The Wolves to Come

This is my first time blogging here, and thanks to Ralph and Brian for sitting me down and inviting me. I’m going to try to attach a couple of photos to  this post, so you’ll know what I’m talking about here.

 

U.S. Forest Service photo, photographer Paul Gross

U.S. Forest Service photo, photographer Paul Gross

 

Here’s a picture of a bull and a cow elk.  No big deal, right? See them all the time in the Salmon River country, hardly worth wasting pixels on. But look again: look at the bull’s heavy body.  Look at the madrone tree behind the cow. These are Klamath River elk, Roosevelt elk, and they only returned to the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains about twenty years ago. So when I see this photo, I get a little verklempt.  It was taken just off the Bunker Hill Road, where I spent a lot of time doing silvicultural work in the 1970s and 1980s. In those days we never thought elk would be here again.  The conventional wisdom was that you couldn’t reintroduce elk because the flat lands near the river, where they once wintered, were occupied by people now. In the 1920s, some Rocky Mountain elk had been turned loose near Scott Valley, but they didn’t last long. So as we drove up that road — many times, struggling to make a series of clearcuts grow trees again — we didn’t think about elk.

Old Hollis Anderson, if he had still been alive, might have reminded us. Hollis was a 70-some-year old man who sometimes hitched a ride on our school bus in the 1960s, between Seiad Valley and Happy Camp. He sat behind our driver, wearing a canvas coat impregnated with sheep dip, which he said repelled ticks, and carrying a 30-30 Winchester rifle. As he rode, he chatted with the driver, recapitulating the history of the River. Sometimes he pointed out deeply etched trails across the River, which eighty years without elk had not erased. Once I asked him what happened to the elk. “They shot them all off,” he said. “You couldn’t live with them,” he added, but would not say why.

In those days, the only place to see them was at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park south of Crescent City, and on a trip to the coast in 1966, I saw my first elk.  As we walked the path down to the beach early one morning, on our way to fish, a six-point bull emerged from the fog, his antlers silhouetted against the surf.  Behind him, three cows blew at us and trotted away, their heads high.    On the way back that afternoon, our stringers loaded with ocean perch, we saw a dozen of them, grazing in the waving salt-tinged grass, unafraid as we walked by.  Signs warned us that these were wild animals and we shouldn’t approach them.

But in 1986 I sat in a Forest Service pickup truck on a dark dirt road in Redwood Nat’l Park, where my partner and I took turns looking through a set of night-vision goggles at a round pen on an open hillside several hundred yards away. Green shapes moved through the night, edging toward the pen, where piles of apples acted as bait. When at least a dozen elk were inside the pen, we were supposed to trigger a radio-controlled gate which would shut them in. But the elk weren’t cooperating: only three or four would enter at once, then bolt out again.  “Those canvas panels are flapping in the breeze,” said Al. “I’m taking a nap.”

At daybreak, the pen was empty and the elk were bedded down in front of it, chewing their cuds and glaring at us. I never saw any elk trapped, but other attempts were more successful, and in time 15 Roosevelt elk from the Park, plus two elderly captives from the Eureka Zoo, were brought to the head of Elk Creek, south of Happy Camp, held in a ten-acre pen for a couple of months, and then turned loose.  And as if they remembered exactly where they were and what they should do, they headed upstream, into the Marble Mountain Wilderness.

That fall, on the opening weekend of deer season, a couple of novice hunters from the Bay Area shot the bull from the Eureka zoo, and a cow elk, but most of the other elk survived the winter, and in spring there were calves.  By then, reports of other elk were beginning — the lookout on Orleans Mountain, forty miles west of Happy Camp, saw a few elk, and and on the Siskiyou Crest north of the River, above Horse Creek, migrants from an introduced population of Rocky Mountain elk near Klamath Falls were sighted.

 

Titus Fire - U.S. Forest Service photo

Titus Fire - U.S. Forest Service photo

In recent years the elk population in the Klamath Mountains has increased enough to allow for a draw hunt in the area, and events like those in the second photo — the Titus Fire of 2006 (U.S. Forest Service photo) that burned just east of the Bunker Hill area, are creating new elk habitat.  The fires of the last few years are bigger, faster, hotter than almost anything I saw in the years I worked on the Klamath.  But out of the ashes of those fires has come deerbrush, sprouting from long-dormant seeds, and thousands of acres of protein-rich food for deer and elk.

