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Wolves make their first cattle kill in Grand Teton NP

Aug. 30, 2002


A wolf or wolves has made its first kill of cattle - a cow calf - since wolves reinhabited Grand Teton National  Park late in 1998.

Last Sunday, the calf belonging to the Porter-Gill family, one of 2 families still grazing in Grand Teton National Park, was found dead near Uhl Hill in the northeast corner of the Park.

Ever since the Teton Pack formed, wolf supporters have been leery of the hundreds, to over a thousand cow calf pairs, grazed every summer at the base of Uhl Hill, only 1 1/2 miles from the Pack's den and rendezvous site. Until now the cattle have not been harmed.

There is no evidence as to which wolf or wolves did it, or even if it was the Teton Pack, although their proximity makes it likely.

The Pack, which has had several narrow misses with extinction, prospered the last 2 years and now has about 20 members including this year's pups. The pack has mostly left its rendezvous site to seek out elk and deer to the east and southeast in the Mt. Leidy Highlands, but it does still wander westward toward the cattle and deeper into the Park at times.

The pasture near Uhl Hill (the "East Elk Ranch Pasture) has been increasingly controversial as wolves and grizzly bears have increased in the area and drought and noxious weeds have taken their toll on the pasture.

When Grand Teton National Park's Jackson Hole portion was established by Congress in 1950 after a very bitter battle lasting almost a generation, numerous families were given grazing permits in the Park until the death of their last heirs. As of 1997, they were all dead. However, Wyoming's congressional delegation got an extension for several families under the justification that letting them graze the Park somehow preserve open space on private land in Jackson Hole where pasture land is often worth a hundred thousand dollars an acre as building sites.

After severe drought last year and much controversy, one of the families -- Hansen-Mead voluntarily ended their grazing and since have sold 110 acres of their private land, still retaining about 3000 acres.  Porter-Mead appears ready to develop their land too -- perhaps the major Jackson Hole political issue of the year was whether their land would be annexed into the city of Jackson. Many people thought they would not turn out cattle onto the Park this year, but they did, right at the base of Uhl Hill.

One other family still grazes cattle in part of the Park . .  I believe the Pinto Ranch in the Buffalo Valley. There are also some horse grazing allotments.

As of mid-August the pasture did not look as bad as in 2001, in part because it was heavily irrigated this summer. Elk Ranch Reservoir, stores water from a major diversion of Spread Creek and is used to irrigate this pasture.

We visited the area and saw the wolves in late May this year. The cows had not been put in yet. Spring rains had produced some grass, and it was a wonderland of bison, elk, and antelope, including numerous elk calves, bison calves, and some antelope fawn.

Hopefully soon the last cattle will fade away from Grand Teton. As the many grazing allotments have been closed, Grand Teton has become better and better wildlife habitat, now with elk year round, numerous bison, deer, antelope, black bears, cougar, and most recently grizzly bears and wolves.

Photos of the cow pasture just west of Uhl Hill taken in 2001, not this year.


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Copyright 2002 Ralph Maughan

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Ralph Maughan PO Box 8264, Pocatello, ID 83209