Kathie Lynch’s latest trip to Yellowstone found early spring wolf denning triumph mixed with tragedy-

Yellowstone Wolf News. April 4-12, 2009. By © Kathie Lynch.

“Spring” in Yellowstone means a few days of warm weather, followed by a return to snowy winter and then springtime again. As the snow melts, it gets harder and harder to find the gray wolves against the sage, dirt and rock backdrop, but, thankfully, the blacks still stand out.

My nine day spring break (April 4-12, 2009) started without a wolf sighting on the first day–unless the canid that materialized down the road in front of my car, just east of the high bridge near Mammoth, really was the light gray former Agate 471F and not a coyote!

Considering that 471F, her alpha male (Montana 147M), and her younger sister (the “’06 Agate Female”) had often been sighted in the area, maybe I didn’t get shut out after all!

In fact, the very next day, there they were right next to the road near an elk carcass, which was almost under the bridge at the Lava Creek picnic area. Unfortunately, it was so close to the road, the rangers had to move it away, so the wolves didn’t even get to eat their fill.

The jury was out on whether 471F, age nine, was still pregnant or not. She looked like she may have given birth, but she has since been seen consorting with the Blacktail pack. So, if she had pups, perhaps they did not survive.

Her alpha male is actually a Montana wolf, 147M, from the Eight Mile pack, near Livingston, north of YNP. He has a pretty bad case of mange and is missing most of the hair on his rear end and tail.

The “’06 Agate Female” looked pregnant, as well she should. In February, we had seen her breed with an uncollared mystery male and three or four of the five former Druid yearlings who had helped 302M start the Blacktail pack! However, she may not have stayed with 471F and/or 147M. In that case, her chances of raising pups alone would not be good.

The four or five wolves who currently make up the Agate Creek pack include the venerable, nine-year-old alpha female, 472F, who had been so pregnant, she looked like she would pop! However, she no longer looks like she is nursing and is not localized around a den, so she may also have lost her pups.

472F’s new alpha male is the black “Big Blaze,” who was born a Druid, turned Blacktail and is now an Agate! The gray beta male, “High Side,” (not the same as 694F, the original “High Sides”) is another Druid/Blacktail/Agate. The little two-year-old gray Agate 715F completes the usual quartet that passes for the once mighty Agate Creek pack.

The graying-black, three-year-old, 692F (“The Old Lady,” one of famous former Agate alpha 113M’s last offspring), divides her time between the Agate and Blacktail packs. We were very excited to see that she looked like she had had pups, because their father was everyone’s favorite fellow, 302M. However, after a few days of seeing her, with no indication that she was going to a den, we started to wonder.

Because 692F wears a GPS collar, Wolf Project personnel were able to determine that she had localized at a den for several days, but had then left it, presumably after somehow losing her pups. She has since left the Agates and returned to her “true love,” 302M, and the Blacktail pack, but she also continues to spend time with the Agates.

But, not to worry! There is still a good chance that nine-year-old 302M has sired surviving pups this year. As founder and alpha of the new Blacktail pack, he is busy attending to two dens! Besides his alpha female (former Agate 693F), beta female 642F (another former Agate) has also denned. Both are in 302M’s homeland, the former Leopold pack territory in the Blacktail plateau area.

The Canyon pack’s four wolves continue to frequent the Mammoth Hot Springs area, where they have found a plentiful supply of elk. We have all been wondering when, and if, they will return to the Canyon/Hayden Valley area to den. The gray alpha female was born and raised there by the famous white wolf, 540F, and her mate, 541M. The Canyon alpha female denned in that area last year, so chances are she will again.

The big challenge of the week was trying to find former Druid 694F (the original “High Sides”) and figure out where she would den. She and her mate, the beautiful black former Slough male, had localized around the rocky cliffs of Mom’s Ridge, north of the Yellowstone River at the west end of Little America.

The black male was easy to find, but we spent hours combing the rocky crags, looking for the lovely gray, 694F. When we finally found her, we were happy to see that we might soon be able to watch, from afar, pups playing around the new family’s den.

But, our hopes–and the fledgling family– were shattered, in the most terrible way. The neighboring Cottonwood pack, led by alpha female 527F (herself a former Druid) and 716F (former Slough “The Dark Female”) attacked and killed 694F and her pups.

The Cottonwoods spend most of their time high on the slopes of Hellroaring mountain, but they have ranged as far east as Mom’s Ridge. Sadly, 694F chose to den too close to the Cottonwoods’ territory, and she paid with her life. Even if she had denned at the now vacant Slough Creek pack’s den site, she would have been too close to the Druid Peak pack. In the crowded Northern Range, only the lucky survive.

