Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 12/03/99

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 11/20-12/3, 1999

 

Monitoring

Core packs in the Yellowstone, central Idaho, and NW Montana are generally in their normal home ranges. However, many packs are split or have members missing. There are potentially 3 new pairs forming near the Sunlight Basin in WY. Famous wolf #9 is also in that general area. Male wolf 123 was found dead and a territorial dispute with the Crystal Creek pack is suspected.

The alpha female from the Sheep Mountain pack was seen with 8 other pack members. The radioed male was by himself on the east side of the pack’s territory. Nez Perce pack traveled south of Henry’s Lake and west of Yellowstone Park. Chief Joseph pack traveled back into the Gallatin drainage after killing sheep in Tom Miner Basin and has remained there.

The Teton female and her pups were located back in Grand Teton. The Gros Ventre pack remains in the Gros Ventre drainage, near the state elk feeding ground. Mike Jimenez is working with other state and federal biologists to closely monitor that pack and wintering elk, to investigate if wolves are changing the distribution of elk (and potential private property damage [hay] by them) on state winter feed grounds.

Recent wolf sightings in Bass Creek indicate that a new pair may be trying to set up shop there. A search for missing radio-collared wolves will be conducted and the situation will be monitored throughout this winter. Fontaine visited the area and met with landowners on 12/2.

While hunting W-T deer west of Lincoln, in NW MT, Bangs came across the track on a lone wolf. Surely others of you have seen some sign this fall? If so- let us know. Wolves are beginning to disperse and we anticipate a sharp increase in new wolf pack formation. Please report wolf sightings so that we can focus aircraft searches or our track surveys this winter.

Research

Graduate student Oakleaf reported tentative results on the first year of the Salmon livestock mortality study. Transmitters located 3 wolf kills, 1 coyote kill, 2 pneumonia, 2 probable pneumonia, and 1 unknown disease. One wolf kill, 1 probable wolf kill and 1 unknown disease were located without use of transmitters. This information suggests that 1/3 of all mortalities were caused by wolves and half were disease/pneumonia caused. One rancher who had a very high level of missing livestock last year (30's) reported he was 15 short this year compared to normal losses of 5-7. Another rancher with livestock nearest the wolf rendezvous site reported being 5 short while he normally lost about 2. Other allotment permittees reported that they had levels of missing livestock similar to past years. This information indicated that wolf-caused losses went undetected at a rate as high as six to one, but there was such large variation depending upon the allotment’s terrain and among producers, that data were inconclusive. A similar type study of grizzly bear predation on cattle in Wyoming indicated that for every confirmed mortality there was nearly another calf that was not found, which seems to compare to the level of extra missing (suspected wolves) over historic losses of producers with wolf dens near their cattle. The first year of the wolf/cattle study also suggested that wolf depredations only impacted a couple of the producers on the allotment, and that control (which ended up being removal of all but 3 pack members) ended depredations. Three wolves remain in the area. Next year’s efforts (radio-tagging and monitoring cattle and wolves) are critical to determine if these initial patterns are repeated so wolf management can be improved.

The Yellowstone winter study is continuing but is somewhat hampered by the mild winter conditions and lack of snow. At this point in time wolf kill rates on elk seem a little lower than in past year’s but that may change as elk begin to concentrate and snow depth increases.

 

Control

The Chief Joseph pack killed 6 sheep at a private ranch in the Tom Miner Basin, just north of Yellowstone National Park on the 20th. Four guard dogs at the ranch were barking and highly upset by the presence of the wolves but did not prevent some loss. This ranch has had 2 guard dogs and several sheep killed by wolves since the reintroduction. WS investigated and confirmed that about 5 wolves were involved. Radio telemetry signals located four radio-collared members of the pack right at the ranch and the wolves were driven from the area by a biologist that night. The landowner was given receiver to detect if the wolves returned, which they did the following night. The landowner was contacted about the possible use of a radio-activated light siren device as well as other control measures. After discussions with the landowner the siren device did not appear to be the appropriate control tool in this instance. The Chief Joseph pack moved out of the area on the 22st. Depending upon pack size, it may be reduced this winter by darting or shooting to reduce the potential for future conflicts and to allow the guard dogs to be more effective at protecting themselves and the sheep. Currently the situation is being closely monitored.

A German Shepard dog was killed by wolves beside a private cabin near the Sunlight Basin (west of Cody, WY) (11/27) over the Thanksgiving weekend. The family pet was old and on medication but was otherwise healthy. A newly formed pair (one was radio-collared) was located in that vicinity on 11/28. They rather than the Sunlight Basin pack were likely responsible but the actual wolves involved will likely never be known. No control is planned.

A family near Emigrant , MT reported that on 12/2 about 7:15am, 4 wolves came into their yard toward their 2 dogs, who were barking at the wolves. No dogs were injured and by the time a person got outside, the wolves (estimated 12 total) were running away. At this time the pack that could have been involved is unknown but Chief Joseph is a possibility. Naturally, any time wolves interact or attack dogs near a human residence the people involved are interested if they should be concerned about human safety. The, answer of course, is that while wolves could certainly easily attack and kill people, for some reason they almost never do and that a deliberate attack on humans by wolves seems to be a very unlikely event. However, wolves are wild animals and despite the fact that wolf attacks on humans are an almost unheard of event in North America, caution should be taken (to not approach a wolf, physically try to break up an encounter with a dog, or try to touch a wolf) especially if wolves are engaging domestic dogs.

Plans to move the Bass Creek female and her 5 pups into the release site in NW Montana are about completed. The female is originally from the Murphy Lake pack and is being moved back into NW Montana since that recovery area had the fewest breeding pairs (6) in 1999. The relocation is scheduled to begin Monday morning, depending on the weather.

 

Information and education and law enforcement

The Service’s wolf biologist in Wyoming, Brian Cox, resigned from the position for personal reasons effective December 3rd. Brian will return to Oregon where he still has a house. Brian worked hard and his efforts on behalf on the wolf recovery program during the past year have been appreciated. Good luck and thanks for your efforts, Brian!

Jimenez attended the Wyoming Chapter of The Wildlife Society annual meeting in Casper on the 1st and gave a presentation at the "Beast Feast" for the Wyoming student chapter of The Wildlife Society in Laramie on the 3rd.

The Congressional Quarterly Researcher published an edition (Oct 1, 1999, vol 9, no. 37, pages 849-864) on the Endangered Species Act. It included several references and discussions about wolf restoration efforts.

With assistance from a Montana hunter, Service law enforcement agents recovered the remains and radio-collar from the alpha female of the now defunct Thompson River wolf pack. The case remains under investigation. She went off the air in spring 1997 and her remains were found within the pack’s territory. Contact with the pack was lost shortly after her death. Other than an occasional lone wolf, no pack activity has been documented in that area since 1997, despite extensive searches.

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