VICTIMS OF THE HUNT: 824M, 823F, 829F, 754M and 832F, the amazing 06 female
Just days after I left Yellowstone on October 31st, three of the wolves I watched during that short trip were legally shot by hunters, when they had the bad fortune to venture outside the Park into open hunting areas.
One was 823F, the only collared wolf from the Junction Pack. The loss of this collared wolf meant that the Wolf Project's November study was nearly a total loss - finding a pack without telemetry to guide you limits the quantity and quality of sightings you will have, no matter how good a spotter you are or now many eyes you have helping you. The loss of the individual is great enough, but the loss of observation hours to science is enormous.
The second was the gorgeous Mollie wolf, 824M. I saw him with two of his pack mates in the Lamar Valley and in Little America. He was last seen heading up Specimen Ridge. Two days later he stepped outside the Park into Montana - for the FIRST TIME EVER. We know this because of his GPS collar. That data shows he was inside the Park at 1AM, and at 7AM he was outside the Park. Dead.
Another wolf was shot along with 824M, an adult female from the Blacktail pack, 829F. I did not know her very well, but I had seen her with her pack on numerous occasions. She and 824 were likely drawn to each other in anticipation of the mating season.
The fourth wolf's death was even harder for me to take, because I knew him well. I first saw 754M when he and his brother appeared in Little America in early 2010 as potential consorts of the poor, mange-ridden Druid females. But then they spied the extremely healthy 06 female, who was then an unattached Agate looking for love and stability. He and his brother were smitten by her and they formed what became the Lamar Canyon Pack.
754 was first called "Wedge", for the wedge-shaped white mark on his chest, and to distinguish him from his then coal-black brother, 775. His brother won alpha duties, and 754 seemed content to be beta. He helped raise four pups in 2010, five pups in 2011 and four more in 2012. But in mid-November he was shot by a trophy hunter, 16 miles outside the Park in Wyoming, in the state's first legal wolf hunt in 60 years.
754 was especially loved for his devotion to the 06, and to all her pups. He was a beloved uncle, a great babysitter and willing playmate to the energetic young wolves. When the pack was on the move and the pups were lollygagging behind, it was 754 who would turn to look behind, and wait for them to catch up.
Losing 754 was bad enough. But the news got worse. When the Montana hunt began this fall, the commissioners unfortunately agreed to a no-quota limit in the combined-unit area north of the Park boundary, which includes a well-known elk migration route. As the hunt tally in all three states was added up in mid-November, the number of Yellowstone Wolf Project-collared wolves killed outside the Park rose to 7.
All these collared wolves getting shot caused the press to take notice. Articles were picked up and rerun and the news began to spread beyond local publications. As the news was gaining momemtum, a long-planned meeting between the public and the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks commissioners was to be held on December 10th, five days in advance of the start of the first trapping season since delisting. The upcoming meeting took on additional significance.
On December 6 I got a horrifying e-mail at work. The 06 was dead - shot in Wyoming, close to where 754 had died.
There are no words to describe my feelings, nor those of countless other friends of mine, at this news. We watched her amazing life play out before us over the last four or five years. If you are reading this and do not know her, then please go to my trip report for Christmas, 2009. She is featured prominently after that date.
Two temporarily good things came out of this needless waste and the inexcusable selfishness on the part of predator hunters. First, the Wyoming hunting unit had a quota of 8 and she was the 8th. So her death at least meant that no other wolves could be legally killed in that unit for the remainder of the season.
The second was that her particular fame fed the press even more. Sickeningly so, but that's the way it works. Most of the articles I read were full of factual inacurracies, and much of it was blather and nonesense, but for once the world was paying attention to wolf politics in a way it usually doesn't.
On December 10th, the commissioners meeting was held and many of my friends were granted a few minutes to speak. Some of the reports I got from that meeting were encouraging - including the existence of hunters and outfitters who agreed with wolf advocates and felt enough was enough. The next day, the commissioners voted 4/1 to close the two hunting units immediately adjacent to the Park and to cancel the trapping season for those two areas as well which otherwise would have started December 15th.
We were relieved, and felt that the 06's death at least had had worthy result.
But in January, a group of outfitters who had apparently lost money when the hunt was cancelled, convinced an anti-wolf Montana legislator (there are lots of them) to join them in a complaint to a local judge. They claimed the commissioners did not have the right to act as they did without more notice.
I have no idea who, if anyone, defended the commissioners, (whoever it was did a lousy job) but the judge ruled against decades of practice by agreeing with the outfitters. The judge's order re-opened the hunting units and re-started the trapping season.
Since that ruling, another Montana judge has upheld the first judge, strengthening the idea that the commissioners cannot do what they have been doing for years - which is, keep the rules flexible enough to allow for reaction "on the ground" when new data is delivered. l am at a loss to explain what the commissioner's job is, then, if not to monitor and maintain the integrity of hunting rules.
And I say this as one who has disagreed with just about every other ruling the commissioners have made over the years - they have ALWAYS said the rules are deliberately flexible. So, when their flexibility results in EXTENDING a hunting season or INCREASING a quota, that's ok, but when their flexibility CLOSES a hunt, that's not? Several commissioners do have degrees in biology and have shown an interest in science-based decisions, but more and more, the wolf-haters (who also hate science), are having their way.
There seems to be a movement afoot to replace the commissioners who ruled on December 10th. Their jobs seem to be in peril at the moment. In addition, several Montana legislators have brought anti-wolf bills to the State Congress and several of those bills passed easily. All these bills ignore the available science.
Meanwhile, Yellowstone wolf numbers have dropped drastically. After the death of the 06, the 11 remaining members of her pack returned to Lamar Valley for a few short days, then headed east again.
As of this writing (March 2013), 755M is the only Lamar Canyon wolf still inside the Park. He seems to have found a new mate - Mollie 759F. Both 776 and 820 have been seen individually in Lamar on two separate days but they did not stay. The rest of the Lamar Canyon wolves, if they are alive, are still to the east. It's possible they have met a worthy male or two in that area, and will forego their old home. My hope is that they will prosper, wherever they are, but that does not change the fact that there are many less wolves on the Northern Range than at any time since 1996 That number is approximately 25. (Blacktail 3; Junction Butte 10; Lamar Canyon 1; Mollies: 3; 8-Mile 8)
I am hoping at least it won't get any worse.
P.S. I am not a wolf or wildlife expert, but an enthusiast and advocate, and if you find anything in this report
to be wrong or misleading, feel free to bring it to my attention by e-mailing me at "firstname.lastname@example.org"