Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 3/10/00

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 2/19-3/10, 2000

Monitoring
Core packs in the Yellowstone, central Idaho, and NW Montana recovery areas are generally in their normal home ranges. See the 1999 annual report http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/wolf/annualrpt99/for a map of those pack locations and home ranges.

There are potentially at least 4 new breeding pairs in the Yellowstone area. West of Cody, WY are radioed wolf 147 with an unmarked wolf near Pahaska Teepee. Wolf #9 and 3 others are still in the eastern portion of Sunlight Basin. A radioed wolf and an unmarked wolf have been using an area along the west side of Gardiner since early this winter. Near Big Sky, wolf 115 is with an unmarked wolf in the Madison Valley. Soda Butte has reorganized and now consists of 104 (originally from Druid), 120 (formerly Crystal), 124 and 14 from SB, and 2 unmarked wolves. There was an observation of 5 wolves in the Sunlight Basin pack. A tentative capture operation was set up but weather and helicopter availability caused it to be postponed. All radioed wolves are accounted for except #92, a male from Nez Perce Pack that hasn't been located since 7/99.

A wolf from the Grave Creek Pack in NW MT was found dead near Whitefish. Cause of death is being investigated. The black yearling female was tagged last summer and was nick-named "micro wolf" because of her small size. The carcass of a suspected Murphy Lake pup was recovered along Highway 93 near where several pack members had been observed feeding on road-killed deer. The wolf was confirmed by USFWS agent Branzell as a road-kill.

Wolves are dispersing and we anticipate a sharp increase in new wolf pack formation. We have been receiving many reports and we deeply appreciate them. We are currently beginning to look for wolf activity in some new areas and to schedule potential spring/summer capture efforts. Please report wolf sightings so that we can focus our track surveys and any aircraft searches for missing radio-collared wolves in areas of concentrated wolf activity this winter and spring. The Avon and Thompson River areas in NW MT, Bass Creek (MT) and the area northwest of Salmon in the ID recovery area, and the Gravely Range and Little Belt Mountains in the Montana portion of the Yellowstone recovery area, have all produced some promising reports.

Control
A reported depredation by wolves near Clayton, ID was investigated by WS. A pair of wolves did feed on a dead calf but the investigation indicated that wolves did not kill the calf.

A report of a lone wolf killing calves in the Pryor Mountains south of Billings, MT was investigated by WS by no wolf activity was located.

A pair of pups from the now defunct Jureano pack continue to frequent a dairy near Salmon, ID. WS specialists Rick Williamson and Carter Niemeyer are investigating the situation to see if the pair might be hazed or captured and removed from the area. Williamson and Niemeyer also visited the Broken-Wing ranch near Clayton, where wolves killed a calf several weeks ago and 4 pack members of the Twin Peaks pack were removed . The wolves have not depredated again but until recently continued to frequent the area, causing some local controversy. The rancher was provided with a telemetry receiver and cracker shells. The radio activated guard appears to still be working well. However, as cattle continued to calve and become more dispersed, the chances for further depredations increases. If another depredation is confirmed, attempts will be made to relocate the pack. If that fails, wolves may be lethally removed.  Two hunting dogs were apparently killed west of Missoula, MT in the Fish Creek area on the 26th of Feb. One hunter watched through binoculars as a group of 5 wolves killed a 8-month old male pup that had treed a lion. By the time the hunter could get to the site the pups's carcass had been carried off by a wolf. At the same time a female pup also disappeared and is presumed dead. Two other older hounds were not injured.

A pet Great Pyrenees (1 of 3 large dogs) was attacked by the Ninemile pack in NW MT about March 3. It was severely wounded but apparently will survive.

Efforts to locate and radio-collar a wolf on the Diamond G Ranch near Dubois, WY have been suspended until further information is received. Volunteers combed the area for months and established several draw baits. Only tracks from a single animal were routinely detected. Attempts to catch that animal last week, during an unusual warm spell, were unsuccessful and trapping ended after about 5 days. The special take permits that allowed 2 landowners in the Dunoir Valley to shoot one wolf expired on March 1. No wolves were taken.

Research

Yellowstone Park started its late winter 30-day study of wolf predation rates. Low snow fall has reduced visibility of wolf kills and also likely made ungulates less susceptible to wolf predation.

