Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 3/1/02

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 2/22 to 3/01, 2002

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s email is still shut down but the Park Service is back on line. We do not know when we will be up and running but it could be months.

Monitoring

A radio location flight (2/20) found the 5 relocated Gravelly pups still in the Yaak valley of NW MT. Meier and a local MT warden went to the area on the 26th and faintly heard the wolves’ signal. They visited with local folks and everything seemed fine but there were a few residents concerned that because the pups were in pens they may not act totally wild.

Wildlife Services put out a bait station east of Meeteetse, WY to try and help get a radio in the Graybull River pack. WS is in the area anyway doing some coyote control and offered to help. Wolves have visited a bait station and the WS trapper will use some neck snares with safety locks to try and put a radio on a pack member. He has been trained and given equipment by Jimenez. We really appreciate the extra effort by WS- Thanks!! We may try to do the same thing with a new uncollared pack of 4 wolves that has apparently set up shop in the Taylor Fork area of MT, just west of Yellowstone National Park. A radio in that pack would really compliment the MT FW&P and MT State Univ. studies that are monitoring 8 GPS and 32 VHS radioed elk.

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

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

Control

A reported mountain lion depredation on sheep east of Dillon, MT turned out to be caused by wolves. On the 24th, 13 sheep were killed and another 20 wounded by wolves. Some of the wounded sheep were not expected to live. WS investigated and tracks indicated at least 2 wolves were responsible. This area is about 15 miles from where the Gravelly pack killed sheep last year. Two uncollared yearling wolves were left from the 2001 Gravelly pack control action [8 were relocated and 1 was killed] and tracks of 3 wolves had been seen in that area this winter. Lethal control was authorized immediately and on the 27th, Wildlife Services flew in a fixed-wing and shot 2 of 3 wolves. One escaped into timber but it will be killed when/if found. One of the wolves was Yellowstone ex-Chief Joe male 202M, the other was an uncollared female. His radio had malfunctioned and the signal could only be picked up a few yards away. The ranch that lost the sheep and its immediate neighbors had never had confirmed depredations before, so they did not qualify for the shoot-on-sight permits.

A ranch manager in the Paradise Valley found 3 wolves, their chest covered in blood, a few hundred yards from his calving shed on the morning of the 28th. He shot over their head and ran them off with his truck but they were back again the next morning. He ran them off again. We also received a call from a concerned citizen about the first incident which was legal and was the right thing to do. They apparently killed an elk and a deer in a stand of trees about 300 yards from where he is calving and where all the new mother cows/calves stay. Even though there haven’t been any problems he is understandably concerned. Asher (TESF) visited the area on the 1st and 2nd to see if any remedies were possible. It is likely the Sheep Mountain pack.

Radio Activated Guards (RAG boxes) continue to be deployed in the Stanley/Challis area of central Idaho. So far it appears the RAG boxes were triggered several times by wolves (the RAG boxes have monitors that record which collar frequency triggered the device) and no depredations have been recorded. There were two calves killed in the area earlier this week but WS investigation confirmed coyotes were responsible.

Reports of a few wolves becoming a little too familiar around people resulting in Yellowstone National Park receiving a less-than-lethal munitions [rubber bullet] permit from the Service. Doug Smith had the instructor training and will be able to sign up rangers and others if needed. There haven’t been any conflicts but the Park is watching the situation closely and will try aversive conditioning if that appears warranted.

Lethal Take Permits to private landowners can be issued beginning in February 2002. This year the Service will expand the use of the voluntary shoot-on-sight lethal take permits for chronic depredation areas. Over the past 2 years 5 permits have been issued, all in Wyoming but no wolves were taken. Any private property owner [this also includes all neighbors with adjacent property] who has had a (one) confirmed wolf-caused livestock depredation on their private property at any time prior to January 2002 and has a confirmed livestock depredation on their private property in 2002 can receive a shoot-on-sight permit. These types of permits are authorized under the experimental population rules. Producers who have had depredations in the past, and immediately adjacent ranches, may be issued a permit that will allow a total of one wolf to be shot. Permits can be issued after a ranch has a recent confirmed depredation by Wildlife Services 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. By enlisting the assistance of local landowners the Service hopes to more effectively target the individual problem wolves that have been involved in chronic depredation situations.

