Wolves of Grand Teton National Park and the Greater Yellowstone Area
Gray wolves (Canis lupus) appeared in Grand Teton National Park (GRTE) in October of 1998, two years after being reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park (YNP). Since that time, five packs have been within the GRTE borders - Gros Ventre Pack, Nez Perce Pack, Yellowstone Delta Pack, Teton Pack, and Green River Pack (Table 1). Wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Area are increasing and spreading out geographically (USFWS and others, 2004). This dispersion was demonstrated recently by the death of a 2-year-old female wolf from the Swan Lake pack on I-70 in Colorado (June 7, 2004; http://mountain-prairie.USFWS.gov/pressrel /04-43.htm).
The organization of wolf packs in the GYA is dynamic and highly structured. In 2003, for example, a wolf from the Teton Pack joined with the Green River Pack, and several young wolves left the Teton Pack and moved south (USFWS and others, 2004). Pack size (averaging five to ten members) is dependent on hunting efficiency, which depends on prey size, type, and density. Each pack defends home ranges of several hundred square miles. The social structure of the pack is based on a breeding pair (an alpha male and female). Other wolves in the pack can be categorized as betas (males and/or females second in rank to the alphas), subordinates, pups, and occasional omegas (outcasts). Because generally only the alpha pair breeds, subordinate wolves of reproductive age must disperse from their packs and form new associations in order to breed. (http://www.nps.gov/grte/wolf/biolo.htm).
The reintroduced wolves are classified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as "nonessential experimental" under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act. The recovery criteria for the GYA wolves were met in 2002 for removing the wolves from the Endangered Species List (30 or more breeding pairs). Currently, the USFWS manages wolf populations in the GYA until delisting occurs. After delisting, state Fish and Wildlife Services in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming will be responsible for managing wolves. Each state must submit a wolf management plan to the USFWS which then must be approved before management shifts occur. As of this writing, the process of delisting the wolves in the state of Wyoming is ongoing. However, the reclassification of wolves nationwide was completed on April 1, 2003. Wolves outside of YNP changed in status from endangered to threatened. The wolves classified in the experimental nonessential population did not change in status (USFWS and others, 2004).
This classification of experimental nonessential population allows for flexibility in management decisions concerning the wolves (Smith and others, 2004). For example, control actions in the GYA included trapping and radio-collaring four wolves; intensive monitoring; increasing riders on grazing allotments; harassing wolves with rubber bullets, cracker shells, and lights; moving livestock to different pastures; and issuing four shoot on-sight permits. When non-lethal control methods were not effective, wolves were killed in an attempt to prevent further livestock depredations (USFWS and others, 2004; Table 1).
At the same time that wolf numbers are rising, human population statistics in the GRTE area are also rising. The population of Teton County, Wyoming in 1990 was just over 11,000 people; today that number has increased to approximately 19,000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005). park visitation for GRTE has been substantial over the last several years with an average visitation of 2.5 million visitors (NPS, 2004a). Furthermore, land ownership surrounding GRTE and the establishment of grazing rights within park boundaries are problem areas for wolf-human interactions due to livestock depredation. With increasing numbers of visitors, residents, and livestock it is reasonable to assume that conflicts are going to increase also.
In 1950, GRTE was expanded to in