Update on Wyoming Wolves outside Yellowstone Park

Wolf/elk controversy in the Gros Ventre during the winter

May 10, 2002

All of the radio collared Wyoming wolf packs outside Yellowstone Park have denned.

The Teton, Washakie, Sunlight Basin, Beartooth, and Absaroka Packs have all denned. The new pair near Pinedale, Wyoming has also denned. There is no information about the Graybull Pack discovered late last year and the remnants of the old Gros Ventre pack, of which 4-5 are presently in the Gros Ventre drainage. There are also several wolves in the area between the Gros Ventre and Pinedale.

Folks may recall the Absaroka Pack had some mange last winter, but the alpha male, the wolf most affected, survived his winter time loss of fur. It will interesting so see if the pups contract it, or whether the pack has survived the mange threat.

Gros Ventre controversy-

Meanwhile controversy over wolves in the Gros Ventre River last winter continues, with a group named "Elk for Tomorrow" taking out weekly ads in the Jackson Hole Guide, calling people names and predicting doom if wolves aren't reduced and wintertime elk feeding continued. This groups seems not to have heard, or at least to discount, concern about chronic wasting disease and the high incidence of brucellosis infection in feedground elk.

At the Interagency Wolf Conference in Boise a couple weeks ago, Mink Jimenez, who manages wolves in Wyoming outside the Park for the federal government told of his team's intensive monitoring of wintertime predation of elk in the Gros Ventre where the state maintains 3 elk feedgrounds with about 2500 to 3000 elk total. There are a fair number of additional elk that winter in the drainage but do not come to the feedgrounds. Depending on the winter, from 5000 to 10,000 elk also winter nearby (downstream) on the National Elk Refuge, which wolves have generally ignored.

Jimenez said the only wolf pack in the drainage last winter was the Teton Pack of 12 wolves. In early winter, the pack killed 3 or 4 elk a week and in  late winter 4 to 5 elk a week.

A total of 52 wolf-killed elk were recovered. There might have been more in dispersed areas, not found. Of the kills 50% were calves, 45% cows, and 5% bulls.

"Surplus killing," to me a somewhat vague concept, is when wolves kill, but not do not consume the prey. Jimenez and his crew operationally defined the concept as elk killed by wolves, with none to just a small portion eaten, coupled with the observation that the wolves were not nearby when the dead elk was found.

Jimenez said 12 elk were defined as surplus killing. However, the whole matter was complicated by interaction with the Wyoming Game and Fish elk feeding crew, which apparently dragged away these dead elk as soon as found and put them in a big pile.

I am hypothesizing this pile of dead elk (including elk dead from other causes) must have been in a prominent place so that visiting snowmobilers could see it. This pile was the source of quotes in "Elk for Tomorrow" ads to the effect that the carnage by the wolves was sickening.

Regardless, 52 to 100 dead elk out of 3000 is trivial, and so I don't think the controversy can be understood by figures alone, but rather as part of the endless cultural conflict over wolves in Wyoming and the changing socio-economics of the area.

My hope is that the views of "Elk for Tomorrow" in favor of continuing the feeding of elk like livestock does not prevail, so the Jackson Hole herd will escape CWD, brucellosis will be reduced, and there will truly be elk tomorrow.

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Copyright 2002 Ralph Maughan
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