Once numbering 16 wolves but cut by aerial gunning to 11 animals, the Dell Creek Pack has persistently preyed on cattle on private ranchland about 25 miles southeast of Jackson. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials aren’t tolerating the depredation and have made plans to kill all of the pack’s members.
“I won’t sugarcoat it or anything,” Jimenez said. “We’ll remove that entire pack.”
But the Dell Creek wolves have evaded “several” planes dispatched to carry out the task so far. On behalf of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services conducts the lethal operations.
The wolves “clearly” have smartened up to the sound of aircraft, a behavior that Jimenez has seen before.
“When wolves have been darted before and there’s a helicopter, you see them go for the trees immediately,” he said.
Because it’s the lowest-cost option, a small fixed-wing aircraft has been used for the flights. The strategy could potentially shift to trapping or ground-based calling and shooting, but Jimenez’s guess was that they will stick with the aerial approach.
Wolf-livestock conflict in Wyoming this spring has been mostly confined to the Hoback Basin, although two weeks ago four wolves were eliminated from the 15-animal Warm Springs Pack near Dubois after killing two cattle.
Also near Bondurant, the Rim Pack, a group of eight wolves, was in federal officials’ crosshairs after killing cattle in the same pastures where the Dell Creek Pack has been causing trouble. The pack — which made national headlines last month after “surplus killing” 19 elk at the McNeel Feedground in a night — quickly fled and was reduced by only one animal.
“That’s all we could get,” Jimenez said. “If we could have got more, we would have taken more.” Lethal control is a routine way to dissuade wolves from preying on livestock. If removing a portion of a pack doesn’t break the behavior, whole packs are sometimes eliminated.
In 2015, a heavy year for conflict, 54 Wyoming wolves were killed in response to depredating 72 cattle and 62 sheep. Two wolf packs were altogether removed. Canis lupus is confirmed to have killed 12 cows and 19 sheep in Teton County, Fish and Wildlife reports show.
Nonlethal techniques to deter the Dell Creek and Rim packs have not been attempted this spring in the Hoback Basin, where conflict has been chronic.
The Dell Creek Pack didn’t form until 2014, and in its first couple years of existence it stayed out of trouble despite roaming territory with ample private ranchland.
Given the time of year, it’s likely the pack is raising puppies in the area, Jimenez said. Dens make wolves less mobile and able to follow natural prey like elk and deer that in springtime are migrating into higher-elevation areas.
“There’s 11 wolves in there right now, and they’re denning in an area with lots and lots of livestock,” Jimenez said.