Watch a family of wolves slip through the forest, far from human eyes, in our Wildlife Remote Video Series, produced by the U.S. Geological Survey starring the wild critters of Glacier National Park. Click on the video below.
A white wolf ambles through the forest in Glacier National Park. She pulls short, steps onto a log, and peers at the black pups trotting nearby.
The pups and young adults stop, one by one, and return her gaze, as if to say, "we're doing OK, Mom ... aren't we?"
She hops down from her watchful perch and continues. The 5-month old pups follow, seven in a row. They move out of range of the remote camera that has silently captured the moment.
Gray wolves were virtually eliminated in this transboundary region by the 1930s, although reliable sources consistently reported that lone wolves or pairs moved stealthily around. By the late 1970s, however, biologists in British Columbia and Montana confirmed the presence of wolves in two transboundary watersheds: The Wigwam and the Flathead. On their own and despite human attempts to exterminate them, wolves had returned.
Today, wolves have successfully recolonized much of their traditional range in the Crown of the Continent, a remarkable conservation success story. Unknown, however, is how society intends to manage wolves now that they are well on the road to recovery.
In March 2009, Montana wildlife biologists estimated the wolf population at 256 wolves in northwestern Montana, including 45 verified packs and 17 breeding pairs.
"The real story of wolf recovery is that about 95 percent of the Montana wolf population now lives outside of national parks on both public and private lands," said Joe Maurier, Director of Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "It’s very clear that Montana has made room for wolves and that Montanans have done all that’s been asked of them in this recovery effort."
While Montanans are justifiably proud of the success of wolf recovery, there are disagreements about future management. The federal government under President Bush and now President Obama have joined with the State of Montana, several conservation groups, hunters and ranchers to push for removing wolves from the endangered species list and delegating long-term conservation management to state wildlfie officials.
Other organizations, such as Defenders of Wildlife and Natural Resources Defense Council, seek to maintain federal protection of wolves. These groups generally applaud Montana's even-handed management plan, but they are critical of Wyoming's general intolerance for wolves outside of Yellowstone National Park. Wolves should not be delisted unless the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho all endorse a long-term conservation strategy. Thus far, federal judges have tended to agree. As of spring 2009, the question remains in political and legal limbo.
My own perspective is as a hunter, hiker, and nature lover. I've seen wolves in the Crown of the Continent four times, each a thrill. I've encountered fresh wolf tracks while hunting elk and deer, and this invigorates my hunt. It sharpens my senses and makes me appreciate that humans are not alone at the top of the food chain.
*Cameras were triggered by motion sensors. Wildlife should never be approached.
You can learn more about the use of remote camera systems for wildlife research. Go to: http://nrmsc.usgs.gov/research/KendallRemoteCamera.htm