Idaho Wolf Update
January 8, 2001
Nez Perce Tribal field biologists completed another demanding and productive field season, documenting the status of the wolf population in Idaho for the year 2000. Results show the Idaho wolf population continuing to expand in both numbers of wolves and wolf packs. The winter wolf population for 2000 is estimated at around 191 wolves. This estimate includes documented reproduction, immigration, mortality, and emmigration of predominantly collared wolves. As the proportion on uncollared wolves increase in the population, the true values for these population parameters, and for the population estimate it self, will be increasingly difficult to estimate.
Field crews documented the presence of 17 wolf packs across the state, including 6 new, first year, packs. New packs producing pups for the first time this year include: Marble Mountain, Wolf Fang, Orphan, Whitehawk, Wildhorse, and Big Smokey (see "New Packs"). In addition, 3-6 suspected or potential packs were identified, however, sufficient evidence is not currently available to document the status of these packs. The Recovery Project will continue effort to document the presence of suspected uncollared wolf packs and the breeding status of potential mated pairs of collared wolves.
Of the 17 documented packs, 15 produced 16 litters accounting for the production of a minimum of 60 pups. Reproductive packs include: Big Smokey (6 pups), Chamberlain Basin (two litters of 6 and 2 pups), Jureano Mountain (4 pups), Kelly Creek (2 pups), Landmark (8pups), Marble Mountain (2 pups), Moyer Basin (5 pups), Orphan (1 pup), Selway (4 pups), Stanley Basin (7 pups), Thunder Mountain (3 pups), White Cloud (2 pups), Whitehawk (1pup), Wildhorse (1 pup), and Wolf Fang (5 pups).
The Chamberlain Basin pack produced two litters. This is the first documented case of a multiple litter within a wolf pack in Idaho. Alpha female wolf B16 produced a minimum litter of 6 pups, while subordinate female wolf, B50, produced a minimum litter of 2 pups using a distant den site on the western end of the packs territory. It is not known who fathered B50's pups, although we have no evidence that B50 or her pups rejoined the pack. Although the current status of her pups and mate is not known, we suspect B50 is attempting to establish her own territory and separate pack. The project will continue to gather information through the winter to document the breeding status of B50.
As of December 31, 2000 the Recovery Project documented the presence of 9 breeding pairs of wolves for the year 2000. Human caused mortality was the leading cause for disruption of breeding pair status for wolf packs. Specific causes included wolf control actions in response to livestock depredations (3 packs), illegal take (2 packs), and low reproduction (litter size <2; 2 packs). This highlights the potential impact human caused mortality can have on an otherwise viable wolf population in Idaho. The Recovery Project will continue to work towards increased tolerance of wolves across the state, and to develop long term solutions in chronic wolf-livestock conflict area that will both minimize economic losses to livestock producers and insure persistence of wolves in those areas.
The alpha male for the Marble Mountain pack is believed to be B48, who dispersed from the Kelly Creek pack during spring of 1999. The identity of B48's mate is unknown. This pack has established a territory in the St. Joe drainage, west of the Snow Peak pack's territory.
Alpha female wolf B38 mated with an unknown alpha male to form the Wolf Fang pack. This pack uses summer range in the upper reaches of the Big Creek drainage and winter range along the South Fork of the Salmon River. Their territory is west of the Chamberlain Basin pack.
The Orphan pack including alpha pair B61 and B28 have established a new pack and territory in the upper South Fork of the Salmon River drainage. Male wolf B28 is the last surviving wolf of the Bear Valley Trio, a group of three wolves (B19, B28, and B30) released in 1996 and remained together for almost two years. Although the Bear Valley Trio established a territory, they never produced offspring. Eventually, B19 attempted to pair with what was believed to be a female wolf from the Landmark pack, but was killed by the Twin Peaks pack during a territorial dispute. Subsequently, B28 and B30 were thought to have paired, however, B30 was found dead of unknown causes during the winter of 1998/99. Female wolf B61 was orphaned by the Stanley Basin pack as a pup in 1998. B28 and B61 were loosely associated with each other during 1999. Patience finally paid off for B28 this year.
