A wide-eyed view of the Red Desert.

This is about one of those places in Wyoming that is wonderful, and being destroyed by the gas industry, while Governor Freudenthal diverts attention to 150 or so wolves that wander a small part of the state near Yellowstone.

A wide-eyed view of the Red Desert. If more people see it, naturalist contends, they will be compelled to save it. AP in the Billings Gazette.

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Photo copyright Ralph Maughan. Wild horses beneath Bush Rim in the Red Desert.

I visited in 2004 because I heard the area would probably be destroyed. It was a beautiful high desert. Nearby wildlife, in addition to the horses (in July) from Bush Rim, where I camped, I also saw elk, deer, and pronghorn, including one huge bull elk. Nationally, few people know about this desert elk herd.

Wyoming seeks massive slaughter of non-YNP wolves, expects the federal government to do it.

Wyoming, still hasn’t received permission to manage wolves from the federal government, but they want the number of packs, outside Yellowstone Park, said to be 23, reduced to six. To add insult to injury they don’t want to pay for it. They want the federal government to do it before wolf management is handed over — that is, they want you to pay for it.

Story. Wyo targets wolf packs. By Whitney Royster. Casper Star-Tribune environmental reporter.

The article quotes Wyoming Governor Freudenthal: “In terms of reducing the packs, that’s always been a state objective from the outset,” . . . . “Frankly, it’s essential for both wildlife and domestic livestock that we do that.”

I don’t like profanity, but this guy has got to be an all time lying son-of-a-bitch! Even the head of his Game and Fish Department, Terry Cleveland, recently said the wolves have not hurt Wyoming’s elk numbers (although Cleveland predicted disaster in the near future). The number of livestock killed by wolves in Wyoming is trivial compared to livestock dead from other reasons, including other predators. Furthermore, livestock killed by wolves is largely reinbursed by the private group Defenders of Wildife. Of course, it seems that the wolves always get the rancher’s favorite ewe, so they want extra for their special animals.

Defenders has paid about $160,000 so far in 2006 for livestock losses to wolves in the 3 state area (not just Wyoming). Spread out, this isn’t very much money. Does the governor think that eliminating lets say, being generous, $100,000 worth of largely compensated livestock losses is “essential?” Of course he doesn’t.

Wyoming is a state rolling in money due to the massive destruction of its landscape by the energy industry. Many millions of dollars damage is done to livestock grazing land, not to even mention wildife. Energy development and chronic wasting disease is the real threat to its wildlife. Freduenthal, and the rest of the state’s political oligarchy know these facts damn well, and the destruction of the wolves outside Yellowstone Park will be just a blood ritual to divert attention from the destruction of what was once a beautiful state.

He apparently thinks if he keeps repeating these false charges, the media and the people will believe. Unfortunately, he may be correct because it is the rare story in the main stream media that gives any figures (see some figures below).

In the few places where elk have declined in Wyoming, it is mostly due to deliberately long elk seasons at insistence of powerful ranchers who didn’t want the elk eating the grass they wanted from their livestock. It wasn’t due to wolves, but, of course, these ranchers would like hunters to believe it was wolves.

People should not assume that the wolves inside Yellowstone Park will be safe either, because at least three wolf packs that reside in the Park do leave the Park at various times and live in the adjacent Absaroka Mountains and the area just south Yellowstone (but not in Grand Teton NP).

Here are some statistics on the official livestock losses to wolves in 2005 in Wyoming, 2006 is not available yet, although mortality is up a bit.

Wyoming official losses for 2005: Cattle 61; Sheep 53, dogs 2. These data are from the table at: http://www.fws.gov/mountain%2Dprairie/species/mammals/wolf/annualrpt05/2005_WOLF_REPORT_TOTAL.pdf

It is important to note that most cattle killed are calves, and most of the calves are young calves. There are some losses to wolves that are never found and not reported. The percentage is not known. The graph below assume 9 are lost for every one found–very doubtful. The highest figure I have heard biologists mention is 5 to 1. I doubt it is even 2 to 1.

Because relative numbers as well as absolute figures are important, the graph below shows the relative number of wolf-caused cattle losses comparted to total losses in Wyoming. Remember the USDA assumed actual wolf kills of cattle was 600, not 61.

wycattle1.gif

Given the very high estimate of 600 cattle killed by wolves, nevertheless, that is only 1% of the dead cattle. The largest predatory loss of cattle in Wyoming was dogs. Where is the governor’s outrage about dogs? Shouldn’t he institute a door-to-door search for these terrorist canines?

