Yellowstone 19 Years after wolf Re-introduction

Kathie Lynch: Wolf Watching not as easy as it used to be in Yellowstone-
Copyright © Kathie Lynch 2014

Looking for wolves in Yellowstone’s Northern Range has its ups and downs these days. Watchers may get lucky and see the Junction Butte pack of nine or even the Eight Mile pack of 18. But, failing that, opportunities can be few and far between. The only other possibilities include the two Lamar Canyons, two in 755M’s Group, possibly three Blacktails, and the seven Canyons—if they happen to visit the Mammoth area.

On my recent week-long visit in early January 2014, I saw only 17 wolves total, including three wolf-less days, three days with an hour or less each day of the two Lamar Canyons (in a snowstorm every time), and one “just like the good old days” day of watching all nine Junction Buttes and then 755M and his mate, 889F.

It is always a treat to see everybody’s favorite, the silvery-black former Lamar Canyon alpha, 755M. He is now on his third new mate since losing “The ’06 Female” (832F) to a Wyoming hunter’s bullet over a year ago. His latest partner, 889F, was formerly with the Junction Butte pack, although she probably originally came from the Mollie’s pack.

Seven fifty-five had pursued her last spring, but lost out then to 890M, who dispersed from Junction Butte with 889F. The two dark blacks spent the summer together and were sometimes seen up the Tower Road in the Antelope Creek area.

However, in October, 890M returned to the Junction Butte pack and 889F started appearing with 755M. The new duo is now called “755’s Group,” and we hope that they will stay together though the breeding season and produce pups.

In early January, 755M showed that he had learned a thing or two from “’06” when he made an elk kill all by himself! He will need such skill and a lot of luck to be able to provide for his family, if 889F does have pups. Their situation is complicated by 889F’s severely injured right front foot (cause unknown), which slows her down and makes it difficult to hunt and could make it hard to for her to get away from rival packs.

The Junction Butte pack remains sound, despite experiencing a huge change in leadership. Both of last year’s alphas, “Puff” and “Ragged Tail,” and also beta “New Male,” have disappeared. Without them, the alpha positions fell open to returning 890M and former alpha 870F (who was injured last year during breeding season and then lost her alpha position to “Ragged Tail”).

The rest of the Junction Butte pack includes the beta black female (who may be the mother of some of last year’s pups and is not the same as the Lamar Canyon pack’s black female, 926F), gray yearling 869M (the scrappy survivor of a terrible case of mange last winter as a pup), black yearling 906M (869M’s best buddy and constant play partner), and four gray pups.

The Junction Butte pack has done well to have all four of its pups survive almost a year. Unfortunately, at least two of the pups have mange, including 907F, who has a rope tail, and another pup, who scratches a lot and has patches of mange on both elbows.

Meanwhile, the Lamar Canyon pack continues its struggle to rebuild after the loss of legendary alpha female, “’06. The latest version of the pack includes only one real Lamar Canyon wolf, 926F (the 2-year-old “Black Female”), who is the daughter of “The ’06 Female” and 755M.

Her alpha male, 925M (“Big Gray”), came into the Park from Wyoming a year ago with her older sister, “Middle Gray” as his alpha female. Even though he was not the biological father of last year’s two black and one gray Lamar Canyon pups (because two gray parents can not produce a black pup), he took on the role of Lamar Canyon alpha male and served well as a stalwart provider, companion and baby-sitter.

All of last summer, 926F (the “Black Female”) tried to woo alpha 925M (“Big Gray”) away from her sister, alpha female “Middle Gray.” Apparently, 926F has finally succeeded now that “Middle Gray” and all three of last year’s pups have disappeared.

We, of course, hope that “Middle Gray” and her pups are alive and well somewhere and that 925M and 926F chose to carry on the Lamar Canyon tradition (and that of her ancestors, the Druids) by denning in the traditional Druid Peak pack’s den site in Lamar Valley, but that remains to be seen.

The Blacktail Plateau pack poses another mystery. Long time alpha 693F (the last true Agate Creek pack member) has not been seen recently. Since she disappeared, her mate, 778M (the last true Druid Peak pack member), has at times been with one or two new grays, including 911M. The newcomers’ origins are unknown, but they may be returning Blacktail pack members. During the upcoming February breeding season both 778M and 911M will likely be looking for mates.

Last year’s breeding season featured a lot of activity on the Blacktail Plateau. The Eight Mile pack put on quite a show then, and their efforts paid off with the arrival of nine pups in 2013, bringing the total pack size to 18! They have done a great job of raising their pups and have suffered no losses thus far.

The Eight Mile pack’s large size, with 12 blacks and only 6 grays, makes them fun to spot. The pack includes alphas 909F (gray) and 871M (black), old graying black 763M, gray adults (including 821F), gray and black yearlings, black 910M, plus seven black pups (including 908F) and two gray pups. Possibly three of the gray adult females, including 909F and 821F, originally dispersed from the old Quadrant Mountain pack to join the Eight Mile pack.

I devoted all three of my recent wolf-less days to looking for the Canyon pack around Mammoth. The beautiful white alpha female and her long-time mate, 712M, will both soon be 9 years old. The other pack members include two pups (one black, one gray) and three other grays who are the alphas’ one-, two-, and/or three-year old offspring. Unfortunately, one black pup is no longer being seen with the pack.

The bottom line is: it’s not as easy as it used to be to find wolves to watch. Although it may sound like there are a lot of wolves out there, many have simply disappeared. And, all of the six packs that may be seen in the Northern Range also spend a lot of time out of view.

If you count it up, unless you are lucky enough to see the 18 Eight Miles, or the seven Canyons just happen to be around, there are only 16 other wolves you might see in the Northern Range (two Lamar Canyons, two in 755’s Group, nine Junction Buttes, and maybe three Blacktails).

Of course, interlopers may come into the Park from outside at any time, and they are especially likely to do so during the breeding season when dispersers are looking for new mates. Hopefully, February will offer more viewing opportunities, lots of howling, and some interesting behavior to watch as males try to woo females away from their natal pack.

And, hopefully again, all of that activity will result in lots of pups to carry on the legacy of the wolves who made history 19 years ago when they were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park after an absence of almost 70 years!


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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Kathie Lynch