The Whitehawk pack is composed of a group at least six adult wolves including male sibling wolves B40 and B47. B40 and B47 dispersed together from their natal Moyer Basin pack during the spring of 1999. The identities of the other four adult wolves in this pack are unknown. Currently, the status of B40 and B47 within the pack is also unknown. This pack has wintered in the upper reaches of the south Fork of the Payette River drainage, and summered in the Bear Valley area. Curiously, B40, B47, and at least 3 other wolves have recently traveled great distances to the northeast, exploring the East Fork of the Salmon and the Main Salmon River, north of Stanley, ID. The project will continue to collect additional information to better determine breeding status, social hierarchy, and territory boundaries of this pack.
Alpha female wolf B66 and alpha male wolf B02 produced their first litter of pups this year to form the Wildhorse pack. B66 dispersed from her natal Stanley Basin pack during the winter of 1999/00. B02 is one of the 15 wolves originally reintroduced in 1995. The history of B02, after release, is mostly unknown since we were able to locate him only very infrequently since his release. The Wildhorse pack has established a territory in the Copper Basin area of the Big Lost River drainage.
Wolf activity had been reported north of Fairfield, Idaho since the winter of 1999/00. This summer, field crews were able to capture and collar members of the newly formed Big Smokey pack. One pack member, B57, was a dispersing wolf from the Thunder Mountain pack. The origin of the alpha pair is not known. Unfortunately, B57 and B96 (the collared alpha male) were both shot to death. Their deaths are currently under investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Branch of Law Enforcement. Unfortunately, such illegal actions are somber reminders of how tenuous the wolf's foothold is in Idaho and how short sighted attitudes of a few could prolong the burdens to many rural Idahoans by delaying the recovery of wolves in the northern Rockies. It is important to remember the Service has a legal mandate to recover endangered species and remains committed to wolf recovery in the northern Rockies. Illegal take of wolves will only serve to delay delisting thereby prolonging federal management of wolves under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. When the wolf population has recovered, the federal government will relinquish management authority, allowing for more local and flexible management of wolves to address wolf conflicts.
The Recovery Program continues to gather information about wolf movements and distribution through aerial monitoring flights through the winter. Most collared wolf packs are now restricting their movements to usual ungulate wintering areas.
The Kelly Creek and Big Hole packs, and lone wolves B81 and B64 have all been frequenting winter range on the Montana side of the Bitterroot divide, north of Highway 12.
The Selway pack has not been located since this past fall and their current whereabouts is unknown.
Stanley Basin packs has traveled uncharacteristically into new areas long distances from their usual home ranges. After intensive management and control actions attempting to mitigate livestock losses last summer, the Stanley Basin pack appears to have disbanded. Control actions last summer included non-injurious harassment, relocation of the alpha male, and lethal control of a subadult pack member (see "Management and Control"). Since last fall, all radio collared members of this pack have left the Sawtooth Valley and have traveled extensively. Alpha female wolf B23 and subadult wolf B95 were traveling together when last located approximately 26 miles north of the Sawtooth Valley; between Clayton and Challis, ID. Their current whereabouts are unknown. Subadult wolf B100 was last located in the Big Lost River Drainage, approximately 50 miles east of the Sawtooth Valley. Lastly, B97 was last located just west of Salmon, ID, just under 100 miles north of the Sawtooth Valley.
The Whitehawk pack has also traveled extensively east of their territory, exploring much of the East Fork and main stem of the Salmon River drainage.
Long lost B78 or "ESA", a dispersing wolf from the Kelly Creek pack, was recently located east of the Garden Valley area, north of the South Fork of the Payette River, approximately 200 miles south of her natal territory.
