Dec 30

WY: Wolves roaming

Wolves roaming

by Cat Urbigkit

Wolves have been at it again. The last few years, wolves have hit elk
feedgrounds in western Wyoming, blowing the elk off the feedgrounds and
sometimes into trouble.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department elk feedground manager Gary Hornberger
said in an interview Tuesday that of the 11 elk feedgrounds in the county
that he ýs responsible for, feeding operations have begun on all, with the
exception of the Soda Lake and Green River Lakes feedgrounds.

The North Piney elk feedground is already shut down for the winter.

ýThe wolves ran the elk off to Bench Corral, like they typically do,ý
Hornberger said. The feeder at Bench Corral now has upwards to 800 head of
elk to feed, far above the feedground objective of 250 head. Hornberger
said that on some days, there are 500-600 elk on the feedground, but with
a relative open winter so far, there are elk all over the low country in
the Bench Corral area.

Elk numbers on the feedgrounds in this region are fairly normal,
Hornberger said, with a few exceptions. The Muddy Creek feedground has
fewer elk than normal, while Scab Creek has more than normal. Two elk that
were collared at the Muddy Creek feedground last year at this time have
been sighted on the Scab Creek feedground, proving that some of the Muddy
Creek elk are now at Scab Creek.

WG&F has had to move elk a few times this winter season as well,
Hornberger said. About 575 elk had to be moved from the Rye Grass junction
area to the Jewett feedground and about 250 head were moved from North
Beaver to the Franz feedground. Of the Jewett elk, Hornberger said heýs
pretty sure that the elk were moved off the feedground by wolves.

Wolves also harassed elk on the Black Butte feedground, resulting in the
elk moving to the highway and along the river, before returning to the

Wolves hit the Finnegan feedground for the first time ever, Hornberger
said, blowing the elk off that feedground for a few days before the
animals calmed down and returned. A pack of nine wolves hit this
feedground, but federal wildlife officials killed two of the animals in
response to livestock depredations, so seven of the predators in this pack

Itýs impossible for wildlife officials to plan for the impact wolves will
have on elk feeding operations, Hornberger said, so his agency tries to
plan for the worst-case scenario in terms of feed and winter severity.

ýSo much for planning when the wolves move another 400 to 500 elk to
another feedground,ý Hornberger said, noting that last year, the road had
to be plowed to allow for more hay had to be hauled into Bench Corral to
feed the increased number of elk on that feedground in response to wolf

Mike Jimenez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported Tuesday that
his agency hasnýt received any new reports of wolves causing problems for
livestock producers or homeowners in Sublette County in the last few

Nothing has been heard of the Daniel pack and attempts to trap and collar
any of the wolves in this pack have failed, he said. As for other wolves
in the county, three or four members of the Teton Pack have been roaming
into Sublette Countyýs high country near Union Pass and Green River Lakes,
but this group has been bouncing around and not staying in one place,
Jimenez said. One of the wolves is wearing a radio collar, so FWS has been
able to track the groupýs movements.

There are also a few wolves in the Cora area, Jimenez said, but with no
collars, little is known about these animals or their movements.

According to the FWS weekly progress report, there is still one active
control action pending in southwest Wyoming in the Hams Fork/Kemmerer
area. One or two uncollared wolves have killed several sheep/cattle and
federal wildlife officials have unsuccessfully tried to remove these
wolves. FWS reported: ýWe will continue for another week and then stop. If
further depredations occur, we will attempt removal again.ý

All other control actions in Wyoming have been completed, according to
FWS. During November and December, FWS removed five wolves from the Daniel
Pack and two wolves from the Owl Creek Pack to reduce further depredations
in these packs that have chronically killed livestock.

FWS also reported that there are now 15 wolf packs inhabiting Yellowstone
National Park. This includes 12 breeding pairs, with a total population
estimate for the park of 166 wolves. FWS reported that 85 wolves live on
the northern range and 81 wolves live in the interior.

Confirming the fears of many Montana hunters, Montana Fish Wildlife and
Parks officials announced that it will cut the number of late winter cow
elk permits in the northern range Yellowstone elk herd from about 1,400 to
100 next winter. FWS reported: ýWith the full compliment of large
predators preying on them – bears, lions, wolves and humans – this herd
may not rebound from the deliberate high hunter harvest of cows as quickly
as it has in the past.ý


Posted in Uncategorized
Dec 29

Canada, AB: Keeping Wolves Wild

Keeping Wolves Wild

Wolf tracks have been spotted around Whistlers campground, the west highway, the woodlot, and behind the Warden Office; it is important that people know that wolves are in the area and take appropriate measures to help keep the wolves wild.

“We know that we have 2 to 3 wolf packs in the valley bottom in the winter hunting elk,” says Wes Bradford, wildlife conflict specialist, “We do not want them to become habituated to people, highways, and facilities.”

To reduce the potential of wolf/human conflicts stay clear of any carcasses and keep dogs on a leash.

Park warden staff will aggressively haze wolves travelling along roadsides, or observed in the town site area.

