Photo via Todd Ryburn via Flickr CC
Three alpha wolves vital to a study tracking their pack's patterns were killed earlier this month by hunters in Montana. The study effectively ended, but the controversy around the wolf hunts, which were allowed to start again this year, is sparked up. Yale 360 reports, "Among those killed was an alpha female, known as wolf 527, who was born into Yellowstone's Druid Peak pack, featured in a PBS documentary entitled "In the Valley of the Wolves." Before she, her mate -- the pack's alpha male -- and her daughter were shot this month, wolf 527 was wearing a radio collar that enabled researchers to track and study her and her pack."
The Los Angeles Times has an excellent article that gives a short tribute to 527 along with outlining the controversy behind the wolf hunts. According to the LA Times, "'Whether the pack exists anymore or not, to us the pack is gone," said Doug Smith, the biologist in charge of the Yellowstone reintroduction program that helped bring wolves back from the brink of extinction in the Northern Rockies. Cottonwood "was a key pack on the northern range," he said, giving researchers a window into the existence of animals that had little or no interaction with humans."
State wildlife officials were surprised at how easily the wolves were being killed, and so called off the special back-country hunt along a section of Yellowstone's northern boundary for the rest of the year, even though the hunting of wolves is still going on elsewhere in Montana and Idaho.
Montana's wolf program coordinator, Carolyn Sime points out that should the wolf hunt end and the wolves be put back on the endangered species list, that pressing people's willingness to live with the animals would be futile and locals would take matters into their own hands. Others say that big game hunters do appreciate the wolves' presence in the ecosystem, it just takes understanding that their population is fragile to help find balance.
Either way, the wolves are again in danger of being hunted right back on to the endangered species list, and possibly to extinction. And having key alpha wolves cut from the gene pool - let alone a scientific study - is a terrible tragedy.