Friday, March 20, 2009

F&G sends Phantom Hill wolves scampering

Officials place 3rd radio collar on pack member as part of hazing effort

Express Staff Writer

A member of the Phantom Hill wolf pack stands on the main road through the Golden Eagle subdivision in the mid-valley last week. Photo by Curtis Tidwell

Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials successfully hazed members of the Phantom Hill wolf pack away from homes near Sun Valley this week.

Department biologists decided to take action to move the 10-member pack away from residential areas in the resort town out of concern that they were becoming much too comfortable around humans in recent weeks.

"We moved them east from Independence Gulch," said Regan Berkley, Magic Valley regional wildlife biologist.

Berkley said they also succeeded Tuesday in tranquilizing a juvenile male from the pack and placing a radio collar on it. That brings to three the number of wolves in the pack now sporting radio collars, devices that allow biologists to track the pack's movements, although one of the collars isn't working anymore.

Despite the initial success of the work, Fish and Game officials are under no illusion that the wolves will not show up again in the coming days and weeks while herds of elk remain in wintering areas near the valley floor. Department officials believe the pack was drawn down into the valley near homes by wintering elk attracted to private feeding operations.

With snows still limiting movement of the elk, Berkley said, "there's still a pretty powerful attractant for them."

In the past three weeks, the Phantom Hill wolves took what amounted to a circular stroll through the middle of the Wood River Valley between Sun Valley and Hailey. Beginning in the Elkhorn neighborhood, the now very well-recognized pack was spotted at various times out the East Fork of the Big Wood River, up Deer Creek and then in Greenhorn Gulch.

Finally, on Tuesday, the pack was spotted in Independence Gulch, a side canyon to Parker Gulch on the eastern edge of Elkhorn. Taking advantage of a break in the weather early that morning, Fish and Game officials took to the air in a helicopter to push the wolves eastward into the Pioneer Mountains.

Berkley said they were able to do so by flying low just above the wolves without having to resort to firing a shotgun loaded with non-lethal "cracker shells," which give off a loud bang.

A day later on Wednesday, Fish and Game officials spotted the pack out East Fork, Berkley said. There, they succeeded in scaring them off by firing cracker shells over their heads.

For now, Fish and Game has no plans for additional helicopter work. Instead, Berkley said, the department will likely rely on hazing them from the ground, which should cause the wolves to better associate humans with the scare tactics.

However, for safety reasons, Fish and Game will not shoot cracker shells if the wolves are too close to homes.

"When we can do so safely, we will probably continue with some ground hazing," Berkley said.

Berkley reiterated her call seeking help from local pet owners. She said that until the elk move higher into the mountains, wolves could still show up near homes and threaten dogs, horses and other domestic animals.

"Keep your pets close to home," she said.

Jason Kauffman:

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