Wolf, © Richard Seeley / National Geographic Stock

A Conservation Icon in the Crosshairs


gray wolf yellowstone

Gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park (Credit: Sandy Sisti)

Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO

I am an incredibly lucky biologist.  Every year I am privileged to join dozens of Defenders of Wildlife friends and their families in Yellowstone National Park. Our mission: to watch wolves! My husband Jim, my son Carson and I look forward to this trip every year as we monitor wolf recovery and see firsthand the amazing rebound of a species on the brink of extinction in the lower 48.

One of the highlights of the trip is to get some time with some of the wolf biologists that are on the ground studying wolves all year long. Doug Smith, Dan Stahler, Erin Albers, and others do a fantastic job tracking about a dozen packs throughout the park.  The research they have been doing for the past 17 years has been invaluable to wolf conservation and behavior studies worldwide.

That’s why it is so disturbing to see some of these very same wolves gunned down during the current hunting season. Unfortunately, wolves don’t understand borders and many of the park wolves are used to seeing people.  They don’t know that it’s another world outside of the park boundaries, or that people could mean danger outside the park.  Already, ten Yellowstone wolves have been killed; seven of them with radio research collars, possibly putting decades of wolf research in jeopardy.

We learn so much from Yellowstone research that helps us better understand and manage wolves, not only in Yellowstone but throughout the Northern Rockies and everywhere wolves now find a home. One of the most important research efforts is on predator-prey relationships.  We now better understand what types of species wolves prey on, how much they eat, how they work as a pack and what animals rely on the remains of those kills for their own survival. The research also shows us how other animals behave in the presence of wolves.  Further research indicates that wolves impact numerous species, a term some biologists refer to as “trophic cascades.” One theory is that wolves may influence elk behavior and cause them to spend less time browsing the valley and streams of Yellowstone. This has allowed willows and other trees and brush to flourish, providing richer habitat for beaver, fish, birds and amphibians. We might never have known all of the impressive and important roles that wolves play if we had not had data from the years of extensive research on Yellowstone wolves.

Other research provides data on disease, genetics, breeding, kill rates, pup survival and mortality. Yellowstone is considered by scientists world-wide to be the premier landscape for wolf research because of how visible the wolves are in Yellowstone’s northern range.  In addition to the tragedy of these iconic wolves being killed, we are losing a plethora of research with the loss of each collared Yellowstone wolf.

Yellowstone wolves are valuable for the data they generate that help us understand more about wolves and the important role they play in the ecosystem.  But they are also important to people.  During the first years of wolf reintroduction, biologists had no idea that the newly-released wolves in the northern range of Yellowstone would be so visible to researchers and to the many visitors who visit the park every year.  Tens of thousands of people are lucky enough to come to Yellowstone every year to watch the wolves that make this great park their home.  I know many photographers and filmmakers that have made their living following the wolf packs and capturing their personalities and behaviors; tour guides also benefit from the desire of tourists to see wolves. And all of these people spend money in the park and in the local communities — on the order of $35 million annually, and leveraging a total economic impact of about $70 million per year.

The killing of these Yellowstone wolves certainly brings the management policies of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana into clear focus. The loss of these wolves — the most protected in the region, until they set foot outside Yellowstone National Park — provides a window into what is happening to wolves throughout the Northern Rockies, where wolves have few and in some cases no protections.  Already, 257 wolves have been killed so far this hunting season, and more than 800 have died since Congress removed federal protections for wolves in the core of the Rockies.  It’s hard to believe that this is an animal that only last year was protected as an endangered species.

The states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming need to step up and work with the park officials to reduce these serious impacts on wolf research efforts. America has a lot invested in this research and in these wolves. We should be proud that we are leaders in wolf conservation research and take steps now to avoid the losses that occurred this year. We cannot let one of the most spectacular conservation accomplishments of the last century be undermined by wrong-headed management practices.  It’s time we all take a stand and let the states surrounding Yellowstone know that their actions are unacceptable, and we need to work together to ensure a brighter future not only for the wolves in Yellowstone but for those throughout the region.

94 Responses to “A Conservation Icon in the Crosshairs”

  1. Arlene

    I wish people that kill these wonderful animals realized how much of a service they provide humans with. Not all animals should be killed for sport.

  2. Victoria Parisio

    Why would you take the wolf out of the environment when it is us humans that are the most dangerous predator on the face of the earth? We should be the ones taken out of the environment, We have no right to take lives, we were given the task of being stewards of all living life on this planet, but yet we took territory from every living thing and made it our own never wondering what that animal would do without it’s safe place on this earth, where would it go what would it do? Yet when it moves we say it’s coming into our territory, No we moved into it’s territory now they have no place to go but keep on moving. We can’t play God we are not God so don’t pretend we are. Take us humans out of the equation and put God back in charge and let Him do his thing, he is the only one who had a handle on the balance of the eco-system after all He made it not us, every time we mess around with it we screw it up. So STOP messing around with it and let it alone. Let the predators and the prey be, it will work itself out. After all We are NOT God. But we are the most dangerous animal on the face of the earth because we kill for no reason.

