Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 2/12/99
Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 1/23-2/12 1999

Monitoring

Packs in the Yellowstone, central Idaho, and NW Montana areas appear to be in their normal home ranges. Capture operations in Yellowstone National Park have ended. Twenty-five wolves were captured, one died and the other 24 were radio-collared. There a minimum of 111 wolves in the Yellowstone area and 55 are collared. All have been located in the past week and are in there normal home range, except for Soda Butte pack which moved from the National Elk Refuge into the middle of Yellowstone Park. We speculate that one or both the adult females in that pack are looking for a mate. Crystal pack has less than 1/4 mile away at one point. Two of the trio near Jackson were seen mating and they are killing elk on the Refuge. The pair continues to use Grand Teton National Park near Elk Ranch Reservoir. It appears likely that 10 breeding pairs could be raising young in the Yellowstone area. A search was conducted for wolf sign on the Diamond G Ranch but no fresh sign was found. Service biologists have no doubt that wolves are in the area of the ranch because of the recent dog/wolf conflict.

 

Wolves in central Idaho are using their traditional home ranges and at least 12 groups (10 of which bred last year) are present. Good observations indicate that at least 2 other groups may have formed but they do not contain radio-collared members. The Tribe will lead capture and radio-collaring efforts if the opportunity presents itself. Neck-snaring with stops around a recent ungulate kill could be effective. The Nez Perce Tribe and Wildlife Services darted 2 pups out of the Whitecloud pack the week of the 5th. The pack of 11 contains 3 radio-collared members. DNA analysis should indicate where the unmarked alpha male came from.

Wolves B51, 52 and 54 have not been located for the past several monitoring flights due to bad weather. Efforts will be made to locate these wolves when weather permits. Wolf B33 continues to move widely. During Oct. and Nov. he spent time in the Middle Fork of the Salmon. During January he was observed twice with another wolf and concentrated movements around the north end of Bear Valley. He was last located east of Landmark, Idaho. Wolf B20's radio collar went on mortality mode in December and he is thought to have died. Efforts to retrieve the radio collar have been unsuccessful due to inclement weather and rugged terrain. Her mate B28 traveled east and was located just north of Stanley Idaho within the Stanley Basin pack's territory. Wolf B19 was found dead along the upper Loon Creek drainage in early January. Evidence indicated she was killed due to inter-pack aggression with the Twin Peaks pack. The fate of the uncollared mate is unknown. Two subadults, B41 and B45, dispersed from the Jureano pack this fall. B41 was killed by a vehicle along US 12 near Lolo, Mt., B45 is still missing.

Field efforts in Northwestern Montana are being greatly expanded. The priority will be searching for new packs based upon recent agency and public reports. Tom Meier and Diane Boyd-Heger will begin that effort next week. The most recent count of wolves indicate that only 5 breeding pairs were in Northwestern Montana in 1998 and the current minimum estimate of 47 wolves reside solely in that recovery area. If all known groups produce pups in 1999, 11 breeding pairs may be possible. It is likely that 1999 will be the first year that at least 30 breeding pairs produce pups in the northern Rocky Mountains.

Control

The Whitecloud pack (the most southerly pack in Idaho) probably killed 2 calves on a private ranch the week of the 5th. Two members of the pack were darted from a helicopter, radio-collared, and released on site. It is hoped this disruption will cause the pack to leave the area or not attack livestock again. No further control is planned unless further depredations are documented.

The 4 depredating wolves (3 males and a female) from the Pleasant Valley pack were relocated to Forest Service land near Spotted Bear on January 21. The three males are still together and were by Holland Lake on 2/11 and east of Condon on 2/12. The female remains near Spotted Bear. Observations from the air indicate she looks fine but just is not moving from the area. On 2 occasions food was left for her but no further feeding will take place. There are deer and elk in that area. We will continue to monitor the movements of these relocated wolves. There have been no further depredations in the Pleasant Valley area by the remaining 6 wolves in that pack.

A dog was attacked and wounded by a lone wolf on private property near Dubois, WY. The dog's owners drove the wolf off but were understandable upset about having a wolf come in their yard and were concerned about the safety of their children. Control may be conducted if the wolf returns and attacks other dogs or domestic animals. Wolves are most territorial and likely to attack dogs during the breeding season (now) and during denning (mid-late April). Wyoming biologists visited with the landowner and other local residents about the incident and explained Service policy regarding wolf attacks on pets. Defenders of Wildlife offered to pay the veternarian bill.

Research

The Nez Perce Tribe continues to cooperate on a study of wolves, mountain lions and ungulate prey west of Salmon, Idaho. The effort is also supported and/or funded by local county commissioners, the state of Idaho, Tribe, and Service. The Tribe is also continuing its efforts to start a study of wolf livestock in the Salmon area in 1999. That study would look at the causes of radio-tagged livestock losses in an area with wolves.

 

Information and education and law enforcement

The WY and MT wolf biologists met in Helena on February 10 and 11 to discuss overall program direction and administrative policy and procedures.

Biologists Meier and Boyd-Heger prepared a document that summarizes recent information wolf ungulate relationships in the northern Rocky Mountains. It was prepared to address increasing concerns about the potential impact of an rapidly increasing wolf population on wild ungulates in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. On the 12th, Bangs participated in a conference call with Service and Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists about that issue. While the rules allow for wolves to be moved if they significantly affect ungulates, the process can only be implemented through approved state peer-reviewed plans. In an obvious emergency the Service would move wolves to protect unusually vulnerable ungulates populations but such events are expected to be extremely rare.

At least 500,000 deer and elk (combined) live in the NRM region. Hunters harvest more than 100,000 deer and elk (combined) in the region annually. Hunter harvest decreased in 1998 in the northwestern Montana, central Idaho and Yellowstone areas, but state biologists indicated that this decrease should be attributed primarily to dry weather conditions in fall 1998 which lowered hunter success, and to lag effects from the severe winter of 1996-97, and not to predation by wolves or other predators. This severe winter caused declines of up to 40-60% of the ungulate populations in much of the NRM.

Dr. (soon to be) Mike Jimenez and Brian Cox (MS) are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wyoming Wolf Recovery Office. They are stationed in Lander, WY and are still getting their phones and computers set up. Currently they can be reached at (307)332-7789. they have been busy so far giving 4 talks in Jackson, WY, the Dubios Central Wyoming College, and National Bighorn Sheep Museum in Dubios. About 135 attended these talks. They also met with a variety of agency biologists and local ranchers in Wyoming.

The newest Service employees, Dr. Diane Boyd-Heger and Dr. (soon to be) Tom Meier began work on the February 1 in the Helena, Montana wolf recovery office. They will initially focus their considerable talents on wolf restoration efforts in Northwestern Montana. They will need your help to locate potential wolf packs so PLEASE!! record and report wolf observations. They will searching for wolves in Northwestern Montana next week.

The Helena office plans to hire 2 term (up to 4 years) GS-5 biological technicians this spring. Those interested persons must have large carnivore field experience to be competitive. Interested persons should send their name and address to us and they will be notified when the hiring process begins. Please no phone calls. In additional the Service in Helena will hire at least two seasonal GS-5 biologists for a 6 month appointment. Biologists that worked with the program last year will be given preference.

The Service's weekly wolf report can now be viewed at the Service's Region 6 web site at http://www.r6.fws.gov/wolf in addition to the regular distribution.

Contact: Ed Bangs (406)449-5225 x204 or Internet-ED_BANGS@FWS.GOV