Copyright 2013 by Kathie Lynch

Spring is in the air in Yellowstone, heralded by rapidly shrinking spots of snow on brown and sage hillsides, mud puddles edged with slippery ice, heavy parka mornings and toe warmer-free afternoons. Following the heart-breaking losses of last fall and winter’s wolf hunting season, a very different landscape of wolves met our eyes as spring arrived in the Northern Range.

Following the killing of the Lamar Canyon pack’s famous alpha, “The ’06 Female” (832F), and beta male 754M–both shot by wolf hunters in Wyoming–we watched, wished and waited for the rest of the pack to return safely to Yellowstone. With the pack structure in disarray, it would be a long wait.

Alpha 755M had never been without his brother, 754M, since the two appeared in December 2009; together they had won the heart of the illustrious Agate-born “’06 Female.” She and 755M raised three litters of pups, who grew up under the watchful and benevolent eye of their uncle, 754M.

The slaying of “’06” and 754M completely tore the pack’s social structure asunder, and, for the survivors, things would never be the same. Since male wolves do not normally mate with their own offspring, black alpha 755M chose to leave his daughters in search of a new mate during the breeding season in February.

He returned to Yellowstone and found a beautiful gray Mollies pack female, 759F, distinctive for her dark mask and short tail. Sadly, their union did not last long.

When the other surviving members of the Lamar Canyon pack returned to the Park, they discovered 755M and 759F near the Lamar Canyon’s den site, and they chased and killed 759F. It was a terrible blow to 755M’s effort to start a new pack and to our hope for his success in the new life forced upon him by the hunter’s bullet that had killed his first mate, “’06.”

It was also sad because the aggressors may have included the two new males that 755M’s daughters had attracted in their own efforts to rebuild their lives after the deaths of their mother “’06” and uncle 754M. These two males, “Tall Gray” and creamy gray Wyoming 856M, are from the Hoodoo pack, outside of Yellowstone. Another big gray male of unknown origin has also been seen with some of the Lamar Canyon females.

The rest of the reconstituted Lamar Canyon pack consists of two 3-year old gray females (776F and “Middle Gray”), four 2-year-old females (two grays, including 820F, and two blacks), two yearlings (black female, black Wyoming 859M), and a gray male yearling, who is, unfortunately, currently missing. (Note: Age designations increase by a year each April during denning season when new pups are born.)

Two-year-old 820F appears to be on the outs with the pack. She has been trying to rejoin the others and is sometimes successful but is sometimes soundly rebuffed. The other females in the pack, especially her two black littermates, have chased and dominated her to the extent that she hovers around the edges and sometimes takes off for days.

While it seems unkind, this behavior by pack members is not unusual. A possible rationale is that it may prevent another possibly pregnant female from rejoining the pack, which would multiply the number of mouths to feed when the pups are born. This could possibly jeopardize the survival of the alpha female’s pups–which is of paramount importance within pack hierarchy.

Nevertheless, it is hard to watch. The upshot for 820F is that she is sometimes on her own, wandering far from her Lamar Valley home, and she is sometimes with her father, 755M, who was also forced to wander in search of a third mate after 759F died.

Seven fifty-five’s travels often brought him in the vicinity of the Junction Butte pack’s females. This relatively new pack formed last summer and is likely made up of former members of the Blacktail and Mollies packs.

The Junction Butte alphas are the dapper gray Blacktail male with the unusual nickname, “Puff,” and the probable Mollies female, “Ragged Tail.”

The former alpha female, 870F, could not maintain her alpha position after suffering an injury during the breeding season which made her unable to lift her neck. Consequently, she could not keep up with the pack and spent most of her time away, often alone, but sometimes in the company of another pack outcast, a mangy gray pup in very poor condition, 869M.

Although still not back with the main pack, 870F has recently been spotted with an unknown gray. Perhaps that explains how she has obtained food and been able to stay alive, despite being so severely disabled and likely unable to hunt on her own.

The core Junction Butte pack includes black 889F (at one time the object of Lamar Canyon former alpha 755M’s interest), the “Black Female,” (who dominates 889F mercilessly), black 890M (called “Patch” because he had a bad case of mange, from which he is recovering), gray “New Male” (who may be another former Blacktail pack member since alpha “Puff,” also a former Blacktail, accepted him so easily), and an intrepid black pup, also recovering well from mange, who has an adventurous spirit and often ventures off alone.

Alpha male “Puff” is definitely the leader of the pack. He is always out in front, moving at a brisk pace with his easy, ground-covering trot. He has definite ideas about what to do and where to go, ranging freely over a large territory from Hellroaring east to Slough Creek.

If the long-suffering wanderer, 755M, shows up in hopes of luring away 889F or another female, “Puff” is right there to chase him away, although it seems to be more of a well-practiced game than a serious threat.

Most recently, 755M has been with another probable former Mollies/former Junction Butte female disperser, “Good Tail.” We all hope that 755M and “Good Tail” stay together and can somehow carve out a territory sandwiched between the Blacktail, Junction Butte, and Eight Mile packs.

A former Blacktail himself, “Puff” also co-exists with his neighbors to the west, the last two remaining members of his natal pack, the Blacktails.

Six-year-old Blacktail alpha 778M (“Big Brown”) is now the last true former Druid Peak pack wolf. Seven-year-old Blacktail alpha 693F, also of illustrious heritage, is the daughter of famous long time Agate Creek alphas 113M and 472F. She is the littermate of the late, great Lamar Canyon alpha “’06.”

Hopefully, with just a party of two and well above average years of experience, the Blacktail alphas can manage to keep out of the way of other packs and find a place to possibly raise a new family. Although they still roam the fringes of their traditional Blacktail Plateau territory, the nearby Eight Mile pack has been encroaching.

The Eight Mile wolves were frequently seen on the Blacktail Plateau during breeding season last February. The pack has 10 members, including black alpha 871M, a light gray alpha female, graying black adult 763M, gray 821F, one male and one female adult uncollared gray, a 2-year-old black male, and three yearlings (two black, one gray).

The well-known Canyon pack, from the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone’s Interior, also made a guest appearance on the Blacktail Plateau during the breeding season and continues, as usual, to make periodic visits to the Northern Range.

The pack includes the beautiful white 8-year-old alpha female (born in the Hayden pack) and her 6-year-old alpha male, 712M (born a Mollies), plus their offspring: two 3-year-olds (gray male, gray female), two 2-year-olds (black 831F, gray female), and two gray male yearlings. The well-known, black 3-year-old female may have dispersed, as she is no longer being seen with the pack.

Another important Interior pack, the Mollies, now has just three members—quite a decrease from the 19 mighty Mollies who descended upon the Northern Range in December 2011. Apparently, gray 686F has finally found a mate who can stand up to her, a big gray male. The only other pack member is black 779F. The threesome did make a visit to the Northern Range in March but have since returned to their Pelican Valley home, hopefully to den.

With the April denning season in full swing, it is a time of renewed vigor for Yellowstone’s wolves. If the reinvented Lamar Canyon pack, the Junction Buttes, the Eight Miles, the Blacktails, the Canyons and the Mollies successfully produce pups, it will help to soften the heart-breaking losses of the wolf hunt. But, we will never forget the many amazing and outstanding individuals, like “’06” and 754M, who paid with their lives–simply for being a wolf.

 
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About The Author

Kathie Lynch

Kathie Lynch's passion is watching wolves in Yellowstone National Park. She enjoys helping park visitors learn about the wolves, especially their behavior and individual life stories. Kathie is on the Board of the Wolf Recovery Foundation.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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