Yellowstone wolf observers break camp, plan return – from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. LAURA LUNDQUIST, Chronicle Staff Writer
GARDINER – After four days of prowling the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness near Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone Wolf Patrol leader Rod Coronado still hasn’t seen any wolves. But he couldn’t be happier.
Coronado, a wildlife activist, and eight YWP volunteers hiked into the wilderness east of Gardiner last weekend just before Montana’s wolf season started. Their intention was to be close to where hunters might kill one or more of the three wolves allowed by the area’s hunt quota.
Two local outfitters offer wolf hunts.
“We want to get images of the wolves or guys packing them out. We thought, with the low quota, that it might happen more quickly,” Coronado said. “But the ranger said the wolves are still snuggled down in the park.”
That didn’t stop the group members from hiking 15 to 20 miles a day around their wilderness camp near Hellroaring Creek in search of wolves.
Coronado created the YWP to monitor the wolf hunt north of the park to ensure hunters didn’t exceed the quotas and to put pressure on Montana to create a no-hunting buffer around the park.
They want to document any wolf kills to get more Americans to protest the hunt.
“We’re trying to illustrate that outfitters may be able to charge more than $3,000 to kill a wolf, but look how much money can be made from that wolf when it’s left alive. People travel here to see wolves, bringing money to hotels, restaurants and stores,” Coronado said. “That’s nothing to be ignored in today’s economy.”
Learning the lay of the land, the group found predator tracks and scat, including some belonging to wolves.
They also found a few park rangers and three hunting parties, all of which greeted them with mild surprise.
“We’ve talked to them. We ran into them face-to-face on the trail at 5:30 in the morning, and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re just out here wandering around?’” Coronado said. “We weren’t looking to necessarily confront them. We’re not here to interfere with anyone hunting elk. And we don’t want to interfere with anything the other wolf groups are trying to do.”
On Thursday, Coronado hiked out with two volunteers to conduct some business and walk the park border from the park side to look for signs of wolves. The other six stayed in camp to keep an eye on things.
Julie Henry of Nashville, Tennessee, said she joined the YWP after becoming disillusioned with being a “click-tivist.”
“Years ago, I got really involved with online activism. But I got really jaded with petitions and trying to go that route because nothing ever happened. I stepped back from that for a while,” Henry said. “But I’m out here now and actually doing something about it.”
Amy Nicole of southern California said she felt amazement as she landed in Montana on Wednesday because she swore she would never visit Montana or Idaho because of the wolf hunting.
“I saw Rod was actually out here doing something about it so I came for a few days on my way elsewhere,” Nicole said. “It doesn’t cost a lot so it’s pretty easy for people to do.”
Hiking along the Rescue Creek Trail, the trio found several elk and bison skeletons, especially near the Yellowstone River.
One was still rotting so the smell would have attracted wolves if they’d been near. But no large canine paw prints clustered around the carcass.
But Coronado remained in high spirits. It was the first time since 2006 that he was out doing the work of an activist, and he said it felt good.
Coronado has a criminal past, having been jailed for burning down animal-testing labs and interfering with hunts to defend the wildlife he loves.
But after spending six years in prison and after finally getting off probation a year ago, he’s decided to change his style of activism. Earlier this year, he went on a speaking tour to encourage people to act but not follow in his footsteps.
“Now I tell young impressionable people it’s a cost-benefit analysis,” Coronado said. “If you get caught, you’re going to go down for 20 years or more. I’ve seen too many brilliant eco-activists going to prison when they could be organizing a sustainable campaign. Most of the buildings I targeted were just rebuilt.”
It helps that, on the whole, the public appears to be a little more attuned to conservation issues now than they were in the 1990s, Coronado said.
The problem is that the public’s attitude hasn’t reached the wildlife agencies that make policy, Coronado said. That’s why the YWP was in Gardiner.
But Coronado doesn’t want to create an organization and come back every year. The plan is for locals to eventually create their own grassroots patrols.
With no wolf activity for now, the YWP is breaking camp this weekend and heading on to Wisconsin where they’ll document the hunters who use hounds to hunt wolves.
Coronado said the YWP would return to Gardiner after the first weather event that brings elk out of the park and into the area.
“Some of the local people, the Legends of Lamar group, don’t want us to go. They think that we need to be here throughout the time. It’s really nice to have their support,” Coronado said.