JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) – A wolf pack spotted chasing pronghorn and bighorn sheep on the National Elk Refuge in northwest Wyoming last month may be a new pack that split off from one that usually roams around Grand Teton National Park, a biologist says.
Elk refuge biologist Eric Cole said that because none of the animals wore tracking collars, wildlife managers had to rely entirely on coloration to try to identify the lobos. "Our best guess is that the pack with four black and two gray wolves that was observed in the refuge in mid-January was likely previously in the Huckleberry Pack," Cole said.
When it was last located, the Huckleberry Pack consisted of 10 black wolves and one gray wolf. Its home range isn't outlined in state wolf reports, which indicate the pack's ordinary territory is west of Jackson Lake in the northern Teton Range. "Some wolves probably left that pack because there were observations with a high number of black wolves in the Gros Ventre River drainage in the late-winter/spring of 2015," Cole said. "But none of those were collared, so it's difficult to observe where they went or where they came from. It's entirely based on the color scheme of the wolves."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet decided if the mostly black pack seen on the refuge is new, Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Coordinator Mike Jimenez told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. "It's hard to tell whether that's something new," Jimenez said. "Wolves have pretty sizable home ranges, as you know."
Fish and Wildlife is still assessing Wyoming's wolf population and has a report due out April 3, Jimenez said. Little new information about the state's wolves is available until it's published, he said.
Cole said the Pinnacle Peak Pack, which has roamed the elk refuge the last few winters, appear to remain active on the refuge, he said. "We still think that the Pinnacle Peak Pack is using the elk refuge, primarily the northern end of the refuge," Cole said.
Every winter between 10 and 50 refuge elk are killed by wolves, Cole said. The highest wolf-related mortality rate ever observed was in 2006, when about 2 percent of the wintering herd was killed by the large canines, he said. That winter three packs were using the elk refuge.