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 Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 1/19/2007

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 1/12/07 to 1/19/07

NEW WEB ADDRESS- The 2006 annual interagency wolf report [covering all 2005] can be viewed at http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov/annualreports.htm. It has maps of wolf pack locations and home ranges, tables of wolf numbers and depredations, discussions of litigation and funding issues, summaries of scientific studies, an extensive bibliography, and additional informational. Everyone is plugging away on the interagency 2007 annual wolf report [covering all of 2006] should be completed by March 1, 2007. It will follow the same format as last year- the Montana and Idaho state reports, the FWS/NPS report for Wyoming and a summary of other multi-state issues by the FWS, with concluding with tables and maps by both state and recovery area.

Monitoring

On Jan. 2, WY WS/FWS specialist Jim Pehringer took advantage of a break in the weather to trap and radio-collared a pup [now 9 months old] from the Sunlight Basin Pack. There are approx. 14-16 wolves in the Sunlight Pack this year, but until now no radio-collared wolves.

The old collar from the wolf carcass recovered north of Salmon, ID earlier this month was identified by Telonics. The collar came off B-07, a 1-2 year old male from the first batch to get released in Idaho in January 1995—probably the last “true” Canadian wolf! This wolf had been the alpha male of the Big Hole pack for many years until 2004. He was still up in the Lochsa/Lolo area with the Big Hole pack when his collar gave out in June 2003. He was at least 1 ½ years-old when released making him at least 13.75 years old. Unfortunately, the hide couldn’t be saved, but IDFG will salvage the skull and prepare it for display purposes.

Jason Husseman [IDFG] aerially darted a new wolf in the Moyer Basin Pack B316 on the 19th, incidental to capturing big game. Michael Lucid [IDFG] finalized pack counts from the air on Friday. Paul Frame [IDFG] continued planning for the Wilderness monitoring and trapping effort that will be underway this summer. IDFG will be hiring a wildlife technician and 3 bio aides to assist in capturing wolves in the Selway Bitterroot wilderness. The announcement will be posted next week.

On Jan. 8th, Holyan [NPT] met with 2 residents north of Cascade, ID that had reported a pair of wolves "frequenting" their rural subdivision; they were concerned for the safety of their pet dogs. He found no definitive wolf sign (tracks, scats), but this area is/was very close to the Gold Fork pack's home range. The Gold Fork pack was severely reduced/eliminated by agency control near the end of 2006. The residents were apprized of their 10(j) rights and wolf-deterrence methods.

Apparently one of the Superior, MT wolves was hit on the railroad tracks on the 18th. A Montana Rail Link worker called MFWP on the 19th. MFWP will accompany the MRL worker and pick up the carcass that is just east of Cold Creek between the Southside Road and the Clark Fork River.

On Jan.16th, while doing coyote work in the Madison Valley, MT WS darted a lone adult male black wolf near Ennis Lake. Examination determined the wolf was injured, apparently by other wolves. It had numerous puncture wounds in the chest, hip and head areas. It was collared and released and the signal was monitored from the ground on the 17th and was not heard in the immediate capture area. Its fate will be followed- thanks to MT WS.

On Jan. 14th Craig Fager (MFWP biologist) was aerially surveying elk in the West Pioneer Range in SW MT and saw 3 gray wolves that appeared to be uncollared. Bradley [MFWP] flew the area on the 15th and listened for missing collars but did not hear any. This is likely a new group of wolves.

On the 16th Bradley received a call from a landowner near the Threemile game range (E. of Florence, MT) who reported wolves passing through their cattle and horse pasture. They were advised of 10j and Bradley visited them on the 17th and confirmed 4 sets of wolf tracks. MFWP were able to document wolf presence in this area this past summer but could not confirm a pack until now. This pack will be called the Welcome Creek pack.

Bradley also responded to a report on the 16th up O'Brien Creek east of Missoula, MT of a wolf seen early in the morning on the 14th in a front yard. The landowners were concerned for the safety of their dogs. No wolf sign could be found in the area but the landowner was advised on how to better protect her dogs.

On the 17th, McDougal (MT WS) was conducting coyote work and saw 3-4 sets of wolf tracks from the air in upper Basin Creek, SE of Dillon, MT. This is in the territory of the Sage Creek pack which we have been unable to find since the collared male (SW64) dispersed last summer. But it could also have been the Freezeout pack (there are 3 wolves remaining in this group) since they have also been known to use this area in the past.

