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.

95 Responses to “A Conservation Icon in the Crosshairs”

  1. Laurie

    We have to demand a full investigation of these killings–now at eight. Hunters are targeting collared animals. They may be able to track them with radio receivers. The people doing this are terrorizing a public-funded research program. We have to ask our federal representatives to place a moratorium on hunting of wolves in the states surrounding Yellowstone, and then investigate the homegrown terrorism that is attacking the people’s land and wildlife.

    • Dawn Welch

      Laurie, I agree 100% with you. These are hate crimes against animals, and not necessary killings.

  2. Barbara Kates

    The NY Times story literally brought me to tears.

    The killing of both the alpha female and male mate is beyond outrageous, given their collars and markings clearly were recognized throughout the area.

    It is no longer paranoid to state the obvious: Hunters are targeting the Yellowstone packs we have worked to hard to preserve and bring back to healthy numbers.

    Please consider a major campaign alliance with the NPCA, National Park Foundation, Yellowstone Park groups, as well as the usual animal protection organizations.

    This is an assault, pure and simple, on the national park wildlife.

    I will send a donation to match my words.

    Keep me posted.

    Barbara Kates

    This frankly sounds

    • Nancy Grimes

      Every person who has been to Yellowstone and ‘happened’ upon a scene of wolves playing with each other, eating at a carcass, or bounding over the hills has one of the most spectacular visual experiences of their life–later, it turns inexplicably into a personal experience that is carried with that person their whole life: this memory of wolves can be brought to mind at any time. It excites our imagination, brings closer the beauty of nature, and we revisit that ‘wild’ part of our selves that civilization so mindlessly has stamped out of us. This is what happened last summer when a young teenage couple saw through the viewing scope a pack of wolves around a carcass in the Lamar Valley. When they witnessed a grizzly lumbering out of the nearby forest, boldly charge at the wolf pack, then race for their kill, they couldn’t believe their eyes and may never see this scene again… but they have it in their memory, never to be lost. This is what these farming hunters need to feel and experience. This cannot be driven home to them by those of us who love our natural world. They have to come upon it quite by accident, when their defenses are down, and they feel for the first time what wild wolves and grizzlies are all about.

  3. Deb Kulcsar

    Thank you for your work, Defenders!
    My plea: Hunters and guides and MT/WY govt: please do not target collared wolves. This appears to be especially intentional.

  4. Gregg Drozda

    I would urge that any and all national country recording artists, such as Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flats, Dwight Yoakum, Toby Keith, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan immediately withdraw from their scheduled performances at the 2013 Cheyenne Frontier Days and any other future concert in the state of Wyoming.

    Ashley Judd is on the Board of Defenders. She should use her connections with Nashville to “blacklist” Wyoming and prevent that state from benefitting economically from A-List concerts while the Yellowstone wolf packs are being slaughtered for the thrill of the killers out to make a “trophy” fur rug or wall hanging.

    Killing well known COLLARED Yellowstone wolves ought to be a criminal offense. These packs DO NOT BELONG TO WYOMING! They belong to the National Park System and to the People of the United States.


    • Dolores Hayes

      Hunter: What a CROCK! Your lame rationalization for killing wolves holds no water at all. Anyone who says that a species can be “managed” by killing half of its members is either a moron or a liar. Which are YOU? If you really want to shoot a dangerous animal, pick on wild dogs, who take far more livestock AND who, unlike wolves, WILL attack humans! Admit it: you just want a bunch of wolf pelts to other like you will mistake you for a real man. You are not.

      @Greg Drozda: EXCELLENT idea, but good luck getting many of these people to anger their fan base! Toby Keith, for instance, showed up on Stephen Colbert’s Christmas Special toting a semi-automatic weapon! Colbert may have thought Keith was joking; I don’t!

      We need stuff like what you suggested, but more so: strict fines and even jail time for those taking the lives of these magnificent animals–especially the collared ones!

  5. Pia Gismondi

    The news of the latest slaughter of these “ambassador” wolves is truly devastating as well as sickening. It would appear that those involved in these killings do not consider anything other than the fact they have been given licence to hunt and kill an animal at no matter what cost.
    Here in the UK, I have seen some of the documentaries showing the sheer hatred that hunters and ranchers have for the wolf in particular. It is truly worrying that humans can have such vehement feelings, to the extent that a species of animal risks eradication.
    Can these people be educated and will they be prepared to work with and listen to conservationists? We can only hope,give our support to organisations like Defenders of Wildlife, and keep fighting.
    I work with socialised wolves at Paradise Wildlife Park in the UK, and am always mentioning Defenders of Wildlife and the plight of wolves in the States, especially at the moment.
    Keep up the good work.

  6. Diane C Abbysinian

    Absolutely despicable and abhorrent! I will never enter that state ever, what in GOD’s name is wrong with these gun-wielding psychopaths??

    Karma will handle it in the end…for those sick freaks!

