Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 12/08/00

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 11/13-12/8, 2000

Monitoring

Packs in the Yellowstone, central Idaho, and NW Montana are moving throughout their home ranges. See the 1999 annual report http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/wolf/annualrpt99/ for a map of those pack locations and home ranges. New pack home ranges will be published in the 2000 annual report which should be out by February 1, 2001.

Breeding Pair update: The latest potential numbers of packs with pups indicate that there 27 breeding pairs in the northern Rocky Mountains (estimated min. of 398 wolves). Year 2000 will likely not be the first year of the 3-year count down toward delisting, although subsequent monitoring could find additional packs that would have existed in year 2000 and would have met the definition of breeding pair. That type of information is possible to discern from wolf pack structure and could alter the "start" year toward delisting. The "official" count will be made on December 31. As predicted, the loss of some adults this fall, primarily because of wolf control (relocation and lethal removal), suspected illegal killing, and loss of pups this summer (likely disease) is the reason that the number of wolves and breeding pairs declined from earlier estimates. It appears that control this summer and illegal killing this fall were the primary reasons that year 2000 is not the first year of the 3-year count down toward delisting. If you have any information regarding illegally killing of wolves please report that information to the nearest USFWS Special Agent or USDA Wildlife Services, USDA Forest Service, State Department of Fish and Game, or Tribal Warden. Illegal killing of wolves, keeps them on the Endangered Species list longer so help do your part to recover and delist wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains by reporting suspected violations.

The tentative counts are as follows: NW Montana (estimated minimum 71 wolves)- 7 probable breeding pair and 4 maybe/likely- included as breeding pairs are- Camas (4 adult + 3 pup), Whitefish (5a+5p), Murphy Lake (5a+5p), Ninemile ((5a +5p), Spotted Bear (4a + 4p), Boulder (5a +6p), Graves Creek (5a + 2+p), and maybe/likely are the Little Wolf, Danaher, and Alice Creek packs. Little Wolf, Danaher, Boulder, and Alice Creek are uncollared packs which we will try and get radios in this winter. There are sporadic but consistent reports of 3 wolves in the Thompson Falls drainage.

In the Yellowstone Experimental Area (estimated min. of 140)- 11 probable breeding pair, 2 maybe/likely, and 3 no. Yes are- Druid (7a + 20p), Rose (16a + 11p), Leopold (3-5a + 8-10p), Chief Joe (6a +6p), Nez Perce (14a +8p), Soda Butte (6a +7p), Gros Ventre (7-8a + 3-4p), Sunlight Basin (6a +4p), Absorka (#153) (2a +3-5p), #152 group (2a +5p), and Taylor Peaks (#115 Group) (est. of 3a + 4p). Maybe/likely is Beartooth (#9) and Wall Creek/Gravelly packs (uncollared). Packs that didn't breed are Crystal, Sheep Mtn. (3 males), and Teton. Recent observations by local ranchers suggest there may be a pack of up to 7 wolves north of the Sheep Mountain territory in the Paradise Valley.

In the central Idaho Experimental Area (estimated min. of 187 wolves)-16 groups bred (but several now have only 1 pup confirmed or have had one or more breeding adult killed by people so they do not count as breeding pairs) At the current time there are only 8 breeding pairs in central Idaho. Wolf groups that produced pups are: Selway (4 pups), Kelly (2p), Chamberlin (6p), Thunder Mtn. (3p), Landmark (8p), Jureano (4p), Moyer (5p), Stanley (7p but pack has apparently broken up and is now widely dispersed), Orphan (1p), Wildhorse (1p), Big Smokey (6p), White Cloud (2p), Marble Mtn. (2+p), Chamberlin #2 (female from the Chamberlin pack with pups but separate from the pack) (2p), Whitehawk (1p), and B36 (relocated White Cloud female) which has traveled into the Big Hole in southwestern Montana (2p). 1 maybe/likely- The Mt. Hagggin pair (relocated Twin Peaks wolves) are believed to have pups but ground searches was unsuccessful at counting them. Reports during the hunting season indicated no pups and both adults have since disappeared. Some of the pup counts were made in early summer so some are probably high while others maybe incomplete and low.

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.

This winter National Park Service, Service, Nez Perce Tribal biologists will cooperatively helicopter dart wolves in packs throughout the 3 states in an effort to increase radio-collaring and monitoring of wolves. Capture efforts will start in December, depending on weather and intensify in January. In addition, use of draw baits and neck snares with safety locks will be used opportunistically to place radios in several uncollared new packs.

