Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 3/5/99
Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 2/27-3/5 1999

Monitoring

Packs in the Yellowstone, central Idaho, and NW Montana areas appear to be in their normal home ranges. Two of the trio near Jackson were seen breeding on several occasions during the week of the 22nd. The female of the Chief Joseph 2 pack (#16) which uses an area north of Yellowstone Park and raised pups by herself in 1997 and 1998, has been joined by 2 collared males and 2 other uncollared wolves to make a pack of 10. A male form the Rose Creek pack continues to be located with a female of unknown origin near the Blacktail Plateau. The Soda Butte pack was last located along the southern border of the Park near the Snake River. There are at least 11 groups of wolves in the Yellowstone area at this time.

Wolves in central Idaho are using their traditional home ranges and at least 12 groups (10 of which bred last year) are present. Field efforts in Northwestern Montana are being expanded by biologists Tom Meier and Diane Boyd-Heger. During the week of 3/5 they travelled to Thompson River and Pleasant Valley and looked for wolf sign with assistance from Forest Service biologists. Fontaine went to Bernice just north of Butte to investigate a wolf sighting. Apparently a black wolf traveled through the area and was observed by a resident. The tracks and visual information indicated that a wolf indeed traveled thru the area. Two additional sightings were given in the Avon area of a dark or black wolf. It is possible that 1999 will be the first year that at least 30 breeding pairs produce pups in the northern Rocky Mountains. Delisting is still predicted about 2002.

The radio-collared yearling female wolf from the Jureano Mountain pack is still in eastern Oregon. She was located north of John Day on 2/27 but had traveled back to the east by about 20 miles on 2/2. Depending upon her movement pattern and location she may be returned to Idaho. If she depredated on livestock she could be moved or killed.

Control

Biologist Meier travelled to Pleasant Valley after the 3 remaining wolves were located not far from the barn where the pack had killed a calf and cow. At first the rancher decided not to use the propane guns (his guard/herd dogs crawled under the porch), but the propane guns were used, a light and siren device was set-up (provided by Wildlife Services- thanks to WS Ted North) and Meier fired cracker shells in the wolves direction. Apparently, the Pleasant Valley operation shipped out all their cattle this week so the chances for future problems at that ranch (now refuge) have been reduced.

Research

Yellowstone National Park began its 30-day intensive winter wolf predation study.

Jimenez and Cox met with biologists from Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge to coordinate future wolf monitoring and research on 2/17.

There has been much speculation about the severity of the white-tailed deer decline during the winter of 1996/97. Observations by some people indicated they felt deer were reduced by over 70% in some areas while in other areas people believed deer were impacted to that extent. Carolyn Sime and Eric Schmidt (MTDFWP) had an ongoing white-tailed deer study at that time and reported the following (edited by us for space).

The Winter of 1996/97: What did it mean to NW Montana White-tailed deer populations?

The most notable attributes of the 1996/97 winter were its duration (snow persists this long only once every 33 years) and the record snow depths at all elevations (snow is this deep only once every 200-300 years). Fawns began dying of natural winter related causes in late January. The monthly observed fawn:100 adult ratio declined significantly from December until March. The predicted fawn: 100 adult ratio in May was 1 fawn:100 adults, likely went even lower. Adult female natural mortality began in mid-February. Of the radio-collared adult females that survived the hunting season and entered winter 26% died by June 1, 1997. Fifty-six percent of the adult female mortality occurred in animals aged 5.5 years or younger. Migrant radio-collared deer were confined to winter range an average of 159 days, 8 weeks longer than the average of previous years. Remaining on low quality forage for that length of time, particularly under those extreme snow conditions, surviving pregnant adult females gave birth to an impoverished fawn cohort in the summer of 1997. Although the 1997 fawn cohort is represented in the greater population, it is present in much lower numbers because of these losses. Under ideal future conditions, it could take 3-5 years for populations to rebound to levels prior to the severe winter event and even longer in areas which experienced harsher winter conditions.

Information and education and law enforcement

Mike Jimenez and Brian Cox 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. During February they met with County Commissioners, BLM, Bureau of Recreation in Cody. On Feb. 17th they gave a talk to the Teton County Law Enforcement Association, about 25 people attended.

Bangs gave a presentation to the Denver Zoo on 3/4, about 250 people attended. On 3/5 he gave presentations/briefings to the FWS and National Park Service Regional Offices nearly 75 people attend. On 3/3 he taped a 1/2 hour radio show with Common Ground, a PBS program originating in Helena.

Bangs and Boyd-Heger will be giving presentations at the Northwest Section of The Wildlife Society meeting on 3/11 in Bozeman. Most of the wolf team should be there to meet other biologists from Montana.

The Helena office plans to hire 2 term (up to 4 years) GS-5 biological technicians this spring. Interested persons must have wolf or at a minimum large carnivore field experience to be competitive. Interested persons should send their name and address to (Wolf Jobs, USFWS, 100 N. Park, #320, Helena, MT 59601) Those people will be notified (probably early April). Please no phone calls. In addition the Service in Helena will hire at least two seasonal GS-5 biologists for a 6 month appointment.

Anyone who wishes to submit scientific or other factual information (no opinion type information please) that is relevant to wolf recovery and management in the NW U.S. is encouraged to do so. We will review the information and may include it in the weekly.

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