The Druids are doing well . . . the rest, not-

Kathie Lynch just wrote one of her detailed and descriptive wolf updates. It follows below.

Please note her plea for donations to the Park’s wolf program.

Thanks Kathie!

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Yellowstone wolf notes posted on Nov. 16, 2008. Copyright © Kathie Lynch

An early November trip to Yellowstone provided close up views of the Druid Peak pack and the Canyon group. I had the good fortune to be at Curve pullout (west end of Little America) when 20 of the 21 Druids crossed the road nearby. They all looked great, including, of course, our 8 ½ -year-old hero, the dashing 302M!

The Druids have been ranging far and wide, from their traditional rendezvous in Lamar Valley west past Slough Creek and well beyond, with some even venturing as far as the Elk Creek/Hellroaring area. While I was there, the entire Druid pack spent two days camped out right in the Slough Creek pack’s traditional den area at Slough Creek. The Slough alpha male, 590M, seemed to be around somewhere in the general area, but was not seen.

The Slough pack is keeping a very low profile these days. Only nine Slough wolves remain after the September/October deaths of three (alpha 380F, beta 526F, and 631F-all killed by other wolves), the July death of 629M due to unidentified illness, the dispersal/disappearance of “The Dark Female” and the black male yearling, and the disappearance of the two interloping males (one black, one gray) who had been trying to join the pack last August. Add to that the loss of all of what was probably three litters of pups, and you would have to say that 2008 has been another very rough year for the Sloughs.

The Druids, on the other hand, have asserted their regained dominance with a vengeance. They killed Slough 526F and possibly Slough 631F. They also clashed with the Agate Creek pack in late October and possibly injured Agate 644F; she was found dead two days later.

One group of Druid bachelors, led by Yellowstone’s most eligible Bachelor #1, the eternally optimistic 302M, has made several forays far to the west toward Elk Creek and Hellroaring to look over possibilities for the upcoming breeding season. All five Druid male yearlings have tagged along with their uncle so they can pick up a few pointers on wooing the ladies. A two-year-old silvery black beauty from the Agate Creek pack has attracted the group’s interest; she is one of venerable (now dead) Agate alpha 113M’s last three daughters. I am sure that the Druid boys will look for her again when the breeding season rolls around in February.

Another thing that has been going on with the Druids is four-year-old alpha 569F’s new attitude. She has come into her own this year and is starting to persecute and try to drive out other females in the pack. She has been ruthlessly pinning poor “Dull Bar” (who so valiantly and single-handedly got 13 Druid pups across Soda Butte Creek last July). The pinning involves holding bites to the neck and raised hackles while standing over “Dull Bar,” who lies motionless and completely submissive on the ground. It is the same behavior that the former Slough alpha 380F (now dead) used to drive out 527F, “The Dark Female,” and others. It is heartbreaking to watch.

It may be the alpha female’s way of driving other breeding females out of the pack so that her own pups will have the advantage. Last spring the Druids had seven pregnant females, including 569F and the six two-year-olds. From all of those pregnancies, only three litters are thought to have resulted. And, from those three litters, perhaps 17-18 pups were seen, of which only five still survive. Those five (four blacks and one gray) seem to have been the pups who were born to alpha 569F; she denned perhaps two to three weeks before the other females, so her pups were probably much larger and stronger. Last July, those pups looked gigantic, and we had a hard time telling them apart from the yearlings even then.

On my recent trip, I was lucky to get a good look at the four adults of the Canyon group when they made a surprise visit to the Blacktail Lakes area. Although the group had not been seen there before, their alpha female (the former Hayden Valley pack beta) had previously visited Mammoth with the Haydens, so she knew the area. Like the Haydens, the Canyon group has no fear of the road. Late one afternoon, they materialized right next to the Wraith Falls turnout, nosed around at something on the ground, and then crossed the road, continuing to travel near it. Sadly, their beautiful gray pup was not with them, which may mean that it has not survived.

This has been such a tough year for the Yellowstone Park wolves. The official count on December 31 will surely tell of a huge and significant decrease from the 2007 total of 171 wolves (107 adults and 64 pups, with good pup survival).

