In this photo taken at night by remote cameras, the alpha female of the Pioneer Pack, center, is surrounded by four of her pups. The Pioneer Pack is located northeast of Sun Valley, and Wood River Wolf Project crews say the pack has at least two adults, two young wolves and up to five pups. Photo courtesy of Wood River Wolf Project.
It's official: The Wood River Wolf Project has documented three wolf packs in Blaine County, one of which might contain remnants of the Phantom Hill pack.
Suzanne Stone, program coordinator for the Wood River Wolf Project and spokeswoman for wildlife advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, said on Thursday that the project's remote cameras have picked up three separate and well-established packs within the county.
"We knew that there were some wolves in that area, but we didn't even confirm that they were breeding," Stone said.
The reason the project was able to document these packs, she said, was that field crews set up over a dozen cameras in areas of known wolf activity.
"Our cameras are the only way of truly documenting [packs]," she said, as there are no radio collars on any wolves in the county.
Stone said that the Warm Springs Pack was confirmed earlier this year, when field crews began searching for the pack that had gotten separated from the pup named Boise, who was picked up by campers and is now living in Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va.
The pack has at least two adults and several pups, Stone said. The presence of a yearling, which is suspected, would mean that the pack has been established for several years.
The second pack is the Little Wood pack, the pack that encountered trouble earlier this year when members killed 37 sheep on the Flat Top Ranch in May and June while the ewes were lambing. Two wolves were killed by Idaho Wildlife Services as a result of those depredations, but the latest estimates put pack numbers at two to three remaining adults.
"We thought we had close to four last year," Stone said, but since then a hunting season and control orders have taken a toll on the numbers.
One of the wolves killed was a subadult, which is a wolf that is less than 2 years old and may also be a pup from last year. Stone said the presence of this wolf means that the Little Wood Pack has also been relatively stable for around two years.
The third pack is the latest pack documented by remote cameras. The Pioneer Pack, as they are now known, was the pack that encountered Gooding rancher John Faulkner's sheep in the Lake Creek drainage north of Ketchum on July 3 and killed four sheep.
Stone said that this pack has at least two adults, two subadults and up to five pups—two of which are black, begging the question of whether the pack might contain the remnants of the black-coated Phantom Hill Pack that dissipated from its territory north of Ketchum roughly two years ago.
"There could be a connection to Phantom Hill for sure," Stone said. The alpha male is also black, though the alpha female and two subadults are gray, as are at least two of the pups.
Stone said the pack is more likely to be part of the now-defunct Hyndman Pack that dominated the area around Trail Creek in 2008. There could also be another pack near Baker Lake, north of Ketchum, she said.
Despite the proximity of at least three packs, Idaho Wildlife Services State Director Todd Grimm said that depredations are down significantly since 2009.
Though Flat Top Ranch owner John Peavey lost 37 sheep in May and June, Grimm said that July and August have been much less fraught with wolf-livestock conflict than in years past. In fact, depredations during July 2012 were half the number of those in 2009.
"Wolves in your county have been pretty good," he said with a laugh.
He hesitated to say whether the non-lethal deterrents put in place by the Wood River Wolf Project have been responsible for the drop.
"None of that stuff hurts," he said, but added that the two wolf-hunting seasons probably had more of an impact.
Kate Wutz: email@example.com