The Yellowstone Wolf ReintroductionSeptember 1st, 2006 — Ralph Maughan
History of the Greater Yellowstone wolf restoration
By Ralph Maughan
The original wild wolves in Yellowstone were deliberately killed by the federal government during the period when it was government policy to exterminate the wolf everywhere, even inside national parks. The last wild wolves in the Park were killed in 1924 when two pups were killed near the hot spring cone, Soda Butte, in Soda Butte Creek in the NE corner of the Park. A few wolves persisted in Wyoming until 1943 when the last was shot in the Owl Creek Mountains on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Even after this time, occasionally one or two wild wolves did migrate into NW Wyoming, but there is no evidence that they successfully formed packs. From an ecological standpoint, such lone wolves had no influence on the functioning of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
THE 1995 WOLF REINTRODUCTION AND THEIR FATE
After a long and heated debate which lasted almost a decade, in January 1995, fourteen wolves were captured in Rocky Mountains of western Alberta and brought to Yellowstone National Park. Fifteen additional wolves were captured and sent to central Idaho. The Yellowstone-bound wolves were placed in three “acclimation” enclosures. Each was about an acre in size, and they were all located in, or near, the Lamar Valley in the northeast part of the Park. The three enclosures were the Rose Creek, Crystal Creek Bench, and Soda Butte [Cr.] enclosures.
The wolves were released from these enclosures after three months of acclimation. Each pack was named after the enclosure that had been their acclimation pen. So the three packs were named the Rose Creek Pack, Crystal Creek Pack, and Soda Butte Pack. Later, late in 1995 the Leopold Pack formed naturally when two of the 1995 wolves paired.
All of the original wolves were given numbers, R2 through R15. They were checked for many diseases, vaccinated, and then radio-collared. Minor surgery was even done on one wolf to repair a natural injury in Alberta.
The process of holding the wolves together for three months, acquainting them with the local diet, local sounds and smells, and giving them time to mate, was termed “soft release”. The soft-release method was in contrast to the method used with the Idaho wolves — “hard release” — which was to free the wolves immediately upon reaching their release site. The Idaho wolves (numbered B2 through B16) were, therefore, released and were roaming inside the winter wilds of central Idaho by mid-January 1995. Release of the Yellowstone wolves did not begin until late March. This is very early spring inside Yellowstone National Park.
When the 3 packs were released, at first they didn’t move far; then they made wide explorations, which averaged overall, was generally to the north. Only the Crystal Creek Pack settled in the Park, although the other two were physically returned to the Park — the Rose Creek Pack early and the Soda Butte over a year later. See the individual pack histories below.
The History of the first four Yellowstone wolf packs 1995-1998
THE ROSE CREEK PACK - 1995
It originally consisted of wolves R7F, R9F, and R10M
This was an artificial pack in the sense that the three wolves were not from the same wolf pack in Alberta. The black adult female, no. 9F and her reddish-brown pup, no. 7F were from one pack. The very large, and very bold gray male, no. 10M, was from another. It was hoped 9 and 10 would mate. In fact no. 9 was in estrus when placed in the Rose Creek pen. After a couple hours of growling, 9 and 10 did accept one another and they eventually mated in late winter.
Nine and ten split from number 7
Upon release, 9 and 10 soon separated from no. 7 (or perhaps it was the other way around). Number 7 generally remained in the Park’s northern reaches, where she soon became aware of R2M, the most timid of the Crystal Creek Pack. But things would change for both no. 7 and no. 2 in about nine months.
Number 9, pregnant, migrated with no. 10 northward from the Park, over the very rugged and snowbound Beartooth Mountains, to a mountain (Mount Maurice) just above the town of Red Lodge, Montana. This mountain was the last in the Beartooth Range before the plains.
Number 10 is shot while number 9 whelps eight pups
There on Mount Maurice number 9 stayed looking to den while her mate explored the arid, abandoned coal-mining country just below the mountain to the east in Bear Creek. Unfortunately for no. 10, he was gunned down on April 24, 1995 by Chad McKittrick, a local who was out bear hunting and had gotten his rig stuck in the mud.
Her mate did not return and no. 9 gave birth to 8 pups underneath a pine tree on the mountain slope. It was on private land. Although there was some discussion about letting her raise her litter with biologists bringing her supplementary food, her proximity to Red Lodge and presence on private land made raising a litter on Mount Maurice problematic. Consider that the wolves were not expected to have pups the first year. The eight pups were a great unexpected bonus. In fact they were 1/3 of the Yellowstone wolf population. Finally, prospects for another batch of 15 wolves from Canada in 1996 were far from certain. The survival of her pups was vital.
It was decided an attempt would be made to raise them all summer back in the Rose Creek pen. It was a good decision. Her eight pups (four of which were still alive as of July 1998, and still 2 or 3 in Oct. 2000) helped create the Park’s largest wolf pack.
Back to the Rose Creek Pen in Yellowstone
No. 9 and her pups thrived in the pen, although there was a near disaster — an August windstorm blew some large Douglas fir trees down across the pen, allowing the pups to escape. Most of the pups were recaptured and returned to the pen, but the rest remained nearby, were fed, and kept out of trouble even though grizzly bears were beginning to show interest in the den area. The pups also became acquainted with wolf R8M, a sub-adult male from the Crystal Creek Pack, who was ready to disperse from his pack — to leave his pack.
National Park Service Photo
One of the Rose Creek Pups in the summer of 1995.
Rose Creek gets a new alpha male, wolf R8
Upon the release of no. 9 and her pups in mid-October 1995, no. 8 quickly joined the pack and got a big boost in wolf social status to both create and become the alpha male in the Park’s largest pack — ten wolves. With the exception of one of the pups (no. 22) that ran into a UPS delivery truck during the winter months, the greatly-enlarged Rose Creek Pack prospered throughout the winter and the spring of 1996.
In May 1996, no. 9 gave birth to three more pups at a den site on the lower Lamar River, about a mile upstream from its confluence with the Yellowstone.
