Traveler's View: Don't Bestow "Rock Star" Status On Yellowstone's Wolves

The news raced across cyberspace in a flash: Yellowstone's "rock star" of a wolf had been killed by a Wyoming hunter.

The wolf in question, 832F, was doing what wolves do -- roaming the landscape, probably in search of a meal -- when she was shot just beyond Yellowstone National Park's eastern border on December 6. The kill was legitimate under Wyoming's hunting regulations, which Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had cleared the way for earlier this year in an agreement he made with Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead.

While many were disgusted with that agreement, it's a done deal unless overturned in court.

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Yellowstone wolves will die, either by a hunter's bullet if they roam outside the park, or by competition from other packs inside the park. NPS photo of Mollies Pack.

The outrage over 832's death was palpable and, as media have been known to do, overdone. The headlines alone were deafening:

Yellowstone's 'Rock Star' Wolf Killed

Most Famous Wolf Shot Outside Yellowstone: 832F Was A Rock Star For Animal Watchers

World's Most Famous Wolf Shot and Killed Outside Yellowstone

And those were just the very first that popped up during an Internet search. Some activist groups seized on the wolf's death, hoping it would prod readers to urge Congress to create no-hunting zones around Yellowstone. Montana officials didn't need any urging, reading the bad PR that hunting wolves that left Yellowstone delivered, and decided earlier this week to institute a temporary ban in areas just north of the park.

Yet one has to wonder why such a media storm was raised in the wake of 832F's death, but not after the killings earlier this year of seven others wolves that found themselves in the gunsights of hunters. Or that Grand Teton National Park grizzly bear shot and killed by elk hunters who claimed self-defense? One of the immediate concerns there was that No. 399, or No. 610, two well-known grizzly sows, might have been the ill-fated bear.

Would 832F been placed on such a pedestal if she had died of natural causes, been hit by a vehicle, or been killed by another pack?

Misplaced Qualities

That seemingly anthropogenic qualities are bestowed upon these charismatic megafauna is a misguided attempt to make them something they are not. They are, quite simply, wild animals. And in the most recent case of 832F, simply doing what wild wolves do when she found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her death should be no more or less noteworthy than the deaths of those seven other wolves, or that Grand Teton grizzly. They all were important to the landscape.

Is it disappointing? No doubt for some. The wolf recovery program has turned into an economic engine, and wolf-watching generates an estimated $35 million a year for nearby communities.

But the idea behind Yellowstone's recovery plan was to restore some semblance of a wild kingdom in the park, not to build an open air zoo that would become an economic engine.

For years the lack of this apex predator had allowed Yellowstone's elk herds to skyrocket beyond the landscape's natural carrying capacity. Elk were overbrowsing the Northern Range, something that not only impacted beavers by wiping out stands of willow, but which also weakened the herd overall and contributed to high winter-kill rates.

From the very beginning the hope was that the Canadian wolves brought into Yellowstone would eventually call it home, and create a stable population that would help provide needed balance to the prey-predator scenario in Yellowstone. And along with that hope was the understanding that a successful recovery program could lead to removal of Endangered Species Act protection of the park wolves.

And that's what happened.

The Pain Of Success

The recovery program's hoped for success also came with the understanding that wolves would die if they left Yellowstone. At the same time, a healthy Yellowstone wolf population meant wolves would die inside the park, victims of intraspecific competition.

Park biologists, while agreeing that killing wolves wearing radio collars hampers their research, see no long-term harm to Yellowstone's wolf population from this year's hunting tally.

"Wolves kill other wolves, and alpha males will come in and kill other alpha males. These things happen naturally. The real question is, from a bigger scale view, what are the impacts of that to the Yellowstone population?," said Dave Hallac, chief of the Yellowstone Center for Resources. "Does it mean an end to wolves in the park? No."

832F gained her "rock star" tag because she lived in the Lamar Valley, which is wolf central for park visitors, and was an adept hunter. But spend any amount of time along the Lamar River Road in spring and early summer, and again in fall, and you'll see wolves, some of which you might grow attached to if you watch them for hours on end and which you might name.

In the end, though, 832F was one of more than 80 wolves that carved their home territories into Yellowstone. Biologically, her death creates a void, as in her six years she whelped three litters. Yet that void will be filled by another alpha female and life will go on.

Her "rock star" status will be forgotten, as was that of 302M, a black male dubbed Casanova by some who followed his 9-and-a-half-year life, and even the entire Druid Peak Pack once considered "the most closely watched and photographed wolf pack in the world."

