Pilot David Rivers (front) flies a Native Range Capture Services helicopter during a wolf capture operation on the North Fork of the Shoshone River. Crew member Colton Hodson sits behind Rivers. (Rick Blanchard)

Managing wolves requires good information about numbers of animals, pack distribution, dispersal of young wolves that will establish new packs and general behavior.

Wolf researchers for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department use tracking collars to better understand wolf behavior and movement where the state holds management authority outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation. Collared wolves lead them to packs.

But first they’ve got to get the devices on the animals. To accomplish that it’s helpful to have a maneuverable helicopter and a capable capture crew.

A tracking collar is affixed to a captured wolf’s neck. (Mark Gocke, WGFD)

Earlier this month, the 2019 collaring effort moved to Park County. Pictured here is pilot David Rivers of Native Range Capture Services in the company’s helicopter. The company has contracted with Game and Fish to capture and collar wolves since 2013, according to Ken Mills, a department large carnivore biologist who serves as the state’s wolf coordinator.

“We caught 20 wolves in Park County over two recent capture stints,” Mills said.

Finding the wolves can be difficult. When they are spotted, the helicopter crew typically uses a net-gun to capture the wolf, Mills said.

Once netted, a wolf is immobilized with a sedative-laden dart. It usually then is flown to a rendezvous site where a ground crew collects blood and other samples, then fixes a collar on the canine’s neck, Mills said.

The collars, battery-powered, will generate a tracking signal for two to three years, Mark Gocke, a department information specialist wrote in a recent news release.

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The capture operations have been conducted in Teton and Park counties in the wolf trophy game management zone south and east of the park. Thus far, Mills and the NRCS crew have captured 42 wolves including six in Grand Teton National Park, Mills reported. The 42 wolves run in 23 different packs.

The department works with various researchers. Kristin Barker, a UC-Berkeley doctoral candidate, is conducting a project analyzing wolf-elk interactions in the region.

In addition to the deeper research, the trapping is “mostly standard monitoring we do every year to make sure we’re meeting our objectives and managing the population properly,” Mills said.

Ken Mills, state wolf coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (left), watches Becca Lyon as Lyon collects a sample from a wolf. Lyon, a UC-Berkeley lab assistant, works with Kristin Barker (background), a Berkeley doctoral candidate studying wolf-elk interactions. (Mark Gocke, WGFD)

Dan Neal is the former executive director of the Equality State Policy Center. He worked for decades as a journalist in Wyoming, including as the special legislative editor for WyoFile.

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  1. As Wolf Depredation on Domestic Livestock escalates, in the U.S. and throughout the World with the Wolves successful re-introduction populations spread, the contentious anger between Livestock Producers and Conservationists does also grow. My published research Blog at http://WWW.FENCEFLAGWOLFTRAINING.COM is a tangible suggestion, with minimal cost, to mitigate the anger on both sides of the fence!
    Donald J. Kaleta

  2. Too often in Wyoming, Grey wolf ” studies ” means killing them for ” research purposes” . Ask the lads over at Wildlife Services how many wolves they ” researched ” in Park County WY last year… they also have a ‘contractural arrangement’ with Wyo G&F.

  3. Great news, I suspect some of the dispersed wolves found Colorado as well but they will not admit it because if they show up in Colorado they are protected as Endangered under ESA.