Yellowstone National Park wolf field notes Dec. 20-29, 2006 (with update Jan. 1)

 Here is another great Yellowstone northern range wolf report by Kathie Lynch.

Of particular important to me was the observation that the Druids seem to have lost their alpha female (there is now a new one). Also interesting is the aggressiveness of the Agate Creek Pack, which is larger than the Sloughs, Druids, or Hellroaring Pack.

It seems possible the Sloughs lost their alpha male, leaving 7 females (no males) in the pack. If so, Lynch and others might have witnessed the start at least of a seminal event similiar to the 21M/40F unification with the Druids years back . . . Ralph Maughan
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YNP WOLF Field Notes, Dec. 20-29, 2006, by Kathie Lynch

The Druid Peak and Agate Creek packs have been putting on a “howl”-iday show for the wolf watchers willing to brave the frigid Yellowstone winter weather and treacherous, icy roads. As the cold and snow have driven the elk back down to lower elevations, both packs have made numerous kills within easy viewing distance of the road from Tower Junction east through Little America and Lamar Valley, all the way to Round Prairie.

On Dec. 29, we were treated to the sight of all 11 Druids feeding and frolicking in Round Prairie. Alpha male 480M, full belly almost dragging on the ground, snoozed as the pups played ring-around-the-tree-trunk and tug-of-war with pieces of hide. The pups leapt on each other’s backs and jumped for joy. Dear old 302M slept peacefully in the deep snow with only the tips of his black ears showing as the new gray alpha female wandered watchfully along the tree line.

Sadly, the Druid Peak pack’s number appears to have dropped from last summer’s count of 15 (four adults and 11 pups) to only 11 wolves total now (three adults/2 black, 1 gray and eight pups/4 black, 4 gray). One black pup disappeared before Thanksgiving; and, in the last month, the alpha female (529F) and another two black pups have disappeared. Although 529F was collared, her collar had quit working shortly before she disappeared, so there is no way to tell what became of her. A strong leader and skilled hunter, 529F will be greatly missed by the Druids. The alpha female role appears to have been assumed by her sister, an uncollared gray, who was the only other adult female in the pack. It will now be up to her to carry on the legacy of her father, the great Druid <21M.

The Druids have been spending a lot of time in their traditional homeland, the Lamar Valley. One day they fed on a carcass south of the road near the old picnic area. They were quite uneasy and moved off when cars parked too close for comfort in the nearby turnout. They headed east past their old rendezvous and bedded on the old Lamar River bank. Another day found the Druids lounging on a hilltop east of their old traditional den area, and on yet another day, they were in the Dead Puppy Hill area. Watching them in the Lamar from Jackson Hill above Confluence East or from the Footbridge Turnout in the Soda Butte Valley brought back many memories of the good old days. But, the Druids’ ability to regain control of the Lamar Valley may be seriously challenged by the Agate Creek pack.

The Agates have been everywhere! They have ranged west to scatter the Hellroaring pack wolves, north to the Slough Creek meadows in Slough territory, and east to the confluence of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek in traditional Druid territory. The Agates are definitely the new powerhouse pack in the Northern Range. Many of their forays have been lead by the uncollared gray male yearling (quite an independent and interesting character!) and the bold and beautiful black female, GPS collared 525F.

The breaking news for the Agates has to do with the uncollared gray male yearling, who has been the subject of suspicion that he would soon disperse in search of a mate. On Dec. 28, we watched from Dorothy’s Hill in Lamar Valley as he howled in all directions, alone on Jasper Bench. All of a sudden, he jumped up, ran straight down the hill, crossed the mostly frozen river, ran toward us and crossed the road, pausing right behind a car which had stopped to watch him. As soon as he was on the north side of the road, he did an RLU (Raised Leg Urination, usually reserved for the alphas) and disappeared uphill in the general direction of where the Slough Creek pack, which has seven females, were thought to be bedded. How we wish we could have seen what happened after that—it might have been akin to when Rose Creek 21M was accepted into the Druids as the new alpha male in 1997!

The Sloughs have been around, but not very visible, lately. Several mysteries surround them, the biggest of which is—where is alpha male 490M? His collar frequency has not been detected for several days, and it is unknown whether it has stopped working or if he is away from his seven females for some reason (which doesn’t seem likely).

