Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 5/16/03

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 5/02 to 5/16, 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 Frame was trapping in the McGinnis Meadows, NW MT area. He had just set a couple of traps near some fresh wolf sign and had driven around the corner of the road set a couple of more traps before returning to sign the area. Before he returned, a man and woman had gotten out of their car with their collie dog by the first traps and the dog was captured. During the confusion the lady stepped on a nearby trap setting it off. The rubber-jawed trap was removed from the dog and it was uninjured. But understandably, the couple were very upset by that time. When Paul returned a few minutes later he was severely "chewed-out." The couple was contacted again to apologize for the capture of their dog. Always remember to sign areas before the first trap is set.

Seasonal biologist Paul Hansen finished trapping in May 9, and will start work on a swift fox reintroduction study in Badlands National Park in early June. Paul had a wolf pull out of a steel-jawed McBride trap on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range in NW MT on May 9 [rats!]. Thanks for the help Paul and good luck in the future.

Frame and Meier caught a 78 lb. yearling male wolf from the Whitefish Pack, in Glacier National Park on May 15. Frame will be returning to graduate studies in Canada next week but will assist Meier to trap in Glacier National Park until then. Thanks for the help Paul!

The radio from female wolf #230 that was using the Yaak, MT area was located in a pool just below the Yaak Falls and it is probably an illegal mortality. An investigation of the site by the local MT FW&P biologist in early May indicted that until water levels go down it can not be safely recovered.

Yellowstone flew on Sunday 5/11 and all wolves are on dens. Elk were abundant and commonly seen grazing very close to most active dens. Dens are at lower elevations and that’s where the green grass and elk are right now. The preliminary estimate is14 packs on dens, including what appear to be a couple of double litters. Pups were sighted at 3 separate dens. Two packs have already moved pups to second den/rendezvous sites.

Babcock radio-collared a member of the Big Hole pack, near Hwy 12 earlier this month. He hid and then called near a well-used wolf trail. When a yearling wolf investigated, he darted it with a radio-dart fired from a Cap-Chur rifle. He then located it [new #148] with telemetry after it became immobilized. Great job! Issac. Nez Perce biologists Holyan and Husseman trapped and radioed a yearling wolf in the Big Smokey area earlier in the week and on the 16th they caught and radioed a lactating female. Wolf pack activity has been reported in this area for the past two years but none of them were radioed. Now a breeding "Big Smokey" [maybe renamed] wolf pack is back on the air. Great work Jim and Jason!.

A group of 3-4 wolves has been located near the Boise River for the past 2 years. A dispersing NW Montana wolf #R-241 was located there this spring and a telemetry flight on the 15th, observed 6-7 pups and another adult. The new pack is called the Steel Mountain pack. Areas with reported wolf activity but unradioed packs will continue to be surveyed and searched for missing radio-collared wolves. If dens are located trapping will be attempted.

Recent telemetry flights in Idaho indicate that 13 packs have probably denned. They are Big Hole, "Big Smokey", Buffalo Ridge, Gospel Hump, Hourglass [B107], Orphan, Scott Mountain, Selway, Steel Mountain [R241], B2, B110, B111, and B131. Further monitoring will determine the success of those packs and locate other denning packs in Idaho.

On April 30, 2003 Teton wolf #200, a 6 year-old breeding female’s radio was heard on mortality mode. Her body was recovered and she was killed by other wolves- almost certainly from her pack. The other breeding female and the rest of the Teton pack continue to use the den site and appear to be raising #200's pups.

There were several reports from concerned livestock producers in MT and ID that elk were causing forage/hay/fence damage and appeared concentrated at lower elevations than normal, possibly because of wolves. Wolf field staff visited with several landowners. MT FW&P indicated that many elk were lower than normal this time of year because of green-up patterns but should be headed to higher elevations soon. Wolves did not appear to be involved in these elk distributions since they were occurring in areas both with and without wolves. In SW MT [GYA]; Freezeout, Taylor Peak, Mill Creek, Chief Joe packs appear to have denned. Lone Bear and Sentinel packs are presumed to be denning. WS was trapping in the Lone Bear territory to get another radio in the group. The pack was involved in depredations on a ranch earlier this spring but the wolves have stopped using that area and traps were pulled on the 16th.

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

The week of the 5th, a 100 lb. uncollared non-breeding female wolf was trapped and killed by WS on a private ranch near Grand Teton National Park. The ranch had a pregnant cow killed by a wolf earlier this winter but control was suspended because of deep snow. The ranch wasn’t interested in receiving a shoot-on-site permit. Recently a wolf was repeatedly chasing cattle at the ranch and harassment was unsuccessful so the Service requested WS to remove it, ending control.

A black bear hunter using 2 hounds in Idaho had his 9-year-old hound/pet killed and half eaten by an uncollared group of at least 4 wolves along the main Salmon River near Northfork, ID on the 7th. His other dog was injured but survived by backing up under a tree. The hunter walked into the area a few hours later and jumped the wolves at about 20 yds [and likely saved his other dog’s life]. Niemeyer and Williamson [WS] investigated on the 8th and confirmed the depredation and visited with the hunter. Anyone who has ever lost a dog can understand the emotions involved. Our sympathies go out to the dog’s owner but neither control nor compensation is available for hunting dog depredations on public land. Loss of big game hunting dogs and hounds to wolves is one of the biggest conservation issues facing local tolerance of wolves in much of Scandinavia, central Europe, Russian, and parts of the Midwestern U.S. Niemeyer and Williamson howled in that area that night, thinking a new pack might be denned nearby, but no responses were heard.

