Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 5/18/01

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 5/11-5/18, 2001

Monitoring

It appears as if there could be close to 18 groups of wolves denning in the Yellowstone area, including Mollie’s pack, which was a bit of a surprise. The Nez Perce Tribe is checking on the potential denning activity of up to 20 wolf groups in Idaho. In NW Montana we are checking on the denning status of 13 wolf groups. Wolf numbers, denning activity, and breeding pairs appear higher than ever but it will take intensive field work throughout the summer to document pup production and survival. It is almost ceratin that 2001 will be the first year of the 3 year count toward delistng. If another 2 breeding pairs from 2000 are documented (which is likely), this year (2001) will be the second year of that 3-year count down toward the recovery goal. Delisting is clearly on the horizon.

The relocated 5 Boulder wolves are still in 2 groups. The yearling male was west of Olney, MT and the 4 females (together again) were by Star Meadow just to the south. The former Boulder pack members seem to know where each other are and appear to be working their way up the east side of Koocanusa Res.

A wolf was accidently captured by a rancher in a leg-hold trap near Salmon. The rancher had set the trap after losing several calves in his pasture near town, suspecting the losses were caused by domestic dogs. The wolf capture was reported immediately and it was relocated about 20 miles away from the area.

A dispersing wolf from Yellowstone, #155 was located in the West Fork of the Madison River. She will be monitored closely for the next few weeks to determine if she has denned.

 

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

Fontaine and Asher spent the weekend of the 12th tracking the radioed Gravelly male and looking for other wolf sign, particularly denning activity. No sign of a den was detected despite extensive searching. The radio-collared male in the Gravelly pack was moved out of his usual haunt by all the antler-hunter activity with the opening of the Black Butte Wildlife Management area and disappeared for a few days. Hopefully he will eventually lead us to a den, if there is one. No den has been located so far and no further depredations have occurred. Traps were pulled on the 14th, because the antler-hunting season was opened but the situation is being monitored closely. On the 17th the radioed male was seen with another black wolf in the usual area.

The lone uncollared black wolf depredating near Pinedale, WY, that killed livestock on several occasions during the past year, was seen feeding on a fresh road-killed elk on the 15th. WS was contacted and they quickly set traps near the carcass. On the morning of the 16th, the wolf was captured and euthanized under the Service’s direction. We appreciate WS specialist Jed Edwards for responding so quickly and helping us out in what had been a very difficult issue to resolve. The lethal take permits issued to 2 local landowners were immediately canceled. The wolf’s pelt and skull will be used for educational purposes in WY.

A radioed wolf with 2 others was confirmed to have killed a calf and cow on a ranch near Clayton, ID on the 11th. An uncollared wolf was shot from a helicopter. The radioed male was always in or near the cattle and was shot from the ground later this week. He had an older still-healing severe injury under one front leg and this apparently explained why he continued to stay in that area. The situation is still being closely monitored. Other wolves continue to use the vicinity and RAG (radio activated guard) boxes are in use in some pastures, but not where the cattle were killed.

A RAG box was set up near a carcass dump at the Challis, ID landfill after a radioed wolf was documented feeding at that site. The monitor indicated the RAG box went off and monitoring could not locate the wolf in the immediate area. Over a week later it was located 50 miles from the garbage dump, indicating the RAG box "solved" this potential conflict. Thanks to the Montana rancher for thinking up this concept and to Wildlife Services and WS Research for making this device a field tool. It is important for everyone to remember this tool is only useful in areas where livestock are confined to fairly small areas, and the RAG boxes can only detect known radioed wolves.

Research

University of Idaho graduate student John Oakleaf received a substantial grant from a group of conservation organizations to help fund his GIS research and Master’s thesis on wolf habitat use versus selection in the northern Rocky Mountains. His project uses wolf location data gathered by the Service, Tribe, and Park Service in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and should be completed within a year.

University of Montana graduate student Liz Bradley and her advisor Dr. Dan Pletscher have been working on an MS project that will conduct a detailed analysis of all the wolf livestock depredation data in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. This project will take an in depth look at wolf/livestock conflicts and control methods since 1987.

 

Information and education and law enforcement

Bangs, Asher, and Phillips met with a class of about 20 college students from Colorado State University to discuss the Turner Endangered Species Fund conservation program and their role in wolf restoration efforts at the flying D ranch on the 17th. They also met with an NBC Nightly News crew to discuss the TESF involvement in wolf restoration, aversive conditioning, and to demonstrate different techniques, including shock collars, bean bags and crackers shells, and a RAG box. The TV footage should run during the week of the 21st.

Niemeyer met with an ABC TV crew on the 16th and 17th, to do interviews and search for wolf activity around the old Big Smokey pack territory. WS helped in the searches but no fresh activity was found.

 

Fontaine met with a ranch owner, his managers and guests near Ovando on the 17th. This was the owner’s branding day and he had about 25-30 people helping with the branding.

Bangs, Meier, and Phillips each completed short articles on wolf management zoning and livestock depredations, respectively, for a special issue of International Wolf Magazine.

Service law enforcement agents reported that wolf #24, the former alpha female of the Teton pack that died last fall near Jackson, WY, was illegally poisoned. The Service is offering a substantial reward for information regarding this illegal killing of a wolf that had never depredated on livestock, despite being around them for years. At least one other conservation group has offered an additional reward. The 30 breeding pair wolf recovery goal was not attained last year because of this type of illegal and unconscionable killing. Hopefully the kind of person who would conduct this type of activity can be brought to justice. Illegal wolf killing only prolongs wolf recovery and delisting, and does nothing but polarize public attitudes and promote conflict.

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. The 2000 annual report was completed and all hard copies were mailed this week. The report is available at http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/wolf/annualrpt00/ (The Service’s website with the 2000 annual report was affected by a fire in the regional office and by Chinese hackers. At present the text, tables, and some figures of the report are available in a pdf file that can be downloaded. A html version will be available soon.)

Contact: Ed Bangs (406)449-5225 x204 or Internet-ED_BANGS@FWS.GOV