Kathie Lynch: Late summer Yellowstone wolf viewing is sparse

Below Kathie Lynch has another fact filled report on Yellowstone wolf watching and summary of the packs’ seasonal activity.  Right now the Canyon Pack is the only one still being seen. The wolves will return with the elk in October.

Thanks for your report, Kathie.

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Late summer wolf report by Kathie Lynch (copyright © )

End of the summer wolf watching in Yellowstone always presents a challenge. When the elk head to greener pastures in the high country, the wolves follow. Often they don’t return until early snows bring the elk back down to lower elevations for the fall rut.

Our wolf watching luck in the Northern Range ran out on August 17 when the trusty Lamar Canyon pack of three adults and four pups could no longer be found at Slough Creek. After honoring us with their presence since denning there in April, they have moved up higher and out of view.

Just before they departed, the alpha “’06 Female,” beta male 754M, and the four gray pups casually followed a herd of 19 elk up the hill behind the diagonal and horizontal forests. The adults slowly shepherded the almost four-month-old pups along in what looked like a scent trailing lesson.

A couple of weeks earlier, three of the pups had actually participated in a brief chase as their mother and 754M chased a bull elk into Slough Creek. The pups really had no idea at all about how to hunt, but they watched each other as they ran along, starting to learn how to communicate and function as a pack. We were thrilled to have the privilege to see what might have been the pups’ first “hunt.”

The pups couldn’t possibly have a better teacher than their mother, the incredible “’06 Female.” On July 26, she awed watchers by bringing down, entirely by herself, a hapless cow elk who had wandered into the rendezvous area, and then the “’06 Female” killed the calf too. The entire pack feasted for at least a week on the two carcasses, perhaps giving the pups their first chance to actually go to a carcass instead of waiting for an adult to bring the groceries home.

Having a great provider in the family means that these pups are very big, strong, and healthy. They are real beauties too. One is such a dark gray, we originally thought that it was a black. The others also have a lot of dark shading and remind me of one of my favorite Slough Creek wolves of old, 377M. Lamar Canyon alpha 755M and beta 754M, both possible fathers of these pups, came from outside of Yellowstone and may trace back to Northern Range wolves like the Sloughs and others.

Once the Lamar Canyon pack departed, really the only viable wolf watching possibility became the Canyon pack in Hayden Valley. Most days, after the morning fog clears, they continue to reward watchers with either intermittent glimpses or good viewing. The three adults and three pups (one black, two gray) may be found resting in the rendezvous area, traveling around Hayden Valley, or even having the occasional skirmish with a grizzly.

The easily recognizable trio of Canyon adults includes the almost white alpha female, dark black alpha male 712M, and gray beta male. They range far and wide searching for food and were even seen passing by the Norris campground this summer. The alpha female is the daughter of famous Hayden pack alphas 540F (“the White Wolf”) and 541M, who thrilled watchers in 2007 by raising pups in plain sight across the Yellowstone River from the Otter Creek picnic area. No one who was lucky enough to see that will ever forget it.

The Silver pack of five adults and four gray pups has not returned to their Lamar Valley rendezvous since alpha 147M came back for the last pup on July 18.  They have also followed the elk up high, just as their predecessors, the Druid Peak pack, used to do. Unfortunately, although the Druids used to return in August, the Silvers are not yet back. Since they only moved into Yellowstone last winter, we just hope that they do indeed return.

The Agate Creek pack of four adults and five pups was also a no-show this summer and did not return to their traditional rendezvous area in the Antelope Valley/Dunraven Pass area. We are still hoping that they will become more visible and provide more wolf watching opportunities before snow closes Dunraven Pass road.

The good news, however, is that nine-year-old Agate alpha female 472F (currently the oldest collared wolf in the Park) did indeed have pups this year, after two years without having any surviving pups. This venerable daughter of Druid greats 21M and 42F is actually a black wolf, although her color has faded to light gray.

Since black coat color in wolves is generally dominant to gray, and all of the other adults in the pack (former Mollies 641M and 586M and former Agate 715F) are gray, only the true black 472F could be the mother of this year’s three black pups. There are also two gray pups, whose mother could be either 472F or 715F.

The Blacktail pack has also disappointed by selecting a rendezvous site miles and miles away from any good viewing spot. The Wolf Project has been able to document that they do have six pups (two black, four gray), perhaps from as many as three litters (born to former Agates alpha 693F, 692F and 642F).

This potentially mighty pack, the legacy of the late, great alpha 302M, also includes the former Druid brothers, alpha “Big Brown” and “Medium Gray,”  four yearlings (302M’s last offspring), and now a new black male.

The new-comer is thought to be “Narrow Blaze,” who was first observed in YNP in February as he tried to join various packs during the breeding season. His persistence paid off, and by July he became an accepted member of the Blacktails. With a total of 16 wolves, including four big males in their prime and a vast, remote territory, the Blacktail pack has a good chance of rivaling the long-time Leopold pack dynasty that produced Blacktail founder 302M.

The only somewhat recent sighting of a possible Druid survivor came in the form of a mangy black male who was seen for several days near a bison carcass in the Soda Butte Valley in late July/early August. Although he appeared to be recovering from mange, he often just stood around without going to the carcass and seemed weak at times. It is possible that he may be one of the missing Druids, “Triangle Blaze” or “Black Bar.” Unfortunately, we just could not get a good enough look at his chest marking to be certain. Both of those males were so ravaged by mange when last seen in the winter, they may not have survived.

In non-Northern Range news, the Bechler Pack of only three adults surprised everyone by producing 12 pups! Since there are no collared wolves in this pack and they inhabit a very remote territory, they are almost never seen. It was a real treat for the Wolf Project to discover so many unexpected pups.

Sadly, two wolves from the Cougar 2 pack were hit by vehicles and killed on Highway 191. Many YNP animals, including wolves, bears and bison, have been killed on this treacherous stretch of road north of West Yellowstone.

The mid-summer count of Yellowstone Park wolves was 75 adults and 49 pups. Since then, at least two adults have died and two more pups have been discovered. Although the number of adults is less than 50% of what it was two years ago, pup survival so far this year has been very good. However, several packs (including Quadrant, Cougar and Grayling) do not appear to have any pups.

The recent court ruling which put gray wolves back on the Endangered Species List and the subsequent cancellation of wolf hunting seasons in Montana and Idaho will hopefully allow wolf populations to grow under the protection which they deserve and to which they are legally entitled.




Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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