Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 6/13/03

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 6/1 to 6/13, 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. Northwest Montana appears to have the same number of packs denned.

In northwest Montana pups have been seen with the Whitefish, Hog Heaven and Fish Trap Packs. The Kintla, Ninemile, Spotted Bear, and Lazy Creek packs also seemed to have localized at dens and have probably produced pups. Trapping efforts continue for the Grave Creek Pack, where no collared wolves remain and an effort is being made to locate the Great Divide pack near Helena. The Murphy Lake Pack was found on Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge, more than 30 miles south of their usual range. A dead wolf, probably killed by a vehicle, was found north of Whitefish. The Lazy Creek wolves cross the highway in that area, and the dead wolf is probably a yearling from that pack.

Monitoring in Wyoming confirmed that the Sunlight pack has 3 pups and the Teton pack was thought to have 5 pups but this week at least 6 pups were observed. It appears that Green River, Washakie, Beartooth, Greybull River and Absaroka have all denned but no pups have been observed at this time. The week of the 2nd trapping was ongoing to place radio collars in the Beartooth pack and on wolves in the Dunoir Valley. Trapping in the Beartooth pack has stopped and trapping is ongoing in the Sunlight Valley. Trapping in the Dunoir Valley continues.

Jim Peringer, WS in Wyoming, trapped and collared an adult male wolf west of Thermopolis on June 4th. This was a cooperative effort between the local WY G&F warden and WS., both reporting at least 2 sets of wolf tracks in this area since late winter. Monitoring indicates that there are two wolves traveling together but no indication that they have denned. Monitoring efforts will continue.

This summer Idaho field crews will be surveying 38 different wolf groups and areas of known or suspected wolf activity. Reproductive status of 18 documented radio-collared wolf packs and 7 new potential breeding pairs (radio collared dispersing wolves that have localized) will be assessed. In addition, 4 areas of known past wolf activity and 9 areas of suspected wolf activity will be surveyed for the presence and status of wolves.

To date, 10 wolf litters have been identified. Reproductive packs at this time include 4 documented packs including Big Hole, Buffalo Ridge, Landmark, and Moyer and 6 new packs including B105 – Hazard Lakes, B107 – Galena (note name change), B111 – Ohara Point, R241 – Steel Mountain, Soldier Mountain, and Hemlock Ridge.

The Hazard Lakes pack is near the Confluence of the Little and Main Salmon River near Riggins, Idaho and is composed of alpha male B105 and an unknown mate. The Galena pack is in the Sawtooth Valley near Stanley and is composed of the alpha female B107 and an unknown mate. The Ohara Point pack is composed of dispersing wolf B111 (Jureano Mountain pack) and 1-3 other adult wolves near Elk City. The Steel Mountain pack is in the upper reaches of the Middle Fork of the Boise River and is composed of R241, a dispersing wolf from the Sheep Mountain pack in Montana just north of YNP, and 1-3 other wolves. The Soldier Mountain pack is a newly documented pack in the Big and Little Smoky River drainages, north of Fairfield, Idaho. The Hemlock Ridge pack is a newly documented pack in the Pierce, Idaho area. Tribal crews were able to radio collar a wolf in this area and document the presence of a wolf litter, after receiving a report of an adult wolf and pup in the area from the Clearwater National Forest. The Clearwater National Forest was instrumental in this successful effort by providing timely and accurate information about wolves in the area, providing housing and access for Tribal field crews, and coordinating on the ground field efforts. A job well done. Tribal field crews and the Clearwater National Forest will continue to monitor this pack to better determine numbers, status, movements, and activities of this pack.

Niemeyer and Husseman investigated reports of wolf activity in the Idaho City area. Some wolf sign was observed, but more efforts will be required to document the status of wolf activity in this area. Multiple reports have been received of 4-6 wolves in the Bruce Meadows/Cape Horn/ and upper end of the South Fork of the Payette River area. Dispersing Wolf Fang wolf B109 has been located from the air in this general area on recent monitoring flights. Tribal field crews will continue to survey this area through the summer. Tribal field crews are investigating reported wolf activity, not associated with the Galena pack, in the Sawtooth Valley.

To date, 21 radio collars have been placed on wolves in 2003; 14 using helicopter capture, 1 ground darted, and 6 trapped.

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). 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

Meier and Hartman investigated a calf kill near Trego, MT on June 6th. The remains were turned over to WS personnel for investigation. The Murphy Lake Pack, their territory surrounds the town of Trego, Montana, was not found on a telemetry flight June 4th, and appeared not to have been in the area where the calf died.

The Hog Heaven wolves are being monitored as frequently as possible to determine if they are threatening cattle, since a confirmed calf depredation May 27. Collared and uncollared wolves have been found near cattle several times, but no further depredations have been found. The rancher was given a telemetry receiver to help him know when wolves were in the area. The cattle are on the north edge of the Confederated Salish-Kootenay Reservation.

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.

A landowner in Idaho reported what he thought were wolves chasing and attacking his horses and mules although no wolves were observed. Injuries to the stock were minor and the landowner did not request an investigation by WS. Recovery personnel will work closely with the landowner to better determine wolf activity in that area.

Wolf-livestock conflicts continue to be averted in and around the Buffalo Ridge pack thanks to a cooperative and pro-active effort by area producers, federal agencies, the Defenders of Wildlife, and the Recovery Project. Thanks to all participants for your patience, efforts, and willingness.

Although the Galena pack continues to use the Sawtooth Valley in close proximity to grazing sheep, no livestock depredations have occurred to date. Producers, U.S. Forest Service, and the Recovery Project continue to coordinate to minimize potential for conflict. Producers are helping to monitor the movements of wolves and are taking steps to avoid areas frequented by wolves. Recovery Project personnel are encouraging the Galena pack to move out of the Valley farther into the White Cloud Mountains.

Correction of information concerning the depredation near Fishtail, Montana (Thanks Jim):

An apparent lone black wolf killed 18 sheep on the 22nd, one on the 23rd, and 2 on the 24th near Fishtail, Montana. The ranch had sheep killed several years ago but hasn’t had any problems until now. A herder, no guard dogs as previously reported, 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. There have been no additional depredations at this time.

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 carcasses of Buffalo Ridge wolf B143 and dispersing Wolf Fang wolf B131 were recovered by USFWS Law Enforcement. Both deaths are under investigation.

Mack presented at a community meeting in Lowman, ID. The meeting was sponsored by the Boise National Forest.

Niemeyer and Williamson attended a meeting with the Sawtooth National Forest and area producers to coordinate wolf management and livestock grazing issues within the SNRA. Williamson also attended the Annual Meeting of the Idaho Cattle Association in Salmon, Idaho.

Nez Perce Tribe, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the Office of Species Conservation met in Boise to discuss wolf management coordination for the summer.

On the 13th a training seminar was held for the Wind River Indian Reservation wardens. WYG&F spoke about bear depredations and Jimenez spoke about wolf depredations. The was done to help prepare the wardens for possible future wolf and bear problems. Jimenez will also give a presentation in Lander on the 14th at the annual meeting of the Foundation for North America Wild Sheep

Fontaine tried to retrieve a radio collar from the Big Hole River on the 2nd but was unsuccessful due to the high water from spring run off.

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.

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