Lodgepole pine and the mountain pine bark beetle, and fire . .

Lodgepole and fire go way back. It is a tree comfortable with fire. Yes, lodgepole has been burned before but still invites the old flame over to spend the night. Should fire be unavailable or otherwise preoccupied, lodgepole turns to another old friend to heighten the allure: the mountain pine bark beetle.

Lodgepole recently killed by mountain pine bark beetle
When the needles are red, the tree is incredibly flamable

This is from one of the best written stories I have read about lodgepole pine and fire. By Paul Driscoll in New West. Read the article.

Wolves may be delisted in Idaho and Montana without waiting for Wyoming

Although wolves are probably biologically recovered in Idaho and Montana, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming are tied together. None of the states can have the wolf delisted until all three states have federally approved wolf conservation plans. Idaho and Montana have theirs approved and are managing the wolves with minor federal oversight.

Wyoming’s governor and state Game and Fish Commission have said from the start that it was their defective wolf plan that lets people shoot or otherwise kill wolves for any reason anywhere in the state outside the national parks and a few Forest Service Wilderness areas, or nothing. So the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service keeps managing Wyoming wolves outside of Yellowstone Park. Idaho and Montana are chomping at the bit. They want a two state delisting. Many people disagree because under current rules Idaho cannot have deliberate wolf reduction unless it is scientifically justified. Idaho Fish and Game Commission wants to kill some of its wolves, but it can’t justify it except politically.

Todd Adams writes about it in the Challis Messenger. Read the article.

Grizzly bears moving north as the climate changes

Last year there was a story of how a grizzly bear drove polar bears off a whale carcass on the Arctic Ocean. Grizzlies are showing up way north of the past range.

Here is similar news from the Anchorage Daily News. Read

Posted in Bears, Wildlife Habitat. Comments Off on Grizzly bears moving north as the climate changes

Climate change to make fires more difficult to fight say fire ecology experts

“In the western United States, researchers recently confirmed the fire season is getting longer, with large fires starting both earlier and later in the year.” Read the article in the Missoulian.

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A complete update on Yellowstone Park wolves

By Ralph Maughan copyright

Druid Peak Pack- As indicated in earlier reports, it appears the entire pack, 4 adults and 11 pups, have survived. They spent the summer near the the head of Cache Creek and its tributaries near or on the Park’s remote east boundary. The big question appears to be what will happen in the late fall when they come down and confront the Slough Creek Pack, which has regrouped with eight adults? The Sloughs lost their pups in the April siege with the Unknown pack. One wonders how much help eleven, 6 month old pups would be in a fight. The badly outnumbered Druids did well last June when all 4 of them attacked the sleeping “Unknowns.” The Unknowns were not really seen together again after that and disappeared, although Doug Smith tells me that there are reports of wolves way up Slough Creek, north of the Park. That’s where most people think the Unknowns came from. I have tended to believe the Unknowns were the old Rose Creek Pack or closely related to it.

Slough Creek Pack- “The Sloughs” have reclaimed their territory from the east end of Lamar Valley all the way west to Little America and lower Slough Creek.

The Agate Creek Pack- I have nothing to add to the report about the 2 Agate Creek pups that were left behind for 2 weeks. They are still traveling with the pack and its 4 other pups. On August 29 they were on the east side of the Yellowstone River Canyon. They are not visible from Antelope Creek where summer wolf watchers had so much to see.

The Hellroaring Pack- This pack proved very hard to observe. It moved farther and farther down into the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone. Today there were right on the north boundary of the Park and the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness to the north, out of the canyon and up in summer elk country. This is the pattern the old Rose Creek Pack took as they gradually became a non-Park pack and contact with them was lost. The pack has four pups this year.

The Leopold Pack and their split-off group — “the 536 group”- The large Leopold Pack of about 12 wolves has done what it always does, spend the summer way back on the Blacktail Deer Plateau, out of sight. As in 2005, they had a large number of pups (double litter), but last year almost all the pups died of that unidentified disease. On the contrary, this year there is total survival. In the first visual sighting of the entire pack in a long time, there were 15 pups! It’s going to be a huge pack again like 2 years ago. The break-away group of Leopolds, currently called the “536 group” with 4 or 5 adults, has 8-9 surviving pups. It looks like wolf biologists decided the alpha female was 536F. This group too seems to have had a double liter from females 536F and 470F. I think it is unlikely they will rejoin the Leopold Pack come winter. The two groups of Leopolds are too large to do that in my estimation.

