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My October Surprise – A Wolf Poaching

The following events took place in October 2014, just after Wyoming’s wolf hunt was cancelled due to wolves being re-listed as Endangered.

October in Wyoming has the best weather. It can be raining, snowing, sunshine, or all of the above at once. Blustery one day, then in the 60s the next, Indian Summer seems to come and go until suddenly, one day, it’s winter.

I’m packing up for a work trip to California for several months, but before I leave I want to ‘say goodbye’ to my beloved valley and the mountains that envelop it. Today there are snow flurries off and on, low clouds obscuring the horizon. I’ve got a place in mind to hike to. It’s one of my special, or sacred, spots—an Indian Sheep Eater bighorn sheep trap. I especially like this place because not only is it high up above a cliff edge with a magnificent view of the Absarokas, but also the ‘trap’ is formed from two large boulders running into a ‘V’ shape. The acme of this formation is littered with ancient logs, hundreds of years old, preventing the sheep from squeezing out that end. Native peoples used a system of logs fanning out from the boulders to guide the sheep into the trap. Their dogs helped herd the animals, and possibly people were hidden along the trap line to scare the sheep in the proper direction. Medicine men assisted with the hunt, and I’ve read that male bighorn sheep horns and skulls have been found high up in trees, probably as part of their rituals.

Bighorn sheep

Bighorn Sheep Ewes

The last two years, October was the first month of the gray wolf hunt in Wyoming. Wyoming wolves were delisted in 2012. A ‘trophy’ zone outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks allowed an October through December hunt, while in the rest of the state (85%) wolves were labeled as ‘predators’. Along with several other species like coyotes, raccoons, and feral domestic cats, predators can be shot or trapped year-round, without a second thought. Since my valley lies adjacent to the Park in the Trophy zone, we had lots of hunters looking to kill a wolf. Koda, my ninety-pound Golden Retriever, was forced to be humiliated into wearing an orange vest for those three months.

Koda catches a whiff

Koda, my red dog, enjoys a view

But this year the winds have changed for the wolf. The hunt was suspended just a week before the season was to begin. Environmental groups took Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to court over their flawed delisting plan. And on the 23rd of September, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Wyoming’s plan was not sufficient to support a hunt and the wolves were back on the Endangered Species list again. Money for wolf tags was refunded (at $15 a wolf tag, hunters paid a pittance), and the wolves have a stay for at least another year.

collared hoodoo.jpg

So on this blustery day, I drove down the valley to a trailhead. This fall, Koda doesn’t have to dress up. I’m on an outing with a purpose—to say ‘goodbye’ to my valley for the next few months. When I return, winter will have seriously set in and the deep snows will make it more difficult to get to this place. I prepare a small gift of some herbs and flowers held in a small deer hide bag—an offering that preserves my presence in this place while I’m gone, and honors the spirit of my beloved valley.

It’s a Saturday and the parking area is uncharacteristically full. I usually avoid the weekends, but since I’m leaving in a few days, this is my opportunity. The cars belong to hunters, yet on all my hiking in the valley, and even up this trail, I have never seen another person. People just don’t hike in grizzly bear country; so I still have the trail all to myself.

The first mile follows the stream, and then opens to a large confluence where two drainages meet in an open meadow. The narrow right-hand arroyo is what I want. I move up the dry canyon. To my left, the topography is a gentle slope that divides the two drainages. Yet to my right are the steep rocky cliffs that house a mesa high above. I look for an arch formed of broken slabs of limestone near the top of the bluff.

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I look for the arch that is my marker

That’s my sign to start climbing the steep sides up near the escarpment edge. Once I get to its flanks, I feel my way like a blind woman along the outcroppings. Then, suddenly, a narrow gap appears, barely wide enough to slip sideways through. I crawl upwards about thirty feet, where I emerge onto an unexpected plateau. It’s a trail known only to wildlife. And in front of me are the two house-size boulders, funneling down into the trap. There’s a strange, numinous beauty to this spot that I love so much. I place my offering on the ground, silently intoning my intentions, and then settle onto the rims to enjoy the view. The gully below ascends into a large meadow, eventually bordering wooded hillsides. I can clearly see the ridge that separates this ravine from the one beyond, colored in the gold and reds of the turning aspens.

