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Madison Valley wolves said to be unafraid

Feb. 28, 2006

 A lot of folks might have seen some version of this news article from Feb. 27. "Federal protection has led to wolves unafraid of people." By The Associated Press.

This story is not about wolves in general, but in fact just a couple of minor incidents in the Madison Valley area of Montana near Ennis and Cameron.

Wolves were wiped out of the valley and the adjacent Madison Range two years ago by mange and a bout of severe federal government control after a number of what I thought were minor incidents. I didn't report the story at the time, but instead I wrote a sarcastic fake story loosely based on the incident which so closely matched typical MSM wolf coverage that most people thought it was straight news -- kind of like how the Daily Show's fake TV news is often hits closer to the truth than the "real" news on Fox, CNN, MSNBC, etc.

Since then, wolves have been slowly returning to this lengthy valley, which is flanked by two high mountain ranges, the Madison and the Gravelly. Only one wolf pack, the Wedge Pack has returned to the Madison Valley side of the Madison Range. These seven wolves range from about Earthquake Lake north to near the town of Ennis. In the winter they are often easily visible as they chase the elk which winter well down out of the mountains in a number of groups of several hundred elk or more. The Valley is very open, with few trees. Much like the Lamar Valley, the wolves are easy to see. In heavily forested north central Idaho equal numbers of wolves are about, but they are all but invisible due to the thick vegetation.

The wolves do not seem to be afraid of people as they pass through cattle and ignore people as the go after the abundant elk. It would seem possible, but unlikely that someone has fed the wolves. Carolyn Sime, wolf coordinator for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told me the Department has absolutely no evidence that food conditioning has happened.

At any rate, people are now seeing wolves again for the first time in a while, and the wolves don't necessarily run at the sight of people. There also appear to be one or two new wolves (although they may be part of the Wedge Pack) in the northern end of the valley--north of Ennis, near Cameron. I think one of these wolves may have been the one described in the story above.

The rules are different now than 2 years ago. People don't need a permit to scare, chase, harass or shoot to scare the wolves, although they can't actually shoot a wolf unless it is chasing livestock. In the story above, the "unafraid" wolf did stop once someone chambered his rifle, indicating the wolf was not especially bold.

Hopefully people will harass the wolves if they hang around, and maybe this time events will be better for both the wolves and the people. 

Seeing wolves pass though cattle, ignoring them to get to the elk, is not a matter for worry, but a sign the wolves are behaving like the wild predators we want them to be.

As a note, there is a second wolf pack on the east side of the Madison Range. It's the Deadhorse Ridge Pack. This pack ranges from the Taylor Fork of the Gallatin northward to about Big Sky. This is in the vicinity of the upper canyon of the Gallatin River just NW of Yellowstone Park.

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Copyright © 2006 Ralph Maughan  

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