Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 1/17/03

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 1/06 to 1/17, 2003

Monitoring

NEW WEB ADDRESS- See http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov/annualreports.htm for maps of wolf pack locations and home ranges, tables of wolf numbers and depredations, and summaries of scientific studies.

Winter wolf helicopter capture efforts to radio-collar wolves were conducted in the Yellowstone area on the 7th-9th. Thirteen wolves from 7 packs [Leopold-4, Swan lake-3, Agate-2, Canyon Creek-1, Druid-1, Geode-1, and 261's group-1] were collared. Three wolves were fitted with GPS collars. Further capture will be conducted this winter. High winds and the lack of sow that moved wolves into the higher mountains and forest prevented capture attempts in the Paradise Valley.

The 20-some member Nez Perce pack, with 6 radioed members, hasn’t been found since mid-December despite extensive aerial and ground searches. Anyone seeing new wolf pack activity within a hundred miles of Yellowstone Park is asked to call us as-soon-as possible. We are continuing to search for them. Last year they traveled into SE Idaho.

On Jan. 7-10, Niemeyer, Williamson (WS), Holyan (NPT), John Aldous (rancher) and Mike Richey (outfitter) snowmobiled to several locations in Lemhi and Custer Counties to check out wolf activity and reports of packs. They checked out an elk kill site about 30 miles north of Salmon that turned out to be made by remnants of the Jureano pack (radio signal). They located a new Moyer Basin pack on the back of Morgan Creek summit. Ten to eleven wolves crossed the Morgan Creek Road and left clear tracks in the snow. No radio-collars were in this area. From Jan 18-24, Idaho is planning a winter helicopter darting capture effort. Conditions look poor due to lack of snow and pack sizes seem to be small but they'll give it their best effort.

Nine breeding pairs and 47 pups were documented in Idaho in 2002 compared to 14 breeding pairs and 82 pups in 2001. While part of this decline is due to the difficulty of radio-collaring and counting wolves in Idaho’s rugged terrain, it also appears some of the wolf packs are in a state of flux. In Yellowstone pack trespasses have resulted in increased conflicts and wolf mortality. As in Yellowstone it is possible that with possible prey declines, wolves have exceeded their own social tolerance and will be limiting themselves in the core recovery areas by inter-pack strife and increasing dispersal.

A group of 4 gray wolves, thought to include 2 pups, with a dispersing radioed male was seen in the Taylor Fork drainage. We will attempt to put another radio in the group if conditions permit. A small group(s?) of wolves continues to be reported on the Fly D ranch SW of Bozeman. Around Thanksgiving Asher confirmed sightings of at least 4 including one pup along the Spanish Peaks Rd. No radioed wolves are known to be in that area.

Please report any sightings of wolf activity to the nearest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Fish and Game Agency, Forest Service, BLM, Tribal, or USDA Wildlife Services office. We thank everyone for their cooperation.

Control

A calf was killed by wolves near Pinedale, WY on private land on the 2nd. WS confirmed several wolves were involved and local residents have reported seeing up to 6 wolves. Radio tracking confirmed that a sub-group from the Teton pack was responsible. Teton wolves have been involved in 4 previous cattle depredations. Two uncollared wolves from the group were shot on the 9th. The other wolves are still moving around and we are attempting to monitor them.

Fontaine and Asher met with landowners in the Paradise Valley where sheep had been killed by members of the Mill Creek pack. The landowner whose sheep were killed still has a shoot on sight permit. Asher removed fladry from the fence on the 11th, and the sheep are being night-pastured in smaller enclosure. Defenders is considering helping with more secure fencing. Wildlife Services is still trapping in the area in an attempt to radio-collar a wolf from the subgroup. The alpha female is the only radioed pack member and it appears that she was not involved in the sheep depredations and is consistently located high the in mountains.