1996-1997: Rose Creek dominates the northern part of Yellowstone but now with competition from the aggressive Druid Peak Pack-
After late 1995, the Rose Creek Pack was by far the largest pack in the Park. It had eleven members as of Oct. 1996, and despite deaths and dispersals. The Pack had 22 in June 1997!. The pack was visible to Park wolf watchers throughout the spring, early summer, and then the fall and winter of 1996. As the fall of 1998 approached, Rose Creek still had about 20 members.In June 1996, the Rose Creek Pack had a dramatic territorial battle with the newly introduced (1996) Druid Peak wolf pack. This took place in Slough Creek right in front of many Park wolf watchers. The Druid Peak pack was driven off, but another of the 1995 pups (no. 20M, by then a yearling) was killed as a consequence of the fight between the packs. It seems that number 20, a too-enthusiastic youngster, pursued the fleeing, but very aggressive Druids too far by himself.
Throughout 1996 and late winter and spring of 1997 the huge pack dominated the lower Lamar Valley, Buffalo Plateau and Slough Creek. After June 1997 the pack was not visible to the public, however. It moved up onto the wilderness top of the Buffalo Plateau. In October 1997 they returned to the lower elevations, and occupied Slough Creek, the lower Lamar Valley, the west side of Specimen Ridge, Hellroaring Creek, and the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone. There numbers had dropped from 21 to 15. A number of pups had perished, almost certainly of natural causes. The summer of 1997 had been hard for a pack with many mouths to feed. Ironically, the reason for this was that the previous winter had been so good for wolves due to the abundant prey struggling through the severe winter.
Once again, the pack became were quite visible, but the viewing interest of most Park visitors had by then shifted to the almost always visible Druid Peak Pack which hung out near the confluence of Soda Butte Creek and the Lamar River.
We were fortunate to spend most of one October 1997 day on Specimen Ridge with the Rose Creek pack all around us, howling, chasing elk, and in general providing we humans a great show.
The 1995 pups, grown, begin to disperse, but others Others remain and more pups are born to Rose Creek-
During the winter of 1996-7, some of the pups of 1995, now almost two years old, began to disperse. No. 23M (uncollared) dispersed and has never been tracked. No. 16F dispersed and mated with no. 34M, a wolf brought from British Columbia in early 1996 and who had been part of the new Chief Joseph Pack.. No. 17F also dispersed and mated with no. 34. The two females denned in separate locations and each whelped five pups in April 1997.
Number 19F remained with the pack, and in April 1997, she denned, whelped a litter from an unknown mate, but she was soon killed (probably by the nearby Druid Peak pack) and her tiny pups soon died of malnutrition and exposure. The father of the pups was never determined.
Number 9F, by now the Park’s most famous wolf, chose a den in full view of the NE entrance road. In early May, thousands of folks saw her and her seven pups before she moved the den to a less visible location in mid-May. Her daughter no. 18, also mated with no. 8. Number 18’s den site was a more isolated site under a rock near the Lamar River. She outdid her mother and whelped eleven pups! Unfortunately for number 9, none of her pups survived, in part because of the location of her den. More on the fate of no. 9F’s 1997 litter.
In June the big pack moved back up onto the Buffalo Plateau on the northern boundary of the Park and stayed there, out of sight, until October when they returned again to lower Lamar River/Slough Creek area.
In November 1997, no. 21M, one of 1995 pups, dispersed. He briefly paired with female wolf no. 39F, who had been a member of the rival Druid Peak Pack; but he soon seized the opportunity of actually joining the rival Druid Pack and becoming its alpha male. This was possible because both of the adult males in the Druid Pack had been illegally shot that November when the Druids made a foray to the east of the Park.
Shortly after the dispersal no 21M, one of the 1996 Rose Creek pups, no. 52M, dispersed and joined with another former member of the Druid Peak Pack, no. 41F. They became known as the Sunlight Pair and lived in the Sunlight Basin area east of the Park. By the end of 1997, of the original 1995 pups, only 18F remained with her mother, stepfather, and newer brothers and sisters in the Rose Creek Pack.
Article on the fate of eight pups born to no. 9 and 10 in April 1995. Updated to November 2001.
In 1998 both no. 9 and no. 18 denned together. They jointly produced eleven more pups. It is not possible to say which pups belonged to which mother, but by late May the Rose Creek Pack was back to an incredible 24 wolves! During the summer of 1998, like 1997, they remained out of sight on the Buffalo Plateau. The pack returned to the lower Lamar, Slough Creek country in October 1998.
Almost all of the pups survived 1998, with the size of pack reported at 22 in December 1998. Nos 8 and 9 were still the alpha pair, although 9’s formerly black coat had turned to silvery gray except for her ears and tail. In late 1998, their territory was the Yellowstone River between Hellroaring Creek and the confluence of the Lamar River plus the expansive Slough Creek drainage in the Park and to its north. Number 53M of the pack was a distinctive black wolf. He was nicknamed “Chow,” for the big ruff of fur around his neck. It made him look very powerful.
THE SODA BUTTE PACK- 1995
Released in Soda Butte Creek, but the pack didn’t stay there long-
The Soda Butte pack did not linger near their 1995 release pen in Soda Butte Creek. Like no. 9 and 10 from Rose Creek, they also explored the country north of the Park. But unlike the Rose Creek Pack, which was returned to the Park after the murder of no. 10, the Soda Butte Pack spent most of the summer of 1995 deep in the rugged Beartooth Mountains and along their productive foothills, the Beartooth Front.
Soda Butte alpha female no. 14F had one pup in 1995-
This pack was rarely seen by tourists.
That first spring–April 1995–the alpha female (no. 14F) did whelp one pup. This female pup was numbered no. 24F. This was probably 14’s first litter. A physical examination upon her capture in Alberta showed no evidence of prior pregnancies. The 1995 den site was in Flood Creek, a very remote place in the Beartooth Mountains.
Wolves 11F and 12M disperse, but end up shot-
During the winter of 1995-96, large Soda Butte male no. 12M, which had at first been thought to be the alpha male, and later a pack female (no. 11F), dispersed from the pack. Unfortunately, both were shot dead in separate incidents. Number 11 was killed a few miles north of Meeteetse, Wyoming, after being mistaken for a coyote. Number 12 dispersed far to the south of Yellowstone and was shot near Daniel, Wyoming, about 40 miles SE of Jackson. The killer of no. 12 has never been brought to justice. Jay York, who shot no. 11, quickly turned himself in and was assessed a fine of $500.