“Keeping wolves wild and having them maintain a fear of humans is key to their survival, and therefore, beneficial to the ecosystem,” says Bradford. “Having wolves on the landscape is an important part of maintaining the delicate balance between large predators and ungulates.”


Posted in Uncategorized
Dec 29

MT: Wildlife group pays $139K to ranchers

Wildlife group pays $139K to ranchers

Associated Press

BOZEMAN – Defenders of Wildlife paid out more than $139,000 to Western ranchers whose sheep or cattle were killed by wolves, the group said Tuesday.

That’s more than twice the $68,000 reimbursed in 2003, and a huge increase over the $7,480 shelled out in 1996, the first year after wolves were reintroduced into the Yellowstone Ecosystem.

“We did have a good jump” this year, said Suzanne Stone, the Northern Rockies representative for the group, which compensates ranchers for livestock killed by wolves.

Numbers show wolves killed more than twice as many sheep and cattle across the West this year than in 2003. As of Tuesday, wolves were blamed for the deaths of 110 cattle, 442 sheep and six other animals this year, the group stated.

In 2003, that tally was 55 cattle, 210 sheep and 15 other animals.

With nearly 300 wolves now in the greater Yellowstone area and more than 400 in central Idaho, the number of livestock killed grew accordingly, said Ed Bangs, head of wolf recovery for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena.

“That’s the price you pay when you have more wolves running around,” he said.

While the wolf kills get a lot of attention, Stone stressed they amount to a tiny fraction of the sheep and cattle killed each year.

In Montana, for example, coyotes killed 17,700 sheep and lambs in 2003, according to the Montana Agriculture Statistics Service, which polls ranchers every year.

Ranchers in that survey blamed wolves for 500 dead sheep and lambs, although just 210 were listed as confirmed or probable wolf kills by the federal government.

Defenders of Wildlife, which supported the reintroduction of wolves into the Yellowstone Ecosystem, established the special fund in 1987 to ensure ranchers are compensated for livestock lost to the predators. Since 1987, $474,000 has been paid out.

The group will reimburse the full market value of sheep or cattle lost only if wildlife officials confirm that the animals were killed by wolves. The group will reimburse 50 percent of market value for animals killed in what is officially regarded as a possible but unproven wolf kill.


Posted in Uncategorized
Dec 29

MT: Wolf predation on the rise

Wolf predation on the rise

By SCOTT McMILLION, Chronicle Staff Writer

The number of cattle and sheep killed by wolves in the West has more than doubled this year.

“We did have a good jump” this year, said Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies Representative for Defenders of Wildlife, the group that pays ranchers for confirmed or probable losses.

The 2004 rate also is triple what was predicted ten years ago by the federal government.

However, wolf numbers are also a lot higher than predicted when the big carnivores first were released in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995.

And when wolf numbers increase, individuals and packs spread out from core national parks and wilderness areas, leading to more depredations, said Ed Bangs, head of wolf recovery for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena.

As of Tuesday, wolves were listed by Defenders as the confirmed or probable cause of death for 110 cattle, 442 sheep and six other animals this year. Almost all of those losses were in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. A handful were in Washington, Utah and the Southwest.

In 2003, the tally was 55 cattle, 210 sheep and 15 other animals.

Predations have climbed steadily.

In 1996, the second year of the wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, wolves killed eight cattle and 42 sheep.

The wolf kills get a lot of attention, but Stone pointed out they amount to a tiny fraction of all predations on cattle and sheep.

In Montana, for instance, coyotes killed 17,700 sheep and lambs in 2003, according to the Montana Agricultural Statistics Service, which polls ranchers every year.

The ranchers in that survey blamed wolves for 500 dead sheep and lambs, though only 210 were listed as confirmed or probably wolf kills by federal specialists.

Defenders paid ranchers $139,000 for this year’s sheep and cattle losses.

That doesn’t cover everything, but it helps “take the sting out” of losing livestock, Bangs said.

“I think everybody realizes the compensation is only partial compensation,” he said.

Studies have indicated, Bangs said, that actual losses could be from two times to eight times higher than confirmed losses. The higher figure is a “worst case scenario” that might apply in extremely isolated grazing pastures where animals are rarely checked.

Bangs predicted that predation is likely to increase, but said more wolves also will be killed as time goes on.

Places where wolves have full protection — like Yellowstone — are filling with wolves. Numbers there have declined slightly this year, partly due to fights among packs. When wolves wander it means wolves are likely to “end up in areas where they have more potential for getting in trouble,” Bangs said.

And when wolves cause trouble, they often die. Ranchers are routinely given kill permits and federal specialists often track down wolves and kill them after they attack livestock.

“We expect we’ll be killing more wolves and we’ll have more (livestock) depredations,” Bangs said.

The 1994 environmental impact statement that outlined wolf reintroduction predicted wolf populations of about 129 animals both in greater Yellowstone and in Central Idaho by 2002.

The same document predicted those wolves would kill up to 32 cattle and up to 110 sheep annually in greater Yellowstone and up to 17 cattle and 92 sheep in central Idaho.

This year, confirmed and probably losses were more than twice those predicted levels, which were based on the number of livestock killed per 100 wolves, Bangs said.

