By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Three wolves that were members of Yellowstone National Park’s Junction Butte pack were killed during the first week of hunting season in Montana, park officials reported Monday.
The pack is one of the most-viewed wolf packs in the world and roams the lands in and around the park’s northern range. It has now been reduced from 27 to 24 wolves with the loss of two female pups and one female yearling.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks confirmed three wolves were killed outside of the park in the general vicinity of where the pack was traveling in mid-September.
Yellowstone wolves in the northern range spend an estimated 5% of their time outside the park, usually in late fall.
For over a decade, the state of Montana limited the number of wolves taken from state wolf management units which are immediately adjacent to the park’s northern boundary. Ninety-eight percent of wolves in Montana are outside those units.
Recent state changes to hunting and trapping have lifted restrictions within these units, making Yellowstone’s wolf population in the northern range vulnerable to hunting.
Montana has also authorized the use of bait on private property to lure wolves. Over 33% of the boundary Yellowstone shares with Montana is within one mile of private property where baiting is now permissible.
“Yellowstone plays a vital role in Montana’s wildlife conservation efforts and its economy. These wolves are part of our balanced ecosystem here and represent one of the special parts of the park that draw visitors from around the globe,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly. “We will continue to work with the state of Montana to make the case for reinstating quotas that would protect the core wolf population in Yellowstone as well as Montana’s direct economic interests derived from the hundreds of millions spent by park visitors each year.”
Visitor spending within communities that are 50 miles from Yellowstone exceeds $500 million per year, tens of millions of which is spent by visitors coming to watch wolves and supporting Montana businesses in gateway communities, the park said in a news release.
The Junction Butte Pack formed in 2012 in the northern section of the park. It is the most observed pack in Yellowstone because its members den within view of the Northeast Entrance Road and the road to Slough Creek Campground, providing thousands of visitor’s daily views.
The pack had eight pups in 2021.
“Montana’s new laws are putting bullets not just into wolves but into the hearts of everyone who loves Yellowstone’s wolf families,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The puppies and yearling wolf were raised inside a national park where people are not a threat. To mercilessly gun them down when they step beyond Yellowstone’s borders is cruel beyond any measure. We’ll continue to fight to stop this senseless killing.”
In May and July, a slew of organizations — including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, the Sierra Club, the Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians — filed two petitions with the Secretary of the Interior. The groups claim new laws in the states of Idaho and Montana will “drastically reduce their wolf populations.”
Wyoming has at least 327 gray wolves, according to the most recent count. At least 147 of those wolves reside within the wolf trophy game management area, where the Wyoming Game and Fish Department focuses its management efforts.
The wolf population for Yellowstone National Park is estimated at 123 and the Wind River Reservation has around 21 wolves.