It looks like the Blacktails are now the largest pack on the Northern Range-

Kathie Lynch has written another report on the Yellowstone wolves (actually those on the Park’s northern range). My subhead above is just one of the many interesting facts I read in her report such as the Mollies alpha male is largest wolf in the Park.

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Yellowstone Wolf Notes. Dec. 09; Jan. 10. By Kathie Lynch
© Kathie Lynch

♦ Trips to Yellowstone in December 2009 and January 2010 provided better than expected wolf watching, considering the continuing decline in population size.

January 12, 2010, marked the fifteenth anniversary of the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park. The year 2009 ended with less than 100 wolves in Yellowstone Park, down from 124 a year ago and close to half of the 171 counted just two years ago. The number has not been this low since just a few years after 31 wolves were reintroduced in 1995 and 1996.

The biggest current challenge some wolves are dealing with is sarcoptic mange, caused by a mite. It causes terrible itching and can kill through infection or hypothermia due to hair loss. However, wolves can recover from even severe cases, as the Mollies pack did last year.

The famous Druid Peak pack is currently the most severely affected. Every Druid wolf exhibits some degree of hair loss, especially on the tail, rear, back, legs and abdomen–anywhere they can bite and scratch at the itchy mite. It is a common sight to see them trying to sleep standing up to avoid exposing their bare spots to the cold, snowy ground.

The Druids have undergone big changes since the death of alpha female 569F last fall and the subsequent dispersal of alpha male 480M. These two wolves deserve immense credit (along with Druid 529F and Leopold/Druid/Blacktail 302M) for resurrecting the Druid Peak pack after it dwindled down to only legendary alpha 21M’s last two daughters (529F and 569F) in 2004.

After 569F died, alpha male 480M was left with a pack containing only females to whom he was related. With no real opportunities for mating within his own pack in the upcoming February breeding season, he left and has been on his own for some time. We are hoping that, at almost age eight, he is able to find an unrelated female and perhaps start a new pack, as his older brother, 302M, did in founding the Blacktails.

The main group of remaining Druids now usually consists of four black females (“White Line,” “Thin Female,” 690F, and “Female Yearling”). One gray female, 691F, sometimes joins the group. Since early December 2009, a black male stranger of unknown origin has also been with them.

More recently, another new black male, perhaps a pack mate of the first male, has sometimes been with the group. The females tolerate the new males, but don’t seem particularly interested in them. None of the females has obviously stepped up to take over the vacant alpha position.

Despite their mange, the Druid girls are already attracting plenty of potential suitors. Several Mollies males have come calling, as have Wyoming 682M’s Group of two black males from outside of the Park and also at least two gray males of unknown origin. Things should really get interesting in the next few weeks as the breeding season gets underway.

Several Druid wolves are not with the main group, and their daily whereabouts are uncertain. This includes the three-year-old females 571F and “Dull Bar” and the two yearling males “Black Bar” and “Triangle Blaze.” They have been sighted intermittently, and each may be on his or her own.

The small Agate Creek pack of three has held together since last year. It is still led by long-time, coming nine-year-old alpha 472F. It will be interesting to see if she successfully bears pups this year. Despite a lot of breeding activity, she has not produced any surviving pups the past two years.

Agate alpha male “Big Blaze” is a former Druid. The only other pack member is the two-year-old gray 715F. The Agates appear pretty regularly in Little America as they make their way high up to the skyline of Specimen Ridge.

Another small group of three, the Lava Creek pack, has provided some good wolf watching lately. Although they spend a lot of time out of sight way over to the west toward Mammoth, they also seem to feel at home around Junction Butte in Little America.

The Lava Creek pack is led by Agate 472F’s daughter, 471F, and Montana 147M (born outside of YNP in Montana’s Eight Mile pack).

The third member is the very interesting “’06 Female” (originally an Agate). She is an industrious girl who is fully capable of making a kill on her own. She has a lot to offer, even if she does say so herself! She enjoys advertising how great (and available!) she is with daylong howl fests. Considering the shortage of females currently, she will surely be the center of much attention during the breeding season.

