From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 44 - January 30, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Wolves hit North Piney elk

by Cat Urbigkit

Mike Schaffer of LaBarge is an elk feeder on North Piney - or was an elk feeder until last Friday when wolves eliminated his job.

"It's been an all-winter battle and I finally lost," Schaffer said in an interview this week.

Schaffer said he began feeding in early November and at last count, was caring for 388 head of elk on the feedground.

"Everything was going good," Schaffer said. "But the wolves started hitting us in December and it's been problems ever since."

Although there are at least five wolves running in two groups in the area, the recent problems on the feedground involved the pack of three, Schaffer said. In this pack, there are two grays and a black.

Schaffer said he hasn't been finding dead elk that the wolves have killed on the feedground itself because the wolves chase them up into the trees, leaving only the blood trail out in the open.

Schaffer said the wolves will run into the elk herd, "get two or three wounded and bleeding like hell," then ease off. Schaffer said it appears the wolves "let them bleed until they get good and weak," before moving back in on the herd.

Schaffer said he's found dead moose that the wolves killed but didn't eat, with just the faces and guts ripped out.

A week ago, the wolves hit the elk, "it took ... three days to get them back to the feedground and get them settled."

Settled they were, Schaffer said, with the animals calming down and coming right up to the sled for their daily dose of hay.

But last Friday when he went to feed, Schaffer followed the wolf tracks up the snowmobile trail.

"You couldn't im-agine the blood ... up and down the feedground," Schaffer said.

The blood trail went right to the feed row and continued up into the trees, he said.

Some of the elk came back, Schaffer said, "But the wolves hit them that night from above.

"They wreaked havoc up and down that creek bottom," Schaffer said. "God, I just hate this," Schaffer said, recalling what he saw and experienced.

This time the blood trail starts a full three miles from the feedground, Schaffer said.

The elk didn't come back so Friday's feeding was Schaffer's last.

"The elk just left," he said. "They just can't take that much pressure ... They've got to get out of there."

The pack of three wolves using the North Piney and Bench Corral elk feedgrounds have been documented killing and chasing elk on the feedgrounds for the last two winters by the elk feeders. These wolves, because they haven't been documented to have successfully raised pups, are not included as one of the 10 packs assisting in acheiving wolf recovery in the Yellowstone region.

"They've got my elk feeding job," so Schaffer will concentrate his efforts on his other enterprises, which incidentally, also stand to be effected by the four-legged protected predators. Schaffer ranches in the LaBarge area and is also a hunting guide.

"It's a bad deal ... everybody ends up paying for it - sportsmen, ranchers, everybody," Schaffer said.

"The Game and Fish is not to blame here," Schaffer said. "There was nothing they could do."

It's a fairly common misperception that WG&F had nothing to do with the wolf reintroduction. But the state wildlife agency actually endorsed the program. An Oct. 17, 1994, letter from Wyoming Game and Fish Deputy Director John Talbott to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated: "Please accept this letter as documentation of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's commitment to the reintroduction of gray wolves to the Yellowstone Ecosystem. Pending approval of the proposed rule, we will proceed with development of a state wolf management plan to be submitted to the (Secretary of the Interior) for approval."

Letters from each state wildlife agency in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana were required before government officials in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, would allow wolves to be taken from those provinces for use in the reintroduction program.

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