Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 5/14/99

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 4/25-5/14, 1999

Monitoring

Packs in the Yellowstone, central Idaho, and NW Montana areas are in their normal home ranges and have localized near their dens. It is unlikely that any other packs will den at this late date. In the Yellowstone area a minimum of 10 groups appears to have produced pups (not counting the Washakie II pack that has no radios but has likely denned in the Dubois area). Soda Butte was back in Grand Teton National Park, two miles from the pair's den on the 5th, but they are continuing to travel widely. They were back in Yellowstone during the last location. This is a strong indication that the alpha female did not breed. In an unusual turn of events, the pair in Grand Teton National Park dug a new den and moved their pups 2 miles. Five pups were seen playing with "Dad" at the entrance to the new den on the 13th. The Park will announce the new pack's name shortly. It appears that the Rose Creek pack has 2 breeding females, and it is possible that there may even be a third. Druid pack may also have 2 breeding females but this has not been confirmed. The Yellowstone area should produce 11-13 litters. Jimenez checked on a report of a wolf feeding at a bone yard in the Dubois area but found only coyote sign. He set a few traps just in case it was an opportunity to radio-collared a wolf from that area.

In Idaho, all 12 traditional radio-collared packs are suspected to have denned. They are (north to south): Snow Peak, Kelly Creek, Big Hole, Selway (which hasn't denned since 1996), Chamberlain, Jureano Mountain, Moyer Basin, Twin Peaks, White Cloud, Stanley Basin, Landmark, and Thunder Mountain. Members of the Landmark pack (a radio collared male joined the pack this past winter, allowing them to be monitored) apparently held on to their territory after the breeding pair died in spring 1997. Capture and collaring efforts began on May 1 and monitoring crews will be in the field on June 1. B-45, the wolf relocated from Oregon, was last located north of McCall, ID. Wolf R-132, the dispersing Yellowstone (Washakie) wolf that killed 5 newborn sheep near Leadore, ID and was relocated to central Idaho, was last located near Powell, ID.

In NW Montana 8 groups have denned. The denning packs are South Camas, Graves Creek, Murphy Lake, Whitefish, Little Wolf, Ninemile, Boulder, and Bitterroot (in the Montana portion of the Idaho experimental area. That may be a total of just over 30 breeding pairs and 150 plus pups joining the wolf population in the 3 separate parts of the northern Rocky Mountain Recovery area. The young female wolf relocated from Pleasant Valley this winter because of livestock depredation was located near the Sun River Game Range, along Montana's east front with another wolf. The nearest large ranch was contacted about the sighting. The Service and Glacier National Park Service began radio-collaring wolves on the 10th. On the 11th, biologists Meier and Boyd-Heger caught a 75lb. adult female and on the 13th they caught an 85lb male, both are probably with the South Camas pack. Diane and Tom will be in the Polebridge area for the next week or two.

Control

Wildlife Services investigated a possible wolf depredation near Big Sandy, MT that was caused by a coyote. A reported wolf problem east of Polson, MT was investigated and was not due to wolves. A reported possible wolf depredation south of Anaconda, MT was too far gone to tell what had happened to it but no other suspected wolves or wolf problems have been reported in the area. A reported depredation on a newborn calf along the Milk River 1/4 mile south of the Canadian border in north central Montana, was confirmed as a wolf depredation. No wolf packs are known to be anywhere close to this area but it is possible that a lone dispersing wolf could have been traveling along the Milk River, which is the only significant source of hiding cover for miles. Traps were set in the area for a couple of days but no sign of a wolf has been located and equipment was pulled. A few days later a cow carcass in the same spot was reported as a possible wolf depredation. Examination showed that predators were not involved. The most amazing thing was the calf incident was the top front page story on the Great Falls Tribune on May 7th.

Wildlife Services Wolf Management Specialists Niemeyer and Nelson (WY) gave a short course on identifying livestock depredations to rangers at Grand Teton National Park on the 10th. Jimenez helped.

A White Cloud wolf in Idaho was reportedly seen chasing livestock during the week of the 3rd, but no depredations were found. Wildlife Services set up propane guns and planned to install a collar-activated siren/light device. The situation was closely monitored and during the week of the 10th, a calf was confirmed killed by wolves. Trapping at the site and relocation of all captured wolves, expect the alpha female who has denned nearby, is ongoing.

The Service has ordered chemicals to prepare taste aversion baits. They will be used as appropriate and evaluated to see if they can reduce wolf and livestock conflict. Some people who believe that this may be the "magic bullet" should be aware that taste aversion techniques have been widely tested since the 1970's and have not been successful. Maybe it could be of some help to the wolf recovery program. It is worth another attempt. The Service will also be using a wider variety of aversive or preventative techniques, and a modified soft-release relocation program in NW Montana, to try to prevent or resolve livestock depredations in a non-lethal manner. USDA Wildlife Services is involved in helping design research techniques and study evaluation. However, if chronic livestock depredations develop lethal control of problem individuals will still be the most likely tool for resolution.

