From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 31 - October 27, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Wolf relocations fail

by Cat Urbigkit

Although federal wildlife officials tend to try non-lethal techniques to control rare or endangered predators like grizzly bears and gray wolves, some of those techniques are less successful than others.

For example, wolf translocations are no longer practiced in Idaho or Wyoming, according to Mike Jimenez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A research paper examining the effectiveness of wolf translocations to reduce livestock conflicts in the Northwestern United States was recently published in the journal Conservation Biology. The paper looked at the results of incidents involving 88 wolf translocations away from livestock conflicts. More than one-quarter of the wolves preyed on livestock again.

Most translocated wolves never established or joined a pack and had high mortality rates, with government removal the primary source of mortality.

In an interview about the research paper, Jimenez said that translocating wolves is "very expensive and time-consuming, but the success rate is not great."

Translocated wolves show strong homing tendencies, and even if they didn't make it back to their place of capture, they still moved back in that direction.

The research paper recommended that managers translocating wolves consider soft releasing wolves when possible to reduce homing behavior and increase release-site fidelity. Soft releases involve the temporary holding of the animals onsite in pens. In contrast, hard releases are immediate releases. When it comes to hard releases, Jimenez said, "They take off like rockets ... they try to go home and can put on some pretty big distances."

When the federal government undertook the wolf reintroduction program 10 years ago, wolves were hard released in Central Idaho, while wolf packs were held in pens in Yellowstone National Park for several months before being released.

"There's no real place to stick them," he said.

"Translocating individual wolves doesn't give you much bang for your buck," Jimenez said.

Non-lethal control isn't effective in western Wyoming, according to FWS reports. Although non-lethal control is routinely considered, it often is not applicable in many areas in Wyoming because:

Specific wolf packs chronically killed livestock year after year;

Unpredictable travel patterns and movements by wolves; and

Very large wolf home ranges that covered vast areas where cattle grazed on public grazing allotments.

Nine of 10 wolf packs in Wyoming outside of Yellowstone National Park were involved in at least one livestock depredation in 2004, and total depredations increased 42 percent from the year before. In most cases, federal control efforts help resolve the problem, but when that fails, FWS may issue shoot-on-site permits. Last year, six such permits were issued in Wyoming, with livestock owners killing two wolves on their private property.

Last week, FWS issued a shoot-on-site permit to a Big Piney-area rancher, allowing him to kill two wolves on his private property. No action has been taken on the permit. FWS issued the permit after a pack of wolves in the Cottonwood Creek area killed at least six head of cattle this year. USDA Wildlife Services personnel have repeatedly attempted to kill the wolves, but haven't been successful. FWS granted Wildlife Services permission to kill up to three wolves. Jimenez said that reports indicate there are three adult wolves and three or four pups in the pack. The pups would weigh at least 60-70 pounds at this time of year.

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