Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wolves’ livestock kills high for ‘typical year’ in Wyoming

The number of lobos killed in response to depredations is highest since 2007.

Posted: Wednesday, October 21, 2015 
With more than two months of the year yet to go, federal wildlife managers have killed 55 gray wolves in Wyoming that were suspected of having preyed on livestock. That’s the highest number in eight years.
Now is around the time sheep and cattle are coming off public lands grazing allotments, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northern Rocky Mountain wolf coordinator Mike Jimenez said he doesn’t expect activity to increase much.

But so far in 2015 the statewide “ballpark, preliminary” numbers are 53 cattle and 61 sheep killed by wolves. Another 18 cattle, six sheep and a dog have been injured, he said.“It’s high for a typical year,” Jimenez said. “The state managed wolves differently, so wolves were taken out proactively.”

Before a September 2014 judge’s decision returned control of Wyoming’s wolf population to the federal government, there had been two years of state-managed hunts in the area around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Elsewhere in Wyoming, wolves were managed as predators and could be killed anytime with no rules.

A lot of the wolf-livestock conflicts this year have been in that predator zone, where high hunting pressure turned into no hunting pressure.“Over half of them were in Park County, and a lot of them were in Hot Springs County,” Jimenez said.

The numbers from Teton County so far are four cattle and 19 sheep killed by wolves. In response six lobos were “controlled,” or killed, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services.“It’s kind of an average year,” Jimenez said of depredations in Teton County. “You don’t expect huge numbers.”

All of the sheep killed were in the Alta area, and three of the four cattle killed were up the Gros Ventre River drainage, Jimenez said. The fourth cow hunted down by wolves was at a ranch that’s more in the middle of Jackson Hole, he said.

The most recent incident was up the Gros Ventre, where a couple of calves were killed in early October. No wolves were killed in response, Jimenez said.“We didn’t find or do anything that time,” he said.

There are a number of packs in the area, the veteran wolf manager said, and that makes identifying the offending animals a challenge.The largest wolf pack in the West south of the Canadian border, the 24-member Lava Creek Pack, roamed the Gros Ventre before fracturing this year. About 13 Lava Creek wolves are left, Jimenez said. The rest of the pack, which hasn’t yet been named, is now roaming the Upper Green River country further east.

The Pinnacle Peak Pack, a longtime frequenter of the National Elk Refuge, has also broken into two, Jimenez said. The wolves that split off are using the Gros Ventre area and are being called the Slate Creek Pack.

Assuming the Lower Gros Ventre, Lower Slide Lake and Blackrock packs still exist, that means six wolf packs now have home ranges that are at least partially in the Gros Ventre.

Numbers of livestock killed by wolves in Wyoming typically swing significantly year to year. Last year there were 55 cattle and sheep depredations, less than half the 114 depredations tallied so far this year.

But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service annual reports show that there has been three previous years that Wyoming wolves took a larger toll on livestock: 2006, 2009 and 2012.

Next to 2015 there has been only one year when more wolves were killed in retaliation for preying on livestock. In 2007, 67 wolves were removed from the population in response to their having killed 55 cattle, 16 sheep, two dogs and a horse, reports show.