Yellowstone National Park will begin to capture and radio-collar about 40 adult female elk beginning next week. The study will increase efforts to investigate the relationship of wolves to their primary
prey in Yellowstone's northern range.

In WY a false but widely circulated rumor indicated that wolf predation in WY was causing elk to abort their calves (and asked for the public and politicians to "demand that the problem be resolved"). Discussions with WY G&F managers and Service field workers indicated the story was not true. While no aborted calves have been found, this is the time of year that a few elk do lose calves to brucellosis. It would be expected that wolves, as well as other scavengers, would eat aborted calves if they found them. Whether this reduces disease exposure to other ungulates is speculative but it seems unlikely that any potential affect of wolves would be significant.

Earlier field work by Service volunteers on the National Elk Refuge suggested that some elk were moving between the feeding areas because of wolf hunting behavior. Research on human hunting of elk has shown that elk do move after being disturbed by hunters and often end up in areas where they are not bothered (commonly private land or other refugia, such as thick cover). It seems likely that elk response to wolf predation may be similar but because the wolves follow the elk, elk may simply keep moving between normal feeding areas to avoid an immediate threat by wolves. However, in the past few weeks elk are staying on the middle largest feed ground on the refuge, even as wolves continue to occasionally make kills in that area, probably because of the large amounts of high quality forage (hay) that is available to them. It will be interesting to see how elk and wolves continue to adapt to each other's behavior, which evolved together over many thousands of years.

Information and education and law enforcement

February 22-26 several biologists from the Service, Yellowstone National Park, and USDA Wildlife Services attended the International Wolf Conference in Duluth, MN. Representatives from 27 countries attended and the spectrum and quality of papers on wolf management and research throughout the world were unsurpassed. Over a dozen papers were presented on wolf management and research in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. A panel discussion, by members of Minnesota state government and various interest groups that participated on the Minnesota wolf round-table, was particularly enlightening. The discussion over state management is still very emotional and polarized. As a consequence, Minnesota is still struggling to develop a state wolf plan so the Service can proceed with the delisting process.

Diane Boyd gave a presentation at a Conference of Western Environmental Law near Salem OR. About 700 people attended.

Heberger, Bangs, and Mack had several meetings with members of the Idaho Governors's office, congressional delegations, ID ranchers from the Salmon to Stanley area, and a joint state legislature committee on March 3rd. Issues relating to wolf management and particularly a recent wolf depredation near Clayton, ID and a wolf being repeatedly seen near livestock were discussed. The Service agreed to try to resolve the latest controversy by issuing a telemetry receiver and antenna to the producer, giving him some cracker shells to scare any wolves seen on private property, and ask WS wolf specialist Niemeyer to visit the area on the 6th and offer recommendations. The Service also committed to investigate whether some type of additional flexibility to harass wolves in a non-lethal manner (such as allowing permitted individuals to shoot wolves with 12 gauge "cracker" shells, rubber bullets, bean bag shells, or small bird shot) might be available within the provisions of the experimental rules.

WS special Niemeyer gave a presentation to about 15 students at the advanced high school biology class at Skyview in Billings, MT on the 28th of Feb.

On Feb 29th-March 1, Niemeyer and Yellowstone National Park biologists accompanied a delegation of about 16 Norwegian representatives of the Ministries of the Environment and Agriculture, journalists and sheep ranchers to look at wolf management issues in and around Yellowstone National Park. They also visited and interviewed local ranchers as part of that tour.

The Annual Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Conference is scheduled for Chico Hot Springs, April 11-13. Juan Carlos Blanco will talk on Wolf Recolonization in Spain for the banquet.

This conference focuses on wolf recovery efforts throughout North America - featuring presentations on wolf management, law enforcement, partnerships and legal status. This conference is suggested for state and federal agency, tribal and university and related organizations participating in wolf management and recovery. Space is limited - Please register early. You may register today online at https://www09.tierranet.com/forwolves.org/confer.html

Hotel Reservation Information - Chico Hot Springs Lodge, Pray, Montana, 1-800-468-9232 or (406)333-4933. Government rate for the Wolf Conference is $45 / bed / day. Private rooms are available if reserved early.

Wolf Study and social skills training, led by Dr. Douglas Smith, Yellowstone Wolf Project Leader. Friday, April 14, 2000. Explore Yellowstone wolf habitat and learn about the history and current status of wolves in Yellowstone. Space is very limited. Cost is $100 per person - includes lunch. 

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