 

With the apex prey animal restored, it remains only for wolves to return.  We know they were here, and not so long ago.  My stepfather saw wolf tracks on a ridge north of the River in the 1960s.  If only a few can run the gauntlet of Oregon, make it down the Cascades and then make a right turn, then in places like Titus Ridge and Dillon Creek and Elk Lick under Preston Peak, they will find prey, and cover, and steep country too heavily vegetated for ATVs.  Best of all, there are virtually no cattle.   If they can make it this far, the protected expanses of Redwood National Park would not be impossible for them.   Keep your fingers crossed.

23 Responses to “The Wolves to Come”

  1. jdubya Says:

    Very nice story. Thanks for the blog. Glad to see that Ralph and the rest invited you in.

    One question, though. They re-established this herd with only 17 animals? Doesn’t sound like much in the way of genetic diversification.

    • mikepost Says:

      We restored Tule elk in Calif. with only 1+5…but your point is well taken. We do have behavioral and physiological “anomolies” in the Tule population but with no base line genetics to compare today againt the 1850’s when we had 500,000 of them it is hard to do much more than speculate whether our Tules today are any different then the norm at their peak.

      At least these guys can have the odd new trailer load brought in from time to time just to be sure.

    • bob jackson Says:

      I think genetic bottleneck is irrelevant when it comes to “numbers on the ground”. What is relevant is “game management” of those numbers. Bottleneck can happen with ten thousand elk if those elk are relegated to dysfunctional evolutionary status.

      Allow those 17 elk to develop into functional family groups and then go beyond the 300 or so max for a functional family and , viola, one has diversity and selection from afar. Even with lower numbers there is core family numbers of 15-20 and these are seperate from the other spin off satellite families. And just like the girl or guy in the high school “over there” looks more attactive than the boring guys or girls in your own school so it is that genetic differentiation occurs.

      It is warped Game & Fish hunting seasons …management that keeps herd animals extended families dysfunctional…..that stalls out diversification.

      • jdubya Says:

        uh, no, game management doesn’t mean a thing when the inbreeding results in dysfunctional elk. You can “manage” all you want your elk families, but if the population develops a heritable that places the population at a distinct disadvantage, they will just die out on their own.

    • bob jackson Says:

      And as for G&F thinking the Tuley’s would not reestablish because of human populations it is only because of learned fear of man that an elk would have a problem with this. Just look at the elk herds of Yellowstones Mammoth area animals. They walk and live amounst buildings and people all the time. And remember Lewis and Clark and the tame herds of buffalo and elk they encountered in certain locations.

      The “wiley, illusive elk” will do quite well in people suuroundings sans fear, thank you maaam. But introduce that fear with dark ages game management (they should “manage” for taking out entire elk families and then leaving the remaining elk families intact…thus no fear in those other families) and then all that choice land occupied by people then becomes an inhospitable desert for these elk. Then elk quality of life goes way down and all kinds of so called “aberrant” behavior happens…such as nuisance elk in farmers haystacks, fences destroyed when running from man, and elk clinging to one sreck of woods refuge camp after another. Then, of course, “management” has to be taken care of “firmly” and herds “reduced” to “manageable” numbers.

      In the end the elk get the black eye because G&F applied symptom management. Such retards!!!

      • mikepost Says:

        Bob, when I talk about “anomolies” (which they may or may not be, there just different from the other elk species) I am talking about atypical things like herd wide antler breakage regardless of habitat quality, an aversion to using forest cover, tolerance of high heat, very restricted ranging (with the odd exception), etc. It is nothing to see these guys up and active at 100F on a nice sunny August day. Bottom line is much of what you know about Rockys or Rosies is probably not applicable to Tules.

        The broken antler issue does seem very adverse and not just from a hunter satisfaction perspective. Tules break often and break off sharp, even on the main beams. Post rut deaths seem higher due to significant punture wounding with which broken antlers seem to play a major role and it seems to be the larger herd bulls that are fighting the most that die most often. Granted, they get the job done, but often only for one season.

        Anyway, from 6 to about 4,500 in 80 years is not all that bad. The problem now is finding good historic habitat and avoiding predation issues as these herds expand.

    • louise wagenknecht Says:

      As I mention, there were some other elk starting to drift into the area, too, so I don’t think genetic diversity will be a problem. I am curious about whether the Rocky Mt. and Roosevelts are now or will soon be hybridizing on the middle Klamath…

  2. Nancy Says:

    Enjoyed the article Louise, will look forward to more!