Despite the death last fall of illustrious Blacktail alpha 302M, his pack of nine, including four pups (one is the spittin’ image of dear old dad!), has carried on. They are one of only two packs on the Northern Range which successfully raised pups in 2009. (The other is the Quadrant pack of four adults and three pups.)

With new alpha male “Big Brown” (302’s former Druid nephew) and 302’s alpha female, 693F, in charge, the Blacktails roam a huge territory. On any given day, you just never know if you might get to see them only as tiny pinpoints far away on the Blacktail Plateau or maybe even closer as they travel through the Hellroaring valley or Yancey’s Hole.

The intriguing Silver pack resurfaced in December. Led by the beautiful silvery white alpha female, they had not been seen in the Park for almost a year. The Silver pack’s alpha male and two pups are all stunning grays with striking dark masks. They are a lovely pack, and it would be great for wolf watching if they took up residence in the Park.

And, finally, the Mollies pack has given wolf watchers quite a thrill several times lately with visits to Little America and Lamar Valley. The most fun was on Christmas Eve when we were searching for the three Lava Creek wolves to the north of the road in Little America and instead discovered 13 Mollies!

One after another loped into view–eight grays and five blacks–all strung out in a line. After checking off two grays and one black, we suddenly realized that these were not the Lava Creek wolves!

Getting to see the huge, black Mollies alpha male, 495M, was a treat. When he was collared a year ago, he weighed in at 143 pounds, the biggest wolf in the Park.

Mollie 641M has also turned up in the Lamar and Soda Butte valleys. One recent day he announced his arrival at the Confluence with loud, mournful howling and then watched the Druid females and waited as their two black mystery males stood guard. Eventually, 641M ran up 21’s Crossing, met an uncollared gray (perhaps a Mollies pup) near Soda Butte and then disappeared into the trees.

Even though the number of YNP wolves is down, if the Druid females keep on entertaining various visiting males in Lamar Valley, and if Little America remains a crossroads for wolves from many different packs, the February breeding season could provide a lot of action. Hopefully, it will all lead to many healthy pups and an increase in population numbers once again.

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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.

18 Responses to Kathie Lynch: Yellowstone wolf notes Dec to Jan 2010

  1. avatar Jackie Maughan says:

    Wonderfully observed and nicely interpreted.

  2. avatar Larry Thorngren says:

    Have the park biologists done an elk count this year? I spent a month in Yellowstone this fall and saw fewer elk than I have observed in any other fall over the past twenty years. I suspect that the concentration of wolves in the Lamar and other Northern parts of the park is because of the scarcity of elk in other areas. The low wolf numbers may correlate with low elk numbers. 100 wolves or less may be the carrying capacity for wolves in Yellowstone.

  3. avatar Terry says:

    Thanks Kathie for another great report. I was in the park from Jan. 12th to Jan. 21 and did get a chance to see a little action with the Druid females and interested males from other packs. Your report didn’t mention the Canyons…that beautiful alpha female, the black alpha male and another gray. Was wondering if anyone heard anything about them. Saw them last year…really up close and personal.

  4. avatar Dan Stebbins says:

    Larry,
    There has been no elk count this year & there most likely won’t be. Weather conditions, namely very little snow, have caused them to decide it would be pretty much futile to get an accurate count.

  5. avatar Nathan Hobbs says:

    Also interested in how the canyon pack is doing. Terry there are or more correctly have been two greys in the Canyon pack. They outsize the Alpha as well which is intresting..shows that brawn is not the only consideration when it comes to the title.

    I watched the canyon pack take down a elk at twin lakes and it was very interesting after hours of wearing the Female Elk down by stranding on a island the entire pack left and went around the hillside. It was a bluff and they returned a few minutes later after the Elk had laid down to rest. This gave them the chance to sneak in very close before she was aware of the impending attack…very clever.

    Anyways hopefully they will choose a decent den site this upcoming spring that is plenty far from humans rather than the previous two years of poor choices.

  6. avatar nabeki says:

    Great update on the park wolves. Any news of wolves living their lives without being hounded by hunters and WS, is good news. Hope the Druids kick the mange as the Mollies have. I really have to get down to YNP soon.

    Sending good thoughts out to them for this breeding season that they will have many healthy pups and see the population increase.