In 2008, many adults died, and pup survival was very poor. At least three Northern Range packs (Slough, Agate and Oxbow) have no surviving pups. The Druids only have five surviving pups, and the Leopolds may have at most three pups.

So many adult wolves have been lost this year by death due to intraspecific strife (death by other wolves) and disease. The following are just the collared wolf deaths I know about; there are most certainly other uncollared wolf deaths which have gone undetected:  Leopold pack–five collared wolf deaths (alpha 534M, adult 592F, two-year-old 591F, two-year-old 593F, yearling 623M); Slough Creek pack-four (alpha 380F, beta 526F, two-year-old 629M, yearling 631F); Oxbow Creek pack–two, maybe three (two-year-old 628M, two-year-old 589F, and maybe alpha 627M); Agate Creek pack-two (yearling 643F and yearling 644F).

The situation is almost as desperate regarding working VHF radio collars. The Sloughs only have two working collars (alpha 590M and yearling 630F). The Agates only have one (yearling 642F), and she is showing signs of dispersing– which will leave the Agates with no working collars.

Agate 471F, whose collar does work, has already dispersed to the Blacktail area and is sometimes seen with several other wolves of unknown origin, perhaps Leopolds. Last February, she bred with the long-time Leopold patriarch, alpha 534M (now dead, killed by other wolves in September). She tried to return to the Agates, but they would not accept her. Obviously pregnant, she denned alone, and, if she had pups, they did not survive.

The Druids have four working collars (alpha 480M, alpha 569F, beta 302M, two year old 571F); the Leopolds may have two (588F and 625F). And, who knows if the Oxbows even exist anymore. Only alpha 536F has been located since the Oxbows were attacked and scattered by the Agates on 9/19/08. Without working collars, the Wolf Project’s ability to find and monitor the wolves is severely compromised.

Many challenges lie ahead for the Yellowstone wolves and those who care about, study and manage them. With the incredible losses of 2008 to intraspecific strife and as yet unidentified disease or diseases, along with poor pup survival for unknown reasons, the future of Yellowstone wolves is uncertain.

The only thing for sure is that any plan to remove endangered species protection for such an unstable, declining, and struggling population is most certainly scientifically unsound, just plain foolhardy and wrong.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

28 Responses to Kathie Lynch: Northern Range wolf upate

  1. avatar Terry Nissen says:

    I’m so glad to hear that some of the pups have survived. It surely has been a hard year for the Yellowstone wolves. I hope this new Administration looks over all these and more details with a fine tooth comb. Perhaps, at least now, they stand a chance. To deprived them of ESA protection would be almost criminal. We have to “insist not to delist.” They are mystical and magical and I never get enough of seeing them. Will be in the park for two weeks the end of January and again for a week in June. We have to make sure that they are given more time to prosper and increase their numbers. We have to make sure that many generations to come have the awesome opportunity of seeing a gray wolf. I know I’ll never forget the times I’ve seen them !!!

  2. Terry,

    I think the Yellowstone wolf population, peaked, overshot a bit, and will never go back to the peak level of 2007 or 2005.

    I hope this is just the natural way wolf populations come into balance with the resources available, rather than a growing disease threat that will eventually cause most to die out in Yellowstone.

  3. avatar teklanikaphotos says:

    Thanks so much for the report Kathie! Not a lot of good news, but a much needed update anyway… I agree with Ralph, seems like the population has peaked and is now stabilizing… at least I hope. Any thoughts on this Kathie?

  4. avatar Rick Hammel says:

    For those of you who have not commented to FWS’s delisting proposal, please, please stress that disease is a major cause for listing. Something is causing the loss of pups and adults. I have heard distemper. But whatever it is, serious decline in population size is cause enough NOT to delist.

    Rick

  5. avatar Backcountry Danny says:

    “I think the Yellowstone wolf population, peaked, overshot a bit, and will never go back to the peak level of 2007 or 2005.”

