Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 7/19/02

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 7/12 to 7/19, 2002

Monitoring

See http://WesternGrayWolf.fws.gov/annualreports.htm for maps of pack locations and home ranges.

A camper along the East Front in NW MT, reported stumbling in the Sun River Pack’s den last week. Several wolves, (couple adults, 3-4 yearlings, and at least 2 pups were seen. Matches what we thought should be in the pack. The Sun River pack has no radioed members. This was a great observation and we will follow it up. A report of pups seen in the Therriault Lakes area of NW MT, (E. of Eureka) may be the Wigwam Pack, that historically spends most of its time in the Wigwam drainage, that is mostly in Canada.

Another yearling in the Teton pack had its radio collar chewed off. It is the second one now and that leaves 2 yearlings and 2 adults collared in the pack of about 21 wolves. Five wolves in the Yellowstone Delta pack have chewed off their collars and the two packs are related- must be a family tradition.

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

Control

On the 6th, Wildlife Services confirmed that 2 cattle in the Graves pack territory southeast of Eureka, MT had been attacked by wolves on the Forest Service Deep Creek/Grave Creek allotments. This week another carcass was found- it was probably attacked about the same time as the first 2 but it only recently died and was just discovered. The Graves Creek female and pups remain east of the Whitefish range. Trapping to lethally remove 1-2 wolves was unsuccessful and traps were pulled on the 19th. No further control is planned unless additional livestock are attacked.

A wolf-like canid killed a llama between Whitefish and Columbia Falls, MT, the morning of July 18. Eyewitnesses described a light-colored wolf-like canid that looked like photos of a seemingly "tame" wolf reported in the Ferndale, MT area in June. It reportedly was hand-fed a hotdog. It probably was the animal that killed a llama north of Ferndale on June 21. The kill was assumed to be a dog depredation because of the "messy" kill until wolf-sized tracks were discovered nearby. Several subsequent sightings indicated it was slowly traveling moving north. The latest llama kill was investigated by WS trapper North, Meier, and Hartman who set traps around the llama carcass. This is being treated as a depredating released captive or hybrid "wolf" and it will be removed from the wild ASAP. On the 19th, it was reportedly shot by a landowner as it fed on an old dead horse carcass. Meier said it was certainly "wolfy" and matched earlier photos of the wolf-like canid by Ferndale but was a hybrid with brown eyes and a small nose. Wolf-like canids that have been raised around people and are released, always end up dead. They often cause problems before they die. We know of no instance in North America where they have ever became "wild". The most cruel and inhumane thing captive wolf or wolf-hybrid owner can do is release their animal believing it will become a wild animal. Please, if you know of someone who no longer wants their wolf hybrid- make sure they are aware of the harmful image that if released these animals can give wild wolves and urge them to have their "pet" wolf-like canid humanely euthanized.

Trapping/shooting control continues in the Dunoir Valley near Dubois, WY. Trapping will continue for another week and the next 1-2 uncollared wolves that are captured will be killed. Two attempts were made to fly the area and shoot any wolves in then open this week by a WS fixed-wing aircraft but none were vulnerable.

A 45-day permit to shoot up to 2 wolves that are seen in the act of attacking their livestock, was issued to livestock producers who graze sheep on USDA Forest Service allotments in the Gravelly Range in SW Montana. These producers had several sheep killed by wolves earlier this spring on their private property and recently moved their bands onto their Forest Service grazing allotments.

Research

The Idaho wolf recovery team and the Defenders of Wildlife are maintaining several miles of fladry to separate wolves from cattle on a private ranch. Wolf movement patterns will be measured by RAG box monitors and track surveys in and outside the fencing/fladry to test its effectiveness. We thank the private landowners and the Defenders of Wildlife for their cooperation.

