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Wolves, Management, Cattle and Wyoming

Buffalo Bill Center of the West today’s lunchtime speaker was Mike Jimenez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Wolf Recovery program.  Mike was scheduled months ago to speak about the success of the federal wolf reintroduction.  But as timing would have it, just days ago wolves were relisted in Wyoming.

Mike has been a wolf biologist for over thirty years.  He headed up the Rocky Mountain Region (RMR) wolf recovery for USF&W and still works for them.  The re-listing put him in an awkward position, as the Feds along with Wyoming are the defendants in the lawsuit.  His talk stuck to the history of wolves in the U.S., when they were listed under the ESA and why, and how the program was conducted and how it progressed.  He’s a biologist, not a lawyer or a politician, and he tried to be non-biased and fair in his assessment of this extremely controversial issue–wolves!Lamar pack wolf

Personally, I think the Wyoming Game and Fish has struggled to maintain wolves above the minimum level and done a good job. Although I disagree with how their hunt zones have been managed [I’d like to see either a science zone label for areas around the Park with no hunting; or at a minimum have the areas around the Park have a one month season in October when wolves are not following elk as they move outside the Park].  But WG&F has their hands tied politically, just as the Feds do. And that is why things have ended up back in the courts.

Jimenez’s assessment of the ‘two’ sides of the wolf issue was, I thought, overly-simplistic–characterized as the pro- or anti-wolf—cuddly/cute, or killing machines.  People who think about wolves know it is more nuanced than that and I’m sure Jimenez knows that too.

Not today's wolf but here is an example of collaring.

Collaring a wolf by Wyoming Game and Fish

I’d like to address my feelings on some of these issues.

First why was Wyoming targeted for a relisting lawsuit?

Wyoming is the ONLY state that has a predator listing for wolves in the RMR. Although one could argue that most of the state is unsuitable habitat for wolves (true), Montana has the same issue.  Montana is a bigger area state, with its entire eastern side unsuitable habitat.  But Montana does not have a predator zone.  Predator status means that an animal can be shot, run over, trapped at any time of the year.  There are other animals, such as foxes and coyotes or badgers that receive that status in Wyoming.  In general, ‘predator’ status in most U.S. states was abandoned back in the 1920’s and replaced with hunting/trapping seasons.  Wyoming is still in the caveman era on this.

As wolves are delisted in other states, such as Washington and Oregon, a ‘predator’ zone will not fly.  Wyoming is a lone wolf here so to speak here.  The Predator Zone must go before wolves should be de-listed here.

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

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

In addition, Wyoming, in a back door deal with Governor Mead and, at that time, Secretary of the Interior Salazar, came up with a ‘flex-zone’, ostensibly to insure habitat connectivity for genetic diversity.  In other words, a portion of the state near the Idaho border is a trophy zone during the hunt season, then a short few months rest, then reverts to predator status.  This too is ridiculous and no other state has this, nor will they.  This was a pure political ploy, and not based on science.

But apart from how Wyoming got itself into this relisting mess, I want to address the issue of predation and wolves.  As far as objections to wolves because they eat elk and ‘hurt’ hunters, this is not even an issue to address, but just whining on the part of hunters.  Hunter elk success in Wyoming has been at an all time high for the past two years.  And although elk numbers in some areas are down, there are many reasons, including wolves, for this.  In fact, some of the reasons, like in the Northern Range in Montana, have to do with over-hunting by humans! Wolves as competition for hunters is a non-issue.


But wolves predation on livestock is an issue that needs addressing.  Jimenez rightfully pointed out that wolves will and do take down cattle and sheep, especially when their preferred prey–elk and deer–is unavailable.

When wolves were brought into the RMR under the ESA, Jimenez pointed out that the agreement with ranchers was that they wouldn’t have to change any of their practices. Under the 10J rule, the USF&W would surgically kill wolves that had predated on livestock, and Defenders of Wildlife would pay compensation.  As a general rule, that seemed to work out well.  Cattle predation since 2006 went down, wolf population in the states went up.  This kind of agreement was necessary to keep ranchers happy.  But it is not a long-term solution, and I will tell you why.