Please Report Wolf Sightings
As the wolf population continues to expand, an increased number of wolves will be uncollared compounding the difficult task of documenting formation of new packs. The Wolf Recovery Program relies on wolf sighting reports received from the public to identify potential areas to survey for new wolf pack activity. The Recovery Program encourages the public to report all sightings of wolves or their sign. Sightings can be reported to Curt Mack, Nez Perce Tribe, P.O. Box 1922, McCall, ID 83638 (208), phone 634-1061, email [email protected]; or Carter Niemeyer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1387 S. Vinnell Way, Rm 368, Boise, ID 83709 (208) 378-5243.
Past reports received from the public in the Fairfield and Copper Basin area helped focus project efforts in those areas which resulted in the documentation of the Big Smokey and Wildhorse wolf packs. A big thank you to all of you who assisted the program by reporting wolf sightings to us.
Graduate student John Oakleaf and the University of Idaho completed the second field season of the Diamond Moose Calf Mortality Study. Wildfires in the study area hampered research efforts this year. John is currently drafting his thesis at the University.
Both winter predation studies have initiated their third field season this winter. The Panther Creek study will continue to document kills of both radio collared mountain lions and wolves. The Big Creek study will also concentrate on documenting both wolf and mountain lion kills. Because the Thunder Mountain pack has shifted to winter range outside the study area, project personnel will concentrate on the Chamberlain Basin pack, which recently have been frequenting the Big Creek drainage.
Outreach, Information, Education, & Coordination
Project personnel continue to participate in the Legislative Wolf Oversight Committee's efforts to draft a post-delisting wolf management plan for Idaho. After receiving and analyzing public comments, the Committee has prepared a final draft management plan, which has been submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for review and comment.
Project personnel attended a coordination meeting with Panhandle National Forest Biologists to provide information on wolves and the Wolf Recovery Program and discuss wolf activity on the Forest.
Project personnel attended the annual Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Coordination Meeting in Helena.
As the potential for wolf-livestock conflicts increase around the upcoming calving season, the Recovery Program continues to apprise livestock producers of recent wolf activity in chronic conflict areas along the Salmon River Corridor.
Management & Control
Control Action Summary during FY2000
Idaho Wildlife Service reports a continued gradual increase in the number of potential wolf depredation investigations and control actions implemented. Wolves were confirmed to be involved in 24 of the 55 investigations conducted. Reported confirmed and probable livestock losses included 15 confirmed calves killed, 2 probable calves killed, 55 confirmed sheep killed, and 3 probable sheep killed. Wildlife Services initiated 18 control actions during FY2000. Five wolf packs were involved in confirmed livestock depredations including Jureano Mountain, Twin Peaks, White Cloud, Big Smokey, and Stanley Basin. In addition wolves of unknown origin were involved in three confirmed depredations near Soda Springs, Arco, and McCall, ID. Control actions resulted in the control of 20 wolves. Four wolves were collared and released on site (two were subsequently lethally controlled), 8 wolves were relocated, and 10 wolves were lethally controlled. In addition, the two remaining pups from the Jureano Mountain pack's 1999 litter were relocated during a management action to prevent inevitable depredations.
Jureano Mountain. Control actions, illegal take, desease, and dispersal through the summer of 1999 essentially eliminated the Jureano Mountain pack. Surviving pack members, two pups of the year, were helicopter darted in March of 2000 and relocated to the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness when they habitually scavenged close to livestock operations. Although the pups did not stay together, both survived and are currently being monitored. A dispersing Jureano Mountain pack female paired with an unknown mate and returned to claim her mother's vacated territory. The revived Jureano Mountain pack were implicated in two depredation incidences on public grazing allotments during the summer of 2000 resulting in confirmed losses of 3 calves. No control actions were implemented in either incident. In one incident, cattle were successfully moved out of the area, and in other was part of the Diamond Moose calf mortality research project.