  7. avatar John Glowa says:

    Remember the anti-wolf lunatics preaching that wolf numbers will expand exponentially until they’ve killed all of the prey species, and then when only wolves are left, they’ll kill and eat each other?

  8. avatar Ralph Maughan says:

    John Glowa,

    Yes I do. That seems to all be forgotten now except when it is convenient.

    I have heard that down in Utah that fear is being spread by leaders of SFW. First, it will be two wolves and then 8000!

  9. avatar Cindy says:

    Kathie -thank you so much. I just know those 4 Druid gals are going to pull through for the good of the pack! Wow about 495M! Hope we get some of those genes into the Northern Range Gene Pool. We are really pulling for the wolves suffering from mange. If love and light and prayers could only heal them, the mites would all drop dead this minute! I had a Ghost Moose in my yard two winters ago (covered in mites) and it was the one of saddest things I ever witnessed. Although it was not mange, the suffering was equal to what the wolves have endured. I will never know for sure, but later that Spring I saw a Moose close by whose hide (coat?) was starting to fill in quite nicely. I hoped with all my heart it was our winter visitor – recovered! Same goes for the wolves.

  10. avatar tom says:

    Ralph,
    Utah rednecks are already spreading fear amoung hunter and ranchers.
    Sad..sad…Than new propsed bill by the Christiansen from Ogden propses to kill wolves regardless of reason or no reason…kind of..good wolf is a dead wolf….sounds familiar?

    If there is a overpopulation it is by humans….time to put limit on number of children…

  11. avatar tom says:

    Kathy,
    what a great update.Can you tell me where do you live? You seem to be in a right place and right time..

  12. avatar tom says:

    sorry…Kathie…

  13. avatar Dawn says:

    Thank you Kathie !
    To this day I still can’t believe all of this wildlife is in my backyard ! Thank you again for your imput !

  14. avatar Don says:

    Kathie… Thanks for the update!
    And thanks, too, for your insights and friendliness between Christmas and New Years, when you served as a sensational ambassador for the wolves in Lamar Valley. I am sure I’m one of many who can say, I went from someone who is curious about the wolves, to one who really cares … thanks to you and others with scopes in the valley during our trip.

  15. avatar Tom Mounts says:

    Kathie:
    I was very intrigued with your updates. Just got my latest National Geographic with their version on the wolf story. Can you give me your insight on that article? Thanks! Take care, friend!

  16. avatar Dave says:

    Hi Kathy,

    You always deliver great reports which so many people wait for. I did hear that the 06 wolf(and yes she is magnificent!) was pregnant and hoping she delivers many healthy pups!!
    Thanks for the information once again!!!! Dave

  17. avatar Jocelyn says:

    I was just in Yellowstone last week and saw so many bears. One killed an Elk calf, but I saw only one other Elk calf the whole 4 days, which was unusual. Why aren’t there very many baby Elk this year? Someone did spot a gray wolf by itself and they thought it was hit by a car because it had no hair, but now I am thinking it was a mite that you reported. I had no idea there were so few wolves in Yellowstone. Thanks for reporting.

  18. This summer in late July, my grandparents took me up to Yellowstone for vacation. The first day in the park we saw many bear on Dunraven, and Lamar Valley but no wolves. I have never see a wolf in Yellowstone in my life. Then the next day well watching the Sow grizzly and her two cubs, a man i was talking to told me there was a wolf at Slough Creek. So we went over to Slough Creek and we found out that F-06 had made a elk kill that morning. We waited 30 minutes and then she appeared on her kill riping off huge chunks of meat. Ranger Rick was there and he had told me many stories about the wolfers of Yellowstone. Well now I want to be a wolfer so bad, I have fell in love with watching the wolves and I hope to meet the wolfers again next July and watch wolves in Hayden Valley at the Grizzly over look and at Slough Creek with Ranger Rick.
    The whole trip we say the canyon pack and their three pups. The pack is six wolves. But the best was 755’s group of 7 wolves. We witnessed the whole pack on the rocks playing and well my grandparents tried to get me to leave I wouldn’t I am in love watching wolves in Yellowstone and I hope to become a wolfer…..
    Seth Haldeman
    Colorado

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