Dispersal’s A Dangerous Game For Wolves

A wolf shot over the weekend in south-central Utah is getting a lot of media attention and sparking wailing amongst wolfies, but not all long journeys made by these footloose critters are going to have endings like OR7’s.

That’s because while dispersal works great for Canis lupus at the species level, it is a tougher go for individuals.

Just ask the half dozen or so young Northwest wolves that in recent years have gone off in search of new ground and mates and ended up pelts, cougar poop, pulverized by pickups, poached and lethally popped.

THE GPS TRACK OF A MONTANA WOLF FOUND DEAD IN COLORADO. (USFWS)

THE GPS TRACK OF A MONTANA WOLF FOUND DEAD IN COLORADO. (USFWS)

There are dangerous highways and interstates to cross, big rivers and lakes to swim, territorial fellow predators, borders at which protections end, mistaken identities — the Utah wolf was “accidentally” killed by a coyote hunter, according to the state game agency — and livestock operations which might look like convenience stores to a hungry wolf (too much good stuff!) that no longer has the benefit of a pack to hunt with, but ain’t.

That last one is where a wolf from Central Washington’s Teanaway Pack met its end, a British Columbia pig sty, in which it was shot by a farmer in spring 2012.

Two Smackout Pack males, 017M and 018M, were also killed in BC, one last winter after reportedly attacking cattle on the east side of the Coast Range where it had apparently denned, the other by a hunter somewhere in the Okanagan Valley in 2013.

Another pair of radio-collared Oregon wolves were similarly legally taken by Idaho hunters, while a third Beaver State wolf was shot illegally in Montana.

And the wolf poached on the Palouse in mid-October was probably a disperser, perhaps from Idaho or Oregon.

I’m sure there have been more, but after awhile, all these PNW wolves just kind of blend together, which in a sense is what dispersal is all about.

After all, those dead wolves themselves were the pups of previous dispersers that arrived in Washington and Oregon from BC and Idaho, and perhaps as far afield as Montana, Wyoming and Alberta.

And despite the abovementioned failed dispersals, several poachings this year and one lethal depredation in August, I’d still be willing to bet that the number of wolves, successful breeding pairs and packs all have risen in WA and OR over last year at this time. After all, OR7 picked up a female and had pups outside K-Falls this year.

Dramatize not, wild dog lovers. While it may seem like a fine time to whine about the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s delisting proposal as well as yet another opportunity to drum up money, it’s the species, not the individual, that matters most. Biologists know that. Dry those eyes, another wolf will be along in Utah soon, the NRM’s got plenty to share.

(You should also breathe a sigh of relief, for going into the breeding season, the pure gene pool of those Mexican wolves in the Southwest is safe.)

If there’s a lesson for Western hunters, it’s that wolves are now turning up in all sorts of different corners — it’s possible that the Utah one had gone from southwest Wyoming, through the Beehive State to the rim of the Grand Canyon and then decided to turn around — so we have to be extra careful identifying our targets this winter. We don’t need to give the wolfies ammo to tar our side.

For those of you in areas where wolf hunts aren’t allowed but coyote hunting is, here’s a visual key courtesy of WDFW’s hunting pamphlet on how to tell the difference between the species:

wolf-coyote

WDFW’S 2014-15 BIG GAME HUNTING PAMPHLET INCLUDES THIS ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO TELLING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GRAY WOLVES AND COYOTES. (WDFW)

 

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