From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 47 - February 20, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Wolves chase elk off Black

by Cat Urbigkit

Wolves are responsible for chasing another elk herd off another elk feedground, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department confirmed last week.

The Examiner reported in January how a pack of three wolves ran the elk off the North Piney elk feedground on the east flank of the Wyoming Range, while WG&F confirmed that a similar situation occurred last Tuesday night or Wednesday morning at the Black Butte elk feedground north of Cora.

WG&F's Scott Werbelow said in an interview that there had been 485 elk on Black Butte and two wolves were reportedly in the area for most of the winter. Werbelow said that in early December, three wolves were reported in the Black Butte area, but eventually that number dwindled to two. Meanwhile, a lone wolf was reportedly using the Soda Lake area, indicating that one of the Black Butte wolves had taken off on its own, Werbelow surmised.

Wolves had killed two elk on Black Butte during the winter, Werbelow said, then killed an elk on Monday, and another on Tuesday. By Wednesday, the elk herd had fled the feedground.

"The three wolves are probably what made them leave the feedground," Werbelow said, noting two residents reportedly saw three wolves in the area Wednesday morning.

Black Butte elk feeder John Fandek said when he went to feed Wednesday morning, he found "the elk had beat a trail out of there."

Fandek said wolves had used the feedground for the last three years with no adverse reaction from the elk herd.

"They have accepted the presence of those wolves," Fandek said. Shortly after a wolf would kill an elk, the elk may have acted "a little apprehensive" about coming to the feedground, Fandek said, but would calm down and come in to be fed.

"They never reacted like this," Fandek said.

But this time, with so little snow, and some of the herd knowing the route to the Soda Lake feedground, Fandek said: "They just trailed on out ... They got harassed enough that they decided to pull out."

Fandek recently took issue with the Examiner's reporting of the problem with wolves on North Piney elk feedground.

"I certainly am aware of the problems wolves can cause," Fandek said in a recent interview, noting that he has been an elk feeder for 23 years. "I'm out of a job, isn't that ironic? It cost me two months of work. I'm suffering the impacts also."

Werbelow said when the elk herd left the Black Butte feedground, it traveled east across the highway to the New Fork Lake area and moved south to the Willow Creek Road. The whole herd was found lying in the road Wednesday morning, Werbelow said, except for 11 head of elk that returned to Black Butte.

Werbelow said the 470 elk had moved too far to be moved back to Black Butte by wildlife officials, but said his agency has been setting hay bait lines to Soda Lake in an attempt to lure the herd to that elk feedground.

"It's a delicate situation with that many elk," Werbelow said in an interview last Friday.

Werbelow said in addition to wolves using the North Piney and Black Butte feedgrounds, a pack of three wolves have been seen at the Bench Corral elk feedground, where many of the North Piney elk had fled.

Wolves are also using the Jewett elk feedground, with a total of five elk being killed on that feedground this winter, but the wolves hadn't yet moved the elk off the feedground, Werbelow said.

Two wolves are also using the Green River Lakes elk feedground area, Werbelow said, but no killing of elk has been.

Werbelow confirmed that while the wolves haven't been documented to have killed many elk on the feedgrounds, the big lesson he's learned is the unpredictability that wolves have brought into feedground management.

Werbelow said while the feedgrounds are not getting hit by large numbers of wolves, the problem is trying to manage for unpredictability in estimating the number of elk that will use any certain feedground, anticipating elk movements and planning for the appropriate amount of hay in each location.

"It complicates things," Werbelow said.

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