Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 1/19/01

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 1/05-1/19, 2001

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. The annual "official" count of wolf breeding pairs and new pack home ranges will be published in the 2000 annual report which should be out by February 1, 2001.

Currently, it appears that the estimated number of confirmed wolf breeding pairs in 2000 (25 plus) will fall just shy of the 30 breeding pair goal. Wolf packs/groups not counted as breeding pairs either did not produce 2 pups that survived until December 31 or had adult breeding pack members killed after pups were born. Please remember that the estimates are just that, and as is typical with most wildlife population estimates, the confidence intervals are often at best plus or minus 20%, depending on terrain, vegetation, and monitoring intensity.

Tentative counts in NW Montana are 63 wolves, in up to 12 possible groups and at least 5 breeding pairs (Boulder, Murphy Lake, Ninemile, North Camas, and Little Wolf (recent reports of 5 in this group) and Whitefish- Graves Creek and Danaher are still possibilities. Unconfirmed packs/groups without pups include- Spotted Bear (only the 2 alphas remain together and only one yearling has been located and it is by itself). South Camas (now a pair), Thompson River (reports of 2-3- no radios), Badger Creek (reports of 5- no radios), N. Fork of the Sun River (reports of 3- no radios), the uncollared pair that killed the 2 heifers north of Browning, MT, and recent reports of up to 7 wolves (one black) just east of Boulder pack territory. In the Greater Yellowstone area there were 164 wolves in 16 groups (mean pack size was 9) and at least 11 breeding pairs (Druid, Rose, Leopold, Nez Perce, Chief Joe, Absaroka, Gros Ventre, Sunlight, Yellowstone Delta [formerly Soda Butte], Taylor’s Peak, and Swan Lake (152 group) and Beartooth [#9] is still likely. Packs/groups without pups include- Sheep Mountain, Mollie’s pack [formerly Crystal], Teton, and Washakie). In Idaho there are about 185 wolves, in 17 groups (15 produced pups), and at least 9 breeding pairs (Chamberlain Basin, Jureano Mountain, Kelly Creek, Landmark, Marble Mountain, Selway, Thunder Mountain, Wildhorse, and Wolf Fang, and possibly B50 from Chamberlain pack. Groups that were not counted as breeding pairs (no or only one pup survived or/and one or more breeding adults were killed by people) were- Moyer Basin, Stanley, Whitecloud, Whitehawk, and Orphan. Addition information is being collected on packs that are possible breeding pairs for 2000.

The former Crystal Pack in Yellowstone National Park was renamed Mollie’s pack in memory of former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Mollie Beattie. She was a strong supporter of the wolf recovery program. Secretary Babbitt made that announcement at his press conference in Yellowstone Park on the 13th.

The primary wolf relocation pilot for the Yellowstone project reported seeing 2 uncollared black wolves together on Spring Creek early this week, east of Dillon, MT. No known pack or individuals were in this area but this isn’t too far from where the Gravelly "pack" (uncollared) was reported this summer. Local residents were contacted about the sighting.

This week the 3 older Sheep Mountain wolves were separated but still within Paradise Valley. This is the first time since their release on December 5th that they have been separated. We speculate that all the human activity associated with the opening weekend of the late cow elk hunting program north of Yellowstone National Park and the upcoming breeding season was the likely cause. Posters reminding hunters that wolves were in the area and asking them to help by reporting wolf sightings was available at check stations.

Capture and radio collaring efforts began in Yellowstone National Park this week. Over a dozen wolves have been collared so far. A member of the Nez Perce pack was killed by the Swan Lake pack on the 18th, less than a mile from where it had just been collared.

Please report wolf sightings!! Signs were distributed asking hunters to report wolf observations. We have copies of these signs for any agency folks willing to post them at 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.

REMEMBER, because of the nature of wolf pack social structure, packs confirmed one year can result in additional breeding pairs being documented for the previous year. The example of this would be Boulder pack in NW Montana. Up to five adults were seen in summer 2000 (no radio collars in the pack) and 11 wolves were documented that fall. That meant that in 1999 Boulder pack successfully bred and raised at least 2 young in 1999 so it would be retroactively counted as a breeding pair in 1999.

Control

On the 11th, Fontaine saw the Boulder pack in the open and arranged a quick capture operation with help from USDA Wildlife Services. DOL pilot Tim Grafe and WS MT Western District Supervisor Dave Nelson did a great job and they quickly darted a male pup and a female pup. Both wolves were radio-collared and released on site. The pack of 11 was together the next day. A big THANKS!! to WS and DOL for quick action and a helping hand.

On the 16th, Fontaine arranged a cooperative capture effort by the Service, TESF, and MT DFW&P for the Boulder pack. Six wolves were captured. The alpha male was radioed and released on site. Five young wolves (4F and 1 M) were placed in the pen near Bozeman and if weather allows further research with dog training collars will be attempted. They and any other wolves captured from that pack, will be relocated to NW Montana in late February or March. Six wolves (3 radioed) remain in the pack.

 

Research

Fontaine and TESF biologist Val Asher met with University researchers, local MT FW&P managers Fred King and Kurt Alt, and local residents south of Ennis, MT to discuss study and capture plans for this winter on the Taylor Peak pack. GPS collars will be used in an attempt to measure kill rates by this pack on the hunted Gallatin elk herd.

Information and education and law enforcement

Bangs, Fontaine, and Asher attended a MT FW&P hunting regulation meeting in Bozeman on the 10th. They attended to meet local MT FW&P biologists and wardens and get a first hand look at how the state process for setting hunting seasons works. Many of the proposals this year included more hunting permits for female white-tailed deer and female elk in recognition of increasing populations and an attempt to limit game damage.

Bangs gave a presentation to the Bozeman Rotary Club on the 19th.

Bangs, Smith, Dominici participated in a 1/13 news conference in Yellowstone National Park that was led by Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt. Its focus highlighted the success of the wolf recovery program. The group went wolf watching after the early morning briefing to the Secretary and press.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement are hopeful that a reward of $10,000 will encourage the public to provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or person responsible for the killing of two gray wolves in Camas County, Idaho. Two males, including the alpha, from the Smokey Mountain pack were found dead in late November/early December. Service LE agents can be contacted at (208)378-5333.

CALL FOR PAPERS- ANNUAL Northern Rockies Wolf Meeting.

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