Mike pointed out the Service tried several non-lethal means like fladry and loudspeaker noise to deter wolves, but because wolves are smart, they all failed as solutions for large ranches.

In my work as a landscape designer and horticulturist, although I didn’t work with livestock, I did work with wildlife issues relative to plants.  In Marin county where there is essentially no hunting, deer are abundant and people have made their homes in deer habitat.  Deer are a big problem in terms of a nice garden.  Especially in August/September, plants that deer normally might not touch, deer will eat in order to find water.  Deer, like wolves actually, are very smart and adapt to your methods of ‘control’.  And like wolves and bears teach their young what to eat, deer will do the same.  Even in a small county like the North Bay of San Francisco, deer in different areas will eat different plant material.  And non-lethal control methods have to be constantly changed.

In addition, a much bigger issue than deer are gophers and moles.  Gophers are abundant in Marin’s Open Space.  Once you till soil, they move in even if they weren’t there before.  They can destroy even a 5 year old Redwood Tree, making it disappear into hole overnight.  Moles don’t eat plants, but dig tunnels next to roots.  The roots of the plants than dry up and the plant dies.

Skunks and Raccoons are abundant too.  They eat grubs and love to dig in gardens, especially new lawns or new plants, seeking insects.

These are all big problems for homeowners who spend big bucks on their landscape installation; or for small farmers who supply specialty crops to restaurants.  I’ve worked with all these critter problems.

Expensive landscape losses are no different for a rich homeowner than the loss of cattle for a rich cattleman

Expensive landscape losses are no different for a rich homeowner than the loss of cattle for a wealthy cattleman

These folks, and especially the farmers [which is a direct equivalent to ranchers because this is their livelihood] experience the same sorts of frustrations that ranchers do with wolves or coyotes.  I know, because I’ve been on the other end.  It becomes easy to ‘hate’ something that continues to damage your crops or your cattle.  It is then not much of a step to turn to lethal, and easy, means to deal with the problem.  Poison the rodents, kill the deer, shoot the coyote or wolf, etc.

Yet our wildlife is valuable.  They are making a living themselves; plus they have value on the landscape. Wolves control the coyote population.  Coyotes control the rodent and raccoon population. etc.

Over the course of twenty years of working with wildlife ‘problems’ in the landscape, my solutions evolved to be non-lethal yet creative.  If the wildlife are outsmarting you and your only solution is to kill them–how smart are you?  Wildlife can be outsmarted non-lethally, but it’s a matter of working with the land, with your livestock or your plants. Really, its part of your job as a grower or a rancher.Deer and fawn nursing

I’ve created entire wedding flower gardens in deer areas and the neighbors were amazed.  How did you do that?  They’d ask.  I used plants that deer like but also didn’t like, interspersing them in certain ways so as to deter, and fool, deer.  Instead of endlessly poisoning gophers, we used a bitter tablet that plant roots uptake and makes the plant taste bitter to them.  Edible gardens must be fenced and so on.

I have worked creatively with the land to minimize wildlife damage in non-lethal ways. That is the pact one takes on when working with plants and animals.  Aldo Leopold called it ‘The Land Ethic’ and it still holds today.

So although the initial ‘promise‘ to ranchers when reintroduction began was that ‘things won’t change’, now that wolves are to stay, things with the ranching industry must change.  Ranchers need help and education in how to manage creatively.  And it’s time they make that commitment.  These predators, such as wolves and grizzlies, have so few areas they can live, the RMR needs to be one of the places where wildlife comes first.  Federal lands should not have ‘kill’ orders’  Federal lands are where wolves, and bears, survive.  Ranch at your own risk on public lands would be the first important change.  If that means cowboying more frequently, or not putting calves out on the allotments, then the ranchers need to make those changes if they want less predation.

Grizzlies too are killed for cattle predation on public lands

Grizzlies too are killed for cattle predation on public lands

It also would mean that a rancher is not reimbursed on federal lands.  Every year I see cattle killed on the highway by me.  They are on the road because the rancher, whose cattle are on public land allotments, doesn’t want to bother to turn the electric fence on or cowboy them off the road.  I’ve been told ranchers just factor these losses into their bottom line.  Its easier and more economical than sending a cowboy out.  So if car losses don’t matter on public lands, why should the miniscule amount of wolf predation?

