Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 11/9/01

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 11/02-11/16, 2001

Monitoring

A pack of 5-6 wolves has been repeatedly seen and photographed west of Meeteetse, WY. After discussions with local land managers, the pack will be called the Greybull River pack. The radio-collared gray near Jackson, WY has been alone since it was first collared this spring in the Gros Ventre pack territory. On the 15th it was seen traveling with a black wolf, likely its new mate.

A group of wolves has been frequently observed east of Ashton, ID, west of the WY border. Reports of up to 13 wolves, some with radio collars were reported by local livestock producers and hunters. The typical frenzy of concern took place, and included high local media interest. We immediately began checking out options and suspected it was the Nez Perce pack on an out-of-territory foray. Early last week they traveled into the Lamar Valley and got into a fight with the Druids resulting in 3 wolves being injured. They were found in their home range once but then couldn’t be located during 5 flights between the 8th and 14th. They apparently traveled farther south than they had ever been located. The recent observations near Ashton are in the same general area where a wolf pup was accidently killed a month ago in a snare set for coyotes. On the 15th a Park monitoring flight found 1 radio collared pack member in the Pelican Valley and 7 other pack members, including the alpha pair, in Hayden Valley. The Hayden and Pelican Valleys are part of the pack’s normal home range. Twelve pack members, 1 radioed, are still not accounted for. On the 16th, 17 Nez Perce wolves were observed by Old Faithful.

An interesting note, on the 15th the Druid pack couldn’t be located despite an extensive search in their normal territory. But on the 16th they (a group of 17, a group of 12, and scattered others) were back in the Lamar Valley. Some speculate that the drought condition, i.e., no snow and possibly poor forage condition have affected elk movements and groupings, and prime ungulate condition this time of year, and large pack size may be making it tough for these bigger packs (Nez Perce +20 and Druid up to 37) to feed themselves and they are exploring the area more. Since their movements are not limited in some directions (such as toward Ashton, ID) by neighboring packs, it is easy for them to take forays to new areas with little risk of territorial conflict. If nothing else, wolves make our lives more interesting because we get to wildly speculate about these types of natural ecological and social events.

See the 2000 annual report http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/wolf/annualrpt00/ for a map of pack locations and home ranges. The interagency 2001 annual report is being prepared and should be available in January 2002.

Please report wolf sightings!! If hunters report evidence of wolves to you please pass that information along to the Service.

Control

A group of wolves, probably Nez Perce pack, east of Ashton, ID killed a red-heeler cattle dog on the 7th. The dog was on private land (open farm land) and near a herd of yearling cattle. WS investigated and confirmed wolves were responsible. Rick Williamson (WS) and then Mike Jimenez met with local residents to explain the program on the 8th and 9th. Jimenez provided rubber bullet training to local ranchers on the 9th. The munitions and training could help harass the wolves, in hopes they avoid livestock and/or quickly return to their normal home range which is normally inside Yellowstone National Park. Two intensive searches for the wolves on the morning and evening of the 8th and subsequent flights through the 14th were unsuccessful at finding the Nez Perce pack. Wherever they went, most of them appear to have left the Ashton, ID area. On the 15th about one half of the Nez Perce pack was found back in its normal home range (see monitoring). We speculate they may have left the Ashton area, traveling east and then north along the Park’s south and east boundary, before going back into their home territory. Those were about the only areas that weren’t intensively searched by aircraft.

Livestock producers are shipping calves and getting final counts. Several producers in known wolf pack territories in WY reported higher numbers of missing livestock, around two to three times above normal. The main ranch in the territory of the Castle Rock (NW MT near Helena, MT) reported they were17 calves short, normally they are about 4-6 short. WS investigated one of their calves on the 7th, which had an old injury and from tooth marks and the location of the injuries, concluded it was attacked by a wolf(s). Last winter we relocated 5 pack members to NW MT as a preventive measure against further depredations by the Castle Rock pack this year. The Castle Rock pack (formerly Boulder) didn’t den this year and were not involved in any confirmed depredations other than one wounded calf. Another ranch along the MT/ID border that had suspected losses and higher than normal missing calves in the past, but no confirmed depredations, reported no problems this summer and was not missing any calves. They didn’t graze their most remote allotment where the Big Hole pack normally dens, but did graze allotments where the packs regularly traveled. The issue of missing livestock remains a very controversial issue and one that is very difficult to get accurate information about.