Final word was received about the unmarked wolf-like canid killed after it attacked sheep several times near Kemmerer, WY last fall. Investigations indicated it had a wolf-like skull, its DNA pattern was wolf-like, but its gene pattern didn't match any of the reintroduced wolves or any other wild wolves from western North America. It appears it was a released captive wolf or a very high percentage wolf hybrid. The Defenders of Wildlife announced that they would still pay 50% compensation for the confirmed losses (7 sheep, a guard dog and a miniature donkey) to the 3 affected ranchers since they treated the canid as if it was a wild wolf and fully cooperated with the recovery and control program. This incident shows, like the situation 2 years ago, where the wolf-like canid was roped after it killed several sheep near Big Sandy, WY, that privately-held captive wolf hybrids and captive wolves cannot survive in the wild and always die or become problem or nuisance animals. This is at least the 3rd such incident south of Yellowstone National Park since the reintroduction. If you know of anyone who may have had these types of animals escape or be released, please notify authorities. It is inhumane to the released canid and does a disservice to the reputation of wild wolves.

Research

The Nez Perce tribe, livestock owners and other cooperators radio-tagged (cattle) calves the week of the 10th. Livestock are being turned out on to BLM allotments beginning next week and the ear-tag radio-transmitters for the livestock loss study will be place on 232 calves. That is about one third of the livestock on the Diamond Moose Allotment west of Salmon, Idaho. This study could provide useful information about wolf/livestock conflict, loss detection, grazing practices and losses, and the effectiveness of wolf control. The Tribe deserves special recognition for pulling it together.

The Yellowstone den study is ongoing. Some pups have been seen at outside at least 3 dens. One Rose Creek female has 7 pups. Complete pup counts will not be available until late summer/fall. Almost without fail, by fall the average litters size over all recovery areas have been 5 pups.

Information and education and law enforcement

Biologists with the Nez Peace Tribe and Service met with livestock producers to discuss the 45 day wolf-take permits that will be available this year because there were more than 10 breeding pair in the central Idaho experimental population area last year. A permit was issued in the Yellowstone area last year and those permits will be available again this year. Livestock producers who graze livestock on public allotments who have confirmed wolf-caused damage, can receive a permit from the Service to shoot wolves they see physically attacking their livestock. Any wolf taken must be reported within a reasonable period, usually less than 24 hours. Tribal biologists gave presentations to the Custer and Lemhi County Cattle and Horse Growers Associations and the Wolf Education and Research Center, in Boise, ID.

Jimenez talked with the Gros Ventre grazing board (+30 attending) and the Jackson Hole Cooperative Elk Interagency Group (+30 attending) in Jackson, WY the week of the 26th.

Bangs, Jimenez, and Cox gave a presentation to about 25 people attending the Forest Service Region and Region 4 Public Affair Specialists meeting in Jackson, WY on the 5th. That afternoon they met with officials from Grand Teton National Park to discuss wolf management issues in the Park and in the Jackson area. On the 6th, Bangs and Jimenez flew to look at both the wolf dens and locate the Soda Butte pack. Both dens are in great locations. They were in remote areas, with lots of wild prey nearby, and some distance from livestock, at least until livestock are put out on public lands in June.

Tom Meier gave 2 presentations to a middle school Wildlife Habitat Convocation course in Missoula on April 27th.

Doug Smith gave a presentation to about 70 Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks support staff in Gardiner, MT on the evening of the 11th.

Special Agent Dominici gave a presentation on wolf law enforcement issues at Grand Teton National Park on the 12th.

Bangs and Smith attended a press conference in Gardiner, MT on the 10th as a pre-event to the oral arguments in the Appeals case. However, the oral arguments before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, scheduled for May 13th, were postponed. The Justice Department Attorney had a medical emergency that we are hopeful will work out. The Appeals Court will hold a rescheduling hearing on June 4th.

The Helena office advertised for 2 term (up to 4 years) GS-5 biological technicians. Applications for those jobs closed April 30. Selections will be made in June.

The Service will hold a wolf handling workshop by Dr. Dave Hunter in Helena on May 27. Interested persons should contact Joe Fontaine (406)449-5225 x 206

The Wildlife Society Bulletin 1998 Vol. 26(4), which contains several wolf-related articles including one on wolf restoration in the Northern Rocky Mountains was mailed on the 12th. Reprints were ordered and they will be distributed shortly.

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