This is the third summer in a row where I have been lucky enough to spend a full month away from New York in the mountains, including more than a week of that time in Yellowstone. I thank my wonderful staff at work, whose competence and generosity allows me to leave the day to day business up to them, while I monitor from 2000 miles away.
The wolf situation in the Park is reflective of the wolf situation in the surrounding states. Wolf numbers are down, Park-wide. Lamar Valley is no longer the center of reliable wolf-watching as it once was. There is little chance to spot wolves on the Blacktail, in Antelope Creek, in Gibbon Meadows, nor the Pelican. The one area in the Park where wolf viewing has remained stable is Hayden Valley.
On the northern range only two packs are seen now with some regularity - the Junction Butte pack and the Lamar pack. And by "regularity" I now mean short glimpses, or from far away. The Junction Butte pack was formed by a merger of some Mollies and some Blacktails - it has approximately 11 members: alpha male Puff and alpha female Ragged Tail, the New Male, the Black Female, the Black Male, 870F and 869M. This pack has 4 pups, all gray. Their territory is Junction Butte to Slough Creek to Specimen Ridge but they spend a good deal of time in an area called "the trough" which is not visible from any pullout.
The Lamar pack is an offshoot of the original Lamar Canyon Pack started by the illustrious 06 female (killed outside the Park by a hunter Dec 2012) with males 755M and 754M (killed outside the Park by a hunter Nov 2012) The Lamar Pack consists of alpha male Big Gray (unknown origin, possibly Wyoming), alpha female Middle Gray (daugher of the 06 born in 2010); Black Female (daughter of the 06 born 2011) and 859M, (son of the 06 born 2012). Middle Gray had pups in April 2013 and by July, wolf watchers got infrequent glimpses of two healthy black pups being raised by the pack. But one was lost in early August and now is seems the second pup may be gone, too.
Middle Gray's father, 755M, is still alive and is sporadically seen from the Blacktail to Lamar Valley. It is hoped that he will find a mate this coming mating season (February) and have a chance to start another pack. When the 06 was killed, he not only lost his beloved mate, he also lost his pack, as all the females were his own daughters. Those daughters naturally formed pairs with other males, who then were unfriendly to 755M.
755M remained in Lamar, and found a second mate in Mollie wolf 759F, but she was killed when the remaining Lamar Canyon pack wolves visited Lamar in March 2013. In April, 755M then paired up with another gray female (the New Gray) on the Blacktail but since mid-June the two have not been seen together. 755M was seen in Little America as recently as August. Although he was born jet black, his coat has now turned almost totally silver-gray. He is still a very handsome and distinctive wolf. .
The Blacktail Pair, 693F and Big Brown remain on the plateau, but have not produced pups for the third year in a row.
Further south, it is believed that the Mollies pack (which has returned to Pelican Valley) has pups but I've not heard an exact count. The Canyon Pack in Hayden Valley has three pups, and they all seem healthy. The Canyon pack now numbers between 8-10, the largest it has ever been.
Many of the "original" Lamar Canyon pack now live in Wyoming, with 776F (daughter of 06 born in 2010, sister of Middle Gray) as the alpha female. It is believed they have 4 pups. Those of us who watched them grow up in the Lamar Valley still greatly miss them, and more importantly, we know how vulnerable they are to being hunted out of existence come September.
I don't mean to sound ungrateful but this trip was more like wolf glimpsing than wolf watching. My enjoyment of watching animals comes from observing their behavior - when you see an animal for only 30 seconds there is not much behavior to witness. Still, as Laurie says, every wolf is a gift.
The resident Lamar Canyon pack, at least one member of which I saw every day on this trip, reminds me of a family down on its luck. The green-up season was so mild and gradual that the usually common occurence of bison dying of bloat did not happen. Bison carcasses have sustained the resident packs in July during the past several years, at a time when elk and deer are robust and hard to catch.
This summer, one bison carcass was available to them in early June, but the next did not arrive until August. Alas for the Lamar Pack, that bison died in the western end of the valley and was fed upon by the larger Junction Butte pack (as well as bears). No one ever saw any of the Lamar Pack on the August bison carcass.
There is still a lot of sadness in the wolf world for people like me who believe they have a place in the North American ecosystem. The men who run the states which control wolf lives still seem to barely tolerate their existence. They continue to ignore science and to cater to the selfish interests of the livestock industry which sees predator species as unwanted. Only within small pockets of man-made boundaries, such as Yellowstone National Park, are predators valued and protected. Everywhere else they are "managed" for the lowest possible number. Protected Park wolves are, of course, ignorant of human-set boundaries, and thus are exceedingly vulnerable to the hunt when they venture outside the borders, which all wild creatures do.
Between the extremely loose hunting rules and the enthusiasm of Wildlife Services to do the bidding of wealthy ranchers (who pay a mere pittance to graze livestock on public land in wilderness areas - and neglect to protect them from natural predators) wolves have been killed in ever-rising numbers during this past year and are likely to do so in the months to come.
Those who value wildlife must find a way to be given a voice in the management of wolves and predators in America. We who enjoy watching wildlife go about their wild lives are also stakeholders. We cannot afford to be out-shouted or out-voted or shoved to the side while the Rocky Mountain states insist on living under 1860's rules.
Thanks to Laurie and Dan for their amazing generosity, to Kathie, Rick, Jeremy, Tracey and Kevin for their friendship and companionship. And thanks, as always, to John Uhler, for the Chat Page and for making a home for the Loons
And finally, I'd like to explain about Allison. Allison was a shining-light of a woman, the Queen of the Loons and my friend. She passed away suddenly in December of 2003 at the far too young age of 50.
Her loving family arranged for her ashes to be scattered on Kite Hill above the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in June of 2004. Many of us Loons were in attendance at that ceremony. Thus, each time I visit the Park I feel her presence, and I hope always to share my trips with her.