From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 41 - January 9, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Night of the wolves

by Cat Urbigkit

It was about 5 p.m. Monday when I got the call from a friend, letting me know he had seen a pair of wolves, a silver-colored one and a black one, basking in the sunshine on the hill across the draw from my house, just outside our fenceline. He wanted to be sure I knew, so that our Anatolian guard dog wouldn't go out patrolling outnumbered and never make it back.

Unfortunately, I'd shipped that dog earlier in the day, trading her for a young female Great Pyrenees with 10 suckling pups. This four-legged family was tucked away in a warm home in the corner of my front yard. Just outside the yard fence in the sheep pen were 80 head of ewes and their rams, ready to bed down for the night.

I was glad to have been told the wolves were in the area so we could prepare. My husband Jim began calling neighbors up and down the river, letting them know to get their dogs in for the night. (We live near the junction of the Big Piney Cut-off and the New Fork River.)

By 5:30 we stepped outside into the dark to see the sheep all standing in the pen, not willing to lie down. We could hear the wolves howling from the hill behind the house. I decided to call the feds to let them know we had a problem.

No, the sound of those howls didn't send chills up my neck and, no, it wasn't eerie or cool or anything else, except maddening - it made me madder than hell, because Jim and I knew the wolves had been camped out waiting for the opportunity to come in to our sheep.

I caught Mike Jimenez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Lander on his cell phone. Jimenez, who I call as often as once a week for information for articles, wasn't at all surprised to hear from me, but he was surprised when I said, "I have a herd of sheep and a pair of wolves."

At this point, the wolves hadn't moved in on us, but were just making themselves known with the howling. Jimenez told me that I know as much about the rules as anybody, so I was welcome to chase them off, but nothing could really happen until a problem occurs. I told him a Cora rancher's dead cow last Thursday was the problem that's already happened. "Have at it," he said, of chasing the wolves away.

Jimenez said when wildlife officials flew on Saturday, they only found three of at least six wolves they were looking for in the Cora area, so my wolf duo could have been some of the missing ones. He told me he would call Wildlife Services and have them fly our place the next day to see if they could find any radio-collared wolves.

Word had already spread in the ranching community, and I received a call about there being wolf tracks down Paradise Road. As soon as it was said, I knew it was true, because I had seen them myself on the way home, but had already forgotten about it.

By 7:30, the black wolf approached near the back yard, flushing our two horses from in front of the old wooden boxcar near our house and chasing them around the side of the corrals into the meadow. Jim chased it in the truck, using a spotlight and firing his 12-gauge shotgun into the air. He chased the black one around the yard, around the corrals, and away. The sheep fled the pen - I could hear them quietly running through the snow even though I couldn't see them because it was too dark.

I got back on the telephone, relaying information to an agent of Wildlife Services in Rock Springs, who had called to get directions on where to fly Tuesday morning.

I hung up the phone and went out to drive the truck, shining the spotlight for the herd to see its way, while Jim walked them back to the pen. They were scared and didn't want to go, but we got them in and Jim locked the gate.

By 8:30 p.m., I was exhausted. Jim was still patrolling with the truck while I tended to the telephone and tried (but failed) to convince our son Cass to go to sleep so he could get up for school the next morning.

Just before 9 p.m., Wildlife Services Wyoming Director Rod Krischke of Casper called, wanting to know if Jimenez had talked to me about a kill permit, which he hadn't. Rod wanted to know if we were interested, but I was unsure. While we would have liked permission to kill the wolves, we'd rather it be the feds' responsibility. I reminded Rod we were the people who filed the lawsuit against the wolf reintroduction, so increased scrutiny of our actions in killing a wolf would be expected. Rod said he had already recalled that fact.

At 9:30 p.m., we were in the house needing a break. We had known of the wolves' arrival for only four hours and it already seemed like it had been such a long night.

The night drug on, with trying to sleep, but hearing every sound, and taking spins in the truck with the spotlight, looking, looking, but the wolves didn't return.

We heard the Wildlife Services' airplane as it made a pass over our place in the fog Tuesday at 8 a.m. Jim and I both stayed home from jobs in Pinedale to keep the dogs and the sheep near the house, where we could monitor things more closely. We can't imagine the carnage we would have faced Monday night if we hadn't been forewarned and stayed up and out.

Just over an hour after we heard the plane, Wildlife Services shot and killed one of two black wolves it spotted just north of our house. It was a large male. I was glad to see it, but wished it wasn't alone in the back of that truck. FWS had instructed Wildlife Services to leave the other, radio-collared, black wolf alone.

The wolves walked right down Paradise Road, a county road, and showed absolutely no fear. The black wolf returned to our house and yard several times Monday night between Jim doing laps in the truck with the spotlight. The Wildlife Services trappers weren't surprised - they commented on how bold these animals are, jumping right into corrals, pens and yards.

The wolves are former members of the Teton Pack., which now has 14 members and lives in the Gros Ventre River drainage. But as many as nine wolves, all nearly two years old, dispersed from the pack recently, resulting in the wolves scattering throughout Sublette County.

Later in the morning, Wildlife Services killed a second black wolf a few more miles down the river. It was a female, accompanied by yet another wolf, this one also wearing a radio collar.

Wildlife Services did not find the silver-colored wolf we know is there. When I point out that we made progress since we have two dead wolves, Jim points out that we still have at least two live wolves, just like yesterday.

If you see wolves or have problems with wolves, please be aware that the animals are federally protected and federal officials need to handle the situation.

Mike Jimenez can be reached at 307-332-7789 (office) or 307-330-5620 (cell). Wildlife Services can be reached at 307-362-7238 (Rock Springs) or 307-261-5336 (State office).

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