It was a seeming success story of recapture and pen release, but the time wolf 15M spent in the YNP enclosure was the product of the politics-driven capture of his native pack -- the Soda Butte Pack -- on the Beartooth Front in the summer of 1996.
The Soda Butte Pack was released in the spring of 1995. They explored Soda Butte Creek, but soon settled in the rugged Beartooth Mountains north of Yellowstone and along their foothills between Nye and Red Lodge, Montana -- a wildlife rich area among woods, farms and ranches called the Beartooth Front.
In 1995, the pack whelped one pup while deep in the wilderness stronghold of the Beartooths. In 1996, the alpha female, no. 14 whelped three pups on private land on the Front. The pack never killed livestock despite its close proximity to them. It did kill a small tracking hound, a Walker hound, that had the misfortune to do what is natural -- track -- in this case the wolf pack.
In June 1996 the Soda Butte Pack, except for number 15, was successfully captured and moved back to Yellowstone due to complaints from politically influential individuals on the Front. Yielding to this pressure, I believe was the beginning of trouble.
My original story on the pack's capture in 1996.
Suddenly packless, no. 15 roamed the Front and met wolf number 27F, the former alpha female of the British Columbia Halfway pack whose family had unexpectedly disintegrated when the doors of the Nez Perce pen in Yellowstone were opened in March 1996. Number 27 had whelped five pups near Nye and was trying to raise them by herself. Number 15 joined her briefly, but was finally captured in July 1996 and put in a Park pen with one of 27's pups that they had also been captured. Back on the Beartooth Front, Number 27F did eventually kill about 12 sheep. Number 15 may or may not have helped her. It is not clear that he deserved "strike one".
Story on the capture of no. 15M in July 1996.
After 2 1/2 months in the pen, no. 15 and pup no. 47M were released. This was in part due to the lingering presence of wolf 26F, number 27's daughter who had also been captured in British Columbia and released in Yellowstone in March 1996. Account of the release.
As expected, no. 15 and 26 soon paired and moved into fine wolf habitat in Wyoming about 30 miles southeast of the Park. This was on the edge of the gigantic Washakie Wilderness in the East Fork of the Wind River. There they wintered near cows, but they made their living on deer and elk. As spring approached they moved westward and number 26 denned in rugged wilderness country at the base of the Ramshorn in a tributary of the East Fork of the DuNoir. It took a long time to determine that the pack had five pups. It seemed like an ideal place -- full, overfull, of elk according to Wyoming Game and Fish; but it is a controversial area. The Forest Service wants to log it. An oil company wants to drill it; and cattle do use the southern and western portion of the area during the summer months.
During autumn, it appears that 15, did kill some cows. This was certainly strike one; but was it strike two? Even if it was, the pups need to learn to hunt and the winter (cowless) months are ideal. We have learned from the experience of the Sawtooth pups (now yearlings) that wolves that don't know how to hunt, tend to get into livestock trouble. Ed Bangs said so himself after Sawtooth yearling number 68F was shot this summer after killing 60 sheep, the largest livestock loss since the reintroduction began.
Despite controversy, Ed Bangs and agents of the ADC (now renamed "Wildlife Services") decided that number 15 had to go and pack would be captured and moved into Yellowstone (penned) for the winter. My view is that this will result in a pack that doesn't know how to hunt very well. The pack will almost certainly return to the Dunoir because they know the way there. Then, clueless about hunting, they will go after the easy prey -- the cows. As a result, they will probably be shot.
Update: In a tangentially related story, it has been reported that yesterday another Sawtooth yearling was shot by "Wildlife Services" (ADC) near Fishtail, Montana (Beartooth Front) after killing several sheep. There were no problems with wolves killing livestock on the Beartooth Front until the US Fish and Wildlife Service responded to the first political pressure and trapped the Soda Butte Pack in 1996.