Wolf Hunts…..Ignoring the Science?

soda butte yellowstone national park

Wolf photo by SigmaEye on Flickr

The drama wages on, it’s Wolf Wars, Part Two.  We exterminated them in the West once, is this the sequel?

Three wolves were poached in the North Fork of the Flathead in Montana, close to Glacier National Park.  Everyone was expecting the quota numbers to be adjusted downward but they would be wrong because you see it’s all about the numbers.  Wildlife “managers” like Sime states Montana researchers have tracked wolves for a long time and know what they’re doing.  They have mathematical models they’re following about how many wolves we can afford to lose. Apparently, according to FWP, 5 to 8 percent of Montana’s wolves are killed by humans each year, so these poached wolves are just added to that percentage.

Disposable?  Convenient huh??


“On average, Sime said, people kill between

5 percent and 8 percent of Montana’s wolf population each year. Armed with that data, and with total wolf numbers – births, deaths, dispersals, arrivals – wildlife managers used computer models to “create a range of scenarios” that simulated the state’s first-ever fair chase wolf hunt.

At one end of the modeling spectrum was a quota of about 200, and at the other was no hunt at all. They landed, finally, somewhere in the middle – a statewide hunting quota of 75. That’s about 15 percent of the state’s estimated 550 wolves.

The two wolves poached by the Columbia Falls man, as well as another poached in the same general area, had already been accounted for in Montana’s “biologically conservative” system, Sime said.”


That really makes me feel confident. Apparently the “wolf managers” are so busy calculating numbers of dead wolves they might be missing out on the research that does not support the hunts as a way to “manage” them.

It turns out, older wolves are not great hunters.  Apparently wolf hunting skills peak at age two to three,  by age four, wolves are considered old.


“Shortly after gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, Daniel MacNulty was puzzled by something. The breeding pair in one of the packs frequently stopped during their elk hunts to rest. “They sat on the sidelines while their offspring did the work,” says MacNulty, an ecologist from Michigan Technological University in Houghton. “After their kids made the kill, they would amble up to feed.”Laziness? Not at all. The two were almost 5 years old, which MacNulty has learned is fairly old age for wolves. His new study is one of the first to look at the effects of aging in predators, and it raises questions about current methods of controlling wolf populations.

alpha female yellowstones hayden valley pack SigmaEye

(Alpha Female Yellowstone Hayden Pack: Photo Sigma Eye Flicker)

Nulty has followed 94 radio-collared wolves in Yellowstone for 13 years, closely monitoring their hunts for two 30-day periods during each of those years. His research on these individual canids shows that wolves age rapidly. Indeed, by age 2 they’re in their hunting prime, drawing on youthful endurance and sudden bursts of speed to take down elk. But just as quickly, they lose that talent, MacNulty’s team reports online in Ecology Letters. “Wolves are old when they’re 4,” he says. The median life span for wolves in Yellowstone is 6 years, although some have lived as long as 10. Those older wolves manage to survive because the younger ones in their pack pick up the slack, killing elk and letting all the pack members feed. Older wolves are also heftier and may come in at the end of a hunt to use their weight to help pull down the elk, says MacNulty.

As one might expect, aging predators are good news for prey. The wolves’ kill rate on elk in Yellowstone declined significantly as the number of geriatric hunters in the wolf population increased. And that could have cascading effects on the ecosystem. For instance, elk may linger and browse on woody plants when elderly wolves are around. More browsing could slow the recovery of willows and aspen trees, which have come back since the wolves’ reintroduction.”


So it seems the indiscriminate hunting  going on will have the opposite effect of what “wolf managers” are aiming  for,  pun intended.  With the killing of older wolves and alphas and disruption and chaos in packs, younger and younger wolves will be filling the gaps, increasing the chances of livestock depredation.

The whole livestock issue is just another reason to kill wolves, I’m seriously tired of hearing about cows.  It’s not as if these animals are rancher’s beloved pets.  They’re raised to be eaten and suffer a cruel death when sent to slaughter.   Ranchers are also reimbursed by the feds and Defenders of Wildlife for every confirmed wolf kill.  But wolves kill such a small percentage of livestock,  yet all we hear about is wolf predation, when it’s weather, calving and disease that are responsible for over 90% of cattle losses. As for predators, coyotes kill 20 times more cattle then wolves and DOMESTIC DOGS kill FIVE TIMES  more cattle then wolves.  But of course those numbers fall on deaf ears because when it comes to the wolf, facts don’t seem to matter.

