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Wolf Watching

Now that wolf hunting is a reality in Wyoming, I’m always loathe to write a post about wolves.  Frankly, I don’t want to give out any information that will help hunters during the fall hunt season.  Last year, the first wolf hunt season, the Wyoming Game and Fish had a quota of eight wolves in my hunt area.  Eight!  There barely were eight wolves here.  The Hoodoo pack had, the year before, driven off most of the other competing packs and were dominating the valley.  So what happened on that hunt last October-December?  Eight wolves were taken, yes, but three of them were from the Lamar Pack in the Park, including the Alpha female of that pack.  During the winter, the entire Lamar Pack, disrupted after loosing their strongest hunter, spent most of their time here, mostly consuming deer, an easy prey. But come spring and mating season, the Pack fragmented, with only three, sometimes four, returning to the Park full time.

A disrupted Lamar Canyon pack in the valley this winter

A disrupted Lamar Canyon pack in the valley this winter

What used to be the best most reliable wolf watching area in the country, the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, is now quite lean. Its a rare day in the Lamar when tourists can view wolves there.  Only three, sometimes, four, adult wolves are left in the valley, although they’ve produced a small litter of pups.  The remainder of the pack has dispersed.

Here in the valley, some of those Lamar wolves remain this summer, and a few have pups in various locations.  Its unclear at this point how many are here, and what will happen to them in terms of new pack formations, nor how many of these wolves will venture back into the Park come September.

Wyoming Game and Fish has a much lower quota this year and that’s because they are getting dangerously close to their relisting number of 100 wolves outside the park, and 50 wolves inside.  As of this writing 23 wolves have been killed in the predator zone alone.   Taken together with the 67 wolves killed last fall, that’s almost 100 wolves out of about 212 before the hunt outside the Park.  Between wolves that are killed naturally, and wolves that are killed by WG&F as predator control, even with new pup counts the line is getting thin.

wolf

This years’ quota is set for four wolves in my area.  So far, I’ve seen several lone wolves and a few reports of a wolf with a pup.  Once again, this fall could easily decimate and disrupt the wolf population here.

Last week I had a wonderful thrill.  Upon returning from a creek expedition I spied a lone wolf mousing in a field next to over 75 cows with calves.  I watched her for over an hour, deftly reducing the ground squirrel population.  She was incredibly focused on her task and I suspect she would be returning to feed some hungry pups with this small meal.  When she got too close in her endeavor to the cows, a large mama would come over and push her further away.  Otherwise, the cows paid her no mind and went about their business grazing undisturbed.  The good news is that these cows are removed to lower pastures come October when wolves tend to hunt in packs and could easily take down a cow.

Hard to see, but the small dot in the foreground is the wolf mousing amongst the cattle

Hard to see, but the small figure in the foreground is the wolf mousing amongst the cattle

I like wolves; and I like seeing them in the landscape.  They are finally re-inhabiting their old nation where they once roamed freely.  Where there are few problems and livestock conflicts, where the habitat is good, where there is room for genetic exchange, it makes little sense to even hunt wolves in these areas.  The wolves here have self-regulated for a long time.  It’s a tough and short life being a wolf.  They fight and kill for territory, and their territory is defined by how many wolves can actually be sustained.  They also work as a family with a close-knit social order.  Disrupting that order continuously exacerbates problems with livestock.   Given the human social and political climate, I don’t see much change for wolves in the immediate future.

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4 Responses

  1. nice summary Leslie. Good facts compared to some of the wild claims I’ve heard over the years. Hope you are well! John M

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  2. I found this hunt business, and what happened to the Lamar pack very upsetting. Lamar is really the only place I have seen wolves, and a lot of folks from all over the world come to Lamar Valley just to see the wolves. This means more revenue for the park and the near-by communities. If these people have no feelings for the wolves, you would hope they might at least have some thoughts about the economical value the tourist the bring to the park. But of course wolf hunters to not want to accept any science. They will not believe that disrupting the order continuously exacerbates problems with livestock. Their answer is simply to kill more wolves.

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    • well said. I never understand why Cody doesn’t promote wolf watching more because the uptick in visitors over the last 12 years has a lot to do with the wolves being back and visible. The town could make a killing in the winter if they supported plowing of the 9 miles to the NE entrance as then people could drive completely through the northern part of the part. Right now, Gardiner (MT) gets all that revenue.

      And why outfitters can’t supplement their business by doing wildlife (and wolf watching) tours I can never figure. Instead, they’d rather complain. I say “When opportunity knocks, grab it.”

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