Montana wolf update
Wolf/livestock conflicts abound
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
May 14, 2008
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has issued its first wolf update report. Here's what it says about wolf - livestock activities, of which there have been many:
A late start to spring has kept wintering ungulates and wolves in lower elevations mostly along winter range later than in previous years, creating more potential for wolves to be in close proximity to cattle calving or sheep lambing operations on private lands.
When wolves were delisted on March 28, 2008, the activities of FWP and livestock owners are now guided by the Montana Wolf Plan, guidelines adopted by FWP and the FWP Commission, and Montana state law. The Guidelines are available on the FWP wolf webpage.
Livestock owners can non-injuriously haze or harass wolves when they are too close to livestock at any time. Livestock owners can kill a wolf that is seen actively killing or threatening to kill livestock or herding/guarding animals on either private or public land. Such incidents must be reported to FWP within 72 hours. Owners of companionship dogs or hunting dog breeds can non-injuriously haze or harass wolves. Dog owners can kill a wolf that is seen actively attacking or killing their dog. The flexibility to protect livestock and domestic dogs is provided in Montana law in the “defense of property” statute that also pertains to mountain lions or black bears caught damaging private property.
If a livestock owner suspects that wolves injured or killed livestock, protect the physical evidence at the sight and contact USDA Wildlife Services.
On March 28, a landowner northwest of Darby reported that one of their dogs (a young Aussie Shepherd x Lab mix) may have been killed by a wolf. There had been several lion problems in this general area previously, so FWP Warden Royce did an initial investigation. The dog had already been buried, but some larger canid tracks were found nearby along with numerous other dog tracks from the owner’s other dogs – so tracking conditions prevented confirmation of a wolf. The owners reported that they had seen a black wolf on the property recently and had seen tracks on several occasions. They also reported hearing wolves on the ridge above their house. Bradley followed up the morning of the 29th and found that the Trapper Peak pack was in the area. Lacking firm physical evidence, FWP determined it was a probable wolf incident. FWP described the state law and guidelines for protecting livestock and dogs and shared ideas with owners about how to better protect their dogs. FWP closely monitored the pack over the next several days but no further incidents occurred and the pack had left the area by the next day.
On March 29, WS confirmed 2 dead sheep killed by a wolf in the Paradise Valley in a ranchette / subdivision setting on a private land parcel of about 100 acres. One gray was seen in the pasture. FWP Warden Miller had received several calls about an apparently tame / habituated gray wolf in the Pray / Emigrant area and a wolf walking down the highway. Other public reports suggested it was a very small wolf. Its origin was unknown, but after consulting with other landowners in the area, FWP believed it was the same animal responsible for killing sheep. Due to the close proximity of houses and dogs in the area WS could not set traps. Because of safety concerns, FWP will closely monitor to remove any habituated wolves and area landowners were made aware of state laws and guidelines regarding protection of livestock and human safety. No further incidents have been reported.
On March 31 or April 1, FWP received a call from a landowner in Rock Creek in the Paradise Valley who reported their neighbors had a wolf try to bite their dog (breed unknown). They shot in the air a few times and scared the wolf off. FWP was not able to confirm directly with the dog owner, but the caller said they would pass along the state law/guidelines information to the dog’s owner.
On April 1, WS removed the last two wolves from the Moccasin Lake pack in the Boulder south of Big Timber. All members of the pack had been involved in earlier depredations on private land – a calf confirmed killed on March 15th, cattle run through a fence in the same pasture on the 16th, and 2 sheep confirmed killed on March 19th. Shoot on sight permits given to the two landowners were canceled on April 1. FWP had initially authorized removal of two wolves after the 2 cattle incidents and two wolves were killed on the 19th. The two wolves were killed in close proximity to where the sheep were killed on the 19th and after WS found tracks of 1-2 wolves leaving the sheep corral near the house. WS continued investigating the area for wolf sign and saw wolves just up the hill from the pasture. WS and FWP discussed the situation and FWP authorized removal of the other two considering that all 4 had been involved in the depredations, potential was high for more losses, and the escalating pattern of keying into livestock as a food source in a short period of time. Because new wolves are likely to settle back into the area within the year, FWP will be working closely with the Boulder Watershed Group and other interested parties in search of more long-term solutions to decrease the risk of loss when wolves do recolonize the area.