This well-behaved pack sets up residence on the Beartooth Front-
Influential locals object anyway and the pack is removed back to Yellowstone-
By the spring of 1996, the remainder of the Soda Butte Pack had set up permanent residence on the Beartooth Front. In fact, they denned on private land in the West Rosebud River drainage — a scenic foothill area near many ranches. Although the pack never killed livestock, politics dictated that the pack with its three new 1996 pups-of-the-year be captured and removed. Successful capture of all but wolf no.15M was made in June 1996. I was extremely critical of this capture because I believe it inadvertently created a stream of events that indirectly resulted in the death, a good while later, of no. 15M, no. 27F, no. 37F, and no. 26F. Of course, hindsight is easy; but my postings show my criticism at the time.
The recaptured pack was put in the empty Crystal Creek acclimation pen for much of the summer.
Soda Butte Pack Re-released in the SE corner of Yellowstone-
In order to move the pack as far as possible from the Beartooth Front and also to try to populate the wildlife-rich, remote, but still wolfless, SE corner of Yellowstone, in August 1996 the Soda Butte Pack was taken across Yellowstone Lake to a new wolf enclosure near Trail Lake. This is near where the Yellowstone River flows into Yellowstone Lake — far from any roads or human habitation. The pack was at the Trail Lake pen for about two months. Unfortunately, during this time, one of the 3 pups, a female pup, died of natural causes. The remaining five wolves in the Soda Butte Pack were released to the wilds on Oct. 7, 1996. Released were the alpha pair, 13M and 14F; yearling 24F; and pups 43M and 44F.
The pack moves to Heart Lake and stays there-
After the pack’s Oct. 7 release, it moved rather quickly about 15 miles to the NW to near Heart Lake. Although this is a very deep snow area, the pack wintered at Heart Lake. There is a major geyser basin there and elk and moose winter in the basin. However, wintertime elk numbers are far smaller at Heart Lake compared to Lamar Valley. Outside of the geyser basin, there is very little for wolves to eat.
During March 1997, the Soda Butte alpha male, no. 13M, the oldest wolf introduced to Yellowstone, died of natural causes. For a considerable period biologists did not realize he was the alpha because of his age and his retiring nature when humans were around. (”Old Blue” was his nickname due to his curious bluish-gray fur). Story on the death of no. 13.
In May 1997 five new pups were born — nos. 123-126. These were the last progeny of Old Blue.
In November 1997 after a year near Heart Lake, the pack suddenly began to explore. They ranged SE of Yellowstone into the Washakie Wilderness and then back to Heart Lake. Then they moved south through the Pinyon Peak Highlands in the remote Teton Wilderness to emerge for the first time where people could see them since their time on the Beartooth Front. They were spotted on Mount Randolph just above the Buffalo Valley, where runs the U.S. Highway 26 from Moran Junction to Dubois, Wyoming.
Folks expected them to follow the huge elk migration south into Jackson Hole where 10- to 15,000 elk winter. Instead, they went back to Heart Lake inside Yellowstone where the eight member pack survived on a shrinking supply of elk and moose. During mid-winter the pack returned to the vicinity of Trail Creek, where they had been re-released in Oct. 1996. There they encountered the big alpha male (35M) of the new Thorofare Pack. The Soda Butte Pack tore him apart.
In 1998 the pack had no pups. Number 14F had no mate, and seems to have been the sole leader of the pack.
They remained in southern Yellowstone through the summer and fall of 1998. Late in 1998, no. 14’s lone pup from 1995, no. 24F dispersed from the pack, pairing with a yearling (133M) from the hard luck Washakie Pack. This pair, soon dubbed the “Teton Duo” established the area near Moran Junction on the eastern edge of Grand Teton National Park as their winter 1998-99 range.
Soon, however, the rest of the pack descended into Jackson Hole and were seen on the National Elk Refuge for several weeks chasing and killing elk. Big excitement! In late winter they surprised everyone and returned to Yellowstone! Speculation was that 14F was seeking a mate and there were no possibilities on the Elk Refuge.
THE CRYSTAL CREEK PACK -1995
From tourist fame to obscurity-
The Crystal Creek pack thrilled thousands of Yellowstone tourists with its unexpectedly high visibility in the Lamar Valley throughout the summer of 1995. They played, preyed on elk, chased and killed coyotes, and interacted with grizzly bears in front of thousands of tourists, but they bore no pups, despite digging a number of dens. Unfortunately for the pack, although not for wolves in general in Yellowstone, three of its younger members dispersed during the fall and winter of 1995 — nos. 2M, 3M, and 8M.
The pack’s alpha female (no. 5F) did den in 1996; but it is likely that the new and aggressive Druid Peak Pack killed her pups. The new Druid Peak pack did attack and kill her mate, wolf no. 4M, and it appears that the Druids may have also injured her. This, and its battle with the Rose Creek Pack, described above, gave the new Druids a well deserved reputation for aggression.
By the middle of 1996, this once proud pack was down to just the pair of no. 5F and 6M, who was captured with the rest of the pack in Alberta and was thought to be her son. Years later genetic analysis showed that he was not her son.
The Crystal Creek Pack gets a new lease on life with pups in 1997-
By the fall of 1996 the surviving pair had moved out of the Lamar Valley and upstream into the Lamar River’s remote headwater canyon. During the winter they moved into the eastern center of Park, to the Pelican Valley just to the north of Yellowstone Lake. In late February through early April they had drifted a bit northward and were located near White Lake on the Mirror Plateau. In the spring they moved back to the Pelican Valley and in April the Crystal Creek pair became the first Park wolves to make a confirmed kill of a bison. However, after a day, a hungry grizzly just out of hibernation claimed their kill. In May, no.5 whelped her first confirmed pups since she was brought to Yellowstone. She had a litter of six, and so the pack was reborn. They spent the summer of 1997 in the Pelican, but by fall they began to explore the country to the east. In early 1998 they moved out of the Park just east into the rugged North Absaroka Wilderness. However, they soon moved back to the Pelican Valley where they had a second litter of 8 pups in 1998.
Radio collaring operations in February 1998 revealed that the alpha male, no. 6M had grown from the 75 pounds of January 1995 to 141 pounds! He had just eaten. however. One of Crystal Creek’s pups of 1997, then just ten months old, weighed 115 pounds, and he had not eaten.