  7. Hunter

    Being an avid hunter myself, with the bonus of having a Ph.D. in wildlife biology, I would ask you to seek your information from peer-reviewed sources free of bias and opinion. Hunting, not wolf watching, is the single largest driving force (both monetarily and through the ecosystem service it provides) for the conservation of wildlife in the U.S., including wolves. I assure you, the wolf quota is monitored very closely, and their populations will continue to thrive. I would wager that most hunters have a deeper connection with nature than you can imagine, and aren’t out to mindlessly slaughter animals as you portray. We all want wolves around, but sustainable harvest will do the species good…the data support this.

    • Doug

      Dear Hunter,
      So, you believe that eradication of the wolves is very unlikely with the current events taking place? What happened to the mountain lion and wolves in other states could happen to the wolves of the Northern Rockies if we are not pro-actively managing them. The carcasses of white-tail deer on the roads of Texas and Washington and Ohio at this time of year tell me that the predator-prey equilibrium was lost a long time ago with the loss of predators like cougars and wolves, killed by hunters. And that hunters today are not plentiful enough to reduce the deer population so that it is healthy and not a threat to automobile drivers who kill them. It doesn’t take a wildlife biologist to know that wolf slaughter in the United States, including the Rocky Mountain region and Wisconsin or Minnesota is ill-conceived and just plain wrong. I am a biologist too if that matters.

    • Jon

      Mr. Hunter,

      So the way you show your appreciation for wildlife is to shoot it?

      Explain to me how this shows that you love wildlife.

      Your reaction is: “Oh, what a beautiful animal. How I would love to kill it.” ???

    • Robert

      Actually they arnt just killed. Usually the skins are taken but unfortunately the meat is wasted. Im a hunter and when i kill something i use every part of the animal down to the bone. So most of ya’ll say hunters are murderers when most of us provide more money and effort towards game and non game animals than the average public. And you guys are no less killers when you step on a roach or flush a spider down the drain, which i personally try to not do as often as possible because it provides no benefit for me or the bug, so get off your high horse and think before you speak. I love wolves, just as much as i love every animal on this planet. But of course im a “bloodthirsty” hunter.

  8. Cheryl Calliari

    This morning on NPR I heard about the death of Yellowstone’s Alpha Female wolf #832. I mourn her hunting death and I regret every time I ignored a request from Defenders to take action. Never again will I not act when requested to do so by Defenders. Your work is essential and I treasure every wolf that you save.



  10. Jeremy

    Just watch the New about Yellowstone National Park It sad to me that we are now kill Wolf.. i hear from my grandma that Obama said now we can kill them b.c there more of them now. I think it bullshit what did they do to you. So i set here and ask how can i help

  11. Donna Backes

    Some of you may know the story of a wolf named ROMEO in Alaska.He would come around and follow people walking, not in a threating way but wanting to play with the.dogs that came with there owners.He made the news and the Alaska magazine .I.was blessed to see this beautiful black wolf with gold.eyes. Seeing him was the highlight. of my trip.To see a wild animal wanting to trust humans.Which most want to kill.One man was blessed to have this wolf trust him. He only came at certain times of the year. Why we will never know. I went back to Alaska hoping to.see.him and I found out 2 idiots had shot him.and mounted. I attended the memorial for him and there were people of all kinds.Fish and game, police and hunters. Some hunters had tears in there eyes.This lone black wolf who never harmed anyone came into our lives to show us there can be peace and trust. He also show us the gentle silly.side of himself. Than hey are the monsters they are made out to be.I am so.thankful to have had the chance to see this most special animal. The two idiots that killed him.destroyed that. WAKE UP PEOPLE….. Let us not destroy everything. With his gentle playing with peoples. pets and coming back every year.His trust got him killed.PLEASE LET US STOP KILLING THESE BEAUTIFUL ANIMALS. There is only less.than half percent dna difference between them and your own dog. ROMEO I hope your a bright star in the heavens. May one day we can coexist with each other.I have been blessed to have a wolf let me into his life. He is my fourth.I.trust him more than I do most humans. Please let us all try to be.good to our fellow creatures and humans.

  12. Derek

    This is wrong why cant they just leave these poor creatures alone…I cant wait to start my revolt because the people who hunt them will have to shoot me first. and obama oh he will hear from me alright.

  13. Millie Sheen

    I think it is absolutely terrible what us as humans do to the planets other creatures. But I mean of course if they are around humans that don’t do them any harm they are going to trust the hunters too. In my opinion we should protect more wolves. Or. As I have said before why don’t the hunters LEAVE THEM ALONE!!!

  14. Arleen Judd

    Do we have a chance of saving these beautiful animals? I’m beginning to think we don’t because of the heartless killings that are happening. Obama will cut the important things like wildlife and allow the years of welfare fraud. I get very upset and will send a donation. I just wish the government services and states would see what a waste of life, which isn’t of any benefit to anything is causing! Sincerely, Arleen J.

    • Alice C

      i completely agree! im only 13 but i have tried ultipule things to save any type of animal. i hate hunters, there no point in killing them unless they have to big of a population.

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