Rather than turning wildlife into "rock stars," push for officials in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho to stand up for the science behind the wolf recovery program and institute regulations that would protect the predators in some sort of buffer zone around the park. And/or, push to see it made illegal to kill a wolf wearing a collar biologists fitted around its neck; hunters today with their powerful scopes should be able to spot the collar when they're drawing down on a wolf.

Let's not do disservice to Yellowstone's wolf recovery program by annointing individual wolves with such titles. Let's accept them all for what they are -- wild things -- and revel in their existence. Every one of them.

Comments

Wow - something upon which we agree. (probably shouldn't say that since your friends will probably turn on you)

Yellowstone is supposed to be wilderness, not a zoo.

another very good report Kurt. Thank you. Wolves in the environment are important. Individual wolves aren't necessarily. Like elk or pronghorn.

This is a well-written and thought-out article. Ditto MikeG's comment. Because I don't get a chance to see such wild creatures in my part of southeast TX, I tend to elevate them to something beyond the status of "wild things" when I *do* see them. This article brings me back to the reality of life in the wild.

Thank you for your article. However, there has been a clear benefit of the "rock star status." You mentioned it in the article. Its the PR.

Lets review the results of th PR mentioned. "Montana officials didn't need any urging, reading the bad PR that hunting wolves that left Yellowstone delivered, and decided earlier this week to institute a temporary ban in areas just north of the park."

So let me get this straight: All of the political, public, fans, park enthusiasts, environmentalists efforts couldn't stop the killings. But the PR garnered by the rock star status did? I think there is a message here.

Its too bad the ban is temporary. Perhaps we can learn something though. The greater fight does have another muscle to flex. Its called useful PR.

Yes Wanna - another case were PR outweighs the science.

But apparently, in some circles PR is more important than science. Climate comes to mind.

You definately got that one right Lee - PR has certainly tromped on the science. You know like "hide the decline".

I'm still waiting for you to explain with the models of climate change have been so wrong. Perhaps its because PR took the place of science. Or maybe why temperatures have been flat the last 16 years despite record CO2 output? Could PR have overwelmed the science there as well? Or maybe we should look at the "fact" 98% of all scientist believe in anthropogenic global warming - when we find out its based on 77 hand selected "scientist". Is that science or PR?

Hmmm, could we be swerving into the "broad brush" here, Kurt:)? PR verses truth... Okay, I'll stop there, lol.

All depends upon what you read -- propaganda or science. Now let's get back to wolves.

PR is what it is, ... a tool. When used for good motive, ... unleash it with all its potential.

Yes science (let's stay on wolves) is many times not enough to carry the day. Getting people to listen through effective PR does help. Since the anti-wolf movement has so many facets of strength, let's not "poo poo" the strength that PR can assist when it supports such a more noble cause.

PR is a form of effective communication. Since it can cut both ways, let's embrace it here, as it has been an asset in getting the message out for nature.

So let's talk PR. Are you up for a challange: Did everyone who cares about this issue seize the moment by posting related articles of this death to their Facebook and other similar source points? Let's make this digital PR work for nature. No cost. No profit. Just doing our individual part for nature.

Lee trolls and dodges again. Yes, lets talk about wolves. Wanna -tell us, what is this "noble cause"?

I edited for clarification. Tks for the request.

Wanna - what "message" are you trying to get out for nature? Are you one of these PETA fanatics that wants to stop all killing of animals?

My wife had one of those magic moments - an early morning walk in Yellowstone, quietly watching a wolf frolic, nearly dancing, in the sunlight. It was a memory she will always have of a special moment.

She didn't name it, though, and the moment moved on. I agree with Mike, above: "Wolves in the environment are important. Individual wolves aren't necessarily."

I worked in Yellowstone as a seasonal for 11 summers prior to wolf reintroduction. Luckily, I was asked to serve as Yellowstone's Acting Superintendent at about the time the reintroduction occcured. I will never forget my thrill of watching two wolves spar with a grizzly over an elk carcass. While I agree with Kurt that we should not make rock stars of wolves, nor should we gun them down like the predators some people make them out to be. There is enough room in the US for a healthy wolf population to exist. This isn't a question of PR or science; it's a question of sharing the planet with all of creation.

Rick


like the predators some people make them out to be


Wolves aren't predators? Rick - will you personally insure the ranchers for their loss of cattle to wolves?


This isn't a question of PR or science


Really? There isn't a "healthy" balance of the wolf population that science can determine?

Well-put, Rick.

And:


I will never forget my thrill of watching two wolves spar with a grizzly over an elk carcass.


That must have been something.

I agree Rick. Well put regarding sharing the planet.

My suggestion of PR use was intended as support tool for that type of thinking.

Thanks for your service as the Superintendent