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Idaho's Wildhorse Pack

Living on the edge of trouble for over 2 years now.

July 10, 2002

The pack formed by one of the first 4 wolves released into Idaho has lived in a dense concentration of livestock for over 2 years now. The question is, will their "good" behavior continue, or is their luck running out?

The Wildhorse Pack, not to be confused with past White Clouds or Whitehawk Packs, formed and has lived in a cow ridden part of Idaho, and yet it is verified that they only killed one cow calf. However, the loss of their alpha female and domestic sheep may yet be their demise.

Wolf B2, was released on the Salmon River in January 1995. Named "Chat Chaaht" or "older brother" in Nez Perce, he was rarely located until a weak signal revealed his location just above Sun Valley, Idaho in 1998. Again contact was lost. Occasional visual sightings of a wolf near the Devil's Bedstead peak, in Wildhorse Creek, or Copper Basin persisted, however. Finally, in the winter of 1999 he had finally found a mate -- B66F who had dispersed from the White Clouds Pack to the north, and in 2000 they had 2 pups near Copper Basin.

I developed a fondness for this pack because it was the second Idaho wolf pack I heard howl. In July 2000, while working (backpacking) on the second edition of Hiking Idaho, I heard the 2 adults howl and howl beginning about 2 am at the very top of the East Fork of Fall Creek in the Pioneer Mountains. There were on the cliffs just down-canyon and above my tent. I figured their hunting strategy was to watch the meadows below for the numerous elk, deer, antelope, and occasional moose that graced the moonlit night.. 2000 was a terrible drought and fire year in Idaho, and the wildlife was concentrated high in canyons just below the craggy peaks of the Pioneers.

The Pioneer Mountains, and the high mountain valley -- Copper Basin -- around which the eastern peaks form a semi-circle, are one of Idaho's gems, though a gem that needs the manure washed off.

Fall Creek, the upper part of Wildhorse Creek and upper Summit Creek are the only large drainages in this 300,000 acre circular range than are not full of cattle or sheep. The Wildhorse grazing allotment on the east side is so overstocked and overgrazed that the Western Watersheds Project gave the ranger district that "manages" it the "Golden Cowpie" Award. in 1999.

According to WWP, "this award is made to the federal or state land management office which has shown resolute and unbending success in managing public lands ranching to assure continued degradation of publicly owned natural resources. Because the abuse of public lands by public lands ranching occurs everywhere this activity is permitted, there is an exceptional degree of competition for this honor."

Unnamed peaks near the head of Wildhorse Creek. Pretty if you don't look at the ground closely
Copyright Ralph Maughan

So when the pack wandered out of Fall Creek, unrelenting cattle was pretty much what they faced.

In 2001, the pack had 5 new pups. Later that summer, in Fox Creek the pack killed a calf that belonged to the President of the Idaho Cattle Association. The USFWS did not kill any of the pack, but one of yearlings was captured and relocated in north central Idaho.

I inspected Fox Creek in August 2001. I had rarely seen a drainage so grazed out. Despite this the pack killed no more livestock.

"'Cow humps" in Fox Creek. August 2001. This represents advanced destruction of a wet meadow.
Notice the saline deposits (probably dried urine)
Photo by Ralph Maughan

This last winter all the members of the pack were captured and collared or re-collared, but the B66F, the alpha female was found dead, perhaps of natural causes. B2 was getting to be a pretty old and arthritic wolf. Nevertheless, he was recently tracked traveling in one day from the North Fork of the Big Lost River to the headwaters of the Little Wood River. That's 15 linear miles and much longer on the ground unless he crossed three tall knife ridges of 11,000 feet or higher.

This spring the pack, which now numbers six (five collared wolves and a new uncollared wolf) did not den. Instead they took to wandering. Pack behavior often changes when the alpha female is lost. Not surprisingly  the pack moved south into the Pioneer Mountain foothills (very steep, high hills) near Craters of the Moon National Monument. This is good winter range, but it gets hot early and thousands of sheep are put in.

Nevertheless, the pack lingered in the Fish Creek area, NW of the national monument, until mid-June and they might have killed ten or so sheep. This could not be confirmed because the loss was reported a week later, and it is impossible to determine the cause of death (and very unpleasant to try) for sheep that have been dead in 80-85 degree sun for a week.

After mid-June the pack was tracked to Muldoon Canyon where I was trying (unsuccessfully) to find them about June 20. Then they disappeared.

Now the pack has been relocated. They have moved to a new area which has not seen much wolf pack activity so far. They are in the mountains west of Ketchum/Hailey, the Smoky Mountains. This is about 25 miles west of their Pioneer Mountains home. Here too, however, the wolves are near numerous bands of sheep. So the question remains whether Idaho's most southerly wolf pack will survive.

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Copyright 2002 Ralph Maughan

Not to be reprinted, archived, redistributed, etc., without permission.
Ralph Maughan PO Box 8264, Pocatello, ID 83209