-species was of questionable legality when the smaller-sized native populations were beginning to recover naturally, on their own, positions similar to those advanced by the Farm Bureau’s of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.
Although the official position of the government is that native wolves were locally extinct, according to Dr. Ralph Maughan, professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University, with specialties in natural resource politics and public opinion, USFWS reported 48 native wild wolves in Montana in 1994, the year before the controversial introduction of the Canadian Gray Wolf into Yellowstone National Park—mostly timber wolves traveling down from Canada.
On his website, The Wildlife News, Maughan writes: “It’s reasonable to assume that without reintroduction, wolves would have naturally reestablished themselves in most of Montana [under the protection of the Endangered Species Act], but migration would have been slow with a lot of wolves up north before they made it to Yellowstone and Wyoming. Because these wolves were fully ‘endangered,’ rules governing them would have been a lot more strict than with those finally reintroduced in 1995.”
However, the larger and more aggressive central and northern Alberta, Canada wolves USFWS introduced here eliminated any survival chance of native wolves [as a result of competition or elimination], as USFWS knowingly violated the Endangered Species Act, according to Maughnan.
It was and is common scientific knowledge that the native male wolf (Canis lupus irremotus) of the Northern Rockies averaged 90 to 95 pounds at maturity. The wolf USFWS brought in as a replace-ment was a noticeably larger wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis) from north-central Alberta, with mature males topping 140 pounds, and some specimens weighing up to 175 pounds.
According to the Smithsonian study, the native wolf, which local residents claimed existed in small pockets in wilderness areas in the 1990s, generally roamed an area of about 100 square miles, hunting alone or in small groups of 4 or 5 at most. The non-native Canadian gray wolves USFWS introduced to the region typically hunted 300 or more square miles back in their home range, with packs often numbering 20 or more.
Under the direction of Mollie Beattie, USFWS developed the Environmental Impact Statement for the reintroduction of wolves. That EIS made a number of assumptions about bringing wolves back to Yellowstone and the Northern Rockies. Almost none of those assumptions has proven to be correct, according to Toby Bridges of the Montana Chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. Writing in 2010, on the group’s website, Bridges says: “Instead of getting just the 150 wolves Montanans agreed to back in the mid 1990s, the state is now home to likely 1,000 to 1,200 wolves… This year a minimum of 43,500 elk will be eaten alive or killed and left behind by wolves in the Northern Rockies…”
Bridges also states that “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manipulated science, and replaced the native wolf of this region with a totally non-native…larger…and more aggressive wolf, and has consistently underestimated wolf numbers by half or one third of actual numbers.”
According to USFWS, “As of December 31, 2012, the most recent minimum wolf population size determined for Montana was 625 wolves in 147 packs, 37 of which were confirmed breeding pairs.”
Those numbers are inaccurate, says Bridges, because for the annual wolf count USFWS typically ignores wolf sightings by anyone except agency biologists, who are understaffed. Also, wolves typically are active in timbered areas where they are impossible to count from the air, says Bridges. Thus, the deceptive wording of the report: “minimum wolf population size determined.”
Norm Colbert, a veteran wildlife tracker who lives near Nye, Mont., in the area of the Rosebud wolf pack, told the Pioneer in February 2012 that at least several wolves comprised the nearby local pack, based on his repeated sightings of tracks and wolf related activity, while the official count listed the Rosebud pack as having consisted of only two wolves, a discrepancy, accoridng to Colbert’s estimates, that may fall 300 percent short of the actual number of wolves in the pack.
According to Bridges, writing on LoboWatch, in an article titled Voodoo Math Still Haunts Montana Wolf Control: “Other well respected wolf biologists have claimed that ‘real wolf biology’ and ‘real wolf reproductive rates,’ and allowing for natural and man induced mortality, puts the current wolf population somewhere much closer to the 2,000 mark. The sportsmen of this state, based on the degree of damage done to elk and other big game populations, say it’s even higher—perhaps as many as 3,000 wolves.”
One thing is clear to local ranchers losing livestock, and to local big game guides losing elk-hunting clients—the northern Yellowstone elk herd has declined by 80 percent from the 19,000 elk of 1995 (according to a Feb. 2013 aerial survey by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the National Park Service), that 1995 number of elk having been part of the justification for bringing wolves to Yellowstone in the first place.
What was not made clear at the time of the Canadian Wolf introduction, according to wolf critic Bridges, writing on Lobo Watch, was that “The reality of living with wolves is that wolves are extremely non-discriminating predators, killing just about anything that gets in front of them—the young, the healthy, the pregnant and the prime…the sick and weak.”
Bridges charges that “agenda driven biologists” within wildlife agencies avoid acknowledging that each “average” wolf accounts for the loss of some 25, or so, big game animals (or head of livestock) annually, just for sustenance, that each “average” wolf also kills just about as much game, known as “surplus killing,” without eating the kill, and that wolves are the primary carrier of the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm, a parasite that infects game, pets, and humans with Hydatid cysts “that in turn makes these living things sick and weak.”
In the recent documentary film Crying Wolf, Exposing the Wolf Reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park, David Allen, President of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, takes the issue a step further, stating, “The Northern Yellowstone elk herd was the showcase herd in the world…I believe that the reintroduction of wolves is, in many ways, an assault on the sportsmen and hunting culture. The North American model of wildlife conservation is built around the sportsman, since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. We have the most bountiful, successful wildlife resources in the world.”
With Crying Wolf, filmmaker Jeffrey King depicts the introduction of non-native Canadian gray wolves into the Northern Rockies ecosystem as destroying the livelihood of back-country residents by deva-stating free range ranching. According to the ranchers interviewed in the documentary, it is fast becoming uneconomical to raise livestock in areas where wolf packs range, and big game hunting and guiding opportunities and occupations are quickly disappearing from the rural Northern Rockies.
Veteran wolf biologist, John Gunson, formerly with the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division, and also featured in Crying Wolf, echoed the concerns of sportsmen regarding elk hunting, saying, pointedly, “Really, there isn’t any room for harvest by man if you have a healthy wolf population.”
Regarding the introduction of wolves to the Northern Rockies, Ed Bangs, former Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is quoted as saying the following on the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website, separating wolf science from wolf ideology: “Wolves and wolf management have nothing to do with wolves. I think the folks who didn’t like them still don’t like them, and the folks who did like them still do. Wolves are mainly a symbolic issue that relates to core human values…I think the only reason wolf reintroduction finally happened was that people with different values moved to Montana and diluted the strong agricultural influence. Plus, the economy changed from straight agriculture and natural resource consumption to areas such as tourism.”