Hunters kill 20 Yellowstone wolves that roamed the park

BILLINGS, Mont. Twenty of Yellowstone National Park’s famous gray wolves roamed the park and were shot by hunters in recent months – the most killed by hunting in a single season since the predators were reintroduced to the region more than 25 years ago, according to park officials.

Fifteen wolves were shot after roaming the park’s northern border with Montana, according to figures released to The Associated Press. Another five died in Idaho and Wyoming.

Park officials said in a statement to the AP that the deaths mark “a significant setback for the species’ long-term viability and for wolf research.”

One package – the Phantom Lake Pack – is now considered “eliminated” after most or all of its members were killed over a two-month period beginning in October, according to the park.

An estimated 94 wolves remain in Yellowstone. But with months left in Montana’s hunting season – and the wolf hunting season just about to begin – park officials said they expect more wolves to die after roaming Yellowstone, where hunting is banned.

Park Inspector Cam Sholly first raised concerns in September last year about wolves dying near the park border. He recently called on Republican Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte to shut down hunting and trapping in the area for the rest of the season.

Sholly quoted “the extraordinary number of Yellowstone wolves already killed in this hunting season,” in a letter to Gianforte on December 16 issued to the AP under a request for freedom of information.

Gianforte, an avid hunter and trapper, did not directly address the request to stop the hunt in a Wednesday letter that corresponded to Sholly.

“When a wolf leaves the park and enters the state of Montana, it can be harvested in accordance with rules laid down by the (State Wildlife) Commission under Montana law,” Gianforte wrote.

Gianforte received a warning last year from a game warden in Montana after trapping and shooting a wolf with a radio collar about 10 miles north of the park without taking a state-mandated prisoner training course.

In his response to Sholly, the governor said Montana protects against overhunting through rules passed by the Wildlife Commission, which can review hunting seasons if harvest levels exceed a certain threshold.

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