Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 7/21/00

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 7/17-7/21, 2000

Monitoring

Denning packs in the Yellowstone, central Idaho, and NW Montana are moving pups to rendezvous sites. See the 1999 annual report http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/wolf/annualrpt99/ for a map of those pack locations and home ranges.

At the current time there are potentially 12 breeding pairs in the Yellowstone area, 14 in central Idaho and 7 in NW Montana for a total of 33 breeding pairs. This could mean that 2000 is the first year of the 3 year count down toward delisting but unlikely. The "official" count toward the minimum delisting criteria of 30 breeding pairs is determined on December 31. Because of wolf losses during the summer due to human-caused (control, illegal killing, and vehicle accidents) and natural factors (disease, prey-caused injuries, and accidents) it is likely the final count will be somewhere between 25 and 30 breeding pairs. The Service will consider the wolf population recovery target met when a documented minimum of 30 or more breeding pairs are more or less evenly distributed throughout western Montana, Idaho, and northwestern Wyoming for 3 successive years. Estimated wolf numbers are: NW MT 40 adults/yearlings and about 35 pups (based on an estimate of avg. 5 pups/litter), central Idaho 140 adults/yearlings and 70 pups, Yellowstone 110 adults/yearlings and +75 pups, or a total of about 290 adults/yearlings and about 180 pups throughout the northern Rocky Mountains of MT, ID, and WY.

The 2 new packs west of Cody, WY were named by local land managers. The new pack with female #9 was named the Beartooth pack and #153/#164 was named the Absaroka pack.

A carcass and collar of female wolf B-65, an Idaho wolf from the Big Hole pack, was recovered near Anaconda, MT. Its cause of death is under investigation.

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. Thanks to those who have been forwarding us reports it has helped located several potential new packs. When we are this close to 30 breeding pair each wolf pack becomes very important.

Control

In NW MT, a report of a possible wolf killing chickens was investigated by WS and FWS personnel. All the chickens (27) were killed and then individually buried near the coop. The chicken owner managed to lock the black wolf-like canid in the coop but it jumped through a window (with glass and chicken wire) and escaped. Scat with dog food in it and dog tracks confirmed a wild wolf was not involved. The county animal control agent was notified.

Research

Tragically, the alpha female (#16) of the Sheep Mountain pack died on July 19th. She and the other 3 pack members were captured in the pen on the Flying D Ranch last week, July 12th, in preparation for the training research which was scheduled to begin in late July. They were fitted with standard radio collars which also included the training device. The research had not been initiated, no training tests had occurred, and no collar had an activated training device. Soon after capture she overheated and had problems breathing that required emergency care by the attending veterinarian. The handling crew and veterinarian conducted a review of capture procedures that evening and recommended that handling time (<20 minutes) and air temperature (<80's) could have magnified drug affect, causing or contributing to the immediate complications witnessed immediately after her capture. She recovered much later than the other 3 wolves that were handled at the same time and in the same manner. By that night she appeared to have completely recovered and was feeding and traveling normally. However, on the 17th, she appeared to walk with some stiffness. By the 18th she was lethargic and unresponsive and was immediately treated with fluids and antibiotics, and blood was drawn for analysis. The analysis showed liver and kidney failure and on the night of the 18th Service biologists discussed options with the veterinarian. Early on the morning of the 19th, she was found dead in the pen. A necropsy is being performed to determine if the liver and kidney failure was a pre-existing condition that was exacerbated by handling which could explain her strong reaction to drugging on the 12th, or if the most recent handling and/or capture caused the damage. Test results should be available by next week. While her death will not affect the aversive conditioning research, it could affect the potential success of the Sheep Mountain pack if they are returned to the wild. It was hoped that the alpha female would find a new mate and successfully breed this winter. Now that she is dead, it is less likely that all the pack members will stay in their old territory, and that another adult female will join them before this breeding season. The training research will still begin next week as scheduled and release of the 3 remaining pack members back in the Sheep Mountain pack territory will occur this fall.

Information, education, and law enforcement

On the 18th, Bangs and Niemeyer attended the second meeting of the Montana Wolf Management Advisory Council in Helena. The Council is composed of a dozen residents with various backgounds and perspectives that were appointed by the Governor of Montana. The group is charged with providing recommendations to Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks about what a wolf management plan should contain after wolves are recovered and removed from federal protection. Carolyn Sime, MDFW&P biologist, was selected to author a plan based upon the Council recommendations. The group’s recommendation should be finalized by Fall 2000.

