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Yellowstone Wolves are Killing More Bison

October 13, 2000

While elk are the Yellowstone wolves preferred prey by far, bison are being killed by Park wolves at an increasing rate according to Doug Smith, head of the Yellowstone Park wolf team.

Smith told a wildlife conference on Oct. 6 at Mammoth Hot Springs that the number of confirmed bison kills had increased from just 4 in the period 1995 through 1998 to 16 since then. Most of the bison killed are calves, and most of the wolf predation comes in late winter when bison have become weakened.

Two packs are the primary bison predators--the Nez Perce Pack and the Crystal Creek Pack. Both have Park ranges where winter snow is deep and the elk tend to migrate out during the winter, leaving bison as the most abundant possible prey. This is especially true of the Crystal Creek Pack which has inhabited the deep snow Pelican Valley ever since it was ousted from the Lamar Valley by the Druid Peak Pack in 1996.

Smith said two wolves in particular are proficient bison killers, no. 164M and 193M of the Crystal Creek Pack. The Pelican Valley is also "grizzly central," and Smith said that grizzly bears take over the wolf-killed bison about 90 per cent of the time.

Bison are dangerous and difficult to kill. He said, however, that wolves are slowly learning how to kill bison. Smith added that the increased bison predation will not significantly impact the Park bison herd. 

While he did not mention it, for perspective I want to remind readers that the Montana Department of Livestock killed about 1100 of the Park's bison herd in the icy winter of 1996-7. About a thousand more bison starved that winter. Today the bison herd is about half the size of 4 years ago.

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