Wolf pups proliferate

  • Prolific: This wolf pup has now mothered two litters in the park

  As scores of bison and deer perished last winter in and around Yellowstone, one species was there to take it all in. Literally.

Yellowstone's wolf packs found feast where others fell to famine. Eight of Yellowstone's nine wolf packs produced 11 litters last spring. This could double the park's total wolf population of 47.

Although it came sooner than expected, the population explosion was no surprise to Yellowstone biologists. Researchers studying the greater Yellowstone ecosystem say that whenever a predatory species is introduced to an "open habitat' - where competition is low and food availability is high - populations will expand. But the fecundity won't last long, says Yellowstone wolf biologist Douglas Smith. "If the wolf numbers continue (to explode), the wolves will begin killing each other, starve or leave."

New wolf pups bring the federal wolf project one step closer to its goal: to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list in the United States. Delisting can only occur when the three areas of wolf introduction - the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, the central Idaho wilderness, and northwest Montana near Glacier National Park - have reached 10 breeding pairs apiece for three consecutive years.

*Jamie Murray