Despite the pack’s rejuvenation, to tourists it remained in obscurity. The Pelican Valley is a broad and wildlife rich valley, but no road runs through it; and visitors on foot or horseback must follow strict rules due to the high density of grizzly bears in the area. The wolves and the grizzlies have gotten along fairly well, however, and in a 1998 tracking flight Park wolf team leader, Doug Smith, actually saw a grizzly sow and her cubs asleep in the valley’s grass amidst the sleeping Crystal Creek Pack.
Many more pups in 1998, but big no. 6 suffers a natural mortality.
By the summer 1998 the pack had not just been reborn. It had grown large. No. 5’s litter of eight pups in the spring of 1998, brought the pack’s size to 16 wolves. In late August 1998 the Pack’s wolf team got a mortality signal on the alpha male. He was found dead near an elk he had killed in the upper reaches of Pelican Valley. It appears he too was killed in the struggle with the elk.
Finally, a new alpha male — from the Druids!
Once the mortal enemy of the Crystal Pack, the Druid Peak Pack suddenly made a swing southward in late September 1998, and one of the Druid pups born in 1997, now just 1 1/2 years old, left his pack to join Crystal Creek. Not only did this bold yearling, no. 104M join, he became the alpha male. The time of enmity was long ago in wolf time. Only the alpha female 5F could have had memories of the Druids and the loss of her mate and pups back in 1996 in the Lamar Valley. . . and the then-alpha male of the Druids, no. 38M, was long dead, victim of another coward’s bullet.
THE BLACKTAIL DEER (LEOPOLD) PACK (the first naturally formed pack in Yellowstone)
At first there was just “Rosie”-
The original Rose Creek Pack consisted of only three wolves — R9F, R10M, and R7F (R9’s pup from the previous year in Alberta). Little no. 7, who weighed only 77 pounds when released, stayed with her mother, no. 9, and wolf no. 10, for just a short time. The adult pair soon traveled over the Beartooth Mountains to their fate (described above) near the town of Red Lodge, Montana.
No. 7F, often described as a “beautiful reddish/gray wolf” and often called “Rosie”, was able to fend for herself all summer and fall. She remained in the Park, keeping to its northern portion, especially the expansive Blacktail Deer Plateau, which is a bit west of the territory that was claimed by the Crystal Creek Pack; and, after October, west of the territory of the newly invigorated Rose Creek Pack. She visited Gardiners Hole, the Mammoth Hot Springs area, and even Electric Peak in the Gallatin mountain range.
During the fall and winter, three of the second year males of the Crystal Creek pack dispersed, searching for mates. As we have seen, no. 8M from the Crystal Creek pack became the new alpha male in the Rose Creek Pack, replacing dead no. 10M..
Crystal Creek’s wolf 3M unfortunately dispersed into Paradise Valley, a settled area north of the Park, and killed several sheep. He was trapped and released near Fishing Bridge in the center of the Park, but he was soon back at the sheep ranch. As a result he was dispatched by a helicopter gunship from the federal agency Animal Damage Control. This was in violation of the rules of the wolf reintroduction that gave wolves three chances, but local politics dictated that the rules should be bent.
Some believe no. 3 was really looking for a mate. There is a compound near the sheep ranch that houses a large number of captive “buffalo wolves”, said by the owner, to be the “last of their kind”. No. 3 may have been attracted to the area by their howling. In fact Ferguson indicates that Jack Sharp, the owner of wolves, has a photograph of no. 3 standing at the wolf compound.
Rosie (no. 7) and number 2 pair and form the first natural wolf pack in Yellowstone in seventy years-
Wolf no. 2M of Crystal Creek did find a mate — “Rosie”, no. 7. While number two had been part of the Crystal Creek Pack, like no. 7F, he had always been more of a loner than a pack member. In December 1995 he left his pack for good, joining no. 7. They were soon observed double scent-marking (a sign of bonding affection), and they have been together since. They keep almost entirely to the Blacktail Deer Plateau, where they are seldom seen. In April 1996, no. 7 gave birth to three pups. This new pack, the first naturally-formed pack in Yellowstone in about 70 years, was renamed the “Leopold” Pack in honor of the great wildlife biologist and conservationist, Aldo Leopold.
The rarely-seen pack prospered in 1996 and 1997.
Since spring 1996, the Leopold Pack has continued to range over the Blacktail Deer Plateau. The three pups of 1996 were soon the size of their parents. One male was in fact larger, but one of the three, no. 54M an uncollared wolf, dispersed in the autumn of 1997.
In April 1997 Rosie had a second litter. This time is was five pups. So in two years this pair became a pack of 10 wolves.
The Leopold Pack is almost never seen by Park visitors because it has almost exclusively favored an area closed to visitation due to the density of grizzly bears. Occasionally, however, the pack will move west or north and has been seen near the road at Blacktail Ponds and to the west of the Blacktail Deer Plateau on Swan Lake Flat.
Five more pups in the spring of 1998-
In the spring of 1998, Rosie gave birth to her third litter. Once again she had five new pups, and the pack had grown to14 members. Even so, the pack was rarely seen by Yellowstone tourists. By late 1998, visual observation was eleven wolves, so some pack members may have died and/or dispersed. Even as of late in the year 2000. This pack is rarely seen despite its proximity to the northern Yellowstone loop road.
Summary of the fate of the 1995 wolves (the last was killed Dec. 31, 2002)
THE 1996 WOLF REINTRODUCTION
AND THE FATE OF THE WOLVES
By mid-summer 1995, it appeared that the wolf reintroduction program was in great jeopardy. U.S. Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, notorious for his hatred of wolves and most other wild animals, was able to get the reintroduction budget cut by 40%. On top of this, by December 1995, all U.S. government agencies were running on partial budgets, or were totally shut down due to budgetary conflict been the new Republican Congress and President Clinton.
Nevertheless, another reintroduction was still planned. This time wolves from British Columbia rather than Alberta were to be captured, but it seemed doubtful that money could be raised. Fortunately, donations and personnel from a number of private groups such as Defenders of Wildlife, the Wolf Education and Research Center, private individuals, plus significant cooperation from the Province of British Columbia, did enable another round of wolf trapping and their transport to Yellowstone and central Idaho for the second year of reintroductions.