    Thanks for posting that…it was my question, too. So is it a good guess to say that Yellowstone’s threshold is about 150 wolves? I find them fascinating and there’s nothing like running across them in the backcountry! I think I differ from a lot of the wolf enthusists though in that I don’t get to emotionally involved with the specific wolves. I welcome the interpack strife and fueds that go on because that is the wolves behaving the way wolves behave. Their world is much different from our world despite people wanting to draw similarities, and the beauty of the reintroduction was that we got to learn about Nature in the wolf world at a far closer view and with much more efficeint science than say Alaska. Keep up the good work!

  6. avatar Laura says:

    Kathy-I really appreciate the updates you give. My son and I met you the first winter trip we took to Yellowstone (the January of the 10 year anniversary of the re-introduction). I am spending the week of Thanksgiving in the park. I love Yellowstone but my expectations for wolf viewing will be a little lower this trip.

    I cannot afford to sponsor a whole radio-collar (last I heard it was about $5000??). I would be happy to send some money to go toward one, however.

  7. avatar Barb says:

    There seems to be too many die hard wolf haters I wouldn’t be surprised if they somehow “gave” the virus to the wolves — putting it in food, maybe they know a veterinarian…. maybe it sounds paranoid, but I think it’s a real possibility considering the hatred some have for these magnificent and intelligent animals.

  8. avatar Jim says:

    I agree there are thousands of anti wolf people, but I highly doubt that they somehow tainted the Elk and other prey species in Yellowstone. It is comments like that fuel the anti wolf crowd’s fire.

  9. avatar Kathie Lynch says:

    Anyone can donate to help sponsor a wolf collar through the Yellowstone Park Foundation’s Restore the Balance program. Individual donations of $50 or more can be contributed toward a Community-Supported VHF or GPS wolf collar. As part of a group, you will receive email updates about your collared wolf. The actual cost to sponsor an entire collar all by yourself is $2500 (VHF) or $5000 (GPS) to cover the cost of aircraft, vet time, Wolf Project staff, tracking equipment, monitoring, and data analysis. You can download a form to sponsor a collar at http://www.ypf.org/donate/wolfcollar.asp or email Molly Pickall, Projects and Grants Manager (mpickall@ypf.org), for more information.

  10. avatar Will McDowell says:

    Ralph; Thanks for getting Katie’s great information out. I think looking at the Isle Royale wolf population history is instructive. Wolf populations there vary dramatically year to year, but they are hardy and have persisted for many decades. Remember, the wolf population is now continuous from Yellowstone to central Idaho and NW Montana. Yellowstone is only a part of the population. Even the Bitterroot Valley (2800 sq. miles with nearly 40,000 people) has over eight packs now. This species will persist!

  11. Will,

    Thanks for the comments.

    I’m not worried that the wolves will fail to persist. My speculation was what will happen inside Yellowstone Park.

    The large majority of wolves live outside the Park, and in fact as you say in Western Montana and Idaho.

    One thing, however, I disagree with is your statement that there is now a continuous population “from Yellowstone to central Idaho and NW Montana.”

    There isn’t. Yellowstone and Wyoming are isolated from the big wolf population. The failure of the two groups to intermingle and produce detectable offspring was the key point in Judge Molloy’s injunction on the delisting. There was not a metapopulation of wolves, but instead two populations, one smaller, one larger. Wyoming’s state wolf plan did not provide for the smaller of two, which includes Yellowstone Park, to grow larger and breed with the larger population.

  12. avatar Peter says:

    With the population being ideally about 100 adult wolves at any time in the yellowstone area and only about 10 – 20 of them breeding in any year will there be enough genetic diversity to ensure the long term survival of the population? They are also descended from quite a small original population which came from nebouring, closely related packs in Canada.

  13. avatar Buffaloed says:

    That all depends on whether there is breeding with wolves from other areas or not. To maintain a viable population you have to have a minimum number of wolves. Usually the number thrown around is 1000-3000 individuals depending on breeding habits. What we have now is several small populations with no to little exchange due mainly to man made barriers. The area of southwest Montana and southeast Idaho comes to mind. It’s been a wolf killing ground there with very few wolves persisting over time and very few making the trek from one population to another. There have been wolves from Idaho that have made it to YNP and Wyoming but I know of no breeding that has taken place which is the hitch in the delisting. Breeding could be documented through blood samples, it doesn’t have to be observed. The DNA of each individual wolf which was reintroduced is well known so particular alleles could be found that would indicate whether an Idaho or northwest Montana wolf is represented genetically in the Yellowstone population.

