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Wolf on display at KNF office

| April 1, 2004 11:00 PM

By Paul Boring, Western News Reporter

A life-size gray wolf will be on permanent display at the Kootenai National Forest Supervisor¹s Office.

A state road crew found the carcass of the animal on Montana Highway 56 near Bull Lake after the wolf was struck and killed by a vehicle. The crew then called Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Game Warden John Obst.

³The wolf was feeding on an elk carcass up above where it was hit,² Obst said. ³It actually came down, got a drink out of Bull Lake, and got hit when he was on his way back up.²

Obst and Carolyn Sime, FWP wolf planning officer, promptly informed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the wolf fatality and worked out a deal by which the animal would be prepared by a taxidermist and placed on public display.

³It was unique enough that someone would want to take on the costs of having it stuffed and mounted,² Obst said. ³In this case the Forest Service paid for it. It¹s from the Libby area, so it¹s nice to keep it here.²

According to federal regulations, the wolf must be displayed in a public venue like a school, museum or government building. Although the animal will remain at the supervisor¹s office, the Forest Service will not own the animal.

Kathy Haines, Kootenai National Forest human resources assistant, originally heard about the wolf fatality while she was working as a receptionist at the office. When she transferred departments, she remained on a committee that was successful in securing the wolf.

³Our supervisor had been real interested in either a grizzly or a wolf,² Haines said. ³I¹ve been really excited about it.²

The wolf will be available for public viewing where students and others interested in wildlife can learn about the displayed animal and generalities about the species.

³Part of what we do is education and outreach, and wolves being in this area provides a really unique opportunity,² Sime said. ³When it¹s possible, we try to salvage specimens; skulls, hides, that sort of thing, so that they can be cleaned and made available for educational use.²

Gerry Mercer of Pioneer Taxidermy said the wolf weighed roughly 120 pounds, although the animal¹s full stomach accounted for a portion of the weight. Adult wolves in northwestern Montana generally weigh between 60 and 80 lbs. In southwest Montana, wolves commonly weigh 70 to 90 lbs.

³That is a large animal,² Sime said.

Wolves prefer lower elevations, feeding primarily on whitetail deer and moose. Opportunists by nature, the animals will also consume almost anything they are able to get their paws on.

³Being dogs, they¹ll scavenge anything,² Sime said. ³They¹re not particularly choosy.²

The wolf on display at the supervisor¹s office had not been reported in the area prior to its being killed. Dispersal patterns and distances traveled by wolves are varied and unpredictable. The stuffed wolf could have come from any number of packs already known to roam northwestern Montana, or maybe have come from Idaho or even the Yellowstone area.

Wolves in northwest Montana originated from Canadian wanderers that settled along the western boundary of Glacier National Park in the late 1970s. The first breeding took place in the early to mid-1980s.

³Wolves have been in Montana ever since,² Sime said. ³There¹s a lot of movement back and forth across the Canadian border, both in the Yaak country and on over to the east Front of the Rockies.²

In Canada wolves are not protected as much as in the U.S. and can be harvested legally, Sime said. The species is listed as threatened in the United States.

³We actually have a number of marked wolves that were reported as being harvested in Canada,² Sime said.

Although people may harbor preconceived notions regarding wolves, few have actually had the opportunity to view the animal up close. Sime said the life-sized mount at the Forest Service office will provide just that opportunity.

³A lot of times folks have opinions about wolves even though they¹ve never had personal experiences with them, they¹ve never seen a wolf in the wild,² she said. ³Being able to actually see a wolf up close and really look at it, see how big the its feet are, see how big the body is, it¹s just a unique opportunity. And having a life-size mount is even better.²