Wolf numbers increase in Yellowstone

POWELL — The number of wolves in Yellowstone National Park has risen in the past year, according to Doug Smith, the park’s senior wildlife biologist. 

Park officials believe there were 80 wolves in Yellowstone last year, as compared to 94 — living in eight separate packs — this year, Smith said during a live presentation on Facebook last week. 

In 2003, Yellowstone had as many as 174 wolves, spread across 16 different packs. 

The March 3 presentation came in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of wolves being reintroduced to Yellowstone. Smith spoke on the impact of wolves in the region, hoping to dispel many of the “myths” about the species. 

One of the issues he spoke to is the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem elk population. 

“We do have fewer elk, but they’re not gone,” he said. “They’re probably the healthiest elk herd in North America because they’re culled by predators.”

Between 20,000 to 25,000 elk were in Yellowstone prior to the reintroduction; Smith said about 8,000 remain. 

“It’s more ecologically appropriate,” he said. 

Wolves’ choice of food is one of three main reasons the reintroduction program has been controversial. Smith said they compete with humans for game animals; they occasionally kill livestock; and some consider wolves a human safety threat. 

“The last one is the least effective argument because wolves are probably the least dangerous of all the carnivores in North America,” he said. 

Wolf hunting is legal in the three states bordering the park and wolves involved in livestock depredation are removed from the ecosystem, Smith said. 

Wolves in the park have about an 80 percent chance surviving through a given year, Smith has said, and the species typically only lives five to six years. 

The park will broadcast a live presentation about wolves each Tuesday this month on the Yellowstone National Park Facebook page. 

Smith, who’s been studying wolves since 1979, came to the park in 1994 as a project biologist for the wolf reintroduction project, taking the lead on the project in 1997.