On private lands, ranchers will probably have to be issued a shoot-to-kill permit.  But this should come with help and education, implementing methods to reduce predation.  Livestock reimbursement, and Wildlife Services, should be phased out slowly.  Reimbursement should only come with evidence of livestock non-lethal predation management.  Money should be spent helping the rancher, not giving him a handout which only encourages complacency.  I’ve run many businesses, and the federal or state government never reimbursed me for business losses.

Lastly, there are now many ranches in our state that are not making a living ranching, but using the generous subsidies that come with livestock to reduce taxes for extremely wealthy one-percenters.  These billionaires are still receiving not only reimbursement for predation losses, but receive Wildlife Services assistance on our public lands to kill wolves and other predators. This is plain abuse of even our existing broken system which was implemented to assist subsistence ranchers.

Especially in our Western States, we need a new model.



Speak for Wolves

I just returned from 2 nights and 2 days of a Speak for Wolves event in Gardiner, MT, the first one of its kind.  The event was a great success, with some very prominent speakers and filmmakers in the field of conservation.

The event at Arch Park.  YNP historic arch in background

The event at Arch Park. YNP historic arch in background

Friday night I saw Bob Landis’ new film ‘She-Wolf’ which is now on sale in the Park.  She-Wolf is the interesting and unique story of wolf 832f , better known as the Lamar Valley’s famous ’06 who was shot and killed in the very first Wyoming wolf hunt.  Bob answered questions at the end of the film.

This story is extremely personal to me as not only had I watched ’06 many times up close and personal in the Lamar Valley, but after her death in late December 2012, the entire Lamar pack (minus the remaining alpha male) spent the winter in my valley.  During that winter of 2013 I had the opportunity to watch the pack behind my house many times as well as track them.  With the death of their alpha female, they seemed at a loss of how to kill elk, even though there were thousands all around them, and they mainly killed deer.  In the spring they all dispersed–which is a typical disruption when pack members are killed.

'06 swims the Lamar river, emerges onto the road right in front of tourists.

’06 swims the Lamar river, emerges onto the road right in front of tourists.

On Saturday there were speakers such as Nathan Varley who runs a wolf watching business in Gardiner with his wife.  He spoke of how these last several years of wolf hunting around the Park boundaries has made his business even harder.  His yearly gross revenue of over 1/2 million dollars brings a lot of business to the Park and surrounding communities. People come from all over the world to see wolves as the best place for viewing them in the wild is Yellowstone.  But some of the viewable packs are gone.  Lamar Valley used to be the premier place for wolf watching, but now has only two wolves that are rare to see.

Louisa Wilcox of Center for Biological Diversity spoke of some of the knotty politics.  Appropriately enough, thunder and lightning cut her talk short.  Public lands ranching and trapping demonstrations–one of the main ways wolves are killed in Montana and Idaho–completed the day’s activities.

Coyote pups

Coyote pups

Saturday night was film night.  Two short films on Wildlife Services (Exposed: USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife) and how they indiscriminately are killing wildlife were shown.  Then Camilla Fox, Director of Project Coyote, presented a film on how Marin County (my old alma mater) ranchers have done away with Wildlife Services and implemented a program of natural protections.  These include guard dogs, better fencing and llamas.  The county has saved over $60 million dollars plus most ranchers have seen either no predation or very little predation by coyotes.  All this and the biggest plus is they are no longer poisoning wildlife.  Instead, the coyotes are doing their job of controlling the rodents around the ranches.

Dr. Robert Crabtree, who has done all the major research in the Park on coyotes, was present for the panel discussion afterwards, as well as George Wuerthner, Western Watersheds Project Oregon Director and author.

Sunday’s event included a wonderful talk and ceremony by Jimmy St. Goddard of the Blackfeet Tribe.  Here’s a short clip of Jimmy giving a prayer in Blackfeet.

Doug Peacock gave a great talk about the plight of the grizzly bear, who the USF&W and the states are just itching to delist in 2015, and how that might impact the numbers of the Great Bear.

