Kearns and Sons RS Aesthetics

Documenting wolf activity in the Bitterroot

By Michael Howell –

The Board of Ravalli County Commissioners has issued an announcement that it is seeking the public’s assistance in gathering information in written form describing in detail any encounters citizens may have had with wolves in Ravalli County. The announcement states that incidents occurring over the past several months of encounters between man, livestock, pets and wolves have been increasing.
“Our goal is to gather and document these encounters and the economic and social impacts they are having on the citizens of our county,” it states in the announcement. According to the announcement, “The incidents of greatest interest are those where predation has been documented and verified by Fish, Wildlife and Parks. We are, however, also interested in written comment regarding any and all wolf encounters be it on your private property or in the woods. We are also interested in knowing if living with wolves in our county has had any impact on your lifestyle and enjoyment previously experienced while living in Ravalli County. If so please explain how and why.” Comments should be directed to the Ravalli County Commissioners at Ravalli County Commissioners Office, 215 S. 4th Street, Suite A, Hamilton MT 59840 or to if sending via email. The Commission requests that comments are received by July 15, 2011. They encourage those who do not feel comfortable writing but have personal experience to ask for assistance in putting their thoughts down and then signing their statement, including name, address and contact information.
The Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks is also interested in gathering any information related to wolves from the public as well. According to FWP wolf management specialist Liz Bradley, information on tracks, sightings and encounters by members of the public are one of the agencies primary modes of collecting information about wolves.
The agency also has an ongoing program to monitor the wolf populations and activity that includes aerial surveys as well as placement of radio monitoring collars on individual wolves.
According to Bradley, there are 12 separate packs using the Bitterroot Valley as their home range.
She said that the agency has responded to two cases of livestock depredation near Darby this summer involving two different packs.
A horse was killed south of Darby possibly by a wolf from the Trapper Creek Pack. The agency has authorized the removal of the entire Trapper Creek Pack due to the tendency of pack members to attack livestock. One wolf from the pack was killed by government agents last summer and the process is ongoing, she said.
A calf was also killed by wolves east of Darby and members of the Divide Creek Pack were suspected. Four wolves have been eliminated from that 13-member pack and intensive monitoring of the situation continues.
Bradley said that recently a dog was killed by a wolf west of Hamilton. She said that the incident was not within the territory of any known pack and may have involved a disperser from some existing pack or even a pair.
The agency currently uses a variety of non-lethal deterrents as well as lethal responses to livestock predation. Examples of proactive, non-lethal deterrents used by agencies and livestock producers include electric fencing, guarding/herding animals, fladry, increased human presence, night pens, and light or siren warning devices.
In a recent history of damage management by FWP, it was recognized that most wolf packs do not engage in livestock depredation even when the opportunity exists. This fits the current situation in the Bitterroot where only two out of a dozen packs are currently implicated in livestock depredation activities.
Although wolf predation of livestock gets a lot of public attention they are only one of several predators that will kill a calf. Others include the golden eagle, black bear, grizzly bear, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, and domestic dogs. For instance, in 2005 coyotes accounted for 75 percent of all sheep predation in the state, while wolves accounted for only 1.4 percent.
Over the course of a decade, from 1996 to 2006, FWP received a total of 679 complaints about wolf predation. Over the last three years that was an average of 96 complaints per year statewide. Only about half that number were confirmed.
Over that decade wolves were confirmed to have killed a total of 230 cattle, 436 sheep, 12 llamas, one horse, two foals, and 2 goats.
From 2000 to 2006, wolves killed on average 25 cattle per year in the state and 58 sheep per year. An average of 33 wolves per year were removed due to predation.
Confirmed cattle death losses were 87 in 2010, and confirmed sheep death losses were 64. Other confirmed livestock losses include: 3 llamas, 2 dogs, 3 goats, 1 horse, and 4 miniature horses. Other injury and death losses were not verified or were deemed “probable.” Other impacts are difficult to quantify, but do occur.
A total of 179 wolf mortalities were documented in Montana in 2010, 79% (141 wolves) of which was livestock related. Of those, private citizens killed 13 wolves caught actively chasing or attacking livestock either under the federal 10j regulation or the state defense of property law. The remaining mortalities were: 1 legal harvest in Canada, 11 car/train strikes, 13 illegal, 3 incidental and agency-related, 1 self defense, and 9 unknown. Twelve packs were removed due to chronic conflicts with livestock.
In October, FWP submitted a 10j proposal to remove wolves in the West Fork Bitterroot to address concerns about predation on the elk population. The 2008 10j regulation, however, has been challenged in federal court. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was still reviewing the proposal at year’s end.
Wolf management specialist Liz Bradley may be contacted at 542-5523 or (406) 865-0017 or by e-mail at

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