The return of wolves to Yellowstone Park



Problem since ancient times, they've been portrayed fables and legends and the bible as fearsome voracious predators. The story of the big bad wolf may be the most memorable. And frightening of all the fairy tales told by the brothers Grimm that grim reputation actually produced a very real result in America in the early twentieth. Century wolves were wiped off the landscape trapped poisoned and hunted until there was not a single one left in the American west when the National Park Service decided to bring wolves back to Yellowstone park in the nineteen nineties it followed a bitter debate between wildlife groups who wanted them restored. And ranchers who most definitely didn't two decades later, the wolves of Yellowstone still stirs strong emotions, but they've also had an impact that almost no one saw. Coming. In the dead of winter Yellowstone park is a beautiful, but forbidding place howling wind subzero temperatures, six feet of snow. Just finding enough food survive is a profound struggle for every animal waterfowl bison, elk foxes. They all have to work for every morsel. Yellowstone was the world's first national park. Founded in eighteen seventy two and remains one of the most visited millions of people come here every summer, but they used to pretty much leave it to the wildlife in the winter until the wolves came back behind the treatment. Now reports of a wolf citing can produce a traffic jam along the one fifty mile stretch of road. The park service keeps opening the winter. Visitors with spotting scopes gather in absolutely frigid weather for a momentary long distance view Bellevue came from Germany to see wolf, Doug. Smith runs the Yellowstone wolf research program for the park service. And no one predicted. This would happen actually we indeed the appeal of coming in to see the wolves. Yes. And it truly has been amazing and hundreds of thousands of people a year, we estimate come here. Justice sequels. Tourism pumps thirty five million dollars a year into the local economy much of it spent in the winter, which is prime wolf watching time we've seen flows all three days we've been out Glenn. My is a retired FBI agent from Arlington Virginia. Kathy lumbar is a retired cop from New Hampshire. They both paid an outfitter thousands of dollars to take them with watching. So what is it about wolves that bring you all the way out here from New Hampshire to sit out here and just hope for the chance to see them. They've been able to burn wolves back into Yellowstone and they've thrived. So that's just an awesome thing to see. It was January twelfth nineteen ninety five when the first gray wolves captured in Canada were carried into Yellowstone park. It drew both national attention and fierce opposition so much that armed guards were posted to protect those wolves. So the first walls released into Yellowstone park or released rightback here in this thicket. Yes, so total forty one over three years. How many are in the park. Now, we've got ninety six and ten packs, and it's been roughly a hundred wolves the last ten years very stable, those ten packs of about ten wolves each are without a doubt, the most closely observed and studied wolves on earth our goal is to keep touch with each pack. That's our goal. They do that by trying to attach radio collars to at least two wolves in each of the parks packs. So you fly. The airplane. Find wolves in the open that airplane radios, a waiting helicopter on the ground. The helicopter flies out with a gun in the back seat. That Gunnar is almost always Smith himself. And you fly up alongside that wolf, and you should tranquilizing dart into it. Five minutes. It goes down. We process the wolves. We take blood. We measure them we look at their health, and we attach a radio collar, and then we follow them for their life. Hopefully that life by the way typically lasts about five years. You'll Allstone wolves are fears and territorial the leading cause of death is a tax from other wolves. And their look is uncontrollable that look says I ain't going to conform to your rules. And I'll die before I do, and that's powerful. That is a location of a wolf data from the radio callers has helped Smith team to learn volumes about wolf behavior. Folder is by them. It also helps all those wolf watchers. Find them truck service employees. Rick McIntyre is out every day listening for signals that is from a black. Male Wolfram revenues seven and then spreading the word. Did you like to see a gray well of two okay? So it's a little bit right of center. Oh, yeah. Oh, look here comes a whole pack. Wow. To receive you can count the mall. It would be to graze six blocks four five six black ones and the white one that went by in the should be a second gray. How 'bout that? We had spotted the junction Butte pack, along a ridge line about two miles away. Like most packs, it's led by an alpha, male and alpha female, the only two wolves in pack who mate with each other greyhounds, a female is still leading to the right? And you see how the ones behind are playing. She's determined to lead them to the west. They're running along the top right along the real. Yeah. That's magnificent. We can see these wolves from the ground, and it's been a sensation. So we've learned a lot about packed dynamics and personalities and