All in all it was a great event with talks from dedicated individuals who are working hard to make a difference in our treatment and perception of wildlife and wildlands.

Since I traveled through the Park to and from Gardiner, here are a few of the wildlife shots I took on my journey.

Moose on highway 212 outside the Park

Moose on highway 212 outside the Park

Little Black bear in Yellowstone

Little Black bear in Yellowstone

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Elk lounge on the high school field in Gardiner

Elk lounge on the high school field in Gardiner

Muskrat photo finally!

Muskrat photo finally!

Great Horned baby with mouse

Great Horned baby with mouse

Bison and baby

What the Lamar Valley has to offer in May

A cloudy, snowy, cold Mother’s Day.  I like to head into the park on Mother’s Day and try to see babies.  I’m so close to the Lamar Valley, just one hour to the Buffalo Ranch, that I usually don’t get much further, and don’t need too.  All photos below are from today.

A few Mother’s Days ago there was so much activity in the valley–wolves on wolves competing with bears, coyotes and bison babies, you-name-it.  Today was a different Mother’s Day.  The Lamar activity has calmed down in general.  With few wolves, there is just less activity.  But spring is always an excellent time to see bears and today was no exception.

I saw a total of 5 grizzlies in the Lamar–a mom with 2 yearlings, and two boars. Grizzly The boars had a brief face off for a few tense moments, but the bigger one just went his way.  Bighorn sheep rams stood by the roadside; a coyote was on a bison calf carcass, and the bison babies and moms were all along the road.  I watched a wonderful scene of a young frisky bison calf jump around, then come back and nuzzle his mom.  The mom and him butted and rubbed their heads, then he was off romping again.Bison and nursing calf

What strikes a person traveling through the Park is how many people LOVE to visit this area, and some many times a year.  I spoke with a fellow who travels here at least 4 times a year from Rhode Island.  He comes in winter to Jackson to photograph elk on the refuge.  Then he returns for the antler auction, trying to match up his photos with a matched set of antlers (75% goes to the Refuge, 25% to the local boy scout troop who do the collecting of the antlers).  He comes other times just for wildlife watching.  Many of the people I spoke with come out every May, staying outside the Park at the gateway communities.  Some people come from as far away as England.  Some have even bought second homes here.  And what are people looking for when they come–they all want to watch predators!  “I want to see a bear” one person told me.  They’d like to see wolves, bears, foxes.  It’s easy to see elk, bison, and antelope.  But predators are exciting for people to watch.Bison babies

And the predator that is now obviously ‘missing’ in the Lamar viewing experience is the wolf.  Although there is a pair there who have pups, two grown wolves are hard to spot, as compared to over a dozen in the pack just a few years ago.

From where I sit in my valley, the wolf hunt has hit the Lamar hard as these wolves travel back and forth in the winter time following the migratory Lamar elk herd outside the Park.  The Wyoming Game and Fish has proposed an increase in the 2014 wolf hunt numbers.  Most areas would have an increased quota–my area 2 would be increased from 4 last year to 5 this fall.  In 2013 5 wolves were killed, one above the quota.  There is a confirmed pack of 6 wolves here.  Why is the quota most of the adult pack?

Please take a look at this sane proposal below from Brushback Guide Services.  They propose Tourist and Science zones next to the Park with either 1. no harvests, depredation only or 2. extremely low quotas with a buffer of 10-15 miles around the Park, thereby tightening the areas or 3. very limited shortened seasons in these special zones.

This proposal would protect the tourist economy as well as balance with those who want to hunt wolves.  A continued increase in the wolf hunt will only have continuous impacts on the Park and the wolf population and pack structures in the Greater Yellowstone area.

Wolves, and all predators, should be appreciated for their necessary impacts on ecosystems.  They are needed in the ‘web’.  They manage the meso-predators, they foster healthy landscapes, they provide food for other large predators such as bears, and for thousands of years ungulates have been evolutionarily healthier because of their presence.  Ram

Yet the reality today is economics and dollars drive the argument and the management policies.  So here is what Brushback Guide Services proposes that I think works.  Proposal #1 is what I prefer:

Proposal 1- Science & Tourism Units

Units that are important to wildlife viewing would be considered “Science & Tourism Units” to allow scientists a chance to keep ongoing wolf studies without having so many wolves taken mid-life before their full potential data is reached. The other purpose for these units is tourism. Tour companies can show people wolves in areas where they are not hunted better than areas where they are hunted. These units have good road systems for tourism and border national parks for ongoing studies. Scientifically, these units allow us to know how to manage wolves in areas where they do get hunted because we know how it should be when they are not hunted or very limited hunting is allowed.

