Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 5/29/00

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 5/15-5/29, 2000

Monitoring

Denning packs in the Yellowstone, central Idaho, and NW Montana are beginning to move pups and some pups are being seen above ground and at new dens/rendezvous sites. See the 1999 annual report http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/wolf/annualrpt99/ for a map of those pack locations and home ranges.

Famous wolf #9 was located in a new area, and a couple of miles away from her initial den. Recent observations indicate a new pack has formed on the Wall Creek Game Range in the Madison Valley. Our pilot flew over an old den site in the North Fork of the Flathead and saw 7 adults and 3 pups at the old Spruce Creek den about 7 miles north of the Canadian border. It is unknown if any members of this group are radio-collared. An observation was made in the Bob Marshal Wilderness of a female coming out of a den (Danaher area) and then circling the people and barking. A few days later our pilot saw a gray wolf lying in an opening near that area. Boyd collared another wolf near Kentla Lake in Glacier National Park. Unfortunately while trying to place a radio-collar on a wolf in the Boulder pack of five, a wolf snapped a trap but field crews were unable to locate it or the trap despite extensive searches. The Boulder pack den was located during that search and 4 wolves were resting nearby. Scats and tracks indicate pups are in the den. The trapping crew in NW Mt captured and collared a wolf in the Whitefish pack. A hunter from New Jersey hunting in Canada recently reported that he killed wolf # 88 while hunting in British Columbia. The wolf was from the Whitefish pack and had dispersed about March, 1998.

Surprise- Surprise! A flight to locate the Soda Butte pack saw a pup scurry into a den that was being manned by several adults. These latest observations add up to 4 new dens to the potential number of breeding pairs in the northern Rocky Mountains.

Please report wolf sightings but especially reports in localized areas or reports of wolves "barking" when people are near to help us locate any new wolf dens.

Control

The Sheep Mountain pack killed a yearling and wounded another the night of the 15/16th. WS confirmed it as a wolf kill and a flight that morning located the Sheep Mountain pack nearby. In an effort to try something new, this pack will be removed from the wild and "trained’ to avoid livestock as prey. In a cooperative effort between USDA Wildlife Services (Montana State Office and WS Research Division), Turner Endangered Species Fund, Yellowstone National Park and the Service, the pack will be captured and placed in an enclosure on the Flying D Ranch near Bozeman where the Wildlife Services Research Division will attempt to condition the wolves to avoid attacking livestock. Capture efforts could begin next week, but conditioning would not begin late June. Similar work has been done with some success with coyotes (recently published in the Wildl. Soc. Bull.), and wolves in Romania and Wisconsin. In Romania it was reported (this has not been published in a peer review journal to my knowledge) that the "taught" behavior to avoid livestock was naturally passed on to their pups. An alpha female wolf that was treated in Wisconsin went from killing $10,000 worth of livestock prior to treatment to none the following year after treatment. The female’s pack apparently learned from her and even though she was the only one treated her avoidance of the farm and livestock were learned by other pack members. It cannot be overemphasized, however, that this technique is not a cure-all and may not be successful in the field. It is definitely worth trying but the only thing we are really counting on is that we will learn something. If the conditioning appears to have worked, then the pack will be released back in their territory this fall.

On the 25th, WS darted 5 members of the 7 member Sheep Mountain pack. Unfortunately 1 sub-adult female died when the dart punctured her chest. The dart hit in a good spot on her upper back but her overall small size and thin condition apparently contributed to the tragic accident. The other 4 wolves, including the alpha female, were placed in a pen. They and the remaining 2 pack members, if they can be captured, will be "treated" as part of the Wildlife Services research on aversive conditioning.

The Chief Joseph pack (all three radios including the alpha female) chased horses a couple of different times on the 16th/17th but the rancher who had a receiver, drove them away. One horse was slightly cut by fencing but nothing was injured. That weekend a nearby rancher reported seeing his cattle boil out a ravine with a grey wolf nearby. None were wounded. On the morning of the 21st remains of a calf was examined by Wildlife Services, who confirmed it was killed by wolves. Gray wolf hair was found on a nearby fence and in rose bushes at the kill site. Plans are to capture and move the alpha female and pups to their old den in Yellowstone National Park. The Chief Joseph pack denned there in 1997, 1998, and 1999. Hopefully that will shift the center of the pack’s activities to an area without livestock.

An attempt to dart the Chief Joe alpha female on the 25th failed after she ran into heavy timber. However, the alpha male and a subadult female were trapped by WS that day. They were released in the southern portion of Yellowstone National Park that night, about 50 miles south. Subsequent observations indicated the female had already moved the pups so all capture operations were suspended. Capture efforts for the female and pups will begin when the pups can be located. While we expected the older male to eventually find home, surprisingly he was back in his home territory on the 27th. At the same time, the young female had only moved about 15 miles north and was by Old Faithful Geyser.

 

Research

Den study is being conducted in Yellowstone National Park.

Research and humane animal protocols are being finalized for the aversive conditioning study for the Sheep Mountain pack. The first pen is being constructed on the Flying D Ranch near Bozeman and should be completed by June 5th.

Information and education and law enforcement

Dr. Smith gave an interview for Discovery Online. He also did an interview for a Denmark media publication.

Fontaine gave a presentation to about 22 members of the Great Falls Conservation Council.

Bangs met with Turner Endangered Species Fund and Wildlife Services representatives on the 16th to discuss aversive conditioning research and pen construction on the Flying D Ranch. This meeting was part of an ongoing effort and the Sheep Mountain depredation that day was purely coincidence. The aversive conditioning concept has attracted widespread local, national and even international media attention (and quite a few snickers and smirks from a doubting public). The only thing that we expect from this study is that we will learn something and knowledge is always useful for making informed decisions.

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