At least the former Druid female, “Dull Bar,” did have luck on her side. She had been with 694F and the Slough male all winter. For some reason, she had recently left them, even though she was pregnant. It is possible that she had been driven away by the alpha female, whose instinct is to ensure that her own pups survive.

Anyway, it was good fortune for “Dull Bar” to have struck out alone, because she missed the Cottonwoods’ raid. On my last morning, we watched a very curious scene as “Dull Bar” wandered east through Little America, heading slowly, but with purpose, toward Crystal Creek.

Amazingly, at the same time-and almost as if they had an appointment to meet-most of the Druids were heading west. They bedded just east of Crystal Creek. When they discovered “Dull Bar,” the chase was on!

It’s rather amusing, but, when surprised or unsure as to another’s identity, wolves will often chase first and ask questions later. Born and raised a Druid, “Dull Bar” had been part of the pack as recently as December!

When “Dull Bar” stopped running, a couple of youngsters caught up with her, and a happy reunion ensued. Perhaps these just-turned-yearlings remembered their puppy days last July when the brave and noble “Dull Bar” single-handedly shepherded a flock of Druid pups across the raging Soda Butte Creek en route to the rendezvous.

After the Druids satisfied themselves that it was just “Dull Bar,” they turned around and headed back east, with “Dull Bar” trailing at a distance. We lost them in the trees, so we don’t know if “Dull Bar” eventually rejoined the pack, or if she is still on her own.

“Dull Bar” probably would not have been greeted as warmly if the Druid alpha female, 569F, had been with the pack. But, 569F was busy at the traditional Druid den in Lamar, hopefully producing the next generation of Druids.

One early morning, we heard the most incredible, excited howling surrounding the Druid den. The joyful chorus sounded like a “21 Pup Salute” to herald the arrival of new pups! Here’s hoping that these tiny ambassadors for wolves everywhere will survive to carry on the legacy of the great ones who have gone before.

 
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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.

35 Responses to Yellowstone Northern Range wolf update. April 2009

  1. avatar Laura says:

    Once again, thank you Kathy for the update on the YNP wolves. My next planned trip to the park is in June and I am excited to have the chance to see youngsters from many species, not the least of which will, hopefully, be healthy wolf puppies.

  2. avatar Virginia says:

    Thank you Kathy – I was hesitant to read the entire post after reading the heading warning of tragedy with the wolves. Nature is so cruel and for me it is difficult to read about it. But, I know they will survive one way or the other.

  3. avatar pc says:

    Great update Kathie. Sounds like you had good weather that week of April. Thank you and keep up the great posts.

    Paul

  4. avatar Terry Nissen says:

    I heard a few weeks earlier of the tragic story of #694 and her pups. So sad, but with territories overlapping so closely, something like this was destined to occur. I really hope #302 has some offspring this year. He is such a lover of a wolf and it’s just great to have more of his genes in the pool. Can’t wait to get out there in early June for a week. Maybe I’ll get to see some of the new pups of the year….I also hope to see beautiful 302. Got really good shots of the Canyon Pack in February when they were so close to the road. Maybe I’ll get to see them again also. Thanks Kathie for the great review…have been waiting, not so patiently, everyday for a report from you. Great Job !!!!

  5. avatar Gail McDiarmid says:

    HI KATHY FROM THE CAROLINA GIRLS! – SO SORRY WE MISSED SAYING GOODBYE ON YOUR LAST DAY IN THE PARK. WE WERE VERY FORTUNATE TO SEE WOLVES EVERYDAY FOR THE REST OF OUR TRIP. IN FACT, 302 AND HIS PACK CROSSED THE ROAD IN THE BLACKTAIL PLATEAU AREA RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR CAR AT 3 IN THE AFTERNOON- THANKS FOR THE UPDATE AND WE HOPE TO SEE YOU IN PARADISE AGAIN SOON!

  6. avatar Jim says:

    Wow, based off of this it seems like we could be in store for another year of population decline. I did not get the impression that there was many pups this year. I hope the canyons do head back and den.

  7. avatar teklanikaphotos says:

    Thanks for the update Kathie!