 

Control

WS investigated a report of 3 adult sheep being killed and 2-3 others being wounded near Deer Lodge, MT. No control was attempted but the situation is being monitored. This week a report of cattle in that area was investigated and domestic dogs were involved rather than wolves.

The ranch that hosts the Boulder Creek pack, southwest of Helena, MT, reported they ended up 45 head short, compared to normal losses of 15-25 calves. The cattle were not monitored closely this summer because of the widespread forest fires and land closures. At least 2 calves were confirmed killed by the Boulder pack (11 wolves) this fall. We will try and radio members of this pack this winter and if possible reduce pack size before cattle are put back on this private ranch in spring, as a pro-active attempt to reduce the chances for further depredations.

A similar pro-active relocation project is being planned for 3-4 wolves that have recently settled in the Big Hole Valley of Montana. Previously 2 different sets of wolves in that area began to depredated on livestock because most elk and deer winter elsewhere. Discussions are ongoing between Wildlife Services, Forest Service, State Wildlife agencies, and Tribal representatives in Idaho and Montana to identify potential hard release sites, most likely in northern Idaho and/or northwestern Montana. The guidelines to date have recommended that the recovery area with the fewest breeding pairs serve as the release site for relocated wolves. Wolves from NW MT were moved to Yellowstone in 1996 and to central Idaho in 1997, and wolves from central Idaho were moved into NW MT in 1999 using that same logic. The criteria for hard release sites are: at least 60 or so miles from areas where the relocated wolves have been before, no resident packs, areas that have been occasionally visited by lone dispersing wolves, few livestock, abundant natural prey- preferably white-tailed deer, and relatively secure from high levels of human activity. Hard released wolves will not stay where released and will likely move 15-50 miles in the general direction of "home". As soon as a decision can be made about the relocation the local resource agencies and the public will be notified as to the Service’s intentions.

Research

The first "training" program of wolves to avoid cattle as prey ended on December 5th when the 3 Sheep Mountain wolves were released back in their old territory. The program was 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). Local ranchers and other resource agencies were called and invited to the release. A dozen or so ranchers showed up as well as a Livingston newspaper reporter and photographer and a CNN cameraman. After a half hour or so of serious discussion and some picture taking, the wolves were released near Daly Lake. One of the ranchers owned the property and said you might as well release them here- so we did. Everyone visited for another hour and the ranchers voiced their strong concerns about wolves in that area, most wondered if wolves could ever live in that area without attacking livestock. The next day all 3 wolves were at their old rendezvous site near Dome Mountain and on Thursday they were together at their old 1999 den site at Cedar Creek. They are apparently going to the sites within their territory that they are most familiar and comfortable with, probably looking for other pack members. Local ranchers and agency folks were called about the wolves’ locations. The wolves will be monitored daily as weather permits, until Dec. 15, then weekly. If they prey on livestock again, they will be killed.

Winter predation study continues in Yellowstone National Park through the 15th of December.

Dr. Fritts completed the final draft of his manuscript "Outcomes of hard and soft releases in the restoration of wolves to central Idaho and the greater Yellowstone area". It will be published as part of a book "Large mammal restoration in North America", published by Island Press within the next year or so. Mack, Smith, Murphy, Phillips, Jimenez, Bangs, Fontaine, Niemeyer, Brewster, and Kaminski were co-authors and helped with last minute review.

 

Information and education and law enforcement

Bangs traveled to Washington D.C. on December 1 to look over initial public and peer review comment on the proposed National Reclassification of gray wolves.

 

Niemeyer and Wildlife Services personnel spoke to about 30 members of the Idaho Woolgrowers at their annual meeting on Nov. 11.

Several members of the wolf recovery program gave presentations at the Defenders of Wildlife Carnivore 2000 Conference in Denver, CO Nov. 11-15. Between 550-600 people attended. Talks on predator management, resolving livestock conflicts and a host of other issues dealing with predators were presented. It was an excellent overview of the various programs dealing with large predators and their management throughout the world. Abstract were published in the Conference Proceedings.

The second annual interagency wolf working group meeting was held in Helena on November 28th. Thanks to everyone for their participation. Meeting minutes should be completed by next Friday and will be attached to the next weekly.

Doug Smith spoke to about 60 students in the Bozeman High School biology class in late November.

Jimenez talked on the 6th in Jackson, to a meeting of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

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