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With elk scarce, a Gros Ventre wolf war is underway

Wapiti exodus sends canines packing, too.

By Mike Koshmrl

Save for trails of scurrying rodents and occasional deep depressions from moose, the snowbanks lining Gros Ventre Road were largely untouched as Ken Mills snowmobiled upriver.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department wolf biologist was on the lookout for the tea-plate-size impressions Canis lupus leaves behind. And he was searching in a place where they’re usually relatively easy to come by.

Outside Yellowstone National Park, the Gros Ventre is the most wolf-dense landscape in Wyoming. Yet the large carnivores and the sign they leave behind were nowhere to be seen Thursday.

“I can tell you,” Mills said 16 miles from the end of the plowed road, “I’ve never come up the Gros Ventre without at least seeing a wolf track.”

The dearth of wolves in the rugged valley east of Jackson Hole was connected to another mammalian Gros Ventre mainstay that is lacking: elk.

Wildlife managers haven’t yet flown to count wapiti in the nooks and crannies of “native range” where they’re eking out an existence until spring. But on the man-made winter range — the feedgrounds — where they are easily tallied, there’s an undeniable paucity of elk.

“It looks like 10,” Mills said as he pulled up to the Patrol Cabin feedground. “Pretty crazy.”

The drainage’s two other feeding areas that historically attract elk to eat hay, at Fish and Alkali creeks, were empty. In a normal winter there would be 1,000-plus elk there. Game and Fish’s official goal for the valley was 3,500 as recently as two years ago.

The herd’s apparent absence has caused the valley’s two largest wolf packs to split in search of more fruitful hunting grounds, pushing them into each other’s and neighboring packs’ territories. The result is drama

See Wolf on 23A

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