  8. I am camped at Mammoth today and just returned from seeing three members of the Canyon Pack. They were busy most of the day between Mammoth and Gardiner trying to dig out a coyote den.
    The female member of the pack has established a den between Mammoth and the high bridge and the park has closed the area to human access. It will be interesting to have a den so close to town. I hope the park rangers don’t bean bag them to death trying to keep them away from people. Their pup disappeared last fall just after I heard that the pack was going to get bean bagged because they were not afraid of people. It is hard to keep up with the pack if your ribs are broken.
    I wish we could get the radio collars off of all of the wolves here. Two of the three wolves I saw today were collared. It makes Yellowstone seem like a game farm or zoo to see so many animals here with collars. I dislike giving the animals numbers and ear tags as well. It gives visitors the idea that they are domesticated and encourages them to get too close. I like my animals wild and free.
    I have a couple of photo galleries of all of the Canyon pack from last fall on my website. Click on my name above to see them and photos of the Mollies and Haydens. You will notice that I don’t give the wolves names or numbers.

  9. avatar Craig says:

    Are there many Gizz out yet? We are heading over May 23rd throught the 31st

  10. avatar Virginia says:

    Larry – your pictures are awesome! We have one of the old white Hayden, but I would like to have another. I will be in touch.

  11. avatar Terry Nissen says:

    Larry, I just love your mirror image shots of the Canyon Pack. They are too awesome. I saw them in late January and early February this year near the Mammoth high bridge. They were on the road two days in a row and Feb. 3rd, they had a kill nearby. Got some great shots of them. Hope to see more wolves, hopefully pups, on my next trip to Yellowstone in early June. Really would like to get a shot of 302 closeup. He is too beautiful.

  12. avatar Kathie Lynch says:

    Correction: Former Agate 471F is five years old, not nine. I must have been thinking of her mother, nine-year-old Agate 472F.

  13. I went to the Lamar Valley today. Saw a couple of black bears and one wolf. The wolf was a member of the Druid pack and was equipped with a large ugly GPS radio collar. In two days I have observed 4 wolves and 3 of them were collared. I am starting to think the researchers own all of the park wolves. I am doing my best to change that. I have been distributing my photos of radio-collared animals to park staff and fellow park visitors and as a result, the matter will be discussed at the next park staff meeting.
    The druids have moved their den past the confluence and around the corner toward the old picnic area. The rangers were posting the area late this afternoon.
    There was a grizzly near the Blacktail Plateau Road entrance.

  14. avatar izabelam says:

    Kathie,
    Thank you. Thank you.

    I am going to be in YS starting 5/15/ till 5/19…I hope to see wolves and bears and my little ‘orange babies’
    Your updates always make me happy.

  15. avatar Cindy says:

    Larry,
    I understand your concern and disappointment when looking out into the vast Lamar Valley to see wildlife and you end up seeing “objects on the wildlife”. However, we are getting ready to face the adverse effects of the flawed and quite disasterous Tri-State Wolf Management/Non Management Plan currently in the works. From the day they were introduced I belief the wolves of Yellowstone, and especially the strong and visable Druids, have provided very important data to the scientific world, which in turn can be used for good, solid, fair and ethical Wolf Managment strategies throughout Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. These park animals have the opportunity to assist their ever-so-slightly wilder cousins, get a good solid strong hold in our western ecosystem. (Don’t get me wrong, making a living as a Wolf anywhere in this day and age isn’t for the weak!) As hard as it is for us to see “man-made” tools amongst our wildlife, it’s the “man-made” attitudes wolves need protection from. We’re kidding ourselves to think they can make it entirely on their own without competent and sound science. For groups like Defenders or the Sierra Club to go into court to fight for the rights of these animals in any of the 3 states , they MUST have science, science, science. I understand and have accepted the fact that when I go to the Lamar I get to see my favorites, I get to know who’s who and I shed tears when I hear of sad news about any wolf, collared or not. For us to keep our animals “wild and free” sadly some will sacrifice being completely “wild and free”.
    Wolf Howls All Around,
    Cindy
    ps – Park visitors have amble opportunity to learn the facts about the Yellowstone wolves if they desire. It’s the fast-food mentality effecting our world which contributes to silly assumptions like domesticated wolves in Yellowstone National Park!

  16. avatar Jay Barr says:

    Heads up everyone; de-listing takes effect on Mon. You can bet that state sponsored “management” of wolves will ratchet up at least for the next 30 days as they take every advantage of their 30-day window (between Mon. and when this will be eligible to go to court) to reduce conflicts between “chronic” depredating packs and livestock. One dead sheep/cow likely = pack removal.