With nearly 300 wolves in greater Yellowstone and more than 400 in central Idaho, the predations grew accordingly, he said.

If you calculate in the higher wolf numbers, the livestock losses are less than had been predicted mathematically, he said.

“That’s the price you pay when you have more wolves running around,” he said.

The federal government is transferring more of its wolf management authority to state governments. However, complete removal of Endangered Species Act protections has been stalled indefinitely.

Montana’s wolf plan calls for maintaining wolf numbers at roughly the current levels. It also allows for killing more wolves when they cause trouble.


Posted in Uncategorized
Dec 28

ID: And then the lawsuits piled up … For one wolf expert, handling litigation has evolved into a

And then the lawsuits piled up … For one wolf expert, handling litigation has evolved into a lifestyle

By Michelle Dunlop
Times-News writer

HELENA, Mont. — For the last 10 years, people curious, upset or elated about wolves in the Rocky Mountains have turned to one man: Ed Bangs.

“I feel like if you throw a nickel in my mouth, I’ll give you the wolf spiel,” Bangs said.

Bangs left a dream position in Alaska for Montana and his claim to fame as the wolf recovery leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The position took him out of the field and put him into an office.

“Now, I’m just an administrator/bureaucrat,” Bangs said. “If you look at the wolf guys, we’re a bunch of bitter, old men.”

The process of wolf recovery didn’t simply begin a decade ago when wolves were reintroduced to central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. Instead, a number of years, studies and lawsuits led up to that one momentous day in January 1995 when wolves bounded back into the Rocky Mountain West.

“When it started out, it was just a tiny program, run out of the back of a pickup truck,” Bangs said.

But wolves have garnered big-time attention — not all positive. Instead, much of that attention has come in the form of lawsuits. The amount of money, resources and time invested in lawsuits have lead many to speculate that litigation has done nothing but prolong the inevitable — residents learning to live with wolves and states learning to manage the species.

Today, the Fish and Wildlife Service is now involved in at least five active lawsuits.

“Everyone just blasts with both barrels,” Bangs said. “They’re just hoping that one sticks.”

In the autumn of 1994, the Fish and Wildlife Service published its final rule in the Federal Register declaring wolves an experimental population in Idaho, Wyoming and southern Montana.

The lawsuits began to pile up.

Wolf opponents, such as the American Farm Bureau, sued to stop reintroduction. The organization objected to introducing a “nonnative” species in Idaho. Additionally, the group asserted that wolves already existed in Idaho, so reintroduction wasn’t necessary. At the same time, the Sierra Club sued to get more protection for wolves.

“The litigation on the reintroduction went on for five years,” Bangs said.

In 2002, when the Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted gray wolves from endangered to threatened, the agency was slapped with another round of litigation.

Defenders of Wildlife launched one of the lawsuits. Suzanne Stone, Defenders spokeswoman, said that the Fish and Wildlife Service wants count the wolf population in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming toward population levels in the rest of the West.

“There’s not a viable population in any of these other states,” Stone said.

Because wolves historically inhabited other portions of the West, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to consider population levels in those states separately and manage accordingly, she said.

The latest bout of litigation surfaced after the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected Wyoming’s management plan. The state of Wyoming sued in order to see information that the federal agency calls classified. Interest groups as well as Clark County, Wyo., have followed with additional suits. Litigation over Wyoming’s plan will likely stretch out over the next three to five years unless the lawsuits are dropped, Bangs said.

“The status quo will remain in effect until that litigation is complete,” he said.

Despite the fact that much of his time gets sucked into legal documents and litigation rather than helping wolves and the people who are affected by the creatures, Bangs remains upbeat about the process.

“Nobody is above the law,” he said. “Lawsuits are expensive, but wait until you’re on the short end of the stick.”

“Wolves are so symbolic to people,” Bangs continued. “Every wolf thing gets litigated. And that’s not a bad thing.”


Posted in Uncategorized
Dec 28

ID: Researchers ponder the positives of wolf recovery … In some locations, the benefits of wolves

Researchers ponder the positives of wolf recovery … In some locations, the benefits of wolves are clear

By Michelle Dunlop
Times-News writer

YELLOWSTONE — If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of a wild wolf in the lower 48 states, grab your camera and head to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, says one federal official.

“It’s the best place in the world to see wolves,” said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

People from all over the world call Bangs asking him for wolf-spotting tips. The answer is always the same — go to Lamar Valley.

“It’s incredible,” he said.

In the years since wolf reintroduction, the visibility of wolves in that location pleasantly surprised Bangs. While the public often hears stories of the economic losses livestock producers have faced due to wolf recovery, the benefits of reintroduction are harder to quantify, Bangs said.

In 1994, the Fish and Wildlife Service published its study assessing the effects of wolf recovery in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. The assessment included possible economic benefits to those communities. The federal agency predicted both Yellowstone and central Idaho could see an increase of $23 million in visitor expenditures annually because of wolf recovery.

John Duffield, an economics professor at the University of Montana, analyzed social and economic impacts of wolf recovery in Yellowstone in 1992. His research projected a regional impact of $43 million a year. Duffield is expected to release another report in the near future comparing his initial estimates with the actual benefits.