Information and education and law enforcement

BANGS ISSUES A CORRECTION AND AN APOLOGY- In late May and early June weekly wolf reports and in an early June newspaper article about cattle grazing in the Gros Ventre drainage near Jackson, WY, Wolf Recovery Coordinator Bangs expressed his concern over the source, experience, and ages of cattle being turned out on a Forest Service grazing allotment in the Gros Ventre drainage and his perceived high potential for wolf depredations. The livestock producer contacted Bangs to set the record straight. Several of Bangs’ concerns were misplaced and were not based on accurate information. (SEE the attached letter back to the livestock owner). All the adult cattle had been on open range before and were bought at auctions in the Western U.S., not from feedlots in the mid-West. The producer said his calves may not be as old or heavy as some grazed on Forest Service allotments, but they are clearly within acceptable livestock industry standards. The producer also added that he is using nearly twice as many riders as usual to keep close track of his cattle- which is commendable. While still expressing some concern Bangs thanked to the producer for clarifying the situation. Bangs offered a sincere apology for not checking facts more closely and his misunderstanding of this particular situation. Hopefully, Bangs’ concern (that has been greatly reduced through accurate information) will be for not and by this Fall, the number of dead and missing livestock will be negligible. The Service gladly accepted the livestock producer’s offer, and shares his desire, to work cooperatively to resolve their respective concerns. To date their have been no confirmed wolf depredations in the Gros Ventre, which indicates Bangs may have been needlessly concerned and he is apparently a better historian than prophet. It appears that the livestock producer is on top of this situation. Hopefully that good news will continue.

On July 12, Meier attended the North Fork Interlocal meeting at Sondreson Hall in the North Fork of the Flathead, He gave an update on wolves to about 75 people.

On July 16-17, Meier, Jaffe and Hartman met with USFS biologists Doug Grupenhof (Trout Creek) and Jennifer Holifield (Canoe Gulch), and independent researcher Jay Mallonee (Libby) to discuss wolf sightings on and around the Kootenai National Forest.

Niemeyer, Mack and Steve Nadeau (the new lead for wolf issues for Idaho Department of Fish and Game), and other people interested in wolf management attended several workshops in McCall, ID on the 17th. The Idaho Rangeland Commission held a workshop at a nearby sheep ranch and about two dozen teachers attended. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission held a workshop on wolf/ungulate relationships and about 10 commissioners and two dozen public attended. Invited experts, Drs. Tom Bergerud, Kyran. Kunkle, Dennis Murray, and Jim Hayden presented a summary of their research on wolf/ungulate and elk ecology. Meeting notes are available from Idaho Fish and Game contact snadeau@idfg.state.id.us .

The Service is entering into a formal agreement with the states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming so the three states and the Service can cooperatively develop a proposal to delist the gray wolf in the northen Rocky Mountains. The Service will fund the States’ assistance in that partnership effort. The delisting proposal will be completed by Spring 2003, in anticipation that both the third year of achieving the recovery goal of 30 or more breeding pairs will be documented in December 2002: and that all three states will have completed their states wolf management plans and appropriate state law will be in enacted in all three states. Montana will complete its state plan by December 2002 but Wyoming doesn’t expect to complete its state wolf plan and have appropriate state law in place until March 2003, hence any delisting proposal will be delayed until that time. Any delisting proposal would involve extensive media coverage, public involvement, and comment before being finalized.

The International Wolf Center -www.wolf.org -has a web site that contains information on identifying wolves an coyotes and for ways that people can avoid conflicts with wolves- see http://www.wolf.org/wolf/learn/mgt/basics/wolves_humans.asp

The International Wolf Center also has "Gray Wolves Gray Matter: Exploring the social, biological, cultural, and economic issues of wolf survival." It a curriculum for grades 6-12 that was produced in 2001. Contact International Wolf at www.wolf.org or Andrea Strauss at edudir@wolf.org for further information.

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

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

 

 

July 17, 2002- Dear Livestock producer:

I am responding to your July 5, 2002 email and letter that discussed some recent quotations from me that appeared in a Jackson, WY newspaper story. Another producer also sent me a copy of your letter via email and apparently it has been widely distributed. The news story was not initiated by me but I was interviewed over the phone by the reporter. The article included some statements about my perceptions of your ranching operation and how that might influence the Service’s response to any wolf depredations that might occur on your Forest Service allotment in the Gros Ventre drainage. To begin, I’d like to thank you for writing and correcting some of what were clearly misunderstandings on my part. I checked with other resource managers and some livestock producers about what I’d heard and they set me straight on several things where I was clearly wrong. I will publish a correction on those inaccuracies in our next weekly report. I will also send a copy of this letter to the newspaper in Jackson, WY for their consideration as a follow-up story. I offer my sincere apology for speaking on some details that I assumed where accurate when they were not. I also agree that we should be good neighbors and work toward avoiding conflicts when possible and correcting them if they happen. I will do what I can to make a better start. The Service will fulfill its responsibilities to restore that gray wolf in a manner that minimizes conflicts with livestock.

