I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! We held the festivities at our house for the Barton side of the family and had a great time although I ate waaaay to much (but why endure the hardships of running if you can’t splurge a little eh). I can hear it now, “When is this dude going to get those Yellowstone pictures done so we can see all the great wildlife they encountered out there”. Well, the good news is I think I’ve post processed all of them now – at least the ones I like the best out of the thousands and thousands we took that week. Now I need to export them out, get them to a manageable size, slap the ol’ copyright on them and start the long tedious upload process. Soooooo… my apologies, but it is going to a little while longer. In the meantime I wanted to bring you a book recollection about Yellowstone. In particular, this recollection is from a book I picked up at the Old Faithful Visitor Center called the Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone. I had just signed up to become a member of the Yellowstone Association and was looking for something to apply my resulting gift discount on. This book by Douglas W. Smith and Gary Ferguson caught my eye. I really didn’t know much about the background of the reintroduction and decided this might be a good way to gain some knowledge.
Admittedly, I had a little buyer’s remorse when I took a closer look and found out the book was actually written 6 years ago. I was hoping for something a little more recent which would provide some more updated information on the current packs. I eventually convinced myself that the reintroduction was a point in time so the historic viewpoint would still be a worthwhile read. Let’s just say those early doubts were quickly put aside as I became thoroughly engrossed in this book. The author was involved with the reintroduction from the start and provided a captivating narrative from the initial wolf captures in Canada, through the acclamation process and then proceeded to immerse the reader in the surprisingly rough life of the early Yellowstone wolves. Having just experienced wolf sightings in the park, it made me feel that much closer to them – seeing them through the camera glass was one thrill, but now understanding what they have been through and the struggles they endure as a species just makes it that more special. I was actually surprised at the number of wolf on wolf skirmished that occur with a few of the packs doing significant damage to their perceived rivals. The packs were rocked by disease (parvo and distemper), struggled through territory battles, attack prey at great risk to survival and live with the constant threat of man’s aggression outside the park – and yet thrive in their reintroduced surroundings. They are truly a majestic animal that clearly represent an Apex Carnivore. They are still no match for a grizzly, but on the range they reign supreme.
I highly recommend this read for anyone with an interest in wolves, desire some information on successful and disappointing events in the reintroduction process as well as any skeptics to why this was the right thing to do. I am sick and tired of reading about people’s ignorance and bias against this animal and hopefully more people can get their facts straight before demonizing the reintroduction process. It was disappointing to find out my Church is to blame for the early “evil” opinions formed about the wolf but hopefully we can all come together and cast that wrongly applied stigma aside. It is a fairly quick read with many pictures and specific wolf accounts. It is doubtful you will be able to remember all the wolf numbers (each wolf is given a number) especially when the packs start intermingling. But don’t let this get in the way of your reading – just try to put yourself in the wolf’s particular situation and admire its ability to handle hardships, adapt to their surroundings, lead their families and more importantly … survive. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I have an affinity to the wolf, but aren’t those traits also at the core of humanity? My thanks to Doug and Gary for their fine effort.
Hit the jump to see the takeaways .. and our Yellowstone Association gift!
- August 2004 – Yellowstone has 15 wolf packs – tracked via radio collars placed on some of the wolves (55 of them collared at that point in time)
- At one there were at least 5 subspecies of wolves and over 2 million of them roaming across North America which then dwindled to 500 thanks to predominantly to man
- Aldo Leopold recommend Yellowstone Wolf re-introduction in 1944 (likely of regret having shot one of the last two wolves in New Mexico)
- There was a parvovirus and distemper outbreak in 2005 killing 47 of the 69 pups that year bringing total wolf population down to 118
- The introduction of wolves in Yellowstone was based on 31 wolves taken from various packs in Canada (all had collars)
- The Catholic Church voted the wolf as the devil’s dog (proof of evil on earth) … I wonder if the Pope will apologize for that too
- Past 200 years there have been no fatalities from wolves in North America and only 20 cases of attacks on humans and most of those involved feeding them – 16 of the 20 came on the Alaskan Pipeline where the workers were feeding them – if this isn’t corrected in the Park they have to eliminate the wolf – they reported a month ago that they had to put a wolf down because of acclamation to humans – they should also kill the tourist idiots responsible for this.
