January 11, 2022

One of the stories I have reported on in the past was the reintroduction of Grey Wolves into Yellowstone National Park beginning in 1995.  Although wolf packs once roamed from the Arctic tundra to Mexico, loss of habitat and extermination programs led to their demise throughout most of the US by the early 1900’s.  In 1973, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed the northern Rocky Mountain wolf (Canis lupus) as an endangered species and designated the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) as one of three recovery areas.  From 1995 to 1997, 41 wild wolves from Canada and northwest Montana were released in Yellowstone.  As expected, wolves from the growing population dispersed to establish territories outside the park, where they are less protected from human-caused mortalities.  January 12, 2020, marked the 25th anniversary since wolves returned to Yellowstone and tomorrow marks the 26th.

When I looked online, I found that 20 of the approximately 115 Grey Wolves in Yellowstone National Park had been shot by hunters in recent months.  According to park officials this represented the most Yellowstone wolves killed by hunting in a single season since the predators were reintroduced to the region.  Fifteen wolves were shot after roaming across the park’s northern border into Montana and five more died after doing the same in Idaho and Wyoming.  Park officials said in a statement to the Associated Press that the deaths mark “a significant setback for the species’ long-term viability and for wolf research.”  The Phantom Lake Pack is now considered “eliminated” after most or all its members were killed over a two-month span beginning in October.  With months to go in Montana’s hunting season and the wolf trapping season just getting underway, park officials said they expect more wolves to die after roaming outside Yellowstone.  While protected within the park hunting is permitted outside the park’s boundaries.

Park Superintendent Cam Sholly first raised concerns last September about wolves dying near the park border and urged Republican Montana Governor Greg Gianforte to shut down hunting and trapping in the area for the remainder of the season.  Gianforte is an avid hunter and trapper and did not directly address the request to halt hunting in a letter responding to Sholly.  “Once a wolf exits the park and enters lands in the State of Montana it may be harvested pursuant to regulations established by the (state wildlife) Commission under Montana law,” Gianforte wrote.  Gianforte last year received a warning from a Montana game warden after trapping and shooting a radio-collared wolf about 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of the park without taking a state-mandated trapper education course.

Thoughts:  Montana’s efforts to make it easier to kill wolves mirror recent actions by Republicans and conservatives in other states such as Idaho and Wisconsin. The changes came after hunters and ranchers successfully lobbied to reduce wolf populations that prey on big game herds and occasionally livestock.  The states’ increased aggression toward the predators has raised concerns among federal wildlife officials.  In September, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said it would examine if federal endangered species protections should be restored for more than 2,000 wolves in northern US Rockies states including Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.  Protections for the region’s wolves were lifted a decade ago, based in part on assurances the states would maintain viable wolf populations.  Obviously, “viable” is a relative term.  History has again shown that we cannot rely on “people” to do the right thing, for the wolves or the pandemic.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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