The Junction Butte Pack appears in a photograph from a plane during a wolf study in 2019. (Photo by Dan Stahler/NPS)

Three wolves from Yellowstone National Park’s most viewed wolf pack were lost to Montana hunters last week during the opening week of the state’s new hunting season.

The Junction Butte Pack transcends Yellowstone’s northern range and is the most viewed wolf pack in the world, according to a Park release.

Multiple recent overflights conducted by the Park confirmed the pack size has been reduced from 27 to 24 animals, losing two female pups and one female yearling. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks confirms three wolves were killed outside of Yellowstone in the general vicinity of where the Junction Butte Pack was traveling in mid-September.

Yellowstone wolves in the northern range spend an estimated 5% of the time outside the park, usually in late fall. For over a decade, the state of Montana limited the number of wolves taken from Montana wolf management units 313 (Gardiner) and 316 (Cooke City), which are immediately adjacent to the Park’s northern boundary. Ninety-eight percent of wolves in Montana are outside units 313 and 316. Recent changes to the state’s hunting and trapping lifted restrictions within these units making Yellowstone’s wolf population in the northern range extremely vulnerable.

Montana has also authorized baiting from private property. Over 33% of the boundary Yellowstone shares with Montana is within one mile of private property where baiting is now permissible.

Wyoming hunting regulations haven’t changed aside from allowing a small increase in the number of wolves to be hunted in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem this season over last due to an increase in population numbers.

“We are aware Idaho and Montana wolf populations are growing and remain far above minimums,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in a recent press conference. “And populations in Wyoming have continued to exceed all minimum requirements.”

Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said he would like to see quotas, such as those in Wyoming’s GYE, returned to Montana.

“Yellowstone plays a vital role in Montana’s wildlife conservation efforts and its economy. These wolves are part of our balanced ecosystem here and represent one of the special parts of the park that draw visitors from around the globe,” Sholly said in a release. “We will continue to work with the state of Montana to make the case for reinstating quotas that would protect the core wolf population in Yellowstone as well as Montana’s direct economic interests derived from the hundreds of millions spent by Park visitors each year.”

Visitor spending within communities that are 50 miles from Yellowstone exceeds $500 million per year, tens of millions of which are spent by visitors coming to watch wolves and supporting Montana businesses in gateway communities, according to a Park release.

The Junction Butte Pack formed in 2012 in the northern section of the Park. They are the most observed pack in Yellowstone because they den within view of the Northeast Entrance road and the road to Slough Creek Campground, providing thousands of visitor’s daily views. The pack had eight pups in 2021.

“Montana’s new laws are putting bullets not just into wolves but into the hearts of everyone who loves Yellowstone’s wolf families,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The puppies and yearling wolf were raised inside a national park where people are not a threat. To mercilessly gun them down when they step beyond Yellowstone’s borders is cruel beyond any measure. We’ll continue to fight to stop this senseless killing.”

(3) comments

Jim Kinkade

Your bias is showing. These were not "lost" to hunters, they were successfully "Taken".

Scott Conger

There is no such thing as a "Yellowstone Wolf". They were all hunted to extinction for better or worse - insert your particular opinion here, decades ago. The 3 wolves killed were Canadian Imports...very large, highly efficient killing machines which have stripped Yellowstone and surrounding communities of their normal populations of many other species. It's nice to read that finally, something good comes out of Montana that somewhat offsets their natural instinct to pass on double yellow lines and force their southern neighbors off of the road.

Scott Weber

There is no such thing as "a park wolf". Wolves do not know boundaries. Wolves free roam in and out of the Park. Some "park wolves" have wandered out over 400 miles. Only a fool would somehow assign names to wolves. They are setting themselves up for supreme disappointment when one gets whacked.

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