Wolf-tracking with Boise’s Timberline High School
This weekend I went up to central Idaho to go wolf-tracking with Boise’s Timberline High School. This high school is unique in the fact that they have a wolf pack named after them, the Timberline Pack. This pack spends much of its time up near the town of Lowman in the Boise National Forest, not far from where the original 15 wolves were reintroduced back into Idaho in 1995. We were not sure whether there were other packs in the area, or if the Timberline Pack had gone further up north to find elk, but we were sure going to try and find them. On the Friday evening we drove up to Lowman from Boise, and saw elk all over the mountain sides, and even in people’s front yards. When we arrived in Lowman, we sat down with Carter Niemeyer, the former Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and now summer wolf specialist with the Idaho Fish and Game department. We talked about wolf issues in Idaho, about wolf ecology and biology, and about how people in wolf country are learning to live with wolves. The students had great questions, and were interested in hearing about all sides of the issue.
The next morning we got a hearty breakfast at the local dinner, and the owner gave a talk on what it is like living in the wilds of Idaho, where wolf packs are abundant and healthy. We set off down the road with our telemetry equipment hanging out the window, trying to pick up signals from the local wolf packs. After a while we decided to stop driving and hike up to a ridge to get a better vantage point. No sooner had we started walking up the snow-covered forest trail, than expert biologist Carter spotted a set of Mountain Lion tracks. Snow had fallen that night so the tracks must have been only be a few hours old. Carter explained the difference between these lion tracks and wolf tracks, these included the lack of nails on lion prints, and their asymmetrical toes. We had not walked another hundred feet when one of the students yelled out that he had found another set of tracks. These tracks were smaller than before, and went in an almost straight line. “Bobcat,” Carter said. They were too small for a lion, and as there were no nails showing, it was not a fox or coyote. Although we did also see fox tracks earlier that day, as well as a coyote playing by the road on the drive up.
We finally reached the top of the ridge and scanned the horizon with our binoculars looking for the local wolf packs. No wolves, but the students caught sight of three immature bald eagles riding the thermals above the mountain, and we also saw a herd of mule deer in the distance. We were still not having much luck with our wolf watch, and so we decided to try and howl at them to get a response. Carter led the group with a long, deep howl that seemed to go on forever. The students quickly followed with their more soprano howls. Soon we had over twenty howling ‘wolves’ in our pack, and if the wolves did hear us I do not know if they would have been intrigued, or scared off!
As we hiked back down the steep trail, we talked about how exciting it was to be in a place that had such a diversity of carnivores, birds and ungulates. Although we did not see any wolves that day, we did see an abundance of sign showing that there were many animals in these mountains. The trip back to town included a stop off at one of Idaho’s famous hot springs to sooth our sore feet.
If you are interested in going on a wolf watching trip in central Idaho this spring, click here for more details.