On April 2, fladry that had been hung on private land in Tom Miner basin during calving operations was removed as cattle are now scattered among several pastures. Fladry was hung during calving as some members of the 8-Mile pack had been visible throughout the winter, but no livestock have been injured or killed by wolves.
On April 2, WS confirmed that a calf had been bitten and injured by a wolf south of Shamut (east of Melville). The calf had to be euthanized. WS was asked to collar and release any wolves in the area and FWP discussed the state’s defense of property law and guidelines for addressing wolf-livestock conflicts. There are no known packs in the area and this could be a single wolf passing through the area.
As of April 2, efforts to collar and release a wolf after confirmed sheep depredations in the Two Dot area have been unsuccessful. No additional damage was reported and no reports of tracks or sign from either WS or area landowners. Five sheep had been confirmed killed and an additional 5 were confirmed wounded on March 5th.
On April 3, WS investigated an injured calf in Tom Miner Basin. No wolf damage was found.
On April 5, a ranch hand shot and killed a wolf on private land in the Madison Valley south of Ennis. The lone wolf was seen in a group of cattle and had separated a newborn domestic calf from the group. The individual reported the incident promptly. FWP personnel investigated and determined that the shooting was legal.
On April 8, WS killed 3 wolves in the Sage Creek area south of Dillon. WS had confirmed a dead calf on private land on March 23. Three wolves had been seen in and among cattle for a couple of weeks. There were depredations in the same area last year.
On April 10, WS investigated an injured bull on private land in the West Boulder area south of Big Timber. It was considered unconfirmed although the landowner had non-injuriously hazed a wolf by their barn previously. Due to ongoing wolf presence in the area in the area and the uncertainty about pack affiliation, FWP asked WS to collar and release a wolf on or near the property. WS collared and released a mangy female wolf in the West Boulder on April 15th. Traps were pulled and FWP and WS are monitoring the two new collars (other placed April 7) and staying in close communication with area landowners.
On April 15, WS confirmed a calf was killed by wolves on private land near Hall. The Willow Creek pack was 10 strong prior to birth of pups this spring and lives almost exclusively on private land – it is found routinely in and around livestock. Along one common travel route, FWP had recently hung fladry on private land to discourage wolves entering a one pasture with young calves. FWP had authorized removal of 2 wolves by WS and issued a permit to the landowner valid through May 30. One wolf was killed on April 18 and another was killed on April 21. On April 22, FWP representatives met with area landowners to discuss additional strategies to decrease the risk of further losses, including range riders, additional fladry, and reducing pack size to a more tolerable level as many mentioned they had fewer problems and concerns when the pack was not so big. A heavy snowpack and late spring has kept ungulates at lower elevations closer to livestock, increasing the chances for further conflicts. The pack has historically denned on private land in an area where livestock will be placed in mid-June and did so again in 2008. The livestock owners have made some adjustments to their operations to decrease the risk of loss. Through the spring, FWP has been working proactively with the community to try to reduce conflicts and has increased monitoring. On April 23, WS confirmed that an adult ewe was killed by a wolf on private land near Hall. Due to the large pack size and the potential for more losses, FWP authorized WS to remove 6 additional wolves while working from private lands in the immediate area, leaving the alpha breeding pair and a newly – confirmed litter of pups. On May 2, WS accidentally killed the alpha male.
Control work is ongoing to remove 4 uncollared yearlings, although efforts will include collaring a new adult that will help the alpha female raise the litter.
