The Yellowstone We Don’t See: A Struggle of Life and Death
In 1995 and 1996, some 70 years after Yellowstone’s last wolf howled its last howl, 31 wolves from western Canada were released from acclimation pens across the park. They took hold of the landscape, they proliferated, they thrived in the park, and spread throughout the region. Another 35 wolves were released in central Idaho at about the same time. Twenty years later roughly 500 wolves inhabit the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Thirteen hundred more live elsewhere in the northern Rockies, and the gray wolf—that’s the common name, although individuals vary in color from pale brindle to black—has been removed from endangered species listing in Idaho and Montana. Wolves can now be legally hunted and trapped there. (The Wyoming situation is more complicated.) Today about a hundred wolves, constituting ten packs, live primarily within Yellowstone National Park, where Doug Smith, head of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, leads the effort to monitor, manage, and protect them.
By David Quammen
Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three-part story, appearing in the May 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine. Return to part one, read an abridged version, or find more at natgeo.com/yellowstone.
Photo: A lone member of the Phantom Springs wolf pack stands tall in Grand Teton National Park. After an absence of about 70 years, wolves returned to the park in 1998, when they moved down from Yellowstone.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES