A good portion of our staff at Wild Tribute are fortunate enough to live within a half day drive to either the West or Southern Entrance points of Yellowstone National Park. As you can imagine, that’s lead to a steady stream of adventures for our team in America’s first National Park. It’s easy to plot a route or plan an adventure to achieve the broader goals of your trip: a visit to the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River, the wide-open views of the Hayden Valley, or a drive up north to view Grand Prismatic Spring to name a few. The goals of the trip that we can’t plan for usually involve sightings of wildlife in their element. Sure, we can always count on a (safe) close encounter with the ubiquitous American Bison, or a run-in with a herd of Rocky Mountain Elk. You may get an opportunity to view a black bear, or even a grizzly bear at a safe distance but there’s never a guarantee for that type of interaction with native wildlife. The one all adventurers to Yellowstone are hoping to find is the most elusive of them all, the Northwestern Gray Wolf. With only about 100 wolves in 8 packs throughout the park, it’s a tough “get” on that bucket list.
As luck would have it, one of our mission founders was on an excursion to Yellowstone with this particular goal in mind. After a few days in the park, a 4am campsite departure was carried out, and they headed for the Lamar Valley with the hope of catching a glimpse of a Yellowstone wolf pack at dawn. As usually happens at Yellowstone when there’s a sight to see, a group of cars was parked off the road and some impressive camera equipment was set up to take in the morning light and what it would reveal. But our crew couldn’t get a look at anything clearly until one gentleman spoke up and said, “hey guys, come take a look through this lens”. What they saw brought a tear to their eye: 5 wolf pups rolling around on the side of a hill, playing tug-of-war with a bison bone. Not a care in the world, probably because they knew that mama wolf was right there, supervising play time with a watchful gaze. The kind person that shared the moment with them turned out to be a part of the team that helps track and monitor the pack utilizing radio frequency collars, and it was the beginning of our interest in the Yellowstone Wolf Project. When Yellowstone Forever offered us a chance to contribute to the survival of this pack, we pounced.
Since wolves were first reintroduced to YNP, millions of visitors have had the opportunity to view wolves in the wild. This has not been without controversy, with disagreement surrounding population size, impacts on the elk population, and how to best manage wolves. Wolf management continues to be a high priority issue for both the regional public and the National Park Service.
While the federal government funded the original restoration and monitoring of wolves from 1995-1996, this funding eventually dried up. The Yellowstone Park Foundation (now Yellowstone Forever), established in 1996, stepped in to raise private contributions to continue wolf research and monitoring in the park. As part of the pack of donors to Yellowstone Forever, the Wild Tribute team is honored to be a part of the storied Yellowstone Wolf Project.
Wolf research and monitoring in Yellowstone is a year-round strategy that is critical to the long-term health of the species in the park and surrounding open space. Yellowstone’s wolf biologists and field staff conduct research efforts to capture and collar wolves, gather genetic samples for testing and lab work, conduct winter/summer field studies on predation and pup survival, and log numerous aerial monitoring flights. This level of fieldwork and science helps the park better understand the wolf population and territories, their relationships with prey species (like elk and bison), monitor the health of packs, and identify disease or health issues in the population.
Yellowstone Forever, and Wild Tribute, are here to ensure this vital program continues to move forward with our eyes on a healthy and fruitful Yellowstone ecosystem “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”.
Yellowstone Forever is the official nonprofit partner of Yellowstone National Park. Our mission of engagement and support through philanthropy and education for the park will ensure Yellowstone remains for generations to come.