The killing of Yellowstone’s Cottonwood alpha’s, at the beginning of Montana’s hunt, was the result of poor planning, IMO.  How can you not know hunters were going to line up at the park boundaries, waiting for Yellowstone’s wolves to cross over, which they routinely do, since they can’t read signs.  Because of that, Yellowstone lost collared wolves,  that were part of ongoing research, especially the Cottonwood alpha female, wolf 527F.

yellowstones 527

(Wolf 527F while tranquilized, before her death)


“Wolf 527 and her daughter, 716, originated from two of the best-known packs in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, the scene of numerous documentaries. For years, the movements of the Lamar packs have been monitored by biologists equipped with radio tracking devices and powerful spotting telescopes.

“They sold this wolf hunt in Montana and Idaho as controlling the predation on cattle and what-not. Well, these wolves aren’t touching cattle. They’re feeding on elk. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do,” said Tom Murphy, a wildlife photographer who has been documenting the Yellowstone wolves.

“This is the home ground of all of them, the nursery, the definition of what a healthy ecosystem looks like,” he said. “And it drives me crazy that (hunters are) standing on the boundary of the park … and killing the ones with radio collars, that people watch every day.”

The demise of 716, often known as Dark Female, was reported Sept. 29 in a blog posting…….. Five days later, she followed up with another item, this time about 527.”


“The loss of 527F leaves a hole in research that had been under way at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere, said Daniel MacNulty, a U of M research associate.

“The gold standard in studies of animals in the wild is being able to repeatedly measure the same individual over time,” MacNulty said.
Knock out one or more of those individuals from a study, and years of work documenting behavior from reproduction to hunting success also is lost..
The re-introduction of wolves in Yellowstone in 1995 provided an unprecedented opportunity for such studies. Relatively large numbers of wolves could live there through natural life spans that weren’t disrupted by hunting and other outside pressures.”
Cutting edge wolf research is at odds with the approach  of  “managing” wolves by  hunting them.
“Members of the commission and state wildlife managers have acknowledged a mistake in the decision to open early season hunting next to Yellowstone,”…….
The Yellowstone wolf project, partially funded by a $480,000, five-year National Science Foundation grant, isn’t the only study adversely affected by the hunting, Science says. The slaughter of the Yellowstone wolves also is a blow to a host of studies into elk management, ecology and other subjects.
Big bad wolves? Not the old ones
A study MacNulty and his colleagues at the U of M have just completed is an example of the kind of research Science says could be jeopardized. The research team is from the College of Biological Sciences’ Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the university. MacNulty also is connected with Michigan Technological University in Houghton where scientists study wolves on Isle Royale National Park.
 “It is well known that wolves prey on elk. This is one of the first field studies to gauge whether age of the wolves makes any difference. The researchers spent more than 13 years following 527F and dozens of other radio-collared wolves, observing their hunts from airplanes and taking various measures of their physical abilities.
Their findings in a nutshell: Wild wolves — like great human sprinters, NBA stars and competitive swimmers — need to score while they are young, because they peak early.
“By age one, they are quite effective hunters,” MacNulty said. “Wolves don’t live very long so there is a lot of pressure from an evolutionary standpoint to quickly develop an ability to hunt in order to feed themselves and their offspring.”
Unlike mountain lions — with their short snouts, powerful muscles and retractable claws — wolves need speed to bring down their prey.
“They lack physical characteristics to kill prey swiftly, so they rely on athletic ability and endurance, which diminishes with age,” MacNulty said. “They’re like 100-meter sprinters. They need to be in top condition to perform.”
Although most wolves in Yellowstone live for about six years, their killing ability peaks when they are two to three years old, the U of M team found. After that, they rely on younger wolves to share their kills.
In other words, the higher the proportion of wolves older than three, the lower the rate at which they kill elk.

So why were these wolves killed?  Supposedly the hunts are all about teaching the big, bad wolves a lesson about preying on cattle but what was 527F doing?  She was standing a mile outside the park boundaries in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Facing her killer, I’m sure she had no idea she was about to be shot to death.  She had survived so much in her seven years. She was a “good” wolf, who was very reclusive, hard to find.  She was minding her own business. Yet she’s dead along with her mate and daughter, wolf 716, essentially decimating the Cottonwood Pack.  For what?  So someone could get a cheap thrill killing a wolf?  Or we could read more stories about guys chasing wolves on ATV’s and blowing them away with Remington 300 rifles?

Yellowstone Hayden Valley Pack Member
Even though research points to leaving wolves alone to live out their lives,  letting nature balance itself, it seems the people running this “dog and pony show” are going in the opposite direction.
“Most managers who want to boost numbers of elk and deer think all you need to do is kill wolves,” ecologist Christopher Wilmers of the University of California, Santa Cruz told ScienceNOW. “But this study shows you’re probably increasing your problem, since you’ll end up with younger wolves that kill more prey.”

