Howling Yellowstone wolves spur awe, debate

A pack of howling wolves has been captured on some incredible video from Yellowstone National Park.

Corrie Lane spotted the Junction Butte pack earlier this month near a road in the Lamar Valley. Usually, the park’s wolves are seen at great distances and with the help of binoculars or a spotting scope, according to officials. Lane, who incidentally is new to the park, witnessed the surreal scene and, thankfully for the rest of us, was quick with the camera.

Five wolves in a single frame. The images – and sounds – are breathtaking.


But the story doesn’t end there. The park posted the video to Facebook, which spawned dozens of comments. Many simply expressed awe at the amazing sight. Others used it a s springboard to talk hunting. Some complained about Canadian wolves being used years ago to reintroduce the species in the park. And, there’s the persistent sentiment that the only good wolf is a dead wolf.

Yellowstone shot back:

“We’ve read through all your comments and appreciate everyone taking the time to share their stories and opinions (especially when it’s done in a civil tone). Many of your responses have touched on common themes, and we’d like to provide a little more information on some of them.”

Genetic analysis of the reintroduced wolves does not support claims that they are different from the animals present when the park was established. The wide-ranging movement of wolves tends to keep the gene pool mixed and prevents the creation of localized species.

Wolves & Elk
Over much of the 20th century, it was official park policy to kill predators (except bears, though their numbers were reduced). This led to an explosion of the elk population (and subsequent attempts to control that population, which lasted from the 1930s to 1968). In the absence of carnivores, the Yellowstone ecosystem lacked balance. As predators returned to Yellowstone, biologists expected the elk population to shrink and eventually reach an equilibrium with these carnivores. But wolves are not the only animals making a comeback: the grizzly bear population has expanded from 136 in 1975 to 741 in 2013, and cougars have returned due to natural dispersal (with as many as 23 residing in the northern range). The current size of the northern elk herd (around 4,000) is not an unprecedented low. Similar numbers were seen in the 1950s and 60s. To view all the counts since 1934, check out this link. The park’s goal is to preserve the ecological processes of Yellowstone: fluctuating animal populations is a part of that.

Threat to Humans
Over the past 100 years in all of North America there have been fewer than twenty cases of wolves attacking humans. In Yellowstone, people are far more likely to have negative encounters with bison, elk or bears.

Like the dogs that live in our houses, individual wolves display a wide gamut of behavior. Some of their actions have a significant effects on ranchers, where the loss of a single animal can shrink razor-thin margins of profit. However, to take their worst actions and assign them to the entire species paints an incomplete picture of the animal.

“Thanks again for being a part of this conversation,” the park wrote.

Photo Yellowstone National Park/Facebook

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Recovering newspaper reporter.

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