A wolf frequently seen in and around Yellowstone National Park that goes by many names — 832F by researchers, “rock star” by wildlife enthusiasts, “famous” by others — was killed last week, according to the New York Times. Although shot legally during hunting season, many are upset, and the Humane Society of the United States has even filed a lawsuit against the decision that allows wolf hunting in Wyoming.
The alpha female wolf, which for the purpose of this story will be referred to as 832 F, was tagged by researchers with a GPS collar to track movements. According to the Times, Yellowstone wolf program project director Daniel Stahler said this wolf rarely left the park. 832F is one of eight with the collars to be killed this season, since wolves became legal for hunters in the state after being removed from the endangered species list last year.
Some say the wolf population in the area isn’t yet large enough to allow hunting. On the other hand, ranchers would argue thinning the pack protects livestock and other big game in the park.
On Friday, the humane society and The Fund for Animals filed a lawsuit in an effort to overturn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove the wolves from the endangered species list.
“The agency’s decision to strip Wyoming wolves of federal protection is biologically reckless and contrary to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act,” Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at HSUS, said in a statement. “Wyoming’s regressive wolf management plan is reminiscent of a time when bounties paid by state and federal governments triggered mass killings that nearly exterminated wolves from the lower 48 states.”
The HSUS estimates that since hunting season began this year, close to 50 wolves have been killed in the state.
The Times reported wildlife photographer Jimmy Jones saying 832 F is considered “the most famous wolf in the world.”
Pat Shipman, in an article for American Scientist, recently wrote about the complex relationship the wolf packs have in the area. Since the population has increased, Shipman wrote that it has had repercussions on other plant and animal populations:
One of the more obvious changes is a decline in the elk population. The herd also tends to stay in smaller groups than previously. Fewer elk overall means that the cottonwoods, willows and aspens along the rivers now form denser, healthier stands because their shoots are not eaten to the ground by over-abundant elk.
Beaver are increasing, damming up rivers, creating new meadows and providing new habitats for songbirds and fish. Coyotes are hard-hit by the wolves, which kill them as competitors. The coyote population has dropped precipitously, since those that are not killed tend to avoid areas with wolves. Because coyotes used to suppress fox populations, foxes are expected to be more common. All kinds of scavengers, from ravens to bears, have more carcasses to eat. Finally bison—which only a few wolf packs have learned to kill—are still growing in number but now wander outside of the park in larger numbers. Perhaps they are avoiding wolves too.
Shipman also includes, among the positive effects of the wolf reintroduction, that ranchers, who had never seen a wolf population problem before now, fear for not only livestock but for the safety of their family.
With the ecosystem effects as well as the implications for those making their lives in the area, Shipman puts the issue succinctly: “How can we balance the rights of the individual with those of the majority?”
Shipman writes that while preserving the wild, natural heritage of the land can come at a price, a “just and equable solution” must be reached with stakeholders in the area.
Read more about the relationship between wolf reintroduction, the bison population and other factors playing into the controversial issue in the Yellowstone National Park area here.