Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 8/6/99

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Weeks of 7/23-8/6, 1999


Monitoring

Packs in the Yellowstone, central Idaho, and NW Montana areas are in their normal home ranges and continue to be localized but are starting to move a little more with their pups.

Soda Butte is generally in the area along the south boundary of Yellowstone National Park. The Teton pack female was accidentally captured in a grizzly bear snare near Grand Teton National Park. She was fitted with a new collar and released unharmed. Because she was only 70 lbs, had entered a bear cubby (indicting hunger was overriding her natural wariness), had bad teeth (only one fully functioning canine-old damage), and raising 5 pups on her own, the decision was made to try to supplementally feed her and her 5 pups. GTNP will provide supplemental food until the elk reduction program starts in October and there are abundant viscera piles and unretrieved elk to feed on. Attempts to capture and radiocollar a member of the "Washakie II pack" (there may be 2 black and 2 gray wolves that travel though that area) is ongoing but so far have been unsuccessful.

The Sheep Mountain pack, north of Yellowstone National Park, has moved even farther from livestock than before. A forest fire started near the rendezvous site and the aircraft/human activity may be the reason the pack moved out of the old rendezvous site.

Boyd-Heger trapped a pup and a 52 pound yearling female from the Graves Creek pack. The female was radio-collared and the pup just marked. 

Control

A calf was killed on the Diamond G Ranch last week, very probably by wolves. Unfortunately, the state bear biologist was the first person called and he is not allowed to discuss suspected wolf kills. WS was not immediately available, and by the time Jimenez was contacted at 6 PM Friday and got there Saturday AM on the 31st, the evidence was destroyed. The ranch manager moved the calf carcass from the field, kept it in a backhoe bucket in the sun, and then his ranch hands irrigated the depredation site. The manager was again informed that unless he and his workers follow the established rules and procedures it makes it very difficult for us to help them. Please remember to tell producers to immediately call WS and the Service on suspected wolf kills, cover the livestock carcass, and leave it in place. Protect any predator tracks or sign from disturbance including by other livestock, and do not allow humans to disturb the site. Having a livestock carcass in the field gives us something to conduct control operations near and makes identifying and resolving a conflict much more likely. Compensation is also dependent upon evidence that implicates wolves.

WS specialists investigated a reported kill on sheep near Pinedale, WY. A large light colored male coyote was involved rather than a wolf.

A wolf kill was found by a rancher west of Salmon, ID in the livestock study area. Because the carcass was located through normal procedures and confirmed as a wolf kill, control is being implemented. Members of the depredating pack will be killed or moved until the problem is resolved. Two other cattle were suspected as killed by wolves but WS investigation did not indicate wolf involvement.

Research

The cattle/wolf study near Salmon, Idaho continues with 2 of the radio-tagged calves being confirmed killed by wolves and others probably killed by wolves. One wolf-killed unmarked calf was discovered by other means than radio-signals. This study is providing just the type of information it was designed to produce. As the grazing season progresses, losses will become more obvious because bigger calf carcasses attract more birds and take longer to disappear. The study is designed to last 2 grazing seasons and should give some insight into how effective control is- given that this pack attacked livestock last year and has apparently included cattle as part of their prey image. A similar study on grizzly bear predation on cattle showed that for every calf confirmed killed by grizzly bears another was killed but not located.

Bangs visited Dr. John Shivik at the Wildlife Services Research Center in Fort Collins, CO on the 27th to discuss methods to prevent or reduce wolf/livestock conflict. Shock collars, scare devices, and taste aversion baits were discussed. A very interesting aversive conditioning study was just published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin. WS researchers shocked captive coyotes that tried to attack lambs. The short term conditioning prevented further attacks for at least 4 months.

It appears that taste aversive conditioning is not as viable an option to reduce predator damage as some would have hoped. Extensive testing on coyotes did not prove it to be effective. Another substantial problem, even if it did appear to work, is EPA regulations require extensive and time consuming testing and licensing on any new use of chemicals that are to be released into the environment. Since placing chemicals in the environment that make animals sick, when the chemicals are not registered for that use, is likely not to be looked upon with favor. At this time it appears that widespread field use of such chemicals, especially since initial testing did not indicate them to be that effective, is unlikely. The opportunity for penned studies is a possibility.

Information and education and law enforcement

Oral arguments before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, CO on July 29 appeared to go well. The Justice Department lawyer did an outstanding job of presenting the federal government's position that the reintroduction was clearly within the authority that Congress delegated to the Secretary of the Interior under the experimental population provision (10j) of the Endangered Species Act. After court the Defenders of Wildlife and National Wildlife Federation held a press conference. A live captive wolf from Mission Wolf and nearly 200,000 petitions asking the Secretary of the Interior to keep the wolves in Yellowstone were displayed. The Appeals Court is expected to issue a decision within the next year.

Wolf project personnel from Idaho met with livestock producers in Salmon to discuss the ongoing cattle mortality study. Producers were concerned that no control had been implemented because 2-3 wolf killed calves had been discovered using telemetry and none had been discovered by normal procedures. Producers reasoned that if 1/3 of the calves were marked and 2-3 marked ones had been lost then actual losses could be an additional 4-6 calves for which they would not receive compensation. The actual loss rate is yet to be determined but the longer the study the more accurate the information will become. It is hoped that the study can proceed for the 2 years it was designed for.

Jimenez gave a talk to about 50 people at the Sink Canyon Visitor Center in Lander on the 3rd.

National Geographic wrapped up its final filming for a TV special on "Yellowstone Wolves" which should air this winter. The footage from Bob Landis is said to be the best ever taken of wild wolves.

Bangs prepared another declaration for the Diamond G Ranch litigation. Since a calf was suspected killed by wolves and others are reported as missing, the Diamond G attorneys filed other legal papers asking the court for immediate relief. Attorneys will provide the Wyoming District Court Judge an update of the status of wolves and livestock depredations in that area next week.

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 besides the regular distribution.

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