  17. avatar Jon Way says:

    Cindy, I 100% agree with your comments. It seems that Larry’s anti-collar basis is masking the tremendously positive scientific achievements done by the very credible Yellowstone wolf team. While the wolf team is producing scores of scientific research showing the positive benefits of wolves, wolves are getting slaughtered outside the parks. That is where Larry should be arguing against the use of collars to track them down and kill them.
    I have never seen a collar affecting an animal in the park. In fact, every collared animal that I see is very healthy. I don’t know why you keep on making such of an issue of this, Larry. Also, I respect your opinion but I see just as wild as a wolf, collar or not.
    Finally, I hope when you are in the park, Larry, you aren’t following around the wolf watchers and getting good photo shots of wolves because of their help. Why? Because most of the wolves (certainly not all) are found with the help of the radio collars which are on about 25% of the wolves, according to the team. And all of the info on the diff’t packs (like the Canyons now in Mammoth) is solely b.c of radio-collars and tracking them to their new locations. I think the study is tremendously valuable and hope it continues in the park for a long time. The general public loves wolves and studies like Yellowstone’s (and Bob Landis’ films on them) help their image out greatly, which, in my opinion, greatly justifies the use of collars (which, by the way, weigh about 1% as much as the wolves, the equivalent to us wearing a tank top, bathing suit, and flip flops, let alone shoes – certainly an acceptable weight limit)….
    Since their have been no deaths due to collars I suggest this form focus on the collaring outside the park and how wolves from a collared pack are tracked down and killed. I know Ralph has mentioned that before, and stopped funding collars b.c of that. That is the negative use of collars.

  18. avatar Ralph Maughan says:

    Jay Barr is right. Everyone needs to be focused like a laser on what Idaho does beginning Monday.

    If they choose to, they will have the legal right to kill and kill without restraint for 30 days. Don’t expect a news release from them either or gory photos like there were a year ago from Wyoming when the wolf was delisted for 30 days.

    With radio collared packs, helicopter gunships, and unlimited money how many wolves do you think they could kill in 30 days?

    Do we think national public opinion will deter them? Or will they regard 30 days as their only likely window of opportunity?

  19. avatar cobra says:

    You probably won’t have much to worry about unless they do use heli-copters. Hunting season for wolves will not start until sometime in Sept. and even then I doubt many will be killed. North Idaho is alot differen than southern Idaho because of our thick timber and rugged terrain. I still doubt they’ll even hav a season beause it will probably end up in court again.

  20. avatar Jay Barr says:

    I believe estimates in the past from ID suggest that there might be as many as 40-50 wolves illegally killed/year; most of those were likely killed opportunistically during big-game hunting seasons. It’s also likely that the bulk of those people shooting wolves illegally represent a miniscule fraction of the hunters out there. If wolf hunting is allowed this fall and the bulk (?) of deer/elk hunters also have an inexpensive wolf tag in their pocket, it might be that a fair/significant number of wolves could be harvested- will have to wait and see if a judge enjoins delisting again. It seems ID has made it known that they view the 30-day window as a time to get the chronically depredating packs.

  21. avatar Jay says:

    In response to Jon Way’s comment about why Larry is anti-radiocollars, I have a feeling it’s because uncollared wolf photos/prints sell better or are more esthetically pleasing than photos of wolves with collars.

  22. avatar izabelam says:

    Jay ( not Jay Barr) and Jon Way,
    I am sorry but you guys are not fair.
    Collars are ugly and anyone can track them with devices avaiable to buy – maybe even in Radio Shack. Same for the trackers – scanners of conversations between game wardens, park rangers. It is good science BUT…when it leads to wolves being tracked by bad people..it is not serving the right cause.
    Jay – “I have a feeling it’s because uncollared wolf photos/prints sell better or are more esthetically pleasing than photos of wolves with collars. ”
    Well….- you dont’ know the guy to make a comment like this.
    Larry cares about animals unlike some other phographers who sell pictures and never speak up to protect what they take pictures of.
    Regardles if it is a wolf, bison, bear, polar bears and etc.
    I know some of them, they dont’ give a rat’s a..s ….all they care is profit.

  23. avatar vickif says:

    It seems that too many wolves are trying to call the Lamar their home. How about news on the park’s other packs?
    With the high saturation in the lamar area, I am concerned. Would it not be better for the population if they were less crowded?
    Also, I know with domestic canines, parvo lives in the ground indefinitely. We have to bleach the heck out of everything to even come close to killing it. If these wolves go back to some old den sights, are theynot running the risk of losing pups again-especially after they are weaned?

  24. Vickif,

    The wolves are disproportionately on the Park’s northern range because that is where there is the most wolf food — primarily elk.

    Southwestern Yellowstone may support one wolf pack over time. The same is true with southeastern Yellowstone. Central Yellowstone will support one, maybe two.

    Regarding canine distemper and canine parvovirus, it appears that the former has been much more lethal than the latter.