Control

MT WS investigated four dead ewes near McLeod, MT on Jan 15th and confirmed that wolves were responsible. WS checked for telemetry signals of radioed wolves, but did not find any. Tracks indicated the wolves returned a day later. Because the depredation took place in the middle of a large pasture with many livestock and nighttime temperatures have been near zero, trapping for collar and release was not possible. MFWP spoke with the landowner and inform him of allowed actions under the 10(j) rule and evaluated if any non-lethal techniques might be useful. MFWP and WS are monitoring the situation closely. The producer will bring the sheep into a coral near the house at night. MFWP & WS are also evaluating the use of "Turbo fladry," or electrified flagging which could hung around the pasture near the house. Properly trained livestock guarding dogs might also be effective in this situation. This might also deter the other depredations by bears, cougars, and coyotes. The producer will have his rifle handy and is picking up the sheep carcasses and burning them.

On the 13th, ID WS confirmed that a single wolf attacked and injured a calf on private land near Sweet, ID. The calf had to be euthanized because of its injuries. After consulting with IDFG, ID WS began efforts to remove one wolf. This wolf may, or may not, be associated with the wolves that killed a steer in High Valley earlier last week.

Research

2006-2007 WINTER COUNT OF NORTHERN YELLOWSTONE ELK- The Northern Yellowstone Cooperative Wildlife Working Group conducted its annual winter survey of the northern Yellowstone elk population on December 30, 2006. A total of 6,738 elk were counted during good survey conditions. Approximately 2/3 of the observed elk were located within Yellowstone National Park, and 1/3 was located north of the park boundary. Biologists used three fixed-wing aircraft to count elk through the entire northern range during the one-day survey. The northern Yellowstone elk herd winters between the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park and Dome Mountain/Dailey Lake in the Paradise Valley. This year’s count of 6,738 elk was similar to the count of 6,588 elk in March 2006, but significantly lower than the 9,545 elk counted in January 2005. "This decrease in counted elk likely reflects the continuing effects of predation by wolves and other large carnivores, as well as decreased detection of elk within Yellowstone due to anti-predation behaviors such as smaller group sizes, increased dispersion of groups, and increased use of forested habitats, making them more difficult to locate," according to P.J. White, biologist for Yellowstone National Park. "It appears that elk distribution has changed in recent years with elk numbers north of Yellowstone Park leveling off at between 3,200-4,000 elk, while elk numbers wintering inside the park may be decreasing," according to Tom Lemke, biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
"In an effort to reduce hunter mortality on female elk, FWP has reduced the number of antlerless Late Elk Hunt permits over the last several years. For the last 2 years only 100 antlerless permits have been issued," said Lemke. "At the current level of harvest, recreational hunting has very little impact on elk numbers in a population of several thousand animals. Hunting has basically been removed as a significant factor regulating northern Yellowstone elk numbers." The State Elk Plan calls for a winter population objective of 3,000-5,000 elk north of Yellowstone with 2,000-3,000 of those animals wintering on or near the state-owned Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA). In the last 4 years, an estimated total of 3,200-4,000 elk have wintered in the area with 2,100-2,800 elk using the Dome Mountain WMA. By the end of this
winter, biologists expect elk numbers north of the park to remain within the management objectives. In contrast, during the late 1990s, 5,300-8,600 elk wintered north of the park with 3,500-4,500 elk in the Dome Mountain area. Wintering such large numbers of elk could lead to long-term habitat decline and increase the likelihood of game damage problems on private
land.

On the 18th, USDA WS and MFWP met in Butte, MT with the USU graduate student who will be working on the MS project to evaluate the possible use of turbo-fladry as a deterrent to livestock predation in MT. They discussed study design and logistics.

"Longevity and Productivity of Three Wolves, Canis lupus, in the Wild" by J. Holyan, D. Boyd, C. Mack, and D. Pletscher has finally appeared in The Canadian Field-Naturalist (Vol. 119, #3; July-September 2005). It seems timely in light of the recent death of B7, who, based on data from his translocation in 1995, may have been 13.75 or even 14.75 years old.

Information and Education and Law Enforcement

On Jan 18th, Doug Hansen from ID WS spoke to 150 ranchers at the annual meeting of the Weiser River Cattle Assn. in Midvale, ID. Doug spoke about wolf depredation identification, protocol and reimbursement programs.

Steve Nadeau [IDFG] discussed wolf management issues on a cable television program in Hailey, ID on the 18th.

The Service's weekly wolf report can be viewed at http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov/ . This report is government public property and can be used for any purpose. Please distribute as you see fit.

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


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