  3. Katherine

    I believe that each and every creature on this earth are here for a purpose, and that there is no need to be killing anything as it disrupts the natural environment. These people, and I use the word loosely, are killing these wolves so that there will be more deer and other creatures for these same people to kill.

    The eco system is in such a mess and it is all because of mans greed and lack of understanding and thought into what we are doing to our planet.

    When will we get it? Does it take a planet with no living creature left on it before we stop?

    I think that our world is over populated with humans and we need to start taking on a birth control measure like China has, and limit each family to one child, and taxing those that have more.

    This way there will be more food, jobs and other resources for everyone.

    Just my opinion.

  4. Joan Dufour

    It is so upsetting to me what the States are doing to these beautiful animals. How can people be so inhumane! Wish I could do more to help, but I don’t have money to donate and am 76 and live in Texas. I sign every petition I see to speak for the wolves. I have four dogs I love dearly ( one a malamute). I pray that the wolves’ are put back on the endangered list.

  5. Ellen Gordon

    Couple years ago, we took a family ski trip to Big Sky. Took a day off midweek to go to Yellowstone–and hired a guide for an entire day, specifically so that we would see the wolves. Had the wolves not existed, we would still have gone to the Park that day–but wouldn’t have hired a guide. My point; healthy, viewable wolf packs are really, really important for local businesses in the Yellowstone Park area. That’s a compelling reason to better protect them, completely aside from personal beliefs about healthy ecosystems, their iconic beauty, their fascinating lives.

  6. Catherine Lewis

    WHY????? are the collared wolves – who are supposed to be protected – who were re-introduced to Yellowstone – HOW???? could this happen that they are shot to death!!!!!????? Why aren’t the people who shot them arrested?! What is the purpose of the wolves going through the trauma of being caught and collared only to be fair game?!!! I am so sick and tired of humans interfering with nature’s natural way! Leave the wolves alone! Ranchers: learn to live with them – this CAN be done! Just takes some effort. The wilderness is NOT for cows and sheep, etc. (not their fault!). The wilderness belongs to our wildlife! Where the f#@! do you think they are supposed to go if their only land is taken over?!?!!! Fish & Game – DO YOUR JOB AND PROTECT THESE ANIMALS!!!!! Researchers – DO MORE to ensure the wolves and other wildlife you collar are protected. God help us all if we do not stop this insanity!!!!!!

  7. Arlene

    What absolute bonehead idiots these people are! I cannot imagine the state of mind that people have who kill animals and think it is fun. Although “think” is probably the incorrect word because they are obviously incapable of the act.

  8. markgil

    “Aren’t humans amazing? They kill wildlife – birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed. Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative – and fatal – health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer. So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases. Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals. Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for “Peace on Earth.”~Revised Preface to Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm by C. David Coates

  9. Nancy

    I agree completely with you…..I couldn’t have said it better myself….Thanks for your letter…..

  10. Ruth Stefano

    Jamie,how do you propose we ensure a brighter future for wolves when Ken Salazar & others like him are in bed with the ranchers?

  11. Shelly

    There is something very wrong with people who cannot help but want to murder animals for no reason. And for it to be animals that are endangered makes it even worse, just like in Africa where the people can’t resist causing mass extinctions. Unreal.

  12. Christina Galin

    Each day as I read this disturbing news, my heart breaks. Do these people not know what they are doing?? The wolves will be extinct. None left for our children, their children..for generations. We learned something in school….”Survival of the Fittist”….Survival of the eco systems….if man would just leave it alone. My dream is to visit Yellowstone and see these wonderful animals, landscape….What does Washington think they are doing?? Put the wolves back on the endangered list!!! I wish I too had the money to donate…Put Ken Salazar on the impeachment list!!! He does not care about anything but padding his own pockets. If he was dumped from office and someone else replaced him, things would change for the better.

  13. Gib Chase

    Millions of taxpayer dollars have gone into the recovery of this species. This is a case of federal, state and congressional law makers not working together. Those animals wearing research collars should not have been shot and those responsible should be heavly fined.
    Federal funds to those states allowing the hunting and doing the shooting should be stopped. Once you remove a species from the ES list it is obvious what will happen. The species will once again be hunted into extinction or near to it. This is not the way to operate an endangered species recovery program. Public petitions against such actions will not solve the problem. Policy and management are out of sync and the states named are in violation of conservation ethics and show indifference to endangered species and recovery efforts. Cut off their federal funds.

