*Editor’s Note* – There has always been discussion about whether there existed a population of native wolves in the Montana, Idaho and Wyoming area before Canadian gray wolves were introduced into Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho. Most will concur that “native” wolves, those that migrated down from Canada, had taken up residence in Northwestern Montana. Fewer would agree or acknowledge Idaho already had a population of “native” wolves and was well on its way toward recovery. It has also been widely discussed that there are major differences in size and habits between Idaho’s “native” wolf and the introduced Canadian gray wolf.
Below is an email I received today that was initially sent to someone whose name I have “Xed” out. The email is from Tim Kemery who was involved from the mid-1980 to the mid-1990s, in tracking and mapping native wolves in Idaho. He claims that his work was delivered to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before introduction of Canadian wolves. (Note: In the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before the actual wolf introduction, claims were made that any wolves found in the Northern Rocky Mountains Distinct Population Segment (NRMDPS) were loner wolves or just passing through with no established packs. This same information has been used repeatedly in subsequent lawsuits about wolves and the Endangered Species Act. Please note that it is a violation of the ESA to introduce a non native species where a native species already exists.)
It has often been discussed at to whether this documented information was deliberately hidden or overlooked in order that introduction take place. Mr. Kemery alludes to that in this email.
However, the importance of this email is that, 1.) It provides more proof that a native population of wolves was habituating Idaho, and 2.) There is a disturbing difference in habits as has been observed by Mr. Kemery and documented below.
Comparison of Wolf Varieties
January 3, 2011
Dear Mrs. XXXXX,
In response to your questions regarding the great disparity in levels of wolf depredation between our former Resident Wolves and the introduced Canadian Grey Wolf, let me attempt to clarify some of the historical issues that surround the work done by several counties in Idaho to document the Resident Wolves in the late 1980’s. Starting in the early 1980’s attempts were being made by several Wildlife Agencies including Idaho Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to locate and monitor large predator species that were considered “threatened” or “endangered.”
A program was started to send questionnaires to trappers and hunters asking for help in locating these animals, and signs were posted in public offices around the state seeking input from the public to determine if any of these species remained in the state, and if so how many individuals were there. These programs came to be known as “The Wolf and Wolverine Hot Lines.” In reality there was a phone number to call that put you in contact with members of Idaho Fish and Game who would take the details of the public’s sightings of these rare animals. It was in response to these efforts that counties in Central Idaho began to respond by sending correspondence and sightings to the Agencies involved.
As the years passed in the 1980’s a significant amount of data was collected by trappers, hunters, and Fish and Game officers to warrant full time research and monitoring of these species. As criterion to use for observing these species county residents were asked to look for numbers of individuals: sex, age, size of territory, and behavioral qualities such as secretiveness and recruitment numbers of young etc.
During approximately eleven years time (1984-1995), much data using these criteria for observing Resident Wolves was collected and maps of the wolves territories and packs were created. During these
years of observation, very consistent and definitive behavioral and social traits became evident as this
variety of wolf was observed. These traits would become all important in determining what the habitat and prey base this variety of wolf would require, and the impacts it would have on our ungulate populations. A very important contribution to our ability to compare our variety of wolf to the introduced Canadian Grey Wolf was also a result of these years of observing the Pre-Introduction Resident Wolves in their preferred habitats.
I will list the criterion used by the individuals involved in collecting data on the Pre-Introduction Resident
Wolves, and then I will give a brief comparison to the same criterion as observed by all of us in the field as particular to the Canadian Grey Wolf. Remember that really the most important issue to all of us now is the resulting impacts to our fragile ecosystems of one variety of wolf as compared to the other and its portent when deciding on effective wolf control measures.
PRE-INTRODUCTION RESIDENT WOLVES: WOLVES OBSERVED THREW “1995” IN IDAHO.
* Highly secretive behavior. Very sensitive to roads and highways. Largely nocturnal.
* Usually found either as dispersed individuals or pairs.
* Packing activity was very rare except during the months of January-February.
* Pack size at breeding time was usually 4-7 individuals.
* Females (breeding bitches) retained pups for an average of 18 months.
* Pack dispersal was very consistent after breeding season.
* Litter size consistently was 1-3 pups. Bitch bred at 2-year old stage.
* Extremely selective as to food source. Rarely fed on old carcasses or kills of other species, except in the most harsh winter conditions.
* Very much an opportunist when different prey was available. Spent great percentage of hunting effort on rodent acquisition, (moles to rabbits).
* Sport-Reflex Killing almost negligible. Most ungulate depredation was consumptive, not surplus. Typical kill had hams and shoulders consumed.
* Territory of individual or pairs was quite large. Average 2 week return cycle.
* Wolf body size: Female 55 lbs.-70 lbs. Male 85 lbs.-105 lbs.
* Competition with other predator species including coyote and fox was low. Other canine species co-existed and thrived in presence of Resident Wolves.