In 1995 the plan had been to trap 30 wolves — 15 for Yellowstone and 15 for Idaho. In fact, only 29 were trapped. In 1996, 38 were trapped, essentially as many as could be trapped given the resources at hand. I believe this was because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believed this would be the last opportunity they would have, given the furious anti-environmental views being expressed in the new Republican Congress, even though the program was supposed to include wolf reintroductions for three more years after 1996.
The 38 wolves were trapped in a very remote part of NE British Columbia. Twenty of these wolves went to central Idaho, and seventeen went to Yellowstone. One wolf was dispatched after it bit a biologist who was handling the cage. This provoked a minor controversy.
In preparation for the new wolves, the Park Service dismantled the Soda Butte Creek enclosure and erected two new ones; one on the Blacktail Deer Plateau in the northern part of the Park and one at Nez Perce Creek. Nez Perce Creek is on the western side of the Park, a place where none of the 1995 wolves had visited. It is also near Lower Geyser basin, whereas there is little thermal activity in the northern, especially the northeastern part of Yellowstone, where the 1995 wolves were released.
-List of the 1996 wolves and their acclimation pens-
Here is a list of the 17, 1996 wolves, their characteristics, the enclosures in which they were placed, and their current status (all are dead now)
Blacktail Pen (released as the “Lone Star” pair)
R35M, a black adult male from the Chief Pack in British Columbia. He weighed 120 pounds on arrival.
Current status: Deceased.
Fathered pups in 1997 and became the alpha male of the Thorofare Pack and the biggest wolf in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem at the time (135 pounds). He was eventually killed by the Soda Butte Pack in the winter of 1997-8.
R36F, a black adult female from the British Columbia Bessa Creek Pack. 103 pounds on arrival.
Current status: Deceased. She fell into a hot spring shortly after her release.
Crystal Creek Bench Pen (released as the “Chief Joseph Pack”)
R34M, a young gray adult male from the B.C. Musquaw Pack. 106 pounds on arrival.
Current status: deceased.
He was the alpha male of the Chief Joseph Pack when he was found dead Nov. 28, 2001. During his time in Yellowstone he mated with both wolves 16F and 17F, both originally born to the Rose Creek Pack. After the natural death of 17F in the summer of 1997, he took 17’s five pups and joined with his old pack mate, no. 33F. After that 34 and 33 had three litters of pups.
R33F, a black female yearling from the B. C. Kravac Pack. 96 pounds on arrival.
Current status: deceased. She the alpha female of the pack when killed by semi-truck on U.S. 191 summer of 2001.
R32F, a young gray adult female from Kravac Pack. 90 pounds on arrival. No. 32 was the pack’s original alpha female.
Current status: deceased — hit by a semi-truck on U.S. 191.
R31M, a gray yearling thought to have been from the B.C. Kravac Pack. 82 pounds on arrival. There was a white saddle on his shoulders. It turned out he was from the same pack as 38M (see Druid Peak Pack below).
Current status: deceased. He joined the Druid Peak Pack in late summer 1996 where he became the beta male with his old pack mate 38M, the alpha. Number 31 had grown to be a very large wolf when he was illegally shot late in Nov. 1997.
Rose Creek pen (released as the “Druid Peak Pack”)
R38M, a gray adult male. British Columbia pack name unrecorded. 115 pounds on arrival. No. 38 was the pack’s alpha male.
Current status: deceased. He was the powerful alpha male of the Druid Peak Pack. He mated with all three of the pack’s females during late winter of 1997. He was illegally shot in late Nov. 1997 when the pack made a foray outside Yellowstone Park.
R39F, a light silver adult female from the Bessa Creek Pack. 93 pounds on arrival. No. 39 was,originally the Druid Peak Pack’s alpha female, although she was soon displaced by her daughter 40F.
Current status: deceased. Shot near Crandall east of the Park. The killer claimed he thought she was a coyote.
R40F, a gray and black female yearling from the Bessa Creek Pack. 94 pounds on arrival.
Current status: deceased. She was long the alpha female of the Druid Peak pack. She was notable for her aggressive defense of the pack and her status in it, but she was killed by her sister 42F and her daughter(s) in May 2000.
R41F, a black female yearling from the Bessa Creek Pack, 80 pounds on arrival.
Current status: deceased.
She helped form the Sunlight Basin Pack, after her sister 40F drove her from the Druid Peak Pack. She paired with number 52M, formerly of the Rose Creek Pack. No. 41F and 52M had their first litter in 1999 and second litter in 2000.
R42F, a black female yearling from the Bessa Creek Pack, 92 pounds on arrival.
Current status: deceased.
She became the alpha female of the Druid Peak Pack after she helped kill her sister, then alpha 40F. 42F was killed by another wolf pack in the winter of 2004-5.
Nez Perce Creek pen (released as the “Nez Perce Pack.”)
R28M, a gray adult male from the B. C. Half-way Pack. At 130 pounds no. 28 was the largest wolf introduced to Yellowstone.
Current status: deceased. He was shot by an unknown person or persons and thrown into the Madison River west of Bozeman, MT. No. 28 weighed 140 pounds! at the time of his death.
R27F, a silver gray adult female from the Half-way Pack, 115 pounds on arrival. She was the mate of no. 28M. Current status: deceased.
Upon release she became a lone wolf, but she gave birth to five pups. She was recaptured after many attempts in the winter of 1996-7 and was released in June 1997. She was killed by the Wildlife Services near Dillon, MT on 10-8-97 for killing livestock a second time.
Note: Nos. 26, 29, 30, and 37 below were born to 27F and 28M in British Columbia.
R26F, a gray female yearling from the Half-way pack. Not weighed.
Current status: deceased.
She became the alpha female of the Washakie Pack, but was shot by Wildlife Services in June 1998 for killing livestock.
R29M, a gray male yearling from the Half-way pack. 100 pounds on arrival.
Current status: deceased. He was the alpha male of the Nez Perce Pack, but he left, or was driven from the pack in the summer of 1998. He then helped form and became alpha male of the Gros Ventre Pack which inhabited the mountains east of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He sired two litters of pups as alpha male of the Gros Ventre Pack and two as alpha of the Nez Perce Pack. He was a famous wolf pen escape artist. No wolf pen could hold him.
