Montana Wolf Pack Produces Far-Flung Wanderers

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – A wolf pack in Montana has produced at least two wayfaring members that roamed hundreds of miles, with one getting as far south as Colorado.

A federal agent earlier this month killed a wolf that had been preying on sheep in the Big Horn Mountains, east Ten Sleep, Wyo. That wolf turned out to be the litter mate of another wolf found dead in northwestern Colorado this spring.

Carolyn Sime, wolf project leader for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said both wolves came from the Mill Creek pack, on the eastern side of the Paradise Valley, south of Livingston.

“It’s an interesting pack,” Sime said. “There are several occasions where the pack’s sent out notable dispersers.”

The two wolves that ended up dead in Wyoming and Colorado were part of a litter born in spring 2007. They were captured in October of that year, radio-collared and given numbers.

The male was designated SW266M, for the 266th male wolf tagged in southwest Montana. The female was SW341F.

The female became well-known for her trek south across Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah and then into northwestern Colorado’s Eagle County. She was found dead there in March at age 18 months. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is still investigating the cause of death.

The female was the second wolf known to have made it as far south as Colorado since the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s. The first was killed along Interstate 70 in 2004 in north-central Colorado. Native wolves were killed off in Colorado in the 1940s.

It’s not clear how far the male wolf wandered before dying in the Big Horn Mountains because his collar did not contain a GPS tracking device.

Even a fairly straight walk from the Paradise Valley to the mountains where he died would require a trip of hundreds of miles across some of the most rugged country in south-central Montana and northwestern Wyoming.

“It’s nothing unusual in a biological sense,” Sime said of the wolves’ travels. “They were both of dispersal age. But it does affirm wolves are able to move around the landscape and do.”

Wolves have a strong instinct not to interbreed, Sime said, so they disperse and seek out wolves from other packs for mates.

“It really begins to challenge our concept of the size of the landscape that wolves exist in,” Sime said. “It’s amazing to me how big these home ranges are outside of Yellowstone National Park.”

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