The Swan Lake Pack- It has climbed back from almost extinction to a pack with 2 adults and its six pups doing well in the traditional Swan Lake Pack territory near Swan Lake Flat and the surrounding mountain slopes down to Mammoth Hot Springs.

The Gibbon Pack- It seems to have 7 adults, but no pups have been seen, although they might exist. The pack has traveled all over the place from the Gibbon Meadows area to the Park’s Central Plateau. I have heard reports of them at the geysers too. Dr. Smith believes the Magpie Forest Fire might have been the cause of their wandering. They have to travel around it. The fire occupies a strategic backcountry location.
Folks will recall that last winter the Gibbon Pack dispatched the remnants of the long-standing Nez Perce pack and essentially occupied that pack’s territory.

The Hayden Pack- The Hayden Pack continues to inhabit the area around Canyon, and is seen by many people, although as the summer progressed they were found more and more in the Hayden Valley. The pack has a very light gray alpha female, 540F. People called her “white.” The alpha male (540M) is large and light gray, and the rest of the pack is fairly light colored too.

This Haydens are not only the pack most likely to be seen close up, it is the pack most subjected to human intrusion on its space. There have been many occasions when they were close to large numbers of people, such as when they kill an elk in the middle of Alum Creek, next to the Park highway. Individual and small groups have also run into them or approached them at close range even when they were some distance from the road. One couple walked right into their den site this year. Perhaps more than one did, but did not report it.

The pack has 3 adults, 2 yearlings, and they have pups this year, the fewest of any Park pack for which a pup count is certain. Biologists never counted the number of pups at the den site, so it is unknown whether the 2 pups are 2 surviving pups, or the size of the original litter. It is also unknown whether human disturbance of the den site and rendezvous site affected the number of pups. The pack has always produced just a couple pups, and it has always been subjected to human disturbance.

Mollies Pack- I guess Mollies Pack is the most interesting story to me in this report. This pack, which had no pups last year, but six this year, is having serious trouble with grizzly bears in its remote Pelican Valley territory, which has also always been a part of Yellowstone where grizzlies are at their thickest.

Grizzlies have always stolen the pack’s elk carcasses, but grizzlies are incredible in the memory of where food is and how to get it. It seems that all the grizzlies know that the trick is to follow the Mollies Pack and steal their kill.

While in the past, grizzlies usually showed up after 4 or 5 hours to claim the kill, and it was usually 1 or 2 bears, Dr. Smith told me observations this summer show the the pack usually gets to feed but an hour or less before the grizzlies –multiple grizzlies — come, and take the kill. This very likely is harmful to the pack because they have to kill many more elk than other packs, and with each chase a wolf expends a lot of calories and suffers risk of injury or death.

In the past Mollies Pack has made forays onto the northern range and other parts of the Park as though they might be seeking new territory. They also winter outside of the Park, usually in the area of the North Fork of the Shoshone River. Individual Mollies wolves have also left the pack to try the northern range with mixed success, meaning toleration or sometimes fights. These wolves tend to come back to the pack.

The availability of high protein elk meat also affects the grizzlies, probably increasing their reproduction success and allows them to abandon more difficult food like grasses, sedges, berries, etc. If the wolves leave, the grizzlies might have to scramble more for nutrition.

The Yellowstone Delta Pack finally lost all of its collars (or chewed them off ), and, as many times in the past, its location in the vast wilderness of SE Yellowstone was not known, but finally on August 29 they were located in part of their large territory. Eleven Deltas were seen from the air. I don’t know if any seemed to be pups. The Delta Pack has produced two important splits in the last two years — first the Buffalo Pack and next the Pacific Creek Pack. These now inhabit the country in the Teton Wilderness (Pacific Creek Pack) and further south in Jackson Hole and the mountain country east (The Buffalo Pack).

The Bechler Pack of SW Yellowstone was not located on Aug. 29, although that is especially meaningful. They have been doing well this year with good pup survival.

Finally there is the new Snake River Pack. Two or three adult wolves took up residence near the South Entrance of the Park, and they had 7 pups, 3 black and 4 gray.. They have no radio collars, but Mike Jimenez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlfe Service will try to trap some when they leave the Park, as they often do to hunt the John D. Rockefeller Parkway and the Teton Wilderness that adjoins the Yellowstone Park for many miles on its south boundary.

