Saturday, May 28, 2016

Wolves, cattle collide south of Grand Teton Nat'l Park

\Posted: Saturday, May 28, 2016
A Lucas family rancher suspects that a wolf with a history of killing his cattle has fallen back on old habits near the southern border of Grand Teton National Park. A half-eaten calf turned up Monday, and Russ Lucas said that “two or three” other calves have gone missing from his herd of 150 that grazes the flats between the Gros Ventre River and East Gros Ventre Butte. When the carcass of the week-old animal was discovered, Lucas phoned Wyoming Game and Fish Department carnivore biologist Mike Boyce, who examined the dead calf. “I went out and investigated it,” Boyce said, “and based on the tracks at the kill site and the bite-mark evidence on the calf we verified it as a wolf kill.”

Boyce turned the case over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because wolves are a managed as “threatened” in Wyoming under the Endangered Species Act. Fish and Wildlife personnel who are standing in for recently retired Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Coordinator Mike Jimenez didn’t have specific information about the incident. “We’ve had probably a half a dozen different depredation incidents in the past week, and they’re all around the range,” said Mike Thabault,
USFWS assistant regional director for ecological services. “We’ve had some around Cody, we’ve had some around the park, we’ve had some a little further south.”

Lucas’ suspicion is that the marauding wolves are the remnants of the Lower Gros Ventre Pack, which claimed three of his cattle back in 2013. That year wildlife managers killed 11 wolves out of the pack, but two survivors were left behind, annual reports show. Lucas recalled just one surviving lobo. “There was one wolf that they couldn’t take out,” Lucas said. “She went up in the park. “And we feel like this could be the same wolf from that pack,” he said.

More recently, annual reports show the Lower Gros Ventre Pack has grown back to five animals. The quintet of canines was credited for killing two cattle in 2015, though Lucas said he hasn’t had any problems with wolves for a few years. It’s unclear what, if any, retribution will fall upon the veal-eating wolf pack.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services is the agency that would typically kill depredating wolves at the request of Fish and Wildlife. Mike Foster, Wildlife Service’s Wyoming director, did not return phone calls Friday. Lucas said he tried and failed to get a permit to lethally remove the wolves himself. He has held the permits in the past, but has never successfully caught a wolf in the act of a depredation. “Usually when you lose one calf you get a kill permit,” he said, “and they wouldn’t give me a kill permit.”

Taxpayers, Lucas said, foot a substantial bill when federal wildlife managers fly planes or helicopters to aerially gun down depredating wolves, and their operations might be targeting the wrong animals, he said. “It’s a hell of a lot cheaper if I did it,” Lucas said. “And you get the wolf that’s killing them.”

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