R30F, a gray female yearling from the British Columbia Half-way pack. 100 pounds on arrival.
Current status: deceased. She paired with no. 35M, the male originally from the Lone Star pair. She was the alpha female of the Thorofare Pack, but was killed in an avalanche in the winter of 1997-8.
R37F, a gray female yearling from the Half-way pack. 90 pounds on arrival.
Current status: deceased. She was shot by ADC/Wildlife Services after her second escape from the Nez Perce enclosure in the fall of 1997. She gave birth to four pups in 1997 while awaiting release. The pups were fathered by 29M, her brother.
THE DRUID PEAK PACK
Named after a prominent peak near the Rose Creek pen-
In early April 1996, the National Park Service began to open the doors on the pens and the delivery of food was halted. On April 2, the door to the Rose Creek pen was opened. It took 12 days before the pack came out! To avoid confusion with the Rose Creek Pack of 1995 which had been released from the same enclosure, the new pack released from the Rose Creek pen in 1996 was named the Druid Peak Pack. Druid Peak is a prominent peak just east of Rose Creek.
The Druids change from caution to bold aggressiveness-
Even after leaving the pen, the Druid Peak pack did not quickly explore the surrounding area. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a very aggressive pack. They soon killed the alpha male of the Crystal Creek Bench pack and a yearling from the Rose Creek Pack. They probably also injured the alpha female of the Crystal Creek Pack and killed her 1996 litter of pups. The Crystal Creek female (no. 5F) denned, but no pups were ever observed, Number 5F abandoned her den shortly after the Druids killed her mate, and she was seen limping with her tail held low for a while. Range Rick McIntyre has written a fascinating eye-witness account of the fight between the Rose Creek and Druid Peak packs which took place on June 18, 1996 in Slough Creek. The Druids may have also killed wolf 19F in April of 1997 with the result that her 4 pups perished too. The pack retained its reputation of ferocity. I learned a year after the fact that in the fall of 1996 they almost got wolf Chief Joseph wolf, 34M, although surprisingly, they allowed his pack mate no 31M to join the Druid pack. The difference may have been that 34 was seeking to pair with a female and 31M was seeking to join the pack as the beta male. The pack’s aggressiveness continued in later years, and many people have attributed its aggressiveness to no. 40F who eventually emerged as the alpha female and was viewed by some as a tyrant over her own pack as well.
The beautiful, white alpha female leaves the pack for six months-
In late July 1996, no. 39F, the “white wolf”, thought to be alpha female of the pack, suddenly left Yellowstone National Park and took a long “tour” along the north edge of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. She traveled north of Red Lodge, Montana, and then west to the vicinity of the larger town of Livingston. In October she was located in the depths of the Absaroka Mtns. about 20 SE of Livingston. In November, she had moved about 50 miles to NE, crossed the Yellowstone River and part of the plains of Montana, to take up residence on the east slope of the Crazy Mountains, a rugged outlier of the Rockies. During the winter, she returned to the Park, but did not rejoin the Druid Peak pack immediately. However, she did spend from April through October 1997 with the Pack. It had been assumed that no. 41F became the alpha female in Druid Peak with no. 39 absent, but things clearly changed in the fall of 1997 and number 41 was driven from the pack. No. 39 left again too. Wolf number 40F, the sister of 41F and another pack member, 42F, was clearly in charge. In retrospect the departure of both 39F and 41F were likely the result of 40’s drive for dominance.
Number 31M from the Chief Joseph Pack joins the Druids-
Although the Druids lost no. 39F, as I mentioned above, no. 31M, released with the Chief Joseph Pack (see its history below), joined the Druid Peak Pack in the fall of 1996. He remained a subordinate member of the pack, the pack’s only other adult male, for the rest of his life which ended when he and the alpha male 38M were illegally shot east of the Park in November 1997.
Five pups for 1997-
Number 38M seemed also to typify the aggressive and unusual character of the original Druid pack. During the winter of 1997 he was observed mating will all three females in the pack. At the time it was thought that only the alpha pair mates in a wolf pack. 38’s busy sexual activity led to expectations of a very large number of pups. However, when all the pups were accounted for, there were but five — the average number for a pack. It is not known which female’s the pups were. The pack’s den site was in deep timber on Druid Peak and could not be observed.
During 1997, the Druids, eleven-strong, dominated Soda Butte Creek and the upper Lamar Valley; and, for the year, and the next four years (even through 2000), they became the Park’s most visible pack. All five pups survived the summer and autumn of 1997. They were almost as large as the four adults in the pack. Two of the pups were captured and radio collared in Jan. 1998. One pup (no. 104M) weighed 105 pounds!
The pack’s two males, number 38 and 31, are illegally shot dead-
In late November 1997 the pack suddenly moved eastward out of Yellowstone Park, over the crest of the Absaroka Range into the rarely-traveled North Absaroka Wilderness. Despite the paucity of people in this mountain fortress, someone shot both 38 and 31 in Crandall Creek. Number 31 died quickly but the alpha male, no. 38, lingered for eleven days, dying finally in Hoodoo Creek. Doug Smith, head of the Yellowstone Wolf Team dropped food to no. 38 a number of times. Big 38 did climb out of gorge of Hoodoo Creek, but he died near the ridgeline.
One of the original Rose Creek pups joins and leads the Druids-
No. 21M was one of the last of famous number 9’s original Rose Creek pups to disperse from her pack, but when the Druids returned from their lethal encounter in Crandall Creek, no. 21, now in his second year, approached the Druid pack and was accepted. The acceptance ritual lasted six hours and was filmed by cinematographer Bob Landis. It is believed to be the only such filmed ritual on record. He immediately became the pack’s alpha male, replacing slain 38M (in fact he was its only adult male). He had been traveling with the “white wolf,” no. 39F, but most have seen a better opportunity in joining the Druids. Interestingly, no. 21’s brother, no. 20M, was as a yearling killed by the Druids in the interpack fight in June 1996.