Nineteen sheep were killed NW of Harloton last week and 3 days later 15 more were killed a few miles away. Wildlife Services investigation concluded that they may have been attacked by a wolf because of multiple bites along the back and neck. No wolves are known to be in that area but WS is looking for sign. As a precaution WS pulled M-44 devices in the immediate area where the sheep were killed but may reset them if no confirmation of wolf activity can be located. The Service recommended they not pull further M-44's in the surrounding area unless some confirmed wolf activity was detected. WS will notify the Service if wolf is thought to be a residing in that area. WS authorized to remove a wolf if one was found among the 7,500 sheep in that general area.

An adult cow was half consumed near where a wolf was mistaken for a coyote and killed this fall on the Flathead Reservation. The local rancher believes 3 wolves are still in that area. WS investigated and couldn’t find tracks or other wolf sign because of the terrain and lack of snow but the feeding pattern indicates it is a probable/possible wolf kill. WS may attempt to dart, radio-collar a pack member if wolves continue to feed on the carcass. The tribe set up a remote camera on the carcass but hasn’t gotten anything but cow photos so far. On the 17th, WS was controlling coyotes on a neighboring ranch and found another 2-3 day-old dead cow, this one a confirmed wolf kill, which makes the first one a confirmed loss also. Control options are being discussed.

On January 9th WS investigated reports of a suspected sheep depredation near Bliss, Idaho, but no wolf sign was observed. On the 10th, WS investigated a report of wolves harassing livestock on private property near Challis, ID. No wolves were observed or livestock lost but this is by areas commonly used by the Buffalo Ridge pack.

Research

Tom Meier et al. are working on compiling and summarizing data for the 2002 annual interagency wolf report.

Northern Range elk population counts were conducted in December by the National Park Service and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The recently complied count data indicate that 9,215 elk were present. Biologists believed the count could have been an under estimate because of spotty snow cover. But, this is first time the elk population was estimated to be below 10,000 elk since 1994, when 9,456 elk were counted. Drought, wolf and other predation, and winter antlerless hunts all are believed to have contributed to reducing herd size. As a result hunting permits have been reduce from 3,000 annually to 2,200 this year. At the end of February the annual calf/calf count will be conducted. Last year’s 14 calves/100 cows was the lowest on record.

Information and education and law enforcement

Fontaine traveled to the Charlottesville, VA area the 14-17th. He is participating in the kick-off ceremonies for the Lewis and Clark Centennial. He and other Service biologists will be giving talks to schools in the area, as well as assisting with other media events.

Service LE is currently investigating 6 wolf mortalities that have occurred since November. Wolf B134 is a suspected illegal mortality and a reward is being offered. B67 was recovered in the Bitterroot Valley and under investigation. Collars of the suspected alpha male of the Wolf Fang pack, male B133, female B100 [Big hole area], are on mortality and being investigated. The carcass of an uncollared wolf was recovered along the Lochsa River.

Smith did a CNN interview on the 17th and public domain video footage was taken [thanks Bill Campbell!] during helicopter darting/handling in Yellowstone the 7-9th. Bangs was interviewed for Paris radio on the 16th, and did several interviews for NW U.S. newspapers on meeting the wolf recovery goals and state wolf planning efforts.

The Dec.19-20, annual interagency wolf meeting minutes were completed and are attached.

The CENTRAL ROCKIES WOLF PROJECT is pleased to announce that registration has begun for the WORLD WOLF CONGRESS 2003 - BRIDGING SCIENCE AND COMMUNITY, to be held at the Banff Centre (Banff, Canada) from September 25-28, 2003. Please visit www.worldwolfcongress.ca for complete information.

Call for papers: Papers are now being accepted for the 2003 North American Interagency Wolf Conference, April 8 - 10, 2003 at Chico Hot Springs, Pray, MT. The theme this year is wolf/ungulate relationships. Please submit a one page single spaced abstract which includes your full contact information, affiliations, and authors, by email to Joseph Fontaine at Joseph_Fontaine@fws.gov Please submit a digital picture related to your research or topic to include in the agenda and on the website. We can also scan images sent by mail. Registration for the conference will begin November 1, 2002 and you may contact Suzanne Laverty at SLaverty@defenders.org for details. The registration website is http://keysecure.com/forwolves.org/confer2003.html

The Service's weekly wolf report can now also be viewed at the Service's Region 6 web site at WesternGrayWolf.fws.gov  This report is government public property and can be used for any purpose. Please distribute as you see fit.

