Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 5/30/03

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 5/23 to 5/30, 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.

Early counts indicate that there are 14 groups of wolves may be denning in Yellowstone National Park. Seven groups of wolves maybe denned in Wyoming outside the Park. It appears that 7 packs may be denning in the GYA in Montana, outside of Yellowstone National Park. While disease, pup loss, control, and illegal killing will reduce the number of breeding pairs, at this time it appears that numbers of breeding pairs and wolves will be as high as last year, when there were 23 breeding pairs in the GYA. Nez Perce biologists estimate that at least 14 wolf packs maybe denned in central Idaho. Denning wolves in NW MT appear to be at about last year’s level. a dozen or so.

We received a reliable report of a gray uncollared wolf-like canid about 7 miles north of Baggs, WY indicating that a wolf [or tame wolf hybrid] may have dispersed within spitting distance of Colorado.

Researchers from Montana State University located a new wolf den on a private ranch along the western Border of Yellowstone National Park. At least one pup was seen. It could be a split off of the Chief Joe pack. A collar will be placed in the pack when conditions permit.

Yellowstone wolves are tending dens, with most packs being split between individuals or small groups tending dens and small groups hunting or feeding at kills away from the den. Seven pups were seen at the Druid den (possibly 3 litters), 7 pups with the Leopold pack (possibly 2 litters), 2 pups with Cougar Creek pack, and 8 pups with Agate (possibly 2 litters). Members of the Agate Creek Pack had a black bear treed 50 feet up in a lodgepole a couple miles from the den, and were sitting at the base of the tree. Three packs had bull elk kills, so despite the arrival of elk calves on the Yellowstone landscape, wolves are getting bulls, possibly still recovering from winter. Elk have moved back into the park throughout all wolf territories, and many cows are isolated, likely with calves nearby or about to give birth. The Yellowstone Delta pack, along with recent immigrant 276M of the Washakie Pack, are up in the Delta at the end of the Southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake at one of their traditional den areas. There has been a lot of movement from first dens to second and third den/rendezvous sites (8 packs).

WE NEED HELP FROM COOPERATORS AND PUBLIC- We are currently into the trapping season, when we try to radio-collar wolves from previously unknown packs and beef up our collar coverage in known packs. This is the time of the year when pups begin to be seen and heard, and reports of pups are the most valuable information we can get, to help target our trapping efforts. Please pass on any reports of wolves being seen or heard, particularly sightings of pups, reports of groups of wolves howling, or wolves barking (usually a sign of pups nearby). With the size and terrain of western Montana and other areas, our searching blindly about for wolf sign is almost futile, and reports from agency people and citizens on the ground are invaluable.

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

Trapping control efforts ended near Dubois, WY. The only road access to the ranch where the depredations occurred is through another ranch. That landowner requested that Service personal no longer drive across his land. Of course we respected his will and all traps were immediately pulled on the 28th. The ranch manager where the depredations occurred still has an active shoot on sight permit for 2 wolves. Trapping was being conducted to radio a member of what is apparently a new pack and then lethally control 2 or more members of the pack that killed a calf. The radioed members of the Washakie pack are at the den many miles to the northeast. No wolves were removed and there has been no further confirmed depredations. The neighbors will have to work this one out themselves.

An apparent lone black wolf killed one sheep on the 22nd, two more on the 23rd, and 15 on the 24th near Fishtail, Montana. The ranch has had sheep killed several years ago but hasn’t had any problems until now. A herder saw a large black ‘skinny’ canid in the sheep. WS was authorized to remove the animal. They are trapping and the landowner and his employees were given a shoot-on-sight permit for one black wolf on his private property.

Therese Hartman and Red Eagle Aviation flew on May 27 and found the two collared Hog Heaven wolves just leaving the scene of a calf kill on private land on the north edge of the Salish-Kootenay reservation. Service biologists checked the site later in the day with Wildlife Services trapper Ted North and CSKT warden Darwin Parker, and confirmed it as wolf depredation. Since this is the first depredation by the pack, and the producer is moving his cattle to a different area within a few days, we will just intensify monitoring and wait and see if there are more problems.

On the 29th, Wildlife Services confirmed a calf was killed by wolves near Pinedale, WY. There are no known radioed wolves in the area but this is the same area that was visited by several Teton wolves last winter. If it appears to be a lone dispersing wolf it will be removed.

Research

The first of a series of newborn elk calf captures in Yellowstone National Park began late last week. Out of 14 early calves radioed, 6 were killed by predators within days. Three by grizzly bears, 2 by wolves, one by coyotes. Elk calving peaks June 1, and a swamping strategy is one whereby calving peaks to flood predators with calves so they can’t eat them all. The early results reenforce everyone’s prediction [typical everywhere there are large predators, especially bears, there will be high initial losses of new-born calves] that there is intensive predation on ungulate neonates. The next round of elk calf collaring will begin on the 30th. In theory calf loss will be highest among those calves born first and last- with higher survival of calves born during the peak of calving. The study will examine causes and rates of elk calf mortality.

Yellowstone National Park is also examining summer wolf predation in more detail besides just tagging elk calves. They have been monitoring members of the Druid pack using GPS locations [multiple locations are taken each day] were that are downloaded weekly. Starting June 1 the Park will step-up those efforts by having volunteers watching the pack as much as possible and by walking the course of GPS locations and cluster to look for kills.

Information and education and law enforcement

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.

Doug Smith is out for the next two weeks on paternity leave {Congratulations Doug and Christine!!]. Dan Stahler lead a field trip for Yellowstone Park Foundation Advisory Council on the 23rd. Deb Guernsey gave a talk at Lake Hotel for park concessions employees on the 27th.

On May 29, Meier and Montana FWP wolf planning coordinator Carolyn Sime presented information on wolf biology, recovery and state planning to about 15 members of the FWP Region 1 Citizen's Advisory Council.

A paper on "Attitudes toward wolves and wolf payment programs by farmers, bear hunters, and other people in northern Wisconsin" can be found at http://www.geography.wisc.edu/wolfproject/.

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