Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 12/15/00

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 12/8-12/15, 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 are 26 breeding pairs in the northern Rocky Mountains (estimate 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 to protect livestock this spring and summer and illegal killing this fall were the primary reasons that year 2000 will probably not be the first year of the 3-year count down toward delisting. As usual, pack counts get steadily smaller as fall/winter progresses because wolf mortality and dispersal that occurred during the summer and fall isn’t noticed until there is good snow cover in early winter.

Wolves B-96 and B-57 of the Idaho Smoky Mountain pack in Idaho were found dead and are under investigation. The Service and Defenders of Wildlife have each offered $2,000 for the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible. The Mtn. Haggin pair is still missing. We are also intensifying monitoring efforts because of the recent disappearance of the Murphy Lake alpha female, and the suspected death of a Spotted Bear wolf. The Spotted Bear yearling female was the one that had been seen at the Spotted Bear Ranger Station and was subsequently harassed with cracker and bean bag rounds this fall. In addition the deaths of 2 WY wolves, one near Jackson and another near Cokeville are under investigation.

If you have any information regarding the 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 Wardens. Illegal killing of wolves, keeps them on the Endangered Species list longer so please do your part to recover and delist wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains by reporting suspected violations. If you find a dead wolf, mark the location but do not disturb the carcass or site. Immediately notify the nearest USFWS agent, FWS office, or us (406)449-5225 x204 or 206.

The tentative wolf counts are: NW Montana (estimate of 70 wolves)- 6-7 probable breeding pair and 2 maybe/likely- included as breeding pairs are- Camas (4 adult + 3 pup), Whitefish (3a+3p), Murphy Lake (5a+5p), Ninemile ((5a +5p), Spotted Bear (3a + 4p), Boulder (5a +6p), Graves Creek (3a + 2p, but only 3 wolves seen during last good visual), and maybe/likely are the Little Wolf and Danaher. Do to lack of wolf sign in the late fall it is not known if the potential "Alice Creek" pack either no longer exists or was never really a pack and might have been just an individual or two. Little Wolf, Danaher, and Boulder are uncollared packs that we will try and get radios in this winter. There are consistent reports of 3 wolves in the Thompson Falls drainage and scattered reports of 2 small groups of wolves up 2 major drainages on the East Rocky Mountain Front in NW MT. Tracks of 3 wolves were confirmed NW of Anaconda, MT and the area will be searched for missing radios. Fontaine checked out a report of 4 wolf tracks on a fresh elk carcass near Elliston, MT on the 15th. A lion had made the kill but reports indicated wolves had apparently visited the site. This is probably not the Boulder pack.

In the Yellowstone Experimental Area (estimated 140 wolves)- 11 probable breeding pair, 1 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 (3-4a + 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 the Wall Creek/Gravelly pack (uncollared). Packs that didn't breed are Crystal, Sheep Mtn. (3 males), Teton, and probably Beartooth (#9). 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. Telemetry monitoring of the released Sheep Mnt. Trio should sort that out quickly. Initial snow tracking by volunteers in WY indicates that the Beartooth pack (famous old #9 and her mate) did not successfully raise young this year and only 2 sets of tracks have been seen.

In the central Idaho Experimental Area (estimated 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 toward delisting). 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) was suspected to have had pups but ground searches were unsuccessful at counting them. Reports during the hunting season indicated no pups and both adults have since disappeared. Some 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 starting in January. In addition, use of a draw bait and neck snares with safety locks will be used opportunistically to place radios in several uncollared new packs.

 

Control

A wolf that has been killing sheep near Soda Springs, ID for the past year was finally caught by WS in late November in a non-lethal neck snare. The animal was euthanized and sent to the Service’s Forensic Lab in Ashland, OR., so that its origin may be established.

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. If possible we will reduce pack size by relocation before cattle are put back on this private ranch in spring, as a pro-active attempt to reduce the chances for further depredations.

Turner Endangered Species Fund biologists Val Asher, Liz Bradley and Larry Temple met with a sheep rancher in Tom Miner Basin to help wrap up this summer’s fencing project. They also have been searching from the ground for the Sheep Mtn. Trio. and cut tracks by the Yellowstone River on the 13th. They are also making contact with local residents. Temple looked for tracks in the Gravelly Range on the 14th but most access was blocked by snow drifts. He did pick up a signal from #115 on the Sun River Ranch. The Service is using TESF biologists to help monitor wolves and conduct basic field work north and west of Yellowstone National Park. We appreciate their help.

A similar pro-active relocation project is being planned for 3-4 wolves that have recently been located in the Big Hole Valley of Montana. Previously 2 different sets of wolves in that area began to depredated on livestock in the spring 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 probably will not stay where released and will likely move several miles in the general direction of "home". As soon as a decision can be made local resource agencies and the public will be notified as to the Service’s intentions. Bad weather has postponed any capture attempts until at least next week.

On the afternoon of the 27th, Service biologists, Bangs, Fontaine, Meier, and Jimenez and MT DFW&P biologist Sime for a presentation by Carrie Hunt (The Partners in Life Program) on her use of aversive conditioning, including Karelian Bear Dogs. MTDFW&P bear specialist Tim Manley also participated. Carrie’s group is contracted with MT DWF&P to "condition" bears to avoid humans and buildings. This program has been successful and has greatly reduced the number of bears that have to be destroyed because of conflicts with people.

This summer/fall sheep producers north of Pinedale, WY that reported several sheep killed by a lone black wolf. The Service asked WS to remove the animal if they had the chance at that time. No wolf was removed and the problem seemed to have gone away. A producer occasionally saw a lone black canid late this fall but other than "playing" with his dog it wasn’t causing any problems and he didn’t really mind it being around. This week he reported finding several sheep that had been attacked with wolf tracks nearby. WS is investigated and confirmed the attacks were caused by a lone wolf-like canid. The Service has asked WS to try kill the animal.

Research

Winter predation study ended in Yellowstone National Park on the 15th of December. The volunteers are through for this season- a BIG THANKS to Robert Buchwald, Susan Chin, Rachel Gray, Ky Koitzsch, McNeil Lyons, Julie Nelson, Melissa Peer, and Charles Totten. This winter was much like previous ones. Wolf packs under 20 wolves killed an elk about every 3 days, the 2 packs over 20 had slightly higher kill rates. There was a recent interaction with Druid mixing it up with 3 Rose Creek wolves, no mortalities on either side. Of the 45 adult female elk radio-collared last March one was immediately killed by a lion and its death was considered capture related. The only one that has died was also from lion predation. Radioed elk have moved to winter ranges. More adult female elk will be collared this winter.

The Sheep Mountain trio was released on the 5th. They have stayed together and been located at their old den site, rendezvous site, and west of Highway 89, in the eastern part of their old home range. They will be monitored weekly after this week, although the Turner ESF team may attempt some ground tracking to evaluate its effectiveness. Local ranchers in the Sheep Mnt. Territory will continue to be contacted about the wolves’ locations.

Information and education and law enforcement

Jimenez talked about 70-80 people on the 6th in Jackson, to a meeting of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. He also gave a talk to about 30 biologists at the WY Wildlife Society meeting in Dubois, WY. On the 12th, he talked with 25-30 sled drivers and interpretative specialists at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, WY.

Smith gave a talk to about 40 of the concessionaire winter sled coach drivers on December 8.

Bangs met with Sierra Club representatives and Attorneys from Earthjustice on the 12th in Bozeman to discuss their concerns related to their 60-day Notice of Intent to sue over wolf control issues in northwestern Montana. They are concerned options other than lethal control are not being evaluated or used. Regional Solicitor Margot Zallen participated by phone.

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