IMG_5505.jpg

Fall colors in October

Time is standing still for me. I have nowhere to go. I snap a few photos and enjoy these last moments before leaving for California. Two figures appear on the ridge. They are dressed in bright orange, and although their origin is not in my view, I know they are coming from an area the locals call ‘Dry Lake’. I look at my watch. They’re deer hunters. I know this because October is open deer season in my valley. That’s the busiest time in this area, with hunters from in and out-of-state looking for a buck to fill their freezer. It’s 2:30 p.m., and a strange time to be hunting. From my vantage point, I haven’t seen any wildlife, and wouldn’t expect to at mid-day. They come over the ridge and appear to be leaving, walking down the drainage. There is no way they can see me, as I’m high up on a rib of rock obscured by trees.

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Koda and I watch as the two hunters appear over the ridge line

They sit down for a break and I pull out my binoculars. Yes, they are definitely hunters because I see their rifles. They rest for about ten minutes, and then continue on their route towards the parking area.

After they leave, I scramble down the terrace and take an alternate route back to my car. When I arrive back at the parking lot, I see the two hunters are already back too, and they are parked next to me. And I notice two other things: first they are unusually silent. They are not speaking to each other, nor do they look at me. Wyomingites are friendly folks, and hunters and outdoors people enjoy exchanging information and small talk. Yet these two fellows clearly do not want to engage me.

I also observe they are a father/son pair. I rarely see a father hunting with his son, so their mannerisms and facial features imprint in my mind more than they normally would. The young man appears to be about thirteen, yet he is tall and gangly for his age. The father is balding, about fiftyish. It’s three p.m. They silently load up their gear, then drive off.

In fifteen minutes I’m back at my house, packing to leave for California in a few days. By mid-January, I return home to a landscape blanketed with snow. Attached to my door is a business card. It’s from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Senior Special Agent, Office of Law Enforcement.

           “Please give me a call—hoping you can help with some information”

When I call Officer Rippeto, he tells me there was a wolf poaching the day that I was parked at the trailhead.

“The Warden rode up on horseback on Sunday morning. He found the dead wolf by Dry Lake. He figured it was shot on Saturday.”

I asked how he knew I was there that day.

“A Forest Service ranger drove up on Saturday and took down descriptions of all the vehicles parked in the lot. That’s routine. The warden recognized your car and told me where you lived. I’d like to come up and take a statement from you.”

I ask if the wolf was collared. Apparently, the wolf was a yearling and had no collar.  I tell Office Rippeto that I’d snapped some photos from my view spot. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of those hunters. But I do have a time stamp on my pictures, which were taken immediately before they came into view. And I relay my description of them.

EK000094.jpg

Yet the one thing I did not notice was what their vehicle looked like (people in Wyoming always identify others by their vehicle) nor did I check to see if their license plate indicated they were locals. Being that it was general deer hunting season, these two people could have been from anywhere. And deer hunting up here is not a limited tag quota. It’s statewide.

Last I spoke with Officer David Rippeto, he still hadn’t found the wolf poachers. I cannot be certain that this father and son were the culprits, but I suspect they were. Rippeto too was suspicious of their conduct, and the fact that they quit their hunt at an hour when they should be about to begin hunting.

I think about what kind of example that father taught his son. He taught him that poaching was acceptable behavior. And he also gave him the clear message that wolves are not welcome here in Wyoming.

_______________

Update: October 2016. Wolves are still on the Endangered Species list in Wyoming. Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife recently brought the case to court. We have not yet heard the decision of the Federal Appeals court.

 Wyoming continues to refuse to acknowledge that listing wolves as predators in 85% of the state is an antiquated and egregious view of wolves, a relic of the 19th century, when predators were exterminated for the benefit of the livestock industry.

