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High drama

Nature is full of drama, usually of the life and death kind.

On a rare warm, windless, beautiful day, I loaded up with the dog and headed for a hike down the unplowed part of the main road.   Just over the crest of the flats, I saw about 600 elk corralled within the ‘elk fence’, nervous and jittery.  It was almost 11:00 and these elk should have been resting in the trees.  Besides, you never see elk inside this fence.

Elk stuck inside fence and can't get to safety

I’ve heard two stories about this fences’ beginnings from two different neighbors.  When this ranch was owned by a wealthy man named Bugas in the 70’s, so the first story goes, the county conservation services re-graded and drained the field so he could put his cattle here, or at least more cattle.  Then to keep the elk out of the grazing pasture, the county paid for the fence.  Your tax dollars at work!

The second story isn’t too different from the first but with some variation, yet still with cattle in mind.  In the hard winter of ’77-’78, when the snows were so deep you couldn’t see the tops of the fence posts, Bugas’ cattle were struggling and starving.  The elk were eating the feed that was set out for them.  So a temporary fence was erected for that winter only.

Since that time the property was sold to Earl Holdings, one of the wealthiest men in the world, the fence remains, and the elk can’t move through or over.  So to see the elk inside was very unusual and probably spelled trouble.  The fence borders the creek.  On the other side of the creek is the game preserve where the elk have been gathering every evening and morning to eat.  One gate to the ranch property is open from the creek side, which is how these elk got in.   And that is how they would need to get out of this very large enclosed pasture.

But why they were there was solved when I saw some birds circling in their winter pasture across the creek.  There was a kill over there. These elk were trying to get across the private pasture and into the forest beyond but were being prevented by the fence.  Now they were sitting ducks for the wolves.  The road is between the fence and the forest where they wanted to head but were prevented.  They were hanging around the fence line by the road and every time a car went bye, they stressed, running this way and that, confused, not conserving their energy, unable to head in any safe direction.


Golden eagle resting after feeding on carcass

Needless to say, I’ve hated this fence ever since I’ve been here, and here was more proof why it should go.  When I saw the kill I went back to get my scope,  On the return I ran into Ron.  He’s a citizen ‘Wolfman Jack’.  He does a great service by being totally obsessed with wolves and following them.  He knows more what’s happening with the packs around here than anyone, including the Wildlife Services folks.  He relayed the drama that had unfolded this morning.

The Sunlight Pack made a kill.  The Sunlight pack is about 10 strong , almost all young wolves.  While they were on the kill, Ron heard some barking.  At first he thought it was the ranch dogs nearby, but then here come the Absaroka Pack, mature wolves 7 strong. They pushed the Sunlight pack off the kill.  While we were talking a black wolf from the Absaroka pack came checking things out.

Ron told me that between the Sunlight Pack, the Absaroka Pack which seems to come around here as well, and the Hoodoo pack of 10 wolves up around Crandall (but they frequent the valley here as well), AND the Beartooth pack of now 10, there is more going on in this area than the whole of the Northern Range.  We’ve got a lot of wolves running around this valley.

Wolves are such social animals and their interactions and orders are constantly changing.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, Scott Becker, told me that they have few collared wolves at this point.  The dynamics are constantly changing and hard to keep track of.

When Abby was doing her wolf study here several years ago, there were only 2 or 3 wolves in the so-called Beartooth pack.  That pack is located across the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone, where there are very few elk.  It didn’t seem like a very hospitable place, especially in winter.  Scott told me they must eat a lot of deer up there.

I continued on down the road and began my hike.  Resting in the pasture, I saw 3 wolves–2 blacks and a grey.  When they saw me, the grey hightailed it out of there, but I was able to get some good video of these blacks.

This video doesn’t exist

One Response

  1. OOOh..great shots. I want more…what happened to all of the elk?


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