Concerns Remain About Yellowstone Wolf Population

In March of 2013, officials estimated that just 71 adult wolves reside within Yellowstone’s boundaries, a 14-year low and less than half of 2007’s total.
Yellowstone Wolf Howling in Winter

By Trent Knoss

With the country’s national parks open once again, visitors are flocking to Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley in the hope of seeing one of the park’s most elusive and breathtaking predators: the grey wolf. In January 1995, 14 wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone after a 69-year absence. Today, close to 1,600 live throughout greater Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming—a remarkable recovery for a species once hunted to the brink of extinction in the continental United States.

Yellowstone Wolf Population is Declining

Spotting a wolf inside the park might take a little more luck than usual these days. In March of 2013, officials estimated that just 71 adult wolves reside within Yellowstone’s boundaries, a 14-year low and less than half of 2007’s total. Mange, a parasitic skin disease, has contributed to the decline, as has the dwindling elk population.

Wolf Hunting

Hunting has thinned out the population most dramatically in recent years. Hunting within the park itself is prohibited, but wolves—who routinely traverse up to 30 miles of forested terrain per day—often stray outside those invisible borders. When they do, they become fair game for hunters whether or not they are wearing a radio-tracking collar. Such hunting has drawn heavy criticism, especially after the high-profile killing of famed female wolf “832F” on December 12, 2012. 832F’s death particularly dismayed biologists, who rely on telemetry data from the radio collars to study a wolf pack’s behavior and reproductive patterns. (Yellowstone currently boasts 11 distinct packs, 8 in the north and 3 in the south.)

Park officials have publicly stated their desire to balance population concerns with those of hunting enthusiasts in greater Montana. “The park is not anti-hunting,” Yellowstone chief scientist Dave Hallac told The Missoulian in July. “What we’re trying to do is balance the conservation of wolves in Yellowstone, which are not an exploited population right now, with some level of reasonable harvest.” There is an economic element to the debate, too: “Wolf watching” tourism brings in close to $35 million for the park each year.

As Yellowstone’s wolf restoration effort nears its 20th anniversary in 2015, the grey wolf remains as breathtaking a sight as ever for thousands of park visitors each year. But will the wolves become an even rarer sight in years to come?



2013 Yellowstone Wolf Report Download

Sept 22, 2014: How many wolves were in Yellowstone in 2013, what were their wolf pack territories, and what were their kills.

Gray Wolf Howling

Yellowstone Wolf Population Increased in 2014

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wyoming wolf population grew by 9 percent in 2014. There are 104 wolves in 11 packs in Yellowstone.


Wolf Hunting Banned in 2012

Montana wildlife officials have shut down wolf hunting and trapping in areas bordering Yellowstone.

Wolf from Canyon Pack near Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone

2014 Yellowstone Wolf Report Download

December 3, 2015:: How many wolves were in Yellowstone in 2014, what were their wolf pack territories, and what were their kills. Download the report.

Yellowstone Wolf Howling in Winter

Gray Wolves Increase Tourism in Yellowstone National Park

Ecotourism in Yellowstone has increased since gray wolves were reintroduced to the ecosystem, boosting local economies by an estimated $5 million per year.

Yellowstone grey wolf in the snow

Yellowstone Wolves Killed December 2012

Over the past few weeks, hunters have killed seven wolves originally from Yellowstone National Park. Each of the wolves wore a GPS research collar, which helps park officials to monitor the wolf packs’ movements.

Grey Wolf

Wolf Hunting Protest

A rally to protest sport hunting and trapping of wolves in the United States

Gray Wolf Howling

4 Yellowstone Wolf Experts Share Observations on Adaptation

A flood of science is emerging from research focused on the impact that wolves have on a host of other species, especially elk and coyotes.

Yellowstone grey wolf in the snow

More $$$ to Economy: Yellowstone Wolf Watching or Elk Hunting?

Wolves mean fewer elk and fewer elk hunters. That costs $$. But wolves also bring in the lookers who want to learn about these predators and that brings $$.