Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 12/23/04

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 12/17-12/23, 2004

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Monitoring

NEW WEB ADDRESS- http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov/ . It has maps of wolf pack locations and home ranges, tables of wolf numbers and depredations, litigation and funding issues, and summaries of scientific studies.

Trapping for the Mission Creek wolves has ended as cold weather finally came to Montana. This pack is believed to be involved in several cattle and sheep depredations in the Paradise Valley. The two landowners that had livestock killed lately were issued shoot-on-sight permits for 2 wolves.

A dispersed collared wolf from Yellowstone’s Leopold pack has been occupying the Sun Ranch for the last four days. She is wolf #290. A graduate student with MSU is staying at the Sun Ranch studying elk and will be tracking her. We cut tracks of two individuals in that area this morning and if the weather ever cooperates, a telemetry flight will tell us more.

A rancher from the Madison Valley reported that two grey wolves were seen in his cattle on the night of the 22nd. Using his Service-loaned receiver he reported that female wolf #48, formerly a Nez Perce wolf was nearby. A neighbor reported that an apparently younger wolf was on his porch about the same date. No problems or depredations were reported in either case.

Control

Four ewe sheep were killed on private land near Roscoe, MT presumably by the Phantom pack on the 18th. That landowner’s and another ranch where sheep had been repeatedly killed this summer, shoot-on-sight permits were renewed. Agency lethal control is ongoing.

One to 4 wolves, apparently from the Battlefield pack have been harassing 600lb. weaner calves in the Big Hole, MT area. On the 20th, the rancher reported that 1-4 wolves harassed his calves and pushed them through fences the last 3 nights. No calves were believed injured by wolves but a couple of calves had wire/fence cuts. The rancher continues to harass the wolves when they see them. WS was asked to monitor the situation closely and since the Battlefield pack was involved in several cattle depredations this summer [and 5 pack members have been killed, leaving 10 wolves in the pack], lethal control will be authorized if cattle continue to be attacked.

Lethal control for the Phantom and Lone Bear packs continues in SW Montana. Agency control was postponed for the big game rifle hunting season and has been further delayed by constant high winds along the mountains.

On the 21st, Wildlife Services confirmed an adult cow killed by wolves from the Owl Creek Pack, west of Meeteetse, Wyoming. This summer/fall, Owl Creek wolves killed several cattle in this area. One adult wolf was removed from this pack in efforts to reduce further depredations. Depredations continued and 2 more wolves were removed last week. It is believed that this latest cow was killed prior to this most recent control action so we will just monitor this situation closely for now but will respond if there are any further depredations.

There is still one active control action pending in southwest Wyoming near Hamsfork/Kemmerer. One or two uncollared wolves have killed several sheep/cattle and we have unsuccessfully tried to remove these wolves. WS has all our frequencies of dispersing wolves and they have flown the area several times without locating any collared wolves. We will continue for another for another week and then stop. If further depredations occur, we will attempt removal again.

All other control actions in Wyoming have been completed. During Nov./Dec. we removed 5 wolves from the Daniel Pack and 2 wolves from the Owl Creek Pack to reduce further depredations in these packs that have chronically killed livestock. Lethal control was used because nonlethal control methods have not been effective in this type of habitat. Both these wolf packs have large home ranges in areas that cross public and private land. Much of the habit is a mixture of vast, wide open sage brush combined with densely forested areas.

Research

Winter study ended on December 15 in Yellowstone National Park. The winter had the least amount of snow for any winter study conducted. Wolf population across the park is slightly down at approximately 166 compared to 174 for last year. This population estimate is for packs that den in the park and two of these packs spend significant time outside Yellowstone (Chief Jo and Delta). Buffalo Fork the status is unknown (no collars) but they do not come into the park anymore. Rose creek also no longer uses the park so are not part of this estimate. 15 packs (counting Delta and Chief Jo) reside in YNP, 12 of these are considered breeding pairs. 85 wolves (7 packs) live on the northern range and 81 (8 packs) wolves live in the interior. Preliminary estimates from the northern range indicate that kill rates were slightly below average, possibly due to the mild winter conditions. Kills on calf elk were noticeably down. Of 23 kills made by the three packs monitored by ground crews (Leopold (23 wolves), Geode (11 wolves) , Druid (9 wolves)) 5 (21%) were calves, 7 (30%) were bulls, and 11 were cows (48%). Calf kills are typically much higher, often >50% of the early winter kills so this is a significant decline in calf kills. Data on elk ground counts are not tabulated yet to know if this is related to availability. Kills on bulls appear to be up, and aerial data indicate more bull kills as well (almost every kill made by the Slough Creek pack was a bull). Cow kills were slightly up and most were older cows. A complete analysis will not be complete for several weeks. The Geode pack also killed a cougar and a coyote. The Druid Peak pack likely killed a coyote. Each of these packs had several territorial encounters with other packs indicating continued social tension on the northern range.

Research

Jimenez et al. began their sixth season of winter study examining wolf/elk interactions on state managed feed grounds and on adjacent winter range on National Forest near Jackson, Wyoming. This research has been a cooperative effort between the Service, USFWS, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Grand Teton Nat'l Park, Nat'l Elk Refuge, and the WYG&F Department.

Information and education and law enforcement

MT FWP announced that it will cut the number of late winter cow elk permits in the northern range Yellowstone elk herd from about 1,400 to 100 next winter. The elk population is now about 8,000 elk and down to the state management objectives for that herd, so the elk herd reduction hunts are no longer needed. With the full compliment of large predators preying on them- bears, lions, wolves & humans- this herd may not rebound from the deliberate high hunter harvest of cows, as quickly as it has in the past.

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