GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

All posts tagged wolves

Wolves are “just like us”!

Categories: On the Web, Science, Wildlife
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Yellowstone’s wolves are always in the news. Back in late 2012 the Obama administration lifted federal protection for wolves in Wyoming. In the year following, trophy hunters killed 62 wolves. An unknown number were shot or trapped. Then, on September 13 of this year, federal judge Amy Berman Jackson returned Wyoming wolves to Endangered Species Act protection. Wyoming’s congressional delegation has now pledged to go to Congress in an effort to get wolves again delisted in the state.

As the legislative ping-pong game continues, Doug Smith, Yellowstone wildlife biologist and leader of the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project, has fascinating things to say in a 23-minute Iowa Public Radio interview about the history of wolf re-introduction in the park and the present state of wolves.

Tempting you to listen to this excellent interview, I’ll mention a couple of highlights of Doug’s remarks.

Although the next official count will take place in mid winter, current Yellowstone wolf numbers are at approximately 130 wolves in 11 packs.

In discussing the ongoing argument about Canadian wolves being introduced, thus bringing in a different subspecies from those that historically lived in and around Wyoming, Doug explains that over the decades when no wolves lived there, no exchange of genes could take place due to geographic isolation. He states that there are now 5 subspecies in North America, not the many more claimed by some people.

Doug points out that Yellowstone is now returning to “ecological functionality”—big words for the balance achieved in the environment by returning wolves to the park.

He completely empathizes with the ranchers in the ring of land that circles the Greater Yellowstone public land, where wolves now live. Unavoidably, preying on their livestock is a big problem, but ideas to cope with this are multiplying.

Replying to a listener’s question about attacks on humans, he stresses that wolves are afraid of humans and/or “can’t figure us out because we walk on two legs.” He suggests that the big, bad wolf stories may be based on some historical attacks but could well have been referring to rabid wolves.

Doug will be giving a talk at Iowa State University’s Memorial Union, 8:00 pm on Monday, November 3. In his interview he lists an impressive list of human traits found in wolves: they are monogamous, good parents, territorial, and communicate by body postures and many quiet vocalizations—as well as howling. And he concludes, “They’re just like us!”

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A Different Take on Yellowstone Wolves

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Here’s a newspaper story from Twin Falls, Idaho, that was not what I expected but was fun to read.

And the picture reminds me that in 16 more days I will get to join the wolf-watchers in Lamar Valley!

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Sunset Magazine features Yellowstone and other western parks

Categories: News, Trip planning
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The March 2014 Sunset has a section called “The Ultimate Guide to the West’s Classic National Parks” and devotes four pages to Yellowstone, including an entertaining essay by novelist Nevada Barr and write-ups on five other popular parks.

I learned that there are now 59 national parks, with 40 of them in western states. A sidebar quotes geyser guru T. Scott Bryan on why he (and I!) love geysers.

Just a couple of items of advice to visitors could be improved upon. To “ogle bears,” both black and grizzly, I would not suggest the Lamar Valley but more likely the Tower-Roosevelt area or even around Canyon or Mammoth. “About 100 gray wolves. . . can be spotted near the Blacktail Plateau” is misleading; best chances for viewing wolves have usually been some 20 or 25 miles east of there on the Northeast Entrance road; second best may be in Hayden Valley—but, then, you really never know where wolves or bears are going to be.

About boating on Yellowstone Lake, the suggestion to “rent a boat and paddle out onto the blue waters” is tempting, but they need just a few words of warning about the very common afternoon storms or perhaps even a mention that at least 40 people have drowned in the lake, many in small boats.

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Montana’s wolves on National Public Radio

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Since wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species list in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, all three states have developed plans to drastically cut back their wolf populations. Idaho wants to eliminate 60% of theirs, and the other states have large quotas, too.

Last Saturday I heard a short segment on Weekend Edition, where the voices and the scenes described took me back to my Montana childhood—even though I always lived in town. It began with the news that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims the scientific research is insufficient to make a national decision about wolf delisting. Take a listen and note a great idea near the end. Can you really teach cattle to herd or group up like bison?

I have one small complaint: the Native American Indian name still used for the beautiful mountain range to the east of Yellowstone should be pronounced ab-SAR-o-kas, not ab-sa-ROKE-as.

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Yellowstone wolf interview with the number one expert

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As the New Year rolls out I am researching topics that interest me a lot to write about in posts for my blog and for one or two new nuggets of Yellowstone information for this website. This all takes a lot of time, so I don’t know just when I’ll be able to post these original articles.

In the meantime I found something about Yellowstone’s wolves that more people should read, so I’ll pass along the link. Doug Smith has been the number one guy who knows about and helps to manage the park’s wolves and has been on site since they were first introduced in 1995. Here are his very balanced answers to a Montana Pioneer interviewer’s questions.

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Head count for lovers of Yellowstone’s charismatic megafauna

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In case the expression “charismatic megafauna” is not in your everyday vocabulary—it refers to the big wild animals that attract many people to Yellowstone.

