Comprehensive overview of Northern Range wolves

Dec. 21, 2002

Yesterday, I posted some news about incursions of outside wolf packs into the Park's northern range and about changes in Leopold Pack.

Here is a comprehensive update on the wolves of the Northern Range and adjacent areas.

For information. The northern range extends from the lower part of Soda Butte Creek and Lamar Valley on the east to Mammoth Hot Springs/Gardiner to the west and then northward out of the Park down the valley of the Yellowstone River into Paradise Valley, ending where Canyon Mountain joins the Absaroka Range on the outskirts of Livingston, Montana

Much of the Paradise Valley is farmed and there are growing recreational sub-divisions, but there are also resident deer and elk in the nearby mountains and on the valley floor in the winter. To this is added migratory elk from Yellowstone Park in the winter. Some years thousands of elk migrate northward out of YNP.  While mule deer are not abundant in YNP, there are a lot of deer from Gardiner northward.

Druid Peak Pack-

They were down to just 8 members, including the alpha pair 21M and 42F. Just two of the pack were males. The other 6 female. However, wolf 253M who had dispersed to Utah, returned to the pack on Dec. 20. 

Park wolf manager Dr. Doug Smith indicates the alpha pair have pretty much stopped hunting, and come in to eat what the younger pack members have killed. They recently killed a bison bull, which Smith said was in bad shape, with the green of gangrene clearly visible on its back. The Druids occupy the Lamar Valley (the valley above the short lower canyon of the Lamar River).

217F's group-

These 3 wolves were Druids until this fall when they split.

Agate Creek Pack-

Ten wolves, led by former Chief Joseph Pack wolf 113M and former Druid females, another male and 4 pups. They mostly range in the lower Lamar, and Antelope Creek on the south to Slough Creek on the north. Pleasant Valley, Elk Creek, Junction Butte, and Tower Junction are in the middle of their range. According to Rick McIntryre, 113M just seemed to have a demeanor that attracted other wolves. He leads without being aggressively dominant. The Agate Creek pack is composed 6 adults. The "guys" are 113M and another big male. The four adult females area all probably former Druids. Two of the females are 103F and 251F, both radio collared. Both of these females had separate litters last spring, but neither is the alpha female. The alpha female is an uncollared wolf, the blackest wolf in the pack.

The Tower Pair-

This is 208M and an uncollared female. The pair used to have more members, but lost them over a year ago. It has never been a pack (never any pups). 103F's group (before she joined what became the Agate Pack) attacked 208M late last winter and almost killed him. He recovered, but he and his  potential mate keep out of sight in the busy Tower Junction area.

105Fs group ("Slough Creek Group")-

This former group of Druids (now 4 wolves) mostly patrols Slough Creek, including its headwaters north of the Park in the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness of Montana.

Geode Creek pack-

This former group of Druids gradually took over the territory of Rose Creek II Pack. It includes the contested lower part of Slough Creek, and the Yellowstone River and adjacent areas downstream from about Garnet Hill. The alpha female is former Druid 106F. There are 7 or 8 wolves depended whether the beta female dispesed. The Geode Pack has had disputes with nearby packs (Leopold, Agate). Smith observed blood from one or more wolves in their day beds after an encounter with the Agate Cr. Pack.

Leopold Pack-

The first naturally formed pack in Yellowstone (1996) has long been the dominant feature of the Blacktail Deer Plateau, mostly north of the Tower to Mammoth Road. It reached a high of 19 animals this summer, but lost its alpha female 7F, probably to the Geode Creek Pack. The Leopold Pack might have split now, with the former alpha male 2M in a group of wolves uncomfortably residing between the rest of the Leopolds and the Geode Pack.

Swan Lake Pack-

A large number of pups caused this pack to expand this year to 16 members at the end of 2002. The Swan Lake Pack remains  fairly uncontested from Swan Lake Flat and along the east side of the Gallatin Range above Mammoth Hot Springs northward to the YNP northern boundary.

