Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 10/20/00

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 10/13-10/20/2000

Monitoring

Packs in the Yellowstone, central Idaho, and NW Montana are moving throughout their homes ranges. See the 1999 annual report http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/wolf/annualrpt99/ for a map of those pack locations and home ranges.

Breeding Pair update- the latest potential numbers of packs with pups indicate that there still maybe more than 30 breeding pairs in the northern Rocky Mountains (estimated max of 435-505 wolves). It is still possible that 2000 could be the first year of the 3-year count down toward delisting but unlikely because the "official" count is made on December 31 and some loss of adults and pups is expected due to illegal mortality, agency control actions, and natural causes.

The tentative counts are as follows: NW Montana (estimated max. 80-100 wolves)- 6 yes and 4 maybe/likely- included in yes- Camas, Whitefish, Murphy Lake, Ninemile, Spotted Bear, Boulder, and maybe/likely- Graves Creek, Little Wolf, Danaher, and Alice Creek. Little Wolf, Danaher, Boulder, and Alice Creek are uncollared packs which we will try and get radios in this fall/winter. Meier and volunteers caught, radioed, and released 2 young of the year females (56lb. And 58 lb.) in the Murphy Lake area. All traps have been pulled because of the start of the general big game rifle hunting season which starts this weekend.

In the Yellowstone Experimental Area (estimated max. of 165-185 wolves)- 11 yes, 2 maybe/likely, and 3 no. Yes are- Druid, Rose, Leopold, Chief Joe, Nez Perce, Soda Butte, Gros Ventre, Sunlight Basin, Absorka (#153), #152 group, and Taylor Peaks ( #115 Group). Maybe/likely is Beartooth (#9) and Wall Creek (uncollared). Packs that didn't breed are Crystal, Sheep Mtn. (3 males in captivity), and Teton.

In the central Idaho Experimental Area (estimated max. of 190-220 wolves)-16 yes (but several now have only 1 pup confirmed), 1 maybe/likely. Yes- are-Selway, Kelly, Chamberlin, Thunder Mtn., Landmark, Jureano, Moyer, Stanley, Orphan, Wildhorse, Big Smokey, White Cloud, Marble Mtn., Chamberlin #2 (female from the Chamberlin pack with pups but separate from the pack), Whitehawk, and B36 (relocated White Cloud female) which has traveled into the Big Hole in southwestern Montana. 1 maybe/likely- The Mt. Hagggin pair (relocated Twin Peaks wolves) are believed to have pups but a ground search was unsuccessful at counting them.

Please report wolf sightings!! Signs have been posted at several trailheads asking hunters to report wolf observations. We have copies of these signs for any agency folks willing to post them at trailheads, information centers, offices, or hunter check stations, etc. 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

A very rough summary of control actions for year 200 are as follows: In NW Montana, 3 calves and 2 sheep were confirmed killed by wolves. In response to continued cattle depredations by the Little Wolf pack, 4 wolves were killed. In response to the sheep killed near Lincoln, MT and another calf that was killed by the Graves Creek pack- no control, other than to try and place additional collars in the packs, was conducted. In central Idaho wolves were confirmed to have killed 15 calves, 55 sheep, and 1 guard dog. Another 47 sheep, 2 calves, and 2 guard dogs were probable/possible depredations. In response to 55 complaints, 24 were confirmed by WS. In response about 16 wolves were moved or killed. In the greater Yellowstone area, Wolves killed at least 3 cattle, 15 sheep, and 5 dogs. Another 16 sheep, 3 horses were probably/possibly killed and 3 dogs were wounded. In response 2 wolves were killed and another was collared and released on-site. The Service and its cooperators continue to try to update and standardize record-keeping to make depredation data more accurate and available.

Jimenez investigated a report of another adult horse being killed in the Dubois, WY area. Just days before this last incident, 2 colts were possibly/probably killed by wolves about 2 days apart. The adult horse’s carcass was found in the middle of a 20 acre pasture and there were no obvious signs of struggle. By the time it was examined it was mostly consumed but there appeared to be bite marks on the very lower hind legs. There was abundant wolf sign and within 2 days of being seen alive the host of ravens, eagles, coyotes and wolves reduce the carcass to a bare skeleton. A group of wolves, which may include a dispersing radioed wolf (#114) uses this area. The rancher reported seeing 4 wolves feeding on the carcass. The depredations were classified as 2 possible and one probable. No control is planned at this time other than trying to continue to capture, radio-collar, and release a member of the group. If more horses are killed the entire group will likely be removed.

