Wolves chase an elk in Yellowstone National Park. [Photo by Doug Smith]
This winter licensed hunters in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have killed 10 wolves that use Yellowstone National Park, including seven collared animals that scientists were tracking. The wolves are protected inside the national park, but they had wandered outside its border, possibly in pursuit of elk. The loss frustrates the scientists who had been tracking them.
Doug Smith, leader of the Yellowstone Wolf Project told Scienceinsider, “Scientifically, our goal was to study a population of wolves that was not exploited by people. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.” Smith and colleagues seek to unravel the relationships the wolves have with their ecosystem, especially their effects on elk populations, which ballooned in wolves’ absence.
Four of the collared research wolves died in Montana, two in Idaho, and one in Wyoming, the New York Times reported.
Yellowstone had no wolves from 1926, when the last of the predators were extirpated, until much-heralded reintroduction efforts began in 1995. By the end of 2011, at least 98 wolves lived in the park—part of a larger recovered group of more than 1,700 wolves in the Northern Rockies region. Congress removed wolves from the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho in spring 2011. The Wyoming wolves were only delisted this past September 30. Wolf hunting season is currently underway in all three states.
A team of environmental groups including the National Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife filed a suit November 13 in Washington, D.C. contesting the Fish and Wildlife Service’s transfer of authority over the wolves to the state of Wyoming. The state plans to maintain 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in the parts of the state outside of areas where wolves are protected, such as Yellowstone.
Opponents say that it doesn’t make sense to hunt animals that we’ve spent decades trying to protect, and that wolf populations are still genetically fragile.
On November 27, another coalition of environmental groups, including the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of Animals, and WildEarth Guardians, filed a second suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service in a federal court in Denver, also objecting to the Fish and Wildlife’s Service surrender of authority over wolves to Wyoming.
Minnesota and Wisconsin are also in the midst of their first wolf hunting seasons. In Michigan, where wolves have also been delisted, the state Senate voted to designate wolves a “game species,” a step towards establishing a hunting season there as well. In Wisconsin, where the season was supposed to run until the end of February, 102 out of a state quota of 116 wolves have already been killed.
It’s getting better to be a wolf in one place: North Carolina. The state is home to a small group of reintroduced red wolves, which were once completely extinct in the wild. It is illegal to shoot red wolves, but hunters have mistakenly killed at least four since the state enacted a temporary rule allowing hunting of coyotes at night using spotlights,the Southern Environmental Law Center says. A judge has now halted nighttime coyote hunting with spotlights in five counties so that red wolves will no longer be collateral damage.
You can donate here to sponsor a tracking collar for the Yellowstone Wolf project.
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