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What Kind of Dogs are Wolves by Koda

Hi folks.  I’m going to try something different on my blog.  From time to time, I’ll post reminiscences from Koda, the dog who grew up in the Wyoming wilds.  Here’s the first one.  The stories below took place when Koda was about 7 months old.  We were still living in California and traveling by car back and forth to Wyoming.  After Soona died when Koda was about 1 1/2 years old, we moved to our cabin in Wyoming full time.

This is me.  And this is my first blog post

This is me. And this is my first blog post

After a long drive, Leslie (she’s my person), Soona (she’s my grandma) and I were at our new home, a place not at all like the city we came from. This place was vast—just mountains, trees, and more smells than I ever could have imagined.

A Glorious spring day.  Koda and I hike up Elk Creek Meadows.

A Glorious spring day.  Here I am on the trail in the mountains

One morning we were all up in the flats above the house. Leslie was piling little rocks. Soona and I were sniffing and watching. Without warning, Soona made a beeline for the woods. I was still little, only 9 months old, and didn’t know one smell from another, but I knew she smelled something that I didn’t, so I followed her. Leslie was worried for the old lady. The woods, she said, could be dangerous, especially for old dogs. So she followed us. And what do you know, Soona had a great find: a turkey partially eaten by a coyote! We munched on the bird for a while. I know turkeys because they live in California. But I didn’t know they were here in Wyoming too. From that time on I’ve watched them and got to know them. Leslie taught me to let them be. In the winter they come to our yard where I sit outside on the porch while they peck and pick for seeds and corn we sometimes lay out for them. Mostly they amuse me and, as long as don’t run after them, they pay me no mind.

Wild turkeys, not native

The flock of turkeys I’ve come to know. And they know me.

One day just Leslie and I went for a hike up a stream, leaving Soona at home. We returned a different way, a route through sparse meadows peppered with small trees and gullies. I stayed just a bit ahead, yet kept close to Leslie. We were on the side of a small arroyo when I smelled something watching us from behind a tree. I turned to look, and saw the most beautiful girl I’d ever laid my eyes on. She appeared to be a dog, yet she had a different aura about her. My heart jumped and an irresistible urge took over my entire body. It was if this black dog were a magnet drawing me towards her. I’d already met and played with many dogs in my life at that point. I was only 7 months old, but I already knew to ‘ask’ before I could go play. But this dog…she was like no other, and I just had to know what, and who, she was. She seemed to be the essence of what a dog is; a wildness that was wilder than I ever could be. Really, I just lost my head. And so I ran after her, silently.

What a beauty she was

What a beauty she was

I heard Leslie screaming for me, calling my name. But Leslie’s voice was like a dream in the background. That black dog was so fast that I finally gave up trying to catch her. But, I’ve got to tell you, that was the most exciting moment in my life!

I ran back to the little arroyo where I’d left Leslie. She hugged me and seemed so relieved to see me. She told me that I’d seen a wolf and I was lucky that there weren’t other wolves waiting for me there. That wolves weren’t like dogs and they didn’t want other wolves, or dogs, in their territory. But all I know was that was one truly wild and free ‘dog’.

This is a wikiup

This is a wikiup

We rested in a nearby wikiup in the meadows. Leslie petted me, then scolded me for running away. After a time, we headed back in the direction where I’d run after that wolf, till we came to a trail. And what do you think I found at the trail? That wolf got so excited she’d thrown up her lunch! I guess I made an impression on her too.

We could have many more places like Yellowstone.

Living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, adjacent to Yellowstone National Park, I enjoy the full suite of wildlife (minus bison, another story…) at my doorstep.  It’s not that I’m seeing large megafauna daily, yet if I hike around my valley or the nearby Beartooth Mountains, I see their evidence.

People who visit Yellowstone expect and hope to catch a glimpse of wolves, bears or other wildlife.  But Yellowstone is a protected habitat, free of human habitation.So what is it like to live with these animals in your neighborhood?

Today was a hot day in the valley.  When it’s hot, I like to take a half hour drive up to the Beartooth Mountains towards the summit via highway 120.  Although mosquitos are out, the air is cool and pleasant.  I took a hike along what’s known as the Morrison Jeep trail–an ATV road closed until July 15 that runs from the Beartooth Plateau all the way to the Clark’s Fork Canyon in the desert. Wildflowers are starting to abound.