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

 

Interagency Wolf Management Meeting Notes

Thursday 19th 1-5 PM

Friday 20th 8am-12 PM

December 19th

Introductions and Reclassification-

Welcome- Bangs thanked everyone for coming. The final reclassification rule is in D.C for final review by the DOI. Several last minute issues/concerns were resolved in mid-Dec and the expected publication date is February 2003. The final rule will downlist wolves to threatened status and those wolves will be managed much as the experimental population wolves are currently being managed. The experimental population regulations and areas will remain. The needed 4d rules for threatened wolves will address many of the concerns of the states adjacent to Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. How the rules would affect wolves dispersing into OR, UT or states adjacent to MT, ID, and WY was briefly discussed.

State Management Plans-

Montana- Carolyn Sime discussed the status of Montana’s state planing effort. Montana has a state law, the Montana Environmental Policy Act, that requires that a full review of a proposed significant state action be analyzed and public input be gathered. The state is preparing an environmental impact statement. The draft MEPA document will be released for public comment soon and the state expects that their analysis will be completed by May 2003.

Idaho-Carter Niemeyer and Steve Nadeau commented that the Idaho state wolf plan framework had been completed but the operational plan had not been developed. Idaho F&G would be completing that effort within the next year. There was some discussion whether the Service would require the operational plan before delisting could proceed but Bangs thought that would not be necessary since the law simply requires that adequate regulatory mechanisms would prevent wolves form being threatened again and re-listed.

Wyoming-Moody, Kruckenburg, Jimenez, Bangs discussed Wyoming’s efforts to develop a state wolf management plan. The WY F&G Commission gave the Department initial instructions to complete a plan with a preferred alternative that would not allow for the Service to proceed with a delisting proposal and received a letter fro the FWS Director stating so. It is important to remember that the WY plan is still a draft and is still being discussed/worked on. Public input is still being analyzed and at some point the WY legislature, which meets this winter, might change the current status of wolves in at least parts of Wyoming, from predators. The states of ID and MT are helping WY to complete a wolf plan that allows for delisting to proceed since the three states are all equally involved in wolf recovery, delisting, and post-delisting management. The ID and MT plans were developed with the assumption that each state would assume 1/3 of the level required to maintain a recovered wolf population. Wyoming continues to debate this issue and a final plan and any changes in state law are expected by April 2003. The Service continues to work closely with the state to resolve these issues and concerns.

Monitoring

Utah wolf dispersal-Oregon-What does it mean?- Bangs briefly discussed that such dispersal events were anticipated and the experimental population rules allow for Service management. Dispersers outside the experimental population areas will generally be left alone if they aren’t causing problems but will be monitored either by the state, Wildlife Services, or possibly student or other volunteers. Wolves that cause problems will likely be killed. Wolves that are "in hand" for whatever reason may be returned to the nearest core wolf populaiton or let go on site, depending on case-by-case circumstances. In any regard the Service will closely coordinate with the affected states and tribes. The Service has no interest in actively pursuing wolf recovery anywhere in the NW U.S. outside of Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming.

Status– Meier passed out a draft tally of wolf monitoring information for 2002. The rough estimate for 2002 is as follows: NW MT- 116 wolves in 13 breeding pairs; GYA-280 wolves in 18 breeding pairs; and central Idaho- 285 wolves in 10 breeding pair. That is an estimate of 681 wolves in 41 breeding pairs, meaning the 3 year count down of 30 or more breeding pairs will be achieved on December 31, 2002. This draft information is being reviewed, double checked, and will be finalized as part of the 2002 annual report. There are no known wolf packs outside of Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming but it is almost certain lone wolves have dispersed into and may still reside in Washington, Oregon, Utah, and possibly Nevada, and Colorado.