The other huge news is that on Dec. 29, the morning after the Agate uncollared gray male yearling crossed the road looking for love, he was spotted on the snowy hills just east of the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the company of two Slough females, the gray “Sharp Right” and the black yearling, “Slant.” This could mean that he has indeed dispersed from the Agates, and, if he can keep the Slough females, it may be the genesis of a new pack. None of the other Sloughs were detected nearby, so we don’t know if they had run off or had perhaps been reunited with alpha male 490M far away.

The Agate/Slough trio is suspected of killing an elk just south of the road at Hubbard Hill in Lamar Valley that morning. As we watched the three high on the hill north of the road, someone yelled, “There are lots of wolves behind you!” We turned our scopes to the south and saw all the rest of the Agates chasing elk! They soon gave that up, picked up a scent trail, and charged to the elk carcass, with the silver bullet alpha female, 472F, leading the charge. As they ran full tilt, every one of those 12 tails pointed straight to the sky! It was the most awesome display of power and domination I have seen since the Sloughs vanquished the Druids two years ago. The seven adult Agates have done an amazing job of raising all six of this year’s pups, and the pack is now a force with which to be reckoned.

When they reached the carcass, an unfortunate coyote stayed a moment too long, and within 10 yards, the Agates caught and killed it. They never paid any more attention to the dead coyote, but returned to the elk carcass. We had great viewing from about 200 yards away as they fed, and a couple of incidents cracked me up. As venerable alpha male 113M chewed on the rib cage, alpha female 472F flirted with him and then grabbed the rib cage while he was distracted! (By the way, 113M, now 9 ½ and one of the two oldest wolves in Yellowstone, is looking fit and fantastic, with no signs of infirmity–although he does usually bring up the rear on outings!) Another funny scene involved a pup who was determined to carry away the entire hide with one leg attached. No matter how he tried, he just could not drag that big, floppy, furry thing very far!

The Agates later made a second charge in the direction of the road, and we wondered if they might cross to the north in pursuit of their wayward son and his two Slough female companions. If they had caught them, who knows what would have happened. But, they turned back, and we will have to wait to see what the outcome is. One thing is for sure, every day watching the Yellowstone wolves opens an amazing window into wilderness and the wild world!

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Mark Miller got this great shot of seven very confident Agates patrolling the Lamar Valley on Dec. 29

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Update Jan. 1. Slough alpha male 490M has apparently been found dead in an upper Slough Creek meadow. That leaves a pack composed entirely of female wolves. That won’t endure, and the pack will soon have a new alpha male, or more likely there will be a fairly general dispersal because breeding season is just arriving. . . . Ralph Maughan

Storm damage was tremendous at Mt. Rainier NP

I posted a story on this in November when 18 inches of rain fell. Since then the weather has continued very wet, and the full extent of the damage to the infrastructure is immense.

I can already see one political issue emerging. A large portion of the main entrance road washed away and is now the river. The build-around route would require construction in the Mt. Rainier designated wilderness. That would be clearly illegal under the Wilderness Act.

Story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. By Debera Carlton Harrell

Other national parks in Washington were damaged too. So was Glacier NP in Montana by the same storm.

Mt. Rainier NP flood page (a NPS web site).

Posted in national parks, wilderness roadless. Comments Off on Storm damage was tremendous at Mt. Rainier NP

Roadkill higher than usual in Jackson Hole this winter

Here is the story by Whitney Royster. It is isn’t just deer/vehicle collisions.

Posted in Motor vehicles wildlife, Wildlife Habitat. Comments Off on Roadkill higher than usual in Jackson Hole this winter

Chronic Wasting Disease spreads east of Sundance, Wyoming to Muddy Gap

More bad news from Wyoming. Chronic Wasting Disease (“mad elk” and “mad deer” disease) has spread further in the state. Fortunately, it was not detected moving further west this year – toward the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Story in the Casper Star Tribune. By Brodie Farquhar.

Posted in Deer, wildlife disease. Comments Off on Chronic Wasting Disease spreads east of Sundance, Wyoming to Muddy Gap

Muzzle wolf official?

It looks like Mitch King, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to undo a bit of damage he did recently because it certainly sounded like they were trying to muzzle Ed Bangs as the Service was trying to work out a deal with Wyoming, and a Wyoming state representative was telling them to shut Bangs up. The earlier article reported  the kind of quotes that just might get a federal judge’s attention should there be a lawsuit.

Here is the latest as written by Whitney Royster of the Casper Star Tribune. Muzzle wolf official?

Here is the earlier story. “Let the Public be Part of the Wolf Talks