Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 2/08/02

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 2/01 to 2/08, 2002

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s email is shut down by a court order. While the case did not directly involve the Service, the court order disrupted distribution of the weekly reports and prevented all email communication with the Fish and Wildlife Service. We do not know when we will be back on line. We appreciate it if everyone would pass the weekly along in their organization by fax or email.

Monitoring

Routine winter helicopter darting operations in Yellowstone National Park were carried out on the 2nd thru 6th. Bangs and Jimenez helped Dr. Smith over the weekend. Seven were captured on Saturday and 6 on Sunday. The fixed wing pilot found Chief Joe (no radios- great tracking) and a female pup was collared. Two wolves in the Leopold pack were captured and last year’s satellite collar (didn’t drop off as scheduled) was replaced with a regular collar. Four Druid wolves (from the main group) were collared, including the alpha male. Three wolves in the Cougar pack, 1 in the Nez Perce, and 2 from a 4 member Druid sub-group with no collars were radioed. Smith also collared 4 on Tuesday afternoon and 4 on Wednesday, completing the Park collaring effort. Collaring efforts in other parts of the GYA will continue. An attempt to dart wolves in the Taylor Peak and Snowcrest ranch areas were unsuccessful because of high winds.

The Service is cooperating with the Univ. of Montana, MT FW&P, and a UM wildlife student Ty Smucher to organize a volunteer effort to locate and snow track wolves. Ty was a volunteer with the very successful volunteer tracking program in Wisconsin and offered to help set up and test the potential for such a program in Montana. This type of effort could help locate packs and greatly reduce monitoring costs. Ty was made a Service volunteer and given access to a Service truck and snowmobile to assist in organizing the student effort. Fontaine, Meier, and Asher meet with Dr. Dan Pletscher and Ty and about 47 students in Missoula on the 2nd to discuss strategies and logistics.

A radio location flight found the 5 relocated Gravelly pups in the Yaak valley of NW MT still (groups of 2+2+1). The relocated Gravelly alpha female that had been in N. ID, was located just inside the WA state border in a very remote location. The Gravelly yearling male has still not been located. Local contacts were made.

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 by February 2002. Because DOI email is down this site is not active at the current time.

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

Control

Nothing to report.

Lethal Take Permits to private landowners maybe issued beginning in February 2002. This year the Service will expand the use of shoot-on-sight lethal take permits for depredating wolves. Livestock producers on their private land in the experimental population areas who have had confirmed livestock losses caused by wolves in past years can receive these permits, which are authorized under the experimental population rules. Producers who have had depredations in the past, and the adjacent ranches, may be issued a permit that will allow them to shoot any 1 wolf. Permits will be issued after a ranch has a recent confirmed depredation and the Service has authorized agency lethal control. After 45 days or after a wolf is taken, the permits are suspended until additional depredations are confirmed.

The Service’s program to loan radio telemetry receivers to livestock producers who have radioed depredating wolves near their livestock is being expanded. The Service has ordered several more receivers and antennas for use this summer. The receivers allow ranchers to know when radio-collared wolves may be near their livestock allowing them to frighten the wolves off, move their livestock, or be more alert for problems. This type of information can also help target a specific depredating wolf for removal if livestock are attacked. As part of this expanded effort the Service will be making the program more formal by having sign up sheets with conditions for receiver use and limiting the time for use of each receiver so more ranchers have the opportunity to participate in this voluntary program.

Research

On the 4th and 5th, Yellowstone National Park had a helicopter crew capture and radio-collar another 25 adult female elk as part of the ongoing research program looking into wolf/elk relationships on Yellowstone’s northern range. Harvest during the Gardiner late hunt, which closes this coming weekend, may take over 1,000 primarily cow elk, slightly above average. The herd count was 11,900 elk.

