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Natural Resources & Energy

Expanded Hunt Could Hurt Wolf Watching Industry

Steve Jurvetson

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has expanded the number of wolves that can be killed this year in the area around the national parks to 58. That's 14 more than last year. But wildlife watching companies in the state say Wyoming could do more to protect the popular wolf packs that roam in and out of the park.

Nathan Varley is a wildlife biologist and owner of Wolf Tracker, a tour company in Yellowstone National Park. He said when a wolf ventures outside park boundaries and gets shot at, the whole pack becomes more skittish, making it harder for park visitors to observe them. Varley said wolf watching ecotourism is big business in Wyoming and could be even bigger.

“We’re seeing our business take off because Yellowstone is the place in the entire world. If you want to see a wild wolf out in its habitat come to Yellowstone,” Varley said. “So I feel like becoming one of those international destinations for certain iconic species is long-term, sustainable economics.”

A 2016 report shows that wolf viewing brought in $35 million a year to Wyoming, Montana and Idaho and many visitors cited it as the main reason they visited Wyoming’s national parks.

Varley said Montana also has a wolf hunting season but, unlike Wyoming, that state has made a greater effort to protect popular wolf packs that move in and out of the park. 

“We’ve had good success talking them into lowering quotas in those areas. The fewer of them they’re allowed to take of those real important, typically older wolves,” said Varley.

He said, when older wolves are killed it can cause packs to disband and be less visible to wildlife watchers. He said he's also heard threats on social media to boycott the state by not visiting the national parks because of its hunting policies.

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