    If the distemper situation continues to deplete the survival pups, I think the Park Service will have to go in and vaccinate. They don’t like to interfere with natural processes, but then this disease is not native and we don’t know that it isn’t being spread deliberately by wolf haters who would have easy access to the northern range.

  25. avatar Chuck says:

    Have not heard any info on the Mollies??? did they go back to Pelican Valley or are they now calling Hayden Valley their own?? Or for that matter the also little known where abouts of the Delta Pack?? Where did the remaining Hayden Pack go?? the last I heard they were not outside of the park. Thank you Kathie for your updates, as I don’t get over there to Yellowstone much, if I could I would be over there every weekend or even move closer.

  26. avatar Jay Barr says:

    How would anybody be able to keep up with Chuck’s questions were it not for radiocollars?!

  27. avatar Jon Way says:

    izabelam,
    I have no doubt that Larry cares for the wolves (and other animals) as much as anyone. I am just pointing out that the use of collars is very important in the park b.c it gives us much of the info on all of the reports Ralph (and others) post on this and other sites. And illegally tracking wolves would likely occur outside the park which isn’t part of this discussion. I fully respect people for not liking animals being collared in a national park but you have to realize we would know much, much less about wolves if the wolf team didn’t collar a couple/few members of most packs. Most of the data on most species, in other words, comes from the radio-tagged members of a population and is extrapolated to the rest of the population through statistical inference.

  28. avatar izabelam says:

    Jon Way,
    I am with you.
    I fully understand the need for collars.
    Maybe I just did not read the post right and simply did not like the mentioning of animals looking better without collars in relation to selling pictures.
    See, I take pictures also and one of my precious ones is the one of white Hayden female with the collar. The one who got kileld by Mollies.
    BTW..good question? where are the Mollies?
    Where are the Mollies…. ????

  29. avatar vickif says:

    Ralph,
    Thanks for the info. Distemper plays a huge part in survival, and sadly, you are right. We do not know that it hasn’t been intentionally introduced.
    I hope people spare us the “conspiracy paranoia” arguements. There are a number of people I know who happen to think the current Swine Flu is not a naturally occuring disease. They happen to be associated with the government.
    The problem is that even if they immunize the wolves, they’d have to continue on with each generation (to the extent that they are located in an area where ditemper is known to have been).
    With many canines, you can immunize the mother while she is pregnant, it is supsected to increase immunity and increase survival rates. That might increase survival, but would need done each litter.
    Unfortunately, short of blasting the den sights, there is no other option…other than death.
    So, knowing that there is limited territory that would support packs who primarily predate on elk, (I was encouraged that the Hayden pack of old adapted to hunting bison) do you think that this type of struggle for northern range will be the norm?
    How many packs could theoretically be supported in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, is the big question. Shouldn’t this be the primary consideration in delisting/management? It seems we have an ideal model, yet it isn’t used much to figure it all out.
    I enjoy the reports, and will be in the park a few times this year. I’ll be watching. Thanks.

  30. avatar Jay says:

    Iza,

    One has to wonder, when a professional photographer who sells wolf prints, and that constantly berates the use of collars for research, might have an ulterior motive for not wanting collars. I know a few photographers who have mentioned the fact that uncollared wolf prints have more retail value, so the idea is not unfounded.

  31. avatar wyogreeny says:

    Regarding distemper and vax of wolves, I am not sure an annual vaccination would be necessary. Modified Live Vaccines (MLV) can shed for up to two weeks after adminstration. Thus may be a source of distemper from recently vaccinated pet dogs visiting the park. Also, distemper and parvo vaccination may provide immunity up to 7 years or more with just one vaccination. This is all just coming to light w/pet dogs now. Since this is probably an introduced disease problem, they may be able to vaccinate is what I was told? What about mange? Is this introduced as well? I doubt any “rancher” types would be well versed enough to introduce distemper into the wolves? Most that I know in WY are either not vaccinating at all or over vaccinating and have no idea why they do either other than cost and what they are willing to spend.

  32. Mange was deliberately introduced by Montana about a hundred years ago.

    Because it is well established, it is doubtful anyone would bother to try to do it on their own today.

  33. avatar wyogreeny says:

    I didn’t know it was deliberately introduced in MT. Am assuming for predator control? So, if it was introduced by man, and not naturally occurring, then they could treat for it?

  34. avatar ProWolf in WY says:

    Wyogreeny, as I understand it vets in Montana were paid a pretty penny to introduce mange to the wolves and coyotes.

  35. avatar Felecia T says:

    Will be in the park may 22-25. Would love to hear if anybody has any new news on any of the packs and location of the rest of hayden

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