Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 6/18/99

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 5/29-6/18, 1999

Monitoring

Packs in the Yellowstone, central Idaho, and NW Montana areas are in their normal home ranges and continue to be localized near their dens or nearby rendezvous sites. The pup counts are continuing and so far they show 6 in Druid, 4 in Leopold, and 6 in Chief Joe. One of the 3 litters in Rose Creek apparently went from 7 pups to 4. The pups that were lost disappeared when the pack moved its den site a couple of times. Soda Butte pack was located just south of Yellowstone Lake on the 15th. Four pups were seen at the Sunlight Basin pair's rendezvous site on the 16th.

Service biologists Jimenez, Boyd-Heger, and Meier trapped wolves in the Ninemile Valley in NW Montana. Two yearling males were captured and radio-collared during the week of the 14th. Traps were pulled on the 17th. A relocated male (December 1998) from the Pleasant Valley pack was located just northwest of Helena, MT on the 14th. A couple of local ranchers near McDonald pass were notified. Three pups were seen at the Boulder pack's den. On the last flight only one of the 4 newly collared Glacier National Park wolves could be located.

Bad weather during most of May hampered efforts to radio-track wolves in Idaho. Reproduction has been confirmed in the Stanley Basin, Jureano, Bass creek, Moyer, and White Cloud packs.  Additional field work is continuing. In Idaho, B20 the alpha female of the Snow Peak pack has not localized as would be suspected if she had denned. Trapping crews placed a new radio on a yearling member of the Big Hole pack. Wolf 132 (Washakie, WY male) has not been located since late April. B-45 the former Oregon wolf has settled in just north of McCall, ID.

 Control

Livestock are beginning to be turned out on remote grazing allotments on both public and private land this month, including several areas with active wolf dens. The potential for wolf livestock interaction will increase sharply, and the number of depredations and subsequent control actions may increase as a result.

A calf was killed on a private ranch about 7 miles from the Sunlight Basin pair's rendezvous site west of Cody, WY on the 15th. The rancher saw a black wolf near the calf carcass and it was suspected to be one of the Sunlight adults. The Service is attempting to use intensive monitoring, aversive conditioning in the form of harassment, and lithium baits to reduce the chances for further depredations. In addition, livestock were being moved a short distance away.  If another depredation occurs harassment at the den or other techniques will be used to try to further separate the wolves from cattle. If those efforts fail, the adult believed most responsible will be removed. If the remaining adult preys on livestock again it and the pups (depending on their age) will be removed.

A rancher in the Bitterroot Valley reported that 1 calf had been killed and 2 were missing on the 17th. This was confirmed by Wildlife Services. This area is near the den of the Bass Creek pair that may have 7-9 pups. This pair killed a calf this winter and may have been involved in killing one calf and wounded another earlier this spring. A wolf-specific radio-signal-activated light and siren device was placed on site during the winter, and while no other depredations were documented while it was in use, it is unknown if the device worked. Only one wolf was radio- collared and wolves were still routinely seen in that area. Unless further depredations occur, control will attempt to capture both adults and their pups so they can be held in captivity until they area relocated this winter.

There were reports just north of Kemmerer, WY of a wolf being seen near the area where seven lambs died. The herder reported seeing a wolf and hearing one howl but the only lamb carcass (the others were simply blood spots) that was examined indicted it had been killed by an eagle.

No wolf activity has been confirmed but the situation is being monitored.

In NW Montana a colt was reported to have been killed under mysterious circumstances, as a possible wolf attack, south of Butte, MT. Examination by WS and a veterinarian indicated it had been bitten and kicked by another horse. The vet said this is common when a colt is near a stallion with mares. A check with the rancher indicated this had been the situation.