how social they are. What do you mean describe that for me? They won. Wannabe together, their pack animal. So the power of the wolf is the pack. Nowhere is that power more evident than when a wolf pack is on the hunt for elk its favorite prey they worked together because they have to your average wolf weighs one hundred pounds or so, but your average prey animal is much bigger, but below seven hundred fifty pounds a colleagues five hundred so house of roughly one hundred hundred twenty pound animal going to take that down. They do it. Doug Smith says both by coordinating their attack and by zeroing in on Volna, Rable, pray. They're going to take the week. So they're making their living off of calf elk old elk injured, elk without wolves. There was an overpopulation of Elkin Yellowstone as wolves have cut the size of those hurts. There's been an unexpected side effect plants that elk. Feed on have made a comeback which has in turn produced benefits for other species. All the little trees have come back since we'll recover this Goey filled with shrubs has all come back since we'll recovering and the wolves are a factor in all of that very simply put wolves Email elk eat this when the L kit reduced the eat less so beavers and songbirds can respond to the growth in that vegetation. And it's Doug Smith is quick to say that it's not as simple as he just made it sound, but that hasn't stopped some environmentalists from declaring wolves the saviors of Yellowstone's ecology. There's some people who will try to convince you that wolves could probably solve Mideast peace and world hunger. Randy Newberg is a Montana hunter who hosts the TV show and podcast four hunters. He remembers how emotional the debate over reintroduction. In was between wolf haters and wolf lovers wolves are wolves. They aren't the big bad wolf, and they don't have rainbow shooting out there asking like everyone would think they do. There's something romantic about a wolf, right? Bless you've seen it chewing on a live cow. Eric Costa's family has been raising cattle and sheep one this Montana rent for one hundred years. He says he was worried from the moment the first roles will brought back to Yellowstone, which is about one hundred miles to the south. You know, they weren't going to stay in the part. They're wild animal their go or they want to go. I'm sure you knew it was only a matter of time before they were going to get here. Oh, yes. There was no doubt. And there was a set of tracks. Very well cost a new that wolves would follow migrating elk out of Yellowstone and onto his ranch and that they attack his livestock if given the chance he started hiring range writers to watch over his cattle, and he bought guard dogs to help keep wolves away from his sheep live sheep, pay for things. Live cattle pay for things deadwood and stole his defensive measures have kept wolves away from his livestock, but neighboring ranchers have lost both cattle and sheep to wolves. The thing that's never monitored. When I talked to these people is the loss nights of sleep. The nervousness. We'll track on my place today, or I actually saw wolf wolves around you can't measure compensate for that are wolf attacks on livestock, a serious problem. No. It's rare that it happens. But if it's happening to you. It's a serious problem. It was that fear of wolf attacks that drove ranchers and settlers to eradicate them in the early twentieth century after the Endangered Species Act was passed in one thousand nine hundred seventy three wolves were among the first to be listed and a campaign began to restore them to Yellowstone park after that happened in the nineties wolves quickly spread out of Yellowstone and into neighboring states, so many that there are now nearly two thousand in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho after a long and bitter legal battle, those states finally won the authority to manage and sometimes kill wolves outside the national park has. This management of the wolves helped to lessen some of those passions to calm, some of those emotions I think so so to have wolves you have to kill the wolves and some situations. Yes. The first situation is cut and dried any wolves that attack livestock are immediately killed themselves. I think that's hoped a lot at least with the ranching community and people feel better if they're not powerless to deal with something and then wolves are hunted. There's hunting season on wolves all three states have. So having wolves be hunted has probably increased people's willingness to share the landscape with them two of them. Randy Newberg is living proof of that. He filmed a wolf hunt a few years ago for his TV show. It took him eleven days and one hundred miles of trudging and tracking through the snow. You went out looking. For a wolf and saw how smart they are. How cunning they are how athletic they are. If you wanna increase your respect for world's going chase them out on their landscape, hunters and ranchers and avid wolf watchers. Rarely see I'd y but they know agree on at least one thing. We've got a gray wolves are back in Yellowstone for good. People love this. You know, we live in an artificial world. It's stores and cars and roads and buildings wolves are real and people crave. It they love it. We almost have this thirst for something real now.

Coming up next