Marsh Marigold

Marsh Marigold

 

Kalmia, used by some tribes to commit suicide as it is deadly poisonous

Kalmia, used by some tribes to commit suicide as it is deadly poisonous

And Koda had a great time in all the lakes.

In the Beartooths

Yet what makes this place so unique is this:

Wolf tracks

Wolf tracks

And the signs to watch out for grizzly bears.

Front and back grizzly tracks.

Front and back grizzly tracks.

Because this is a ‘road’–suitable only for ATVs–and it is closed now, few people were out.  I saw one group of returning backpackers.  They told me they saw two wolves this morning, one black and one grey, in the meadow.  Part of the Beartooth wolf pack I told them.

I recently visited northeast Wyoming and Devils Tower in The Black Hills.  It’s a gorgeous area and a striking sacred spot.  At the Devils Tower visitor’s center, I read a story of an Indian man that was interviewed in the 1930s.  He recalled coming to Devils Tower (known as Bear’s Lodge to the tribes) as a young boy in the 1850s.  At that time, he said, there were wolves there.  Yet no longer.

Devils Tower, WY

Devils Tower, WY

The United States has many beautiful parks and national forests, yet only the Yellowstone Ecosystem is complete with a full suite of native wildlife that once was abundant everywhere.  After living here, everywhere else feels bereft.

Grizzlies too are killed for cattle predation on public lands

I am not advocating that more people move here.  On the contrary.  I am advocating that we work to have these kinds of complete ecosystems in many other parts of the country where it makes sense.  Grizzlies, for instance, occupy less than 2% of their original habitat.

Like many animals that are losing their habitat, we too are losing ours.  How preposterous is it that a person must fly or drive thousands of miles just to view these animals as well as experience an un-fragmented ecosystem; even though there is plenty of suitable habitat for wolves, grizzlies, and other carnivores in forests and Parks in places like Utah, Colorado, and other lands in the West.

After living here for eight years, I’ve come to understand that scenery isn’t ‘everything’ and in fact, it’s nothing without the wildlife that was meant to inhabit it.  Without them, those beautiful lands feel empty.Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep

Practically, what does that mean?  First, a change in attitudes. In larger landscapes, we can live with these large predators.  Yes, we’ll have to adapt with our garbage, bird seed, chickens, and other small livestock, but it can be done. Changing our attitude includes changing our hunting and trapping laws to be inclusive of these predators, instead of the outdated model of ‘more ungulates, less predators’.

Second, the livestock industry must change and use predator friendly methods of control where possible, including the realization that livestock losses on public lands are ‘at your own risk’.  Public lands are all wildlife have to make their living on. Bears, wolves, coyotes and other wildlife should not be shot on public lands if depredation occurs.  It should be the responsibility of the cattle rancher to ride the range with their cattle, stock them appropriately with perhaps a bull and mixed age groups.  Sheep need dogs watching them as well as a human shepherd.

People who live with bears and wolves and cougars daily know that these animals are not ‘behind every tree‘, waiting ‘to get you‘.  If they were, then they could easily kill a person.  Instead, they avoid people; make their living mostly at night; and seem to only get into trouble when people are leaving food out or not taking care of their livestock.

Having spent a lot of time in the Southwest, I would love to see wolves restored in that area.  But the year-round coyote trapping and bounty needs to stop first.  The northeast corner of Wyoming is the corridor in which cougars can expand eastward, but the hunting quota is either too high, or unlimited! That is just two examples of attitudinal and practical changes that need to be considered.

Once you’ve lived in a place like the Yellowstone Ecosystem, not only is there hardly anyplace like it on Earth, but you will want to restore your home, where ever that is, to its natural balance.

 

 

The Health of the Land

With the warm temperatures, the December snows are melted off in most places around here. Because of that, some friends and myself ventured into some high areas that are usually inaccessible this time of year.

