But three new groups have moved into lands around Jackson.
If we hope to see a restored wolf population in Colorado that has connectivity to other populations, wolves in the Tetons are an important link to the Greater Yellowstone population.
Late last summer, an unusual phone call to wolf researcher Mike Jimenez marked the probable end of one of Jackson’s wolf packs.
“We got a call that this wolf was sitting on the side of the road and couldn’t get up,” Jimenez said.
The wolf, the alpha male of the Teton pack, looked emaciated, most of his hind end muscles showing advanced atrophy. Some kind of injury, perhaps a well-placed kick from a prey animal, broke vertebrae in the alpha’s back.
“It didn’t affect him immediately, but it finally got the best of him,” Jimenez said. “Going into the breeding season, he was gone.”
Jimenez euthanized the animal and sent the carcass to a forensics lab in Oregon. Without the alpha, the Teton pack didn’t produce any pups last winter, and its younger members have started to disperse.
“We know the pack still exists as a pack,” said Jimenez, explaining that some have traveled all the way down to the Green River area. “Our 2 cents is that it’s no longer functioning as a reproducing pack. Whether they’ll reproduce next year, we don’t know.”
Despite the Teton pack’s uncertain future, wolves around the area fared well during the past 12 months. Three new packs have moved into the lands surrounding Jackson, bringing the total number of wolves up to about 40, not counting this year’s puppies.
The Gros Ventre pack started with a male that Jimenez re-collared after the wolf found his way from the Yellowstone area to the Gros Ventre drainage. After wandering around for most of the summer, the wolf found a mate. The two adults produced four pups this spring.
Over towards the Blackrock area, just east of Moran, nine or 10 adult wolves formed the Buffalo pack. Likely a mix of wolves from the Teton and Yellowstone Delta packs, the Buffalo group produced 10 pups this year.
Ranging across the bottom end of the valley, four adults formed a group known as the Sage pack. The group started with a black male from the Gibbon Meadows pack in Yellowstone and a collared female wolf that dispersed from the Nez Perce group. Jimenez believes the pack did reproduce but said he wasn’t sure how many pups were born.
Now two years old, the Pacific Creek pack lives in the Teton Wilderness. The pack’s 10 adult wolves control a sizable home range that extends north. Like the Buffalo pack, the Pacific Creek wolves originated from the Teton and Delta packs.
Another, more established group of wolves, the Flat Creek pack, ranges east of Jackson in the national forest and sometimes into the National Elk Refuge. The group of six adults produced four pups last year that survived the winter into yearlings. Jimenez said he isn’t sure how many pups the pack produced this year.
Jimenez said that the turmoil within the Teton pack isn’t abnormal. “It’s pretty typical of wolf packs,” he said. “They come and go. Other packs form and they push packs in and out of the area.”
At the time of his death, the Teton pack’s alpha was 7 or 8 – the tail end of a gray wolf’s average lifespan. It’s also likely that the female of the pack is very old as well, said Jimenez. Even without the alpha’s debilitating injury, the pack might have started to disperse anyway.
With the Teton pack’s absence, the Buffalo group has moved into its old territory.
By Cory Hatch
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