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Gros Ventre wolves kill 3 dogs

Posted: Monday, Nov 23rd, 2009




Friday the 13th of November was a bad day for lion-hunting guide Scott Leeper, of Bondurant, and three of his oldest and best hounds, killed within minutes and a half-mile apart by two groups of wolves along the Upper Gros Ventre River.

Leeper, with decades of backcountry experience, was riding horseback with his “outfitter bosses” and a mountain-lion hunter when they set out at daylight in the Slate Creek drainage of the Upper Gros Ventre.

He turned out his old-timers – all small wiry dogs: a little white hound named Candy, the spotted Popcorn and “Buddy the blue tick” – following their progress with a GPS device that tracks the dogs, which wear collars with short

antennae.

“These dogs had been on a track, trailing for about an hour,” Leeper said, explaining the hounds travel together, baying and barking, when they cross and follow a lion scent. They were about a mile and a half ahead of the hunting group.

Suddenly, an icon popped up on his GPS screen that showed Candy had stopped moving – and as they came within sight of her, wolves begin howling. They rode as quickly as they could and found Candy lying there, disemboweled and dead.

From following the tracks, they could see where Candy was separated from the other two and chased by the wolves before they dragged her down and gutted her, eating her heart, he said.

Leeper stayed with her body while the outfitters and hunter rode to track the other two hounds, Buddy and Popcorn, whose signals were briefly blocked by a hill. When the outfitters and hunters got closer to the spot where the hounds were, they watched and counted 16 wolves, 11 of them black, stream up the hill and out of sight.

“The (hunters) went a half-mile and by the time those guys got there, those other two dogs were dead,” he said. “They died within 50 yards of each other. … There were blood trails up and down the hill where Popcorn was dragged.”

Leeper decided he had to leave the bloody, torn bodies behind because bringing them out on horseback wasn’t feasible.

“Candy, she was my girlfriend,” he said last weekend.

The outfitters, who own a hunting camp nearby, have seen their share of wolves fill the Gros Ventre and move into Hoback Basin. They were “both shocked” at the dogs’ brutal deaths and the number of wolves running in that group.

Leeper’s GPS dog-tracking system

allows him to basically see or even follow in their footsteps exactly where his hounds were that morning, he said. He and his companions have extensive tracking experience as well, so they decided to see if the same small group of wolves could have killed Candy and then somehow gotten ahead to Buddy and Popcorn.

What they found were tracks of five or six wolves that had overtaken Candy and after killing her the group continued straight north, leaving the other two dogs.

What the hunting party found when they retraced the path of the 16 wolves that killed Buddy and Popcorn, though, gave them pause.

The large pack had been on the south side of the Gros Ventre and traveled about four miles to a bridge over the river near Goosewing Ranch, crossing the bridge apparently to avoid getting into the water, then ran straight up the other side of the river, heading north again about four miles to run at and kill the other two hounds.

“They were clear on the other side of the river doing their wolf thing and came clear down there because these dogs were barking,” Leeper said.

He imagines the big pack heard his dogs baying – but seeing the “freeway” of wolf tracks crossing the bridge and moving

toward two noisy but small dogs was frightening.

“This is going to be your dog, I guarantee it,” he predicted to hikers, campers, horseback riders or anyone with pets or cow dogs along.

He also believes if the wolves were that intent on getting to his dogs, if the hunting party had been with the dogs there would have been further

injuries.

“I think the horses would have been bitten, and if people had been on the ground trying to stop this they would have been attacked,” he said. “There’s not anything anybody can do to stop them.”

Leeper also said he wouldn’t be surprised if there are many more wolves in the Upper Gros Ventre that federal officials don’t know about, along with uncounted wildlife and livestock deaths of elk, moose, cattle and deer wherever wolves run thick.

Eventually, he thinks a massive overflow of wolves and wildlife decimation will spill into Sublette and Fremont counties, both accessible from major wolf strongholds.

And he questions whether or not, with wolves back under the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and not Wyoming Game and Fish (G&F) management, they can be accurately monitored or controlled.



FWS numbers

Mike Jimenez, head of the FWS’ Wyoming wolf program (and briefly when wolves were delisted, G&F state wolf manager), said Monday G&F had reported the dog killings to him.

“It’s traumatic,” he said, adding he grew up with “black and tan” hounds. “I can totally sympathize with that.”

Unfortunately, people on public lands cannot shoot wolves to defend their dogs as they can with livestock, he said.

Jimenez said the territory the hunters were in Nov. 13 belongs to the Buffalo Pack, which dens in the corner of Yellowstone and in winter ranges to the Gros Ventre.

Although the FWS 2008 annual wolf report stated that pack had seven adults and two pups in December 2008, apparently this year two Buffalo females had litters totaling 12 to 15 pups, according to Jimenez.

He estimates there are now 17 to 20 wolves in the Buffalo Pack at this time; winter counts will be done next month.

“It’s unusual, not unheard of, but unusual, to have a double litter,” he added.

As to whether there were two separate dog-killing packs near the river on

Nov. 13, Jimenez hazarded a couple theories. One is that some wolves might be splitting off from the main Buffalo Pack to start their own.

“My guess is it’s all the same pack,” he said. “A pack that big doesn’t all hang out together.”

Jimenez also provided a “preliminary” estimate of Wyoming’s overall wolf status outside Yellowstone with at least 29 or 30 packs, 19 to 20 breeding pairs and 180 to 200 wolves.

In December 2008, the report listed (outside Yellowstone) at least 19 packs with a minimum of 178 wolves and 16 breeding pairs.

Jimenez said after trapping “a gazillion wolves” he can say the average male adult weighs 100 to 105 pounds, an adult female is about 10 pounds lighter and a healthy pup born in the year weighs 70 to 80 pounds.

Lion hounds and guard dogs unfortunately fall prey to territorial wolves, he said. While numbers of dogs killed vary by year and state, he said hunting dogs tend to be running off a ways from their owners as opposed to a cowdog or pet with a hiker.

“Wolves respond (to dogs) in the same way as they do to an unfamiliar pack,” he said.

Thus far in Wyoming for 2009, three guard dogs protecting sheep and one pet (near Cody) were reported killed before this most recent incident. Jimenez said he was unaware of previous years’ reports of the Daniel Pack killing four cow dogs on Cottonwood Creek, as reported in the

Examiner.

Should hikers, campers, bikers or horseback riders use caution when traveling with their dogs in these lupine strongholds?

Jimenez said he doesn’t think there should be a great concern.

“But you should probably be aware of it, if you’re with a dog,” he said.



Manage wolves

Gros Ventre outfitter and rancher Brian Taylor’s family bought the Falers’ hunting camp at the head of the river in 1952 and has had three generations of cattle ranching by Lower Slide Lake.

Taylor is outspoken about what he sees happening on the Gros Ventre with wolves back in the mix. He wants to organize a field trip into the head of the Gros Ventre to show people what the reality is like when wolves aren’t managed.

“At a very, very conservative guess there’s 20 and probably closer to 30 wolves in the Gros Ventre,” he said Monday.

Leeper’s dogs were victims and there are plenty of others, according to Taylor – the mountainous region’s wildlife. This fall, he and his father and a hunting guide did not see a single young spike elk in Hunt Area 82, he said. He also believes the moose population is being decimated by wolves and fears the day will come when seeing a moose is a rarity.

FWS needs to manage these wolves or hand management back to the state before wildlife populations are damaged beyond a tipping point, Taylor stated.

“They (G&F) can’t manage anything else if they can’t manage the wolves,” he said.



For the complete article see the 11-24-2009 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-24-2009 paper.


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