The Absarokas and elk

The Absarokas and elk

A glorious day in the high 50’s (how strange for ‘winter), we began the hike without snowshoes.  Sometimes we had to venture through large drifts briefly.  Lots of elk sign but no elk visible.  This is an area where I know a large herd of elk overwinter so I expected to see them at any moment.  As we approached the high meadows, about 250 elk moved down into the valley below and up to the meadows on the opposite side.

Elk

As we watched, two wolves called back and forth from the cliffs above the elk.  Interestingly, the elk continued grazing uphill in their direction as they called to each other.  Clearly, these elk were not disturbed by the wolves presence.  I have always maintained that wildlife are more in tune with each other than humans are with them.  After a while of howling, the wolves went on their way, making distance between themselves and the herd.  Those weren’t the calls of hungry wolves and somehow the elk knew that.

elk moving up the hillside

We moved on and came to a large herd of over 30 ewes, lambs and young rams grazing.  A band of about eight rams grazed on a meadow beyond.  A second herd of over 250 elk was working their way up the hillside.

Bighorn sheep

 

Bighorn sheep

 

Ram group

Ram group

On the way back through the willows, four moose were relaxing and munching.

What a brilliant day and great sightings.  I was especially happy to see all the bighorn sheep we have this year in our area.

Moose mom and male calf

Moose mom and male calf

Tracking notes

The other morning, after a nice light new snow, I drove the dirt road.  The elk were out, as always in the early morning, feeding, in a large group of over 700.  As I continued my drive, I came to a fresh track of two wolves that had run down the road.  They weren’t wandering, but directed towards somewhere.  In short order, another wolf came trotting in from the nearby meadows. Then another, and another.  Soon the tracks clearly showed 6 wolves running alongside each other.

Over time six wolves came trotting down the road

Over time six wolves came trotting down the road

Every so often I’d stop the car, get out, and examine the track.  These were the Hoodoos, a pack of stout, large wolves with the alpha tracks measuring around 5″ long x 4″ wide.

Wolf print

They didn’t appear in a hurry or threatened, for they were all side trotting with a stride about 30″. Their tracks sometimes overlapped or meandered.  Occasionally a few of them run off the road, then return at a different location.  These might have been the pups, exploring and meandering more than adults would.

Then a strange thing happened.  It appeared that more and more wolves were ‘returning’ to the road, all traveling in the same direction.  At one point I struggled to tease apart all the tracks and I counted eleven or twelve wolves!  I knew there was no way we had this big a pack in our area this year.  There are two packs around, but they don’t travel together.  I couldn’t figure it out.

I counted around 11 or 12 wolves

I counted around 11 or 12 wolves with all the tracks in the same direction and the same freshness

Then tracks ended by running off the roadside into a field of brush and willows, a haven for a young bull moose newly kicked out on his own this year.  I saw magpies hanging on the fence by the willow’s edge. So this was what all the ruckus of tracks was about!  I realized that these wolves had made a kill in the willows, fed for a while there, then headed off, only to circle back via the road and feed once more.

A few mornings later I walked out into the willows.  I was curious if that young moose had been their victim.  Moose are scarce here, having a hard time making a comeback between diseases, the ’88 fires destroying habitat, the warm summer and winter temperatures, as well as added predators.  Moose suffer heat stress in winter when temperatures are above 23 degrees.  Since early January most of our daytime temps have been above freezing, and many days in the 40’s and 50’s.  Thinking that it’s rare to find elk hanging in dense willow cover these days, I was afraid it was this moose that had been killed.

Hoodoo wolf prowling around

Hoodoo wolf prowling around

Yet the elk had been acting strangely early in the year–I’d seen them alone, in small groups, in tight areas, feeding mid-day, and not in the larger herds I’m used to.  But in the last several weeks, their ‘normal’ patterns have returned–normal for winters here means elk moving in large bunches from 100-700 elk and feeding early morning and late afternoons.  Although elk patterns are mysterious, I’m suspecting that when the elk came down from the Park in late December this year, the wolves were late in following them and were still higher up.  But as soon as the Hoodoos got to work, the elk became the herd animals nature intended.  Unlike many wolf packs in years past that resorted to killing deer, the Hoodoos are experienced hunters and know how to kill elk.

