In Montana, ranchers and government officials remain baffled by the Ninemile wolves' appetite for beef. Since April, the wolf pack, originally made famous in Rick Bass's book, The Ninemile Wolves, has been responsible for killing four calves and one 600-pound yearling.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, in turn, has been responsible for killing four Ninemile
wolves, including the alpha male.
"The alpha male
will often be the leader of what is going on. When you remove the
alpha male, that prevents him from teaching the rest of the pack,"
says Joe Fontaine, wolf recovery leader for the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service in Montana.
This is the first
year since the wolves entered the Ninemile area in 1989 that they
have attacked so many cows in such a short period of time. Fontaine
says the wolves and livestock were coexisting and even
intermingling. "That's what is so perplexing about it now. And this
area has an adequate prey base," he
Landowners who have suffered losses have
been compensated by Defenders of Wildlife, the national nonprofit
group. But Fontaine says ranchers hate to raise animals for wolves
Hank Fischer, regional representative of
Defenders of Wildlife in Missoula, Mont., says the group is
experimenting with guard burros, which have been successfully
trained to protect sheep from wolves. Fontaine says other methods
"We've tried a whole wide gamut
of things - lithium chloride in hamburger balls, which makes the
wolves ill. Lights and sirens, horns, tape on fences, cracker
shells," Fontaine says. "You name it; it has been tried."
Nor has relocation worked well. Only one wolf of
the 28 that were relocated has lived, Fontaine says.
But Fontaine is optimistic about the depleted
Ninemile pack. "If you remove animals from an area, the surviving
wolves know instinctively to fill the void," he says. "A good
example is the Yellowstone wolves, where a couple of packs had dual
litters and one had a triple litter. Usually the alpha male and
female are the only ones to have a litter."
Fontaine hopes the Ninemile wolves will rebound,
and that the new wolves won't be attracted to livestock.