Yellowstone National Park
The Wolves of Yellowstone
Following an absence of more than 70 years, wolves once again run beneath the ample skies of Yellowstone National Park.
Northern Rocky Mountain wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf (Canis lupus), were native to Yellowstone when the park was established in 1872. Predator control was practiced in the park in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Between 1914 and 1926, at least 136 wolves were killed in the park, and by the 1940s, wolf packs were rarely reported. By the 1970s, scientists found no evidence of a wolf population in Yellowstone.
In the mid-1990s, a total of 31 gray wolves were released in Yellowstone National Park as part of the wolf restoration plan. Today, a little less than 100 wolves live within the confines of the park.
Some experts credit the wolves with helping to restore natural balance in the park. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, wolves play an important role as predators in the ecosystems they inhabit. They feed primarily on large mammals, such as deer and elk, removing sick and injured animals from the populations. Wolves are highly social, living in packs and hunting and raising young cooperatively.
Studies at Yellowstone National Park indicate that wolves support a wide variety of other animals. Ravens, foxes, wolverines, coyotes, bald eagles, and even bears feed on the carcasses of animals killed by wolves. Antelope are swift, elk are alert, and mountain goats are adept at climbing steep cliffs, in part because of the long-term effects of wolf predation. Wolves also help maintain the balance between these hoofed animals and their food supply, making room for plant-eaters such as beavers and small rodents.
One of the best places in the park to view the wolves of Yellowstone is the Lamar Valley, especially at dusk and dawn. Please always remember to keep a safe distance from wolves and all other animals in the park.
The Yellowstone National Park Foundation, a non-profit park partner, has been instrumental in monitoring and staffing the wolf reintroduction project. Each year they raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through the Yellowstone Wolf Project.
During the summer, rangers lead walks and talks about wolves. Ask at visitor centers for locations and times.
In the winter, the park lodging concessioner, Xanterra, offers wolf tours and packages. For more information, call (307) 344-5566 or visit yellowstonenationalparklodges.com.
Image source: nps.gov.