“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”—Aldo Leopold
Sunset over Gardiner Basin
Since the state of Montana took over management of gray wolves from the US Fish & Wildlife Service in 2011, wolves in the state have been classified as a game species. In recent years, wolves from prominent packs have been shot leaving Yellowstone National Park. Most wolves killed in WMU (Wolf Management Unit) 313 are animals following migrating elk out of the park. But in some documented cases, Yellowstone wolves have been intentionally lured towards a specific location with bait. The purpose of Yellowstone Wolf Patrol’s monitoring project is to document Montana’s wolf management policies in the field, where they have resulted in the death of over a dozen wolves from family units that spend the majority of their time within Yellowstone National Park. It is also to investigate hunting practices that while legal, are questionably unethical and against the principles of fair chase.
Image from hellsaroarinoutfiteers.com
In September 2014, Yellowstone Wolf Patrol began monitoring of Montana’s sport hunting season for wolves outside of Yellowstone National Park. The area along the park’s northern boundary is broken into two wolf hunting units, WMU 313 & WMU 316, each with a quota of three wolves. Our first excursions into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area were to monitor the September 15th opening of wolf hunting season which coincides with the early elk hunting season in WMU 313 & 316. Research revealed that there are two primary commercial guides offering wolf hunts in WMU 313 & 316, Hell’s A-Roarin’ Outfitters and Absaroka-Beartooth Outfitters, the latter also offered a wolf hunt as a prize in a September online lottery. Our patrols located both guides base camps, and monitored some of their hunting activities. This annual early season hunt takes place in high country where primarily, resident elk on wilderness lands are targeted. While we recorded five separate hunting parties and fresh wolf sign in the area, one bull elk and no wolves were reported killed in WMU 313 on the opening week of the hunt in the wilderness area. One wolf was later reported harvested in WMU 313, leaving two more in the quota of three for that unit. November Wolf Patrol monitoring was planned for the annual winter elk migration that takes place through a narrow corridor that parallels the Yellowstone River, just north of the community of Gardiner, Montana. The Northern Elk Herd that resides in Yellowstone National Park does not leave until colder weather conditions trigger their annual migration to winter ranges outside the park, where they are then subject to hunting.
Elk Hunting Guides in Yellowstone National Park
Based on Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks wolf kill data from past years, this is also the area where wolves are becoming more commonly killed while following migrating wildlife out of the park. This portion of Wolf & Elk Management Unit 313 is easily accessible by paved and unpaved roads in the Gallatin National Forest. Beginning in the late afternoon, during elk season, slow moving trucks spotting for elk drive up and down the road to Jardine. A local told WP that sometimes they want to lean on their car horn as they drive down the Jardine Road that parallels the park boundary, because of the elk hunters hunting from their vehicles. On November 4th, wolves were heard howling from Eagle Creek Campground. With temperatures dropping, and with so many elk leaving the national park at the time, and so many elk hunters congregating in the Gardiner area, it was only a matter of when, not if, wolves leaving Yellowstone would be killed.
One of the Yellowstone wolves killed this November
On November 5th, three wolves were reported killed within a 24 hour period, all within three miles from the park boundary. One was killed near the Jardine Road, and another was killed in Cinnabar Canyon, three miles from the boundary. The third wolf was the Alpha Male from the Cougar Creek pack, who was killed near Beattie Gulch, just a few hundred yards from the park boundary. Continue reading