How Much Does a Wolf Cost?

Grey Wolf in Yellowstone in Spring

The truck’s plates say it all: “4WOLVES.” Inside are an Iowa couple who return to the Yellowstone country year after year to be campground hosts in the nation’s first national park. They return for the stunning scenery, for the wide open country that is the Lamar Valley, for herds of elk, for shaggy bison and for wolves.

Today’s Yellowstone is a different place than 1995’s Yellowstone. Biologists and ecologists can see it on the ground. Outdoor educators see it in their businesses. And visitors see it on the roads.

Travel the road from Cooke City into the Lamar Valley and you’ll see it too. At pullouts all up and down the valley will be dozens of people standing, pointing, quietly observing. They are there for Yellowstone’s wolves.

Jim Halfpenny is an outdoor educator who specializes in large carnivores. He lives in Gardiner, Montana, a town on the northern edge of the park and from there, he runs classes in wolf ecology. In 1995, he taught one class. Since that time, he has seen the wolf education business spring to life.

“There were fifty-four classes on wolves taught in the first half of 2000 from eleven different organizations. From an educational standpoint, this has just been monstrous in the way it has developed,” said Halfpenny.

Wolves Mean Less Elk for Hunters and Hunting Outfitters

Economically, the story has been extremely bright. In 1992, before wolves were reintroduced into the park, a University of Montana economist named John Duffield co-authored a study entitled “The Economics of Wolf Recovery in Yellowstone National Park.” That study predicted a loss to the hunter/outfitter business on the high end of about $500,000 per year. This would be a direct loss to hunting outfitters due to the fact that a declining elk population due to wolves would mean less elk to hunt, which would mean less clients. On the flip side, the benefits to wolf recovery in terms of tourism dollars, educators, and outfitters who specialized in wildlife observation, not hunting, were predicted in the $7-10 million annual range, a gain many times greater than the loss.

A follow-up study to check the accuracy of the predictions is about a year away from publication, but the preliminary numbers look very similar, said Duffield. People want to see wolves, and they come from all over the world to do so. And they bring money.

For a motel owner who struggles during the dreaded “shoulder-season”-those months between the peak tourist seasons-wolves have been extremely good news. Three years ago, Gerlie Weinstein left her life in New Orleans as an English teacher to come to Cooke City to run a business and watch wildlife. Today, she owns the Alpine Motel in Cooke City.

“My business has increased yearly, and increased from the business that the former owners did,” said Weinstein. “I came here because I watch wildlife and that’s what a lot of my clients do.”

The months of April, October, and November can be hard times for motel owners, but with the addition of wolves into the park, businesses like the Alpine Motel don’t need to close up shop during these times.

“We had our best November and best October ever last fall, that would be people coming to see the wildlife,” she said. “They are coming for the wolves and they are coming for the bears.”

What’s more, the potential is just barely being tapped, according to some observers.

“Over time, I think this is really going to be considered as a world class opportunity for people to see wolves in the wild,” said Rick McIntyre, who works for the National Park Service to provide help educate wolf watchers. In terms of the economic impact, there’s just tremendous potential for local business people. To me that’s just a tremendously positive potential, having the wolves here.”

Halfpenny has made an attempt to quantify and compare the economic returns of wolf watching to elk hunting.


What’s Brings in More Money – Wolf Watching or Elk Hunting?

“One exercise that I do in my wolf classes is I put up a blackboard and I have the people go through and make some sort of evaluation of what wolf watching brings into the northern Yellowstone ecosystem in dollars and what hunting brings,” said Halfpenny. “There’s a lot of assumptions in such an exercise, but the bottom line is in the northern (Yellowstone) ecosystem, wolf watching brings in four times what hunting is bringing in.

“We have counted 100,000 visitors as of June of last year that have been out and watched wolves and then you make assumptions about what they spend in the filling station, the restaurants, etcetera, and what the hunters spend,” said Halfpenny. “You know Montana’s own statistics show the average late-hunt hunter spends $39 a day up here.”

Halfpenny figures that wolf watchers spend about $160 per day in the area. And there’s tremendous potential for growth.

“It’s obvious that wolves are one of the most charismatic animals in the world and there’s no end to how many people would like to see a wolf in the wild, so Yellowstone is one of the most unique opportunities in the world where an average person can and does have a real excellent chance of having that experience,” said McIntyre.

Comment Feed

44 Responses

  1. Non Resident elk hunters spend $130+- a day. Assuming they purchase a $912.00 combination deer/elk tag. $39 a day is pretty cheap livin’, considering you have a hard time finding a hotel for that, or a tank of gas, or a box of ammo, or a new pair of pants, or a hunting knife, or a bar tab.
    If one were to live off of $39 a day, that would mean you only spend $14,040.00 annually, elk huntin’ is cheap! I live in Montana, hunt in Montana, and I am positive I spend at least $50 a hunting day, not counting license, tags, fees.
    Ask a non resident hunter how much his trip to Montana cost him. Ask him how long he saved up for it.
    Ask him if he would like to see wolves.
    If MT FWP were to sell all 17,000 non-resident combination tag in the quota(which this year they wont)the gross income would be $15,504,000.00 which is where at least some of the money comes from for wolf management programs.
    Wolf watchers/park tourists,100,000 of them,spend $160 a day, which is $16,000,000.00. How much of that revenue goes to the managing of wolves? Just the park fees? Any of it? Has tourism increased since the reintroduction of wolves? If so, has the increase in revenue surpassed the price of managing the wolf population? Does that revenue pay restitution for the stock depredation? Helicopter rental for government employees to kill problem wolves? Does it even cover the cost of the initial reintroduction?
    The money for wolf management is the responsibility of entities outside of the park, MT FWP, Department of Agriculture(government trappers), ID F&G, WY G&F, because that’s where they are a problem. Just cant seem to keep the wolves in the park! There is no elk hunting in the park, or hunting at all, so no, hunters dont spend alot of time or money in the park. The above article is candy coated. A wolf fluff piece. A tourism brochure article.