  3. dcooke Says:

    The Siskiyou’s are very special. A local swears he saw a wolverine there recently. In the right places, one can still see massive (ocean) salmon nesting in crystal clear streams.

  4. JimT Says:

    What are you hearing, if anything, about the killing of the ESA protected wolf in Oregon?

    • Ryan Says:

      Not much, I guess it remains unsolved like all of the previous discovered wolf killings in Oregon.

  5. Virginia Says:

    You are a great storyteller! Thank you for this and I hope we get to read many more stories such as this and the one Ken posted today. So informative and such a nice change from the ranting and raving that goes on here at times (not by me of course.)

  6. Mike Says:

    Welcome!

    I recently spent some time in Northern California, and was blown away by the majesty and diversity of the ecosystem. I was lucky to photograph Roosevelt Elk (the largest species in America). I would easily place the “triangle” of Crater Lake-Redwood-Lassen up there with the Northern Rockies. What a stunning ecosystem. Mt Shasta was especially impressive, rising to fourteen thousand feet while the valley was at 4,000. The Redwood forest was unmatched by any I have ever seen.

  7. Ian Says:

    Thanks, this is a great story.

    mikepost,

    In regards to the Tule elk, what is their present range?

  8. ProWolf in WY Says:

    It would be great if wolves could make it down to California. It will all depend on how well they do in Oregon. If they can survive there then they have a chance.

    • jon Says:

      It would be great. I would also like to see wolves returned in some other states as well. Colorado has a HUGE elk population and they need to be thinned down and the wolves would be perfect for that. I believe in the future we will see wolves in other states and I can’t wait!

      • ProWolf in WY Says:

        I think it will be only a matter of time before wolves disperse into Colorado and form breeding packs. There is plenty to eat there for sure. The main problem is the route to Colorado. Once you get south of Pinedale there is lots of open country between there and Colorado. Unfortunately that means less of a likelihood of grizzlies reestablishing themselves in Colorado. I still think it will happen given enough time. Utah is probably a more likely candidate with wolves coming in from Idaho. I think it would be interesting if wolves made it to the Black Hills even if that area would not support many without them getting into trouble.

      • ProWolf in WY Says:

        I should correct myself and say it will be a matter of time if Wyoming actually declares wolves trophy animals. If they get the predator plan there is no chance in hell. If they stay endangered it might happen though.

  9. Jamie Archer Says:

    What a beautiful story! Makes me believe there is still hope…

  10. David Says:

    As a resident of CA let me say thanks for this.

  11. Rita K. Sharpe Says:

    We can only hope.It would be beautiful to see.

  12. Angela Says:

    Great post. Another important thing happening in the Klamath River basin is an upcoming EIS/EIR on the proposed removal of the lowermost four dams in the mainstem Klamath, which would restore Chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey access to most of their historical range in the Upper Klamath Basin–over 420 miles of spawning and rearing habitat that has been inaccessible to anadromous fish since 1918! Along with the removal of the dams would come changes to the flow regime and millions in restoration funds. After all the controversies between the parties involved, it really was a historic achievement for them to come to a settlement agreement.
    http://klamathrestoration.gov/
    Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (Feb 2010)
    http://klamathrestoration.gov/sites/klamathrestoration.gov/files/Klamath-Agreements/Klamath-Hydroelectric-Settlement-Agreement-2-18-10signed.pdf
    Elk, Salmon, Wolf all restored to the greater Klamath Basin–hope to see it in my lifetime. Then we will deal with grizzly reintroduction🙂

  13. Tristan Howard Says:

    I grew up just east of the southern Cascades in northern California. From my family’s land, I could see Mount Lassen, Mount Shasta, and a lot of lava beds. Much of the area is very remote and could support wolves, but predator hatred from the locals could be problematic. Anyway, I’ve shot a lot of video footage of wildlife in CA’s Modoc County (northeastern corner of the state) and Humboldt County (along the northern coast). I made a couple documentaries on these areas. Below are links to video clips (documentary excerpts) that show some of northern California’s elk and deer have been doing quite well.

    MULE DEER BUCKS
    http://www.tristanhowardproductions.com/Mule%20Deer%20Bucks.html

    MULE DEER FAWNS
    http://www.tristanhowardproductions.com/Mule%20Deer%20Fawns.html

    MULE DEER BATTLE
    http://www.tristanhowardproductions.com/Mule%20Deer%20Battle.html

    ROOSEVELT ELK
    http://www.tristanhowardproductions.com/PCRSP%20Roosevelt%20elk.html


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