Research

The Yellowstone winter study began on the 15th. The study uses a highly trained and energetic volunteer field crew to locate wolf packs on the northern range every day by air (if possible) or ground to document kill rates. Every kill is visited after the wolves have left and the type of animal, condition, percentage carcass remaining, and other biological data are collected. Dr. Dave Mech, Dr. Doug Smith, Kerry Murphy, and Dan MacNulty just published an article using some of these data. Their article, "Winter severity and wolf predation on a formerly wolf-free elk herd" (J. Wildl. Manage. 65(4):998-1003) indicated that winter severity influenced wolf/elk relationships more than the naivete of the elk herd to predation by wolves.

Information and education and law enforcement

Annual Meeting: I’m investigating the possibility of moving the annual meeting from Chico Hot Springs to Boise, Idaho this year in an effort to increase participation from people in parts of the recovery areas that have been unable to attend the conference due to distance or budget constraints. The conference would probably be held at Boise State University. However, before we make this change I would like some input from previous speakers, attendees and other interested people as to whether or not they would still attend the meeting if it were moved. Time is slipping away and the decision needs to be made as quickly as possible. I need all comments by November 30. Please send your comments to joseph_fontaine@fws.gov

Early in the week Jimenez gave presentations to 2 groups of about 20 students each at the Powell, WY Northwest College. For the past 2 years student volunteers have assisted to monitor wolves in the Greater Yellowstone area. They have also used the college computer facility and their GIS skills to map wolf movement patterns and pack territories.

Wolves must be howling with joy over recent news that former Yellowstone National Park wolf interpretive specialist Norm Bishop was named International Wolf Center Field Representative for the Great Yellowstone area. The International Wolf Center in Ely, MN (www.wolf.org) strives to provide accurate and unbiased information about wolves and their management throughout the world. Norm will provide accurate information to the public about wolves, in a non-advocacy framework. Norm is a world class cross-country skier, excellent naturalist, and for decades assisted efforts to restore wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Congratulations Norm!!

On the 8th, Bangs and Asher met with MT FW&P biologist Bill Pryor and a Billings TV film crew who are cooperating on a TV series about Montana Wildlife issues. The crew filmed the 8 former Gravelly pack wolves being held on the Flying D Ranch near Bozeman, MT and interviewed Bangs and Asher. The wolves looked to be in great shape.

The Yellowstone National Park Annual Report for 2000, has been published and is available for distribution. It is a nicely done high quality record of the Park’s wolf program, including many photos and quality graphics.

Northwest Territories Wolf Notes is now available at the GNWT’s Dept. of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development main web site at: www.nwtwildlife.rwed.gov.nt.ca or www.nwtwildlife.com/ The newsletter profiles wolf research in the NW Territories, Canada.

The Defenders of Wildlife is sponsoring "CARNIVORES 2002" in Monterey, CA November 17-20, 2002. The Conference will address issues and research on all carnivores, including cats, dogs, bears, mesocarnivores, marine, and avian. For more information see www.defenders.org/carnivores2002. The deadline for abstracts and session suggestions is February 2002. The Carnivores 2000 Conference was very successful and selected proceedings were published in a special edition of the Endangered Species Update, July/August 2001, Vol 18(4):93-192.

"On Nature’s Terms: Predators and People Co-Existing in Harmony"- a short video produced by Wild Futures was written and directed by John de Graf. The video tells about how biologists, conservationists, ranchers, hunters and homeowners are doing their part to coexist with large predators (bear, cougar, wolf, coyote, bobcat). It is intended to be used as an educational and informational aide. The video can be ordered at WILDFUTURES, 353 Wallace Way, NE Suite 12, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110 for $20.00. Contact Sharon Negri snegri@igc.org for further information.

 

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 ED_BANGS@FWS.GOV