On April 16, WS confirmed 2 calves killed by wolves on private land south of Ennis on the west side of the Madison River. Six wolves were involved based on evidence at the scene. This is the same area where two confirmed depredations occurred in July and August of 2007 and a probable depredation in October of 2007 in which range riders bumped 5 wolves off a freshly- killed adult cow carcass (carcass was totally consumed and the immediate area had significant wolf sign). FWP had authorized USDA Wildlife Services to remove two wolves and that was completed in mid-December 2007. At the time of the control action, eight wolves were seen in the area and all had signs of mange on their tails. FWP personnel decided on April 16th to remove the remaining six wolves from this pack based on the history of depredations. As of May 2nd, a total of 3 wolves have been killed.
On April 24, WS confirmed wolves had killed 1 newborn calf and found another probable wolf- killed calf on private land near Helmville. The livestock producer saw 5 wolves at the site. A couple days prior, on the 22nd a calf was also confirmed killed by a single wolf on a neighboring ranch. After the loss on the 22nd, that landowner was issued a SOS permit for one wolf on their private property. Due to the proximity of the 2 depredations, members of the estimated 8- member uncollared Elevation Mtn pack are believed involved in both incidents. Potential for further conflict is high due to the high density of calving going on across a large area. FWP authorized WS to collar 1 wolf, and to kill up to 4 members of the pack, excluding the alpha female who could be nursing pups. On the 25th, the livestock producers chased a group of 6 wolves out of their cattle in the same area as the previous losses. Three of the wolves were harassing a mother cow with calf stashed nearby. The producer shot at one of the wolves, but missed. On April 30, WS killed a yearling male and control efforts are ongoing to kill up to 3 more wolves and to collar 1 wolf.
On April 24, FWP referred a call from a landowner in the Madison Valley near Bear Creek to WS. WS investigated a dead calf on April 25. The carcass has been mostly consumed and WS concluded it was a probable depredation so no lethal control was authorized. Cougar 2 Pack has been in the area for most of the winter and spring and FWP will continue to monitor and stay in close communication with area landowners.
On April 25, FWP set up some electric fladry on private land in Pinkham Creek southwest of Eureka. The landowner has had wolf activity the last 3 winters and is currently in the middle of calving operations. This private land parcel is adjacent to a Forest Service grazing allotment where livestock will be turned out and where the Lydia pack depredated last summer. The Lydia pack may also have a den site in the area. FWP, the Forest Service, and permittees have been discussing options over the last year.
On April 28, FWP and WS exchanged information about a possible incident near Broadview. No wolf sign was found by WS.
On April 30, FWP received a call from a landowner in the West Boulder area south of Big Timber reporting that 3 wolves had attacked a calf. The landowner shot at the wolves, but missed and then took the calf to the vet. It is not known whether the calf will live or not, but WS confirmed that wolves were responsible. A second injured calf was found on May 1 and confirmed on May 2 and FWP/WS believe it was related to the depredation on the previous day. FWP has talked with the landowner and issued a permit for 1 wolf on their private land (valid through June 14 or until 1 wolves is killed). FWP will also increase monitoring to better determine whether the 3 wolves involved in these incidents are associated with the other two recently collared wolves.
On April 30, FWP and representatives of Defenders of Wildlife had a conference call to discuss an upcoming cooperative rider project in the Rock Creek Drainage east of Missoula in the Sapphire Pack territory. A RAGG box (noise / scare device triggered by detection of the signal of the radio collared animal) will also be activated soon.
On May 2, WS confirmed a calf was killed by wolves in the Big Hole Valley on private land. WS reported opportunistically seeing 4 wolves in the area about a week previous and at least 3 wolves were believed involved in the depredation. None are radio-collared and it is unknown whether they've whelped pups in the area. FWP authorized WS to kill up to 2 wolves (and to avoid killing a possible nursing female) and to look for options to trap and collar a 3rd (once snow melts out/mud dries up). A permit was given to the landowner for up to 2 wolves on the property where the loss occurred. Livestock have been killed by wolves in this same ranch in previous years. The permit will expire on June 16 or when a total of 2 wolves are killed.