Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dog, not wolf, now suspected of chasing elk on Mount Jumbo

Those wolves chasing elk on Mount Jumbo? Never mind.

Upon further review from other witnesses of last Thursday’s wild-kingdom moment above Missoula, it appears to have been a domestic dog, not a wolf, that chased about 30 elk around the summit of Jumbo. While photos taken from a home in the middle Rattlesnake neighborhood clearly showed a wolf-like canine pursuing the elk, there was another part of the story.

Michael Johnson was fueling his vehicle at the Hellgate Conoco on East Broadway about 1:30 p.m. when he and gas station owner Ross Grenfell saw the elk scrambling toward the summit. They both saw a small black animal pursuing them. “I saw a black canine as it dropped into a draw and came up on south side,” Johnson said. “It kept a good pace all the way south to the ‘L’ trail.”

Grenfell also watched the canine retreat down the mountain and join up with a human hiker and another dog near the L. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wolf specialist Tyler Parks climbed Jumbo on Tuesday and found tracks from the incident. “There were two dogs, one larger than the other,” Parks said of the tracks. “The prints could be distinguished from a wolf by their shape and smaller size. And then, the fact that they led back down to the L trail was pretty conclusive.”
While the L trail is open to winter hiking, most of the rest of Mount Jumbo is closed to human access to protect elk that use its upper slopes for winter grazing. The South Zone of Jumbo is closed to the public from Dec. 1 until March 15, and the North Zone is closed until May 1. The L trail and the U.S. West trail above Interstate 90 are open to the public year-round. Dogs are required to be on leash in these areas. “Off-leash dogs chasing wildlife in the winter is extremely stressful to elk and other wild animals and is illegal,” said Morgan Valliant, Missoula Parks and Recreation conservation lands manager. “It also threatens the exception to the Mount Jumbo winter closure, which allows the public to hike to the L and along the U.S. West trail when the rest of the mountain is closed.”

FWP wildlife biologist Liz Bradley said she wasn’t surprised by the assumptions made from the initial photographs of the Thursday incident. While there are no confirmed reports of wolves hunting on the mountain, the Rattlesnake Wilderness and National Recreation Area just to the north are definite wolf country. “The photo certainly resembled a wolf, and we know that wolves occur around the Missoula Valley,” Bradley said. “It wouldn’t be surprising to see a wolf on Mount Jumbo.”