I was wrong about where your cattle were bought. While your cattle hadn’t been in the Gros Ventre area, they had been on range and they had not come from feed lots in the mid-west. Thank you for pointing out that your cattle had been in a range situation prior to be turned out in the Gros Ventre. They were purchased at auction as western ranchers continue to reduce their herds due to the continuing drought and poor economic conditions. These "surplus" cattle can include cows that were calving later than most in their herds. I was concerned because cattle that are not as familiar with an area may tend to wander around little more and be more nervous about things they haven’t experienced before. Consequently cows in novel situations may not be as able to be protective of their calves as more experienced cows. After hearing from you, I am not as concerned as I first was because your cattle had been on range before and you are closely herding your livestock.

I also inquired further about what I’d initially heard about the size and age of your calves. I certainly could have stated my initial concerns differently and made them clearer. I was quoted as saying "several weeks old" that to me meant 3-6 weeks old, in comparison to most ranches around here that calve in February-April, so June range calves could be 2-4 months old. My concern is directly related to a recent two-year study we, and a host of others including livestock groups, recently completed in central Idaho that involved monitoring radio-collared calves (N= 231/year) on remote Forest Service grazing allotments with a history of wolf depredations. That work has been submitted for peer review and should be published soon. In summary, adult cattle are rarely killed by wolves, overall calf survival was very high (over 95%), and the sample size of dead radio-collared calves was very small (N=14 over 2 years, natural causes [7], wolves [4], coyotes [1], and fire [2]) so the results have wide confidence intervals. The results should be extrapolated to other areas with great caution, but that study suggested four things that may be particularly important to both our concerns.

1. Pneumonia was the major cause of calf death (46% of all deaths, N=7) but wolf depredation was next greatest cause of calf death (31%, N=4). Wolves killed lower weight younger calves significantly more often than heavier older calves:

2. Calves grazing close to an active wolf den/rendezvous site and were less frequently observed by riders were much more likely to be attacked than other calves:

3. For every calf confirmed killed by wolves by standard herding practices as many as six others might have been killed but not found: and,

4. Cattle movements and distribution were not noticeably effected by wolf depredations or wolf activity.

This study suggested that younger smaller calves in areas of high wolf activity are the most vulnerable. It also indicated that, somewhat surprisingly, wolves did not cause cattle to become noticeably alarmed and that cattle did not move themselves away from areas with a high potential for conflict with wolves. The two most effective things a grazing permittee might do to reduce wolf-caused losses on remote forested grazing allotments used by wolves is to turn out heavier/older calves and use riders to reduce the encounter rate of wolves and cattle. Riders can help reduce conflicts by not allowing wolves to become attracted to areas with cattle by removing carrion, sick, or injured calves and/or by moving cattle away from the vicinity of active wolf dens and rendezvous sites.

I now understand how my "several weeks" reference to the age of your calves may have been misleading. However, my concern about the relatively young age of these calves compared to other range calves still remains. I was told that during a meeting about grazing allotments that was attended by various agency representatives a couple of weeks ago in Jackson, WY, the relatively young age of many of your calves was a concern to many of the attendees. Those resource managers were especially concerned because your calves were being turned out in a large remote grazing allotment with an extensive history of previous livestock depredations, predator control, and conflict over compensation payments by the state of Wyoming. I was told by several people that they believed your calves were younger and smaller on average than most range cattle calves. If this is incorrect, I apologize but several people had this impression. The key issue that concerned me was that I was told your calves appeared smaller than many range calves. Information about the relationship between young calves and predation risk should have been available to you prior to you making your business decision to purchase cattle at auction and graze them on a public land grazing allotment in the Gros Ventre drainage of Wyoming. While this information may not be as useful as it could have been this year, in the future it may be of great benefit. I appreciate that our communication on this subject will make this type of information on the relationship between calf size and predation risk much more widely known.