Bangs noted an unexpected impact of wolves that wolf advocates tout as beneficial to the environment.

“Elk act differently when wolves are around,” Bangs said.

It’s not that the elk population has suffered due to wolves in Yellowstone, he said. It’s the way elk now behave with wolves around. Elk no longer linger in open areas.

The change in elk behavior allowed willow trees and aspens to spring up in places elk typically grazed when wolves were not present. Oregon State University forest resources professors William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta published a study in October verifying Bangs’ statement.

“When you remove the wolves, the elk are able to browse unimpeded wherever they want, as long as they want,” Beschta said.

However, the reintroduction of wolves changed the demeanor of elk and other wildlife. These changes over the course of time alter the ecosystem. Wolf advocates argue that bringing wolves back to places the animal historically roamed restores balance to the environment.

“This large-scale extirpation that happened in the United States may have far-reaching consequences,” Ripple said. “We are just at the very infancy of understanding the importance of these apex predators sitting at the top of the food chain affecting entire ecosystems.”

The Associated Press and Defenders of Wildlife contributed to this article.


Posted in Uncategorized
Dec 28

ID: Wolves affect other wildlife … Hunters claim wolves harm elk population

Wolves affect other wildlife … Hunters claim wolves harm elk population

By Michelle Dunlop
Times-News writer

BOISE — The word is out among the hunting community: Idaho has wolves.

For outfitters who depend on out-of-state hunters for business, that’s not the kind of publicity the industry needs, said Grant Simonds, executive director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association. Not surprisingly, Simonds’ organization didn’t welcome wolves back to Idaho 10 years ago.

“Land-based outfitters have been concerned from day one,” Simonds said. “Some outfitters believe some elk herds have been impacted by wolf predation.”

Wolves are known to prey on elk, deer and other wildlife. In the years since reintroduction, concerns among hunters and outfitters have grown over the way wolves impact wildlife populations. Environmentalists hail the return of the wolf for restoring balance back into ecosystems; wolf opponents fear that without proper management, wolves will severely diminish elk and deer populations and, in turn, harm the businesses and individuals who rely on those populations to be healthy.

Simonds did not cite a specific incident in which wolf preying on elk negatively impacted an outfitter’s business. Hunters from out of state, he said, ask Idaho outfitters how much wolves have impacted their specific area.

“There is that stigma to overcome,” Simonds said.

Similar to many livestock producers, Simonds stresses management as the best means to living with and tolerating wolves in Idaho.

“IOGA has supported state management,” he said. “We supported that at the state Legislature. We’re very much interested in the day that wolves will be delisted in Idaho.”
Perhaps the killing of wolves who prey on elk remains more controversial than does eliminating wolves who kill livestock. Even experts dispute whether wolves significantly impact elk herds to the point that eliminating wolves would be beneficial.

The population of wildlife fluctuates normally, said Curt Mack, wolf recovery leader for the Nez Perce Tribe. A variety of factors have an effect on these populations — disease, habitat changes, winter severity, hunting and predation.

“How are you supposed to figure in this tiny little piece?” Mack said. “It’s very difficult for us to tell the specific effect of wolves on elk.

“Certainly, wolves are going to have an effect on their prey populations,” he said. “So far, we haven’t seen an immediate effect. Wolves have become a great scapegoat for hunters not getting their elk.”

However, that’s not what the outfitters want you to believe, says Western Watersheds’ Jon Marvel. Instead, Marvel said, they will tell you that there aren’t any elk left.

“They’re all dead inside a 500 pound wolf,” he says, laughing.

If wolves are such effective killing machines, they already would have affected other wildlife populations, he said.

“It’s not just this constant killing field out there,” Marvel said. “These other animals co-evolve. I just don’t think the fears of these hunting groups is born out by reality. These animals interact in ways that maybe we don’t understand in being prey and predators.”

Wolves could be killed for having a negative impact on an elk herd if an amendment to the Endangered Species Act — the 10(j) proposal — is approved, said James Caswell of Idaho’s Office of Species Conservation. However, Caswell said, the rule would not be applied without careful consideration.

“You’ve got to have some basis for this conclusion,” Caswell said. “There’s a bunch of things that happen before the decision to eliminate a wolf is made.”

Idahoans also need to keep the impact of elk feeding grounds in perspective, Mack said. When humans provide food for elk at winter feeding grounds, wolves will prey on the unnatural concentration of elk, he said.

“That is so artificial,” he said. “You don’t see that in nature. We’re kind of creating this artificial site where there’s an unnatural concentration of elk that can’t go anywhere. They (the wolves) see this whole freezer full of food.”

Although hunters have complained about declining elk numbers due to wolves, one Stanley resident, Bill Leavell, dismisses their claims. Leavell manages the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch in the Sawtooth Valley.

“I don’t think it’s had any effect up here,” he said. “I tend to think there’s much ado about nothing here.”

However, Leavell suspects that elk have changed their habits as a result of wolves in the area. Elk typically can be found grazing on a meadow on the ranch. Hot water running underground keeps the meadow cleared of snow even in winter. Since wolf reintroduction, Leavell said, elk herds on the meadow tend to be smaller and stay for shorter periods of time.