Here's my moose

Here’s my moose

With the help of a Koda sniff, we found the leg of the animal.  Not our moose but an elk, and it looked like a two or three year old from the look of the skin.  On the way back home, I saw that moose that had been hanging out in those willows for weeks on end.  He had moved up the road to a different area.

Sometimes it pays not to jump to conclusions, but instead be patient, and attempt to tease apart the puzzle of wildlife.

What is base line?

Driving the road early morning, looking for wildlife, gives me time to ponder questions like–why is it I see grizzly bears during the daytime in Yellowstone National Park vs. where I live just 20 miles east of the Park where they are basically nocturnal?  Bears have not been hunted outside the Park since 1975, and there are plenty of them in my valley.  Yet bears in my wild valley, like all wildlife, avoid the most unpredictable top predator–Man.

Until the hunt began two years ago in Wyoming, I used to see wolves.  In the winter, I’d see them on kills they made near the dirt road.  In the summer hiking in my valley, I had many close encounters with wolves, none of them eliciting fear.  It was obvious they were simply curious.  But since the hunt, they are no longer curious and they are no longer visible.  A good thing if they want to stay alive.

Yearling pup

Yearling pup

Today’s wildlife, and especially predators, are basically nocturnal or crepuscular, feeding, moving, hunting when Man is asleep.  I have to ask:  Has it always been like this?

Reading the journals of Lewis & Clark, they describe seeing herds of bison, wolves, grizzly bears and coyotes in the middle of the day going about their business.

“…we scarcely see a gang of buffaloe without observing a parsel of those faithfull shepherds [wolves] on their skirts in readiness to take care of the mamed & wounded”

Buffalo in Lamar Valley

Beaver, considered today to be nocturnal, were easily seen during the daytime in the early 1800’s.  A buffalo calf, unfamiliar with humans, followed Lewis around.  Game was “very abundant and gentle”.

“Immence quantities of game in every direction around us as we passed up the river, consisting of herds of Buffaloe, Elk, and Antelopes with some deer and woolves.”

According to Lewis’ account, when the presence of Man is minimized, prey and predator dance together, during the daytime.

WInter elk herd at dusk

When we study the nature, movements, and habits, of today’s wildlife, how can we know what is baseline?  What are their natural rhythms?

Coyote

Coyote during the daytime in Yellowstone National Park

Wildlife in the Park are confined to a virtual zoo, yet they have not been hunted for over 100 years [on the other hand, they are still being controlled.  For example, bison are under an agreement to be kept to around 3000 animals.  When they leave the Park in winter, they are killed to reduce their numbers.] Wildlife outside the Park are hunted and so, particularly the vilified predators, are rarely seen, moving among the shadows of the night.

Wildlife that live around cities, such as raccoons, coyotes, foxes–what we might call mesopredators–also avoid humans by wandering the streets when the humans are asleep.

Before 1492, New World numbers were estimated to be around 54 million peoples.  The pre-European native impact on the landscape reflected the cumulative effects of a growing population over the previous 15,000 years or more.  European entry into the New World abruptly reversed this trend. The decline of native American populations was rapid and severe, the biggest genocide ever. Old World diseases were the primary killer.  In the basin of Mexico, for instance, the population dropped from 1.6 million in 1519 to 180,000 in 1607 (89 percent); and in North America from 3.8 million in 1492 to 1 million in 1800 (74 percent).

So when Lewis & Clark came West in 1805, were they seeing wildlife baseline? Or just the result of a diminished native population? North American native peoples had their own rise and fall of civilizations–Cahokia, Ancestral Pueblo Culture, Poverty Point, and many others that were as equally sophisticated as the Aztecs or Mayans.  What were wildlife interactions during those times when many ancient peoples in the Americas lived in cities? Was wildlife again moving nocturnally?  Were they being hunted out?

