Alpha Male Wolf Howling

An alpha male wolf howls in the Lower Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park.

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At least 20 wolves from packs in Yellowstone National Park have been killed in outside states this fall and winter, including at least 15 in Montana.

Meanwhile, pressure to end Montana’s wolf hunting and trapping season early in an area just north of the park and to restore gray wolf protections is growing.

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition sent a letter to Gov. Greg Gianforte on Thursday calling for an end to wolf hunting and trapping in management units just north of the park. And a group of business owners is urging the federal government to return Endangered Species Act protections to the wolves.

This all comes after Yellowstone National Park’s superintendent urged Gianforte to suspend wolf hunting in management units 313 and 316 for the season in a Dec. 16 letter obtained by the Chronicle through a Freedom of Information Act request. The letter was first reported by the Associated Press.

Sholly wrote that in the span of less than three months, at least 12 Yellowstone wolves had been killed in the two units, which border the park to its north. The number was “extraordinary,” and the probability of more park wolves being killed in the near future was high, he wrote.

In past years, annual quotas have prevented hunters and trappers from taking more than two wolves in the two units per season, but those quotas were lifted by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission during a meeting last August.

Gianforte responded to Sholly on Jan. 6, writing that the commission adopts regulations based on scientific data and findings from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists, and once a wolf exits the park and enters Montana, it may be harvested pursuant to the state’s regulations.

“Given the Commission’s role in establishing hunting regulations or changing existing ones, I have forwarded your letter to the Commission for its consideration, and I encourage you to bring any outstanding concerns you may have to the Commission,” Gianforte wrote.

Park data released to the Chronicle showed that by Jan. 6, at least 20 wolves from Yellowstone’s packs had been killed in outside states. Three were killed in Wyoming, and two in Idaho, but the vast majority — at least 15 — were killed in Montana.

Six members of the Junction Butte pack— the most viewed wolf pack in the world— and a dispersing Junction Butte pack wolf have been killed. Two wolves in the Bechler pack, two in the Wapiti pack, one in the Mollie’s pack and one in the Rescue Creek pack have also been killed.

Over half of the wolves in the Phantom Lake pack had been killed in outside states. The pack is now considered “eliminated,” the park told the Associated Press.

By Friday, 16 wolves had been killed in wolf management units 313 and 316, and 65 wolves had been taken by hunters and trappers in southwest Montana’s Region 3, according to FWP. Statewide, 160 wolves have been killed this season.

The numbers, combined with the communications between Gianforte and Sholly, prompted the Greater Yellowstone Coalition to send the letter to the governor on Thursday supporting the superintendent’s request to shut down hunting and trapping in WMUs 313 and 316.

The letter notes that as of mid-January, roughly 10% of the statewide harvest of wolves and 25% of wolf harvests in Region 3 came from units 313 and 316.

“Given these units represent less than 5% of the lands in Region 3, wolves in this tiny fraction of the state are bearing a disproportionate burden of overall hunting mortality and are almost entirely Yellowstone Park wolves,” the letter says.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for a response before deadline.

Greg Lemon, a spokesperson for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, wrote in an email that the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission is not planning to add the topic of reinstating wolf harvest quotas in wolf management units 313 and 316 to its Feb. 4 meeting agenda.

“The commission set wolf hunting and trapping regulations and harvest thresholds with ample public comment and input,” Lemon wrote. He added that there are two times in which the topic of wolf regulations and harvest quotas in units 313 and 316 may come before the commission.

Once 82 wolves have been harvested in Region 3, the commission will convene to discuss wolf regulations and any potential changes to the season. The regulations will also be back before the commission in the summer for an annual review. They could be changed then.

While some groups are asking the state for changes to the wolf hunting and trapping season, others are turning to the federal government.

A coalition of 30 guides, photographers and business owners who operate in and near the park sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams on Thursday that advocates for relisting gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

The coalition wrote that Montana’s new laws and the lack of quotas north of the park will have economic impacts on their businesses and livelihoods.

“The new laws passed by Montana’s legislature and signed by Governor Gianforte last year not only take wolf-killing to a new extreme, but also will kill our businesses and livelihoods, which depend on a healthy and reliably visible wolf population,” said Cara McGary, owner of In Our Nature Guiding Services, in a news release.

“With intense hunting pressure, baiting, trapping and snaring; I have legitimate concerns that the wolves my clients come to see will not be viewable in the coming summer. Already we’ve had a decrease in wolf sightings along Yellowstone’s northern range. The economic value of wolves seen alive is orders of magnitude greater than those killed,” she said.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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