Snake River Pack wolf pup
Dan Stebbins seems to be the only person who has gotten
a photo of this new wolf pack. This is one of their 7 pups.

Thanks Dan!

About the big Idaho fire day . .

“We barely hung on. . . ”

But they did, read about it in on the government web page, Boise Large Fire Update. Aug. 30

Posted in Wildfires. Comments Off on About the big Idaho fire day . .

So what happened on the central Idaho wildfires?

Maybe posts on Aug. 25 made it sound like everything was going to burn up. So?

Well, calm and cooler weather made the fires “lay down.” They are still there spreading slowly where their edges have not been contained. However, higher temperatures and strong winds are predicted 8/30 in advance of a cold front. It could be a bad day, Aug. 29. People are worried. Note: today the nearby Red Mountain fire put up a big plume. This fire is a threat to bull trout and there are a lot of wolves in the area. It could displace them onto other wolf packs.

Posted in Fish, Idaho wolves, Wildfires, Wildlife Habitat. Comments Off on So what happened on the central Idaho wildfires?

Numerous wolves shot for killing cow calves in Sublette County, WY

Sublette County, WY — Pinedale, Cora, Boulder, Daniel, Big Piney — is the biggest wolf death black hole in the West.

This formerly scenic area in the upper Green River, now with polluted air and and wide open spaces ripped up by the natural gas drillers, has seen the death of 14 wolves this year. There are with more to come — to be shot by the federal government as were those dead already.

All this has been in response to the scattered deaths of calves by wolves trying to migrate south and set up territories. The wolves pick off 1-4 cow calves here the there. To read the news stories, you are often left to believe that these were full grown cattle. In fact wolves only occasionally take adult cattle because 1. wolves are imprinted to see deer and elk as prey, but not cattle. 2. Cattle don’t act prey. They often just look up and give the canines that bored bovine stare (unlike elk and deer who know what is up). 3. Calves, on the other hand, are more likely to run (an indication to wolves that they are prey animals).

One should always note that these livestock losses are compensated by the group, Defenders of Wildlife, which wants to promote acceptance of the wolf. Possible losses also get half compensation. Livestock producers also get paid fall value for spring and summer calves. In Idaho, the state government on top of this, compensates for livestock that are missing.

Reporter for the Casper Star Tribune, Cat Urbigkit, is no friend of wolves — in the livestock business herself– but her story is basically accurate. I don’t like the tone. That’s why I have a blog. For her story “Wolves kill dozens of Sublette cattle,” click here

Boundary Forest Fire, other Idaho fires highlighted in news story

The Trailhead Fire nearly Stanley, Idaho is hardly the only wildfire in Idaho. Idaho currently has more forest fires than any other state. Thick smoke covers about half the state. There are a number of fires larger than the Trailhead, and they have been very active.

Read more in the Challis Messinger. By Todd Adams. Click here

Posted in Wildfires, Wolves. Comments Off on Boundary Forest Fire, other Idaho fires highlighted in news story

Fast moving forest fire threatens Stanley, Idaho area

The “Trailhead fire” comes boiling over the top of the Sawtooth Range into Stanley Basin.
Copyright Lynne Stone

The mountains around Stanley Basin and the Sawtooth Valley, Idaho, have, in recent years, witnessed a huge die-off of lodgepole pine. This relatively short-lived pine is plenty flammable even when it is green. When dead, it is explosive! Nowhere is the die off more visible to people than the big, dying apron of pine that cloaks the lower slopes of the famed Sawtooth Range.

Everyone knew this forest would die someday, and in recent years many (but not all) of the folks who own summer homes and cabins have thinned the trees around their places, and the Forest Service has conducted some fire danger reduction and salvage operations. Nevertheless, the supply of dead timber is vast and could accommodate a huge fire. I’m surprised it didn’t burn a couple years ago.
Last year, to my surprise it was the Valley Road fire in the nearby White Clouds that blew up, briefly threatening tiny Clayton, downriver from Stanley. Earlier, this year the Potato Fire mushroomed in the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River, also downriver from Stanley. Now the forest beneath the Sawtooths is threatened and 3000 acres on edge burned on August 24.

This is important wolf range. There are two wolf packs in the vicinity of the fire, but the wolves and the elk and deer they eat are not likely to harmed by a big burn, especially in the long run. Instead, the mid-term result will likely be the creation of a lot more summer elk habitat as grasses fill the burn.

