Decade of the Wolf

Wolves on the Move
By Douglas W. Smith & Gary Ferguson
Gray wolf, Yellowstone
The Future: From an original 31 animals, the Yellowstone wolves number around 300 (Corel)

Right now we have significantly more wolves in the United States than we did just two decades ago—not just in the northern Rocky Mountains, but in the American Southwest, the Lake States of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and finally, with another species known as the red wolf, in North Carolina. Where else might wolf recovery make sense? One place attractive to many are the long, broad sweeps of forest comprising northern New England. Though most of these lands are privately owned by paper companies, that fact would hardly trouble wolves, since healthy populations can certainly be supported in a working forest. Assuming there exists some form of protection from human exploitation, the same habitats that support whitetail deer and moose would also support wolves. Some have also argued for restoration of wolves in the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado and northern New Mexico. Again, there are broad sweeps of public land in this region, though a fair percentage is at high elevations, much like those of northwestern Montana, which influences the availability of prey.

To some degree wolves will by themselves probably expand to areas in eastern Oregon, northern Utah, and northern Colorado—all of which have already had animals make it across their borders. Wolf 293 of the Swan Lake Pack was hit on the road near Denver, which even in a straight line—and wolves don't travel in straight lines—is a trip of about 400 miles. Meanwhile two years ago male wolf 253 of the Druid Peak Pack was captured in a coyote trap not terribly far from Salt lake City, Utah, then brought back to a release site near Jackson, Wyoming. Idaho, meanwhile, currently has wolves busting at the seams to swim across the Snake River into Oregon—something they will likely do if they haven't already.

Yet such movements by individual pioneers hardly mean a wolf population will anchor in these places naturally. After all, wolves had been living for decades across the Canadian border near northwest Montana, yet never managed to anchor themselves in greater Yellowstone. Even if unverified sightings of individual animals in and around the national park were correct, never did it result in the species anchoring itself here. Research would suggest that such occasional travelers would be far too isolated, not to mention vulnerable to a major gauntlet of human-caused mortality, to ever establish breeding populations.

About the Authors: Douglas Smith, the Wolf Project leader, has studied wolves for 24 years and has worked on the reintroduction effort in Yellowstone since its inception. He lives in Gardiner, Montana.

Gary Ferguson is an award-winning nature writer whose books include The Yellowstone Wolves and Hawks Nest: A Season in the Remote Heart of Yellowstone. He has written for publications including Vanity Fair, Outside, and Men's Journal. He lives in Red Lodge, Montana.

Published: 21 Mar 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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