    I am not against wolves, I am against people that claim wolves are good for the economy. I am against experts lying to the public. I am against seemingly intelligent people that refuse to admit they are wrong. I am against people hiding behind a “noble cause” to cash in on taxpayers money. I am against fraud, waste, and abuse of government funds, a.k.a. taxpayers money.

    If you want to see wolves, skip the park and the crowds. Go to the Bighole, there are more wolves there anyway.

    Dave HottellOctober 19, 2011 @ 8:30 am
  2. Hi Dave, I’m a wolf watcher/lover who also appreciates decisions being based upon fact rather than myth. I don’t believe current wolf hunting/management decisions are based upon fact, but rather fear and hate. Can hunters and wolf lovers talk to each other? I certainly hope so. Can they find common ground – at least some? I hope so. Let’s start. Thanks, Monica

  3. Dave, if you’re against abuse of government funds, then I’m sure you are opposed to the federal agency Wildlife Services, which spends millions of taxpayer dollars every year to kill numerous wild species on behalf of ranchers, farmers, etc. This is one of the most wasteful govt. agencies in existence, and it needs to be defunded NOW.

    Joby 79May 9, 2012 @ 7:54 am
  4. Dave has a point people, when are you gullible people going to wake up and smell the coffee? I have it brewing right now, Peet’s Coffee extra strong for those who are drinking far too much chamomile tea! Now we could get you some ginko biloba tea. What is disturbing though are the countless shows about hunters shooting animals for sport. Now that is wrong and when I asked the Native Americans their response was ” you cannot trust white people”!! I have to agree and I am white too. People who want a nice trophy on their wall for a conversation piece, sorry but again that is wrong. These national parks are great that they offer the masses a wonderful opportunity to see animals in their natural environment so why not invite criminals to come visit us in our homes? Do any of you think these animals want to see humans? No! What do you think they are thinking about seeing millions of idiots in the park? “Get out”!! How many people, in the park, ride bikes? Drive electric vehicles? Drive hybrids? Actually get out of their cars and walk more than 1/4 of a mile? I bet the percentage is around 2-5% with is pretty lame people. Those huge motor homes, trucks, tour buses pollute in such an awful way then the people in them are either so over weight and just want some pictures to show their family members “hey we went to Yellowstone”. I interviewed many when I was there this winter and asked them where are their favorite hikes? “hikes”? Are you kidding was their response. Why hike when you can drive? Like I said, idiots in a beautiful park surrounded by stunning scenery and I can imagine a Bison thinking “that’s it stupid human come a little close so I can charrrrrrrrrrrrrrge” What I am doing right now is posting videos of complacency in National Parks.

  5. Move to Montana where there is an abundance of wolves, and i am sure you will change your view. Hunting wolves in any National park is against the Law. Outside of National Parks, Hunting thins out wolf packs and provides a management tool for wildlife biologists to ensure wolf numbers remain healthy and manageable. Too many wolves stresses the Elk and Deer populations. Wolf hunting ensures the Elk and Deer populations remain healthy and not over hunted by too many wolves in the ecosystem. Without hunting the winter kill numbers of wolves would be high. If there is not enough food available to sustain the number of wolves, wolves would die of starvation or freeze to death. And what about the sheep and cattle ranchers who have already suffered livestock losses due to wolves? They deserve to be compensated. There are plenty of wolves in Montana too take pictures of. The wolf is native to Montana and the west, it belongs here, however to let the wolf population numbers run wild and be against the hunting of wolves is just asinine. I think anyone who lives where there are no wolf populations really should just not have an opinion until they are able to form an opinion based on real experience.

  6. I have no real experience in many things, but that doesn’t preclude me from understanding the difference between fact and rhetoric. Shooing wolves wantonly, calling them the ‘Saddam Hussein” of the animal world, setting traps such as barbaric snares, poisoning their food with compounds that cause excruciating suffering, having shoot on sight policies such as those proposed in the Wyoming management plan, that destroy non-problem wolves with long range rifles, just about anywhere in the state and throughout most of the year, this is not science, and it is not acceptable, and you don’t have to have experience with wolves to know that.

    I will tell you this, your state will not see my money for tourism with these policies and I will do everything I can to make sure that everyone I know does the same.


  7. Why do people insist on making wolves out to be the big bad animal? I agree that they do not need to overpopulate themselves, but shoot on sight is simply unacceptable. There are more humane ways to thin the population than butchering them. How about psay/neutering, or injections to make them sterile?? Sounds better than just blowing out their brains beacuse they are wolves. God put them here for a reason and until God decides to destroy them..Man has no right to!!!!! Please stop this waste of a beautiful animal who just wants to survive in this over populated uncaring selfish world.

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