  14. John Welton

    I can see the collars in the pictures I am sure the hunters can see the collars Can we make it ilegal to hunt shoot trap any wolf witha collar make big fines preferably with the money going to wolf protection
    John Welton

  15. cece neber

    Letter to Salazar: I am deeply saddened and outraged by your recent decision to remove gray wolves in Wyoming from the endangered species list, which leaves them at the mercy of the state. Despite having an estimated population of only 328 wolves, Wyoming has put a “management” plan into effect that allows them to be shot on sight across about 85 percent of the state.

    Sound science tells us that when wolves thrive, so do the ecosystems in which they live. It also tells us that Wyoming’s wolves are critical, genetically, to the long-term survival of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone region.

    Your decision will further unravel two decades of amazing progress in restoring gray wolves to the Northern Rockies — and put them at the mercy of timeworn prejudices. Please call off the guns and return these wolves to the endangered species list until Wyoming presents a credible plan for protecting its wolf population.

    As apex predators wherever they live, wolves benefit all the animals beneath them. Wolves help elk become BETTER elk. The idea that they harm elk or any other animals is childish nonsense, as is all superstitious wolf fear. Plus, wolves are one of the coolest animals on earth.

    Shame to you for allowing humans to destroy these magnificent creatures.

  16. Susan Stauffer

    I think all of these gun carrying fools should understand why we consider outlawing firearms, we, through the government, restored these animals at a cost (including the radio collars). Grazing animals need wolves, I visited Yellowstone in their absence…not a green thing in sight.
    The wild west died before my grandfather was born in the late 1800′s. All the big gangsters also died. Carry a gun become a target yourself and, no, it doesn’t mean you ise ot for fun at any other lives extent. I’m reconsidering the laws allowed.

  17. Ken Chasin

    It is time to get the Department of Interior involved and have them work with the Yellowstone Park authorities to prevent any further killing of the Yellowstone wolves. Perhaps some sort of electronic barrier could be set up around the park perimeter which could discourage the wolves from wandering outside the park boundaries.

  18. Jim Bell

    I’m vegan and non-violent towards animals and people. I’ve been a vegan for about 5 years and I became one initially just so I did not have to participate in the cruelty connected to eating meat, and other animal products. As a bonus, I’m much healthier since I became one. For more info, read “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins. I’m re-reading it now.

  19. Christine korb

    The news of the Yellowstone wolves~or any wolves for that matter~being unnecessarily gunned down is so disturbing that it literally makes me heart-sick. Jamie, thank you for all you are doing to stop/mitigate this tragedy, i only wish i could do more to help. Would that the ‘gunners’ themselves be one day held responsible for their inhumane acts. So utterly sad…….

  20. Amber .c

    i highly disagree with ur comment On china what china does is wrong and way worse every child deserves a chance to live and the one. The one policy in china is barbaric murder of innocent

  21. Hester

    I live in Idaho and I wish there was somthing that could be done to stop this sensless killing of a much needed species in our eco system. The hunting and what is worse – trapping that goes on to catch these animals is absolutely sensless and is what I deem calculated genocide of a wonderful animal. They are not only beautiful but keep down the deseased Elk and other wildlife that they hunt. I can’t figure out why the furor over the fact that they are tying to exist in the West – Idaho, wyoming, and Colorado. I don’t think that a few dead sheep constitutes the outright slaughter of these animals. The ranchers need to find a way to co-exist with wolves – there are actually alternative ways to protect sheep herds from wolves. Here in Idaho we have an overall appalling attitude towards the sanctioned killing of wolves that really makes me sick. What can be realisticly done when the attitude of this very red state is so adverse to saving these animals. I would really like to know.

  22. kathyf

    We did the same thing to the American Indian with Government sanction. Now it’s the wolves. Too many people in this country have no respect for life when it interferes with their $$$$$$ Politicians should be ashamed of themselves..

  23. Dave

    These idiots are going to infuriate those of us who support the wolves conservation efforts. When that happens, it will be the hunters who become the hunted. Paybacks are a bitch!

  24. Tammy

    when people finally wipe themselves out, the wolves will come and lick our bones.

  25. Angie

    I feel that the old ignorant ways still applies to the laws these days. We have a long way to go on improving and this is just proof to my statement. People should not be hunting for sport of any creature- its cruel and damented- kind of like the trill a serial killer gets when the kil someone and get away with it…hmmm thats a great comparison in fact!

    The only hunting I would approve, is for food and clothing needed for people who live in rual areas. The rest is a waste!