Jimenez did a 2-hr. radio talk show out of Cody, WY (KODI) on the 18th.

On the 13th, Meier participated in the North Fork Inter-Local meeting and talked with the 40 or so agency and local people that attended. The meeting was held at the North Fork Community Center adjacent to Glacier National Park. Tom was a featured guest on a 1 hour radio talk show (KOFI) in Kalispell, MT on the 13th.

NATIONAL WOLF RECLASSIFICATION PROPOSED

On July 11, the Service announced a nationwide proposal to reclassify the gray wolf. The proposal recommends changing the status of wolves throughout most of the lower 48 states. The gray wolf is currently listed as endangered everywhere but Minnesota and within the experimental population areas in MT, ID, WY and AZ, NM. The proposal recommends not changing anything in the experimental population areas, downlisting the wolf to threatened status throughout most of their current or potential range (where they will be managed with more flexible regulations than is allowed under endangered status), and removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list where their presence will always be highly unlikely. The proposed rules for managing wolves listed as threatened are also discussed in detail in the proposal (they are very similar to what is currently allowed in the Yellowstone and central Idaho experimental population areas). The complete information and proposal can be accessed at http://midwest.fws.gov/wolf. There will be a 120-day public comment period, including informational meetings (likely in August) and hearings (likely in October) in various parts of the country. The date, time, and location of those meetings will be announced shortly. Anyone wanting to be placed on the Service’s mailing list should write to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gray Wolf Review, 1 Federal Dr., Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056 or use the graywolfmail@fws.gov email address or phone (612) 713-7337. A decision is unlikely until a year from now, approximately August 2001. All comments on the proposal should be sent to graywolfcomments@fws.gov

Bangs, Meier, Boyd, and Niemeyer met with a dozen representatives of various conservation organizations in Helena on the 19th to discuss how decisions on wolf control procedures are made. There was concern over excessive Service use of lethal control. The groups were interested in what factors the Service considered in making those types of decisions. At least some of their concerns were a result of the Service not making people and the media aware of all the other actions taken to minimize problems between wolves and livestock, especially those methods that do not involve removing wolves. These measures include but are not limited to: increased monitoring by the landowner or Service to determine if livestock are vulnerable or if wolves are continuing to hunt them, simply waiting if it appears wild prey may become more available (calving or migration), livestock removal, or if wolves normally move out of the area, aversive conditioning (cracker shells, hazing by biologists or permitted landowners, or scare devices), recommending or using fencing/flagging, guard animals, and/or changes in husbandry practices, working with land management agencies, landowners, and private conservation groups to locate alternative pasture, additional herd monitoring/protection with herders, riders, or biologists, hazing wolves or pups to move centers of wolf activity away from concentrations of livestock, capture for release or relocation of individual wolves, and usually as a last resort, lethal control of suspect problem individual wolves. Whole packs have been removed on a few occasions but only after repeated control measures have been tried and depredations continued to occur. Control normally affects less than 6% of the wolf population annually and is unlikely to significantly affect wolf population growth. The National Reclassification proposal was also discussed.

We also discussed our current cooperative research projects including: Can injurious harassment by landowners reduce wolf use of areas near people and their livestock and reduce wolf attacks on livestock and pets? (training on use of beanbag and cracker shotgun shells will be provided to selected landowners); What numbers of guard dogs are most successful at reducing damage to sheep, (Defenders of Wildlife and a sheep producer are cosponsoring and funding use of various numbers of guard dogs in bands of sheep in central Idaho that a University of Montana student monitors); Can aversive training teach wolves that livestock are not a preferred prey item? (Wildlife Services, Service, Turner Endangered Species Fund, will investigate use of dog training collars on wild wolves that have repeatedly killed cattle), and the second year of a study in central Idaho to determine the numbers of cattle killed versus documented and the cause and factors involved in livestock death (including herding practices, and livestock health) on remote public land allotments (funded by the Nez Perce Tribe, Forest Service, Service, Lemhi County Livestock Producers, Defenders of Wildlife, and University of Idaho).

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