Killing of World Famous Wolf Reignites Battle in the Rockies

Kill programs in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming reveal how fragile protection programs can be

Conservationists and wolf-lovers are howling with anger following news that a well-known alpha wolf from Yellowstone National Park was found shot and killed by a hunter late last week after she roamed over the park's western boundary into Wyoming.

The killing of the wolf known as 832F (also known as '06 by her admirers), was leader of the Lamar Canyon pack inside the park, is only the latest in a string of wolves killed by nearby hunters and ranchers after leaving the protection of the park following controversial new rules in several Rocky Mountains states--including Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming--that allow killing of the previously protected gray wolf.

Official state statistics show that hunters have shot at least 87 wolves across Montana this fall. At least 120 have been killed by hunters and trappers in Idaho and 58 have been shot in Wyoming.

Many of these wolves were shot while wearing radio tracking collars and, like 832F, had been under observation by scientists and park officials for years. Those experts say they were gaining enormous insights about how and why wolves travel.

The New York Times, which reported the killing on Sunday, described that 832F had become world famous.

The wolf wowed scientists and tourists alike with her size and a strength so great that she could "take down animals on her own," said Daniel Stahler, a park wildlife biologist.

She also led the pack in Yellowstone's northeastern Lamar Valley, an area rich in bison and elk that has a road offering vantage points for wildlife watchers equipped with cameras and spotting scopes. The Lamar Canyon pack could be counted on to roam the valley near dawn and dusk, allowing scientists and tourists to observe wolf behavior at a level of detail rarely seen outside National Geographic specials.

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Her death marks the eighth collared wolf shot by hunters since the Wyoming wolf hunt began on October 1. The $4,000 GPS tracking collar has been returned to conservation researchers, who knew, based on its data, that 832F's Lamar Canyon pack only occasionally strayed beyond the park boundaries.

Wildlife advocates have filed suit in an attempt to halt this year's controversial wolf hunts, the first of their kind in Wyoming for decades. Hunters say they are necessary to keep wolf numbers down and to protect livestock. The population of wolves in Yellowstone is currently estimated at somewhere around 100 animals.

Diane Bentivegna of WolfWatcher, a coalition devoted to preserving the wolf and its historic range, told the Times that 832F's high profile helped to bring more attention to the "important role that predators play in wild landscapes."

Wildlife advocacy groups, as the Associated Press reports, are pressing state officials to impose a protective buffer zone around the park to protect a species that serves as a major draw for the Yellowstone's 3 million visitors annually. Hunting or trapping wolves inside the park is prohibited, but wolves often cross the invisible park boundaries.

The long battle in western states over the status of the wolf population often runs tense. Many conservationists believe that hunters deliberately target wolves with tracking collars to undermine the ongoing efforts to learn and protect the animals. Worse are charges that hunters target these wolves simply for greater bragging rights.

"The proportion of collared wolves is too high to believe this is not being done deliberately," Marc Cooke, a spokesperson for the group Wolves of the Rockies, told the AP. "It's wrong, and the world needs to know this."

Conservation groups, including Wolves of the Rockies, plan to attend a commissioners meeting by the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks department on Monday that will address concerns about the buffer zones and rules surrounding a "trapping' program slated to begin next season.

"Having 06 stolen from us to enjoy is the tipping point for Wolves of the Rockies," said the group on their Facebook page. "The hand writing is on the wall. If we don't take action NOW we will be losing many more of our beloved wolves."

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