Gravelly Pack Controlled and Captured. Taken to Turner Ranch for conditioning.
June 10, 2001, update June 15.
The until now shadowy Gravelly Pack, which had spent the winter on or near the Blacktail Game Range southeast of Dillon, Montana, has been captured and "controlled." After the wolves had killed 20 or so sheep on Jon Konenís ranch, one wolf was captured and fitted with a radio collar to serve as a Judas wolf to lead control agents back to the pack.
The pack denned low only to see the elk climb to summer range early. So I speculate they had taken to killing some sheep to supplement their nutrition. On June 7, the alpha female, a yearling, and 6 pups were captured and the alpha male killed. The captured wolves were moved to the wolf facility on Turner's Flying D Ranch southwest of Bozeman for a summer of growth and conditioning against livestock predation.
I have seen no news release on the operation, but on June 9 a number of us attending the Greater Yellowstone Coalition annual meeting were allowed to travel to the Flying D and observe the wolves from about a quarter mile distance.
I saw the alpha female and the yearling through a powerful scope. They are both black wolves, and the alpha female appeared quite a bit larger than the yearling. Because wolves are full grown by 14 months, the yearling is small, the alpha female large, or perhaps both. The pups were not in sight.
The enclosure is in country remarkably similar to the old Rose Creek pen in YNP. It contains aspen, Douglas-fir, sagebrush and some shrubbery.
The wolves will be conditioned to avoid livestock using dog training collars that deliver a mild shock when a wolf approaches an introduced cow calf (or maybe a lamb or sheep) within 3 feet. Positive conditioning may also be used by introducing live prey of politically acceptable species such as elk, deer, bison.
This approach was used last year with three captured pups/yearlings (brothers) from the Sheep Mountain Pack. However, the wolves failed to approach the introduced cow calf and were repulsed by the bison calf which had been introduced so the wolves could have "a positive killing experience." The three wolves were released last December. One was killed under circumstances that have not been revealed. The other two are with a female near the old Sheep Mountain Pack den site near Dome Mountain, although in a new den.
After hearing Mike Phillips of the Turner Endangered Species Fund describe the events (as well as many other consistent descriptions by others in the past), I am convinced that the charge that the wolves were being tortured at the Turner Ranch was without merit and will remain so.
Update 6-15: At least 2 wolves from the pack remain in the area. They are trying to capture them. I don't know if they plan to kill them or not. The USFWS expressed pessimism about capture due to the open country and the fact there is no longer a rendezvous site. I think the best solution would be if the wolves wandered off to the high country, which they might well do now that the pups and the alpha female have been removed to the Turner Ranch. There would seem to be nothing in the area to hold the wolves there.
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