I’m up and out at 6:55 in 23 degrees. There is a bit of snow dust on the car, easy to brush off, and a light snow is still falling. I predict it will stop at Round Prairie and it does.
The otter is out at Confluence (although it could be a different one), so I stop to watch for a little while. Once it heads out of sight I continue west. There is no news over the radio so I stop at Dorothy’s to scope. Alas, I find no wolves.
On to the west I go but it seems to be very quiet. I have a bit of a bison jam at Boulder, and stop again at Yellowstone Bridge. I hear coyotes howling to the north but can’t find them. I continue west until I see Kara at the big ski lot across from Petrified Tree. She was hoping for the Wapitis but they seem to have left.
Then we hear a radio report of a single gray visible from the YES lot back in Lamar. Since the wolf is south of the road, there is a good chance we won’t miss it so we pack up and head there.
The YES lot is small so I expect it will already be full. I pull in to the Ranch and climb a small hill just north of the road. Rick gives me some helpful directions and I quickly find the wolf! It’s a collared gray, fairly close to the road. I can see it moving between two cottonwoods that grow out of the Rose Creek east drainage. The wolf is eating, tugging on something it’s found between the two trunks.
After a few minutes the animal leaves this spot and moves to the west across the snowy flats. My heart suddenly sinks because I see the wolf is badly injured. Its right front leg is useless; its paw drags across the snow as it moves, unable to bear any weight.
The snow is deep here but the wolf shows amazing determination, making very fast progress on just three legs. Animals are just astonishing.
After a while, Rick joins me on my little hill. I have been assuming this wolf is either 907 or 969 because they are the only collared grays who normally frequent this area. But I had not heard either of them was injured. Rick says no, this is a different wolf. When Lizzie joins us a little later, she says she thinks this is 1118F, a Mollie wolf who was injured several weeks ago.
Rick says the spot near the cottonwoods where we first saw her was where the Junctions killed an elk in November. He says 1118 would be able to smell it, despite the cold, and was scavenging a bit of sustenance from it.
As she continues across the snowy flats, Lizzie tells us more – that she has a GPS collar and the Wolf Project has been looking at her “data points” since she was first injured. They know she has visited a series of known old carcasses in the general Lamar area. Since she can no longer hunt for herself, this is how she keeps herself alive. It is also know that she was outside the park for a short while before the injury and there is some suspicion that she was shot.
I watch her negotiate at least four small channels of the Lamar very carefully and cautiously. Although the river usually freezes on top during winter, the water still flows beneath the ice and there are usually various small sections of open water. Otter activity contributes to keeping certain sections open all winter.
She finds a frozen section and crosses safely. She actually lopes up the far bank on three legs, and looks like she knows where she’s going. Rick knows there is an old bison carcass ahead of her, also from November and predicts that she is going to that spot.
And that’s exactly what she does.
She digs through the snow a bit with one leg and begins to scavenge, drawing a few bird companions. She stays in this location for over an hour, grabbing up whatever bits are left.
Many viewers this morning are moved to pity, watching her hobble all that way. They worry out loud how she will manage all alone, since it will be winter a long time yet. I decide to be hopeful for her, since she looks good otherwise and has been successful finding food for the last two weeks. Around 11:30 she beds right there at the carcass, so I decide to move on.
I find other wolf watchers at Lamar Canyon west, so I stop to scope and talk. Everyone wants to know how Laurie is doing so I give them an update of what I know. Rick and I talk about his book. Kirsty and Alan tell the shocking tale of their car on the ice in November.
I also learn more details about 926’s death. She was shot just off the Bannock trail (an area across from Laurie’s and a bit further east). Neither she nor her pack was doing anything troublesome, although it was no secret in Silver Gate that they were using the area as part of their territory (there are a couple dozen homes but still quite primitive and chock full of wildlife). An anti-wolf resident became annoyed/worried by the pack’s frequent presence and made a call to a person at the Cooke City Exxon station, who then travelled to the resident’s location with his gun for the specific purpose of killing a wolf. To make it technically legal, the shooter was “off the road” and waited for the wolf to also step “off the road” and then pulled the trigger. These facts make the wanton, unprovoked killing a “legal" hunt in Montana. There is little one can do once the Game Warden has pronounced the incident “legal” (which was done, after an investigation) but I will, at least, not give any of my business to the Cooke City Exxon.
It’s very upsetting. There’s no bringing her back, and the pack is apparently still together, with Little T as alpha female and Small Dot as alpha male. They have at least one surviving pup and perhaps as many as four.
However, there are now no collars in the pack and no plans to add any. The Park seems to have decided to leave them to their fate at the moment. Collaring might make the others easier to shoot, but I don’t know if that is a factor or not. There are still random sightings from time to time and I hope I am lucky enough to see them myself.
The sun has come out and we enjoy the blue sky.
I follow Kirsty & Alan west and meet up with Larry & Linda at Hellroaring. We scope for a while and enjoy the gorgeous views but find no wolves. We move on to the Children’s Fire Trail with similar results. Eventually they head west and I go back east.
I stop for gas at Tower. And suddenly, my steering wheel locks. I look in the manual but find nothing helpful. I ask people in the lot if they know anything about this kind of thing. Everyone is sympathetic but no one knows what to do. Finally Chuck & Wynell come by. They remember me and offer to try to help. They try various things and eventually suggest I try to call Hertz. My cell reception here is spotty but I try.
Then suddenly, Chuck tugs the wheel just the right way and loosens again. Hallelujah!
I give them cookies and thank them profusely.
Back at Dorothy’s I find #1118 again. She is in the very same spot, but facing the opposite way. She has a bone and is gnawing on it. I hope she finds lots of marrow inside. I think we should not count her out yet.
Eventually I head for home. Just uphill from Trout Lake I see a car off the road on the right, and I remember noticing a very icy patch there yesterday. I stop to offer help. There are four people digging already, all young and healthy. They thank me and wave me on.
Flurries begin again at Baronette and continue the whole way.
Today I saw: bison, elk, an otter, ravens, 1 Mollie wolf (#1118F) and the spirits of Alison & Richard.