Volume 3, Number 25 - September 18, 2003
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Wyoming Range wolf pack totals 16
The Wyoming Range went from officially not having a pack of wolves about a week ago to now having at least 16 wolves running in one pack.
Mike Jimenez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed in an interview Monday that, in response to a report of a dead yearling heifer last week, trapping efforts were initiated, with two wolf pups caught on Thursday and two more on Friday. The pups were all fitted with radio collars and released unharmed. The five-month-old pups weigh about 60 pounds at this point, with their adult teeth coming in now, Jimenez said.
A USDA Wildlife Services official managed to count as many as 16 wolves in the pack.
"It's probably two litters," Jimenez said, because there appears to be a lot of pups in the pack.
While some locals suspect that at least two separate groups of wolves may have joined together to create this big wolf pack, Jimenez said he thinks a double litter of pups is responsible. Regardless of how, this pack is currently the largest pack in the region outside of Yellowstone National Park.
A similar situation occurred with the Teton pack, with it having two litters of pups two years in a row, Jimenez said. The pack grew from three wolves, to 12 wolves, then to 23 wolves. Then one female died, a litter died, and a bunch of the wolves dispersed. It was some of these dispersers that got into trouble for repeatedly preying on livestock in the Upper Green River region of the Bridger-Teton National Forest earlier this summer.
"A lot of the wolves we've taken out were those wolves," Jimenez said. The Teton pack now has about 12-14 wolves in it, including pups, he said.
So far this year, federal officials have killed seven wolves in Sublette County, including two in January near Highway 351, three in the Upper Green River region this summer, and two last month in the Wyoming Range.
Jimenez said his agency has begun a "real tight" monitoring program for the Wyoming Range wolf pack, noting that the pack is quite vocal, so howling is heard readily in the Horse Creek area.
Merrill Dana of the Antelope Run Ranch confirmed that six wolves were seen feeding on a dead yearling heifer on the ranch early last week, and that's the heifer Wildlife Services had confirmed as a wolf kill.
Dana and his wife have seen wolves in the area on numerous occasions, and had a pack of three wolves inhabiting their area for the two years prior to this larger pack being documented, as well as one adult with five pups. Dana said the pups aren't especially shy, adding that it's not difficult to get within a few hundred yards of the pups. The dead heifer was right next to the county road, so a number of people saw the wolves as they fed on the carcass.
"It's a bad deal now, since we got so many so quick," Dana said. "It's gonna get nasty. It's coming too fast."
But no further problems have occurred, Dana said, and the yearling cattle seem to be taking the wolves in stride so far.
Federal officials, both with FWS and Wildlife Services, have "been very helpful," Dana said. "I have no complaints with these guys whatsoever. They're pretty helpful."
Rancher Jim Greenwood said in an interview Tuesday morning that while he hasn't had any problem with the wolves in his cattle, "what's spooked are the antelope, and it's not because of hunters.
"There are more in and around the cattle than out where they usually are," Greenwood said. "I think the Wyoming Game and Fish Department employees should be worried about having a job with as many dead wild game animals as there are." Greenwood said that he's seen quite a few dead antelope in the area, while there are few moose to be found.
Greenwood predicts that if the large wolf pack stays intact when winter sets in: "There is no way they're going to hold those elk on those feedgrounds, not with that big of a pack. They were blowing them off with three wolves chasing them last year.
"It's only a matter of time before they want to play with the cows because the elk are too hard to find," Greenwood said. "There is no way the elk are going to stay on the feedgrounds."
Jimenez said in an interview Tuesday that he's heard concerns both for livestock and wildlife in the area of such a large wolf pack.
"That's a lot of wolves, all the sudden," Jimenez agreed. "That was a surprise. Double litters are always a surprise."
Jimenez said reports of wolf sightings from the public indicated that sometimes the wolves were seen together, but at other times, the wolves seemed to be in two different groups, which is actually typical for wolf behavior.
"It's not 16 adult wolves," Jimenez said, "and how many pups survive into the winter is something else." While there is a higher pup survivability inside protected areas such as Yellowstone National Park, survival drops outside that boundary.
Jimenez said outside of Yellowstone National Park, pups have about an 80-percent survival rate from the time they are first seen outside their dens to when they enter their first winter.
Jimenez did predict that the surviving wolves will remain together this winter, breaking into groups later on.
"If they start killing livestock in a repetitive way, we'll start taking some out," Jimenez said. When it was pointed out that the wolves have already been involved in livestock depredations, he responded: "We've already taken two out. We've killed two adults."
Jimenez was referring to the deaths of two adult wolves in the Wyoming Range last month. After wolves were involved in killing domestic sheep in the area, efforts to capture and collar the wolves were made, but the two wolves initially captured died from apparent heat-related stress from the capture effort.
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