By Michael Wright
Chronicle Staff Writer
State wildlife officials are monitoring a pack of wolves that’s been hanging around Cooke City in recent weeks, following reports of wolves in town at night and the killing of a domestic dog.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has received reports of wolves hanging around the streets of the mountain town, which has a small number of permanent residents during the winter. FWP said in a news release that a domestic dog was killed by wolves two weeks ago, and that the wolves’ behavior is concerning. The agency has no evidence suggesting the wolves are being baited.
FWP officials have placed cameras in and around Cooke City to gather information on how often the wolves are coming into town and how many of them there are.
Abby Nelson, a wolf management specialist for FWP, said cameras were placed there about a week and a half ago. She has already gathered an initial batch of photos from the camera. She and a warden will likely visit the town at least once a week for the foreseeable future.
She said they hope to learn about the wolves’ movements, and they also want to confirm whether it’s the pack they think it is — the Lamar Canyon pack. In November, a hunter killed a famous member of that pack, a black wolf known as Spitfire.
National outcry ensued after the wolf’s death, but FWP found that the wolf was killed legally.
Nelson said the group of wolves has been hanging around Cooke City since mid-summer, and that they’d been seen near town a few times. Sightings in town increased as winter intensified, the deep snow likely funneling the animals into areas they’re more likely to be seen.
“In winter, wolves like easy travel routes,” Nelson said. “So they use snowmobile trails, plowed routes.”
Locals have only seen the wolves at night, Nelson said. Nelson said the animals are likely moving between the Cooke area and Yellowstone National Park, the northeast entrance of which is just a few miles from town.
“They probably loop down to the park in search of food,” Nelson said.
She also said they think the pack may have been displaced from its original territory by a larger pack.
FWP said in the release that the wolves have not been approaching people, but that it’s possible the animals could become habituated to people by spending too much time in town. It also said pet owners should avoid letting their animals run freely, especially at night. Killing wolves in self defense is legal.