Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 3/28/03

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 3/07 to 3/28, 2003

Monitoring

NEW WEB ADDRESS- See the 2002 annual wolf report at http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov/ for maps of wolf pack locations and home ranges, tables of wolf numbers and depredations, litigation and funding issues, and summaries of scientific studies.

Monitoring flights are still being conducted throughout the recovery areas as weather allows. Most wolves and wolf packs appear to be in their usual places as denning time approaches.

An uncollared black male wolf was road-killed near Bull Lake on March 10. Tom Meier received several reports of 3-4 wolves in the Bull River area near the Montana border with N. Idaho.

The Freezeout pack headed west out of their normal territory and into the former Gravelly pack territory. Reports from two livestock producers indicated that the pack visited a calving and a lambing area on the 24th and 25th respectively. The rancher ran the wolves out his calving pasture. There haven’t been any depredations and the pack is being monitored by WS and a rancher. Some packs take a walk-about just prior to the alpha female going into the den and this may be just that.

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

The suspected last 3 remaining members of the Castle Rock pack were killed on the 11th and 12th. No further control will be conducted unless further depredations are confirmed. Local ranchers reported 4 more wolves in the area. One fed on a cow carcass that died from natural causes. WS is trapping to radio-collar and release any wolves that are captured to establish contact with this group. We suspect they could be members of the Great Divide pack that moved into the Avon area once the Castle Rock pack was gone, or possibly surviving members of the Halfway pack.

There have been several reports of 2-3 wolves just east of Florence, MT in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula. On the 19th we received a call about 3 wolves chasing bison east of Florence. The owner of the bison reported that his neighbor watched the wolves chase the bison when suddenly a bull turned and pinned one of them to the ground and tried to gore it. The wolf was able to escape an ran off but it fell down twice while doing the hundred yard dash to get away from the bison. A few days later WS saw tracks of only 2 wolves a few miles away.

WS investigated and confirmed the killing of a ewe by the Ninemile pack on the 7th and another on the 14th. It appears that two black wolves and a cream colored wolf have been traveling in the lower Ninemile Valley and causing problems. They have visited a llama owner on several occasions, killed two ewes and were seen chasing the Forest Service horses and mules. Recent telemetry locations indicate that the two other wolves, which are radio collared, are occasionally traveling with the other members of the pack. Control is ongoing to trap near the problem areas and lethally remove one of the wolves. In addition to being able to shoot wolves seen attacking livestock, guarding and herding animals and dogs on private property, local landowners will be given training and less-than-lethal munitions as soon as the reclassification rule is published on April 1.

During the week of the 17th, Therease Hartman and several other volunteers from the University of Montana erected a temporary electric night pen for a llama owner in the Ninemile Valley (see above). The fencing materials were provided by Defenders of Wildlife. Shortly after the pen was erected 3 members of the Ninemile pack returned to where the llamas are penned. Although the llamas kept the owners awake by alarm calling there were no depredations. A big thanks to Therease and the volunteers for putting up the pen. Fontaine talked to the landowner and they voiced their appreciation as well.

WS investigated a possible wolf depredation west of Phillipsburg, Montana on the 21st. Apparently the calf died from natural causes and was just being fed on by coyotes.

On the 19th, WS investigated an incident near Thompson Falls involving wolves chasing bison through a fence. According to the landowner 2 wolves ran 11 head of non-reproductive cow bison through a fence. Three of the bison were found but could not be brought back to the pen. Two were shot by hunters for a fee but the rancher had to shoot the last one himself. WS found wolf tracks outside of the fence but no tracks inside of the pasture. No control will be undertaken at this time.

A shoot-on-sight permit was issued on the 15th to a producer in the Mill Creek pack territory to provide extra protection to his cattle while they are calving. The permit expires on April 4th.

A livestock producer near Ruby Reservoir saw a wolf [once less than 20m] near/in his cattle several times. He ran it off and will be given rubber bullet training, munitions, and permit in case it continues to frequent the area.

