Twenty gray wolves of Yellowstone National Park were shot by hunters in recent months — the most killed by hunting in a single season since the predators were reintroduced to the region more than 25 years ago, according to park officials.
Fifteen wolves were shot after roaming across the park’s northern border into Montana, according to figures to The Associated Press. Five more died in Idaho and Wyoming.
Park officials said that the deaths mark “a significant setback for the species’ long-term viability and for wolf research.”
One pack called the Phantom Lake Pack is now considered “eliminated” after most or all of its members were killed over a two-month span beginning in October, according to the park.
An estimated 94 wolves remain in Yellowstone. But with months to go in Montana’s hunting season and wolf trapping season just getting underway park officials said they expect more wolves to die after roaming from Yellowstone, where hunting is prohibited.
Park Superintendent Cam Sholly first raised concerns last September about wolves dying near the park border. He recently urged Republican Montana Governor Greg Gianforte to shut down hunting and trapping in the area for the remainder of the season.
Sholly cited “the extraordinary number of Yellowstone wolves already killed this hunting season,” in a December 16 letter to Gianforte.
Montana wildlife officials last year loosened hunting and trapping rules for wolves statewide. They also eliminated wolf quota limits in areas bordering the park.
The original quotas were meant to protect packs that draw tourists to Yellowstone from around the world for the chance to see a wolf in the wild.