Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 4/6/01

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 3/30-4/6, 2001

Monitoring

The 5 recently relocated Boulder wolves are all together and a few miles north of their release site along the west shore of Koocanusa Res. So far so good.

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

On the morning of the 31st of March, a rancher in the Paradise Valley called about 6-8 wolves laying near his cattle. Bangs and Turner ESF biologists happened to be in the area. TESF biologists Temple and a visiting Mexican wolf biologist investigated and found wolf #196 (2-yr-old Sheep Mtn. male held for aversive conditioning and then released) trying to join a group of wolves (7 were counted) near Mill Creek (near Chico Hot Springs). This group likely represents a uncounted breeding pair- making a total of 13 for the Yellowstone area in 2000. This group does not contain any radioed members. No depredations occurred but the wolves had visited the calving shed, causing the cattle to bunch up. The biologists approached to within about 150 m and then fired cracker shells at the wolves and drove them into the mountains. It was interesting that #196 was bedded 100 m away from the group and as they all started moving away a large wolf from the pack took out after #196 who fled. The chase went on for some time but #196 got away unharmed. The rancher also reported that #196 had been attempting to join the group but had been driven away previously. Bad weather on the 6th, did not allow a helicopter capture attempt in WY or this area.

On the 31st, Bangs and TESF biologist Bradley hiked into the 2000 Chief Joe den and filled it with moth balls, sticks and rocks. There was a fresh wolf track on top of the den but no wolf had ben in it recently. They also visited the 200 rendezvous sites and left moth balls and covered any potential dens. This was done in an attempt to prevent the Chief Joe pack from denning in the Cinnabar basin (and near all those livestock) in 2001. But the end of this week Chief Joe had left the area and was suspected to be back in the Park near the 1997-99 den site. A receiver was left with the local rancher on whose property the wolf denned in 2000, so he could monitor the Chief Joe pack’s radio signals and alert us if the pack appeared to be trying to den there this year. The female is expected to den within the next 2 weeks.

WS confirmed that 2 calves were killed on 2 separate ranches by a lone wolf that had been involved in previous livestock depredations (calves and sheep) west of Augusta, MT. Traps could not be set by the calf carcasses because of a spring snow storm. A kill order has been issued and this wolf will be shot at the first chance.

A lone wolf that has repeatedly killed sheep near Pinedale, WY returned to the ranch were previous depredations occurred. A kill order has been in place to try and removed this wolf when it is encountered by WS specialists working in the area.

Research

The information in the 3/30 weekly was mistaken regarding elk counts and numbers in the northern Yellowstone Range. A rough draft that was inaccurate that was mistakenly pasted into last week’s weekly report. Sorry, our error. This information was previously correctly reported in the 3/23 weekly and is reprinted below for clarification.

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.

With all the interest in wolf/ungulate relationships, I’m copying this an interesting section from the recently release Minnesota State Wolf Plan written by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife.

"Experience in Minnesota strongly suggests that, at a population level, wolves do not suppress (white-tailed) deer numbers. Recently, after the severe winters of 1995-96 and 1996-97, deer numbers in Minnesota’s wolf range were reduced 45-50%. However, deer harvest management changes resulted in a quick recovery to former deer population levels, despite high wolf numbers. Considering these recent events, it appears unlikely that wolves in Minnesota will suppress deer populations, unless an unprecedented combination of other factors were to cause catastrophic deer population reduction. For more than 20 years, Minnesota has successfully managed deer populations at levels that have provided increasing hunter harvests and ample prey for wolf recovery and persistence, despite variable winter conditions, highway collision losses, other predation, and other natural mortality factors. DNR expects that continuation of current deer management prescriptions will fully accomplish the goal of managing the ecological impacts of wolves on Minnesota’s deer population."

Information and education and law enforcement

The North American Wolf Conference was held at Chico Hot Springs, in Montana on April 3. Nearly 150 people attended. Dr. Rolf Peterson was the banquet speaker and gave a great talk on Rd Fox behavior (they basically can’t stand one another). The annual Wolf Education and Research Alpha Award was presented to Deb Guernsey and Dr. Doug Smith form the Yellowstone Park wolf program. Congratulations to 2 outstanding biologists who richly deserved this recognition. In addition veterinarian Dr. Mark Johnson hosted a wolf capture/handling workshop April 2 and 3rd. About 75 people attended that program. Capture and wolf handling experts from across North America presented information and gave demonstrations.

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