Idaho-Mack, Wyoming-Jimenez, YNP-Smith, SW Montana-Asher, Fontaine, and NW Montana-Meier gave summaries of monitoring activities in each areas. Everyone pointed out that what was once a very good count of the actual wolf population is becoming more and more a rough estimate of wolf numbers and reproductive success. As the wolf population expanded in numbers and distribution the population estimate was more difficult to obtain. Also the old EIS definition of a breeding pair is no longer useful and extremely hard to obtain. That point is especially clear in central Idaho which has the most difficult access and wolf monitoring conditions. The estimate of wolves is up slightly and breeding pairs down, only because as the original reintroduced radioed collared wolves have either died or been replaced as alphas- meaning an increasing number of packs no longer have radioed adults- greatly complicating counting them. There were nearly as many packs/breeding pairs suspected but not confirmed as were confirmed as breeding pairs. Everyone generally agreed that monitoring efforts had to move away from the intensive radio-telemetry required for restoration and incorporate more routine standard practices. Telemetry would still be used for research, control, and other specific purposes but routine monitoring should be supplemented with snow tracking, agency observations, etc. The states indicated they expected to maintain some level of radio telemetry monitoring post-delisting, especially during the mandatory monitoring period. Maintaining intensive telemetry monitoring will require much more funding than is currently available.

Delisting Status-Bangs discussed that the Service and states are cooperating to prepare the delisting proposal. Recovery goals have been met and the delisting proposal will likely rest on the efforts of WY and MT to complete state wolf management plans that will pass professional peer review and the Service’s responsibility to determine that regulations are adequate to prevent wolves from becoming threatened again should the ESA protections be removed. The Service is unlikely to propose a delisting if state plans are unlikely to pass peer review since the ultimate decision will be based on the best science and the court’s ruling of whether the Service used that information to guide its ultimate decision.

Monitoring flights- Everyone seemed to agree that locating wolves every 10-14 days was generally good enough for monitoring issues.

Capture Operations- A discussion about the need to radio-collar wolves developed. Bangs generally felt that radio-telemetry monitoring was unnecessary, expensive and built false public expectations of what it took to manage wolves. Yellowstone plans to continue intensive research using telemetry and all three states indicated that telemetry was likely to be continued at least initially under state management. Wildlife Services also said they would likely use telemetry to enhance their control capabilities and for implementing some forms of non-lethal control. These interests commented that radio-telemetry was very useful and that is greatly enhanced public expectations of the agencies’ responsibilities for wolf management. At some point the states will be the ones to decide what level of monitoring they can afford. It was interesting that in recent public surveys the number one thing that local ranchers expected was increased one-on-one communication with agency folks about wolf locations, etc -which is enhanced through radio telemetry- but increased agency funding [which is needed to collar and radio monitor wolves] was the least wanted management option. The group discussed whether the Service had some special extra responsibility to fund monitoring during any mandatory monitoring period after delisting. At this point in time capture and radio collaring operations will likely proceed as they have been until delisting is achieved.

Generally everyone thought the monitoring program was going reasonably well and no major changes were needed. Bangs expressed concern over helicopter darting and its potential safety issues and trapping and incidental catches [such as dogs]. There was a clear need to recognize that long term post-delisting monitoring had to be based on survey or population trend techniques other than intensive capture efforts and telemetry. The old definition of a breeding pairs used to measure wolf recovery was impractical for routine post-delisting monitoring. By necessity, wolf monitoring will evolve into a count of a certain number of wolves traveling together in winter. However, other than Bangs, many stressed the need for continued radio telemetry monitoring because of its importance to research, closely monitoring the wolf population, its use at helping reducing livestock conflicts and quickly resolving them when necessary, and to assist law enforcement investigations.

