Aerial gunners have been trying to search for the seven survivors of the Dell Creek Pack using GPS location data from the single wolf in the group that wears a tracking collar. But the last couple times they have flown to find and kill the pack, they have only encountered the lone wolf, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northern Rockies wolf coordinator Mike Jimenez said.
“We’re trying to not remove the radio-collared wolf,” he said.
In recent weeks, conflicts between the Dell Creek Pack and livestock in the Hoback River Basin has abated, Jimenez said. But throughout much of the spring the pack has been preying on cows on private ranchland. As many as 10 head — most 1-year-old calves weighing about 500 pounds — were killed, and the wolves’ predilection for beef was deemed chronic and intolerable.
Gunners firing from a fixed-winged aircraft killed nine of the pack’s 16 members in March and April. After the conflict continued Jimenez made the call to take out the remaining animals.
The wolves have learned to take cover when they hear the sound of the plane, which has stymied operations.
U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services is carrying out the act on behalf of Fish and Wildlife, which manages the state’s nearly 400 wolves.
Killing wolves in the name of preventing livestock conflict is routine. A year ago, 54 Wyoming wolves were taken down in response to depredating 72 cattle and 62 sheep.
It’s hard to say what has caused the young GPS-collared wolf to separate from his pack mates, Jimenez said. Pack cohesion is tight in the winter, but a pulse of smaller prey in the spring often diversifies diets and pushes wolves out on their own.
It’s also possible that the lone wolf left his pack altogether, or “dispersed,” and is searching for new comrades, Jimenez said.
The federal wolf manager wasn’t surprised that removing the Dell Creek Pack has been a slow-going operation.
“This happens all the time,” Jimenez said. “It’s very difficult to take out an entire pack.”
Meanwhile, plans to eradicate the Dell Creek Pack have drawn the ire of online activists. A new Change.org petition, organized by a Los Angeles resident, had attracted more than 1,800 supporters as of Friday morning.
“It is spring. These wolves have likely just had pups,” the petition reads. “Mowing down the remaining [seven] adults will mean starvation and death of the new puppies.
“We must demand that [Fish and Wildlife] stand up first and foremost for the protection of wild animals, and use nonlethal means to reduce wolf-livestock conflict in the case of the Dell Creek Pack.”