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Natural Resources & Energy

Yellowstone Wolves Stable, Grizzlies More Comfortable Around Humans

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Yellowstone National Park has released new reports on the state of its wolves and other wildlife, showing that the park’s wolf packs remain stable in size. Grizzlies, meanwhile, are growing more comfortable around humans.

Birds, such as the golden eagle and common loon, are more severely impacted by changes to the environment and are one of the park species most threatened by climate change.

The annual reports highlight the size and behaviors of animal populations in the park, as well as management efforts and activities undertaken throughout the year.

Doug Smith leads the Yellowstone Wolf Project. He said the wolf population has hovered around 100 individuals across 10 packs since 2008.

“There’s no such thing in the National Park Service as ‘should be,’ but it’s probably a more natural level of wolves and elk in the park now,” Smith said. “Even though we’re down slightly this year, it’s been roughly stable for 10 years.”

Yellowstone’s wolf population is now around 80 individuals. Smith said the decline can be largely accounted for by one wolf pack that often migrates in and out of the park.

The National Park Service reports also show Yellowstone’s grizzly population is stable. The park’s grizzlies are, however, growing more habituated to humans as the number of annual tourists continues to rise.

Kerry Gunther is a bear biologist with Yellowstone National Park. He said human-bear contacts remain low thanks to decades of management efforts to bear-proof campsites and other human areas.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in habituation in bears and even an increasing level of habituation where bears now often tolerate people at very close distances and the people are just kind of benign background noise to the bears,” Gunther said.

He added that tourists should still keep a respectful and safe distance from grizzlies and other wildlife in the park, as they are still wild animals.

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Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Jeff Victor, at jvictor@uwyo.edu.

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