The replacement of 38M and 31M with 21M seemed lessen the hostility between the Druid Peak pack and the Rose Creek Pack. After no. 21 came to lead the Druids, hostile encounters with the Rose Creek Pack ended until fall of 1998 when the Druids caught a Rose Creek female alone in Druid territory. The Druid alpha female, no. 40F led the attack, and pack tore the intruder apart.
Just two pups in 1998-
As in 1997, it was believed that both adult females (40F and 42F) had pups. Once again they denned in the dense timber on Druid Peak, where the pups remained unobservable. Numerous pups were expected. However, much to the surprise of everyone, just two pups came down from the mountain when they were finally observed. Only one (163M) survived into the winter of 1998-9. However, upon capture for radio collaring, he has big (110 pounds) and healthy.
Throughout 1998 the Druids remained very visible, causing “wolf [traffic] jams” along the roadway as people watched, or hoped to watch them roam the Lamar Valley. They were clearly the most observed wild wolf pack in the world.
THE 1996 NEZ PERCE WOLVES (a complicated story)
These were brawny wolves-
Next the doors to the Nez Perce Creek pen were opened. There was great hope for this pack. All the wolves were from the Half Way pack in British Columbia. The pack consisted of no. 28, a very large alpha male (130 pounds), no. 27F, the large alpha female, and their big yearling off-spring. Not only were they big, the wolves had been captured while feeding on a British Columbia bison which they probably had killed.
Number 27F was so fearless that she jumped and snapped at the helicopter.
There was hope that the pack would begin to prey on the Park’s bison, whose numbers stood at 4000 animals as winter of 1996-7 began. Although I do not agree with this view (though I once did), criticism was mounting at the time of the large size of the Yellowstone bison population.
Upon release the Nez Perce pack unexpectedly splintered and left Yellowstone National Park-
Things did not go as planned. The pack’s female wolves left the pen almost immediately and moved rapidly to the northeast. They were soon outside of Yellowstone Park. There they split from one another, and the alpha female no. 27 (pregnant, but not known to be so by biologists) traveled completely out of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem onto the Montana plains near Reeds Point before she turned around and eventually denned on the Beartooth Front in the Stillwater River drainage near the small crossroads of Nye, Montana. Her daughters — 26, 30, and 37 wandered widely about the Yellowstone Country, sometimes alone, sometimes paired. No. 37F finally joined her brother number 29M in the Paradise Valley north of the Park.
Number 27F whelped a litter of five and raised them by herself-
In early May 1996 five pups were observed at her den site, the largest litter of 1996 of the entire Yellowstone Country wolf population. There was great concern that no. 27 could not care for the five pups by herself. Biologists began leaving road-killed deer and elk in the vicinity of the den site, and they laid plans to capture her to return her and the pups to a pen in Yellowstone. It had worked great with number 9F, the year before. Maybe it would again.It turned out that capturing her was no easy task. She moved her den several times, and her distant wanderings led some biologists to wrongly believe that all her pups had all died or perhaps been killed by a mountain lion or a bear.
Number 27 killed some domestic sheep and got her first “strike,” but biologists learned that she had five live pups-
In June, she began to kill a few domestic sheep on a ranch near Fishtail, Montana (a bit to the east of Nye on the Beartooth Front). Traps were set for her, but instead of number 27, they caught one of her pups, confirming that at least one pup was still alive. Shortly thereafter, it was thought three pups remained alive. Later it was discovered that all five were alive. Unfortunately, the leg-hold trap so damaged the first pup’s leg (no. 46M), that it had to be amputated. The pup was sent to a facility in Minnesota. It was never be returned to the wild.
Number 27 killed eight sheep on July 17, 1996. At that time a sheepherder took a shot at her. The rancher, whose sheep she killed, was compensated for their value by Defenders of Wildlife. After that time, she killed no more sheep; but this second of “three strikes” would lead to her death a year later in October 1997 when she got her final “strike.” What was not known at the time was that no. 27, and almost all of the rest of pack had damaged their teeth on chain link of the Nez Perce pen in their fierce struggle to be free.
Another pup (no. 47M) was captured, but the other three eluded biologists-
In early August 1996 one of 27’s four remaining pups was finally captured. This pup (designated no. 47M) was about 7 pounds underweight for his age, but he was otherwise healthy. He was placed in the Nez Perce enclosure with recaptured Soda Butte wolf no. 15M, originally from the Soda Butte Pack, and with whom the pup was already familiar. Note: No. 15 had briefly joined no. 27 and her pups after the rest of his pack had been recaptured (see the story above of the recapture of the Soda Butte Pack).
27’s pup, no 47, and adult wolf 15 were released in September 1996-
Both wolves were released from the pen on Sept. 18, 1996, with the expectation that they would form a pack with No. 26F (one of no. 27F’s yearlings born in British Columbia). No. 26F had been frequenting the enclosure, and she was obviously waiting nearby. When the wolves were released, however, it turned out her intentions were entirely on the adult wolf, number 15, not the pup.
Number 27 and her three remaining pups prospered on the Beartooth Front-
Meanwhile, attempts to capture no. 27 and her remaining pups were put on hold in August 1996. A large forest fire forced the four wolves back toward Yellowstone Park. The fire threatened the area around Fishtail, Roscoe, and Dean, Montana on the Front.
When the fire ended, no. 27 and her three now nearly-grown pups returned to the Front. In January 1997, attempts to capture no. 27 and her 3 remaining pups resumed even though she had attacked no livestock since early the previous summer. As with the Soda Butte pack earlier in 1996, there was considerable political pressure to remove these wolves from the area.
Twenty-seven and no. 48F are captured at last-
Finally that January  she was darted by a helicopter and removed to an enclosure inside Yellowstone Park, but none of her three pups were captured at that time (or even seen). However, after several months one of them (no. 48F) was finally captured. Number 49 and 50 were never captured. Being uncollared, their location and status was never known. In December 1996 they might have been observed on the Yellowstone River near Springdale, Montana, in the company of wolf 39F (the former alpha female of the Druids). That was the last time they were located. There is no reason to think they did not grow to adult wolves, indistinguishable from other uncollared wolves in Montana.
Number 48F was put in the Nez Perce Pen with her mother, and her older brother(29M) and her older sister (37F). No. 29M and 37F had been recaptured in the Paradise Valley because it was thought there were too far from Yellowstone and too close to livestock. Also put in the pen were ten Sawtooth pups. The story on this unusual twist follows farther below.
