Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 2/18/00

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 2/11-18, 1999

 

Most of the Wolf Recovery Biologists from the Service, Nez Perce Tribe and Yellowstone National Park will be attending an International Wolf Management Conference in Duluth, MN from February 22-27th. Everyone will check their office phone messages at least once daily. Emergency messages can also be left at the Conf. "Beyond 2000:Realities of Global Wolf Restoration" 218-726-7637 or for Ed Bangs at the Radisson Hotel, Duluth, MN 1-800-333-3333 or 218-727-8981. As usual, all suspected livestock depredations should be reported to the appropriate state office or local WS specialist for USDA Wildlife Services and all dead wolves should be reported to USDI FWS Special Agents. Roy Heberger in Boise Idaho, 208-378-5243 will be the Service lead on wolf recovery issues while we are at the Conference.

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. Famous but old wolf female #9 (former alpha female of the Rose Creek pack) was located on the east side of the Sunlight Basin, northwest of Cody, WY with 4 other wolves, including #153 and #164. Great work!- Special Agent Eicher. Another observer the next day reported that one of the males briefly mounted her- she said it looks like this "super"-wolf could be trying to start a new pack.

There are a minimum of 117 wolves in the Yellowstone area and 55 are radio-collared. Depending upon funding and pack location, attempts will be made this year to collar wolves in the Teton, Gros Ventre, and Sunlight Basin packs. Some funding has been made available by Grand Teton National Park and private donations.

The number of breeding pairs in the 1999 annual report was mistakenly 1 short in the central Idaho area (actually a minimum of 10 in 1999). The total number of breeding pairs on December 31, 1999 (total of 23) has been corrected in the electronic version of the annual report. The 3 year countdown toward meeting the recovery target starts once we hit 30 breeding pairs in MT, ID, and WY for the first time. Hopefully 2000 will be the first year of that countdown.  Wolves are dispersing and we anticipate a sharp increase in new wolf pack formation. Please report wolf sightings so that we can focus any aircraft searches for missing wolves or our track surveys in areas of concentrated wolf activity this winter and spring.

Research

The elk/wolf winter feed ground interaction study in Wyoming that Jimenez and 4 volunteers are conducting is getting some interesting (but very preliminary) early results. There are 3 feed grounds in the Gros Ventre valley operated by Wyoming Game and Fish. Normally about 2,500 elk winter on these areas. Both the Gros Ventre and Teton packs hunt this area. Today there were about 2500 elk on the middle feed area and virtually none on the lower or upper feed grounds. When wolves hunt elk in and around the feed grounds the elk apparently move to another one. To date elk do not seem to have moved to private ground but the relatively stable elk distribution that WY Game and Fish strives for between the feed areas looks like it is being impacted by wolf hunting behavior. Wolves still appear to take elk primarily calves and older cows on the edge or between the 3 feed grounds that are about 5 miles apart. To date of 18 elk carcasses located, only 3 have been on feed grounds, including this week when wolves killed a calf right on the middle feed ground and all the elk were still there. It appears that the wolves hunt the feed ground just like normal winter ranges, not staying long at any one spot. The GrosVentre pack hunts the feed grounds one then another, then moves onto the National Elk Refuge for a few days. The Teton pack hunts the Gros Ventre grounds and then moves onto Grand Teton National Park. This strategy of hunting an area temporarily, then moving on is consistent with other studies that indicate wolves do not "camp" on feed grounds or wintering areas because wild ungulates either move out of the areas they are most vulnerable (into the trees or other nearby escape terrain) and/or become too wary to be easily hunted. Snow depths appear near normal levels and it will be interesting to see what additional information can be learned as winter progresses. The National Elk Refuge should start their feeding program soon which may also affect elk distribution and wolf hunting patterns.