  14. avatar timz says:

    Anyone have any info on the black Hayden pup.

  15. I don’t on the black pup, but the Haydens inhabit the area near US 191 near the northwest Park boundary.

  16. avatar IzabelaM says:

    Katie,
    as always, I am so graful to read your report.
    You keep me hoping for better days for wolves.
    Katie or Ralph,
    as for radio collars; don’t they help the wolve haters to track them.
    I always worry to even mention the location of wolves.
    I just dont’ want the haters do do the SSS job.

    OT:
    Last fall, while visiting the Slough Creek area, I met a couple, from Ohio, I think , and they had this great car sticker ‘In memory of Limpy’..it brought tears to my eyes to know that there are people who care…

  17. avatar CrazyGo4 says:

    Parvovirus is killing wolf pups in Minnesota
    A new study by Minnesota researchers suggests that the virus has stalled the growth of the gray wolf in the state because the disease hits the young hardest.

    By TOM MEERSMAN, Star Tribune
    Last update: November 18, 2008 – 9:59 PM

    http://www.startribune.com/local/34718879.html

    Could be a thread of its own but also fits in here with the lose of pups again this year.

  18. avatar Charlie says:

    Thanks for the updates! I just wanted to add a quick comment also. My wife and I just got back from visiting the park for a few days and we had a great time. We were able to see the druids each day and some of the Agate’s a day or 2 also, but most of the other Northern wolves seem to be wandering all over the place. We did hear where other wolves were but they weren’t in areas where we had hoped they would be. In regards to the Canyon group it sounds and looks like their 1 last pup is gone also so they are down to 4. We spent a lot of time with the winter study teams and the other wolf watchers and we were all trying to figure out why exactly there was such a high pup loss this year. I guess we will find out more info come later this winter, but we may never know for sure. Our last night there we were able to say “goodbye” to 16 sleeping Druids in the Little America area and to 302 with 4 of the yearling males close to Tower junction. The next day we heard 302 with his 4 male yearlings had rounded up 5 female Agates and were having a great time! Casanova is at it again & trying to teach the yearlings I guess! I hope to get up there again soon. Thanks Kathie for your updates, keep them coming!

  19. avatar IzabelaM says:

    I guess I am lost here. I have heard ‘litle America’ over and over…BUT..where is it? What part of the park?
    Thanks.

  20. IzabelaM

    It the boulder and now mostly dry pond area from Junction Butte eastward to where the highway crosses Slough Creek.

  21. avatar IzabelaM says:

    ah..thank you…
    I hope to check the area this winter.

  22. avatar timz says:

    I was lucky enough to catch 4 Sloughs a couple years ago standing right next to the road in Little America. My best wolf photo to date.

  23. avatar Jan says:

    8 1/2? My “sweetie” is 8 1/2? (Druid 302M) Wow. I have to admit I will be reading the wolf comments this winter with a lump in my throat…I know it’s entirely possible he’ll make it through another Yellowstone winter, but, all the same, I’ll be sitting here in Florida worrying about him, and wondering if he’ll still be around for our next Yellowstone trip!
    Thanks for all the updates,
    Jan

  24. Please don’t send any money to put radio collars on these beautiful animals. I observed and photographed a single black wolf wearing a monsterous collar near Swan Lake in early November. The wolf was obviously handicapped by this horrible device and was going about with its’ tail tucked between its legs and looking very distressed. It is time to stop this over- done study using these intrusive devices. Let these animals run free, unencumbered by radio collars, as they should in a National Park.
    I have posted three new galleries on my website of Yellowstone wolves I photographed this fall. There are several of the Canyon pack with their pup.

  25. Larry,

    I can’t agree.

    I’m against collars on the wolves outside Yellowstone because they are simply tracking devices to make it easy for Wildlife Services to easily find wolves to kill them on behalf of some livestock interest. I would not also be surprised if the states are even now misidentifying the cause of death of livestock as an excuse to kill off whole packs now before a new Administration stops them.

    In Yellowstone it is quite different. The collars serve important research purposes. Scores of scientific papers depend on being able to track individual wolves and packs.