While elk behavior has adapted to wolves’ presence, hunter behavior has not, Leavell said. Hunters haven’t quite figured out habit changes by elk over the years. Instead, sportsmen continue to hunt elk in much the same manner they have for countless years.

“I think what hasn’t changed is the hunters,” Leavell said. “I can say that as an elk hunter.”


Posted in Uncategorized
Dec 28

ID: Original wolves gained following … Wolf enthusiasts now track packs

Original wolves gained following … Wolf enthusiasts now track packs

By Michelle Dunlop
Times-News writer

BOISE — Cataracts covered much of The Old Man’s eyes.

In his last years, he lost some of his youthful independence and shed his loner status; he learned to rely more on the kindness of others.

“He must have been good to the younger members of the pack for them to take care of him when he was older,” said one who watched him grow.

Suzanne Stone, a spokeswoman for Defenders of Wildlife, always reserved tender thoughts for The Old Man — one of the original wolves released in central Idaho in January 1995.

“He was the first one I locked eyes on,” Stone says quietly.

In the months and years immediately following reintroduction, wolf enthusiasts eagerly followed the movements of the animals as did those in charge of monitoring the species. With the number of wolves in Idaho today, forming a personal attachment to any one wolf proves more difficult. Instead, many residents now pay close attention to certain packs.

A wistful look passes over Stone’s face as she recalls Idaho’s most noted wolf. His technical name, B2, was given to him by the scientists who would track his journeys over nearly a decade. Nez Perce school children named him Chat Chaaht, meaning Older Brother in their language. He became known by many as The Old Man.

At the time of Chat Chaaht’s relocation to central Idaho’s wilderness, biologists estimated the wolf’s age at 4 years. He was already old by wolf standards — a species with a life expectancy of approximately 8 years.

“He was an older wolf then,” Stone said. “He was pretty special.”

In February 2004, Chat Chaaht’s radio collar sent out a mortality signal. Months passed before snows would recede enough to allow investigators to find the animal’s remains. A dead bull elk lay near Chat Chaaht, but no discernible signs of death marked the wolf, leading Stone to believe he died principally of old age.

“That he died of old age, that’s definitely a success for a wolf,” she said.

In the early years of reintroduction, every person who worked on the project personally knew each wolf, said Curt Mack, wolf recovery leader for the Nez Perce Tribe, the group who maintains surveillance of the animal in Idaho.

“I don’t feel like that anymore,” Mack said. “Now, they’re just numbers to us.”

However, he said, that’s how these type of projects usually go for biologists. With wolf recovery in Idaho, those involved had a unique experience.

“We can basically watch the wolf population grow from those original wolves,” Mack said. “We basically got to see the family grow.”

Since the spring of 2000, Lynne Stone has been watching wolf families grow in the Boulder-White Clouds mountain region of Idaho. The region has seen its share of wolf packs over the years, including the Stanley and White Hawk packs. Wolf packs piqued Stone’s interest beginning with the White Clouds pack.

“They were like our wolves,” she said.

Today, Stone serves as director of the Boulder White Clouds Council, an organization interested in preserving wilderness areas in central Idaho. However, Lynne Stone seems an unlikely supporter of wolves given her childhood growing up on a sheep ranch. Yet, Stone was angered when federal officials determined that five members of the White Clouds pack should be eliminated for killing livestock in the region.

“We didn’t have enough wolves,” Stone said. “When that happened that was really disturbing to a lot of people.”

Stone and others soon adopted the Stanley pack as their Chat Chaaht. The Stanley pack and its successor, the White Hawk pack, also had members killed for preying on domestic livestock grazing in the mountainous area. Remaining members of packs dispersed, creating new packs.

The Galena pack has now taken over the territory. Stone believes the region will only support one pack that she intends to monitor just as others observed The Old Man. However, Lynne Stone takes a realistic approach to getting too emotional over wolf packs.

“If you’re going to work on the wolf issue, you better harden your heart a bit,” she said.


Posted in Uncategorized
Dec 28

Yellowstone’s Heroine Wolves

Yellowstone’s Heroine Wolves

By Douglas S. Smith

Meet Five, Nine, and Fourteen.

This year, 2005, marks the tenth anniversary of the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. In 1995, amidst heated controversy, 14 gray wolves were captured in Canada and transported to Yellowstone to beget a new population. At that time, no wolves had roamed the park for close to 70 years. They had been extirpated under a federally-mandated predator control program designed to make the West safe for livestock and to appease deer and elk hunters. This anniversary celebrates a new beginning both for humanity and for wolves. Therefore, the time seems fitting to pay homage to the three femalesýknown simply as Five, Nine, and Fourteenýwho began the first packs in Yellowstone, packs that continue to anchor the parkýs wolf population to this day.

