USDA specialists working to eliminate wolf pack near Yellowstone known for preying on livestock
April 11, 2016
A pack of wolves north of Yellowstone National park that have preyed on livestock over a two-year period have now become the hunted.
Specialists from USDA are flying in and working on the ground to eliminate Rosebud pack.
The pack, whose territory is the Beartooth front in a ranching community in southern Montana, had made a name for itself, killing cattle and forcing one widow to take up arms for the first time in a long while.
Veronica Carter, 62, of Absarokee, Mont., who lost a heifer in January to wolves, borrowed a neighbor's rifle because hers hadn't been sighted in recently.
"I practically had to sleep with my heifers," Carter said. "I had to get them to bed down near the house and I had to put them up before dark."
Easter night, her dogs went to barking and she spotlighted two wolves in with her herd of 50 cows.
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Kurt Miedtke, government trapper, says his agency tried quietly reducing pack numbers to slow them down.
It didn't work.
"At this point, the wolves here have made a habit out of killing livestock," Miedtke said. "It's not their first depredation in the area by any means. We made the decision to do a full pack removal."
As of April 6, two wolves had been taken by helicopter.
The elimination of the pack comes at the end of a five-year period of monitoring the wolf after it was delisted in Montana, and on the heels of an interagency report released this month.
That regional report for 2015 includes recorded wolf populations, confirmed depredations, and how much money was spent replacing livestock.
The populations recorded are lower than the number of wolves actually out there, said Miedtke's supervisor, John Steuber, state director for USDA Wildlife Services in Montana.
"Above those numbers, there are 25 to 30 percent more wolves than what are counted," Steuber said. "That's what Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has told us."
Rosebud pack distinguished itself to its own demise.
"This is what we call chronic depredation in this pack," Steuber said. "There's no question that it's them because it's the only pack in the area."
Small ranchers like Carter are who USDA had in mind when it made the decision to cull the pack, Steuber said.
Carter says her cattle have started sticking to the county road where the traffic seems to comfort them. They are nervous around her dogs. When she lost a replacement heifer, she was reimbursed for a feeder heifer.
The Grey Wolf was reintroduced in Montana in 1995. It had already started recolonizing there.
At its peak several years after reintroduction, investigations of suspected wolf depredations numbered 200.
"Not all of those turn out to be wolves," Steuber said. "But last year we had 90 such incidents."
Wolf encounters overall are on the decline, he said.
Miedtke said he has reliable methods of identifying a wolf kill that include a feeding pattern and the physical remains of a fresh carcass.
He said after a kill, USDA has 45 days in which to act or keep on monitoring.
At the moment, unseasonably warm weather gives the wolves an advantage, making it harder to track them without snow on the ground.
Miedtke is setting out foot-hold traps and could shoot a wolf at 100 yards if he encounters one.
Ranchers in Stillwater and Carbon counties should soon get some relief.
"People have to make a living," Miedtke said. "They were starting to get into smaller ranches where if they lose two heifers that really takes a big chunk out of their livelihood."
Carter said in 25 years, she's had a couple of calves disappear, but nothing like this.
The heifer she lost was a twin she had raised on the bottle.
Circling birds led her to the kill on top of a hill over a ridge Jan. 23.
"She wasn't the smallest or the weakest, like they say. But she was the gentlest. I guess that's what got her." ❖