After completing its annual wolf population estimate, Yellowstone National Park has announced that the number of wolves inside the park has declined by 27% since the end of 2007. 124 wolves are now thought to reside in the park, down from 171. Is this a normal fluctuation?
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Yellowstone’s Chief of Wildlife Management says that he thinks it’s normal. A similar decrease occurred in 2005. Disease was mentioned as a possible explanation for the decline, and will be investigated further by researchers working in the park. Wolves killing each other is also a mentioned possibility.
Approximately 1500 wolves live in the greater Yellowstone area, a region spanning three states: Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. They were re-introduced to Yellowstone in 1995, after having been eradicated by hunting. With their reintroduction, increasing pressure has been placed upon federal and state governments to allow hunting of wolves by delisting them as an endangered species. Although those wolves that kill and eat cattle from ranches in some circumstances can already be hunted legally.
News of the decline is troubling for conservationists like myself, who would eventually like to see some hunting allowed, but only once a sustainable population of wolves has been reached in the greater Yellowstone region. A 27% decline in Yellowstone’s wolves from natural causes? I don’t think we’ve reached a sustainable population yet.
But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.