Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 4/25/03

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 4/18 to 4/25, 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.

Seasonal biologist Paul Frame is in the Noxon area, where he is trapping for the Green Mountain Pack. He is also looking for sign in the Bull River and Clark Fork drainages. On the 20th, a trap was missing and it was assumed a dog had been caught. On Monday a person returned the trap and wasn’t upset although she couldn’t get the trap off until she got home. The area had been properly signed and Paul was using rubber-jawed traps. All the proper trapping protocols were followed and in this instance, it wasn’t a big issue. Seasonal biologist Paul Hansen came on board the 25th and will be assisting in this summer’s wolf collaring efforts in Montana. A recent telemetry flight saw a member of the Red Shale pack [14 wolves in NW MT normally along the East Front] in a meadow in the normal pack territory, dragging its hind quarters. It appeared severely wounded and the area will be searched for its carcass once conditions allow. About half of the remaining pack members were east of Hungry Horse Reservoir and the other half was nearly 30 miles away on the east side of the Flathead Valley- both groups were far outside the pack’s normal home range.

The collar from Idaho wolf B128 was on mortality mode in Copper Basin. It is a very rugged area and it may be inaccessible even after the snow is gone in a couple of months. Also, another Wildhorse wolf’s collar frequency was detected on mortality in the town of McCall. This maybe a stray signal of some sort but is being investigated.

A litter of 5 pups, less than a week old, was seen by an Idaho rancher on the 23rd. This is the first confirmed 2003 wolf litter in Idaho, although other females have localized. He accidentally found them on public land adjacent to his ranch and immediately left the area to not disturb them. Wolf B-107's pups still had their eyes closed. The "den" was just an above ground depression under a spruce tree.

The former alpha male wolf from the Beartooth pack that had mange in early 2002, died this past winter/spring. It was confirmed that poor condition associated with mange was the cause of his death. Visual sightings of the adjacent Absaroka pack indicate that at least one of those pack members has mange. Mange is common in coyotes especially at lower elevations east of the continental divide.

USFWS, NPS and NPT biologists began coordinating efforts to search for missing radio collars in the three (or more) state area. About 40 wolves, collared in the last 5 years, are currently missing. Searches will concentrate on likely wolf habitat where no wolves are known to be radio-collared.

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.

Control

A call was received the afternoon of the 20th. A sheep rancher near Dillon, MT had heard a report that wolves had been in his sheep and "it was quite a mess". Based on that information, previous depredations in that area, and the fact the Freezeout pack female was located near there on Thursday, the rancher was given permission to shoot 2 wolves on site if he found them on his private land. The investigation by WS confirmed wolves were responsible for killing 16 ewe sheep and another 16-18 wounded that will probably die. Right now ewe sheep are at their highest value- they have a year’s wool on them and average 1½ near-term lambs in them. Three of 4 guard dogs that were protecting the sheep are still missing but are probably still alive. On the 21st, 2 wolves from the Freezeout pack were killed and 2 [a yearling female and 2-yr old radioed male] more were killed on the 23rd. The Freezeout alpha female has apparently moved west and is denned in an area with intensive livestock production and in summer, few native ungulates. This situation typifies the "sink effect" that can be caused when an entire pack is removed. The Gravelly pack got into trouble and was removed. The Freezeout pack then moved into that vacant territory and now they are in trouble. They may eventually all be removed too.

WS investigated a report of two dead calves near Clayton, ID on the 20th, where previous depredations have occurred in past years. The Buffalo Ridge pack of about 8 wolves is denned near there and could be involved. Telemetry monitors have been set up in the area to determine which wolves maybe responsible [Buffalo Ridge or a new group].

Wildlife Services determined that a calf was consumed by the Lone Bear pack, south of Livingston, MT on the 20th but it apparently died of natural causes. However, on the 23rd WS confirmed that a calf in a pasture with about 300 other cattle, was killed by the pack on the same private land. WS lethally removed one wolf on the 24th and will remove up to two more when weather permits. One of the pack’s 2 radioed wolves had a "rope tail" [mange] and will be one of the animals removed.

Fontaine provided less-than-lethal munitions training to a rancher in the Avon area on the 21st.

Research

Congratulations to Doug Smith, Rolf Peterson, and Doug Houston who co-author an article "Yellowstone after Wolves". It was the cover story and was just published in Bio-Science [April 2003, Vol 53 No. 4: 330-340. Great piece of work- Doug, Rolf and Doug!

Information and education and law enforcement

TWO RESEARCH JOBS- Two research technician jobs are available for carnivore-cattle study in Arizona for 1 year starting May 19, 2003. If the program is extended opportunities for graduate study will be available. A multi-agency and partner team is investigating causes of cattle death and grazing rotation schedules on very remote grazing allotments in Arizona. Mountain lions, wolves, coyotes and black bears are in the study area and their sign will be monitored. Applicants must have college degree or closely related field. Horseback, hiking and ATV travel is required. Contact Dr. Stewart Breck at stewart.w.breck@aphis.usda.gov or (970)266-6000 or mail cover letter, resume’, college transcripts, and GRE scores to Dr. Stewart Breck, USDA/APHIS/Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, 4101 LaPorte Ave., Fort Collins, CO 80521.

Bangs, Asher, Hoover & Rost [WS], and Kurt Alt [MT FW&P] participated in a meeting hosted by a local watershed/conservation district in Livingston, MT the evening of the 21st. About 70 people attended and the meeting was primarily informational about ranching and wolves.

WS investigated a possible depredation at the Deer Lodge Prison on the 21st. The calf died from natural and was being fed on by coyotes.

On the 16th Fontaine and MDFWP personnel looked at two calf elk that were dead in a small holding reservoir SW of Anaconda. The ranch manager saw a large black canine leaving the area and there were multiple canine tracks around the site. The different size of tracks and necropsy of the calves indicated that local dogs had killed them. Both calves were retrieved from the reservoir where they had taken refuge to get away from the dogs.

Fontaine traveled to the Ninemile Valley on the 24th to provide less than lethal munitions training to a local resident. Their dog disappeared for a couple of hours after it chased 2 wolves but the dog came back unharmed. Joe also met with a ranch caretaker about the wolves in the valley. The caretaker was concerned that the wolves would be eliminated from the valley.

On the 21st Curt Mack gave a presentation to the Latah County commission. That same evening he and Jim Hoylan talked with 12 ranchers at the Latah County fairgrounds in Moscow. On the 22nd they met with personnel from the Palouse Ranger District of the Clearwater NF in Potlatch, ID. That evening they talked to 35 folks at the fire station in Deary, ID. Tribal biologists have begun to contact potentially affected livestock producers in Onedia County, ID.

A resident of McCall/Donnelly reported finding his dog killed by wolves on the west slope of Jughandle Mt. (just S of McCall). He is a wolf advocate and didn't relay any ill will toward wolves. It was never confirmed, but the Gold Fork pack radioed wolves were located far away on a flight that occurred within a couple of days of the report.

The Nez Perce Tribe is in the process of hiring of 1 seasonal biologist and a crew of volunteers for this summer’s wolf monitoring work.

Gray wolves throughout the eastern and western United States were downlisted from endangered to threatened status effective April 1, 2003. The new regulations can be viewed at the Federal Register April 1, 2003 or at http://midwest.fws.gov/wolf/fnl-rule/ .

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 over. Public meetings on the future of state wolf management in Montana are completed but 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.

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