Late November update on Wyoming Wolves outside Yellowstone

Nov. 26, 2001, update Nov. 27


In addition to the discovery of the new Greybull wolf pack there is some news about the various wolf packs in Wyoming outside Yellowstone National Park.

The Absaroka Pack, which was new in 2000, and led by153F and 164M, with one yearling and 4 new pups coexisted with dense cattle concentrations through much of the year.. However, as summer wore on, they began to kill a few calves. Efforts to harass them away from cattle on public land near Sunlight Basin only moved them to private land, where they killed a few more for a total of 8 calves.

Control was initiated with plans to kill the yearling and the alpha male. Only the yearling was shot by the government. The alpha male retreated into timber and bad weather ended the cattle grazing season with the pack intact.

Sunlight Basin Pack. The pack maintained its usual location throughout 2001 -- the upper reaches of Sunlight Basin (the Absaroka Pack controls the lower part of the Basin). They did kill 2 cow calves during the year, and carried out one of the first attacks on an adult bull. The bull survived, and compensation was given. No control was initiated. 

The Beartooth Pack, of which famous no 9F is a member, had it first confirmed litter. Three pups were observed. No. 9 lags behind, but is still part of the pack.

The Washakie Pack, which re-emerged from the realm of speculation last year, has now grown to pack of over 10 wolves. Unlike the year 2000, when the pack roamed widely, but centered on the DuNoir Valley area, this year they stuck more closely to the DuNoir. As usual they killed a few calves and some more dogs, presumably from the Diamond G. As a result, control is on for 2 or 3 of the pack members. Folks can interpret it many ways, but I am bemused by the continuation of raising cattle in an area with dense concentrations of every large predator in North America, save jaguar. Wildlife Services is continuing to try and kill a few of the pack, but bad weather and the departure of cattle for the winter may ends current attempts at "control." See the story about Dan Ingalls and the conversion to bison below.

The Teton Pack fares well, with the large uncollared alpha male and the two females, both of whom probably had a litter last spring for a total of 9 pups. They all of which seem to be alive and roaming the Mt. Leidy Highlands NE of Jackson Hole, especially the Gros Ventre River drainage. On of the treats of the summer was my close encounter with the big guy and, later in the summer, watching the pack for over an hour through good optics. They helped make up for watching the degradation of GTNP by cattle.

The Gros Ventre Pack may have split, or simply be down to 3 or 4 members. They had no pups in 2001 and no radio collars. However, during the summer one presumed member of the pack was trapped and collared, no. 237F. However, she did not lead biologists to the pack, and now she has paired with a male wolf. So there will perhaps be a third pack, in the area next summer. The new pair, the Teton Pack, and the Gros Ventre Pack all share the Gros Ventre drainage (upstream from GTNP), which seems to have become the wolf concentration area for the Jackson Hole region.

Several of the Gros Ventre wolves came down to the elk feedgrounds early, but retreated up into the mountains when no elk were present. With the arrival of the first heavy snow this weekend, elk will soon be on the feedgrounds, for what might be a winter of more artificial feeding than usual because of the drought and the devastation of elk transitional range in Grand Teton National Park by this summer's excessive cattle grazing.

In a related matter, Riverton rancher Dan Ingalls, wants to give up running his cattle in the upper Gros Ventre and change to a bison operation. Ingalls regularly puts in very large claims for grizzly bear killing his cattle to Wyoming Game and Fish, which then denies part and pays part, still generally more money than paid for all the wolf depredations in the Northern Rockies in a given year. His proposal to change to bison, which grizzlies rarely kill, is promoting praise and controversy in Jackson Hole. It appears to me that the devil is in the details. Fences to keep the domestic bison from mixing with the Grand Teton National Park bison have to be strong and at least 6 feet high (a bull bison can jump 6 feet from a standing position).  The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Western Watersheds Project, and the Jackson Hole Alliance have announced opposition. The manager of the National Elk Refuge has voiced concern about the interference with elk migration.

Due to falling prices for bison, I wonder if the operation could be viable. Nevertheless, I have supported the idea of public land ranchers running brawnier livestock.

Because essentially all of the Jackson Hole bison and as much as 50% of the elk have asymptomatic brucellosis (far higher than in Montana, where the Montana DOL is gearing up for their annual controversy), there is the question whether these domestic bison would become infected. However, this doesn't seem to worry Wyoming livestock interests much. I puzzle over the difference between the two states, and the lack of discussion of the matter. Perhaps they exist in parallel universes. Maybe it is just one of those things that are not nice to discuss.

Regarding the bison, a colleague suggested the one of the effects of Montana's endless campaign against Yellowstone bison is to unwittingly spread the notion that Montana cattle are somehow suspect.


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