Poverty Point artists rendition

What is baseline?  What is the natural rhythm for elk, or wolves, or grizzly bears? Today’s wildlife biologists use observation methods unknown in the past–GPS collars, trail cameras, plane flyovers, computer mapping–all very sophisticated.  But the interactions amongst predator-prey species are probably dictated more by human pressures than by each other.

When we postulate new wildlife theories, such as “The Landscape of Fear“,  what exactly are we observing?  Certainly not what Lewis observed in 1803 when wolves, coyotes, elk, deer and bison all traveled together–wolves following on the outside of these large herds.  New theories enlarge The Landscape of Fear to include not only top-down but bottom-up where the bottom has to do with beavers providing the habitat for willows and aspen rather than just elk avoiding drainages.  And scientists acknowledge that baseline is a moving target.

And so the answers to these questions will always be uncertain.  One thing I can easily observe–wildlife is more afraid of Man than they are of any other predator.  That, I believe, is an unfortunate thing.  Writer Mary Beck says in her book Seven Half-Miles from Home:

This one species has contrived to make himself feared and hated by most other creatures.  Since this fact is rubbed into my consciousness day after day by many creatures with whom I would be friends, I grow sensitive and ashamed of being one of such feared and hated beings.

 

Did ‘Limpy’ the Coyote survive?

Many mornings I venture out early and explore who’s been out during the night.

Sunrise

Sunrise

If nothing else, I’m guaranteed to see the elk, deer and moose.  Last night there seemed to be quite a party.  Plenty of coyotes and the wolves were moving around. Yesterday I saw a bald eagle fly into the valley.  There must be a kill around, but I could not find it.

I wish I could figure out the coyote territories in the valley.  I have a guess, based on howling and tracks, but its only a guess.  I suspect there are at least three different packs within the front valley itself.  It appears the pack sizes go up and down and I wonder how much the wolves have an impact on that. Some years there are many more wolves here, other years their numbers are down and the coyote numbers seem to jump up.  When the coyotes increase, I see less fox sign.  The coyotes have definitely gotten bolder over the years relative to their older brother, the wolf. Look at this example:

This coyote ran right over three wolf tracks

This coyote ran right over three wolf tracks

Last winter I spotted a lone coyote several times that had a badly injured left rear foot.

Here's the fellow.  Who knows what happened to his leg.

The lame coyote from last winter

The first time I saw him, he was hobbling through a field.  Then one early morning he was stealing some left-overs from a wolf kill.  No other canines were around.  He ‘ran’ with his prize through the field while I watched.  Leery of my presence, he made his way up the hillside into the trees to eat in peace.  I took some photos of his interesting and sad track.

The arrow points the direction he was headed

Last Year: The arrow points the direction he was headed.  The ‘dot’ is his injured leg’s imprint. One can see the trouble he is having by his difficult gait.

 

You can see the small imprint of his left hind leg.  The back legs are in front because he is running

Last Year:  You can see the small imprint of his left hind leg. The back legs are in front because he is running

This morning there were several groups of coyotes in different areas.  And one large grouping was around the area where I spotted ‘Limpy’ last year head for the hills with his stolen bone.  About 5 coyotes were running together, and one of them had a bad left rear leg!

Spot the limpy coyote.

This winter:  Can you Spot the limpy coyote?

Coyote running.  rear feet are in front of front feet.  Notice the 2nd print from top.  That is the left rear and its noticeably smaller

This winter:  Coyote running. rear feet are in front of front feet. Notice the 2nd print from top. That is the left rear and its noticeably smaller.  But compare this photo with the one from last winter. A more normal gait!

The foot is turned inward and the print is smaller meaning he can’t put so much weight on it.  Yet given the difference in last year and this year, he is able to put much more weight on it.  Last year that coyote was barely putting his foot on the ground.  Now he is using it!

Of course, I cannot be sure it’s the same coyote. But given that it’s the same rear left leg, and the coyote was spotted in the same general area, its a good possibility.  And if it is ‘Limpy’, now he, or she, is running with a pack instead of alone.  Now maybe he has had a happy ending after all!