Ecologically, the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is one of the most important acts of wildlife conservation ever attempted. Wolves had been absent from the park since 1926. In 1995 and 1996, 31 gray wolves were captured in Canada by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and released in Yellowstone. Some of those first wolves were kept in a pen over this hill, so that they could acclimate to the area.
Reestablishing wolves provided an amazing opportunity to research the affects they would have on the ecosystem. Within Yellowstone, that research is conducted by the Yellowstone Wolf Project.
While the biologist that work on the wolf project gather data throughout the year, the real research is conducted in winter. Wolves are together, living in packs in winter and are preparing for denning by early spring.
One objective is to maintain collared wolves in each of Yellowstone’s wolf packs. To counter collar loss, more than one wolf needs to be collared in each pack. All collaring is done in winter; wolves are less likely to overheat and the snow slows them down, making darting easier.
Twice each winter, the Wolf Project conducts extensive thirty-day studies. An early winter study and a late winter study. The biologist from The Wolf Project and a group of volunteers monitor three wolf packs from the ground and the park’s remaining packs from fixed-wing airplanes. Ground crews battle severe conditions from sun-up to sun-down to ensure their data is accurate.
These researchers monitor population dispersal, distribution, reproduction, mortality and predation on ungulates. All wolf kills that are identified by the ground crews are visited. This involves skiing or snowshoeing for miles in all types of terrain and conditions. Necropsies are done to gather a wide variety of data. For more detailed information on wolf research, visit our website at www.nps.gov/yell.
One of the most important aspects of this research effort is its longevity. 80% of all wildlife research is conducted for less than three years. If we isolated any three years from Yellowstone’s data, we would have different findings. It will take many more years before we fully understand the impacts wolves are having on this unique and wonderful place.