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June 15, 2013 – Running with the Pack

June 16, 2013

Did you know that wolves are terrified of people? To study the wolf population of Yellowstone wolves are tranquilized from a helicopter by researchers in winter. Wolves are then studied by removing two whiskers to be sent to a lab to determine their diet from the isotope signature found in the whiskers. Before they are released they receive radio collars and an antibiotic to deal with the dart wound and the stress of being captured. Otherwise wolves receive no medical attention.

Wild wolves are protected within Yellowstone but roam beyond park boundaries. Laws have currently changed allowing hunting of wolves outside the park. The wolf population may be stabilizing within the park. Historically wolves were considered a menace and were to be killed. In 1926 the last native wolf to the park was killed. Wolves were reintroduced to the park in the mid 1990s.

Wolves’ primary diet is elk; they also feed on deer and bison. An annual elk count collects population data that may not always scientifically robust because it is dependent on the circumstances on one day out of an entire year. Conditions play a huge role in the elk count. It is easier to count elk when the area is covered in snow. Elk retreat into the trees by 9am. These factors influence the accuracy of the count – was it off by 5% or 50%? Current methods do not take varying conditions into account. Because elk are so popular to people, it is important that the numbers are reported accurately. The status of wolves and protection they receive are connected in the public mind to their negative impact on elk population.

Our influence on the wildlife within the Park extends far beyond land boundaries. It is important that we support research of many kinds in Yellowstone. We are connected to the land and its inhabitants, and we are fortunate to be able to support this place by experiencing it and spreading the good things we learn here!

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Photo of wolf den

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