    The Wolf Recovery Foundation, of which I am President, understands that collars inside Yellowstone Park certainly have their undesireable aspects, such as for photography. In the minds of humans the collars also reduce the wildness.

    Therefore, we have spent about half our budget in 2008 to provide money to researchers who are trying to develop alternatives to collars. Currently this includes development of “howl boxes” and devices to snag fur for DNA identification of wolves.

    Nevertheless, please give to help Yellowstone study the wolves, and help us keep collars off the non-Park wolves of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

    Hopefully the day will arrive when your objection to them inside Yellowstone is valid (IMO, of course)

  26. avatar JB says:

    I’ll add to Ralph’s comments…

    As a photographer I also hate to see collared animals. I cannot tell you how many slides I’ve tossed and digital files I’ve trashed because the animal was wearing a radio or GPS collar. However, as a scientist I also understand the importance of the data that is being collected. Let me stress, these collars have little or no effect on the animals behavior. It sounds like Larry was photographing a subordinate animal, based on his description of its behavior. An alternative to radio collars would be great, if one can be found.

  27. avatar bob jackson says:

    I read Kathies report and think of how the bison are exactly like the wolves she talks about. The family structure is the same and the emotions generated by bison to tend to family and territorial matters one might as well put on a copy machine.

    The “prey” does things a bit more subtly, however when it comes to eliminating or subordinating those of the extended family that don’t quite fit in. The bison push those individuals to the perimeter of the group. Thus, flies become more bothersome, predators (humans and wolves) can access them easier and they become sad and lonely (sorry backcountry danny but by putting human – animal emotion into it all means behavior is so much easier to predict. Think of lawyers and their need to find a “motive” and one then can peice the case together so much more effectively).

    But hope is not lost on those being “pushed out”. In my extended family bison herd and Yellowstone’s buffalo those on the outside take on so many benevolent roles to assist the herd. I had one old non breeding cow who upon losing her second horn was pushed to the outside. Then she took on the role of nanny. When the herd had to moved across the road to other pastures she would run across with the other 400 hundred take a quick 2 minute survey walking in this herd ….and then if any young were missing she would slowly walk her crippled body back to the gate (where we were working to disassemble the temporary crossing) and wait for us to let us back over the highway. Then she would travel the pasture and come back with calves, yearlings and mothers with new calves. We learned to come back in an hour or two to let the little entourage across the road to join up with the rest of the herd.

    For her to do this seems amazing but even more so is the fact the rest of the herd depended on her to bring their young across so they themselves could take care of other family matters.

    After she died, the herd for four years, upon entering the pasture of her death, would immediately go to her bones and sniff them.

    Yes, the two are alike, both the predator and the prey. And do you know what, they are just like us. The only thing is most of our evolutionary extended family needs have been replaced by artifical family and role formations. Ours don’t work as well but the similarities of all the schools, bull executive “bull” groups and nursery groupings is there.

    I feel we need to keep viable and functional wolf and bison families, extended families, and territorial ranges around if for no other reason than to see how to better understand our own lives.

  28. avatar Kathie Lynch says:

    To Bob Jackson: I just had to add a story about a wonderful old bison bull I watched last winter and spring. His right rear leg had been broken and healed so that it splayed out to the side from the hock down. He could only touch it lightly to the ground for balance as he hobbled along. In the deep snows of winter, I drove behind him as he struggled along the road in Lamar Valley near the Buffalo Ranch. As he trotted to keep up with the others in the group, they butted him and actually pushed him off and over the side of the road. It was so sad to see, and I thought that he would never make it through the winter. But then, on Memorial Day weekend, I was thrilled to see the old boy acting as body guard to a cow and just born calf, right on the road and all the way east toward Tower Junction–exactly where the Agate Creek wolves had stood the night before. Not only had the old bull somehow survived, but he had taken it upon himself to accompany and protect those even more vulnerable than he. The following morning found the trio bedded beneath a tree next to the road. What a grand old guy he was! I think perhaps his broken leg may have saved him from being able to migrate out of the Park to his death at the hands of the Montana DOL. Surely a more noble animal does not exist .

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