Recently, a Montana hunter legally shot a well-known Yellowstone wolf from the Lamar Canyon Pack after she wandered a few miles outside the park into a hunting zone. The incident raises questions about the best way to manage park wolves that become habituated to people.
The alpha female #926, as she was known, was the daughter of #06. That wolf was also killed legally by a Wyoming hunter in 2012, and was the subject of the book, American Wolf.
Nathan Varley is the owner of the ecotourism business Yellowstone Wolf Tracker and said he often worried about #926 and how comfortable she was near people. He said, he once saw her hunting an elk next to the road.
"She actually chased it right across the road in front of us," Varley recalled, "and the elk made it into the river, and it was just a really dramatic squaring off with a lot of splashing and drama. And it went on to last for hours where #926 would just kind of keep the elk in the river."
Varley said people come from around the world to see wolves in the wild and it hurts his industry when such a famous wolf as #926 gets shot. He said park managers could consider hazing wolves like her when they get too comfortable with humans and roads.
"I think in #926's case, that could have worked," he said. "If a ranger had come across the wolf as it was running down the road and hit it in the rump with a paintball. Then that could teach her a lesson that would be, like, 'I'm not gonna be around cars and on the road.'"
Varley said, right now, hunting zones around the park in Montana and Wyoming allow a small number of wolves to be killed, but Varley says, clearly, they’re not low enough.
"I kind of feel like it gives managers a black eye in the industry in general," he said.
He'd like to see both states create no hunting buffer zones around the national parks to protect popular wolves that become habituated to people by living inside the park.