Madison Valley Ranchers Encountering Summer Wolf Activity
On May 31, USDA’s Wildlife Services confirmed that a single wolf killed 9 sheep on a ranch near Jeffers (near Ennis).  WS set traps near the carcasses to catch the wolf most likely responsible for the damage and caught a gray male wolf.  The wolf was killed, and the control action was discontinued.

On June 10, WS investigated and confirmed a single calf had been injured by wolves near the Wall Creek Wildlife Management area south of Ennis.  The situation was monitored, and no lethal control actions were authorized until further information was collected.

On June 29, WS confirmed that a calf was killed by wolves in the West Fork of the Madison River.  The kill appeared to occur in the territory of the Horn Mountain pack.  A second calf was confirmed killed by wolves on July 1 in the same area.  Both calves were owned by the same rancher, and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks authorized the removal of 3 wolves.   None had been removed so far.  

Where Guests Help Head ‘Em Up
A LEISURELY dinner hour is drawing to a close at the J Bar L ranch in southwest Montana, and a party of guests is still abuzz with the excitement of the day. Eyes bright despite fatigue, they swap tales of how they’d spent the day herding cattle. A high point for some was a veterinary procedure in which cows were held immobile in a chute while a vet made an incision in a flank and reached in arm-deep to pull out the ovaries.

At the J Bar L, taking on the cowboy lifestyle isn’t an idle amusement. And for its guests, that is the key to its appeal: it’s a fully authentic livestock operation, where work comes first. “We don’t change our ranch operations to cater to guests,” said the ranch manager, Bryan Ulring. “We’ve got over 1,000 head of cattle. When we move them, it’s because we need to move them.”
Fishing Picks up around Madison County
Fly-fishing conditions around Madison County couldn’t be better.

The rivers are all flowing high and clearing up after a later-than-usual spring runoff, the daytime temperatures have been moderate and the bugs are coming off steadily everyday, said Dan Delekta at the Beartooth Flyfishing Lodge and Fly Shop south of Cameron.

“It’s the perfect storm,” Delekta said. “We’ve got plenty of moisture, the snowmelt is still coming in and will for quite a while. Everyday there will just be a smattering of insects come into all the rivers because we don’t have the hot temperatures.”

On the upper Madison River, the salmonfly hatch is still hot, he said. People have still been seeing them from Ennis up river to Windy Point. The hatch will continue to move up river for the next couple of weeks.
Sun Shines on Ennis’ Weekend
You couldn’t ask for a better day.

It wasn’t too hot, but without a cloud in the sky, the slight morning chill gave way quickly as the sun shined down on Ennis.

It was one of those magical kind of days when everyone in the crowd wore a smile. The biggest smile might have been on Johnny France, who was the Grand Marshall of this year’s parade. France, who is the famous former Madison County sheriff, was decked out in a flag-colored western shirt and his trademark cowboy hat. He rode his gray horse slowly down Main Street at the head of a large posse, waving at his many friends and wearing a child-like grin.

The Ennis Fourth of July Parade was well attended again this year. Rumor is that more people attended this year than in any year past, though real attendance numbers are hard to get.

People came from places like Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota and Oregon. Cars lined the highway north of town for miles.

The parade is organized by the Ennis Chamber of Commerce. This year’s winning float was the Bozeman Tea Party float, which featured an abundance of flags and marchers dressed in red, white and blue.

A new feature to the parade this year was the 50/50 raffle by the chamber of commerce. The winner of the drawing was Stacey Curry, who hails from Miles City, but is currently living in Omaha, Neb. Curry took home $1,231 for her share of the pot.
Public and Private: Restoring a Montana Spring Creek
A couple of weeks ago, I walked along a spring creek in the upper Madison Valley, just south of the town of Ennis, Mont. As my guide, Jeff Laszlo, explained, the creek is one of the unnamed tributaries of the Madison River, fed by innumerable springs along the valley’s rich bottomland. The creek meanders for miles before it reaches the Madison, gaining water, providing spawning grounds for fish and invaluable wetland habitat for birds. I looked on in disbelief, because the section we were hiking — nearly eight miles of cold, clear waters — did not exist before 2005.

Or rather, it existed until 1951, when Jeff Laszlo’s grandfather dewatered this section of land by digging canals to draw the water along the edge of one of the alluvial benches that define the Madison Valley. His purpose was to move water to other sections of his ranch and to improve the grazing. In the narrow agricultural logic of the time, his ditches made a certain economic sense. And if it seems strange that his grandson would undo all that work 60-some years later, Laszlo notes that he is simply obeying a different economic logic — one that considers increased biodiversity to be one of the ranch’s most important assets.
Trout Saviors
A limp westslope cutthroat trout lies on a cutting board, a fish biologist stands over it sharpening two knives, and over the radio comes U2's Bono belting out "In The Name of Love."