November 2000. The pilot circled low to the ground. Weýd narrowed the search for Fiveýs radio signal to an area of trees burned during the 1988 fires. Even though Iýd spent hundreds of hours in the air tracking radio-collared wolves, tension put me on the edge of my seat. I had followed Five every week for the past five years, but now she had become separated from the Crystal Creek pack. Perhaps her tenure as the packýs alpha female was over. The last time I saw her she didnýt look good. During the past winter, I would find her lagging behind her pack mates, struggling to keep up through the deep snow.

It didnýt take us long to spot the almost white form sharply contrasted against a charcoaled log. She looked big lying there on her side. At least she hasnýt starved, I thought to myself. We circled several times, trying to get her to lift her head, to give us some sign of hope that she wasnýt dead. That reassurance never came.

Five, Nine, and Fourteen represent the centerpiece wolves in the Yellowstone wolf recovery effort. They were the lead females in their respective packs. Alpha wolves: the breeders. Five was the first wolf ceremonially carried into the park by then Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, the late director of the Fish and Wildlife Service Mollie Beattie, and then park superintendent Michael Finley. Our plan called for a ten-week acclimation period inside one-acre pens before liberation into the wild, a strategy aimed at breaking the wolvesý homing instincts. We didnýt want any of them hightailing it back to Canada. No one expected the wolves to breed that first stressful year. But our pioneers proved us wrong. Nine, of the Rose Creek pack, and Fourteen, of the Soda Butte pack, were the first to give birth.

Nine had spent a week alone with her daughter, Seven, in the Rose Creek pen, before we introduced the big male, Ten. Cupidýs arrow hit its mark, and the two soon mated. When we gave the Rose Creek wolves their freedom on March 21, all three lingered for seven days in the penýs vicinity before Seven struck off on her own to become a lone wolf.

The mated pair ranged widely, traveling 30 miles or more beyond the parkýs northern boundary, as far as Red Lodge, Montana. There, in late April, Nine gave birth to a litter of pups under a tree; on the move, she didnýt take time to dig a den. Her situation was already complicated: The previous day, someone had shot and killed Ten. The man was later convicted of killing an endangered species, fined $10,000, and sentenced to six months in jail. His illegal act made Nine a single parent. She was alone in unfamiliar terrain, several miles from downtown Red Lodge. I kept tabs on her by hanging a radio antenna outside my hotel window. Shortly, Nine transferred her pups to a boulder-strewn field, where they crawled in between the rocks and hid. They emerged only to nurse.

Concerned that these pups would die with no father to help provide for them, we decided to recapture the family. Though the youngsters were only three weeks old that May, those balls of fur fought fiercely. With great difficulty, we managed to fish seven moaning, growling, squealing pups out from among the jumble of rocks. Seven was all, I thought, but a fellow biologist assured me that what I considered to be a hunk of mud up a dark, deep crevice was in fact an eighth pup. I could just touch the mud/pup with the tip of my finger, even with two of my colleagues pushing against my six-foot-two frame. Still, I needed to stretch a couple more inches to pull whatever was in there out. Our helicopter pilot came to the rescue with a pair of pliers. Back in I went, thrust forward by a boost of bruising urgency. I barely got ahold of something solid and extracted it by what turned out to be the skin of the pupýs headýthe eighth was rescued. Often, on tracking flights, I wonder whether that last hidden pup is the one that Iým looking down on.

After we secured the family, a late July windstorm sent ten trees crashing down on their Rose Creek pen. All the pups escaped, but Nine, ever the wary wolf, chose not to slip out. When I arrived with food, her pups were frolicking just outside the downed fence. We had to recover them. First we repaired the pen. Then, with much effort, we succeeded in apprehending six of the energetic pups. I almost injured myself diving with an outstretched net at one pup who joyfully outran me. He was one of two that we failed to catch, but without the company of their mom and siblings, they wouldnýt go far. To this day, Eighteen, one of those elusive wolvesýnow eight years old and the alpha female of the Rose Creek II packýconsistently evades our attempts to capture and radio-collar her. Fortunately her distinctive markings make it easy for us to identify her.

In October, several days before we reunited Nine and her pups with the two renegades, a yearling maleýEight, from the nearby Crystal Creek packýjoined the two youngsters outside Rose Creek pen to wait for the release of their mother. Actually, it surprised me that Nine attracted only one suitor. The “new dad” had to put up with two very rambunctious, happy-to-have-company pups. He readily obliged, and when we freed Nine and the other six pups, they formed one big happy family. Eight and Nine produced pups together for four seasons, from 1996 to 1999.

Nine lived in the same pack with her daughter, Eighteen, until 2000, when conflict between the two led Nine to travel east of the park to the Absaroka wilderness. Nine bred again in 2000, but no pups survived, possibly due to her advanced age. Wild wolves are known to live up to 13 years. No one knows the maximum breeding age for females, but Nine kept on trying. In 2001 she must have been at least nine years old, probably older, and her black fur had turned so gray it appeared white. Our genetic analyses indicate that 79 percent of the Yellowstone wolves alive in 1999 were descended from Nine. If any wolf could be credited with standing this population on its feet, it would be Nine. Over the years, many people have contacted us, wanting to contribute money to commission a statue in her honor. Since spring 2001, Nineýs radio signal has been silent. It seems appropriate that she has vanished into the Yellowstone wilds.

