Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming has long been a safe haven for the gray wolf. The park’s terrain is studded with all sorts of wildlife, and has become home to ten packs of wolves.
The current wolf population in and around Yellowstone is no accident. After wolves were put on the endangered species list in 1995, they have been allowed to roam the park without fear ever since.
Yellowstone’s resident wolf biologist, Douglas Smith, says, “Yellowstone is the best place in the world to view wolves.” And he is correct. The wolves, which have become somewhat used to the presence of visitors in the park, attract tourist to the monetary tune of some $35 million a year for Wyoming’s economy.
But, things are changing in Yellowstone, and a verdict passed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals this May will allow wolf hunting. Since experts seem to believe the gray wolf is no longer in danger of extinction, wildlife officials plan on a hunting season for gray wolves some time as early as this fall.
Naturally, this new verdict brings about numerous issues at Yellowstone, where animals are supposed to be protected and studied. In addition to the disruption in tourism that Yellowstone may face if the wolf population diminishes, there may also be an upset in an old and historic wolf research project.
In this project, biologists have been studying ten wolves that inhabit Yellowstone around the clock, through GPS collars. The study has allowed scientist, researchers, and volunteers to gain access into the never before seen lives of wolves. The complex and strategic relationships of wolves and the rules of their packs have lived unthreatened for so many years, there is no doubt hunting will affect researcher’s abilities to continue to view and document the lives of wolves.
While quotas have been put on the number of wolves that can be killed by hunters outside of the park, scientists, researchers, and animal rights activists are not satisfied. The events of the last few months, including the gruesome discovery of a very popular wolf, almost twice as old as the others, with severe injuries that led her to be euthanized, leave us with few words.
Photo Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
Caitlin Phillips is a freelance writer spending her summer in Budapest, Hungary.