Monday, December 17, 2012

Collared wolves important tools

December 16, 2012  • 

Wolves, which are never far out of the news in Montana, were back at the top of the page last week as the alpha female from the Lamar Valley pack in Yellowstone National Park was shot legally outside the park by a Montana hunter.

The shooting caused concern among some circles because it pointed to recent incidents of wolves from within the park, where they are protected and popular with tourists, getting shot outside the park.

The Lamar Valley female was one of three wolves recently shot by Montana hunters that were collared by the National Park Service in Yellowstone.

In response to concerns about the Yellowstone wolves coming out on the north end of the park, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission on Monday shut down the wolf hunting and trapping season in the portions of wolf management unit 313 just north of the park.

However, the shooting of a collared wolf is the main concern for us.
Collared wolves play an important role in helping wildlife officials collect information on wolf packs. Among other things, the collars provide biologists with information on the location of wolves, seasonal movements and denning habits.

This kind of information is important for people on both sides of the wolf issue. Wolf supporters want the information provided by collared wolves because it’s one of the best tools to locate packs for the purpose of tracking and counting.

Livestock producers, many of whom are no fan of wolves, need the information provided by collared wolves simply for tracking purposes. If wildlife officials know when packs are in the vicinity of livestock, they can more closely monitor their activities. If there is wolf depredation, a pack with a collared wolf in it is easier to track down and remove.

For similar reasons, hunters who are concerned that wolf numbers are causing drops in elk and deer herds need the information provided by collared wolves to help identify areas where wolf numbers are high and ungulate numbers are low and to be able to see if there is some correlation.

George Pauley, wildlife bureau chief with FWP, said wildlife officials glean a multitude of information from collared wolves. But the key component to this information is keeping collared wolves alive in the population.

Additionally, there’s a cost aspect to collared wolves. Often it takes quite a bit of man power and effort to find and collar a wolf. This effort can often involve both FWP and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services agency, which is involved with wolf management around livestock depredation events.

Wolves are often collared when a depredation occurs, Pauley said. It’s hard to pin down the exact number of collared wolves in Montana, but the estimates are between 30 and 50. So far this year out of the 92 wolves killed during Montana’s wolf hunting season, only a handful have been collared wolves.

Though shooting collared wolves isn’t illegal, FWP encourages hunters and trappers not to kill collared wolves.