There was a third probable calf depredation near the East Fork of the Salmon River/Squaw Creek just outside the SNRA. These are likely being caused by the Buffalo Ridge pack that has denned in that area. The Service, WS, and Defenders of Wildlife met with the livestock producers to discuss ways to help reduce the potential for future losses, including alternative summer grazing pastures. Those wolves are denned very near to federal grazing allotments and private grazing pastures that will be filled with cattle and calves next week.

On the 15th, a ranch near Dubois, WY had a confirmed calf kill. This ranch has had repeated wolf and grizzly bear depredations in past years. The ranch manager was re-issued a shoot-on-sight permit for 2 wolves. WS is trapping on the ranch and will radio-collar and release the first wolf captured. Radio-collared members of the Washakie pack have not been located in this area and we suspect another unradioed pack is involved. WS was also authorized to ground-shoot up to 2 wolves near where the depredations occurred.

Around the 10th a third calf was killed near Meeteetse, WY. Three ranches were involved, all in the same vicinity. Radio-collared members of the Greybull River pack have been elsewhere [the den is about 25 miles away] when these depredations occurred but we speculate the kills were made by non-radioed pack members. However, Wildlife Services is trapping in the area and will radio and release the first wolf trapped just in case a separate pack is involved. WS is authorized to ground or aerially shoot wolves seen near the depredation sites or kill 2 trapped wolves after one is radioed and released.

A livestock herding dog was killed by wolves near Riggins, ID in mid/late April. No control was attempted. However on May 14th, 4 sheep were killed, 8 injured and another 2 missing by wolf B105 in the Little Salmon River area near Riggins. He had been traveling with another wolf and it could be he has a mate that has denned. Control options are being evaluated.

Asher provided less-than-lethal munitions training for new ranch manager at Sun Ranch, south of Ennis, MT.

Research

Former Univ. Idaho graduate student Jason Husseman [now working for the Nez Perce Tribe] just published his M.S. work on mountain lion and wolf predation on wild ungulates in Idaho. Jason S. Husseman, Dennis L. Murray, Gary Power, Curt Mack, C.R. Wenger, and Howard Quigley. 2002. "Assessing differential prey selection patterns between two sympatric large carnivores." OIKOS101:591-601. Great job Jason!

Another former Univ. Idaho graduate student [and current the Service’s Mexican Wolf field biologist] just published part of his M.S. thesis. John K. Oakleaf, Curt Mack, and Dennis Murray. 2003. Effects of wolves on livestock calf survival and movements in central Idaho. Journal of Wildlife Management 67(2):299-306. Congratulations John! it was a great study and paper.

Elk calf captures in Yellowstone National Park are scheduled to begin around the 20th. Yellowstone has expanded its research on elk/wolf relationships. In addition to the radio-collared adult elk that have been monitored the past several years, elk calves will be collared and monitored beginning this summer. The research will determine their survival rates and the specific causes of mortality. Several cooperating Universities and graduate students are involved.

This is one of several multi-year comprehensive research projects in and around Yellowstone National Park that are attempting to scientifically determine the effect of wolf predation on various elk herds in the Greater Yellowstone Area. There is certainly enough rhetoric, rumor, and speculation about those types of predator/prey relationships. Good information will be useful to state wolf managers as they wrestle to balance ungulate populations with human, lion, bear, wolf, and coyote predation, habitat condition and carrying capacity [including winter feeding issues in WY], property damage [fences, grass & hay], and winter and summer weather cycles.

Information and education and law enforcement

Montana Wolf Management Draft EIS was released and public meetings are over. Public meetings on the future of state wolf management in Montana are completed mail-in and on-line comments were accepted through May 12. Visit www.fwp.state.mt.us to review the plan.

The Summer 2003 issue of "International Wolf" magazine [Vol 13 No. 2] had articles about- "Wolves have reached recovery levels in the Northern Rocky Mountains: How does delisting happen?" [pg 21-22] by Ed Bangs; and under Personal Encounters "Howling with the Faunce Pack, 1976" [pg 24- 25] by Tom Meier.

On the 16th, Niemeyer and Mack participated in a field trip with the Boulder Whitecloud Council in the Stanley, ID area. On the 17th, they will participate in a field trip with the Idaho Conservation League’s as part of their annual meeting at Redfish Lake, also near Stanley.

On the 14th, Bangs gave a presentation on Wilderness and Threatened and Endangered Species to the Forest Service Regional Wilderness Stewardship Training Session in Ennis, MT. About 35 western state wildlife biologists and managers attended.

On the 13th, Jimenez gave a presentation at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, WY. About 60 people attended.

Fontaine gave a wolf presentation for a National Conservation Training Course in Portland, OR on the 15th. About 30 biologists attended.

On May 8th Niemeyer and Williamson [WS] attended an informational meeting in Salmon, Idaho, where Dr. John Sullivan from Tuscon, Arizona presented his Wolf HMO concept to citizens of Lemhi County. Others in attendance included Defenders of Wildlife, Idaho Cattle, the Mayor, Lemhi County Commissioners, and several local ranchers. Lemhi county attendees gave it a mixed review, but a second meeting is planned to discuss the concept further. Dr. Sullivan suggests that Lemhi county be the test site to develop and apply a compensation program that would be implemented by outside contributions to a fund that promotes rural/wildlife values. Theoretically the fund would provide compensation for livestock losses to wolves and also create a community foundation grant source for city and county businesses, schools, and other public entities.

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