That’s because when a pack vanishes or is weakened and loses its territory, he says, younger wolves often move in.

“You’re better off leaving the wolves alone,” Wilmers said.


Contrary to all the good science, which concludes  indiscriminate  killing of wolves, with no regard to age or status in the pack, is a mistake, we are still marching forward with these misguided hunts.

The question has to be asked, what are the hunts really all about?

Wolves are not the problem, people are the problem. It’s the human self righteous attitude, that we alone are soverign over this earth, that we have the right to destroy anything that gets in our way.  That is the problem.

The intolerance and arrogance are astounding.  I’m sorry if I’m not interested in mathematical models concerning killing wolves. Is anyone in “wolf management” thinking about pack structure, the loss of alpha’s, the loss of pups or the killing off of older wolves?  Where is this dialog among people coordinating the hunts?  All I hear from the “managers’  is numbers, numbers, numbers. They pronounce  it won’t make any difference, that the NUMBERS are insignificant.  I”m wondering insignificant to who?  Certainly not to me and other wolf supporters.  We view these hunts with heavy hearts.

“Biologically, [the loss] has no impact, since wolf packs turn over all the time,” Edward Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena told Science. “It doesn’t make any difference to wolf conservation or wolf research.”


It all seems to be taken so lightly, what’s a few hundred wolves, give or take a few? It’s as if wolves have no social structure or life at all.  That if you kill one wolf another will automatically take it’s place,  Ignoring the intricate bonds that hold wolf packs together. Ignoring Yellowstone wolves had a 27% decline  in 2008.  Ignoring the fact the Druid Peak pack lost all their eight pups. Ignoring the fact  the Druids and other Yellowstone packs are plagued with mange. Yes, individual wolves matter!  Wolves are not indestructable.  They’re not as adaptable, as say coyotes.

I hope the NRDC and Defenders of Wildlife make a big impression with their wolf ads in Times Square and the New York Times, to let people back in Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia, South Carolina and the rest of America know they’re out here in the West killing wolves AGAIN. in the name of ranching and hunting interests.   Maybe then other voices will be heard, ones that don’t have a vested interest in dead wolves. That think having wild wolves inhabiting their Western home range is something to cheer about.  People that see the wolf as an Icon of the West representing  freedoms we’re quickly losing, not a pest to be eradicated.  Then,  just possibly, the guns will be silenced!!


Ageing wolves ‘lose their bite’


Categories posted in: Montana wolf hunts, wolf wars, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone wolves

Tags: wolf poaching, Montana wolf hunt, wolves in the crossfire,  Yellowstone wolves

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Ignoring science… but making money.


    • That just about sums it up John!

      Wolf hunt a $167K boon to FWP coffers

      And that was the money they made back in September, they’ve sold lots more tags since then. Plus out-of-state tag costs $350.


      • Yet grey wolves practically generate almost 35 million a year just so people can look at them and no one says anything.


      • John you read my mind. I’m going to write about this tomorrow. In the Yellowstone Ecosystem wolves are the rock stars, everyoine wants to see a wild wolf. Montana and Idaho are so short sighted. It’s so evident wolves are a huge draw but the states are so focused on pleasing elk hunters, ranchers and outfitters, they can’t see the forest through the trees!!


  2. Nabeki.I find it hard to beleive that the wolves are killing all the elk.One would think that the elk were helpless.I wonder how many people realize how many wolves are killed or injured by a charging bull elk. If talking about the mortality of the young,there are other predetors besides the wolf,not to mention diseases.


    • Hi Rita,
      You’re right, the wolves are not killing all the elk, as a matter of fact elk numbers are way up. I did a piece about it called Elk Numbers Are Skyrocketing. Here’s the link:

      Posting about Dr. MacNulty’s research, I basically wanted to poke a finger in the eye of using wolf hunts to increase elk populations. Not that we need any more elk. Montana has more then 150, 000 elk, up 66% since 1984. Idaho has 105,000 elk up 5%. And you’re right again, hunting elk is no easy proposition. Wolves are kicked around by elk all the time, they receive broken ribs, etc. A wolf’s life is not easy and on top of that they now have to contend with thousands of hunters combing the wood for them.

      Besides wolves are good for elk, the wolf has actually honed the elk down through the ages. It’s made the elk what is. Wolves are certainly more beneficial in every way to a hunters’ influence on elk.


  3. I like your website Nabeki- good stuff!


    • Hi g,
      Thanks, glad you like the site. It’s a way for me to deal with the delisting and hopefully give back to wolves through the blog!

      For the wild ones,


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