During 2013 I worked with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, helping them with their annual survey of grey wolves in Montana. This study aims to achieve a complete presence / absence assessment of 60+ wolf packs. Information derived is used by government agencies to understand wolf population levels, conservation needs, impact on game populations and the responsible management of conflicts with livestock. This work covered 13,000 square miles of remote montane landscapes: surveying wolf home sites and wider areas for wolf sign, aided by GIS / GPS; installing remote cameras and reviewing video findings; planning and implementing trap lines of foothold traps, with which to capture wolves for radio collaring and gathering biological data. I learned a great deal about wolf ecology and behaviour, against the backdrop of the socio-political challenges that arise when large carnivores share territory with ranches and cattle.
“Ok – so if you are sharp eyed – you will have noticed that the wolf photos – there is a a little give away item which suggests this picture was not taken in the wild….
The scats though – they are real – out in the forests.
So — what happened whilst I did this wolf monitoring work?
It was April to August 2013 – and a blistering baking hot summer in NW Montana.
I was based out of a trailer (a caravan) which smelled a little – it had been previously used for processing animal carcasses. I didn’t mind too much. The flies loved it. I stank. When I went out to dinner in Whitefish, for some reason no one would talk to me.
So with the wolf monitoring work – i went out for long days, driving and walking and tracking mostly. For April to early June, it was likely that the wolf packs would be close by to historical den sites. That being said, some of the wolf packs had used several different den sites, spaced miles apart. So it still took a long time to figure out where they might be.
I would hike daily up to ten miles along forest roads – mostly – where it would be easier to find wolf sign – that is scat (poop) or tracks. Then it would take about ten days before actually finding any real concentrated sign. – like lots of poops in a small area – like you would probably tread on them there were so many. So overall very labour intensive.
That being done, the task was often to install a remote camera, which would hopefully be triggered by a nice friendly passing wolf. Then later in the season we did trapping work – led by Kris Boyd and also working with Azzurra Valerio who was Italian (and thus imported her own special drums of olive oil for evening cooking). This trapping was incredibly hard physical work – the traps were really heavy to carry up forest roads and trails – then to dig holes and set them right and camouflage them so the wolf would not notice them – until s*p*r*i*n*g and they’re got. T he idea being to trap a wolf, then return to it, “process” it i.e. anesthesia dart , then put a radio / GPS collar on – then allow it to wake up and return to its pack – that way you could then track the pack and get better data on how big the pack was and where it was heading.
In total I did around 88 days of solid tracking and trapping.
And throughout all that time I saw — zero — wolves….
I did actually hear some barking – though at the time I foolishly thought it was a German Shepherd by a ranch – this was a little big lesson of not making assumptions – a lesson I only needed to learn once – because I probably hiked another ten days before coming back to the same spot and realising the barking had been from a wolf pack, all along.
So some good adventures and you can see much of this on my
(ongoing loading of videos in progress). This shows short films of real wildlife work explaining just how hard, labour intensive and slow it is just to find your critter. Yet overall really good fun too.”