Research

The Yellowstone National Park winter predation study began on March 1. The 30-day study follows wolf packs every day on the ground and by aircraft [weather depending] to measure the predation rate and prey selection of wolves. This work has been conducted Nov.15-Dec. 15 and March 1-30 for the past 5 years.

This week the cooperative composition counts for the northern herd elk survey began. Count data should be available soon. It is expected that with the continuing drought [and multi-predator predation] calves/100 cows ratios will be lower than past years. A paper just published in the Journal of Wildlife Management indicated that the northern herd showed expected signs of being density dependent- ie. if the herd is at habitat carrying capacity, anything effecting the habitat, such as fire, drought or severe winters, will greatly affect calf production, survival, and recruitment.

Montana FW&P’s biologist tagged 38 elk (nearly all adult cows) west of Yellowstone National Park this week as part of the cooperative Montana State University study to look at the potential effect of wolf predation on elk populations in the Gallatin and Madison Valleys. The Service is still attempting to radio-collar more wolves in the area including Taylor Peak and Chief Joe packs to assist in these studies of wolf/ungulate relationships.

Wolf student volunteers in the Gros Ventre drainage near Jackson, WY are beginning to follow 20 recently radioed elk in that area as part of a cooperative study to look at elk movements between winter feed grounds and the potential affect of wolf presence. This is the third year of the Service led cooperative wolf study but the first year of radio-tracking elk. This combined cooperative effort should greatly increase knowledge about elk use of the feed grounds and their possible reaction to wolf predation. Just recently the elk appeared to adopt the pattern seen last winter where instead of having about 1000 elk on each of the 3 state feed grounds about 3,000 elk are at the middle Cabin Creek feed ground. That feed ground is the most open and snow free. Large groups and open terrain could be an anti-predation tactic by elk. The Teton wolves do hunt that area and kill elk but elk continue to stay there. This does complicate the WY state feeding program because in the past the elk were more evenly distributed and stayed at each feed ground. Also, the state stored hay based on plans to feed equal numbers of elk at each of the 3 areas.

Information and education and law enforcement

Bangs, Fontaine, Asher gave presentations at the Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society on the 26th-28th. Sime (MT FW&P) presented the MT state wolf planning effort. About 170 biologists attended the Conference.

Fontaine gave a presentation to the Montana Educators Association in Bozeman, MT on the 1st.

Jimenez talked to the Upper Green River Cattleman’s Assoc. in Pinedale, WY on the 1st. Normally about 40 ranchers and agency representatives attend this annual meeting.

The Idaho Senate subcommittee that oversees the state Idaho Wolf Oversight Committee heard testimony on the draft state wolf management plan. Niemeyer and Bob Ruesink (Service’s ID Field Supervisor) Several groups (from ID Stockgrowers & Woolgrowers, ID Guides and Outfitters, Defenders of Wildlife, Wolf Education and Research Center and Senator Larry Craig) tentatively supported the plan as not perfect but a tolerable and necessary compromise while others recommended rejecting the concept of a wolf state plan and having wolves in Idaho. The committee decided to modify some language through a resolution and then print the resolution for a Senate vote. It is uncertain if the both-perspective but weak support/tolerance will survive the Senate modifications. The process will then go to the state house and so forth.

A volunteer group of students at Utah State University has prepared a draft document "Wolves in Utah: an analysis of potential impacts and recommendations for management." The report will be presented at several conferences this winter and spring and should be posted at www.utahwolves.org in the next couple of weeks. They are searching for possible funding sources to independently publish the manuscript. Contact Dr. Robert Schmidt at USU, (435)797-2459 or fishnwlf@cc.usu.edu .

On the 16th of January, Montana released its raft 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 are being solicited in March 2002. FWP will host several community "scoping" meetings from 6:30pm to 9pm. They are: 3/5-Glasgow- FWP Headquarters; 3/6-Billings, Billings Hotel & Conv Center; 3/11-Missoula, Holiday Inn; 3/18-Bozeman, Holiday Inn; 3/19-Dillon, USFS Office; 3/20-Gardiner, Comfort Inn; 3/21-Great Falls, MSU College of Tech.; 2/26-Kalispell, Flathead Valley Comm. College; and 3/28 Ennis, High School Library.

The Nez Perce Tribe is advertising for 3 wildlife biologist positions with the Tribal Wolf Recovery Program in Idaho. There are 2 four-month seasonal positions and 1 eight-month position. Please contact Project Leader Curt Mack at 208-634-1061 or cmack@nezperce.org for details.

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.

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