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For the week of May 10 through May 16, 2000

Last week the Idaho Mountain Express looked into the perspectives of ranchers in the East Fork of the Salmon River area regarding "lethal control" efforts taken on the White Cloud wolf pack in April. This week the Express looks into the White Cloud pack’s history and the significance of the control actions on Idaho wolf recovery.


The rise and fall of a wolf pack

The White Cloud Pack’s formation and demise


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

The now defunct White Cloud wolf pack was founded by a female wolf whose whereabouts are unknown following the shooting last month of five pack members, including her mate—a possibly wild wolf. By now, she probably has pups.

Without her mate to gather food, both she and her pups are in jeopardy. She likely had her pups in mid-April, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Idaho wolf recovery leader Roy Heberger.

Heberger said one of three fates has probably befallen the struggling alpha female by now:

She could be struggling, near fatally, to feed herself and the pups; she may have abandoned the pups; or by the luckiest of circumstances, a male wolf from another pack found her and is helping to raise the pups as the pack’s new alpha male.

The odds aren’t in the pups’ favor, Heberger said in a telephone interview.

Last week, aerial flights looking for the missing female’s radio collar signal in central Idaho returned without encouragement, he said. If the female is found and is still with her pups, he added, they will be taken into captivity to be safely raised.

What follows is the story of the lost female, known to wolf researchers as B36F. Her story is reconstructed from U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife records, an interview with Heberger and an Internet site hosted by Boise-based wildlife enthusiast Ralph Maughan.

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In the winter of 1998, during the Nez Perce tribe’s routine aerial wolf monitoring flights, a radio-collared, female wolf, B36F, was located wandering high elevations of the White Cloud Mountains.

The Nez Perce, under a cooperative agreement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, are responsible for wolf recovery implementation and fly all monitoring flights.

B36F was one of 21 wolves released in Idaho in 1996. For a long time, the British Columbia native of Canada’s Petrie wolf pack was the southernmost Idaho wolf, according to Heberger.

According to one of Maughan’s reports, she was a healthy 100-pound adult at the time of her transfer.

As winter faded into spring in 1998, B36F was increasingly spotted with an uncollared and previously undetected male wolf, Heberger said.

The two, which became the White Cloud Pack’s dominant alpha pair, denned in the White Clouds that April and whelped nine pups, the largest litter in Idaho since wolf reintroduction took place in 1995 and 1996.

Later in the summer, the pack migrated south into the headwaters of the Big Wood River and southern end of the Stanley Basin.

There began the pack’s eventually fatal tendency to prey on livestock. The pack preyed on six sheep near the base of Galena Summit in the Stanley Basin, Heberger said. Scared away by the presence of some raucous humans, however, they moved several valleys over and did not repeat the instinctive—but troublesome—behavior in 1998.

In the spring of 1999, the White Cloud alpha pair gave birth to seven more pups.

Late in the winter, the pack made its first confirmed hunting forays into the East Fork of the Salmon River and preyed on calves owned by the Baker family.

The Baker ranches are about 15 miles south of Clayton, a community located between the White Cloud and Salmon River mountains, along the main Salmon River. The family has deep roots there going back generations.

Cattle rancher Eddie Baker

Eddie Baker, 79, is a fourth generation East Fork of the Salmon River cattle rancher. He said appropriate measures were taken last month when five wolves were shot near his ranch for preying on two of his calves. Express photo by Willy Cook

 

 

Several of B36F’s 11-month-old pups were radio collared and one was relocated to northern Idaho to try to "mix them up," Heberger said.

Throughout the winter and spring of 2000, the pack lived in the vicinity of Sheep Mountain, slightly southeast of the Baker ranches. A stream called Baker Creek funnels from the high sagebrush hills near Sheep Mountain into the ranches.

Baker Creek is where the wolves lurked before heading into the East Fork of the Salmon River valley ranches to prey on livestock, Eddie Baker Jr. said in an interview at his 900-acre ranch two weeks ago. Baker and his father, Eddie Baker Sr., 79, agreed that wolves and humans are like oil and water.

"We like wildlife, but when they get on our private land, that’s a different deal," Eddie Baker Jr. said.

Last month, the White Cloud pack killed four calves on Baker ranches—two on property belonging to the father and son and two on their cousin Wayne’s ranch. Five of the wolves, including the alpha male, were shot with a .12 gauge shotgun from a low flying helicopter.

Three wolves were successfully relocated to the north; one is confirmed to have escaped into the White Clouds; and several more are believed to have dispersed to other packs or locations. Of the nine that were confirmed to be in the East Fork, one remains.

Another radio-collared pack member is confirmed to have moved into Copper Basin, east of the Pioneer Mountains. Reports indicate that a pack may be forming in that area.

The alpha female, B36F, was pregnant at last sighting in early April, and was expected to give birth in about two weeks, Heberger said. He said wolves generally give birth in mid-April.

"I’m concerned," Heberger said of the missing female and her pups.

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Heberger’s concern isn’t just for the female’s safety. If she doesn’t raise a healthy litter or help form another pack, it will be another setback in achieving wolf recovery and "delisting" of wolves in Idaho under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In order to be removed from the ESA, Idaho, Montana and Yellowstone wolf populations must sustain 10 breeding pairs each for a period of 10 years. Montana wolves have not yet attained the 10 breeding pair minimum, Heberger said.

Idaho, which sustained 13 known packs and 10 known breeding pairs as of December 1999, was considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be the most successful of the three reintroduction sites, Heberger said.

Now, however, Idaho is down to 10 known and intact packs after three packs, including the White Cloud pack, were targeted by lethal control efforts for preying on livestock in the past year.

That’s not to say, Heberger said, that "ghost packs"—those that are thus far undetected—aren’t forming.

"There’s undocumented pack activity that’s going to need on-the-ground research," he said.

Heberger said Idaho sustained a minimum of 10 breeding pairs for the past two years in a row. The numbers are counted on Dec. 31 of each year, after juvenile wolves have had a chance to grow through their perilous young lives.

Heberger didn’t speculate about the number of breeding pairs Idaho will have this fall. The existence of 10 packs doesn’t mean that all 10 will breed successfully, he said.

 

Next week: Focus shifts to the Wood River Valley’s backyard wolf pack, the Stanley Pack.

 

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