In Northwest Montana a yearling female wolf (76) has started hanging around the stock corrals of the Spotted Bear Ranger Station and chewed up 10-12 mule halters. The District Ranger approached within 30 feet of the wolf and it would not leave until she started to yell and her dog started barking. The same wolf is also frequenting a nearby lodge and was chased off the porch with a broom. It also chewed on a saddle near the back door of the lodge. Fontaine with the help of the Wind River Bear Institute, that was in the area to condition a grizzly bear, were able to shoot cracker shells at the wolf on 3 separate occasions in the vicinity of the corrals and on the main road. On the 3rd attempt the wolf was starting to display some flight behavior from the vehicle. Light and siren devices were also placed in strategic areas of the corrals and lodge to scare her away. There have been no additional incidents. Thanks again for the help from the Wind River Bear Institute.

Research

The "training" of wolves to avoid cattle as prey will begin the final round of testing this month. The program is a cooperative one between USDA Wildlife Services (Dr. John Shivik leads the research), the Service (who coordinates overall program), Turner Endangered Species Fund (cares for the wolves, provides logistic support, will assist with post release monitoring), National Park Service (provided the pen and will help with post-release monitoring), Defenders of Wildlife (supports aversive conditioning), and University of Montana (study design and expertise).

Both radio and training collars were put on the wolves on the 17th. A test was conducted on the 18th when a 400lb calf, wearing the triggering transmitter, was put in the pen. After 2 hours the boldest wolf (same one that tested the bison calf and calf hide) approached the rear of the calf as it was lying down. The calf jumped up and the wolf immediately grabbed it by its lower hind leg. In accordance with the animal care protocol, the field crew then stood up and yelled (from the observation ridge about 400 m away) and the wolf ran away from the calf. The calf was not injured but it appeared that the wolf’s collar did not work and the result, if the incident had not been interrupted, remains uncertain. We were surprised by what appeared to be the first physical test of a calf by these wolves, even though the calf is now several times larger than during other tests, when the calf was left in the pen over night. We speculate that the training collar was not making contact through the thick winter fur and we will remove the radio-collar and reposition the training collars before conducting the next tests. A media tour (LA Times, Alberquerque, NM TV, Helena Independent Record, CNN, freelance radio and print reporters) was conducted on the 19th but a calf was not introduced to the pen because of the previous day’s events. The 3 wolves from the Sheep Mountain pack will be exposed to cattle (calves) again to test the system. During twice weekly wolf feedings, members of the press will be allowed to accompany the TESF biologist. The wolves will be released around December 1, after the big game hunting season ends, if subsequent testing shows they learn to avoid livestock. If they can not learn to avoid making physical contact with livestock they will be euthanized.

Information and education and law enforcement

The week of October 15th was National Wolf Awareness Week. We have 100's of the posters (drawing of Mexican wolf on front and national distribution map and information on back) to display if anyone (agency or educators only please) wants them. We also have 200 copies of a children’s informational newsletter with some wolf stickers. They are both great to hand out to classrooms, etc., if you are doing that type of thing. Call 406-449-5225 x204.

Carter, Mark Collinge (USDA Wildlife Services), and Suzanne Laverty (Defenders) gave presentations to about 15 people at the Boise, ID Library for Wolf Awareness Week on the 19th.

Jimenez gave a presentation to about 45 members of the Cheyenne, WY Audubon Society on the 17th. Jimenez gave a presentation to a Wolf Awareness Week public meeting in Olympia, WA on the 21st.

Fontaine gave a presentation to about 25 Capital High advanced biology students in Helena prior to their travel to Yellowstone National Park.

NATIONAL WOLF RECLASSIFICATION PROPOSED

The proposal can be accessed at http://midwest.fws.gov/wolf. The 120-day public comment period ends NOVEMBER 13th. Anyone wanting to be placed on the Service's mailing list should write to US Fish and Wildlife Service, Gray Wolf Review, 1 Federal Dr., Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056, use the graywolfmail@fws.gov email address, or phone 612-713-7337. A final decision is likely in July 2001. All comments on the proposal should be sent to graywolfcomments@fws.gov or by mail to: Content Analysis Team, Wolf Comments, 200 East Broadway, P.O. Box 7669, Room 301, Missoula, MT 59807.

National Reclassification Public Hearings

A hearing was held in Helena, MT on Oct. 18th at Cavanaugh’s Colonial Inn-Best Western. About 50 people attended and 29 gave testimony. A hearing was held in Spokane, WA on the 17th. Thirteen people gave testimony. A hearing was held in Everett, WA on the 19th. All the hearings have been well covered by TV and print media. Nearly all comments have opposed the Service’s proposal. Comments are promoting more federal protection under the ESA, and more wolves in more places. There is also strong mistrust of the ability of the western state’s Wildlife Management agencies ability to conserve wolves in the face of the anti-wolf sentiments coming out of the state and local political governments.

The hearing in Denver (Lakewood), CO will be held on October 26th at the Holiday Inn at Hampden.

Other hearings will also be held in Portland, OR on Oct. 24th; LaGrande, OR on Oct. 26; Boise, ID on Oct. 31 (Halloween); and Idaho Falls, ID on November 2.

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