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Wolves kill lamb in Alta
November 14, 2012

State’s trapping efforts unsuccessful

In 2009, the wolf population in Wyoming exceeded recovery goals established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the seventh consecutive year. Trophy hunt quotas are quickly being met in the northwest corner of the state this year.

The Chagrin River wolf pack was active in Alta last week when as many as seven wolves were thought to have been involved in the killing of a lamb that was part of a local rancher’s flock. Footprints confirmed the presence of the wolf pack around the partially consumed carcass.

“Sheep seem to really attract predators,” said Wyoming Game and Fish warden Jerry Longobardi. “I’m amazed this wolf pack has not gotten into trouble before.”

Longobardi worked with Wyoming Game and Fish large carnivore biologist Ken Mills to try and trap at least one of the wolves responsible in the depredation incident, but not to put the animal down.

“If these wolves became habitual killers, it would be different,” Longobardi said.

With ancestry dating back more than 120 years in Teton Valley, Meredith Wilson’s family has had livestock in Alta most all of that time. With sheep for more than 60 years, this is the first time Wilson has experienced the loss of a lamb to wolves.

“We got guard dogs 20 years ago, and they’ve worked really well against bears and coyotes, but these dogs can be killed by a wolf pack,” Wilson said.

The pyrenees dogs that Wilson uses to protect his flock were with animals in another field when the lamb was killed. And while Wyoming Game and Fish compensates him for fair market price after depredation, there is the loss of so much potential.

“Any way you stack it up, it’s not fair compensation,” Wilson said. “And for the little lamb to have his throat ripped out by wolves is pretty horrendous.”

Wilson was ranching during the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, and he knew it was just a matter of time before he felt the effects of the program.

“It’s a program that has been incredibly successful, but if wolves decimate enough of our herd, this farm could become just another subdivision.” Wilson said. “We don’t just ranch for the fun of it. The consequences of wolves might not just be one or two or 20 lambs, it could be much greater.”

With nearly 30 packs in Wyoming, Mills said 17 of those packs are collared, but that does not include packs in Yellowstone National Park or the Wind River Indian Reservation located east of Dubois and Pinedale. Mills said the Chagrin River pack, the name given to a wolf pack located on the west slope of the Teton Mountains, had been collared, but that the signal to that collar went off the air two years ago.

As a border pack that spends time in Idaho and Wyoming, the wolves in the Chagrin River pack are managed by the state that they are in, but that location may change periodically.

“Wolves’ home ranges are very large, it’s not like these packs live in one drainage,” said Idaho Fish and Game Biologist Daryl Meints. “They can be here today and a hundred miles away tomorrow. Wolves are on the landscape year round, actively foraging when they can.”

While the population of grey wolves has been increasing in the region since reintroduction in Yellowstone, the management of wolves has been evolving in the Rocky Mountain west over the past several years.
Alta, where the Chagrin River pack frequents, has been designated as one of the state’s dozen trophy zones that are located in the northwest part of the state surrounding Yellowstone. That zone is number seven, and it allows for one wolf to be harvested this year by a properly licensed hunter. With the lowest quota of any of the trophy zones, wildlife managers believe wolves in this zone travel into Idaho as well. While no wolves have been harvested in zone seven, one wolf tag has been filled in zone 12, which is also located on the Idaho border.

“I think there’s a fair chance quotas will be met this year,” Longobardi said. “We have six weeks to go.”
Though Wyoming Game and Fish attempted to trap wolves in Alta last weekend in order to collar one of the Chagrin River pack, trapping is not legally an option this year in Wyoming for the public.

Across the border in Idaho, trapping is legal. During the 2011-12 season, the 13 wolf hunting zones in the Gem State saw 255 animals harvested by firearms and 124 harvested by trapping. In the units that make up the Island Park wolf zone, 20 wolf tags were left unfilled by the end of the season. So far this year, 93 wolves have been harvested in Idaho with five of those tags filled in the Island Park zone.

In Wyoming, wolves outside the trophy zones are considered predators and can be hunted without so much as a license, though the state does require the harvest of each wolf be reported. Within the 12 trophy zones surrounding Yellowstone, 25 of the 44 tags have already been filled so far this year.

The Chagrin River pack took down a moose in Teton Canyon during the first week of February last year, and there was a scare that poison was set out for the wolves, though that rumor was never confirmed. Mills stressed that poisoning wolves is not legal.

Though the presence of wolves along a heavily used winter route was concerning, the taking of wildlife did not warrant any further action other than moving the moose carcass farther from the trail and posting the area. Conversely, the interaction of wolves and livestock warranted a more active role by Wyoming Game and Fish.  

“I think about it all the time now, and I can’t keep locking the herd in a corral,” Wilson said. “We’ve had to take further measures to protect our herd, and that has created more work for us and more travel for the sheep.”

In addition to the impacts wolves have had on his livestock, Wilson has seen wildlife act differently for years in Alta.

“I’m not a wildlife biologist, but I think the wolves are changing the patterns of the big game herds,” Wilson said. “Deer and elk were always down here in the winter, but now they’re here year-round. It’s like they are not comfortable up in the mountains, and I can only attribute that to the presence of wolves.”



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