Elk counts were conducted on WY state elk feed grounds this winter. Last winter and this winter about 2,400 elk were using the feed grounds. This year there was a slight downward trend in elk calves/100 cows ratios. In the Gros Ventre in 1997 there were 14 calves/100 cows, 1998- 17 calves/100 cows, 1999- 28 calves/100 cows, 2000-29 calves/100 cows, 2001- 31 calves/100 calves, and this year [2002]14 calves/100 cows. About 6,500 elk were on the National Elk Refuge with about 20 calves/100 cows. Use of winter feed grounds is highly variable because of winter conditions and forage quality. This year elk seem to be sticking in the Alkali WY state feed ground even though wolves have killed elk in the area. Last year we speculated that elk left that area to avoid wolves because the tree cover made wolves harder to spot and as an anti- predator strategy, elk got into bigger groups and open habitat. This year the elk are hanging right in there, not sure why, but maybe it takes a few years for them [and us] to figure out what having wolves around winter feed grounds means. Twenty elk were recently radio-collared in the Gros Ventre area as part of a cooperative state led effort to determine elk movement and distribution patterns to sort out some of the relationships of elk to habitat, predators and humans.

Information and education and law enforcement

Niemeyer, Mack, and others met with Dr. Jim Tate, Special Scientific Advisor to the Secretary of the Interior, in Boise, ID on the 1st to discuss the wolf recovery program.

Jimenez gave a program for the Teton College winter lecture series at the Jackson, WY, High School. About 250 people attended.

Niemeyer and Mack and others attended a series of meetings with RD Badgley and ARD Barry in Boise, ID on the 6th. The meetings were organized by ID Senator Craig’s staff. The meetings provided a host of Idaho residents who were concerned about wolves a chance to voice their opinions. Attendees included representatives from the following groups: Water users, Central Idaho Wolf Coalition, Outfitters and Guides, Cattle Assoc., Woolgrowers, County Commissioners, staff from ID congressional delegations, and Governor’s Office Species Conservation.

The carcass of the alpha male of the Fishtrap pack was retrieved on the 6th and his death is under LE investigation. Fishtrap pack has 7 members now. The carcass of B-63, a wolf that was relocated from the Big Hole area back to central Idaho last spring but quickly returned to the Big Hole, was also recovered this week and its death is under LE investigation. An attempt to retrieve a radio-collar on mortality from a recently darted and radio-collared wolf in central Idaho was unsuccessful because of the remote location and deep snow but we speculate that it likely died from captured related causes.

On the 16th, Montana released it draft state wolf management plan for public review and comment. The draft "Planning Document for Wolf Conservation and Management in Montana" and the Wolf Advisory Council’s "Report to the Governor" are available via MT FW&P’s website at: www.fwp.state.mt.us . To request copies call 406-444-2612. Public scoping comments on wolf management issues and alternatives will begin to be solicited in March 2002.

There is a great opportunity opening up with the Mexican Wolf program. The job announcement for the Mexican Wolf Field Coordinator is out. It is a GS 11/12 for in Government and 9/11/12 for non-government applicants. It will be initially stationed in Alpine, AZ. Please look at USA Jobs for details or contact Brian Kelly (505-248-6656) for details. This is a specialized job and will be highly competitive. Please refrain from calling unless you have already looked at the job advertisement (www.usajobs.opm.gov/wfjic/jobs/IZ7956.htm vacancy # FWS2-02-005 and have the minimum qualifications to be competitive for such a position. The OPM (non-government applicants) list opened this week. Thanks and good luck.

THE ANNUAL WOLF CONFERENCE WILL BE HELD IN BOISE, ID INSTEAD OF CHICO, MT THIS YEAR. THE CONF. IS SCHEDULED FOR APRIL 23rd and 24th at the Owyhee Plaza Hotel 1-800-233-4611. CONTACT Joe_Fontaine@FWS.GOV. Joe Fontaine (406)449-5225 x206. Please try to attend it should be a great conference. Joe is contacting potential speakers.

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 ED_BANGS@FWS.GOV