Wednesday, November 30, 2011

‘Super pack’ not in Idaho, officials say

Wolf pack photo taken in Canadian national park

Express Staff Writer

In this photo being circulated on the Internet, a group of 25 wolves walks through an area identified as Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada. Photo by Chadden Hunter, courtesy of Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Another widely circulated wolf photo that seems just wild enough to be true has proven false, say state wildlife officials.

The photo shows 25 wolves traveling in a line, with a label identifying it as having been taken in Soda Springs, Idaho, outside of Pocatello. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game said the photo has been circulating on the Internet for three weeks, claiming to have been taken in other areas of the state such as Weippe.

John Gaither, president of the Idaho County Sportsmen Club in Grangeville, Idaho, forwarded the photo to the Idaho Mountain Express last week, with a note calling the exceptionally large group of wolves a "super pack."

Gaither said in an interview Monday that his club has received several calls from hunters who have seen wolves in the Soda Springs area. However, he added, it doesn't much matter where the photo was taken—it's still a cause for concern.

"I don't know where [the photo] is from," he said. "It could be from Mars. But that's still a big pack of wolves."

Department Big Game Manager John Rachael said in an email that the location of the photo was eventually traced to Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada. Chadden Hunter, a BBC photographer, said in an e-mail that he took the shot while filming the company's "Frozen Planet" series in Feb 2010.

Even if the original source had not been found, there are a few holes in the validity of the photo and the "super pack" label, said Neils Nokkentved, spokesman for Fish and Game. What caught officials' attention is that the photo's stated location, Soda Springs, is in a part of Idaho where wolves are uncommon.

"I don't think anyone has ever seen a wolf over there," Nokkentved said.

A 2010 report on wolf activity conducted by the Nez Perce tribe, which monitored and managed gray wolves through much of the year when the state pulled out of wolf management, states that there are no documented packs in the Southern Idaho Region, which includes Soda Springs.

"There aren't any wolves in Soda Springs that I'm aware of," John Rachael, big game manager of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said in an email. "This is getting beyond laughable. Soda Springs? You're making that up, right?"

Rachael said the first email he saw containing the photo claimed the pack was located in Weippe, Idaho—more than 560 miles from Soda Springs, in the Dworshak-Elk City region.

In 2010, there were about 32 wolves in 11 packs in that region, leaving an average of roughly three wolves per pack. Even if there were one pack that large, that 25-wolf pack would leave seven wolves in the entire region to be dispersed over the remaining documented 10 packs in the region—and lone wolves are not counted as packs.

The average wolf pack in Idaho contains eight to 10 wolves, said Garrick Dutcher, spokesman for wolf advocacy group Living with Wolves. As for the term "super pack," Dutcher said the term is in fact not used by "real wolf experts" as Gaither claimed in an email to the Idaho Mountain Express. Dutcher added that it is unlikely the group was made of several packs traveling together.

Dutcher said there have been packs, such as the Druid Peak Pack in Yellowstone National Park, that have reached up to 35 wolves.

"Usually packs this large are the result of multiple litters being born within the same pack in one year and a very large, accessible prey base," Rachael said.

However, he added, it's very rare for a pack this size to have wolves that are all the same color, further casting doubt on the photo being located in the United States.

Gaither said that no matter where the photo was taken, it calls attention to the danger of having wolves in Idaho, which is why he forwarded the photo.

"What a lot of people don't understand about wolves is that even though no one has been killed in this state is because there just weren't that many," he said. "Everywhere there are wolves, people get killed by wolves. The reason for the big-bad-wolf stories is because wolves kill people."

However, Dutcher said a pack this large, even if it was in Idaho, is not cause for alarm. In fact, Dutcher said large packs are more effective at pulling down larger prey, reducing the number of livestock depredations.

"There's nothing to fear about a large pack," he said. "They can live together in large social units. That's not something that should strike fear in people, rather amazement."

Katherine Wutz:

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