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NatureScience

Yellowstone National Park Wolf Population Dropped Sharply in 2008

A Gray Wolf

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?

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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.

Photo Credit: dobak on Flickr under a Creative Commons license




6 comments
  1. Ed

    Why would you think a 27% decline in Greater Yellowstone is reason for alarm? Where is the evidence for your claim that these wolves have not yet reached a sustainable population level? I hear all kinds of numbers being tossed around by wolf biologists as to what constitutes a sustainable population. The wisest among them, however are keeping quiet and waiting to see who survives and who doesn’t. The rest are just playing a guessing game, and the public is playing along.

  2. Mathew

    I think that this is true. These are very good facts i think that you should tell the government about these. Later Yall. (lol im not southern)

  3. Jade. W

    I agree i dont think the wolf population, has reached a substancial point yet. I know that it is legal to kill the wolves if they get into livestock, but has anyone ever heard of a FENCE??

  4. MikeA

    There are many possible explanations for a die off like the one described. One is the possibility of the wolves exceeding the habitat’s carrying capacity. People often fail to understand that the carrying capacity of an area is not static and must be measured over time. We must also consider that the wolf itself impacts the habitat. As the wolf populations grows it alters the habitat from its condition before the wolves were present. At some point there is the possibility that the population will expand during good conditions, to a point that cannot be sustained in bad conditions. Capacity is limited to the worst conditions, not the best conditions. We may be proving that the carrying capacity of that area for Gray Wolves was reached a few years ago. Artificially changing conditions to favor an increase in wolves because it is politically expedient and socially popular, may in the long run doom all of them.

  5. Tim

    Just like the bison in Yellowstone, wolves are basically only protected inside the park. Should the stray (and they do) it’s my interpretation that their protections vanish.

    At least Yellowstone has wolves. Rocky Mountain NP in Colorado is overrun with elk because they have no natural predators. Because of this park rangers have implemented a culling program. It was big news around here when a wolf was found dead on I-70 (which bisects the state East to West) because it was a sign that reintroduction plans in Wyoming and elsewhere are working. Well, they work until one gets run over by a truck.

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