Management

It seems that the general guidance for placement of M-44 devices [neck snares and daily trap check] is working fairly well. The Service will provide WS a map of wolf pack territories [the map from each year’s annual reports but the Service will attempt to get a more detailed version to WS]. M-44's may not be set in those areas unless the Service has notified WS that the pack no longer exists. The Service will notify WS of any new packs that form that are not listed in the maps. Outside of those areas WS will determine themselves if wolves are likely to be present and may be taken by M-44's. WS and the Service will continue to coordinate closely to avoid incidental take during other control activities.

Somewhat surprisingly, depredations in 2002 [40 cattle, 115 sheep, 7 dogs and 7 llamas] were about the same as in 2001 [40 cattle, 138 sheep, 6 dogs, 3 llamas]. We briefly discussed why this may have occurred because an increase was expected with the increasing wolf population. Some people thought it could be just more unconfirmed depredations, others suggested overall wolf range hasn’t expanded outside of the core recovery areas and new packs are simply filling in gaps in areas that don’t have much livestock, and others suggested the use of non-lethal and timely lethal control may have helped in some situations. Probably a combination of things but a rise in conflicts is certain as the wolf population increases.

Wyoming-Krischke, Idaho-Collinge, and Montana- Handegard, Glazier, and Hoover discussed wolf depredations and wolf control in 2002. Rough data indicate in 2002 wolves in NW MT were confirmed to have killed 10 cattle, 13 sheep, 4 dogs, and 9 llamas- in response 9 wolves were killed. In the GYA 21 cattle, 86 sheep, 1 dog were confirmed killed, and in response 24 wolves were killed. In central Idaho 9 cattle, 16 sheep, 2 dogs were confirmed killed and in response 14 wolves were killed. No wolves were relocated in 2002. A state-by-state breakdown will also appear in this year’s annual report. We discussed ways to keep better records of wolf depredations and will attempt to use a more-detailed Service form in 2003 in addition to WS records.

Permits- Shoot on sight permits removed 3 wolves. Nonlethal [rubber bullet] permits continue to be issued. Only one wolf has been hit so far but people seem to feel better about being able to shoot at wolves coming too close to buildings or livestock. A wolf was legally shot and killed without a permit because it was seen attacking a calf on private property.

Use of non-lethal techniques continues- Williamson, Niemeyer, Breck, and WS- RAG Boxes appear useful for temporarily reducing some conflicts but wolves eventually ignored them. Beck discussed WS research’s fladry study. It was used in several instances and from a week to 45 days fladry seemed to temporarily keep wolves out of high conflict areas, and a month seemed typical. However, wolves eventually crossed the barriers and in several instances killed livestock. There are no magic bullets in terms of non-lethal techniques and most appear to offer only temporary relief. However non-lethal techniques will continue to be used when practical because prevention maybe a much more effective tool to long-term conflicts resolution than repeated lethal control. The special rules also require that the Service utilize non-lethal as a part of its overall wolf control program when feasible. All lethal control authorized in 2003 will attempt to be documented in a letter to WS from the Service in addition to normal record keeping.

Depredation sheets-Are they adequate? One of the areas of the wolf control program recommended for improvement during the 1999 revision of the wolf control plan for NW Montana and N. Idaho was improved record keeping. A constant source of conflict in improving record keeping is a Texas court order that prohibits WS from releasing any information regarding landowner identity. While the Service and WS have managed to work through this problem it has greatly complicated accurate record keeping and detailed analysis of the effectiveness of wolf control efforts by the Service. Establishing a record of wolf control activities from the weekly reports and the WS investigation forms [with landowners and area crossed out] and Defenders compensation program requires Service biologists to go to extra efforts to construct a record of wolf depredations and control. Service biologists will attempt to construct a better data base by filling out an internal wolf depredation form as the Service is notified by WS of a confirmed wolf depredation. Liz Bradley, a graduate student with UM will complete her thesis on wolf depredation on cattle and wolf control, affected rancher surveys, and relocation as a management tool in late 2003. Rose Jaffe, a Service seasonal biologist, is putting GPS location data with all livestock depredation data and is updating the dog depredation data base. That effort should be completed in January 2003.

Overall everyone thought the wolf control program was doing fairly well and no major changes were required. Both livestock losses and lethal wolf control are below predicted levels.