There was an error regarding an earlier weekly report that said that 2 relocated depredating yearling wolves (#64 and #65) from the White Cloud pack immediately returned to the area near Challis, ID (and ended up in the middle of the intensive cattle radio-monitoring study, much to the concern of the local rancher). Apparently all those ear tag transmitters (231 transmitters in the 164 MHZ range) from all those cattle where giving off harmonic signals mistaken for those 2 wolves (218 MHz). The radio signal "drift" was discovered after ground tracking located an invisible "wolf" beside a cow/calf pair in a wide-open field. In fact, those wolves were not in that area, #64 hasn't been found since his release and female #65 was last located SW of Darby, MT. That is one we have never heard of before but other researchers should be aware of that possibility.

In late May there were reports of possible calf and horse depredations south of Billings, MT. Wildlife Services investigated and no sign of wolves or wolf-caused damage was located. A ranch near Whitehall, MT lost a yearling cow and reportedly saw 7 wolves in the area several days later. WS did not locate any wolf sign but did briefly trap the area for coyotes. Local ranchers were asked to report any wolf sign and both these situations are being monitored.

Research

John Oakleaf, University of Idaho graduate student under Dr. Dennis Murray) is monitoring 321 livestock calves with radio transmitters. The multi-agency and organization study is looking at cause of death among livestock on remote Forest Service grazing allotments.

Information and education and law enforcement

Senator Burns (MT) held a "Wolf Summit" in Helena, June 2. Participants included primarily agricultural groups interested in wolf management. Bangs represented the Service. Specific concerns included more wolf management flexibility on private lands, missing livestock in areas with wolves, adequate funding for control and monitoring, and the delisting process. The meeting went well and several livestock producers, while not favorable to wolf recovery, complimented the job that Wildlife Services and the Service have been doing to reduce problems and provide information.

Bangs, Niemeyer, Curt Mack, and Roy Heberger attended a meeting in Portland about wolves in Oregon. The meeting was held by the National Wildlife Federation. About 80 people attended and it was well covered by local media. The clear message from the Service was that the Service is concentrating its wolf recovery activities in the NW US on wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. The Service has no interest in reintroducing wolves to or pursuing active wolf recovery in Oregon. The Service would consider offering technical assistance on wolf management issues if the state or tribes requested it. It is unlikely that enough wolves will disperse into Oregon before delisting (estimated to occur in 2002) to cause any significant impact. Any livestock depredations would be immediately dealt with by the Service and Wildlife Services. The soon to be proposed National reclassification of wolves in the 48 states could address several concerns heard at the meeting about lone wolves. The legal status and future of a potential wolf population in Oregon will most likely be decided solely by the state of Oregon and its residents. On the 4th, Bangs gave a "brown bag" talk to about 30 people at the R-1 Regional office in Portland, OR.

Fontaine gave 3 presentations to about 75, 8th graders at CR Anderson middle school in Helena on the 2nd. He traveled to Lake Tahoe, CA on the 10th and gave a presentation to about 25 biologists and resource managers from the western U.S. and Canada at a "New Concepts in Ecosystem Management" course. The course was held by the U.S. Forest Service. Dr. Doug Smith traveled to Maryland on the 17th to present a paper on wolf restoration at the annual meeting of the Conservation Biology Society. Doug gave a presentation at the annual meeting of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition during the week of the 7th. Yellowstone biologist Kerry Murphy gave a presentation to about 50 Forest Service seasonal biologists during their orientation near Nye, MT on the 15th.

Service biologist Brian Cox (from Lander, WY) gave a presentation to about 75 students at the Montana Boys State in Dillon, MT on the 11th. The Boys and Girls (held in Helena this year) State is a meeting of the top students from each High School in Montana.

The Tenth Circuit Court received information from all the involved attorneys on June 4th. It is in the process of rescheduling the oral arguments but has yet to issue a new date for those arguments. An "update" declaration regarding the status of wolves and Service management plans was filed with the Wyoming District Court regarding the ongoing litigation with the Diamond G Ranch.

If you have scientific information on wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains that you want to appear in the weekly please contact me and we'll try to fit it in. 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