Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 1/28/00

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 1/22-2/4, 1999

Monitoring

Core packs in the Yellowstone, central Idaho, and NW Montana are generally in their normal home ranges but many packs have members missing, in all likelihood due to dispersal. Fontaine traveled to the north end of the Gravelly Range and tried out the new snowmobiles (courtesy of Danny Gomez and Red Rocks Lake NWR) to look for wolf sign where there have been several reports of multiple wolves. No sign was detected. On the 1st Fontaine and Meier traveled north of the Ovando area in NW MT (west of Lincoln) to search for reported wolf activity. The public observations were right on the money and they followed tracks of 3 wolves, one in estrus, to an elk kill. Searches for a den will be conducted this summer and if one is found, trapping will be attempted.

The Gros Ventre and the Teton pack have both been staying primarily in the Gros Ventre drainage although they have made a few trips back to the Elk Refuge and Teton Park. Soda Butte appears to be staying south of Yellowstone Lake and hasn’t returned to the Elk Refuge yet this year. During the week of the 1st, the Teton pack was in Grand Teton National Park near Elk Meadows. The unusually low snow fall is probably responsible for the widely dispersed elk population and corresponding lack of wolf movement onto the feeding grounds. That will likely change as increased snow depths concentrate elk on winter feed grounds. The Service will attempt to put additional collars in these packs as the opportunity and funding presents itself. Searches and placement of ungulate bait stations in the Dubois area continue to find sign of no more than 2 wolves.

The first series of helicopter capture and radio-collaring operations in Yellowstone National Park wrapped up on the 22nd but began again late this week. Eleven wolves were captured during the first round, and the largest wolf caught weighed 135 pounds. Up to eight more will be captured this winter. WS Wolf Specialist Niemeyer and Service biologist Boyd assisted with darting operations. The Service cannot pay for any helicopter capture operations until a firm Service budget is available for this year.

 

Wolves are dispersing and we anticipate a sharp increase in new wolf pack formation. Please report wolf sightings so that we can focus aircraft searches or our track surveys this winter.

Research

The studies of wolf/elk relationships in the area in and around Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge are ongoing. Initial tracking of wolves by Jimenez and volunteers in the Gros Ventre drainage indicate they are killing small elk calves. Some elk calves are born in late summer because of brucellosis. These small elk calves would normally not survive in the wild if they were not fed during the winter. Not surprisingly, they appear to be very vulnerable to predation by wolves as well as mountain lions. Initial observations indicate that elk do not appear to be pushed from feed areas even when wolves make kills nearby. Another pair of volunteers began to search for wolf activity in the Dunoir Valley this week. Jimenez has done a great job at lining out volunteers to help look at wolf issues in Wyoming. Also, a big THANKS!! to the volunteers, Beth Sutherland, Erin Burnham, and Jamie Wisnowski, and Grand Teton Park technician, Marie Berger. Special thanks also to biologist Tom Segerstrom has been assisting by checking for (and finding) radioed wolves in and near the National Elk Refuge.

Control

Members of the Twin Peaks pack, chased horses one night and the next day killed a newborn calf in Idaho. On the 28th, 3 non-collared members of the pack (2 yearlings and a young of the year) were killed in an agency control action. A light and siren device may be used if the wolf pack continues to frequent ranches in the area. No further control will be conducted unless other depredations are confirmed.

A female dog was reported missing on the Diamond G Ranch. At the same time the herding dog disappeared, tracks of a wolf were seen near the ranch house. The ranch hand had lost 2 dogs to wolves in the past.

The Chief Joseph pack (8 wolves with 4 collared) killed a guard dog (out 4) in Tom Miner Basin the weekend of the 22nd. The ranch has lost 4 dogs and several sheep since wolves were reintroduced. The Defenders of Wildlife purchased guard dogs for the ranch after wolves had killed dogs there last year. No control is planned at this time unless wolves return to the ranch or cause other problems.

A rancher in the Little Wolf pack territory in NW MT reported that he scared the pack away from his cattle on the 29th. No losses were reported but he was concerned and asked for something to be done by the Service. He has a telemetry receiver and was told that there was little else he or the Service could do unless the wolves actually attacked livestock.

Information and education and law enforcement

Boyd and Meier completed the 1999 ANNUAL INTERAGENCY WOLF REPORT. It looks great and is being mailed now. Thanks to all of you who have been funneling them information and commenting on the early drafts. It will be available electronically (hopefully at the Service’s Region 6 web site (see address below) ASAP. Everyone is encouraged to copy and distribute it widely. IF AFTER FEBRUARY 15, you have not received a copy by mail or if you have been unable to pull it off the web site, then please let us know and we will mail you a copy. Please do not contact us before that date and before you have tried to get it off the web site THANKS!!

Niemeyer gave a presentation to about a dozen people at a Montana Ag. Forum meeting in Helena on the 12th.

Bangs, Smith, other Yellowstone National Park representatives, representatives from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and Mike Phillips from the Turner Endangered Species Fund met on the 26th, to discuss coordination on state management of big game and wolf issues in the Greater Yellowstone area.

Jimenez talked with about a dozen Wyoming Game and Fish biologists at their Regional meeting in Pinedale, WY the week of the 26th.

On the 24th, Bangs participated on a conference call with several agencies in Utah (FWS, WS, FS, and UT Dept. Nat. Res.) To discuss the potential for wolves showing up in Utah soon (slim) and if agencies should modify any management practices because of potential wolf dispersal (no). The call was prompted in part, by the Utah Board of Game’s instructions to the Utah Dept. of Wildlife to investigate potential wolf issues in Utah. The FWS UT field office coordinated that effort and did a good job of putting the call and group together.

Most of the various agency wolf biologists continue to work on (if only think about) their upcoming papers for the "Beyond 2000: Realiites of Global Wolf Restoration" Conference in Duluth, MN, February 23-26. The agenda is outstanding and includes papers on wolves from throughout the world. The northern Rocky Mountains of the U.S. wolf recovery program will be well represented.

The Service's weekly wolf report can now be viewed at the Service's Region 6 web site at http://www.r6.fws.gov/wolf in addition to the regular distribution.

Contact: Ed Bangs (406)449-5225 x204 or Internet-ED_BANGS@FWS.GOV