Tracking wolves: Officials use technology to monitor whereabouts

Federal officials still aren’t saying who or what killed a lone female wolf found dead in March just north of Rifle.

The wolf, known as wolf 341F, was an 18-month-old female originally part of a pack roaming between Gardiner and Livingston, Mont., on the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park.

She initially made headlines for traipsing more than 1,000 miles last fall and winter from near Yellowstone to northwest Colorado, a journey biologists followed using a GPS unit in a collar around her neck.

According to tracking reports, the wolf left her pack in September 2008, possibly searching for a mate. She meandered across Wyoming into Idaho and Utah and then moseyed into Colorado, where she was tracked close to Vail.

Around the end of March, however, the wolf’s walkabout was finished.

When biologists monitoring the wolf’s whereabouts noticed her collar giving off what’s known as a “mortality signal,” signifying she had stopped moving, investigators from the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service searched for and retrieved her body.

The results of a follow-up necropsy have not yet been released, although the necropsy was performed shortly after the wolf’s carcass was found.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials decline to say what killed the wolf, because the death is part of an “ongoing investigation,” said Ed Bangs, coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service Wolf Recovery program.

That reluctance to tell the public how the wolf died implies there is more to the story than a wolf that was killed by lightning or accidentally struck by a vehicle while crossing a road.

A recent report on the news Web site NewWest.net cited government documents saying the wolf died on a hillside about 24 miles north of Rifle.

The report was based on documents obtained by the predator protection group WildEarth Guardians.

“I have believed for the last couple of months that they definitely have a law enforcement angle on this,” Rob Edward, carnivore recovery director for WildEarth Guardians, told David Frey of New West. “Otherwise they would tell you that it died of natural causes.”

You can read Frey’s article at http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/suspicion_surrounds_colorado_wolf_death/C41/L41/.

Wolves roaming Colorado are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Bangs said Thursday the case remains under investigation.

“I haven’t been told anything different and I’m sure that’s what you’ll hear from the investigators,” Bangs said.

Edwards told Frey the reports located the death site as “within rifle distance of a road” on public land north of Rifle in an area known as No Name Ridge.

The tight-lips approach doesn’t necessarily prove the wolf died of intentional lead poisoning but a quick read of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s weekly wolf reports (http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov) reveals there aren’t many things that kill wolves except man.

“Every year about 26 out of every 100 adult wolves die,” Bangs said. An adult wolf is one at least 6 months old, old enough to wear a radio collar.

Bangs said of the 26 wolves that die annually, roughly 10 are killed by federal agents, 10 from illegal killing (poaching), three from such accidents as being struck by a car or train, and three from natural causes.

This could include other wolves or mountain lions, kicked by an elk, moose or bison, disease, drowning or avalanches, Bangs said.

Although the feds tightly manage wolves as a population, not every adult wolf is managed.

“Roughly 20-25 percent of the adult wolves have radio collars,” Bangs said. “When we hear that, say, five adult wolves have migrated from Idaho to Wyoming, we multiply that by four to get a number close to accurate.”

Which means that while wolf 341F no longer roams the wolds of Colorado, one or more of her cousins might still be out there, howling at the night sky and keeping more than few restless ranchers awake at night.


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