Yellowstone Wolf Biologist: Attitudes toward wolves changing

After 20 years, there's about a hundred wolves in ten packs in Yellowstone. The park's wolf biologist told a packed Cody audience elk are doing well in Wyoming, too. While wolf numbers may be holding steady, people's attitudes may be changing.

Dr. Doug Smith captures and studies wolves in Yellowstone. He's been doing it for decades, and probably knows more about the reintroduced canines in the park than anyone. He said park managers killed the predators in the early twentieth century.

Smith explained, "Wolves were gone by 1926. They killed the cougars, lynx, bobcat, coyotes, wolverine…"

Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995. Many tourists were ecstatic. But, some people in gateway communities like Cody, were furious. Charges were filed against a federal wolf manager after Park County Commissioners claimed he was 'littering' wolves on private lands in the area.

This week's gathering was different. It was welcoming. People clapped.

Smith edited the recent Yellowstone Science issue celebrating 20 years of wolves. He's been coming to Cody's Draper Natural History Museum lunchtime lectures almost that long, to talk about the controversial carnivores. He said he used to dread the questions afterwards.

He remembered, "Yeah, I used to dread the talk ending because people would come up to me and say things to me that I can't repeat on the air."

But, Smith said attitudes have changed.

He explained, "You know, coming to Cody is the best gauge of how people's attitudes have changed. Because I've been coming to Cody for 20 years and it was historically one of the tougher crowds. A lot of people in Cody were not in favor of bringing the wolves back, and each time I've come, people seem to be less worked up about it."

Smith said some fears have been alleviated. He pointed out Wyoming hunters have taken a record number of elk in recent years. And, people seem to be paying more attention to grizzly delisting these days.

Smith predicted Wyoming wolves will be delisted in the next year.

He said, "Wyoming did a good job of managing them before. I think the issue is some language in the management plan."

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