Death of Alpha Wolf Sparks Renewed Concern over Hunting near Yellowstone
By Sharon Mader, Senior Program Manager, Grand Teton
She was graceful and photogenic. She was a good mother. She was widely admired for her strength and beauty. But earlier this month, a hunter killed one of Yellowstone’s most famous canines just 15 miles outside the park boundary in Wyoming—the gray wolf that led the Lamar Canyon Pack in the northeast region of the park.
Researchers dubbed the alpha female 832F, though her admirers commonly refer to her as “06” for the year she was born. And she had many admirers—from wildlife photographers to weekend tourists to the researchers who tracked her movements with a sophisticated $4,000 collar.
Gray wolves have had a complicated history in Yellowstone. People eradicated them from the area in the 1920s and they were gone from the landscape for decades until the Park Service successfully reintroduced them in 1995. In the 17 years since, research in Yellowstone has shown the positive impact that wolves have had on the park’s plants and wildlife. But with the success of the wolf reintroduction, these iconic creatures have just recently been removed from the endangered species list and hunting has ensued in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Although hunters cannot shoot the animals within Yellowstone’s boundaries, the wolves themselves do not recognize lines on a map and frequently roam outside the park.
It has been just two years since state officials removed gray wolves from the endangered list in Montana, and only two and a half months since the animals were delisted in Wyoming, but already this year’s hunting season has taken a significant toll on the wolf populations in national parks. To date, hunters have killed five wolves in Yellowstone that were wearing expensive scientific research collars to help researchers study their behavior. Hunters killed at least two other collared wolves at Grand Teton as well.
The loss of these “research wolves” takes a significant toll on ongoing Park Service efforts to monitor and study the wolf population in both Montana and Wyoming. In response, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission voted 4-1 to put certain areas around Yellowstone off-limits to wolf hunts in an effort to protect park wolves. While this is a temporary measure, we believe that the state commission should set in place a permanent area adjacent to Yellowstone and Grand Teton that will protect park wolves that occasionally leave the park’s boundaries.
We applaud the commissioners for this action. Wolves are a well-established part of the economic engine of Yellowstone, a place that draws millions of visitors each year who spend money in our towns and want to see a wide variety of wildlife, including the gray wolf. We also urge Wyoming, which opened up hunting to gray wolves just this past October, to exercise caution in hunting these animals.
Wyoming officials should use Montana’s situation as a lesson and create appropriate space around the park that is off-limits to hunting. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has the ability and duty to establish protected regions around parks in Wyoming and greatly limit the toll on wolves to ensure that both Grand Teton and Yellowstone wolf packs are better protected.
As for the rest of the Lamar Canyon Pack, their future is uncertain. The pack may end up splitting into smaller packs or breaking up altogether—though the animals’ behavior is difficult to predict. What’s certain is that NPCA and other wildlife enthusiasts and park lovers around the country will be watching and advocating for the safety of these iconic creatures.