Late summer is a good time to take stock of what lives in the park, so I’ve dug around a bit and found some recent head counts for the biggest and most interesting wild animals.

Curiously, the bison—that iconic beast that was nearly wiped out by hide-hunters by the beginning of the 1900s and again slaughtered by the hundreds in recent years for different reasons—in late 2013 probably has more hooves-on-the-ground than the elk. This in spite of elk numbers being up around the high 30,000s when I began paying attention (in 1995). This year’s count of bison is around 4,600, while elk are estimated at about 4,000.

Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone area are estimated at 718 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, while in the same area wolves may number about 500, but with only about 80 in the park proper. A large factor in the present small number of wolves has been their delisting and subsequent hunting in 2012-13: 203 killed in Idaho, 179 in Montana, and 73 in Wyoming (which had a shorter hunting season).

You’ll find related posts about elk and wolves in my June 7 and June 13 posts this past summer.

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Decrease in elk numbers

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Heading to Yellowstone myself in a few days [June 2013], I was very interested to learn that blaming the wolves for the huge decrease in elk numbers in Yellowstone is a big over-simplification. The numbers are unquestionably way down since I began taking notice in the mid 1990s.

When I was researching for Yellowstone Treasures’ first edition (2002), I found that about 35,000 elk were summering in the park. The new fourth edition (August, 2013) will say that on the order of 4,000 elk can be found on the northern Yellowstone range, and there are a few more in the rest of the park. This is a reduction of more than 80 percent.

A majority of the park’s wolf packs since reintroduction in 1995 have primarily preyed on elk. Thus, it has been easy to assume that wolves are to blame for this huge reduction in numbers. But a recent article in the latest issue of the journal Ecology reveals that the situation is much more complicated.

Migratory elk are struggling, while their resident counterparts thrive in the foothills, recent studies have found. The 4,500-member Clarks Fork elk herd, which migrates between the Absaroka Mountains and the upper Lamar River area, finds less forage because of extended drought.

In contrast, another researcher found that those elk living northwest of Cody, WY who do not migrate produce more calves, and more of them survive. They stay in the area because they find irrigated croplands. In addition, in settled areas many preying wolves and bears are removed by hunters and ranchers.

Grizzly bears and poor summer forage conditions caused by several years of drought have a bigger effect on elk health than do wolves, the researchers concluded.

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Recent wolf numbers

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I learned today from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition newsletter that 75 to 80 wolves now live in Yellowstone Park. This is less than half the number of wolves that lived in the park at the peak a few years ago. The current lower number explains why wolf sightings are down, especially in the Lamar Valley, which used to be the place to see wolves. However, fans of Yellowstone’s wolves are hoping to learn that a good number of pups were born this April. It’s still too early to know that for sure.

The GYC reports: “Wyoming’s season closed Dec. 31, 2012, with 73 wolves taken. Montana’s season ended in late February and Idaho’s in late March, except in two areas of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that were closed early. As of Feb. 4, 203 wolves had been killed by hunters/trappers in Idaho and 179 in Montana.”

The full article is at:http://www.greateryellowstone.org/issues/wildlife/Feature.php?id=38.

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Wolves in winter

Categories: Wildlife, Winter
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Working most of my waking hours to prepare the next edition of Yellowstone Treasures for the printer, I have neglected my blog [February 2013]. But I never neglect looking at interesting tidbits written by other Yellowstone enthusiasts. Here’s a quote I particularly love from an article by Josh Eells about the wolves. It is just appearing in Mens’ Journal—which I don’t read routinely! I highlighted my favorite sentence:

With the Lamars out of sight, finding wolves was tougher than expected. On the other hand: If you’re not going to see wolves, there’s no better place to not see them than Yellowstone in winter. The park is majestically empty, devoid of the theme-park masses who crowd it in the warmer seasons. The bears had already gone into hibernation, but we saw loads of other wildlife: bison, elk, pronghorn, coyotes, ravens, and eagles. One day, a friend and I hiked up a trail called Specimen Ridge, where a snow-peaked Mount Washburn towered in the distance and the ice-cold Yellowstone River wound its way through steaming geothermal vents in the canyon below. We saw a set of fresh mountain lion prints in the snow, atop some also-fresh deer tracks – a real-time picture of nature at work.

Takes me back to last winter, when I got to visit the park for a week. See my trip report, Winter in Yellowstone, Part I and Part II.

Read more: http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/yellowstones-wild-gray-wolves-20130214#ixzz2KzJrWh5h

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Elk and wolves

Categories: Flora and Fauna, On the Web, Wildlife
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I really must pass this on and keep quoting it in the future, because it’s an article by a highly respected Bozeman writer, who has done a convincing study about the effect of gray wolves on the elk population around Yellowstone and beyond. There has been a lot of waffling about whether or not to blame the last few years’ shrinkage of the Greater Yellowstone elk herd on preying wolves. This looks at the issue from the point of view of hunting outfitters.
Here is food for thought:
http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/opinions/article_dc2057ce-a135-11e1-9499-001a4bcf887a.html

2012

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