Jackson Hole wolf packs using National Elk Refuge more

1-21-2006, update 1-23

For several years now the only wolf pack in Jackson Hole has been the Teton Pack which has ranged from about 9 to 24 members. Almost every winter they spend most of their time in Gros Ventre River drainage upstream (east) of Jackson Hole  pursuing elk that winter on the three Wyoming state feedgrounds and elk that "winter out" (don't come to the feedgrounds).

This year the pack is spending its time on the National Elk Refuge, and there are two new packs in Jackson Hole and miscellaneous other wolves.

The Teton Pack is currently down to ten members, but has been on the Elk Refuge for about 3 weeks, not the state feedgrounds.

A year ago former Druid beta male 253M ("limpy") migrated from Yellowstone's northern range to Jackson Hole and eventually joined with 2 other wolves, resulting last spring in the formation of the Flat Creek Pack. The pack had a litter of pups. Most survived and now the adults and 4-5 pups are living mostly on National Elk Refuge too. Mike Jimenez, Wyoming wolf coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife service, told he didn't believe that 253M is presently the alpha male of the pack. He is the only collared member of it, however. He said 253M spends about half of his time with the Flat Creek Pack and the rest by himself or with one of the new wolves that has recently dispersed into the area.

At the north end of the Jackson Hole all the way to Yellowstone's south boundary and the nearby Teton Wilderness area, the new Pacific Creek Pack rules. It has six to 11 members. Attempts to collar them have not been successful.

At least three wolves that dispersed from Yellowstone are now in the Jackson Hole area too. Former Druid 350M left the northern range in the months following the death of the old alpha male 21M. He has been in Jackson since last summer when he was trapped and recollared. He is wintering up the Gros Ventre River with another wolf of unknown origin.

Wolves 341F and 485F, the only known survivors from the recently destroyed Nez Perce Pack in Yellowstone, fled south, and have been wandering round Jackson Hole.

While wolves are using the National Elk Refuge more this year than at any time in the past, they are apparently not being seen by many observers yet. The packs hang near the mountains away from the highway that bounds the Refuge on the west and the small city of Jackson at its immediate south. It's not clear why the Elk Refuge is being used more this year. It might be a random event. The distributions and number of elk have not changed much since last year. They have begun feeding on the National Elk Refuge. The state has not yet begun feeding at the three feedgrounds up the Gros Ventre River.

The total number of wolves in the area is 5 to 10 greater now than the year when the Teton Pack reached 24 members, With three packs and additional lone wolves, there is more potential for growth. There is, however, the continual wolf "sink" of Sublette County to the southeast. Wolves keep migrated there and end up being killed among the livestock and gas wells. Most of the control killings in Wyoming this year were in Sublette County (Pinedale, Boulder, Daniel, Myra, etc.).

While the total number of wolves in Wyoming is down in 2006 compared to 2005 (final official figures are not in yet), the number of Wyoming wolves outside the Park grew this year, despite 41 control terminations, and for the first time there are more wolves in Wyoming outside Yellowstone than inside Yellowstone. Perhaps we will begin to see wolves dispersing into Yellowstone rather than out of it.

Reports on the other Wyoming wolf packs will be given in a subsequent story.

Update 1-23-2006. Wyoming Department of Game and Fish has now begun feeding elk at the three wintering feedlots up the Gros Ventre River. It's most unfortunate because all but two ranches in the Gros Ventre drainage have fenced their livestock feedgrounds to keep elk out, and there is money to fix the rest. Instead WY G & F is rolling the disease dice one more time rather than letting the elk winter over on natural native range where they can free themselves from brucellosis and be less likely to contact the scourge of chronic wasting disease. And of course, the wolves will come to feedgrounds and we will hear once again of hardship on WY G & F getting the proper distribution of hay as the elk move between the three feedgrounds to avoid the wolves.

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