It is now very clear that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service cared little about maintaining any true wolf genetics when they dumped north-central Alberta wolves into the Greater Yellowstone Area back in 1995 and 1996. Even then, the agency was accused of transplanting some wolves which had been hybridized through breeding with Canadian sled dogs. Making the situation even worse was the established fact that USFWS blatantly violated the Endangered Species Act by releasing an entirely different and more aggressive subspecies of wolf on top of existing populations of native wolves.
(Photo At Right - Pure wolf...or wolf-dog cross?)
The result of such sloppy wildlife mismanagement has been the complete disappearance of the wolf subspecies Canis lupus irremotus, which has either been bred out of existence, or totally killed off by a much larger and more aggressive northern subspecies of wolf known as Canis lupus occidentalis . Such deliberate mixing of wildlife genetics and USFWS purposely ignoring the fact that native wolves still existed in the Northern U.S. Rockies goes against the very purpose of the Endangered Species Act - which is to save endangered species and to provide protection for a species or subspecies until its populations can recover. The manner in which the federal government's own wildlife agency forced the transplant of a totally non-endangered and non- indigenous wolf into the Yellowstone ecosystem, willingly sacrificing the truly endangered subspecies already there, now has a lot of U.S. citizens asking "Why?"
One Northern Rockies resident who fought the transplant of Canadian wolves into the Yellowstone area was award winning writer Cat Urbigkit, of the Pinedale, WY area. She and her husband Jim spent several years documenting the existence of native wolves in the Tetons and surrounding valleys, recording and photographing the remains of wolf killed elk carcasses, collecting piles of wolf feces, recording and making plaster casts of wolf tracks, recovering wolf hair from the barbs of fencing, and actually having their howls returned by wolves. They weren't alone. Many others also reported sighting wolves and wolf sign in northwestern Wyoming, and one native wolf was even shot and killed. Still, USFWS pushed their Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project on those who would have to live with the destructive predator.
Then USFWS Director John Turner commented in defense of implementing the plan, instead of giving native wolves an honest chance of recovering on their own, "If, on the other hand, we sit back and wait for wolves to recolonize the Yellowstone area on their own, the opportunity to design locally responsible and flexible management strategies will be lost. Once they reach the area on their own, the experimental population option is foregone since the Endangered Species Act stipulates that an experimental population must be 'wholly separate geographically' from non- experimental populations of the same species."
Still, USFWS did just that, releasing the non-native Canadian wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, barely a hundred miles from where the Urbigkits and others had fully documented the existence of native wolves. Absolutely nothing separated those two distinct wolf populations - other than a reasonably short stretch of country that's exactly the same as where native wolves had been documented and where USFWS introduced an invasive subspecies.
(Photo Above Left - It is now suspected that some of the "wolves" released into the Yellowstone area were wolf-dog crosses, further compromising wolf DNA. Are we losing all that wildlife to mongrel dogs?)
A lawsuit was filed to stop the introduction of Alberta wolves into Yellowstone, and went all the way to the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals - where federal Judge William Downes ruled that the introduction of wolves was illegal because wolves already existed in the area. But, by that time the damage had already been inflicted - Downes' decision didn't come until December of 1997, nearly three years after the first wolves had been released by USFWS. By then, as many as 160 wolves roamed Yellowstone - and were dispersing out of the park in just about every direction - including into regions where native wolves had been recorded and studied. An extremely politically motivated higher court soon overruled the decision made by Judge Downes, and the real destruction of the Northern Rockies ecosystem, still driven by USFWS, was on the fast track to annihilating big game herds.
In a new book titled "The Real Wolf", which will be in print in early 2014, Cat Urbigkit contributed a chapter that takes a look at the forced introduction of the Canadian wolf, and wrote in regard to the manner in which the Downes decision had been shot down, "This judicial reversal was a tragedy. Rather than a victory for wildlife, we viewed it with heartbreak - an action that would cause the extinction of a truly distinct animal, our native wolf."
Dr. Valerius Geist, a professor of environmental science and biology with the University of Calgary, has had numerous opportunities to spend time with wolves in wilderness settings. During one several year study of Stone sheep in Northern British Columbia, he became acquainted with a pack of seven wolves - and observed them on a number of times. Despite the presence of the wolf pack, which he recorded spending much of their time hunting, the area harbored a huge population of Osborn's caribou. A decade earlier, a rabies outbreak had justified a massive broadcast poisoning of wolves, and in the absence of the powerful and skilled predators, the caribou population had exploded - not all that indifferent than how the huge herds of elk, moose, and other big game had flourished in Yellowstone National Park...before non-native northern wolves were introduced.
(Photo Above Right - Dr. Val Geist has been observing and studying wolf habits and traits since the 1960's.)
Years after Geist had observed so many caribou in his study area, one of his students went to the same area - and could not find a caribou. However, instead of a single seven wolf pack, he did find a large population of wolves - one pack of 43 wolves was recorded in exactly the same area where Geist had only found a pack of seven.
