Kathie Lynch: Mid-summer 2010 Yellowstone wolf report

Kathie says mid-summer watching is better than she expected-

Here is Kathie Lynch’s latest wolf update.

Ralph Maughan

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Copyright © Kathie Lynch

Watchers must rise very early on the long summer days in Yellowstone to try to see wolves before they bed down in the shade to escape the heat of the day. Sometimes all of the action ends by 8-9 a.m. Watching generally picks up again in the evening, if an afternoon thunderstorm or the mosquitoes don’t chase you away. The up side is that the park is still quite green, and wildflowers abound–I counted 22 different kinds in the first half mile of a hike up Mt. Washburn!

Mid-days are best filled with hiking or watching other wildlife, like the badger and coyote who worked together to hunt Uinta ground squirrels (which, incidentally, had the badger and coyote surrounded!) or the pronghorn buck who galloped to the rescue, emphatically ending two coyotes’ tackle of a tiny pronghorn fawn.

Bear sightings at lower elevations have decreased, but the grizzly sow with two cubs of the year (COY) still delights visitors on Dunraven Pass almost daily, and the sow with three COY is still being seen a long way off in Hayden Valley.

The bison are preparing for their big August rut. Things got off to a rousing start recently with a never-before-seen parade of several hundred bison past the Northeast entrance station and along Highway 212 through Silver Gate and Cooke City, destination unknown. Apparently not finding greener pastures, they returned to the Park the next day, causing massive traffic jams.

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Norm Bishop on wolves and the northern range elk population-

Bishop, below responded to Montana State Sen. Joe Balyeat who has proposed legislation cut off relations between Montana and the federal government on wolves.
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Sen. Joe Balyeat [Bozeman Chronicle Dec. 30] proposes legislation to sever Montana’s ties with federal agencies on wolf management. He fears that allowing the wolf population to keep growing will doom the northern Yellowstone elk population, and elk throughout the state (where elk populations are 14% over goal).

Montana wolves increased to 394 in 2007, but the mid-year 2008 estimate is down 9%, to 360. Northern Yellowstone’s wolf population is down 21% 35% from 81 in 2007 to 64 53 in 2008. As the density of wolves increased in past years, interpack killing joined disease as a limiting factor.

Sen. Balyeat’s rationale for his bill appears to be based on a one-time count he made of the ratio of calves to cows of the northern Yellowstone elk herd. From dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles on the effects of restored gray wolves on their prey in Yellowstone, we can pick two to enlighten us on these complex issues.

Vucetich et.al. (2005. Influence of harvest, climate, and wolf predation on Yellowstone elk 1961-2004. OIKOS 111:259-270) studied the contribution of wolf predation in a decline of elk from 17,000 to 8,000. They built and assessed models based on elk-related data prior to wolf reintroduction (1961-1995), and used them to predict how the elk population might have fared from 1995 to 2004 had wolves not been restored. Climate and hunter harvest explained most of the elk decline. From 1995 to 2004 wolves killed mostly elk that would have died from other causes.

Wright et al. (2006. Selection of Northern Yellowstone Elk by Gray Wolves and Hunters JWM 70(4):1070-1078), documented that hunting exerted a greater total reproductive impact on the herd than wolf predation. The article’s authors were university, federal, and state wildlife biologists working cooperatively. No legislation is needed to improve on that.

Norman A. Bishop
Bozeman, MT

Note: Bishop was a leader and supporter of wolf restoration interpretation in Yellowstone.
He has received numerous awards for his Park Service work with wolves. Among other
organizations, he is a director of the Wolf Recovery Foundation.

Northern Range elk count is in. Elk numbers down slightly

The annual, and always controversial count of elk on the Yellowstone northern range has been released. The northern range of Yellowstone extends well north of Yellowstone Park itself.

The news article concludes on the basis of speculation by a couple biologists that more elk are now living north of the Park due to the long term drought, lack of predators, and milder winters. A Montana state biologist says this makes the winter range north of the Park even more valuable. This is true. That range has always been invaluable and the state ought be buying more of it before it is completely filled with trophy homes.

If this is a trend, however, it takes more than one year to establish. One data point does not make a trend. This year’s elk count is two months late. As the winter progresses, these elk move to lower elevations, and that always means north. Until these “new” locations are replicated, we don’t know that elk are in general moving north.

It would certainly help if the agencies could get it together to count the elk at the same time every winter. That is what they are supposed to do — count at the same time each year. Otherwise, you end up with hard to compare figures.

Story. Count shows elk pushing north out of Yellowstone. By Mike Stark. Billings Gazette.