Research

Yellowstone National Park’s late winter 30-day wolf predation study will end on March 31st. Weather has been horrible for flying and that has resulted in ground crews doing most of the telemetry monitoring. Fortunately, they have been doing a great job and have managed to closely follow most packs. Spring kill rates seem similar to previous years [elk kill/pack every 3 days with more bulls that are in poorer condition than elk kills in fall].

Tom Meier et al. finished the 2002 annual interagency wolf report. The report will be mailed as soon as printing is completed. It is now available on our website http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov/. Nice job! Special thanks to all our cooperators for writing their sections and helping to get the report out in a timely manner.

The seventh issue of Wolf Notes, a newsletter of wolf research in the central Arctic, NWT, Canada was just posted on the web at http://www.nwtwildlife.rwed.gov.nt.ca/ The newsletter contains information about Service seasonal biologist Paul Frame’s Master’s project.

Doug Smith and Wayne Brewster [Yellowstone NP] skied into the Pelican Valley and camped with the field crew, March 24-26. The annual month-long research program looks at wolf/grizzly bear utilization and competition for bison carcasses. The study is in its 5th year. Two weeks ago the field staff watched Mollie’s pack [8 wolves] attack a bull bison. One wolf was killed, and two were injured- one gored and tossed and another kicked over 20 yards. But after 12 hours the remaining pack members finally killed the bull. Doug and Wayne saw the pack kill a bull elk and that was then taken over by a grizzly bear within 2 hours. Amazing sights and these observations underscore how dangerous and difficult it is for wolves to kill bison.

Information and education and law enforcement

Gray wolves throughout the eastern and western United States will be downlisted from endangered to threatened status beginning April 1, 2003. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it established three Distinct Population Segments (DPS) for the gray wolf. Wolves in the Western DPS and Eastern DPS were listed as threatened but in the Southwestern DPS wolves remain listed as endangered. The experimental population areas in central Idaho, Yellowstone, and the southwest remain unaffected by this listing action. The new threatened status in N. Montana and N. Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and the northern portions of Colorado and Utah [N. Of I-70] is accompanied by a special 4d rule that allows wolf management very similar but slightly more flexible than that already allowed in the experimental population areas.

Fontaine traveled to Washington D.C. the 16-18th to help brief FWS, DOI Officials, Congress, and conduct media interviews about the reclassification proposal.

In the western DPS [outside the experimental areas which remained just as they were] the 4d rules allow: 1. Anyone to harass any wolf at any time as long as the wolf is not injured; 2. Landowners may shoot any wolf that is physically attacking [biting, grasping] livestock [defined as- cattle, sheep., horses, or mules, and guarding and herding animals- such as llamas and certain breeds of dogs] and domestic dogs on private property [it must be reported within 24hrs]: 3. Federal grazing permittees that have a confirmed wolf depredation may receive a permit from the Service to shoot wolves seen attacking livestock on their federal grazing allotments. 4. The Service may issue permits to injuriously harass [rubber bullets, etc.] wolves; 5. The Service may issue permits to private landowners to shoot wolves on-sight after 2 or more livestock depredations; 6. People who accidentally kill a wolf will not be prosecuted if they were involved in otherwise legal activities and they took reasonable steps to not kill a wolf [Note- hunters are always responsible for identifying their target and "accidentally" shooting a wolf may be prosecuted]; 7. The States and Tribes, or-if 10 or more breeding pairs are established- the Service, may relocate wolves that are causing excessive predation on native ungulate herds; 8. No land-use restrictions are envisioned unless the federal activity may kill wolves. There are no land-use restrictions on private land. 9. The Service and other Service-authorized agencies may take wolves under permit for a variety of other reasons, including research or wolves that look or behave strangely. 10. Of course, as already allowed by the ESA, anyone may kill any wolf that is posing a direct and immediate threat to human life.

Montana Wolf Management Draft EIS was released and public meetings set. Public meetings on the future of state wolf management in Montana will be held from 6:30 till 9:00PM March 27 in Billings; April 1 in Glasgow; April 3 in Avon; April 8 in Missoula; April 14 in Bozeman; April 15 in Gardiner; April 16 in Butte and in Dillon; April 17 in Ennis; April 21 in Great Falls; April 23 in Kalispell and Whitefish; and April 24 in Rexberg. In addition mail-in and on-line comments will be accepted through May 12. Visit www.fwp.state.mt to review the plan and submit comments or write Wolf Plan EIS, MT FW&P, 490 N. Meridan Rd, Kalispell, MT 59901. To request a copy of the draft EIS call 406-444-2612.

