Wolf manager for YNP, Doug Smith, says “first phase of wolf restoration is over”

Dr. Smith takes makes 17 year retrospective on wolf restoration-

There haven’t been as many stories quoting the tall, affable Yellowstone Park wolf manager in the last several years, but on Aug. 2 at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, he give a talk that was covered quite well by the Cody Enterprise.

Here is the account of points in his talk.  ‘Wolf numbers, impacts stabilizing’. By Mark Heinz. Cody Enterprise



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  1. mikepost Avatar

    Nice to see a balanced view that will help the wolf restoration succeed, if not to wolf advocates pleasure….

  2. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    It is time for Doug to stop putting collars on the wolves in Yellowstone. He has gone from collaring the alpha pair to putting collars on half of some packs. I will be happy when he retires.

    1. Savebears Avatar

      Many of us will be happy when you retire Larry

      1. Chuck Avatar

        If the collars are used for positive research then great, but for someone to not like them because a collared wolf or grizzly does not make for a good photo to sell is another thing.

        1. skyrim Avatar

          That is an old tired argument that I wish were “re”tired. If an individual is blessed with the ability to make images from their work in the field, why are they not then entitiled to an opinion that may be reflective of a widely held objection to these collars. Rick M. himself told me in 1995 “there’s nothing really wild about a wolf with a collar on”

      2. timz Avatar

        this coming from the most gutless poster on this site

        1. timz Avatar

          refering to savebears of course

  3. louise kane Avatar

    I wonder how Doug Smith can say wolf packs are stabilizing/stabilized. Perhaps he meant pre-wolf hunting and killing by the states? That might have been true a year or more ago or in Minnesota but can anyone call the number of wolves that have been killed a stabilization? Maybe the wolves are moving back into Yellowstone, as he points out because thats the only place they are safe, at least for now.

    Larry I agree with you about the collars
    a good way to get tracked and killed…

    1. WM Avatar

      …or tracked and know where they are for good purposes.

    2. JB Avatar

      “…a good way to get tracked and killed…”

      Doug collars YNP wolves, most of which remain in the park most of the time–meaning they are not vulnerable to hunting and trapping. They are vulnerable when they leave the park, but it isn’t because of the collars, it’s because they’ve been habituated to people and so are much easier to hunt. So if you want to make them less vulnerable, perhaps you should consider campaigning against visitation to YNP (especially wildlife photographers who often get too close to wildlife). That might actually make them less vulnerable. 😉

      1. louise kane Avatar

        agreed on the Yellowstone wolves but those collars are also often used to track down and kill wolves – Lolo wolves for example

        1. JB Avatar

          Different collars, placed on wolves for a different purpose (i.e., monitoring–not research).

      2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        In my mind, several things should go into the decision of collaring. These are subjective to some degree because I don’t like Wildlife Services or the state wildlife agencies much anymore.

        -Jurisdiction over the wolf, e.g. state or national park, purpose: research or monitoring, type of radio collar, the agency or personnel monitoring the wolf.

        -Monitoring can be broken down into monitoring to stop potential trouble, research on movements (a subclass of research), or monitoring to kill (worst is to wipe out an entire pack by means of a judas collar).

        I am not much interested in esthetics for photographers.

        Given the state government attitudes of Idaho and Montana, I hope the fewer collars and the more expensive they are to put on the wolf, the better.

  4. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Interesting article.

  5. red Avatar

    I wish Doug Smith would be more specific regarding which areas wolves should be hunted heavily and not hunted in. Obviously, he is trying to be diplomatic.

  6. Richie G. Avatar
    Richie G.

    Doug Smith was in the picture about wolves in Washington, and he hopes they migrate all the way to Mexico, he sounded so sincere? I think he is full of himself, by reading all the comments. As for wolf watchers it started out good,but don’t blame the people for wanting to see wolves.They did not start the killing,Salazar had a great deal to do with this and Max Baucus and Tester.I raelly would like to know how much more information do we need on Bears and wolves,I for sure am not an expert,like most people on this website,but when is enough is enough?

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    It should be noted that today there are only 80 wolves in Yellowstone and just 2 breeding pairs.

    The peak number of wolves was over 170.

    1. WM Avatar


      And how many elk were there in the beginning (1995), and how many now?

      1. JB Avatar

        My understanding is that there were ~19,000 elk in the northern herd, though NPS thought carrying capacity was around 5,000. The herd now has ~6,000.

        1. CodyCoyote Avatar

          Stay tuned, JB and WM. Dr. Smith echoes what others are now saying…the population of the Northern herd of elk in Yellowstone is now where it should be and should have been all along had we not eradicated wolves. The 20,000 present a few decades ago were way to high for the health of herd or range there. The northern elk herd and wolf populations seem to have reached the equilibrium we were expecting.

          Too bad that cannot happen OUTSIDE Yellowstone where wolf control , poaching, and a whole slew of economic land use interests make ecological management a pipe dream , even in wilderness areas surrounding Yellowstone.

