(This post is about a trip to Yellowstone we made in 2012…)
Lamar Valley is in the northeast corner of Yellowstone, about as far away as you can get from the Old Faithful Inn where we stayed on our first visit. For this reason, we only visited Lamar Valley once during 2011 and this was in the middle of the day. We didn’t see any wolves even though this area is considered wolf-central and former home to the once famous Druid Pack. The Druid Pack was formed from wolves reintroduced to the Park in 1996 and grew to 37 members, perhaps the largest wolf pack ever documented. The last of the Druids disappeared in 2010 only to be replaced by other packs including the now famous Lamar Canyon Pack.
The Lamar Canyon Pack is best known for its alpha female “832F”. Yellowstone wolves are closely studied by scientists who identify wolves through a chronological numbering scheme with the sex of the wolf denoted by the suffix “F” or “M”. This is done to accurately identify a wolf and also to prevent anthropomorphism. Even so, many wolves in Yellowstone become well known to tourists and end up with more familiar names. 832F was also known to many as “06” for the year she was born. 832F was a favorite and seen by thousands of people over the years. According to researchers, she was just as tough as larger alpha males and had a hunting prowess that enabled her to take down prey, including elk, by herself.
We returned to Yellowstone in the fall of 2012 with our small RV which allowed us to camp in the heart of Lamar Valley at the Pebble Creek Campground. The Lamar Canyon Pack den site is located approximately 4-5 miles southwest of Pebble Creek CG across the road from an area known as the Hitching Post. One has to get here early to snag a parking space and fortunately for us, we could arrive in our RV before dawn and enjoy breakfast and coffee while waiting for the sun to rise. On our first morning, the lot was full before daylight and wolf-watchers had already setup on a small rise a few hundred yards from the parking lot. As we gathered our camera gear and headed out, we heard the Lamar pack howling up the hill in the direction of their den site. How excited we were to hear wolf howls for the first time in our lives.
The wolves were very active that morning. Never had we been so close and at times they were only a hundred or so yards away. They crisscrossed the main road and Soda Butte Creek heading back and forth between their den site and the valley below.
Just to our south across Soda Butte Creek, four wolves had gathered on a plateau above the creek bed and were looking intently eastward. At first we thought they were watching prey but then realized they were keeping an eye on a group of hikers in the far distance. Wolves are extremely wary. Even though we were much closer and the wolves could easily see us, we must have been a common site and therefore did not pose a threat. But a group of hikers? Now that was something different and deserved special attention.
At the time we took these photographs and video, we were not familiar with 832F. We keep a Google News alert for “Yellowstone Wolves” and in early December we learned that 832F had wondered outside the Park and was legally killed by a hunter (click here for the NY Times article). 2012 was the first year that allowed wolf hunting near Yellowstone and eight wolves, most of them collared, were killed. Realizing the cost and effort spent by research scientists to collar and track wolves, Montana’s Fish and Wildlife commissioners closed wolf hunting in areas adjacent to the Park in mid-December. Advocacy groups, including the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, are petitioning the states bordering Yellowstone to further restrict wolf hunting in the regions surrounding the Park.
The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone continues to be a controversial subject with both sides taking polar positions. The “tree-huggers” like myself wonder how anyone could ever kill such a majestic animal. Others, including many local ranchers, see wolves as “terrorists” that take joy in the killing and torturing of elk, bison, livestock and anything else that comes across their path.
Whatever your view, take a look at my tribute video to 832F and a few members of the Lamar Valley pack: