Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 3/23/01

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 3/16-3/23, 2001

Monitoring

Approximately 30 wolves, collared in the last 4 years in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, are missing from their packs and are unaccounted for. Two high elevation flights were conducted over northwestern Montana in the last week, and one missing wolf was found. A 3-year-old female wolf from the Grave Creek pack, missing since summer 2000, was found in a pack of 4 wolves northeast of Eureka, MT. Of the two times the pack was located this week, they were found once the US side of the border, and once on the Canadian side.

The Whitefish pack (NW MT) has again entered Glacier National Park and they are probably going to den there this year, rather than in the Stillwater River Valley where they denned last year. It is likely that 3 packs will be denning on the west side of Glacier Park this summer.

On 3/23/01 Leopold wolf #148 was found dead along a road in Paradise Valley north of Yellowstone National Park. Initial observations suggest cause of death may have been a vehicle strike but a full necropsy is being conducted by LE. The black female would have been 3 this April. She was with the pack until a month ago and had been located in the Park until last week. She hadn’t been located since.

Please report wolf sightings!! Thanks to those who have been forwarding us reports it has helped located several potential new packs. When we are this close to reaching the 30 breeding pair recovery goal, each wolf pack becomes very important.

Control

The alpha female from the disbanded Stanley pack (B23) killed and fed on a calf near Mackay, Idaho on the morning of the 16th. That pack had been involved in livestock depredations the previous year but had split up in late 2000 and several pack members had been traveling alone. WS confirmed she acted alone (radio signals and fresh tracks in the snow) and WS was authorized by the Service to take her ASAP. She was shot from the ground early that afternoon.

On the morning of the 19th, a rancher in central Idaho heard his cattle being disturbed and when he investigated he saw 4 members of the White Hawk pack killing a newborn calf on his private property. Previously several remote activated guard (RAG), light and siren, devices were placed on the property because this pack had been frequenting the area. It is unknown if the devices were triggered by the wolf's collar but the RAG counters will be checked. The landowner shot a 2 year-old male and the others just stood their ground. He didn't shoot again even though he could have and finally just scared the wolves off. The wolf and calf were left and covered with a tarp. Niemeyer and Service LE, were immediately contacted and investigated that afternoon. Niemeyer said "Evidence revealed that this was a classic wolf depredation incident, and that the property owner had every legal right to act as he did." No agency control is planned unless other livestock are killed but the situation will be closely monitored. This is the 3rd time since 1995 (twice in Idaho and once in the Yellowstone area) that a wolf that was attacking livestock on private land has been legally killed by the landowner.

There has been much positive feedback from livestock producers in Idaho that the professional and by-the-rules manner in which these two most recent livestock depredation conflicts were handled gave them faith that, as promised, livestock depredations would be dealt with promptly and fairly. A few wolf advocates were not so assured and thought the rules favored livestock producers over wolves far too much.

Research

The Yellowstone intensive 30 day spring wolf predation study is ongoing. With the overall mild winter it appears that predation rates are lower than usual. There does seem to be a trend that more mature bulls are being taken than normal. We speculate the extreme drought conditions resulted in poor forage quality last year that did not allow bulls to adequately replenish their body reserves after the rut. Now, even after a mild winter, many bulls are in very poor condition making them vulnerable to predation.

The winter count of the northern Range Yellowstone elk herd were compiled by Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Yellowstone National Park biologists. The 2000 Gardiner late hunt elk harvest was slightly above average with 90 bulls, 915 cows and 216 calves (total 1221) being harvested. The average harvest since 1976 is 1094 elk. Hunter success was 63% compared to the long term average of 65%. The total elk estimate was 13,400, with the average estimate being 13,890. Early indications are that calf numbers are up this year. Basically the elk herd recovered from a recent low of just over 11,000 plus elk after the big winter die off and subsequent high hunter harvest in 1997 (about 2,400 elk were harvest that year), to about 14,000 plus elk today. Since last year when the research program that placed radios on about 73 elk (45 in 2000 and 28 this year),12 have died as of this week. Two have been killed by mountain lions and 5 by wolves (most of those just within the past few weeks). Of 9 radio-collared elk that left Yellowstone Park in winter 2000/2001 six were killed by hunters north of the Park. Basically the information to date indicates that the elk population and late-season elk hunting have not been noticeably affected by wolf predation other than old cows seem to be taken out of the population by wolves.

Information and education and law enforcement

Bangs and Smith answered questions and talked to about 2 dozen environmental graduate and instructors in Gardiner, MT on the 20th. The group was part of a college class from Antioch College in New Hampshire that were in Yellowstone observing and studying wolves.

Smith also gave talks to a Defenders group of 35 and an International Wolf group of 15.

Fontaine met with Forest Service biologists in Missoula on the 19th to review the status of wolves in NW MT.

Niemeyer and Mack met with various agency and special interest groups in Ketchum, ID on the 20th. The Ketchum meeting was held to improve communications between the Federal agencies, the Nez Perce Tribe, representatives of the Boulder-White Cloud Council, and other concerned citizens about contrasting values of livestock and wolves within the Sawtooth National Resource area. Wolf advocacy groups, livestock producers, Forest Service, Service, and the Tribe identified issues that could help alleviate wolf/livestock conflicts, however considerable disagreement is evident. This meeting of about 25 people improved communications.

CALL FOR PAPERS- ANNUAL North American Wolf Conference. Chico Hot Springs, April 3, 1PM until noon, April 5. Contact Joe Fontaine 406-449-5225 x206 joe_fontaine@fws.gov with presentation proposals. For more conference information contact Suzanne Laverty 208-424-9385. In addition veterinarian Dr. Mark Johnson is hosting a wolf capture/handling workshop Monday April 2 and Tuesday April 3. For a proposed agenda contact information@gomontan.com

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