The Wolves of Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone

In the northeast corner of Yellowstone Park where the Lamar River flows, is a bison-studded valley of rolling hills and grassy plains.  We ventured here, the most likely area in  Yellowstone to see the gray wolf, with high hopes of seeing one.

 

For over a decade I’d been watching nature specials on TV about the wolf packs in Lamar Valley; alphas, families, and their ups and downs.  Our vacation included Yellowstone and the Tetons, and while visiting Grand Teton National Park earlier, we met a wildlife enthusiast who was headed next to the Lamar Valley.  He was knowledgeable of the wolf packs.  Although he’s a visitor, four times a year he spends six weeks at a time in Lamar observing the wolves.  He talked about the wolf packs by name, and distinguished the wolves by individual numbers.  In his loquacious accounts, he said things like “I heard F428 has been back again.”

 

Lamar Valley bison

Lamar Valley bison

Our new friend Ron told us where we could see wolves in the Lamar Valley.  He referred often to “the wolf people” and their current wolf findings.  These people live full-time in the vicinity and observe, follow, and note the activities and behaviors of the grey wolf packs.  I took notes as his gravelly voice kindly described where to see the wolves.

 

Lamar Valley snowy day

Lamar Valley snowy day

Days later we went to the Slough Creek area of the Valley as instructed, spent two days there.  We found the wolf people (and Ron), and set up our scope.  A storm had come in.  Snow was whipping horizontally, obliterating views.  I was wearing everything I owned, but the brutal winds were driving right through me.  Ron’s wife sat cozily in her car and read a book.

 

A man with binoculars and a face as red as an apple also sat in his car, enjoying a respite.  He told us he had seen a wolf about a half hour earlier, and pointed to the den that he was “watching.”  I looked out that way.  About six miles in the distance, from where we stood the den was the size of a pea.  It was at this point that I realized these people were all nuts.

 

They love their wolves with avid appreciation and devotion, and follow the packs as if they were family.  Birders can be nuts too, so we stayed out there for an hour watching.  Some of the folks were excited about a bison carcass a few miles away that might attract the wolves.  We went there too, but saw no wolves.  Alas, the fact:  as of 2013 there are only approximately 95 wolf individuals in the 3,500 square miles that comprise Yellowstone.

 

Lamar Valley, bison-face-off

The topic of wolves in Yellowstone (and across the world) is extremely controversial.  Canis lupus were extirpated from this region by 1926.  With the Endangered Species Act in 1973, and the valiant efforts of biologists, conservationists, and others over the ensuing decades, gray wolf re-introduction began.  For more about the gray wolf, click here.

 

In 1995 and 1996, gray wolves were re-introduced in northern Yellowstone (from Canada), after a 60+ year absence; and have been heavily documented, followed, studied ever since.  Wolves occasionally kill livestock and pets, and they prey on other mammals coveted by hunters.  Like in many parts of the U.S., there is a war between the wolf lovers and the wolf haters.  Unfortunately, the gray wolf is no longer on the Endangered Species List, and outside of the Park boundaries it is still legal to kill them.  To learn more about the wolf population in Yellowstone, click here.

 

My lovely days in the Lamar Valley were punctuated by awesome vistas and hundreds of bison.  But we never did hear or see a single wolf.  We kept ourselves interested in the bison and birds, and I found the human mammals of Yellowstone truly fascinating.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

 

 

 

 

 

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29 thoughts on “The Wolves of Lamar Valley

  1. Very interesting post Jet! Yellowstone Pk. + Grand Teton Range have been the most beautiful parks that I’ve enjoyed in my life. They gave me a lot of joy visually and physically and I will never forget it. Thanks Jet for allowing me to relive those dear moments even for a few minutes! 🙂

  2. Jet Dear ! I was reading and reading with the hope that you were eventually lucky enough to get glimpse of this beautiful and powerful animal…. How disappointing though after so many endeavours … Loved your vigorous description and the beautiful views over Lamar Valley ; the photo taken on that snowy day gave me hopes that they would emerge from their dens and start preying.
    It is really sad they were eradicated from the region,hopeful though that they were re-introducted later,but unwise they are not included on the Endangered Species List any more.
    At least,bisons,birds and (human mammals … ) were your compensation.There is always a next time,my dear friend 🙂

    • How wonderful that I captured your interest, dear Doda. When you spend a lot of time observing wildlife, there are many times when it does not appear, and so it works well to have an avid interest in lots of different kinds of wildlife. So kind of you to take the time to read and enjoy and comment on my post, Doda. I hope your week is wonderful. 😀

    • When we walked away without a wolf siting, I didn’t think I would be able to write a post about it. But the whole experience was so unique and fun, that I figured out a way to report on it anyway. I am delighted you enjoyed it, dear Nan. 😀

  3. I am so very sorry my dear friend Jet that this happened.After re-writing my comment and re-posting it,the first one appeared. How weird .. and disappointing.It was probably spammed,who knows.Please delete the second one.Thank you 🙂

    • Absolutely! A few years ago I saw wolves in Denali National Park (Alaska), so I have that terrific memory, too. So glad to hear from you
      Andrea, thanks for stopping by. 😀

  4. Jet I love your description of the folks watching and waiting. I guess we all have our ways that seem ‘interesting’ to others. Glad you enjoyed the birds and bison anyway. Very informative post.

  5. Utterly fascinating post, Jet—I loved reading your description of the interactions and behaviours of “the wolf people”. An interesting species that may warrant study in itself! ;)) You may have already seen the video, “How Wolves Changes Rivers”, but in case you haven’t here’s a link: https://vimeo.com/86466357 ~ Jeannie :))

    • I appreciate your visit and comments, Jeannie, and am glad you enjoyed my tale of the wolf people. I have not seen the video and look forward to viewing it. Thank you so much, how very kind. :d

    • Dear Jeannie, I just finished watching this video and am ever so grateful that you sent me the link. Wonderful footage, and oh what a beautiful account of how fully the cycle of nature works if we just allow it to happen. I also got chills from hearing the howling wolves. Thanks so much. 🙂

  6. The wolves are fascinating creatures. It feels so good to know they were removed from the endangered animals list. Great post! I love the pictures! x

    • I’m really glad you enjoyed it, Lucy. The politics of wolves on earth continues, but hopefully the population will continue too. Thanks so much for your interest and comments. 🙂

  7. Recently I was staying at my daughter’s place in Maine. They were away. In the middle of the night I heard one lone howl multiple times in the field beside the house. I am very familiar with coyote’s and their hackle/call as they are over populated on Cape Cod and roam the woods behind my house. This howl was like nothing I have ever heard before. There is a great debate as to whether there are wolves back in Maine or not. Based on what I heard I would say “yes”. I think these would be red wolves though and not the grey! f

    • That’s very interesting Elizabeth. I’m sure there is a debate. Maybe a red wolf hybrid? It might be worth it to dig deeper into the regional findings, perhaps you’re onto something? It’s great to hear you’re paying attention. And oh what a thrill it must have been to hear that one lone howl. Thanks so much! 🙂

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