December 2, 2011
Wolf Project Kicks Off Winter Research
While Yellowstone wolf research takes place year-round, it's easiest to monitor and study wolves in the wintertime because they leave tracks in the snow, tend to travel in packs during the daytime, and are present at lower elevations. Each winter, Yellowstone Wolf Project staff and volunteers brave frigid temperatures and unpredictable weather on a daily basis to conduct essential research on the park’s wolf packs.
Since wolves were reintroduced to the park 16 years ago, the effects of restoration continue to shape the story of Yellowstone. This close monitoring contributes to ongoing research on the impacts of wolves on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It also helps to keep track of the general health, size, and territory needs of the park’s wolf population. The Yellowstone Park Foundation funds much of this important research, accounting for approximately 60% of the Yellowstone Wolf Project’s annual budget.
Here's a sampling of what's in store for Wolf Project staff over the coming weeks:
Each December, Wolf Project staff count the park's wolf population. In December 2010, 97 wolves were counted within Yellowstone’s borders. It is expected, after strong pup survival in the spring of 2011, that the number will be slightly higher this winter.
Winter studies of wolf predation take place each year. Wolf Project staff analyze confirmed or possible wolf kills to determine prey species, gender, size, health, and other factors that help us better understand the impact of wolves as keystone predators. Other research includes topics such as population genetics, disease, and observations of wolf, grizzly bear, and bison interactions in Pelican Valley.
One of the reasons Yellowstone’s wolves have contributed so significantly to the world’s total body of knowledge of wolf behavior is the intensive visual monitoring. Thousands of recorded ground and aerial observations each year are used to piece together the stories of the wolves and packs of Yellowstone. Wolves are more visible in the snowy winter landscape, and avid wolf watchers know that winter is a great time to come to Yellowstone and see wolves in the Lamar Valley!
Collar placement takes place in the winter months, when wolves can more easily be tracked and captured, and ends before female wolves retreat to their dens for birthing. VHF and GPS collars are critical to monitoring wolves in Yellowstone’s vast wilderness. Twelve wolves were captured and collared by Wolf Project staff during January and February 2011. Currently, roughly 25% of wolves in Yellowstone are collared.