Fourteen, of the Soda Butte pack, was the youngest of the three heroines. Unlike Nine, she did not produce a bevy of pups in 1995; in fact, only one of her pups survived that year. In 1996 she denned on a 13,000-acre ranch north of Yellowstone. Despite the fact that the Soda Butte pack never once preyed on livestockýa ranch cowboy even commented that “it was nice to see ýem [the wolves] out there with the elk”ýthere were death threats. That meant we had to step in and transfer four adults and four pups back to the park. This time the capture required no diving acrobatics in pursuit of wily pups. These little ones had sheltered deep inside a burrow, and we merely had to inch our way into a dark hole with a flashlight to retrieve them. We released the pack of eight in October 1996 along the southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake, one of the most remote areas in the continental United States. It was almost exactly one year after we freed the Rose Creek wolves. In 1997 Fourteen gave birth to new pups near beautiful Heart Lake.

Tragedy struck in 1997. Fourteenýs mate, Thirteen, was much older than she. Like Nine, his fur had turned from black to gray. By February, we commonly found him at the rear of the pack. In March, his collar emitted the accelerated series of beeps that signals a dead wolf.

After that, Fourteen took off, leaving her offspring from two litters behind. She traveled west through inhospitable terrain that she had never ventured into before. We followed her for miles from the air; pristine snowfields made the tracking easy. Alone on the windblown Pitchstone Plateau, she halted for a moment just to peer up at our plane, then she continued west for 25 more miles.

Eventually, Fourteen made her way back to her family. Her strange movements so perplexed me that I called colleagues to see if anyone had ever recorded such behavior. No one had. And no one, including myself, wanted to suggest that she had traveled alone so far because she was mourning the loss of her mate. But she never bred again even though she consorted with other mature males.

The Soda Butte pack carried on despite losing their alpha male. Late snows in 1997 delayed the elk migration until December. When the elk left, the wolves did too, penetrating deep into the territory of the Thorofare pack to follow their prey. The Thorofares consisted of two introduced adults and the six pups they produced after their release. Being older and more experienced, the Soda Butte wolves (four adults and four pups) had the edge in case of confrontation. Clash the packs did, and the Soda Buttes killed Thorofareýs alpha male and chased the alpha female and one of her pups into a snow-packed valley, triggering a huge avalanche. Days later we tried in vain to dig through the ice and snow to retrieve their carcasses. Not until August, when we could ride in by horseback, did we recover the bodies of the Thorofare wolves. Fourteenýs pack now claimed all of the area south of Yellowstone Lake.

In April 2000 tragedy struck again. On a routine tracking flight on the south side of Yellowstone Lake, we discovered Fourteenýs carcass with a golden eagle feeding on it. A hundred yards away, we spotted a partially consumed moose. Their state of decay suggested both had died at the same time. It seemed likely that Fourteen, at age six, had lost her life in a fight with the moose. Later, our pilot observed a grizzly bear covering the dead wolf with debris as if it had made the kill. We discussed hiring a helicopter to retrieve Fourteen, but with scavengers already at work, weýd be unlikely to find out anything moreýand I knew my true reasons for wanting to go back in there were sentimental.

That summer, I rode in on horseback. Ecological agents of all kinds had entirely devoured the moose. And except for bones and hide, not much remained of Fourteen. I discovered that since the last time I had handled her, she had broken her leg and the bone had healed with a slight bend to it. Watching her from the air, I never detected anything amiss. As I knelt beside the tatters of her carcass, a slight breeze whispered through the tall grass. I felt at peace in the quiet of this isolated spot.

Finally, thereýs Fiveýs story to finish. She had no pups that first year. Though she excavated several dens, she never used them. In 1996 she gave birth, but the Druid pack, made up of a released Canadian pair and their three offspring, killed her pups. During this raid, Fiveýs mate, Four, was also killed, and Five suffered serious injuries. Only the young male, Six, survived. The shattered Crystal Creek pack left the lush Lamar Valley for the more remote Pelican Valleyýa Garden of Eden for wolves in summer, when elk and bison congregate to eat the nutrient-rich grass. But winter snows and freezing temperatures transform Eden into one of the harshest environments in North America. Only a few bison overwinter. They scrape out a bitter existence around thermal hot springs that melt the snow and uncover scant forage. To stay alive, the bison stir as little as possible and rely on their stored body fat for fuel. Some grow weak before spring and must face the wolves. The battles sometimes reach epic proportions despite the bisonsý debilitated state. In 1999 I watched Five and her pack mates make two successful bison kills, one involving 14 wolves and lasting nine hours.

In winter 2000, now only four wolves strong, the pack killed two more bison. In one battle, Five contributed what she had left in her old age to help bring down an ailing victim. Five was now aloneýher second mate had cut his femoral artery in a fight with a bull elk and died.

The last time I looked into Fiveýs eyes, before that fateful day by the log, she was walking away from an elk her pack had killed. The Crystal Creek wolves were traveling faster than she could manage. It was January, and she was alone in deep snow. As we flew overhead, she looked up at us, as she always did. But the look she gave me had changed. To gaze into the eyes of a wild wolf is one of the holiest of grails for lovers of nature; some say what you see is untamed, unspoiled wildness. American conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote eloquently of the “green fire” in a dying wolfýs eyes. That day in January, something had gone out of Fiveýs eyes; she looked worried. Always before, her gaze had been defiant.