- A large part of wolf population expansion was due to Wolf #9 – in 199 she was related to 79% of the wolves
- The Albright Visitor Center has the remains of wolf pups orphaned by a wolf pack skirmished – Druid Pack killed their mother
- Wolves have built in homing – if you capture them and simply let them loose in a new place they will begin traveling in the direction they came from – which is why they introduced them to Yellowstone by keeping them in acclamation pens
- They have a one strike and out policy – attack livestock and they will eliminate the wolf
- Wolf jaw power: 1200lbs/sq inch – large dog: 600lbs/sq inch
- Mollie’s Pack has some of the largest wolves – at the time two were captured weighing over 130lbs – likely due to having to hunt bison for food
- At one point the Druid Pack had 37 wolves – largely due to three females giving birth to 21 pups
- From 1996 to the time of this book (2005) at least one pack in the park has had two litters – and a few have even had three – note, the wolves avoid in-breeding
- The author mentions that people were coming from England to witness the wolves – ironically we befriended a lady from Europe (UK I think) that was there the week we were there -she was a wealth of information for us
- Life expectancy for a Wolf in Yellowstone is 3.4 years with females living about 4 months longer than the males
- The Soda Butte pack was eventually renamed the Delta Pack
- Wolves are Apex Carnivore – or top of the food chain
- They actually had a picture of an Elk seeking safety in the middle of a river surrounded by wolves on the banks – this is the exact scenario that was happening while we were recently in Yellowstone – thanks to idiot visitors who decided to get a closer look at the showdown, the wolves and elk were spooked costing the wolves a 2 day effort to feed their cubs
- Wolves can travel 35mph
- When elk stand and face wolves, they generally survive the encounter – guessing there is plenty easier kill for the taking – no sense in risking broken ribs
- Packs sizes are generally set by their main prey – deer have a pack size of 5-7 – elk tend to have 8-12 and the big boys in the park who take on bison can grow over 15.
- They actually calculated that an average wolf kill brings in about 29 ravens
- Want to guess where the highest pronghorn fawn survival is – near wolf dens! apparently they don’t spend a lot of time looking for their well hidden bodies
- Seven out of eight elk herds leave Yellowstone every winter
- Only one out of every five hunting attempts is successful (makes me even more pissed off at those damn tourists that messed up the elk hunt in the river)
- Yellowstone wolves breed in February, give birth in April (gestation 63 days)
- Wolves kill about 9% of the elk in the park a year ~ 3,000 to 3,200 .. for even finer stats make that 1.4 elk per month per wolf in early winter and 2.2 elk late in winter (wolves eat 25-35% less in summer)
- Moose are not a popular prey for wolves due to their formidable size – the park wolves prefer elk
- Wolves prefer the winter – weaker prey (author stakes there is no such thing as too cold for the wolves)
- They do not use ear tags and have a rule that only 50% of the wolves can be collared – they want the visitors to enjoy the wolves being wild
- The reintroduction plan calls for Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to take over management of the wolves after federal management achieves restoration – Idaho and Montana have approved plans, but Wyoming basically wants them still treated as predators and shot on sight which the US Fish and Wildlife considers unacceptable – and I AGREE – now Wyoming is suing the government which is delaying the whole delisting effort
- 100 wolves were expected to kill 38-110 sheep and 3-37 cows each year – which is way less than weather and wild dogs – farmers actually try to claim their herds weigh less due to stressing about wolves – now that is some weak ass shit – apparently mixing mules in with the farmer’s herd is a a good way to deter along with bells – they tend to head right for wolves scaring them off
- The Slough Creek pack actually drove the Druid pack out of the confluence area to a spot farther east in the Lamar Valley – they were gaining strength at the time of this writing – I think it was the Druid pack that had the elk at the confluence when we were there, but I need to check on that.
- A grizzly bear will generally show up within an hour of a Mollie’s Pack bison kill
- Apparently the Delta pack wolves had a tendency to chew each other’s radio collar off
- At the end of the book, the Leopold Pack was the kings of the northern range having a pack of 24
By the way, check out what I got for joining the Yellowstone Association:
how cool is that?! – thanks to David and his wife Giselle (sp?) for getting us hooked up with the association while we were out there – they had signed up before us and let us know about it .. and all the cool things you get for being a member. Hope we can get out there and see you two again
Here is a shot of the wolves (yep, we got two of them!) demonstrating what I think of hopefully soon to be EX coach Zook and the pathetic showing of the Illini in the second half of the season.