Yellowstone wolves leghold-trapped

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1997:

HELENA, Montana––A little publicized aspect of
the Yellowstone region wolf reintroduction is that although
tranquilizer darts and net guns are also used in captures and
recaptures, the wolves involved may be repeatedly legholdtrapped,
with potentially tragic consequences.
Many of the initial breeding wolves were first
leghold-trapped in Alberta for outfitting with radio collars a
year or more before they were recaptured, sometimes again by
leghold trapping, for relocation to Yellowstone and central
Idaho. Then they may have been leghold-trapped on further
occasions, for maintenance of their radio collars, removal
from proximity to livestock, and checks of reproductive status.
Offspring are also routinely leghold-trapped to be fitted with
radio collars, if they can’t be caught by other means.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service internal reports
obtained by ANIMAL PEOPLE via the Freedom of
Information Act seem to document that even though the traps
are padded, wolves are hurt.
For instance, gray wolf recovery coordinator Ed
Bangs reported on June 30, 1997, “Monitoring and trapping in
NW Montana continues. Three wolves from the Murphy Lake
pack were captured and radio-collared last week.
Unfortunately, the alpha female injured her leg but immediately
joined up with other pack members.”
When an alpha female suffers restricted mobility, the
rest of the pack tends to stay close––and may turn to hunting
livestock if other prey is unavailable or flees.
Save Opal!
An undated and unsigned history of the ill-fated
Boulder pack, sent to ANIMAL PEOPLE by USFWS
Montana wolf recovery project leader Joe Fontaine, records
what may be such a case, which ended with a desperate trapinjured
wolf fending alone for herself and two pups after USDA
Wildlife Services massacred the rest of her pack under contract
“On June 3 an adult lactating female wolf was captured,”
the anonymous document states. “Due to some foot
injuries she sustained while being trapped she was taken to a
veterinarian in Helena and held overnight.”
This was Opal, the Boulder pack alpha female. As

Bangs picked up the narrative in his June 30
report, she “was captured, radio-collared,
and released in an effort to find and relocate
her [six] pups.”
If all six pups were found, Opal
herself was to be killed immediately, as ANIMAL
PEOPLE reported in September under
the headline “Wolves sacrificed to grizzly
The Boulder pack, A N I M A L
PEOPLE explained, was the southernmost of
seven packs who migrated into the greater
Yellowstone area independent of deliberate
reintroduction. Their mere presence challenged
the wisdom of the reintroduction
effort. Opal, an old radio collar proved,
came clear from Banff National Park,
Alberta, 400 miles to the north.
But the Boulder pack ran into trouble
from 1994 into mid-1997 for killing livestock.
It is not clear whether the killings
began before the pack met hostile ranchers,
who blocked USFWS access to the area––
except when USFWS sent a USDA Wildlife
Services trapper to reduce the pack. The trapper
relocated two pack members in 1995 and
radio-collared three pups, all of whom
USFWS staff believe were later killed by persons
who may have traced the radio signals.
The Boulder pack hunted calves
during the unusually harsh winter of 1996-
1997, until USDA Wildlife Services shot four
pack members on January 3, 1997, temporarily
reducing both their ability to hunt and their
need for food.
When livestock killings resumed in
June, an official effort to exterminate the
pack began. Three of Opal’s April 1997 litter
were caught with a net gun on July 17, and
were put in a pen with an unrelated bonded
pair who had been released in Idaho but were
recaptured after killing livestock.
Fontaine told ANIMAL PEOPLE
that the introduction seemed successful––but
added, “Later that week it was discovered
that the adults and pups stayed at opposite
ends of the pen.”
Eleven days later, one or both of
the bonded pair killed two of the three
Boulder pack pups in an apparent fight over
two roadkilled deer carcasses that had been
delivered to the pen as food.
On August 6, according to the
undated and unsigned document Fontaine
sent, USDA Wildlife Services “killed a yearling
female and an adult male wolf (from the
Boulder pack.) One pup was captured and
transported to the enclosure in Idaho for
release at a later date.”
Opal and two pups remain in the
wild. “The pups will be captured in early
December and transported to the acclimation
pen in Idaho,” the undated and unsigned
paper concluded.
Opal, after a summer and fall of
hunting alone, with a limp, “will be killed.”

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