Sunday, October 15, 2006

Wolf Saga Continues.

Wolf Saga Continues.
When I visit with you all…it is always the same question, “what ever happened with the wolves?’ I’ve left this ranch report unwritten far too long.

Rick and the “wolf guys” from the forest service were able to substantiate Cort (our cowboy’s) story. In fact a pack of wolves had killed a 600 pound calf and all that was left was a little piece of hide and a couple of bones. The lady-trapper came and set traps hoping to catch members of this rogue band and collar them so this wolf pack could be monitored. But they were too smart for the traps or too wary of the grizz in the area to come back for the left overs. (Grizz is spelled Ursus horribilis, but let the record show…Rick has yet to lose a calf to a grizzly.)

Soon it was confirmed. This is a splinter group of wolves that have migrated out of Yellowstone Park, members of the Chief Joseph pack. They were not part of the Taylor’s Fork pack that we have observed for the last year. The rangers tell us that the Park habitat is full…no more room for packs…and they are reproducing at an astonishing rate and so they are moving in to the surrounding areas. These wolves have been on a killing spree. They’ve almost put an upper Yellowstone Valley sheep man named Melin, out of business. Other calves have been killed on the Gallatin range and a mule was killed on the Madison River as well as a number of ranch dogs trying to protect their livestock. Now these rivers are not exactly near to each other. If you look at a map, you get the idea how far this pack travels in a matter of days.

Everyone offered advice. Shoot rubber bullets. Chase them with 4-wheelers. The advice most often given by locals was “shoot, shovel, and shut up.” Not advice Rick was prepared to take because shooting a wolf could lead to losing the grazing permit and worse…a possible jail sentence. The re-introduction of the wolves has been a success story when read from the point of view of the wolf. The wolf has all the rights on forest service and the rancher just has to get along.

But in the end, it was the lead that dusted their feet from Cort’s pistol when he caught them in the act that taught them to leave our cattle alone. The remainder of the summer was tense but we did not see evidence of further kiling. Cort was reluctant to leave the mountains unless we went up to relieve him. He rode every day; some days his grand daughter went with him. He knew exactly where the older single male wolf crossed the permit and he knew when that wolf found a mate later in the season. He skirted around the grizzley and her cub. He watched and listened.

Nineteen pair of cattle headed over the mountain going south. They trailed right through lush grass and mountain pasture…they didn’t take time to graze. They wanted out of there. We saddled up and trailed them back to the lower pasture. Nothing satisfied them. The calves did not put on their usual weight. The cows looked rougher than usual. Unseasonable high temperatures was not enough to account for the lighter than average calves.

When we went to gather the cows to bring them home the last days of September, it was wild. Cows were scattered in small bunches and when they were spooked, they ran like elk. Normally a cow dog is a big help moving cattle. One sound out of Rascal, our border collie, and the cow’s tails would go up in the air and they were on the fight. They would turn and chase that dog right back where he came from and then some. Then they would head off in a new direction. They were edgy. So were the pistol-packing cowboys.

The cattle were trailed to the corrals and held there while we waited for the 6 cattle trucks to arrive. When we counted we were two pair short. We knew we lost 3 cows to poison and one calf to the wolves, but what about the other 4?
Rick was confident that they would trail down out of the high country with the first bad storm and there was nothing that could be done until that time.

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