Montana Authorities Are Investigating a Suspected Wolf Poaching Near Yellowstone

Game wardens found the dead wolf roughly a month after the wolf hunting and trapping quota was reached in the region
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A gray wolf walks through the snow in Yellowstone National Park.
The wolf was found dead near the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park in late January. Photograph by Ashton Hooker / NPS

Game wardens with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks are investigating a suspected wolf poaching that took place near Yellowstone in late January. The agency is offering a $1,000 cash reward for any information about the incident.

Wildlife officers found the dead wolf northwest of Gardiner near Mol Heron and Cinnabar Creeks on Jan. 27, according to a press release from the agency. With a year-round population of less than 1,000 people, the small town of Gardiner sits just outside the Yellowstone National Park boundary, and it’s where the North Entrance to the park is located.

It’s unclear exactly where the dead wolf was discovered or what led game wardens to believe it had been killed illegally. MFWP spokesperson Morgan Jacobsen told the Daily Inter Lake Thursday that game wardens suspected the wolf was poached around noon on Jan. 27, but Jacobsen was unable to provide any further details — including whether the wolf was shot or trapped.

Although wolves are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act throughout most of the Lower 48, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes an exception for the Northern Rockies population, where the management of gray wolves is left to the tribes and states. The region encompasses the eastern third of Washington and Oregon, a small part of north-central Utah, and all of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, according to the USFWS.

Montana allows the hunting and trapping of gray wolves, but hunters and trappers are subject to both statewide and regional quotas, and MFWP shuts down these activities when either of these quotas are reached. Otherwise, individuals can take up to 20 wolves annually — with no more than 10 of those being taken with traps.

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MFWP updates this information constantly on its wolf harvest map, which shows that 283 wolves have been harvested in the state since hunting season opened in September. Of the eight management regions designated by the agency, the harvest quotas have been reached in all but two.  

Because of its proximity to Yellowstone National Park, where wolf hunting is strictly prohibited under federal law, Gardiner falls within Wildlife Management Unit 313, which has a relatively small quota of six wolves compared to other management regions. MFWP’s wolf harvest data shows that this quota was reached on Dec. 27, roughly a month before the alleged poaching incident occurred.