Scientists say hunting is quickly on its way to becoming the leading cause of wolf mortality near Yellowstone National Park.
“This is the first year that wolves were hunted on every side of the park,” wolf biologist Doug Smith told the Associated Press. “They’ve learned to tolerate people in the park, but that gets them in trouble if they leave. Some wandered outside the park, and within six hours, they were dead.”
In particular, biologists are concerned over the number of collared wolves that have been killed by hunters.
"The loss of collared wolves is where the rubber meets the road," Smith told the AP. "It hurts us the most."
In early December, Montana officials ordered its state's hunters to silence their guns in some areas north of Yellowstone in the wake of several wolf shootings just outside of the park's borders. A wolf known as 832F was found dead Dec. 6 outside of Yellowstone. The wolf was described as a "rock star" because of her popularity with Yellowstone tourists, and wildlife photographer Jimmy Jones even called the animal "the most famous wolf in the world."
832F was one of eight wolves fitted with GPS collars that were killed in November and early December. Data from the collars suggested that the wolves rarely ventured beyond the park and then only for brief periods. Montana wildlife commissioners decided on Dec. 10 to shut down hunting and trapping in areas to the east and west of the town of Gardiner, Mont., because of the killings.
But on Jan. 2, Montana Judge Nels Swandal overruled state wildlife officials, allowing hunting and trapping to resume.