Proposal: Science & Tourism Units- Unit 2, 6, 8, & 9
Depredation only OR extremely low quotas of 1 or 2 wolves
Depredation only is preferred in “Science & Tourism Units”.

Proposal 2- Cut Units In Half Along Park Borders

Give units bordering the national parks an approximate 15-20 mile “wolf hunt free zone”. Delegate these by nearest large landmark such as creeks. For example: Creek No Name is 15 miles from east side of Grand Teton National Park border, hunters can hunt the east side, but not the west side of No Name Creek. Another option would be to START the hunt unit 15-20 miles away from the park designated by large, easy to use and not mistake landmarks/roads.

Proposal: Start wolf hunt units 15-20 miles from park border
Keep original quotas as Game & Fish has designated
Park wolves will be less affected helping science and tourism.
Depredation still in place.

Proposal 3- Keep The Current Plan/Units, Lower Quotas & Shorter Season

I’m going to focus again on national park border units. This approach gives “Science & Tourism” people a chance to have a better experience by showing and recording wolves. This will also allow hunters a chance to hunt units away from the national park keeping hunters happy. Quotas that would have less impact to us would look like this:

Unit 1- 3 Wolves October 1- December 31st

Unit 2- 2 Wolves November 1st – November 30th (Science & Tourism Unit)

Unit 3- 7 Wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 4- 4 Wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 5- 6 Wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 6- 2 Wolves November 1st – November 30th (Science & Tourism Unit)

Unit 7- 1 Wolf October 1st- December 31st

Unit 8- Depredation Only (Science & Tourism Unit)

Unit 9- Depredation Only (Science & Tourism Unit)

Unit 10- 3 wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 11- 2 Wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 12- 1 Wolf October 15th- December 31st


Please get your comments into Wyoming Game and Fish regarding the proposed hunt by May 30th.  

How to collar a wolf

The spotter plane has been flying very occasionally because either its too windy or snowing. When the spotter flies in January, its because the Wyoming Game and Fish are looking to find wolves.  They need to complete their annual count and do collaring.

Here's how its done although this pix is of cargo.  The wolf would be wrapped in a net.

Here’s how its done although this pix is of cargo. The wolf would be wrapped in a net.

This morning was beautiful.  Four inches of new snow and no wind–perfect conditions to fly and look for wolves against the snow.  I saw the helicopter head up a neighboring drainage and knew they’d found wolves there.  It just so happened that I was on my way to meet a friend in Cody when I saw the copter returning to a trailhead pullout with a sling hanging from it.  The copter hovered while a cadre of Game and Fish employees guided the net to the ground, then carried the cargo to a lowered tailgate of a truck.  I knew what was happening so I turned my vehicle up the dirt road to get a closer look.

Lying on the tailgate was a small sedated wolf.  A female, she was this year’s pup and only about 70 pounds.  Her teeth told the tale as they were white and perfect, but her paws said she’d be growing bigger by the spring.  Usually I keep my camera in the truck, but this morning the elk were in my front yard and I was taking their pictures.

About 2000 elk are in the valley in winter.

About 2000 elk are in the valley in winter. 

So no photos folks, you’ll just have to believe me when I say I touched her fur, and held her foot.  And the truth is I didn’t feel badly about no photos.  Photographing a sedated wolf felt like I would be violating her dignity.

I asked one of the fellows how long before she awoke. “About 1/2 hour till the drug wears off.”  He told me.  “It’s the same drug the vet uses to sedate your dog.”

One person will stay with her till she wakes, then she’ll just have to find her way back to her pack by herself from the parking area–although far in human walking terms, probably no great feat for a wolf, who can travel up to 30 miles in a night.  She can surely scent her way, or howl her way, back to her family.