Rose Creek II Pack-

This successor to the Rose Creek Pack, which was once the dominant pack on the northern range, has been pushed into the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River near Crevice Creek, the adjacent Buffalo Plateau, Haystack Meadows, Palmer Mountain, and Decker Flats near Gardiner. Venerable 18F still appears to lead this pack. There are about 10 members of the pack.

Sheep Mountain Pack-

Currently at 6-7 wolves, this pack, which was essentially wiped out once before for killing livestock, has stayed away from livestock. It remains high on the mountains north of Gardiner most the year. Smith indicates that in the late winter the pack has probably the densest concentration of prey of any place in the GYE, but times are not so easy in the summer.

Mill Creek Pack-

This pack inhabits the lower end of Paradise Valley and Absaroka Mountains to the east -- Mill Creek and its wilderness tributary drainages, the Chico Hot Springs area, Emigrant Peak, Chico Peak, slopes and drainages of Mt. Cowen. There are 7 to 9 wolves in the pack. Two pups from the pack were shot near Pray by the neighbor of a sheep grower earlier this year. This was several days after they had killed a number of sheep. Part of the pack remains near Pray, in the bottom of valley, and has killed another sheep ram. A permit to shoot has been issued. The rest of the pack hangs back in the mountains.

"Northern Absaroka" group-

The very northern end of the Absaroka Range near Livingston has become the home to a group of 2-3 wolves. Efforts are underway to investigate further.

Lone Bear pack-

First discovered last month when a coyote trapper accidentally caught some wolf pups (released unharmed), it was first thought to be a new pack of 4-5 wolves on Canyon (a.k.a. Wineglass) Mountain at the northern end of Paradise Valley. Subsequently a yearling has been caught, indicating 2002 was not the pack's first year. Estimates are there might be as many as 11 members of this pack,  ranging the western side of Paradise Valley and the east side of the Gallatin Range from Eightmile Creek or Pine Creek north to Wineglass Mountain.

Group near Bozeman Pass-

About 2 years ago a wolf was hit near Bozeman Pass (over which the Interstate goes between Livingston and Bozeman). There is evidence that 3-4 adults inhabit this area, which is beyond -- north of the Northern Range. These wolves probably roam the northern end of the Gallatins from near Bozeman Pass along Canyon Mountain's north side to near Livingston. There have been reports of wolves north of the Interstate in the Bridger Range and the Bangtails, but I am skeptical whether these wolves would hazard this busy stretch, flanked as it is by fencing, concrete barriers, and frontage roads. My speculation is scattered lone wolves that crossed I-90.

Chief Joseph Pack-

Despite losing its old alpha pair, 33F and 34M last year, the pack continues to prosper. It had pups in 2002. It is centered at the NW corner of Yellowstone Park and its approximately 10 members continue to sometimes use the Tom Miner and Cinnabar Basin Areas. These two areas are on the extreme western margin of the Northern Range.

Conflict among packs-

The first part of this winter's "winter study" showed far more conflict among the packs than ever before according to Smith. He said eight instances of interpack conflict were observed.  Some of these have been described above or in the story of Oct. 17.

Predation summary from the early winter study-

This summary is from the latest USFWS gray wolf status report: "The Druid pack (8 wolves) killed a bison and 10 elk. The Geode pack (8 wolves) made 9 elk kills. The Leopold pack (15 wolves) made 10 elk kills. The elk kills were equally split between bulls, cows, and calves. The overall kill rate was typical of the early winter study (10 ungulates per pack for the 30 day period), but the percentage of bulls killed this fall was higher than normal." A conversation with Dr. Smith indicated that the increase in the number of bull elk was, relatively speaking, of exceptional magnitude.

Nine observers were in the field watch the wolf packs as well as aerial observation.

Their findings are likely more accurate than those of Robert J. Fanning Jr., chair of the Friends of the Northern Range Yellowstone Elk, who was quoted in the NYT on 12-17  . . . "In the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee," Mr. Fanning said, "a wolf will run through and kill a dozen elk calves. It's a slaughterfest."


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