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The news came via a Facebook post – the alpha female of the Lamar Canyon pack, “06,” was shot and killed in the same area as 754, the brother of the pack’s alpha male, 755, was a few weeks back.
I am a lone wolf out here prowling the roads and trails of Yellowstone National Park for the Winter, determined to see the park and its inhabitants with my own eyes and not be influenced by the views of others. I have no desire to be a part of any group because it is my belief that by so doing it would diminish my truth and credibility. And because any group, it seems, has extremists on both sides that have a way of fighting for one thing while creating damage to others. I learned these lessons the hard way.
After last winter in boring, sunny Southern California, I contemplated my choices for this one until a friend mentioned discount rates on housing near Yellowstone. The seed was planted and the thought was never far from my mind. And then I watched a PBS special and the winter season portion captured life and death during the park’s toughest season, with the wolf playing the leading role. I needed to see this for myself.
But another wolf has been killed by a hunter. Eleven wolves in all, so far, and nine of them have been collared. From the death of the very first wolf I have watched my opportunity to learn about these animals disappear. Wolf trapping season is about to begin and Montana will not budge by creating a buffer zone between the park boundaries and where hunters can hunt. And the area above Gardiner is a free-for-all as there are no quotas. The hunters can sit up on the hill above the park and bait the wolves across the Yellowstone River. I would be hard pressed to call this hunting.
The thing is, there is no reason to kill these wolves. They are not eaten and those that have collars have a damaged pelt. Also, they rarely stray from the park and have not been linked to the killing of livestock. Quite to the contrary, the Yellowstone wolves have been a benefit to the local economies, research of the wolves and providing opportunities for visitors to see them in the wild.
Wolves are reported to add 35 million dollars to the economies of the Yellowstone gateway communities, such as Gardiner and Cooke cities Montana, Cody, Wyoming and West Yellowstone. Far more than what hunters bring into those areas.
And then there is the fiscal responsibility of this whole idea of not protecting the Yellowstone wolves because the federal government has spent millions in the reintroduction and study of these wolves, only to have them killed for no reason. Right now, in the park, are teams of young people who are volunteering their time, seven days a week from sunup to sundown, to study the wolves. They spend hours out in the cold trying to spot the animals, often hiking long distances. When all of the predators – wolves, grizzlies – are finished with a carcass these volunteers hike out to collect the remains and perform a necropsy on the animal. Time and time again the data shows that the wolves are taking down old, sick and disabled prey.
Hunting is dangerous to the wolves as many of them are killed by a kick in the head or other injury and so they seldom hunt for more than what they need. And their carcass feeds many other animals along the food chain – the grizzly bears, coyotes, ravens, etc. Nothing goes to waste.
And so, at this point it sounds as though my mind is made up about the wolves, despite the fact that I have rarely been able to observe them. Because they are being killed. My mind is fairly convinced about what is right for the Yellowstone wolf packs. The elk no longer do much standing around like cows in a pasture, they branch out into other areas, which is making for a more balanced eco-system in the park that has the aspen trees coming back and the moose population growing. There are still plenty of elk here, where there have been healthy wolf populations and so that makes me wonder what the truth is outside of the park. But I do not know what that truth is. I am willing to observe and learn.
I only saw “06″ one time. She was a long ways off, napping on a ridge above Lamar Valley. Others who were allowing me to look through their scopes to see the wolves, spoke of them with affection and excitement. That is it, I never saw her face.
So, why was it that when I passed through Lamar Valley this morning and drove on out to Silvergate, that I began sobbing uncontrollably? Simple, because she had brought so much pleasure to so many, only to be targeted and shot down by someone whose only motive would be hatred. The hunter was not trying to protect anyone’s property or life, as none of that was in jeopardy, nor ever had been from this wolf. She was a valued, collared, Yellowstone National Park wolf and one man took her away from thousands of people.
Sure wish that I had gotten the opportunity to take a photo of “06.”