Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 9/21/01

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 9/14-9/21, 2001

Monitoring

Thirty breeding pair recovery goal was met in 2000. Wildlife Services and the Nez Perce Tribe confirmed that the Gold Fork pack, 10-15 miles south of McCall, ID contains at least 2 yearlings. The pack was discovered by WS after an August 27 sheep depredation in that area. WS was able to confirm an uncollared wolf pack was responsible. WS trapped a yearling male and the alpha male that were collared and released on Sept. 4. The Tribe observed another yearling in the pack last week. Gold Fork counts as another confirmed breeding pair in 2000. Earlier this year the Gravelly pack was confirmed as the 29th breeding pair in 2000. (See http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/wolf/annualrpt00/ for a list of the other 28 breeding pairs confirmed in 2000). We now have confirmed that in 2000 there were 30 breeding pairs of wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, making last year the first year of the 3-year count down toward achieving the 30 breeding pair recovery. This year 2001, will be the second year of the 3-year count down to meeting the delisting criteria of 30 breeding pairs distributed throughout Montana. Idaho and Wyoming for 3 successive years. If the wolf population remains at or above 30 breeding pair this year and in 2002 (which is highly likely)- the wolf recovery goal will be met December 31, 2002. The delisting process, including extensive public involvement, could be proposed in early 2003, assuming all 3 state wolf conservation plans are in place. Thanks to WS (Mike Svedin, Justin Mann, and Rick Williamson) and the Nez Perce Tribal biologists for continuing great work and follow-up. This story was picked up and widely publicized by the news media during this past week.

To make the names of several packs in Northwestern Montana consistent with local landmarks in their territory, we are changing some pack names. We apologize for the confusion but it will allow everyone to get a better idea on where the packs are and make it easier for us. Change: Boulder to Castle Rock, North Camas to Kintla, South Camas to Apgar, Sun River to Gates Park. The new pack just east of the Fish Creek pack will be the Lupine pack. Thanks for your patience.

Asher and Chavez rode into the Bob Marshall Wilderness (Gates Park) with the assistance of a Forest Service pack string trying to put a collar in the Gates Park (formerly Sun River) pack. There have been sightings of a pair and 5-6 pups throughout this summer.

All wolf packs appear to be in their normal home ranges with the exception of the Taylor Peak pack. The female was in the Snowcrest Range on the 14th and then just south of Virginia City on the 18th, far outside her normal range. The pack’s 2 radioed males were in the Taylor Fork area on the Gallatin side. Normally there is very little movement and activity this time of year with the packs localized around the rendezvous sites.

Control

Another lamb was killed by a black wolf in the Gravelly range. Previous radio locations of known wolves near this area and observations by the herder indicate the wolf is apparently uncollared but may be with another wolf. WS was already authorized to shoot any uncollared wolf seen in the sheep and any wolf seen attacking sheep. They were also authorized to shoot any black uncollared wolf within 3-4 miles of the sheep band, if it was encountered while the WS aircraft was in the area doing coyote control. The producer already has a permit to shoot any wolf seen actually attacking his livestock on this public grazing allotment.

In Wyoming it has been a busy week. In two different incidents, calves were killed on a Forest Service allotment near Jackson, WY but in both cases, the investigation revealed that grizzly bears were the responsible predator. A fresh calf carcass was found on the Diamond G Ranch and members of the Washakie pack were documented to be feeding on it. The WS investigation on 9/20 revealed that the calf appeared healthy but its wounds did not indicate wolf predation was the likely cause of death. WS is investigating further before any decisions about wolf control are made. If WS concludes that wolves were probably responsible, some pack members (likely 1-2 yearlings) will be lethally removed.

The Absaroka pack (west of Cody, WY) killed another calf (the 7th so far this year) and control actions are continuing. Initially harassment by biologists using cracker shells was used to move the pack from the Forest Service allotment where the first depredations occurred. Unfortunately the pack moved to private property and killed a calf there. The pack consists of 2 adults, 3 yearlings and 4 pups. A pup was captured, collared, and released on site on the 20th. Trapping to lethally remove 1-3 yearlings is continuing and aerial gunning may be used if the pack becomes vulnerable.

Research

Interagency research on wolf and elk relationships in Montana continues to progress. The Yellowstone National Park led research on the Northern Yellowstone Elk herd is ongoing. Two graduate students are working on their MS degrees by following radio-collared elk. About 65 were collared last winter and more will be collared this February. Currently 53 are being monitored. To date 17 have died (6-hunter [out of 9 that left the Park during the winter cow hunts], 5- wolf, 2 cougar, and 4 unknown). The two PhD studies on wolves and the Madison and Gallatin Valley elk herds are being led by Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Montana State University. Those studies also hope to radio-collar some elk and then compare elk movements and herd composition with movement and kill data from radioed wolf packs, including Chief Joe, Taylor Peak, and possibly Freezeout and Cougar packs. These studies should provide accurate information about the potential affects of wolf predation on elk herds, some heavily harvested by hunters.

 

On the 14th, Bangs traveled to Bozeman, MT as part of a group initiated by the Defenders of Wildlife that is assisting to develop a research program on ways to improve compensation programs for damage caused by wildlife, including wolves. Representatives are included from universities, state agencies, conservation groups, livestock producers, and federal agencies. The University of Montana will conduct the 3-part research project. The first part will involve interviewing livestock producers in a few communities in MT, ID, and WY. The second part will consist of mailing questionnaire’s to livestock producers in several other communities. Lastly, a more general questionnaire (how should compensations programs be funded, what should they address, etc) will be mailed to the general public in the 3 states. Anyone interested in learning more about this research or becoming a cooperator can leave their email address with Ed Bangs (see contacts # below) and they will be forwarded an executive summary with specific contact information.

Information and education and law enforcement

Dr, John Shivik (Wildlife Services) attended the Canid Biology and Conservation Conference Sept 17-21 in Oxford England. Dr. Shivik presented a multi-author paper on behalf of the interagency wolf recovery program in MT, ID and WY entitled "Gray Wolf Restoration in the northwestern United States. Diane Boyd also attended and presented a poster on wolf habituation in North America. A book will be published from the Conference Proceedings. The agenda may be obtained at canid.confernece@zoo.ox.ac.uk

On the 21ts, Bangs participated in a meeting in Helena with the Montana Governor, a Montana state representative, the Friends of the Northern Range Elk Herd, and Montana FWP Chief of Staff Chris Smith to discuss the concerns of the FNREH about wolf delisting and wolf predation on elk.

The Service's weekly wolf report can now be viewed at the Service's Region 6 web site at http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/wolf in addition to the regular distribution.

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