BOZEMAN, Mont. – Tourists and Yellowstone National Park enthusiasts will have an even harder time finding rare gray wolves after 15 of them roamed outside the park and were killed by Montana hunters.
According to the National Park Service’s frequently requested documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a wolf harvest table shows that 15 gray wolves wandered across the park’s northern border into Montana.
In 1995, 31 wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park for research and species sustainability reasons but this hunting season has already marked the most wolves killed in a single season by roaming outside of the park.
In the FOIA, Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cameron Sholly sent a letter to Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte on Dec. 16, 2021, urging him and the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission to shut down hunting and trapping in Montana's wolf management units 313 (Gardiner) and 316 (Cooke City) for the remainder of the season.
According to Sholly, tourism to the park supports thousands of jobs and has an estimated overall benefit of $640 million to the area's economy including an estimated $30 million annually spent in local Montana communities and counties from visitors looking to view wolves in Yellowstone.
Wolves are protected within Yellowstone National Park, but in Montana wolf hunting and trapping is allowed and needed in certain cases to keep the population under control and track wolf activity for farmers and ranchers if they come to close to livestock.
As of Jan. 11, the state’s wolf harvest dashboard shows 156 wolves have been harvested since the start of the 2021 archery season (Sept. 4), general season (Sept. 15) and trapping season which varied on opening depending on the wolf management units in inside or near occupied grizzly bear habitat.
Gianforte responded to the Sholly’s letter on Jan. 6, 2022, acknowledging that the wolves were harvested on land in the state of Montana.
“Once a wolf exits the park and enters lands in the State of Montana, it may be harvested pursuant to regulations established by the Commission under Montana law,” Gianforte said. “These regulations provide strong protections to prevent overharvest.”
While wolves are protected from hunting and trapping season in YNP, once they roam north of the park’s border, they count under the harvest thresholds established by Montana's Fish and Wildlife Commission for the season.
FWP spokesperson Greg Lemon said when the thresholds are met, the Commission will meet and review the wolf regulations and seasons for that region.
Montana FWP’s Region 3 includes the wolf management units 313 and 316 where the Yellowstone wolves were harvested, but the current count of 64 is under the threshold of 82.
Gianforte said in his response letter that he forwarded Sholly’s letter to the Commission for its consideration and encouraged him to bring any outstanding concerns to the Commission.
Lemon said the next Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting is Feb. 4 but the agenda isn’t finalized and should be expansive with hunting regulation season setting process.
The Commission does not have a special meeting scheduled to consider changes to the wolf season.