The song doesn't register with the half-dozen Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) biologists who form a fish disassembly line here in a makeshift lab at the Washoe Park Trout Hatchery in Anaconda. It's the only hatchery in Montana that preserves genetically pure westslope cutthroat trout, classified by the state as a "species of concern" after decades of habitat loss and hybridization with rainbow and Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

On this May day, for only the second time in more than 25 years, the biologists kill wild male westslope cutthroat trout plucked from the South Fork of the Flathead drainage and extract their sperm in order to artificially inseminate hatchery eggs. The idea is to infuse the hatchery's brood stock with new, wild Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi genes. The infusion will improve the genetic integrity of the hatchery trout used to stock degraded fisheries in the same drainage where the genes originated. And so the fish sacrificed today will, paradoxically, help ensure the species' long-term survival.
Wildfire fears have eased
Montana’s official water watchers confirmed Wednesday what almost anyone living here already knew: June has been really wet.

A month of cooler-than-normal temperatures coupled with steady rains across much of the state has made a world of difference.

“It’s getting to be where it’s almost too much (water) right now, but I’m not going to complain,” said Gina Loss, a surface hydrologist at the National Weather Service’s Great Falls office. Loss is a member of the Governor’s Drought Advisory Committee, a group of hydrologists, fisheries experts, agency heads and others who track Montana’s water.

Just last month, Gov. Brian Schweitzer warned Montanans to brace themselves for a potentially red-hot fire season. Large blotches of the state, particularly in western and southern Montana extending east to Yellowstone County, were experiencing some degree of drought. Ravalli and Mineral counties were officially categorized as experiencing “severe drought.”

The June drought map, produced by the committee, now shows most of the state out of drought. Only three counties — Mineral, Ravalli and Carbon — are on official “drought alert.” Twelve other counties, including Yellowstone and Missoula, are considered “slightly dry.”

The rest of the state is looking pretty darned good, Loss said.

“I think we’re sitting far more comfortably than any of us would have anticipated a couple of months ago,” she said.
Canines prove they’re resilient despite human-caused mortalities
Despite mortality rates averaging 25 percent — more than three-quarters of which is human caused — gray wolves are thriving in the Northern Rocky Mountains, according to a recently published tri-state survival analysis. With data from 711 radio-collared wolves, it is the largest study ever conducted on wolf survival.

“The purpose of this paper was to report on the condition of the wolves before delisting,” said Doug Smith, wolf biologist for Yellowstone National Park and lead author of the study. The work involved 14 top wolf authorities examining data up to 2004. The paper was published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

“We acknowledge that a weakness in the paper is that the situation has changed since 2004,” Smith said, most notably Yellowstone’s wolf population had plunged to less than 100 wolves at the end of 2009, a 23 percent drop from 2008.
One Way to Save the Wolf? Hunt It.
The hide from the wolf Carl Lewis shot stretches 7 feet, 9 inches long, the back and ruff as black as a Montana midnight, easing along the legs and flanks to a color that Lewis likens to that of a blue roan horse. Lewis shot the big radio-collared alpha male on his ranch, high on the east side of the Big Hole Valley, last fall. "I really wanted to get a wolf this year," he says, "because we have to live around them, and I wanted to see a few less around our place." Lewis and his family saw wolves 22 different times on their ranch during the past summer, so he knew where to start hunting. "I went out that morning on a fresh snow, and saw no tracks at all. Got up to the top of the ridge, though, and there he was." Lewis shot the wolf from 400 yards with his .338, the rifle he normally uses for elk hunting. Three days later, his son Tanner got a wolf of his own.

Montana's first-ever wolf season was viewed with horror by many environmental groups, and by many people who have celebrated the charismatic predator's return to the Northern Rockies. The hunt was simply too much, too soon, they said; it would kill off the alpha males and females that are the primary breeders and break the slowly building matrix of genetic diversity that is key to the long-term health of the returning populations. They predicted that leaderless wolf packs would go after even more livestock, leading to more wolf-killing by the federal Wildlife Services. The wolves' positive effects on the ecosystem -- keeping coyote numbers in check, scattering elk that were overgrazing their winter ranges -- could be reversed.
Montana, Idaho look at bigger wolf hunts
Under a proposal announced Friday by state wildlife officials, hunters in Montana would be allowed to kill nearly three times as many gray wolves this fall compared with last year’s inaugural hunt.

Wolves in neighboring Idaho also face a potentially higher quota. And hunters there could be allowed to use traps, electronic calls and, in some regions, bait to increase their odds of a successful kill. Final details are pending.

The moves to put more wolves into hunters’ crosshairs come barely a year after the predators came off the endangered-species list.