Saturday, October 10, 2015

Gray Wolves in Cassia County ID Possible, Wildlife Officials Say

Stock wolf image
7 hours ago  • 

ALBION | Some leave tracks. Others can be heard howling from the ridges near Albion. Some break through ranch fences and feast on livestock. Though wolves aren't known by wildlife officials to stay south of the Snake River, Cassia County ranchers say they've spotted them as recently as last fall.
Biologists from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game say it's possible wolves roam through the county in search of mates — a 2014 reported noted sightings — but there's no concrete evidence of an established pack. The nearest documented wolf pack is in the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area east of Idaho Falls. There are also documented packs in the Sawtooth National Forest, north of Sun Valley.
"Wolves are dispersal," said Jim Hayden, a Fish and Game staff biologist. "We don't know of any packs in the region that are established, but it's possible."
Fish and Game has tracked the state's wolf population for years, but new tracking methods may soon be able to confirm what residents already suspect: Wolves are roaming Cassia County in greater numbers.
Jeff Bailey owns an upholstery shop east of town. One morning last fall, he was leaving for work when he spotted what he believes was a wolf, 25 yards in front of him. It ran away, disappearing behind sagebrush.
"It was as big as my dirt road is wide," Bailey said. "It was big." 
He said the animal was "gray-brown," larger than a coyote. It first time he'd seen one, though he says he regularly hears wolves howling in the mountains east of his house.



 Map showing wolf activity in Idaho.

Two wolves, one black, one silver, once ran across Albion resident Kay Powell's headlights when he was at Conner Ridge. And Mayor Sharon Hardy-Mills said she saw a black wolf and a gray wolf crossing the Water Canyon ridge.
Tom Grady, who owns a ranch in southwestern Albion, said saw a wolf south of his home. It was white with gray around its ears and nose. Its shoulders were bigger and more muscular than a coyote, and it must have weighed about 250 pounds, he said.
When Grady saw the animal, he ran inside to grab a camera to take a photo of it but when he returned, it had disappeared behind trees.
About three years ago, Grady discovered one of his cows injured and a calf devoured.
"The ground was stirred up and broken up from the cow trying to protect the calf," he said. "She finally gave in and the wolf tore (the calf) into pieces."
He contacted a ranger from the U.S. Forest Service. While Grady believes a wolf killed the calf, a coyote was blamed instead.

Tracking Methods

Fish and Game is working on new genetic markers from rendezvous sites, where wolf packs tend to turn, said Toby Boudreau, the regional supervisor for Magic Valley Fish and Game. From there, biologists can trace the genetic info from feces to an individual animal. There is also a biologist out of Coeur d'Alene using howl boxes that record wolves and listen for new howls.
Boudreau's office has heard of local sightings from credible ranchers who have seen wolf tracks.
"We try to verify wolf sightings," he said. "A picture of one is worth all the proof in the world."
Wolves populations in Idaho have soared since 1995, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduced 35 wolves in central Idaho from Canada. By 2014, Idaho Fish and Game documented a minimum of 770 wolves living primarily in the northern portions of the state.
Still, it's unusual to see wolves in southern Idaho, mostly because the area is more densely populated by people. 
However, Boudreau didn't rule out the possibility of wolves roaming through the county.
"I'm not saying people aren't seeing wolves, because wolves can wander a long way, especially during breeding season," Boudreau said. "It's not unheard of for female wolves in late February and early March to make a 300-400-mile foray from their territory looking for a new (mate)."


Encountering a Wolf

Anyone who spots a wolf can call the Idaho Fish and Game Regional Office in Jerome at 208-324-4359.
Wolf-human interaction is rare. Biologist Jim Hayden said that there is no way to typify a wolf's behavior around a human. Some may ignore people while others will be curious enough to approach a person.
In that scenario, Hayden said, a wolf may see a human as prey if the person makes any sudden movement.
"Maintain eye contact," he said. "Move away pretty gradually. Animals have an instinct to chase prey."
"Anybody in Idaho has a legal right to protect themselves from any wildlife," said Toby Boudreau, regional supervisor for Magic Valley Fish and Game. "If that comes down to shooting an animal, they have the legal right to do it with or without a hunting license to protect themselves."
If a person does shoot and kill a wolf, it is their responsibility to turn the carcass in to Fish and Game.

Statistics on Wolves

To read Fish and Game's full 2014 annual report on the state's wolf population, visit http://bit.ly/1ZiGc9A


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