Above – Yellowstone wolves have severely hamstrung this moose…and now await it to bleed out and go down. Then, in normal wolf fashion, the pack will feed on the still alive moose, often eating out the meaty rear portions – and leaving the animal to suffer a lingering death. To bring down a sizeable animal such as this can take several days, and the hungry pack will aggressively defend their food source.
It’s no secret among the residents of the Greater Yellowstone Area that the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been less than honest about the impact wolves have had on the park and the area in general, or how those involved with the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project have manipulated science to achieve a fast track to a successful wolf recovery. Likewise, from the very start of the project, the likes of former project coordinator Ed Bangs and Yellowstone wolf biologist Doug Smith have thumbed their noses at any claims in regard to the health or safety threats wolves pose humans, especially when it comes to an outright attack on a human.
So, are wolves a threat to humans, will they attack a person?
One Yellowstone National Park tourist can probably answer that question better than anyone working at the park. The man was hiking in the Hayden Valley, along the Yellowstone River, in early June (2012) when he encountered wolves, or a wolf, which he claimed became aggressive and threatening. And this is where the story goes in two directions.
One story is that, to ward off the attack, the hiker sprayed the wolves with pepper spray bear repellant, but they did not back off. The man then ran to the river and jumped in, while the pack of five wolves continued to pursue him, running along the bank, for nearly a mile. The other story, being told by Yellowstone National Park officials, is that the hiker encountered a lone female wolf, which was guarding its den, and that there was not an attack, so there was no reason for the man to jump into the Yellowstone River.
Park spokesman Al Nash said, “There was no wolf attack, however, a visitor apparently had some sort of encounter with a wolf. The wolf did not attack him. This gentleman encountered a wolf, just as many visitors encounter bears, elk or sheep. I don’t know what his decision-making process was. He chose to get away from the animal. Why he chose to go into the Yellowstone River, I just don’t know.”
When rumors of the “encounter” began to circulate a week after the incident took place, Scott Rockholm, the founder of Save Western Wildlife, called the Yellowstone offices and spoke with the head of the park’s wolf project, biologist Doug Smith. Smith also stressed that the man was not attacked by the wolf. Rather, he had gotten too close to the wolf’s den, and the wolf was simply doing what it took to get him away from the area.
According to Rockholm, Smith commented, “The female wolf escorted the man away from the den, and the man overreacted”.
A short story on the incident that ran in the Billings Gazette on June 12 shared – “The wolf allegedly gave a warning bark, which the man interpreted as a growl. He sprayed the wolf with pepper spray — a deterrent most often used in bear encounters. The hiker heard the wolf yipping as a result of the spray as he fled. Park officials said the man jumped into the Yellowstone River, believing the wolf might pursue him. He apparently lost his backpack as he was washed downriver and was treated by park rangers for hypothermia.”
Dr. Valerius Geist, a professor of wildlife ecology with the University of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada says, “The position taken by the park is a classical one: Blame the victim! No wolf gets within pepper-spray distance without intent. On the positive side, the wolf sprayed is unlikely to try getting close again. This is good negative conditioning.”
During the month of June, the Yellowstone River typically sees its highest water mark as the mountain snowpack recedes quickly. The runoff is swift, and the stretch of river where the hiker took the plunge is at just over 7,000 feet elevation, and the water runs cold. Mid day water temperatures in early to mid June run around 47 or 48 degrees, accounting for the hiker’s case of hypothermia.
Will Graves, the author of the book “Wolves in Russia – Anxiety Through the Ages”, doesn’t buy YNP’s claim that the frightened hiker jumped into the river for no reason at all. He points out, “Anyone who jumps into the Yellowstone River in June, during high water, must be under a great deal of stress.”
Yellowstone National Park did not release the man’s name, but has stated that an investigation would continue to learn more. Until then, they’re likely sticking with their story, and claim that there was not an attack. Still, the other story, claiming that it was a pack of wolves, not a single female wolf, that pursued the hiker supposedly has a witness. Looks like the best of either story could be yet to come. – Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH