Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 3/8/02

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 3/01 to 3/08, 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

On the 2nd, a 96lb. black yearling male in the Sunlight basin pack was radio-collared. The alpha male of the Absaroka pack was re-radioed and apparently had a severe case of mange. Samples were collected and will be sent in for laboratory analysis. He had hair loss over the lower 1/3 of his body, was in poor condition, and it is surprising that he could have survived the winter. He was by himself in lower snow-free elevation habitat which we suspect was to get out of the snow. Recent sightings in that same area indicate there is another "rope-tailed" uncollared wolf that was reported limping, in poor condition and scavenging on road kill. It too was likely from the Absaroka pack and probably also has mange.

Sarcoptic mange is distributed world wide, exhibits little host specificity, and transfers readily among a variety of hosts. It is probably the most significant ectoparasite (mites) of wolves. Based on circumstantial evidence some researchers believe mange is an important regulating factor in wild canid populations. There is a long history of mange or "mange-like" conditions in free-ranging canids in N. America. Interestingly as early as 1909, mange was deliberately introduced into Montana when experimentally infested coyotes and wolves were released in an attempt to control free-ranging canids. This may have been the source of mange on wild canids in western Canada. Mange is transferred to new hosts by direct contact or by using rubs or rubbing posts contaminated with mites. It can cause death, mainly through the animal’s inability to regulate heat loss or by loss of condition and skin lesions that contribute to infection. Animals can recover. Infested wolves can have lower weight and fat deposits and loss of condition is more marked among pups. Wildlife Services reports indicate that coyotes with mange are common in this area of Wyoming were the Absaroka pack lives. Another rancher reported just seeing a coyote with manage in the Paradise Valley, MT. Mange in coyotes from the Salmon, ID area also reported.

A radio location flight (2/20) found the 5 relocated Gravelly pups still in NW MT but several miles from the town of Yaak. A local MT warden went to the area on the 2nd 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. There haven’t been any conflicts. The relocated male and female weren’t monitored this week.

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. This appears to be a record year for wolf dispersal and evidence is mounting that there are several packs and pairs that have formed that do not contain radio-collared members. We find them primarily through public and agency reports- so please help!!

Control

More sheep were killed in the Dillon, MT on the 3rd and in the same area where the Gravelly pack killed sheep last year. At least 7 ewes and 2 rams were killed and that many more appeared wounded. Wildlife Service is still attempting lethal control on the wolf that escaped after its 2 companions were killed last week. Lethal take permits were issued to several qualifying ranches.

On the 6th, 3 llamas were reportedly killed on private property in the Ninemile Valley. Wildlife Services investigated and confirmed they were killed by wolves. The landowner did not support control because he felt "wolves are rare and valuable" and wanted to talk over that issue further. The Service talked to him and said whatever he wanted done on his private land would be honored, but trapping at the carcasses for 4-5 days was probably in the best interest of wolf recovery. Control could remove the responsible wolves (two other llamas were killed in the Ninemile Valley last year) and prevent similar problems on neighboring properties. Quickly removing depredating wolves can also help maintain local human tolerance of wolves. He allowed Wildlife Services set traps and snares near the carcasses. Any uncollared wolves that are trapped will be killed. During a side conversation about this issue it was learned that a dog was killed in the Ninemile a few days ago but was not reported or investigated. No control is taken for dog depredations in northwestern Montana.

Several ranches in the Paradise Valley reported wolves near there cattle, that are calving. Asher (TESF) visited the area on the 1st and 2nd to see if any remedies were possible. It is likely the Sheep Mountain pack. Chief Joe pack and at least 5 recently dispersed wolves have been found in the area. Wildlife Services investigated a partially consumed and frozen adult cow carcass that wolves were feeding on. The cows was not directly killed by wolves but some evidence suggests they could have chased or bitten it before it got away and later died. It is a possible depredation, but not enough evidence to warrant any control or compensation without further evidence.

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 herd composition surveys for the northern range elk herd were completed. Preliminary count data indicate that 4,000 elk were surveyed and there were only 14 calves/100 cows. The composition count has ranged from 17-48 calves/100 cows since the 1970's, usually ranging around 25-33 calves/100 cows. Last year there were 29 calves/100 cows. This year represents the lowest calf cow ratio on record, undoubtably the combined result an elk herd at habitat carrying capacity (density dependent), abundance of old cows, the continuing drought, and multi-species predation. The northern range herd also has the lowest pregnancy rate in the state and only about 70% of adult cows harvested during the Gardiner late hunt are usually pregnant. The northern range interagency working group usually publicizes all the annual elk count, composition, and harvest data after the surveys are completed and that complete information and history should be available soon.

Elk counts were also completed in Wyoming. Historical elk cow calf ratios from 1990 until 2002 on the National Elk Refuge range from 24.8 [2000] to 16.7 [1998] calves/100 cows. On February 5, 2002 ratios were 20.1 calves/100 cows. In 2002, 1199 elk adjacent to the Elk Refuge but not on feed were classified. Ratios were 60.9 calves/100 cows. There appears to be some displacement of calves off the feed areas because of competition for supplemental feed. In the Gros Ventre state feed grounds historic elk calf/cow ratios ranged from 14.0 [1997 and 2002]-31.0 [2001] calves/100 cows.

Information and education and law enforcement

Fontaine gave a presentation to the Montana Educators Association in Bozeman, MT on the 1st and 2nd, about 20 educators attended.

In late February Niemeyer gave a talk to about 20 members of the Boise, ID Kiwanis Club.

On the 5th, Smith talked to about 30 First and Second Graders at the Gardiner Elementary School for career day. He also talked with 10 Tenth Graders at the Gardiner High School Biology Class.

The Idaho Senate Natural resource Committee and then the Idaho State Senate passed a resolution to accept the Idaho State wolf. The issue now goes on to the state House for action.

On the 16th of January, 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 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 Department of Natural Resources is recruiting for Biologist I Wolf Specialist (HR-02-414) and Biologist I (2-temporary) (HR-02-415 with the Tribal Wolf Recovery Program in Idaho. There are 2 four-month seasonal positions and 1 eight-month position. Both positions require a Bachelors degree (Masters preferred) with at least one year of experience. A complete application package includes: separate NPT application, resume’, 3 letters of reference to: Job Name and No. to P.O. Box 365, Lapwai, Idaho 83540 by 4:30pm, 3/15. Call 208-843-7332. Indian preference applies. Incomplete packages will not be considered. Please contact Project Leader Curt Mack at 208-634-1061 or cmack@nezperce.org for details.

The Service and Nez Perce Tribe met on the 7th, to discuss budgets and plans for the 2002 field season. The meeting was very informative and helped to see who was doing what with what resources. The same issue that comes up everywhere else, came up here. People expect more than they want, or should, to pay for. The program needs lower expectations and less costly methods- not more funding. With the expanding wolf population the top priorities in all three recovery areas are: resolving any conflicts with local residents, monitoring the wolf population so progress toward recovery can be documented, and providing the public accurate information about wolves and wolf management. Frequent wolf monitoring flights, research, relocation of problem wolves, and non-lethal measures to resolve livestock conflicts are low on the list of management priorities and little funding will be spent in those areas. Given current funding levels, the biggest thing that needs to happen is for people, including those in other agencies, to lower their expectations about the level of monitoring and management that a wolf population requires. Lethal control of problem wolves will reduce the cost of wolf/livestock conflict management and will be used more than ever this year.

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