Twin Peaks. The Twin Peaks pack depredated livestock on private land during the winter calving season. Livestock depredation continued between January and March and included confirmed losses of 5 calves. Control actions resulted in relocation of the alpha pair (B18 and B35), lethal control of 4 wolves, and collaring and releasing on site one wolf (B83). Post control pack composition was estimated to be around 3 uncollared subadult wolves. Their current status is unknown, although wolf activity has been reported in the depredation area throughout the summer. The alpha female, B35, was presumed pregnant at the time of her relocation. The Twin Peaks alpha pair remained together after release and appeared to settle in an area south of Anaconda, Montana. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists were not able to document the breeding status of this pair over the summer. Radio contact was lost last fall and their current status is unknown. Wolf B83 dispersed to Baker, Oregon where he was hit and killed by an automobile.
White Cloud. The White Cloud pack depredated livestock on private property during the winter calving season. Confirmed losses included 4 calves. Control actions resulted in relocation of 4 wolves, and lethal control of 5 wolves (including the alpha male which was initially relocated). The four members of the White Cloud pack were relocated to The Selway Bitterroot Wilderness. Relocated wolves included the pregnant alpha female B36, the alpha male B85, and two subordinate pack members (B63 and B86). The intent was to relocate as many of the pack as possible and maintain pack integrity. It has hoped that birth of the pups would anchor the relocated "pack" close to the release site. Unfortunately, the group split up, going their separate ways immediately after release. Unexpectedly, the alpha male left the female and returned to his territory where he was subsequently killed during control actions. Alpha female B36 produced a minimum of 2 pups raising them on her own in the Lost Trail Pass area near Gibbonsville, Idaho. Currently, B36, and presumably her pups, has joined her son B86 in the Big Hole area of Montana. The Big Hole is prime wolf country and wolves have attempted to recolonize this area on at least two previous occasions. Unfortunately, a large portion of the Big Hole is in private ownership producing large numbers of livestock. During the winter, when natural prey is scarce, livestock become extremely vulnerable to wolf depredation. Two previous recolonizing attempts by wolves in this area have resulted in lethal removal of those wolves. As a proactive conservation measure, the Recovery Project is attempting to relocate the White Cloud wolves to northern Idaho. Relocated wolf B63 has also frequented on the north end of the Big Hole. This wolf however, is staying out of livestock producing areas traveling between the Big Hole and Bitterroot Valley of Montana.
Big Smokey. The Big Smokey pack depredated on 5 sheep early this summer. At the time of the depredation, the status of this group of wolves was unknown. In response, to confirmed depredations, Wildlife Services and Nez Perce Tribal trapping crews captured and radio collared wolves in this group. Radio collared wolves were released on site to better determine the status of these wolves. Subsequent monitoring confirmed reproduction and the formation of a new pack. Although the Big Smokey pack frequented both sheep and cattle allotments throughout the summer, no further depredations were reported.
Stanley Basin. The Recovery Program committed much time and effort addressing livestock depredations involving the Stanley Basin pack through much of the summer. The Stanley Basin pack continued to depredate on livestock throughout much of the summer form early June through mid September, despite efforts to discourage continued depredations. The Stanley Basin pack was involved in 7 confirmed depredation incidences resulting in the loss of 27 sheep and 1 calf. Nez Perce Tribal field crews and members of the Boulder White Cloud Council engaged in intensive monitoring and non-lethal hazing to prevent wolves from interacting with livestock. Control actions resulted in the relocations of two pack members including the alpha male, and lethal control of one pack member. Continued livestock depredations by the Stanley Basin pack despite management and control efforts indicate the difficulties of keeping wolves from killing livestock, once they have incorporated livestock into their diet. The chronic nature of the problem also indicates the need for more creative management and a higher level of cooperation among the Recovery Project, cooperating agencies and organizations, and livestock producers to resolve wolf-livestock conflict.
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