From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 40 - December 30, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Wolves roaming

by Cat Urbigkit

Wolves have been at it again. The last few years, wolves have hit elk feedgrounds in western Wyoming, blowing the elk off the feedgrounds and sometimes into trouble.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department elk feedground manager Gary Hornberger said in an interview Tuesday that of the 11 elk feedgrounds in the county that he’s responsible for, feeding operations have begun on all, with the exception of the Soda Lake and Green River Lakes feedgrounds.

The North Piney elk feedground is already shut down for the winter.

“The wolves ran the elk off to Bench Corral, like they typically do,” Hornberger said. The feeder at Bench Corral now has upwards to 800 head of elk to feed, far above the feedground objective of 250 head. Hornberger said that on some days, there are 500-600 elk on the feedground, but with a relative open winter so far, there are elk all over the low country in the Bench Corral area.

Elk numbers on the feedgrounds in this region are fairly normal, Hornberger said, with a few exceptions. The Muddy Creek feedground has fewer elk than normal, while Scab Creek has more than normal. Two elk that were collared at the Muddy Creek feedground last year at this time have been sighted on the Scab Creek feedground, proving that some of the Muddy Creek elk are now at Scab Creek.

WG&F has had to move elk a few times this winter season as well, Hornberger said. About 575 elk had to be moved from the Rye Grass junction area to the Jewett feedground and about 250 head were moved from North Beaver to the Franz feedground. Of the Jewett elk, Hornberger said he’s pretty sure that the elk were moved off the feedground by wolves.

Wolves also harassed elk on the Black Butte feedground, resulting in the elk moving to the highway and along the river, before returning to the feedground.

Wolves hit the Finnegan feedground for the first time ever, Hornberger said, blowing the elk off that feedground for a few days before the animals calmed down and returned. A pack of nine wolves hit this feedground, but federal wildlife officials killed two of the animals in response to livestock depredations, so seven of the predators in this pack remain.

It’s impossible for wildlife officials to plan for the impact wolves will have on elk feeding operations, Hornberger said, so his agency tries to plan for the worst-case scenario in terms of feed and winter severity.

“So much for planning when the wolves move another 400 to 500 elk to another feedground,” Hornberger said, noting that last year, the road had to be plowed to allow for more hay had to be hauled into Bench Corral to feed the increased number of elk on that feedground in response to wolf pressures.

Mike Jimenez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported Tuesday that his agency hasn’t received any new reports of wolves causing problems for livestock producers or homeowners in Sublette County in the last few weeks.

Nothing has been heard of the Daniel pack and attempts to trap and collar any of the wolves in this pack have failed, he said. As for other wolves in the county, three or four members of the Teton Pack have been roaming into Sublette County’s high country near Union Pass and Green River Lakes, but this group has been bouncing around and not staying in one place, Jimenez said. One of the wolves is wearing a radio collar, so FWS has been able to track the group’s movements.

There are also a few wolves in the Cora area, Jimenez said, but with no collars, little is known about these animals or their movements.

According to the FWS weekly progress report, there is still one active control action pending in southwest Wyoming in the Hams Fork/Kemmerer area. One or two uncollared wolves have killed several sheep/cattle and federal wildlife officials have unsuccessfully tried to remove these wolves. FWS reported: “We will continue for another week and then stop. If further depredations occur, we will attempt removal again.”

All other control actions in Wyoming have been completed, according to FWS. During November and December, FWS removed five wolves from the Daniel Pack and two wolves from the Owl Creek Pack to reduce further depredations in these packs that have chronically killed livestock.

FWS also reported that there are now 15 wolf packs inhabiting Yellowstone National Park. This includes 12 breeding pairs, with a total population estimate for the park of 166 wolves. FWS reported that 85 wolves live on the northern range and 81 wolves live in the interior.

Confirming the fears of many Montana hunters, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks officials announced that it will cut the number of late winter cow elk permits in the northern range Yellowstone elk herd from about 1,400 to 100 next winter. FWS reported: “With the full compliment of large predators preying on them - bears, lions, wolves and humans - this herd may not rebound from the deliberate high hunter harvest of cows as quickly as it has in the past.”

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