DECEMBER 20

Research

Doug Smith discussed the Park’s ongoing research into wolf ecology, including his most recent efforts to analyze records of over 400 radio-collared wolves to assess survival rates and causes of mortality. Of 248 wolves that have died, about 27% were unknown causes, 22% each from illegal and agency control, human/other causes were about 7% each, and vehicles and other wolves were 5% each, and capture related, and other predators were 2-3% each. Man-caused mortality is the cause of over 80% of all wolf death. This manuscript is in preparation of peer review publication in 2003. During a multi-predator study in relation to elk hunting outside of Yellowstone Park movement data indicated grizzly bears moved outside the Park toward hunters to feed on gut piles, wolf movement appeared relatively unaffected, they moved outside the Park to feed on gut piles but also into the Park following the elk which moved into the Park to areas with high wolf numbers to avoid human hunters. Cougars appeared to move into the Park to avoid human activity associated with hunting along the Park boundary.

WS is continuing its research of non-lethal measurers to reduce livestock/wolf conflict. Liz Bradley briefly discussed her project and her surveys of ranchers who had experienced wolf depredation and their neighbors who hadn’t. The UM led study of livestock compensation and if it leads to large carnivore conservation was briefly discussed. Rose Jaffe discussed MSU efforts to assess the impact of wolf predation on elk both in the Madison Firehole area and west of Yellowstone Park where elk are heavily harvested. Jimenez will continue the cooperative research project, now in its 4th year, looking at the potential effect of wolves on wintering elk on WY state feed grounds.

Rubber jaws vs steel jawed leg hold traps- Meier and Frame are taking the lead and will be writing a paper on trapping and trap injuries. Fontaine is taking the lead on writing a paper about disease exposure of wolves using blood serum. Everyone assisted by providing data with a Norwegian-led effort to determine the effect of alpha wolf loss on pack structure. That multi-author publication soon be published in 2003. Starting in 2003 the Park will lead efforts to do an elk calf mortality study on the Northern Range as well as continue the adult elk movement and mortality study.

Everyone seemed to think the research was focused appropriately on the two key issues-livestock depredation and the potential effect of wolf predation on ungulate populations.

I & E and LE

LE- any dead wolves are an LE issue. Any dead livestock are a Wildlife Services issue.

Things on the LE front appear to be going well and no major changes in policy were recommended. We are trying to get a list of all LE investigations and cases for the annual report.

I & E- Montana had an identifying wolves section in its hunting regulations and that seemed to result in an increase in reports of wolf activity by hunters. That could be useful in other states.

Annual Report-Meier and Fontaine are taking the lead in preparing the annual report. Drafts of the tables and maps of wolf numbers, distribution and livestock conflicts were handed out and everyone will be getting improved copies to review. It is hoped that the 2002 annual report will be completed by February 2003.

Everyone was reminded how important the weekly report is for maintaining a consistent record and source of public information. It is widely read and provides an important record of everything we do. Please contribute!!

How and what do we do to prepare for the reclassification and delisting? The wolf population in the NRM is biologically recovered. MT, ID, and WY and the Service signed a cooperative agreement and the Service is providing funding to cooperate on efforts to prepare a wolf delisting package. The final reclassification rule will set the policy and legal framework for the delisting effort. Any delisting proposal in 2003 appears to currently depend on Wyoming’s effort to prepare a state wolf management plan that will adequately conserve wolves in the Wyoming portion of the GYA. Funding of wolf management appears to be a major issue that has not yet been completely resolved.

The annual meeting will be held April 8-10, 2003 in Chico Hot Springs, Montana. It is co-hosted by the Service and Defenders of Wildlife. It is likely the last annual meeting the Service will co-host because wolves should be delisted in early 2004. Hopefully, beginning in 2004 the states will be leading all wolf management issues and meetings. Likewise, the states were encouraged to considering organizing and leading the December 2003 annual interagency wolf meeting.

We thank everyone for coming and have a safe journey home. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.