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Wolf etiquette in the backcountry

The local wolf pack has been starting to get into bits of trouble.  I saw the ranch hand from the dude ranch down the way.  His cows have been calving.  They only keep about 30 cows around in the winter, but this morning, early, one of them calved and they got to it just about 10 seconds before two wolves did.  They fired a shot and scared them away. 

This video doesn’t exist

Just a few days ago, the wolves killed an elk right at the pasture line where the cows hang.  And the students told me they saw the small black female hanging near the cow pasture on the bridge yesterday.

Where all good dogs come from. Black female wolf

The Sunlight Pack has gotten into trouble almost every summer.  In a few weeks, the rancher that owns most of the valley floor will be bringing his cattle up here, maybe over 500 head or more.  They overwinter down near Powell and calf down there.  Last year it was almost all yearlings up here.  Yearlings aren’t too seasoned and are too curious.  Not a good combo for wolf country.

I’m worried for the pack.  This is good wolf country and cattle really shouldn’t be up here anymore.  The open range leases should be retired; ranches for tax write off purposes should be retired as well.  My eternal fantasy is to win the lottery and buy the big ranch.  Then put Bison back on it and don’t worry if the wolves and bears get a few.   Bison belong here.  They used to be here.

Eventually, you can count on the wolves picking off a few cattle.  Wildlife Services, Dept. of Agriculture, can decimate the ‘bad’  packs each year, trying to get them not to have a taste for cows.  But its not that they love cows.  Its sometimes they are handy or easy.  Really, the wolves prefer elk.   You can’t really blame those wolves for hanging around when the cows are calving.  Calves are helpless when they’re first born, and an easy meal.  It’s really a smart strategy.  Just as smart as the little chipmunk who ate a hole in my bucket full of grain for the turkeys.  Easy meal; low expenditure of energy; biology 101 really.

The Valley that Sits in the Middle of the Land

The ranch hand told me his friend went ‘horn hunting’ by horseback last weekend near the ranch in the back country with his two dogs.  The dogs ran off and haven’t been seen since. I showed him the electronic collar I keep Koda on.

“They’re bird dogs, not people dogs like yours.”  We’re both thinking the wolves probably already got them.

Last spring a young experienced hiker and his dog went backpacking up the North Fork near the Park entrance.  There’s a wolf pack up there, and although he kept his dog close, when he went to set up camp in a meadow in the rain, his dog was sniffing around and got attacked a few hundred yards away in the trees by 8 wolves.  There had been a recent human encampment there, probably with some leftovers.  The hiker ran to his dog, the wolves ran off, but the poor dog died.

That hiker didn’t really do anything wrong.  He kept his dog close at least most of the time.  When I told this to a local who hikes with her dog, her reply was telling:  “That’s a risk you take hiking around here.”

I keep Koda close.  I watch him at all times and keep him on a shock collar I got through Cabelas.  He’s a dog’s dog, not really a people dog.  He has come to like people, and he’s loyal to me especially.  When he sees a dog, I can easily control his desire to run up and play.  But his response to a coyote or a wolf is different.  Some ancient wildness overtakes him.  He recognizes the dog part, but he senses the freedom part too.  In a moment he’s off and that could be the difference between life and death for him.  That’s when the shock collar comes in super handy.  But its no guarantee.

Koda with his toy.

Yet I do have to say, those fellows who took their 2 dogs out here, in wolf country, and didn’t watch them, let them run around where ever their noses took them–that is just irresponsible with your dog and certainly you can’t blame the wolves.

However you cut it, with the wolves and grizzlies here, I still prefer that wildness.  One of the students and I were talking about New Zealand.  He did an internship last fall in Antarctica and spent time on the south Island of New Zealand for vacation.

“Compared to Antarctica, it was great to be in a place with plants and trees, lush and fertile, where we could hike.  But to tell you the truth, as a biologist, it lacked.  They have no native animals there, except for a few birds.  The scenery was beautiful, but I missed the wildlife, especially the big animals, those ones that make you aware when you’re hiking around.”

Even if Chief Seattle didn’t really say it, its worth quoting:  “What is man without the beasts?  If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit.”

Amen to that.

We love our dogs. Let's keep them safe.

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