Bangs, Niemeyer, and Dr. Pletscher UM, met with Hank Fischer, Defenders of Wildlife, at the University of Montana GIS lab to review a draft of a mapping project the lab is doing for the Defenders. The MT Dept. Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and Montana Stockgrowers were also involved in reviewing this project. The mapping attempts to use GIS technology to identify and evaluate potential wolf habitat in NW MT. The GIS layers include white-tailed deer, elk, and livestock density and distribution, private or public land, slope and elevation. Several suggestions were made on ways to refine the data and perhaps add a layer with human density.

The known wolf pack territories were shown on the map and it reinforced the radio-location data which suggests wolves preferred slope <20% below 1500m, and with concentrations of W-T deer. These maps could be very useful and helping search for new wolf packs or for identifying areas where wolf packs could establish with minimal conflict with people.

Control

A 4-year-old cow was reportedly killed by a pair of wolves on the Blackfeet Reservation on the 14th and large canid tracks were located at the carcass. No radio-collars were known to be active in this area but WS was checking for missing radio-collared NT MT wolves. WS and Tribal biologists kept an eye on the carcasses and found that 2 large German Shepard-type dogs were responsible for the depredation not wolves. One of the dogs was shot. A Well Done!! to the WS specialist and tribal biologists for closely monitoring this situation and doing thorough follow-up work.

A calf was reported killed near Dome Mountain north of Gardiner, MT (Sheep Mountain pack territory) in the Yellowstone area. WS investigated and found that wolves were not involved. The calf had been fed upon by a coyote and may not have even stood. Another thorough investigation and job Well Done!

The wolf/livestock situation east of Salmon, ID continues to be inordinately controversial. Four members of the Twin Peaks pack were removed last week because a calf had been killed on private property. The rancher reported that wolves also chased some of his horses but this could not be confirmed. A radio-activated siren scaring device was installed and its counter indicated that wolves returned to the area (which is within their normal home range) but no further depredations have occurred. Tracks indicated that the device may have caused the wolves to move away from it. A couple of days ago the involved rancher caught his dog chasing cattle and he shot it. The wolves found the dog's carcass and mauled it. The rancher became very upset that wolves were back on his property. This single depredation event was professionally and effectively handled by the Tribe and Wildlife Services and the continued high level of controversy is difficult to rationally understand. No further removal of wolves is planned, despite the intense political pressure, unless further attacks on livestock can be documented occur.

Information and education and law enforcement

The 1999 ANNUAL INTERAGENCY WOLF REPORT is available at http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/wolf/annualrpt99/. We especially thank Jim Renne for making the report available in that format, it looks great. The report contains summary tables of all known wolf packs and numbers of wolves since 1986, all confirmed livestock depredations, and color maps of all known pack territories.

Diane Boyd was featured on- NBC National Evening New's spot "Women to Watch"- on the15th. 

Fontaine assisted the Arid Lands National Wildlife Service Refuge Complex in central Washington to move about 30 elk. Joe will be on a detail to the Refuge until mid-March to assist them with plans to move about 300 elk from the area in March. Joe regularly checks messages at his Helena office and can still be contacted at 406-449-5225 x206. Joe is still coordinating the April 11-13 Annual Wolf Working Group Conference at Chico Hot Springs and ideas for presentations should be routed to him. An agenda should be available by early April.

Bangs gave a presentation to about 300 people the Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society on the 9th in Bend, OR and to about 45 people at a discussion on the potential for an Oregon  Wolf  Working Group on the 10th.

Meier gave a talk on wolves to about 20 students in an Aspen youth program in Boulder, MT on the 18th.

ATTENTION-

The purpose of the weekly report is to get out timely factual information about the general status of wolves and the overall Wolf Recovery Program in MT, ID and WY. The downside of this type of work-in-progress, informal, non-peer reviewed, but very current type of report, is that sometimes the information in it is not completely accurate. If you see something that is not factually accurate please let us know. Tell us how it should read and we will correct it in the next weekly. Also, if you did some wolf work and want to be recognized- let us know. Thanks!

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