  26. bonellen

    Unless they can be absolutely positive that these magnificent animals are safe from anyone who just wants to destroy them, they should not be released in that area. I can’t stand reading about how they are being killed anymore. They must be protected! The collars they put on them mean nothing. Don’t keep releasing them where you KNOW they are going to be killed!

  27. Martha Bibb

    It just breaks my heart to see ignorant hunters gunning down these beautiful animals for fun. How did those folks get so confused about what is fun? And RightWe appreciate your efforts to protect our beautiful wolves from senseless and malicious slaughter.

  28. Heather Stewart

    I cannot understand how people can kill these beautiful animals that are so essential to the ecosystem. Why in the world re-introduce them in the first place if they are to be killed by these bloodthirsty monsters. What is worse is taking them off the endangered list. At the rate we are going there will be no wild animals left in the very near future and what a sick world that will be without them.

  29. Francoise Saint-Onge

    I think as Victoria says: Why would you take the wolf out of the environment when it is us humans that are the most dangerous predator on the face of the earth? I would like to say much more about the bad malicious human species and about the innocent, lovely, magnificient animals but I cannot at the time (I am very tired) speak and write good English. When I think of the beautiful wolves, I become tears in my eyes, I feel, that they are speaking to me

  30. Chrissy Beckhurst

    Abbyssmally unnecessary and so disappointing that so many people are so stupid. What an amazing opportunity we have to study real wolves in genuine family groups, not contrived packs made from unrelated wolves, to see the effect of having the correct ecosystem balance once again. How foolish to potentially destroy that – again!!
    And why???

  31. Robert Watson

    All the killing should be no surprise and there will be a lot more. Blame the Interior Dept. and the President for not taking a tougher stand for ESA protection, Senate rules for allowing a non relevant rider to the 2011 budget bill stripping ESA protection for wolves, and of course the President for signing it.

  32. Dawn Oesterle

    For sure… Ken Salazar is no good….. He’s making out on this somehow.
    No soul…. him or these hunters. Who would want to kill these beautiful animals… For many reasons.
    I can only hope and pray they go back on the endangered species list.

    Most likely Salazar has to go first.

  33. Deborah Kitzul

    Catherine, I recently saw a video, may have been on Defenders of Wildlife,YouTube, there was this beautiful wolf caught in a leg trap and it was collared. The men who came up to it were laughing and acting like ignorant people they were and stood about 5 feet from this wolf and shot it. This wolf did not growl, act aggressive and in fact, was passive and almost looked like it was wanting to be petted as domestic dogs do. And for the wolf’s action of acceptance of these humans, it was destroyed. I think anyone who kills a collard wolf should be jailed and fines. These hunters could see the collar with no problem, they are bulky and easily seen. So these hunters knew this wolf should have been off limits. I wonder if they have to let conservation agents see the wolves these hunters slaughter like they do the deer in Michigan.

    Also, Michigan was to vote last Tuesday-Dec 4, 2012 on allowing wolf kills in our state. If they do, I fear that in less than 2 years they will all be gone. First the “authorities-republican governors” claim we had about 350 wolves in the state and this past week they claim over 700 wolves. We still have no idea if this bill passed.

  34. C

    This is an out right blood bath against these beautiful and magnificent animals. This is an atrocity against nature….. End this…..PLEASE…..

  35. Nancy Straub

    This is so sad. Please restore protections to these wolves wherever they roam. Hunting them just to kill them is barbaric and so outdated. They face enough challenges in their lives. And we are all poorer for the loss of them.

  36. Nikki

    This is a good article with good information but for it to be a really really good well rounded article that biologists and ecologists and ag people could appreciate – it should’ve also addressed why people have an issue with the wolves leaving the park – how their predator – prey relationships outside the park can have some negative implications that can end up affecting the consumer – comes down to the bottom line outside the park – I’m not saying I agree – I’m saying the article could have addressed more.
    (Natural Resource Ecology and Management: Wildlife Student)

  37. linda jones

    i agree with you fully, sport hunting is just unbelievable i hate it.

  38. linda jones

    WEll said so glad to hear someone else with my views on this subject!!!!

  39. Pamela Hensley

    One of biggest problems is ranchers killing wolves because they say wolves eat their cattle. How many wolves will choose a cow over a deer, elk or bison? These same ranchers are grazing their cattle on public grazing lands paid for by you guessed it the American taxpayer.So as I see it, we are paying for the feed for their cattle so until they foot the bill they need to stop killing these majestic animals.The same fate awaits the Grizzly Bear as wildlife officials are going to take them off the endangered list and start offering trophy hunts.

  40. Andrea

    What can I say You people are as cruel as they come Forget the President And the house or Congress It’s the people who need to stop the killing of these BEAUTIFUL ANIMALS we have taken away they’re home so we can build ours so what do you expect from them they are only defending themselves How about that has anyone even concidered that!!!

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