Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 2/02/01

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 1/20-2/02, 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 are being finalized and will be published in the 2000 annual report which should be out in February.

Currently, it appears that the estimated number of confirmed wolf breeding pairs in 2000 (25) 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 had been born. Also 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 2- 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 (the most recent observations only located the 2 adults), 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) were- Moyer Basin, Stanley, Whitecloud, Whitehawk, and Orphan. Additional information is being collected on packs that are possible breeding pairs for 2000.

Capture and radio-collaring efforts for packs inside Yellowstone National Park ended the week of the 19th. Service and Park biologists cooperated for the week long effort. Twenty-seven wolves were captured. Capture efforts for wolf packs surrounding the Park will continue but are much more complicated because of more forest cover, area closures for elk security and feeding, Wilderness, private land issues, and late season elk hunts. An effort to collar members of the Taylor Peak pack (if only 2 wolves are in the pack as the most recent observations indicate, additional collaring will not be attempted) and put a GPS collar in the Chief Joseph pack on the 22nd were unsuccessful. Both packs were in the Madison Valley but moved up into the trees and Wilderness before capture crews arrived. Both packs are still in the Madison Valley.

On the 29th, Service and Teton Park biologists darted 2 of the Teton pack’s 4 yearling members. The all black-colored group which lives just north of Jackson, WY, now has 3 radio-collars. The captured wolves were in great shape. The female was not in estrus and the male’s right eye was cloudy, and apparently blind from an old injury. High winds and the fact the Washakie pack was in the timber prevented an attempt to capture wolves from that pack that same day.

In a great wolf interest story- the remaining Teton wolf eluded capture by diving in a hole that was not known to have been used by these wolves as pups. When the group was first jumped, this wolf ran straight for a hillside ˝ mile away and disappeared. After we processed the 2 captured wolves, it suddenly showed back up and traveled over the top of the hill. As the helicopter moved in for a shot, it ran nearly 1/4 mile full speed over and down the hill into the hole again. The old den was so deep that Bangs couldn’t touch the wolf despite reaching in as far as he could with a 6-foot jab stick. It was too narrow for a person to crawl in. This is an interesting observation because the startled wolf apparently made a conscious decision to run to this very den when the helicopter first arrived. None of these wolves had been darted from a helicopter before. Tracks indicted the den had not been recently visited by wolves so this wolf just apparently remembered its location. Secondly this event was noteworthy because the wolf went into the den twice from some distance away and quickly recognized this den provided safety from aerial pursuit. There are occasional stories of wolves holding up in their old familiar dens, in shallow log jams or snow caves during aerial capture operations, but this was the first instance any of us had heard about where a wolf ran to a predetermined but marginally familiar hiding place.

On the 27th, a capture effort for 2 more members of the Boulder pack was unsuccessful. Thanks to MT FW&P and DOL pilots, Service, and TESF biologists for assisting in the effort. The wolves moved nearly 3 miles into timber before the helicopter arrived and could not be captured.

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.

Control

Neck snaring and trapping with Belise foot hold snares was attempted by Wildlife Services and the Service in the area where a lama was killed by 3 wolves on the 19th. Trapping was unsuccessful and efforts concluded on the 31st. Three wolves near the same area killed a deer out on a frozen lake late this week. If they can be drawn to other baits then capture efforts will be attempted again.

Research

On the 23rd, Service, Park and TESF biologists tried to dart members of the Nez Perce and Taylor Peak packs. Both were on the Sun Ranch in the Gallatin Valley. Unfortunately both groups moved into the timber before the helicopter arrived and no captures were made, but they have both remained in that area. GPS collars will be used in an attempt to measure kill rates by this pack on the hunted Gallatin elk herd that winters in that area. Additional capture will be attempted this winter.

Yellowstone National Park will begin its second year of elk capture, pregnancy testing and radio-collaring the week of February 5th, weather depending.

Service, Park Service, Nez Perce Tribe and University of Idaho cooperators held a conference call on the 1st to discuss having a graduate student use of wolf telemetry location data to develop a model of wolf habitat use. The project would identify the characteristics of areas wolves have selected to use to date and then predict what areas will likely be used by wolves or can successfully be occupied by wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains.

 

Information and education and law enforcement

Niemeyer attended a January 22 meeting in Clayton, Idaho, with area ranchers, Idaho Congressional staff, and representatives of the Idaho Cattle Association, Farm Bureau, Nez Perce Tribe, Wildlife Services and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to talk about the Idaho Wolf Recovery Program, wolf monitoring and wolf depredations on livestock. The meeting was cordial and provided an opportunity for livestock producers to express their concerns directly to agency representatives. Wildlife Services representatives demonstrated the use of the Remote Automated Guard (RAG) box and Non-Lethal-Munitions. The RAG box is a scare device that can be placed near livestock and is activated (sounds of machine guns, galloping horses, interstate traffic, broken glass, etc.) by a radio collar on an approaching wolf. Non-Lethal-Munitions are a small one ounce bag of #9 shot loaded in a 12-gauge shotshell that can be propelled from a shotgun to strike and frighten a wolf without causing harm. Idaho ranchers fear that wolf numbers are increasing at an alarming rate and that wolves will never be delisted in our lifetime. Outreach meetings of this nature are essential in maintaining communications between agricultural interests and government agencies managing controversial species like the wolf.

Israeli wolf biologist Dror Pevzner visited Tom Meir during the week of the 22nd. They also visited Helena and Yellowstone National Park while Dror was in the U.S. Tom went to Israel several years ago to learn about their program. Over 100 wolves live in northern Israel, most in the Golan Heights. Cattle producers are provided guard dogs or fencing for calving pastures by the government to reduce conflicts with livestock. While both methods are effective, an average of about 10 wolves a year is still removed because of livestock conflicts.

CALL FOR PAPERS- ANNUAL North American Wolf Conference. Chico Hot Springs, April 3, 1PM until noon, April 5. Contact Joe Fontaine at 406-449-5225 x206 joseph_fontaine@fws.gov with presentation proposals and abstracts. Information about the conference or to register can be viewed at www09.tierranet.com/forwolves.org/confer2001.html or contact Suzanne Laverty at 208-424-9385. In addition Dr. Mark Johnson is hosting a wolf field technique workshop Monday, April 2 and Tuesday, April 3. For a draft agenda contact information@gomontan.com

Dr. Douglas Smith et al. published "Wolf-Bison interactions in Yellowstone National Park in the J. Mammalogy 81(4):1128-1135, 2000.

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