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Wolves: Good News for Yellowstone Wolves
Update: You spoke, and Montana listened — after receiving more than 25,000 comments, including 4,000 from GYC members, the state's Fish, Wildlife & Parks commission significantly altered its wolf hunting and trapping regulations around Yellowstone National Park.
The state reduced its quota in two hunting subunits adjacent to the park to a combined seven; previously, the quota was three in one subunit and there was not quota in the other. Last year, only two of the three wolves were taken. Also, the quota per hunter will be one. The previous plan called for five.
Other advances were made: Hunters will not be allowed to hunt over bait, trap sizes will be regulated so that incidental take of such endangered species as lynx and wolverine are limited, and the season was shortened by 15 days from the original proposal (though it will be about six weeks longer than last year).
Overall, though, it's a mixed bag for wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, though if nothing else they continue to prove their resiliency. While Montana and Idaho are increasingly aggressive about the hunting and trapping wolves, Wyoming proposed cutting its wolf quota in half — from 52 to 26. We will continue to ask for special regulations in areas around Yellowstone National Park, where wolves are habituated to humans and are more vulnerable.
Overview: Nearly 1,650 wolves roam the Northern Rockies, in 250 packs with more than 110 breeding pairs. About 500 call Greater Yellowstone home and an estimated 80 wolves live within Yellowstone National Park.
There is no doubt wolves are still flourishing in the Northern Rockies. Despite legalized hunts in Montana and Idaho in 2011 (wolves were still a protected species in Wyoming that year), wolf numbers rose by 7 percent. In 2012, wolves were de-listed in Wyoming, and all three states put forth aggressive hunting seasons for the 2012-2013 season.
Though Montana has had the best and most science-based wolf-management plan of the three states, the newly added trapping component was troubling because the state, which saw an increase in wolf population of 15 percent after the 2011 hunts, took a blanket approach to wolf reduction. GYC has been pushing the state's wildlife officials to prohibit trapping adjacent to Yellowstone National Park.
Idaho has no quota in all but five hunting units. Montana has limits in only two of its 17 hunting/trapping units. Though Wyoming's plan calls for a modest harvest of wolves in a small portion of the state outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks called the “Trophy Game Zone”, it also allows for wolves to be killed at any time in any way in the roughly 80 percent of the state known as the “Predator Zone.” All three states want a significant reduction in wolf numbers.
Although numbers are growing in general, Greater Yellowstone’s wolf numbers have remained steady. Our mission to protect the lands, waters, and wildlife in this region means our focus on hunting regionally – specifically around Yellowstone and Grand Teton – is steadfast.
Especially when it was estimated that at least 10 Yellowstone wolves — including eight with research collars and three from the famous Mollies, Blacktail Plateau and Lamar Canyon packs — were shot by hunters in November and December 2012. Most notable was the famous 832F, also known as the “’06 female”, shot legally by hunters some 16-18 miles outside the park in Wyoming. Her death in particular brought worldwide attention to the wolf issue in Greater Yellowstone.
These are some of the most viewed and photographed wolves in the world, and their loss sent an urgent signal to leaders in the region that the way wolves are managed around Yellowstone should be reconsidered.
In response, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission adopted modest new regulations in December 2012 that prohibited wolf hunting and trapping in an important area adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. Though the geography didn't cover the entire region we had hoped for, it was nevertheless a positive step. Unfortunately, a judge reopened the hunting and trapping, saying the process for changing the regulations was flawed; we will be pushing for a reinstatement of the trapping ban in future seasons.
GYC continues to monitor wolf numbers in Greater Yellowstone. Wyoming's season closed Dec. 31, 2012, with 73 wolves taken. Montana’s season ended in late February and Idaho’s in late March, except in two areas of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that were closed early. As of Feb. 4, 203 wolves hade been killed by hunters/trappers in Idaho and 179 in Montana.
Despite what's happening on the ground, there is no doubt that Yellowstone wolves are still playing their ecological role.
A report from Oregon State University plant researchers William J. Ripple and Bob Beschta reinforces the belief that the wolf has been the primary factor in the improved health of aspen, willow, and cottonwood trees in Yellowstone National Park's Northern Range. This in turn has benefitted such Yellowstone wildlife as beaver, bison, pronghorn, songbirds, raptors, and trout.
The return of the wolf has changed elk behavior and reduced some herds, but overall numbers remain strong in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. According to Yellowstone biologist Doug Smith, the Yellowstone herds remain healthy despite its smaller size. The number is more in line with historic levels since wolves were reintroduced and grizzly bears and mountain lions returned naturally. Overall elk populations in the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming remain healthy with an estimated 103,000 in Idaho, 150,000 in Montana, and 120,000 in Wyoming (read more here). However, elk populations are now more dynamic with the return of large carnivores and elk distribution has shifted to areas of refugia which make them more difficult to hunt. Elk populations are affected by many variables including weather, disease, predation, and human mortality.
Project Goals: The Greater Yellowstone Coalition has consistently worked to find the middle ground on wolf management, to move beyond the ongoing conflicts. We will continue to promote science-based management and increased tolerance for this iconic animal in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
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GYC's comments on Montana's 2012 Wolf Hunting Season can be read here.
Download a printable synopsis of our work on wolves here.
Read our statement regarding wolf delisting here.
Read the Idaho Fish & Game newsletter story about wolves and their minimal impacts on elk populations.
Read about the relationship between wolves and ungulates.
See what wolves have meant for local economies.
Get the truth about wolves and livestock.
November 20, 2013 - Feds' push to end endangered protection for gray wolves ignites foes
October 25, 2013 - Fresh look at the wolf-grizzly relationship
October 21, 2013 - Bison carcass draws feeding frenzy of grizzlies, wolves in Yellowstone Park
October 12, 2013 - Montana's Wolf Management Challenge
October 10, 2013 - Wolf hunt near Dubois reaches its quota of 3