The National Parks Service recently issued a press release and posts on social media about three wolves killed during Montana’s hunting season after they left the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. As is typical, mainstream media outlets picked the story up and repeated it verbatim, while social-media keyboard warriors screamed about the inhumaneness of any type of hunting, the ability of wolves to intrinsically manage their own populations (along with many other biological fallacies) and the overall irresponsibility of Montana, hunters and scientific wildlife management.
What’s irresponsible, however, is the National Parks Service issuing that release in a vacuum of information, essentially throwing gas on fire that’s been raging for decades. Do park officials issue a press release disparaging scientific wildlife management when elk, bison or other game animals leave the park and are killed during regulated hunting seasons?
No, they do not. When it comes to other game animals, Yellowstone acknowledges the need, effectiveness and merits of scientific wildlife management. Take bison for instance:
“To gain support for bison outside the boundaries of Yellowstone, managers must work together to address people’s concerns while also conserving the population. The IBMP partners are actively addressing issues related to controlling numbers, hunting, and new conservation areas outside the park … Due to high rates of survival and reproduction, the bison population is currently increasing by 10% to 17% per year … The IBMP partners agreed to stabilize the population around 4,900 animals since 2013 by hunting outside the park and capturing animals near the park boundary. For 2021, the IBMP partners agreed to reduce the population by 500 to 700 animals.”
What makes wolf management any different than that of bison?
Yellowstone National Park isn’t a zoo. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does the science or facts supporting wolf management. Wildlife, including wolves, are managed at the population level, not at the individual level. Wildlife management accounts for environmental variables, as well as natural and human-caused mortality among many other factors. Nature is inherently setup to deal with death. That’s why animals have litters, lay multiple eggs and spawn dozens of fry at once, and why breeding seasons are staggered throughout a wide range – it’s all about maximizing survival rates.
The human desire to name individual animals or anthropomorphically identify with family units does a grave disservice to wildlife management and the animals themselves. And Yellowstone National Park is complicit in humanizing wildlife and conflating several issues while ignoring the science and life outside of the park when it comes to wolves in order to justify their own biased interests.
The mere fact that the Junction Butte pack was comprised of 27 wolves suggests an unnatural, easy life within the park. Outside of the park, wolf packs average 6 to 10 animals, with a large pack around 15 animals. It’s extremely rare, and only under the best circumstances, that a pack reaches nearly 30 animals.
More facts from a well-written piece in the Colorado Sun that dispel the insinuations of mismanagement of wolves coming from Yellowstone officials:
- Montana has more than 1,100 wolves.
- Montana’s recovery plan calls for 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves total.
- Montana’s wolf population is easily 10 times those thresholds.
- Rule of thumb: Just to maintain a steady population, 40% of wolves must be removed each year.
- An average of 240 wolves are killed by hunters or other means annually in the state.
- Just six hunters killed their bag limit of five wolves in 2020.
- Montana’s wolf population has continued to grow since the state took over management in 2010.
It’s high time Yellowstone National Park stopped politicizing the wildlife management of one species over others. While the park cites vague “tens of millions of dollars” spent in Montana communities by parkgoers, these people are there for the Yellowstone experience, and are not just wolf watchers. In contrast, Montana sportsmen spend a verifiable $56.3 million on just hunting and fishing licenses (sportsmen spend $41.7 million in Idaho and $32.8 million in Wyoming), not counting dollars to gateway and rural communities where they stay, gas up, buy groceries and other supplies.
The management of wolves is no different than any other species. Issuing inflammatory press releases to gin up media coverage of a divisive topic does a disservice to wildlife management, biologists and the preservation of conservation.
About the Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Sportsmen’s Alliance protects and defends America’s wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits – hunting, fishing and trapping – that generate the money to pay for them. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation is responsible for public education, legal defense and research. Its mission is accomplished through several distinct programs coordinated to provide the most complete defense capability possible. Stay connected to Sportsmen’s Alliance: Online, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.