* Habitat utilized consistently: Mid to high elevation, with forest and mixed forest. Resident Wolves were very resistive to utilizing large areas of open range land with grass or sagebrush cover.
* Older mature males almost always solitary except at breeding intervals.
* Conflict with domestic dogs very minimal except in rare cases.
* Livestock depredations extremely rare but do occur in remote areas.
* Consistent avoidance of man made structures, roads, vehicles, and humans.
NOTE: This data as well as maps locating individual wolves, as well as breeding pairs was hand delivered to Craig Groves in 1992, and entered into the Idaho Fish and Game’s Conservation Data Base by George Stephens.
Craig Groves was at the time in charge of oversight of the Conservation Data Base for Idaho Fish and Game, and was an Idaho Fish and Game employee.
NON NATIVE WOLF Observed Criterion: Introduced Canadian Grey Wolf, 1996 to present.
* Exhibits low level of fear of humans. Non-secretive behavior. Minimal avoidance of humans, vehicles, domestic animals. Will cross large open terrain at will even when other options for cover are available.
* Canadian Grey Wolf is found in small to very large pack sizes. Small packs of 5 individuals are common as are large packs with over 20 members.
* Pack merging, the condition of 2 or more packs combining is being observed in many areas in the west and is not uncommon. Merged packs of over 40 wolves have been observed in the Central Idaho Wilderness.
* Females (breeding bitches) can be bred even at 1-year of age, and produce from 5-9 pups per season. The pups usually remain with the pack but can disperse or be driven off by other pack members.
* All females of breeding potential in the pack are usually bred. There is absolutely no indication that any females are kept from breeding by the theoretical “Alpha-female.” Large packs are quickly produced and can disperse and merge several times within a week.
* Canadian Grey Wolves show a diet preference for elk but will switch at will to a secondary prey species. Low preference is shown for rodent species, but wolves do sporadically hunt rodents.
* Sport-Reflex Killing is highly developed in Canadian Grey packs. From observations in the field, 3-5 ungulates are killed for each ungulate consumed. This surplus killing is greatly increased if the pack size is large or packs have merged. Often small wintering herds of deer or elk are completely extirpated in one hunting event.
* Body Size: Females 60 lbs.-85 lbs. Males 90 lbs.-120 lbs.
* Competition with other predatory species is extreme and often fatal. Both mountain lion and bear have been impacted by attacks and from reduced available prey. Other Canines such as Coyotes and Fox have been severely impacted in most of their habitats. Fox are only able to survive in habitats that include lots of willow or dense underbrush. Coyote populations have been reduced by are persisting at lower than historic levels.
* Canadian Grey Wolves have been found to utilize all available habitats, from high elevation alpine to sagebrush deserts. This has allowed this variety of wolf to be opportunistic in all ecosystems available to it.
* Large mature male wolves remain with the pack threw out the year, sometimes dispersing for short periods of time.
* The Canadian Grey Wolf is highly predatory on all domestic canines. Hunting hounds are especially vulnerable to attacks and are usually killed outright in a confrontation by wolves.
* Canadian Grey Wolves have shown a preference for predating on domestic livestock even with abundant natural prey present. Beef calves are the most common victims of wolf depredation.
* Canadian Grey Wolves show a high level of habituation to humans, and man-made structures. It is not uncommon to find Canadian Grey Wolves in very remote areas eating out of dog dishes and coming onto porches of homes when the owners are present.
It is clear from a comparison of the two varieties of wolves that control efforts will have to take into account the realities of dealing with a wolf as different as the Canadian Grey Wolf is from wolves found in other parts of the continent. Both the high fecundity of the Canadian Grey Wolf and its depredating qualities ensures that control efforts will have to be highly organized and long term if we are to protect our magnificent wildlife from the debacle that is ongoing in Canada and in our western states.
Mrs. XXXXX, I will not in this email go into the fraud and corruption that brought us to this wildlife disaster, but suffice it to say that had the Federal Agencies not been corrupt in dealing with the information given them by Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming citizens we would by now have had a recovered Resident wolf population that would still need to be managed, but we would not have what we have now with the very existence of our ungulates hanging in the balance, and wolf borne diseases threatening our way of life. If possible and time permits I will fill you in later on how our investigation turned out, and who
was responsible for purging our maps and data from the Conservation Data Base, and carrying out the introduction of the Canadian Grey Wolf, in direct violation of the Endangered Species Act. It is a very tragic story, but God willing we will turn this around!
Yours, Mr. Kemery
Tim Kemery is a professional trapper and did the mapping work for the IDFG Wolverine Study. He also mapped the Pre-Introduction Resident Wolves, and hand-delivered those maps of 18 resident wolves to Craig Groves at IDFG, Conservation Data Base, then the Heritage Center. Tim Kemery graduated from the U of I with a B.S. in Range Science in 1982.