The information I received about the range experience of your cattle and the size of your calves was of concern to me because smaller calves are much more vulnerable to predators than larger ones. Cattle that have been around predators or are familiar an area may be less likely to have their calves killed by predators. Calf survival is probably affected by the cow’s mothering skill and her protection. If calf size has any relationship to survival as it does in wild ungulates, you can expect higher overall mortality from all causes to younger and smaller range calves. While this type of business decision is entirely yours, I am concerned about the implications to wildlife management since predators sometimes get blamed for missing livestock. Most predators, including wolves and grizzly bears, are tremendous scavengers on both wild and domestic ungulate carcasses. In the western U.S., only about 3% of all cattle deaths each year are reportedly caused by predators and wolf depredations are a very small fraction of all predator losses. Cattle carcasses, regardless of what the animal died from, are likely to attract scavenging predators to those areas. Increased interaction between livestock and predators can translate into more depredations, and a larger than usual problem of confirming which livestock losses are caused by predators and which predator may be causing the depredation. An abundance of predators/scavengers in an area may result in livestock carcasses being consumed so quickly, especially smaller ones like calves, that identifying whether predation, pneumonia, or a host of other factors were the cause of death becomes difficult. Consequently, resolution of a potential depredation problem can become more complex. Our experience with wolves suggests that if you can catch a depredation problem quickly it can be often be resolved, but after it has gone on for some time it can be very difficult to stop without drastic wolf control measures, such as removing entire packs.

It will be interesting to see if you have a much higher level of missing livestock this Fall than that allotment has had in the past. I sincerely hope not because wolves and bears may be involved to some extent but it may be almost impossible to figure out how much at that point. Because wolves have such large home ranges (250 to 350 square miles), wolves that learn to prey on cattle do not just affect your cattle. They can also impact your neighbors’ livestock.

I understand that the Service Project Leader for wolf recovery in Wyoming, Mike Jimenez, talked with you before the newspaper articles came out. He explained the Service’s concerns and what our likely response to wolf depredations would be and why. I obviously made some comments in the paper that were incorrect and I will retract those errors on my part. However, I still remain concerned. I am relieved to hear that you are using more riders than normal, including some who have worked on the allotment previously. Having riders that know the terrain, what depredations look like, and who are aware of how to preserve evidence of a grizzly bear or wolf depredations can help to detect any problems quickly, will assist wildlife managers to resolve the problem, and may help should you seek compensation from the state of Wyoming or private groups for any confirmed or suspected livestock losses.

In conclusion, I hope that you have no problems between large predators and your livestock on your Forest Service grazing allotment. Fortunately the nonessential experimental population regulations allow considerable management flexibility to deal with reducing the potential for conflicts between your livestock and wolves. You or your employees can: 1. Harass any wolf near your livestock at any time for any reason as long as the wolf is not injured; 2. After you have a confirmed depredation you can receive a permit to shoot any wolf that is seen physically attacking your livestock: 3. You can receive compensation from a private group for livestock killed or probably killed by wolves; 4. There have not been any land-use restrictions because of wolf restoration so traditional uses of private and public lands have been unaffected; and 5. The Service and other agencies will implement the regulations that allow a wide variety of wolf control actions including killing wolves. If there are suspected problems with wolf depredations you can depend on the Service or Wildlife Services to investigate as quickly as we can and take the appropriate management action to resolve the problem.

If wolves are confirmed to have attacked livestock we will do what we can to reduce the potential for those attacks to continue. I suspect our first response will be issuing you and your employees a 45-day permit to shoot any wolf seen physically attacking livestock on your allotment and attempting to get a radio-collar in that group of wolves. At the current time the Gros Ventre pack, that has used that area in the past, contains no radioed members. If radio-collared wolves are in that area we will provide you with the radio frequencies of those wolves and a receiver so you can monitor them. That type of information can assist you in detecting problems or preventing them by either harassing wolves away from where your cattle maybe concentrated or moving your cattle away from a location of high wolf activity such as a den/rendezvous site. Our agency and private cooperators have also offered livestock producers help in acquiring a wide range of tools that under certain conditions can help reduce the potential for conflicts with wolves such as light and siren devices, noisemakers, visual barriers, fencing, guard animals, and temporary alternative pasture or feed. Please work with Mike if you feel any of this items may be of help to you. Of course if depredation problems can’t be solved any other way the Service has moved or killed wolves that chronically prey on livestock.

Your letter resolved several of my concerns and I will correct my misunderstandings about the origin of your livestock. I hope that this letter clarifies my perspective and what you can expect from the Service should you have wolf depredations on your livestock. Please continue to work closely with Mike Jimenez. I’m confident that we can work through any problems that develop and address both our respective interests. I appreciate that you took the time to set the record straight and your offer of cooperation in the future. The Service is committed to full cooperation with you and working as on a partnership basis. Thank you for writing and good luck with your business. Please do not hesitate to contact Mike or I if we can be of assistance. I look forward to an uneventful summer.

Sincerely,

Ed Bangs

Wolf Recovery Coordinator