Radio licence cock-up meant Yellowstone lost its wolves

Gray-Wolf-15Researchers at Yellowstone National Park lost their licence for a set of radio frequencies used to track more than 100 radio-collared wolves and elk.

This could have meant that the park would not know what its wolves were up to, which is a slightly worrying state of affairs if you are a sheep.

The problem was caused by the fact that the park’s radio licence was under the name of Ed Bangs, who led the US Fish and Wildlife Service effort to reintroduce wolves to the park in the 1990s. When Bangs retired in 2011, everyone forgot that the licence needed to be renewed. Authorities sold the bandwidth to NorthWestern Energy.

Fortunately for Yellowstone, NorthWestern Energy is not being a bastard about the problem and is letting researchers share the frequencies, meaning the park can avoid more than $450,000 in estimated costs to restart the programme.

Northwestern spokesman Butch Larcombe said the company was using those portions of its frequencies that interfere least with the wildlife collars. He said that would continue until the collars wear out and fall off the animals, which Smith said takes several years.

This saved everything really as restarting the programme would have required researchers to capture the wolves and elks already wearing collars and replace the devices with ones that operate on a different frequency.

Interference began in radio signals from collared wildlife in September, after NorthWestern acquired the frequencies to improve communications for its own employees in the park and remotely control its power distribution network.

The interference continued through the winter and into the spring, but researchers still could track the animals  from the air during monitoring flights, Smith said.

New collars in coming years will use new frequencies, under a 10-year license. Let’s hope that they put the right name on the licence.