Not today's wolf but here is an example of collaring.

Not today’s wolf but here is an example of collaring.

I’ve been volunteering for many years now in the Draper lab at the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West.  About six months ago the lab acquired over 100 frozen wolf heads from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.  USF&W managed wolves when they were still listed. They shot wolves for livestock control.  These wolf heads, and some carcasses, were saved for DNA and other scientific purposes.  The lab also is receiving wolves from Yellowstone National Park that died from various causes, usually wolves that killed other wolves.  With this repository of skulls from all over the GYE, the museum will be in a unique position of holding essential DNA information which could help ensure the Greater Yellowstone wolf population has sufficient genetic diversity so as not to go extinct again.

Draper lab Buffalo Bill Museum of the West

Working at the lab, I’ve held and worked on many wolf skulls, but of course all dead wolves. Seeing a living wolf so close up is definitely a thrill.  But I have mixed feelings about collaring and so much interference.  Wolf collaring outside the Park is essential for only two reasons: first to count the population and track them, ensuring that the numbers of wolves do not fall below the critical 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs; and second they take blood in order to make sure enough genetic mixing is taking place, again part of the delisting mandate.  Other than that, these wolves have been studied for over 15 years and now that hunting is taking place outside the Park, the study inside the Park has, I feel, been compromised with too many unnatural variables.

So, my reservations?  The amount of disturbance that wildlife in general is subjected to is constant.  There is general hunting season on ungulates from around September through December.  Collaring of wolves.  Fly over counts of sheep and elk.  Cougar hunting is seven months from September through March. Regulated trapping seasons on fur bearers such as martens, bobcats, and beavers.  Year round trapping on wolves in part of the state, coyotes, raccoons, badgers, rabbits.  Then there’s snowmobile activity in winter and ATV activity in summer.  The human pressures on wildlife never stops, in addition to their predation pressure and food needs.  And this is just around my area.  Many states have year round hunting and trapping regs depending upon the animal.

Putting all my concerns aside, it certainly was a magnificent day–awakening to hundreds of elk in my front yard and getting a close-up look and feel of their predator, the wolf.

Four wolves far away

Four wolves far away



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.


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.

The wolves have a good day

What a day!  Let’s begin with 4″ of fresh snow.  Then add 5 wolves running past my property, 4 greys and 1 black.    Throw in back tracking and tracking the wolves to explore what route they are using to come down into the valley.  And for the day’s finale, watching the wolves on two kills they’d made by the road this morning.

Lots of elk tracks too on this beautiful day

Around 1 pm, we heard the dogs barking and looked out the front window to see 4 beautiful wolves running along the nearby pastures through a herd of horses.  Those horses are used to dogs so they didn’t seem perturbed one bit.  And those wolves were ‘booking’.  They had someplace to go or a meeting to attend.  Within just a few minutes they were up on the opposite hillside and over the divide, a hike that takes me at least 45 minutes!  Then along came a limpy grey following way behind.  They all looked amazingly healthy, no mange.

Limpy wolf but seems to be doing fine

These are the new Sunlight Pack, pushed slightly south into Elk Creek because of a much larger pack of 10 wolves occupying their northern range.  Last winter I didn’t get a chance to see the Sunlight Pack as they were hanging deeper west in the valley, moving with ease back and forth (north and south) across the valley floor.  This has been their home range for several years.

There’s an elk study going on, in its fifth season, in the valley and they’ve been able to do some good collaring this year of wolves.  And so they’ve learned that the Sunlight Pack has been bullied a bit by this larger pack to the north.  In fact, all that howling I heard on Valentines’ day was the Hoodoo Pack making a kill on the northern side of the river, a side that used to belong to the Sunlight pack.

Tracks of four wolves 'booking it'

At around dusk I went up the road to get a closer look at the kills and see if there were any wolves still  on them.  The UofW crew said they processed the kills and they were two older cow elks, about 10 and 12 years old.  “How old is old for an elk?”  I asked.  “About 15.  Some can live till 20, but that’s really old. These were in pretty good shape,” they informed me.  

With some quick and dirty math, I figure that’s about 50 or 60 years in human terms.