The Beartooth Front

Beartooth Front near Nye, Montana
The Beartooth Front near Nye, Montana
Copyright Ralph © Maughan

This photo is along the Beartooth Front looking to the east on Horseman Flats between the West Fork and the main fork of the Stillwater River.



THE FRONT is an area of hills, ridges, farms, fields, and forest just to the north of the Beartooth Mountains. It lies generally between the crossroads of Nye on the west; Dean, Fishtail, Roscoe and Luther in the middle; Absarokee on the north, and the "gateway" community of Red Lodge , Montana, on the east.

Brief Wolf History

A number of the Yellowstone wolves have visited the Beartooth Front at least once, despite the fact that the rugged Beartooth Mountains lie between the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone Park and the Front. The favored travel way to the Front between appears to be the rugged canyon of the Stillwater River.


The Stillwater River in the Beartooth Mountains Photo
© Ralph Maughan. June 1997

The Soda Butte Pack had made the Front its home range by early 1996. They denned on the West Rosebud River in April. There the alpha female, no. 14, had three pups. Complaints by ranchers resulted in all but one of the pack being captured and held in the Crystal Creek Bench enclosure pen inside Yellowstone for most of the summer of 1996. Later they were taken to a brand new enclosure deep the Park's wilderness near where the Yellowstone River flows into Yellowstone Lake. The pack was released from this "Trail Creek" enclosure on Oct. 7, 1996.

Will they return to the Beartooth Front, remain near their release site, or will they disperse in some other direction? So far they have stayed near Heart Lake in the south central part of Yellowstone -- far from the Front. For the last year-and-a-half they have shown no inclination to return to the Front.

It is important to note that during their lengthy sojourn on the Beartooth Front, the Soda Butte Pack killed no livestock, although they did kill a mountain lion tracking hound (a Walker hound) that tried to track them.

The lone Nez Perce female (no. 27F) also denned in this vicinity in April 1996. Here she bore five pups. She had been the alpha female in the new 1996 pack that was acclimated in the Nez Perce Cr. enclosure.

Due to the circumstance of her being alone, biologists tried to capture her and save the pups for a long time, although for several months they believed all, or most, of her pups were dead. It turned out that all were alive.

In the meantime, no. 27 killed domestic sheep on two occasions. She did not eat them. The pack subsisted on wild animals -- mostly deer. Efforts to trap her resulted in trapping and severely injuring the leg of one of her pups. The US Fish and Wildlife Service said they didn't check the trap frequently enough because they thought all her pups were dead. The trap was too powerful for the leg of the trapped pup. The leg had to be amputated. This pup (no. 46) is now in a facility in Minnesota. One additional pup was trapped during the summer (no. 47). The pup was placed in the empty Nez Perce Creek enclosure with wolf 15M. Number 15 was the one wolf from the Soda Butte Pack that biologists had been unable to trap last June. With his pack gone, no. 15 took to consorting with no. 27 (helping her feed the pups?). However, biologists were able to trap him after several weeks passed.

In late September 1996, no. 15M and the pup, no. 47M, were released. The pup was soon hit by a vehicle and died near the Firehole River.

Beartooth Front Forest Fire
In early September 1996 a large forest fire started in the Beartooth Mountains and roared out of the East Rosebud Canyon onto the Front -- a number of summer homes were destroyed as well as a few farm and ranch buildings. The fire forced no. 27 and her 3 remaining pups back to the SE -- toward Yellowstone, but by mid-October she was back on the Front near Dean, Montana.

Number 27 finally captured
She was finally captured in late January 1997 -- darted from a helicopter. She was still just a few miles from Dean. None of her remaining three pups could be located by the capture crew. The did not wear radio collars. Since that time, however, her pup no. 48F, which may have recently killed a few sheep, has been captured and placed in the Nez Perce enclosure with other wolves, including his mother. No. 48, hard to capture, also proved hard to pen. In May she climbed out of the Nez Perce Pen and escaped. On June 9, the rest of the wolves were released. She did not return to the Front, but that October she was killed the federal agents 100 miles west of Yellowstone Park near Dillon, Montana after some depredations on cattle.

Antagonism from some Front Ranchers
Hostility to all predators is traditional among many of the older residents on the Front.
Coyote scarecrow near the East Fork of the Rosebud on the Front
Farm between Roscoe and Red Lodge
© Ralph Maughan. June 1997

While some ranchers and other folks on the Beartooth Front are indifferent or support the wolf reintroduction, it is clear to me that many deeply oppose the restoration. Opposition can take the form of the traditional shooting, shoveling and silence; but this doesn't work as well as it used to.

And the wolf reintroduction rules allow livestock owners to shot wolves that are in the act of livestock killing. On about June 6, it was reported that a sheep rancher on the Front killed one of the Sawtooth yearlings as it was attacking his sheep. This was the first legal wolf-shooting since the reintroduction effort began.

In 1997 I spent three days re-exploring the Front. The entire area is ideal wolf habitat with mule and whitetail deer in almost every draw. Coyotes and fox are already numerous. Wolves will probably reduce the coyote population as they return, as they most certainly will. See the photo below: Deer on a hillside next to the highway near Nye, Montana

Deer on a hillside opposite the highway between Nye and Dean on the Beartooth Front. © Ralph Maughan. Early June 1997.

In a related development, grizzly bears have begun to move into the area. An article in the Billings Gazette, July 14, 1997,  reported that a number of grizzlies had been spotted recently, some feeding on dead cows which may have died of larkspur poisoning. In addition, the article indicated that more wolves may have moved into the area.

A grizzly bear was killed in the spring of 1997 near Red Lodge. A women who claimed it was attacking her horse, and she shot the bear numerous times with a .22. She paid a substantial fine.  Another bear was killed by authorities near Roscoe in the early summer of 1998.

Beartooth Front /  Jan. 4, 1999