Steve Nadeau [ID F&G] met with the Nez Perce Tribe, Idaho OSC, and FWS to review wolf funding and work loads for cooperators on the 21st. Steve also gave presentations to Borah High School and Nampa Rotary Club on wolf recovery and biology.

On the 5th, Rick Willaimson and Jim Holyan talked to and demonstrated rubber bullets for employees of the Thompson Creek Mine, between Challis and Stanley, ID. The Buffalo Ridge pack has occasionally travel through the mining operation.

On the 17-19th Bangs, talked to about 300 biologists and others at "Vargsymosiet 2003" a large carnivore conference in Ostersund, Sweden. Talks on the Big 5 Carnivores- humans, wolves, lynx, wolverine, and brown bears discussed ecology, livestock and hunting conflicts, public attitudes, and conservation in Scandinavia/N. Europe. The other invited foreign speakers were Christoph Pomberger and Barbara Promberger-Fuerpass who work on large carnivore issues in Romania.

Bangs met with some ranchers from the Madison Valley Land Trust, other state and federal agencies, and conservation organizations in Three Forks, MT March 24th. The group of about 3 dozen, discussed local concerns about wolf depredations, confirmation of livestock losses, compensation, wolf control, and the future of wolf management in Montana.

Fontaine gave a presentation to the Gates of the Mountains Chapter, Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation in Helena on the 24th. About 40 people were in attendance.

On the evening of 27th, Bangs participated in a panel discussion on "Relationships between people and wildlife"at Helena High School. The meeting was part of a series hosted by Helena National Forest and about 15 people attended.

The Nez Perce Tribe conducted a public outreach meeting in Grangeville, Idaho on March 20 to discuss wolf management, status and where wolf recovery is going in light of the recent reclassification. About 10 people attended the meeting. The Tribe will be hosting additional meetings in other areas of the state where reports of new wolf activity have been received, such as Benewah, Latah, and Oneida counties.

On the 24th, Curt Mack was invited to give a presentation to a group of about 50 people in St. Maries, ID. The group was very concerned about the potential effect of wolf predation on elk populations in that area, since elk were already declining prior to wolf reintroduction. Unfortunately the meeting was quite hostile.

The Nez Perce 2002 Wolf Progress Report is being completed and should be available sometime in April.

On March 9-12, Carter traveled to Iowa to speak to 120 wildlife biologists at their spring meeting regarding the wolf recovery program in the Northern Rockies. He gave a presentation on the evening of March 10 on recovery strategies, the reintroduction and depredation management. On the morning of March 11 he gave a presentation on the Final Rule, control plans, reclassification and delisting. Iowa DNR is writing a state wolf plan that Carter will help review. DNR wants to be proactive in dealing with wolf issues before they develop. Wolves are only a two hour walk north of the Iowa/Minnesota border.

Skip Stonesifer (USFWS, Partners for Wildlife, in the Central WA Field Office) gave a talk to the Clearwater Outfitters and the Clearwater National Forest on the wolf delisting/downlisting process. There were about 40 Outfitters present as well as 3 congressional aids and about 15-20 Forest Service folks at the meeting. The primary focus of this meting was for Outfitters and Forest personnel to go over outfitter permit requirements and changes etc. Idaho Fish and Game gave a talk on the Clearwater elk herd, that has been declining for many years. There was a lot of concern over perceptions of accurate communication about hunter/elk/wolf relationships.

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.

The 2003 North American Interagency Wolf Conference, is April 8 - 10, and will be held at Chico Hot Springs, Pray, MT. The theme this year is wolf/ungulate relationships. The registration website is https://keysecure.com/forwolves.org/confer2003.html The agenda is attached.

The Service's weekly wolf report can now also be viewed at the Service's Region 6 web site at http://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