Following his retirement in 1995, Val Geist moved to Vancouver Island - where he began to observe wolves that had become somewhat habituated to man. During the 1950's, wolves were so scarce on the island that many considered them extinct. During the 1970's, wolves were once again recolonizing Vancouver Island, probably with a little help from the Canadian government. What Geist found surprised him. Wolves had decimated the island's deer population. Before the re- appearance of wolves, human hunters annually had harvested about 25,000 black-tailed deer. That harvest had dropped to fewer than 3,000. The elk harvest was just as severely impacted.
With the massive loss of big game in the mountains and wild areas, the wolves began to follow remaining game populations right into human inhabited areas. Wolf depredation of livestock escalated, and wolves became more and more aggressive toward people - often attacking and killing dogs as their owners took them on a daily walk. Then the wolves began to follow and stalk humans.
One of Geist's neighbors acquired five large guard dogs to watch over his sheep. At night, the wolves and dogs would engage in some friendly barking and howling duels - and eventually the wolves began to fraternize with the dogs. One male wolf was shot while actually sitting among the dogs. Val Geist said that the very same wolf would show up at his home when the family female German longhair pointer, Suzu, was in heat.
(Photo Above Left - When female canines go into heat, dogs will be dogs - wild or domestic.)
Dr. Geist commented, "He acted like other male dogs that were attracted to Suzu in heat - only bolder."
So, how common is crossbreeding between wolves and domestic dogs?
While there are those who have gone to great lengths to try establishing a strong division between wolves and domestic dogs, the fact remains that the wolf is the ancient ancestor of all domestic canines. It's also a fact that the farther north one goes from the equator, there tends to be a greater genetic connectivity between working dogs and wolves. This is especially true with the sled dogs of the arctic and sub-arctic regions, with most breeds sharing a strong wolf bloodline.
Some of the Alaskan Husky bloodlines go back 4,000 or more years - and likely began with the breeding of a large, strong domestic dog with a wolf. Maybe that mating wasn't done on purpose, but rather accidentally when a wild male wolf was attracted to a staked out female sled dog - much the same way that the Vancouver Island male wolf was attracted to Dr. Val Geist's pet female German longhair pointer while the dog was in heat.
During the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush of the late 1890's, miners often purposely mated large breed male dogs, such as Saint Bernards or Newfoundlands, with captive female wolves - to produce a strong working dog with a great deal of stamina. While such first generation wolf-dog crosses generally made for horrible sled dogs, which spent more time working out a pecking order than working together as a team, these wolf-dog mixes were ideal for packing miners tools in to remote claims, and when properly harnessed could pull a travois (pole drag) with several hundred pounds of gear and supplies. Many of today's sled dogs are descendants of such crosses, and thanks to subsequent breeding now work much better together when hitched to a sled.
(Photo Above Right - An 1890's Alaska-Yukon gold miner with a wolf-dog cross bred specifically for packing gear and supplies.)
In the North Country, sled dogs are very often tethered away from human living quarters, and with the high populations of wolves across Canada and Alaska the chances of wolves breeding with female sled dogs in heat is likely much greater than anywhere else in North America. In fact, the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Team was accused of knowingly releasing some "wolves" which were actually such wolf-dog crosses.
Instead of definitively disproving such allegations, project leader Ed Bangs once responded by saying if the animals could survive in the wild and reproduce in the wild, he considered them "Wolves!"
The wolves now being taken by hunters in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming need to be independently tested for domestic dog DNA. If the genetics show even the slightest traces of interbreeding with domestic canines, whether it took place before or after the USFWS forced the introduction of a non-native subspecies of wolf, the wolves roaming the Northern Rockies are not pure or true wolves. They are a wolf-dog hybrid, nothing more than a wolf-dog mongrel that is destroying valuable wildlife populations and endangering livestock production, likewise becoming an ever greater threat to human life as wildlife populations continue to plummet.
In Montana, there is a law on the books which permits free running dogs that are chasing or harassing wildlife or livestock to be shot on sight. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish need to promptly assess if the wolf genetics in these three states have been compromised. To insure that honesty prevails, that testing should be conducted by an independent lab.
(Photo Above Left - Wolf researchers have had more than ample opportunity to test wolf DNA in the Northern Rockies - still, nothing has been released to the public in regard to the purity of the genetics of the wolves that are now destroying big game herds.)
A 2012 report published by the European Union detailing the status of large wild carnivores there (wolves, bears, lynx) shares that in a number of countries where wolves are found and DNA tests conducted, 4 to 5 percent of the wolves tested now have significant traces of domestic dog DNA. Costly efforts will be made to eliminate those packs. - Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH
Watch For A Full Review On The New Ted Lyon & Will Graves Book "The Real Wolf" On The LOBO WATCH Website In Early January...
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