* Once near extinction, some 1,700 wolves now roam Rockies
* Wildlife watching and photography lucrative businesses
By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON, Idaho, Nov 16 Seven wolves that once
lived in Yellowstone National Park have been shot and killed by
hunters in recent days, triggering an outcry among
conservationists and businesses that depend on the park's prized
The wolves, all radio-collared as part of a park research
program, were legally hunted outside Yellowstone boundaries
after hunting seasons opened earlier this year in Idaho, Montana
The deaths have no adverse effect on a park wolf population
estimated at 88, said Dave Hallac, chief of resource management
and science for Yellowstone.
But the controversy that has erupted in the wake of the
killing does not appear to be linked to worries about the
population's survival as much as its popularity, he said.
"There's no question these packs are a focal point for
visitors and that people who come here to watch wildlife become
attached to the animals," Hallac said.
The U.S. government in the mid-1990s released fewer than 100
wolves in the park and in the wilderness near Salmon, Idaho to
restore an animal that had been hunted, poisoned and trapped to
Today, more than 1,700 wolves roam the Northern Rockies but
conflict over the animals has not lessened with their growing
numbers. Ranchers and outfitters complain the predators dent
livestock and big-game herds while conservationists contend
wolves are an integral part of the ecosystem.
Wolves last year were removed from the endangered species
list in Idaho and Montana, states that liberally allow shooting
and trapping. Wyoming wolves were removed from the list on Sept.
30 and hunted from the next day.
While hunting is banned in Yellowstone, wolves that cross
the unmarked boundary into parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming
are fair game. That is not playing well among animal advocates
and people whose wildlife watching at Yellowstone has brought
personal and professional rewards.
Park and state wildlife officials were flooded with
telephone calls on Friday about the dead wolves.
Sandy Sisti, a photographer near Yellowstone whose images of
the park's wolves are snapped up by tourists and others, said it
made no economic sense to kill members of packs key to the
region's tourism economy.
Conservationists said the opening next month of wolf
trapping in Montana would further reduce Yellowstone wolves.
They are asking state wildlife managers to create a buffer zone
outside the park.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission Chairman Bob
Ream said on Friday commissioners will take up the question of a
buffer zone next month.
"But at some point you have to draw a line and,
theoretically, the park is the line," he said.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Todd Eastham)