Lone wolf kills calf near Mackay

(Note from Sharon B.: If the Idaho wolf reintroduction plan were in place, what would be different? The cattle would still have been killed before control measures would kick in, because the plan says the wolves can expand in numbers until complaints drive the managers to do anything. Hopefully the rancher would be paid for all 5 calves instead of only one.)

(Note: Gee, giving the packs of predators nice, warm-and-fuzzy sounding names makes them, apparently, more acceptable killers than if they were just called 'Radio Collar Killer #27?' And, where do the 'new packs' come from? Do they just magically appear and disperse at will? Are new packs being surreptitiously 'introduced,' are the now-established packs of predators reproducing quickly, or what? And! The wolf managers 'need help tracking the pack so members can be captured and fitted with radio collars' -- any volunteers? Phone numbers are conveniently provided!)

February 22, 2003

By Todd Adams


The Challis Messenger Online

P.O. Box 405

Challis, Idaho 83226


Fax: 208-897-5276

To submit a Letter to the Editor: peggy@challismessenger.com  or info@challismessenger.com  (300-word limit)

A lone wolf has killed one calf -- and possibly four others -- on private ranch property in the Chilly area northwest of the Mackay Reservoir.

The calf confirmed to be a wolf kill was found on Saturday, February 15, said Jim Holyam, a biologist with the Nez Perce Tribe (NPT) and Rick Williamson of Wildlife Services.

In addition to the one confirmed wolf kill, two calves are listed as "probable" wolf kills and two calves as "possible" kills, Williamson said.

Williamson said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has requested that Wildlife Services remove the wolf, which means a lethal control action will be attempted and the responsible wolf shot -- if it can be found.

Williamson was notified of the depredations Saturday and was investigating Sunday. He was able to confirm that one calf was killed by a wolf because the wolf left fresh tracks in the snow around the dead calf, there were signs of a struggle -- and bite marks, wounds and hemorrhaging on the carcass clearly pointed to a wolf kill.

The other calves were found within one square mile of the confirmed kill, but none of the other sites had snow or wolf tracks, Williamson said.

Not all the evidence needed was found where the two "probable" wolf-killed calves were found.

The carcass of one of the possible kills had been completely consumed and another dead calf had been moved from the kill site, so Williamson couldn't investigate it.

The depredations took place over a period of about 10 days, Williamson said.

Birds feeding on one carcass led a rancher to the confirmed kill site on Saturday, where he found wolf tracks and called Williamson right away.

So far, it's an unknown wolf, Holyam said. Williamson added he's been unable to pick up signals from any radio-collared wolves in the area.

Williamson and other Wildlife Services employees can't name the rancher or ranchers whose calves were killed; all they can tell the press is that the depredations took place on private property.

The Wildhorse Pack has dispersed from its territory in the Copper Basin area, Holyam and Williamson said.

Wolf managers can't yet say for sure whether the wolf responsible was a member of the Wildhorse Pack, the two told the Messenger, but Williamson said the Wildhorse Pack is not suspected.

Wildlife Services will try to locate the wolf, said Williamson, but there was no evidence Monday the animal is still in the Chilly area.

Ranchers have been asked to be on the lookout and notify USFWS if they see wolf activity in the area.

Due to the large number of cattle on private land in the Chilly area, it would be difficult to haze wolves away with a RAG radio-activated guard box (RAG), Williamson said.

The wolf responsible is probably uncollared and would have to be radio-collared to trigger any RAG boxes.

Little previous activity

There had been no reports of wolves killing calves prior to February 15, said Curt Mack, grey wolf recovery coordinator for NPT.

The Messenger had contacted Mack February 11 for an update on wolf activity.

Mack said then that wolf managers are monitoring a possible new pack in the Morgan Creek area of 10 or 11 grey and black wolves -- but they have been unable to capture or radio-collar any of them.

Wolf managers managed to capture and radio-collar 14 wolves in six different packs the third week in January, Mack said.

Locally, that includes the nine-member Buffalo Ridge Pack, the six-member Moyer Basin Pack and the five-member Jureano Pack.

Collars were also placed on wolves in the Gold Fork, Scott Mountain and Orphan packs out of McCall, Idaho.

The Morgan Creek "bunch" is a possible new pack, Mack said -- although it hasn't yet been designated as such -- because wolf managers don't know if it has an alpha pair and will reproduce.

Wolf managers need help tracking the pack so members can be captured and fitted with radio collars, he said.

Anyone sighting wolves in the Morgan Creek area should contact Mack at 208-634-1061 or Carter Niemeyer at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Boise office at 208-378-5243.

Mack said it's possible that surviving members of the old Twin Peaks Pack formed this new group, but it's more likely a new pack formed by other dispersing wolves.

The new Buffalo Ridge Pack produced pups in the spring of 2002 and is roaming a territory that includes Thompson Creek, Squaw Creek and the Bayhorse area.

Mack said wolves on the east side of the state appear to be doing better than wolves on the west side.

The annual winter capture-and-collaring effort out of McCall found that average wolf pack size there is down. Usually, packs have six to 10 members, but managers counted only two to three wolves in the packs on the Boise and Payette National forests.

Mack said it's sometimes more difficult to spot wolves from the air during a winter with light snowpack, as it's hard to see tracks in the snow and easier for the wolves to move around and avoid detection.

The light snowpack may be responsible for not counting as many wolves in western Idaho, said Mack.

Plus, elk are hanging out in the higher timber country, not down on the creeks and river bottoms, so the wolves preying on them are not hanging around calving areas as much as in a normal winter.

Wolf pack viability

Wolf managers are concerned about the viability of the western Idaho packs, Mack said.

But he doesn't expect the smaller pack size to affect delisting of wolves.

There were 40 breeding pairs in the tri-state recovery area of Idaho, Wyoming and southwest Montana in 2002, he said.

This was the third year that wolf numbers stayed above the threshold of 30 breeding pairs, which is the delisting criteria.

Each of the three states has to come up with a wolf management plan before the USFWS and NPT will turn over management to the states. Wyoming so far has been dragging its feet on drafting a plan.

Mack said he's not sure if the smaller pack size is due to disease or illegal shooting of wolves. Wolf managers have not killed any wolves on the west side of the state recently, he said.

The western packs' territories don't take in as much livestock grazing allotments as packs on the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

It's common for a newly-reintroduced wildlife population to expand at its biologically maximum rate until its habitat is filled and carrying capacity is reached, Mack said.

Wolf populations grew at double-digit rates in the first years after the 1995 reintroduction, growing at 40 to 60 percent per year.

The rate is down to 25 to 35 percent now, Mack said, and the rate of increase will no doubt continue to slow.


Contact Ed Bangs:

ed_bangs@fws.gov  or 406-449-5225 ext. 204

Mr. Bangs is the federal wolf recovery coordinator in Helena, Montana.

He is in charge of all federal wolf management in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.