Yellowstone may show visitors a beautiful landscape of green meadows and gorgeous geysers in the summer, but the oldest national park in America turns hostile in the winter. The landscape completely changes until some of the attractions are not even viewable. Most tourists deem it wise to stay clear of Yellowstone during this time. But the cold actually brings a different adventure for travelers to enjoy. In the dead of winter, groups join together in Yellowstone for one purpose: wolf tracking.
Yellowstone National Park has been a popular tourist attraction for centuries. In 1872, it was declared the first American national park to protect the beautiful collection of geysers and to provide a sanctuary for many different animals.
The creation of the park did not immediately provide legal protection for wildlife. Hunters and tourists were free to come to Yellowstone and kill any game or predator they came across, including the wolves.
Wolves like this male alpha wolf can get up to 110 lbs. Photo by Yellowstone National Park cc
At the time Yellowstone was created, wolf numbers were already in decline throughout the United States. Hunters often targeted these wild ancestors of dogs to reduce attacks on livestock. Exterminating the wolves seemed essential. Even when hunting regulations in Yellowstone were established in 1883, wolves were among the many predators not protected by law. By the early 1900s, not a single wolf was left in Yellowstone.
Soon after the eradication of Yellowstone wolves, park managers and biologists recognized the devastating blow to the ecosystem. Deer populations exploded and vegetation became largely overgrazed. This waterfall effect caused the entire park to suffer from the absence of wolves.
Seventy years later, the gray wolf was finally reintroduced into the park and the results were astounding. The wolves reduced deer overpopulation, which reduced overgrazing and allowed more tree growth in the valleys. The number of beavers increased because of the plentiful trees, and the dams they created attracted plenty of other animals. Carrion left by the wolves provided a needed food source for grizzly bears and eagles, and the vegetation brought more birds into the park. After many years of ecosystem failure, Yellowstone was finally restored to its former glory.
Track the Wolves
Despite it’s menacing reputation, wolves are naturally afraid of humans, which is why they are so hard to spot in the wild. Photo by Cathy Haglund. cc
Wolves continue to dramatically change the landscape of Yellowstone National Park. Now visitors can hunt wolves again, but instead of using guns, intrepid hunters arm themselves with cameras. Yellowstone wolf guides take small groups of sightseers on excursions that last several days to track the wolf packs of Yellowstone and to observe these powerful hunters in their natural habitat. These expeditions offer the best wolf-viewing experience, but wolves aren’t the only animals to be spotted on these trips. Visitors also see grizzly bears, moose, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, elk, bison, and other rare wildlife.
Each wolf-tracking trip is customized to the season, the size of group, and the location of the base point. For those hoping to catch the best look at the elusive wolf packs, winter is the time to go. The guides that organize these trips are experienced with winter tracking and are familiar with the habits of the Yellowstone wolves. Novice wolf trackers are given the finest opportunity to see the wolves and to witness firsthand how these predators function as a key species to preserving the landscape of Yellowstone National Park.
Wolf Tracking Events
- Winter Wolf Retreat I
January 17–22, 2016
- Winter Wolf Retreat II
February 7–12, 2016
- Yellowstone Wolf Adventure with Jan Fennell, the Dog Listening
February 15–20, 2016
- Winter Wolf Watch
March 4–9, 2016
- Spring Wolf Watch
March 31–April 5, 2015
Featured photo by Michael McCarthy. cc