It is notable that several other big fires have erupted nearby — the Red Mountain Fire, and the Boundary Fire (now named the Boundary Fire complex)

Update September 8. The winds never again threatened to push the fire directly into Stanley Basin. It was pushed onto the rocks, and it was contained at 4,252 acres.

Posted in Elk, Wildfires, Wolves. Comments Off on Fast moving forest fire threatens Stanley, Idaho area

Yellowstone Druid Pack doing well this year

The Druid Peak Pack was once the largest known wolf pack, ever observed, with 37 wolves in the year 2001, but over the years members of the giant pack dispersed to form new packs, and then the long time alpha pair 21M and 42F died. 42F fell at the jaws of a rival pack and 21M, the well known alpha male just seemed to lay down a die several months later.

By the beginning of 2005 the pack was down to just 6 adults. In 2005 the much reduced pack had six pups, but they all died. The pack was pushed out of its traditional range, and its future looked grim, when as the winter of 2005-6 came with the pack reduced to just 4 adult wolves.

This last spring things looked even worse for the Druids when the larger rival pack, the Slough Creek Pack, denned, ready to produce more pups. A surprise to everyone, a new pack, called “the unknowns” showed up from unknown quarters and occupied the Slough Creek den site. As a result the Slough Pack, pupless, was disrupted.

The Druids were wary and appeared to take great care when approching their den site on a steep, forested mountain near Round Prairie in the NE corner of the Park. It was as though they did not want to reveal it to the Sloughs, who were licking their wounds or the “unknown pack.”

Surprisingly the Druids prevailed. The 4 Druid wolves crept up on the sleeping unknowns and give the interlopers a good licking. The unknowns soon disappeared for the area, and when the Druid Pack brought their new pup crop down from the heavily forested mountain to the meadows, there were an amazing 11 pups!

As summer came, the Druids went up to their traditional summering area, high on the east boundary of Yellowstone Park. There they are rarely seen by people, and seem to have no rival packs. Doug Smith, head of the Yellowstone wolf project, recently reported to me that unlike the 100% pup mortality last year, this year there is 100% survival. If this good fortune continues, the pack will soon be back among the largest in Yellowstone Park.

Oregon Moose population is booming

AP. State wildlife biologist Pat Matthews doesn’t have to see the moose to know they’re moving into Oregon from neighboring Idaho in record numbers.

The 118 piles of droppings he saw on a walk along an overgrown logging road in northeastern Oregon told the tale.

There may be about 30 moose, including eight bulls, in the northeast corner of Oregon, immigrants from Idaho.

There are probably more, Matthews said.

For the full story click here

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Archery hunting season opens in Idaho, a great benefit for wolves

August though November is the toughest time for wolves. Their prey are fleet and strong. Wolf pups are big, hungry, and no help in the hunt. Wolf packs are nutritionally stressed and are most likely then to sample mutton or beef. The hunting season, however, is a gift for wolves — gut piles and wounded deer and elk — just the thing hard-pressed wolves need.

The archery hunt begins in Idaho Aug. 30. One reason why Idaho has more wolves than any other Rocky Mountain State is very likely its huge backcountry where various hunts go from late August to December.

Posted in Wolves, Wolves and prey. Comments Off on Archery hunting season opens in Idaho, a great benefit for wolves

Wolf hit on Interstate 90 near Sturgis, SD was a Yellowstone area wolf

Last April a large wolf-like “canid” was found dead along I-90 east of Sturgis, SD.

Examination of its stomach contents showed it had been subsisting on deer.

Was it a wolf, a wolf hybrid, a pet wolf that had been released? After much laboratory investigation and genetic analysis, it turns out it was a wolf that had left (dispersed) from the Yellowstone ecosystem.

This is a huge distance, but the story is not just a wow!! Equally long dispersals of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Yellowstone, and wolves in Canada have been documented in recent years.

There are those who say that the wolves reintroduced to Idaho and Yellowstone (from Canada) in 1995-6 were somehow different than the essentially extinct “native” wolves, but these long-range dispersals dispel this argument. For wolves to develop into a different species or sub-species, they have to be isolated so the populations cannot mate with one another. If wolves are dispersing 400 miles now, they certainly did so for thousands of years in the past.

That is why the story is important.