Like so many of the Nez Perce clan, 48F eventually escaped the pen. After escape, she was tracked just once — deep in the wilderness in Thorofare region of the Park. However, after the passage of many events, she did return voluntarily to Nez Perce Creek in the winter of 1997-8 to become the alpha female of a rejuvenated Nez Perce Pack, a position she held for the entire life of the pack.
She was killed near Old Faithful by the new Gibbon Meadows Pack in the winter of 2005-6!! The two remaining pack members fled south. At the time 48F was the oldest wolf in Yellowstone Park.
Twenty-seven’s pup, no. 47 is killed by a vehicle, but no. 15 and 26 paired, and this was the beginning of the Washakie Pack.
Turning back to the release of no. 15 and 47, it appears that that the adults no. 15M and 26F, soon left the pup behind. Just a couple days later the pup was found dead near the Firehole River, another victim of a motor vehicle. The day the pup’s body was recovered, no. 15M and 26F were observed together about 20 miles to the east in the Pelican Valley.
THE WASHAKIE PACK-
For about a month no. 15 and 26 roamed about the central part of the Park, but then they moved south. Over a month later they were spotted well south of Yellowstone Park near Togwotee Pass on the Continental Divide. I thought they would drop into Jackson Hole and spend the winter feasting on the gigantic Jackson Hole elk herd that winters on the National Elk Refuge just north of the small city of Jackson. Instead they dropped down the east side of the Continental Divide to near Dubois, Wyoming. They spent fall and winter in the foothills of the Absaroka mountain range about 20 miles NE of Dubois. Eventually they moved a bit west, and number 26 whelped a litter of five pups in an area beneath landmark Ramshorn Peak, about 20 miles due north of Dubois. This area is known as “the Dunoir,” a haven for grizzly bears and elk. The den was also near the Diamond G Ranch, whose owner came to dislike this wolf pack.
Because the pair had established a territory on the edge of the huge Washakie Wilderness, in the summer of 1997 they were officially named the “Washakie Pack.” After an uneventful summer, in which they were rarely seen (except by folks at the adjacent Diamond G Ranch, who saw them plenty), the alpha male got into trouble.
In September 1997, number 15M began attacking cattle on the Diamond G. As a result, he was destroyed by ADC in October. Although this critical fact was not made public at the time, no 15 had damaged teeth (another victim of the Nez Perce pen?).
After 15M was dispatched, the pack still frequented the area, although at times they moved eastward, and once they took a brief “tour” miles to the southeast, all the way to Crowheart, not far from Riverton, Wyoming.
In an odd twist, Diamond G ranch owner reported that four new wolves showed up in the Dunoir, one of which was said to look exactly like slain number 15. No one unaffiliated with ranch saw these “new” wolves, however. Most government biologists doubted their existence, although I believe now that some new wolves did move into the territory briefly.
Finally in the spring of 1998 Washakie Pack’s attacks on livestock continued, and the alpha female was also shot by the government, and one pup wasshot by mistake. The pup was said to look like number 26F. The rationale was to break up the pack or cause it to move, and they did in fact disperse, and the whereabouts of only two of the pups (actually yearlings by this time) was known.
One of the yearlings, 133M, paired with no. 24F, formerly of the Soda Butte Pack. They formed what was at the end of 1998 called the Teton Duo and later named the Teton Pack. In early 1999, his brother 132M was radio tracked far to the west of Yellowstone near Dillon, Montana! The fate of the two other yearlings (134 and 138, both uncollared) was never known, but wolves have continued to show up in the Dunoir–sometimes just one wolf and sometimes more.
Note added in 2006, wolves still love the DuNoir, with 3 packs in the general area.
Going back to the release day of the Nez Perce Pack, the two male wolves in the Nez Perce enclosure stayed behind for two days, but then they headed northward. There, they too split.
Big wolf 28M wandered widely — from north of the Park to about 35 miles south of the Park near the headwaters of the Gros Ventre River (30 miles east of the town of Jackson, Wyoming). Later he moved back to the Park. Then he moved west and northwest. In late October 1996 he was west of Earthquake Lake.
Big wolf 28M
By the end of 1996, 28M had set up in the northern end of the Madison mountain range, but on Jan. 28, 1997 his radio collar gave a mortality signal near Three Forks, Montana, about 20 miles north of the northern end of the Madison Range. He had been illegally shot and thrown into the Madison River. Upon recovery his carcass weighed 140 pounds! He had never killed livestock. He had been a “well-behaved” wolf that was living on the wintering elk and deer in the area.
THE UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL OF THE “SAWOOTH PUPS.”
In mid-summer 1996, the sole son of no. 27F and 28M, yearling no. 29M, and his sister no. 37F, were recaptured in the Paradise Valley, north of the Park. It was believed that they were located in an area with too many farms and people. The pair was placed in the empty Rose Creek enclosure with hopes of reuniting them with the rest of the former pack members because at that time, there was still hope that the original Nez Perce Pack could be reunited. Instead, however, ten pups-of-year from the native Sawtooth Pack in NW Montana were placed in the pen along with No. 29 and No. 37. These orphaned pups came from a major indigenous pack that had ranged along the Rocky Mountain Front near Augusta, Montana.
Perhaps because of their large crop of 1996 pups, and maybe because a number of the adults had suffered injuries, the Sawtooth pack had taken to killing livestock. All but two of the adults were, as a result, dispatched by the federal government, and ten of the pack’s 14 pups were transported to Yellowstone and penned with nos. 29 and 37, much to irritation of the Farm Bureau, which filed a unsuccessful lawsuit trying to prohibit the pups’ release. The pups were regarded as a great hope because of Senator Conrad Burns cut of funding for new wolf capturing expeditions in Canada.
These Sawtooth pups were finally released in two batches in March and June 1997. They now were yearlings.
Just two of them survived to become successful adult wolves, and many got into trouble and were shot, control killed, or hit by vehicles. This is evidence that wolves do not naturally know what to do. They need to be socialized and taught how to hunt by adult wolves. The two Sawtooth pups that survived, however, did well and they became long-time members of the Nez Perce pack, with one of them, 72M reigning for years as the pack’s alpha male.