          The difference between the Elk-Wolf dynamic ( and Elk-Wolf-Grizzly-Black Bear-Cougar dynamic for that matter ) inside Yellowstone Park compared to the same species outside the Park is night and day. Or more metaphorically , Heaven and Hell.

  8. CodyCoyote Avatar

    I was in the front row for this talk by Dr. Doug.

    he ran long with his remarks so the Q & A was short, but I got in a good question. I asked him for his own view of the popular notion emanating mainly from the anti-Wolf camp about the sub-Species of Canis lupus reintroduced being too different than the native wolves eradicated from Yellowstone before 1930 . The old Canis lupus irremotus vs. nublilus vs. occidentalis ad absurdum that we get so much noise about from Rockhead, Toby , BlackBearBlog and the likes , without me saying as much.

    Smith said the subspecies of the wolf now in GYE and the wolf that was there before eradication is moot. Totally moot and groundless to make a case with . He said it’s a a taxonomic distinction that has little to no value , more like a bookkeeping thing.

    In other words, Dr. Smith agrees with Ed Bangs and Carter Niemeyer et ux that it’s Canis lupus IRREGARDLESS. We need to impress that on the anti-Wolfers if we can get it thru their thick skulls.


    In that Canid taxonomy there are listed 37 distinct subspecies of Canis lupus worldwide. From the current population in GYE and Idaho all the way to the far Northern Rockies or southern Canadian Rockies provinces ( where the Yellowstone wolves were sourced) any co-mingling is negligible until you disperse as far away as the Yukon ( sub species arctos ) or east or south into the realm of the smaller Red Wolf ( rufus) and Mexican Grey Wolf ( baileyi ), maybe . An infusion of the former Southern Rockies wolf ( youngi ) or the British Columbia wolf ( columbianus) would not tilt the genetic scales. It might be better stated that the greater genetic disparity from the ” wrong” Gray wolf subspecies in Yellowstone would be the lone wolf breeding with some family’s Border Collie or Labrador Retriever somewhere south of Butte or east of Salmon.

    BECAUSE— one of the sub species of wolves is Canis lupus familiaris. We call them Domestic Dogs. ALL the breeds of domestic dogs from Chihuahua to Pyrenees great Hound and everything in between are Canis lupus familiaris and breedable back to Yellowstone -Idaho wolves . Call the American Kennel Club and let’s see if we can get a new breed taxonomized into the Westchester Dog Show.


    Dr. Smith’s talk was a live delivery of the Yellowstone Wolf Program 2010 Annual Report , the latest available. You can find that at : http://www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience/upload/wolf_ar_2010.pdf

    Recommended reading. 32 pgs. Smith handed out hard copies at the Cody talk .

    What Smith did append to his own team’s work were several crossreferences to Arthur Middleton’s study on the ecology of Elk and relationship to predators in the region immediately east of Yellowstone’s boundary where Smith’s own work basically stops. Smith seemed really jazzed by the preliminary results of Middleton’s Absaorka Elk Ecology Study ” demonstrating the dramatic flux that climate climate and altered vegetation cycles are having on the entire predator-prey system of GYE.

    There’s a lot of anti-Wolfers than need to hear THAT , too.Starting with Idaho Fish and Game and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and anybody and everybody in Wyoming halls.

    1. Jon Way Avatar

      Nice post. One correction: modern genetic and morphology suggest about 5 subspecies (not in the 30s) in all of North America. So the 600 or so miles away where they came from in Canada is not far from Yellowstone if there are only that many subspecies. That does not include the eastern/red wolf discussion in eastern North America.

  9. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
    Peter Kiermeir

    „Phase One“ implies there´s a „Phase Two“ already in the pipeline. Just curious what that could be….

  10. Richie G. Avatar
    Richie G.

    To Cody Coyote;
    Nice remarks,my thoughts exactly,you stated it with grace.

  11. Richie G. Avatar
    Richie G.

    To Cody Coyote;
    Nice remarks,my thoughts exactly,you stated it with grace. I think Ralph felt the same way as you. Again very nice.

  12. Tayo Avatar

    Just two breeding pairs? I got the impression that the park is capable of supporting far more than just two.

    Perhaps we can expect regular fluctuations in the wolf population in the park–from this year’s low to the almost 200 seen in previous years

  13. Jon Way Avatar

    Tayo, there are around 10 packs in Yellowstone. That has been stable over the years. What seems to be happening is the wolf population is not reproducing b.c of lack of food and conflicts with other packs. That is why only 2 produced pups this year.

    Not to take words from his mouth, but judging by the article Phase 2 seems to be a new more stable phase where wolf pops will likely be lower (will not get into the 175-200 range like earlier) and wolves will have larger territories and live in more stable packs. In other words, they may approach a long term average hovering around the 100 mark. Of course, a lot depends what happens with elk due to climate change, predation, etc..

  14. Ellie Avatar

    As for the collars and photos (I don’t like collars either) :
    Why don’t photographers like them? Shouldn they be thrilled to take a photo of a wolf WITH a collar? At least that proves that it is a wild wolf.
    Any other wolf photo could be taken in captivity anywhere …


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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