I still sometimes tune into Fiveýs radio frequency, hoping to hear the unique signal that belonged to her. Biologists who spend years radio-tracking suffer from the same occupational hazardýhearing “ghost” beepsýespecially when wanting to hear one response so badly.

When I make my weekly flights over the vacant stretches of Yellowstone, I contemplate the big picture of the wolvesý return to this vast landscape and the ever-widening ecological ripples that have resulted. Then, three wolves take over my thoughts. Iýll never know what happened to Nine, or to Five. But I do know this a good place for a wolfýor any creatureýto live and to die.


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Dec 28

ID: Outfitter’s mission: Remove wolves from Idaho … Anti-wolf group threatens lawsuit, mutiny

Outfitter’s mission: Remove wolves from Idaho … Anti-wolf group threatens lawsuit, mutiny

By Michelle Dunlop
Times-News writer

STANLEY — For a moment, a crack seems to appear in Ron Gillett’s steely armor.

Fiery anger washes over his face, which, only moments before, flushed red with flame.

“I love Idaho,” Gillett says. “I love the Sawtooth Valley.”

Just when you think Gillett is about to wax poetic about the land he calls home, his verse takes a gruesome turn.

“I don’t want to be out walking in the forest and come upon an elk calf with its nose chewed off and three of its legs ripped off,” Gillett says. “I don’t want to see its mother, belly ripped open, entrails hanging out, tripping over its guts.”

The reintroduction of wolves to central Idaho, he says, created the worst wildlife disaster the state has ever known. That disaster harms outfitting operations, like Gillett’s, that cater to elk and big game hunters.

For nearly five years, Gillett has been consumed with one thing: getting wolves out of Idaho. And, Gillett is willing to remove wolves at all costs. His call to action echoes the early rebelliousness of the Idaho state legislators a decade ago as they threatened anarchy over the federal government’s plan to reintroduce wolves to the state.

“I think that some of us are real tired of 2 or 3 percent of the population — these wolf lovers — dictating to us how its going to be,” Gillett says.

The organization Gillett formed in February of 2000 — the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition — edges closer daily to filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over reintroduction. Membership has increased to 1,800 and grows every day, Gillett says.

“We’re small businessmen trying to survive against these wolves,” he says.

“It was promised there would be no economic loss to rural Idaho,” Gillett continues. “They have lied from day one.”

Gillett’s grandfather herded sheep in the Sawtooth Valley. Today, Gillett concentrates on outfitting over livestock production to eke out a living in the same rugged, majestic terrain.

“Our hunting is taking it in the shorts over this wolf thing,” Gillett says. “We’re just tired of their lies.”

“If these wolves were such a great asset to the ecosystem, wouldn’t we — the outfitters and ranchers who work here — support bringing them back?” he asks rhetorically.

Gillett claims the portion of his business comprised of out-of-state hunters was down 50 percent this last year. Out-of-state hunters inject a significant amount of money into the Sawtooth Valley economy, Gillett said.

While the Fish and Wildlife Service, in conjunction with the Nez Perce Tribe, estimate wolf numbers in Idaho to be over 400, Gillett’s group believes the population is nearly twice that size.

“We say there’s a minimum of 1,000 statewide,” Gillett said.

How does Gillett’s organization make such a determination? Many of the members are outfitters, like Gillett, or livestock producers — people who work on the land. Besides their estimates, Gillett receives numerous phone calls of wolf sightings.

“These wolves have populated like rabbits in Australia,” Gillett says. “And, don’t tell us that the alpha male and female are the only ones having babies in the pack.”

Gillett and his organization equally dispute the Fish and Wildlife Service’s calculations of the elk population. For instance, Gillett says, federal wolf recovery coordinator Ed Bangs tells people that vehicle accidents kill more elk each year than do wolves. Gillett disagrees.

The Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition publicizes different figures for the amount of hoofed wildlife — including elk and deer — that the average wolf kills per year. Every wolf kills 16 to 24 elk or deer per year for food, Gillett says. The calculation doesn’t sound so different from that of the Fish and Wildlife Service until Gillett adds, “each wolf kills twice that many for sport binge killing.”

For outfitters and wildlife lovers, this creates a dire situation. However, Gillett places no hope in either delisting or the proposed Endangered Species Act amendment that would allow immediate, but somewhat limited management by the state of Idaho.

“Delisting will never happen,” Gillett says. “You’re looking at 10 years before there would be any management tools.”

For Gillett and his organization, only one wolf management plan will suffice: the total removal of wolves from the state. If the state and federal government aren’t willing to remove wolves in Idaho, the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition may take matters into its own hands.

“If we lose this court case, we will see civil disobedience,” Gillett says. “When you get a bad law, you change it. We are law-abiding citizens. We will not allow Canadian wolves to be dumped on us to kill our wildlife, livestock or put us out of business.”


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