Growing Reports of wolves well north of Yellowstone

4-1-2001, updated 4-20.

Yesterday's story of the highway death of Leopold 148F near Bozeman Pass is only part of a  recent story of what is a growing population of wolves on the northern flank of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, well north of the Park itself. 

It's all mountains to the north, northeast and northwest of Yellowstone Park for about 20 to 50 miles. From west to east: Madison Range, Gallatin Range, Absaroka Range, Beartooth Mountains. The exception is the Yellowstone River area. The river runs out of the Park at Gardiner and courses northward through a narrow valley to Yankee Jim Canyon at Dome Mountain and then into the broad Paradise Valley. This is followed by a narrow gap in the mountains at Allenspur just south of Livingston. Past Allenspur and Livingston, the Yellowstone River turns east and flows out of the mountains to eventually blend its waters with the Missouri many miles to the east.

The Chief Joseph Pack-

Right now there is but one known, clearly identified pack north of the Park, and that only part time. The Chief Joseph Pack, one of the original packs from 1996 has long used part of the Gallatin Range north of the Park. This mountain chain begins in the Park but humps northward on the west side of the Yellowstone River. It ends just south of Bozeman and Livingston.

Chief Joe is usually near the NW boundary of Yellowstone, but they often travel the Gallatin as far north as Tom Miner Basin (about 15 miles north of the Park boundary).  For three years they denned inside the Park, but in 2000 they denned in Cinnabar Basin north of the Park and just 100 yards from a horse corral. Eventually the chased the horses and killed one cow calf. After about 2 1/2 months of harassment the pack and their six pups returned to Yellowstone. 

Wolves are digging dens right now, and pups could be whelped any time from now until early May. Unfortunately the US Fish and Wildlife Service reports Chief Joe has been hanging out in Tom Miner and Cinnabar recently. They are being harassed so they will den in a better place.

Update 4-20-2001. After a good deal of harassment by biologists of USFWS and the Turner Endangered Species Fund, the Chief Joseph Pack moved back into the Park on April 10. On April 15, fresh dirt was observed at the pack's traditional den site in the Park, and all the members of the pack appeared to be nearby with the alpha female, presumably still 33F, in the den.

Remnants of the Sheep Mountain Pack-

There are two surviving members of the old Sheep Mountain Pack which used to range on the east side of the Yellowstone River from Gardiner north to about Chico Hot Springs (along the base and foothills of the Absaroka Range). Brother 196M and 155F (a Rose Creek disperser) were seen last in Tom Miner Basin. 155F was seen sniffing a new born cow calf. The livestock owner frightened her away. 

The other brother 195M had been spotted with a group of uncollared wolves north of the Park (no recent info on this). A third brother 189M had been with his brother 196M and female 155F, but he drowned in the creek near Tom Miner Basin, perhaps after being pursued by Chief Joe.

Mill Creek wolves-

In 1999 Rose Creek Wolf 78F and an uncollared mate had a litter of pups in Yellowstone, but they eventually migrated north of the Park. Wolf 78F was illegally  killed in Mill Creek that fall. Mill Creek is a large Absaroka Range canyon a few miles north of Chico Hot Springs. The main fork of Mill Creek is filled with summer homes and small pastures of for horses and other livestock.  The East Fork of Mill Creek is primitive country and public land.  Many deer winter near the mouth of Mill Creek and on foothills to the north and south. The tracks of three wolves were observed last week in the foothills just north of Mill Creek. 

Deer just north of Mill Creek at the base of the Absaroka Range. March 2001. Copyright Ralph Maughan.




Wolves west of Livingston-

Leopold 148F was killed next to Interstate 90, nine miles west of Livingston. There have been reports of about 3 wolves on private property seven miles west of Livingston. Perhaps she was traveling with this new group of wolves. This is about 60 miles north by northwest of Yellowstone Park.

Crazy Mountains wolves-

There have been irregular, but well substantiated reports of wolves in the Crazy Mountains since 1997. The Crazies are unusual, isolated, but tall, mountain range that rises north of Interstate 90 and Big Timber, Montana. Recently there have been sightings of one or two wolves in the Crazies.

Return of wolves to the Beartooth Front?

The Beartooth Front, about 30 miles east of Livingston is full of muleys and white-tailed deer and elk in the winter through the late spring. Since the Soda Butte Pack was captured and removed from the Front in 1997, there have been no organized wolf packs known to inhabit,  but the tracks of 3 wolves have been consistently seen on the Front in the area SW of Red Lodge, Montana, this winter and early spring.

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Copyright 2001 Ralph Maughan
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Ralph Maughan PO Box 8264, Pocatello, ID 83209