Last month, the rapid killing of nine wolves in the backcountry north of Yellowstone National Park prompted state wildlife officials to prematurely close the district to wolf hunting.
"If we had known nine wolves would be taken in that backcountry area, I think we would do things differently, and I, for one, will think about that in the future," Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commissioner Bob Ream told the Helena Independent Record.
That error, it turns out, led to the decimation of one of Yellowstone's most studied wolf packs, the itinerant Cottonwood Creek pack, which saw four of its 10 members killed, "in effect ending research into one of the park's most important study groups," reports Kim Murphy of the Los Angeles Times.
"Whether the pack exists anymore or not, to us the pack is gone," said Doug Smith, the biologist in charge of the Yellowstone reintroduction program that helped bring wolves back from the brink of extinction in the Northern Rockies. Cottonwood "was a key pack on the northern range," he said, giving researchers a window into the existence of animals that had little or no interaction with humans.
Montana's wolf program coordinator, Carolyn Sime, told Murphy the state might consider imposing additional restrictions around Yellowstone next year.
"It surprised us that the hunters were as successful as they were" in the backcountry, she said, when what officials had hoped was that problem wolves preying on livestock in the valley would be targeted.
"You hear, 'Kill the wolves. . . . They don't belong here. My grandparents killed these wolves for a reason,'" Sime said. But the real danger, she said, is that conservationists' lawsuit to shut down the hunt will succeed, and the wolves will be returned to the endangered species list.
"With that, you risk people's willingness to live with the wolves, and history is replete with what happens to the wolf when people are unwilling to share the landscape with them," she said.
Click here for Murphy's full report, which includes the story of Wolf 527, the alpha female of the Cottonwood Creek pack, "a genius wolf in her tactics," who was killed by a hunter Oct. 3.
As of Thursday, 50 wolves had been killed as part of Montana's first state-sponsored wolf hunting season. The quota is 75.