Reality Bites

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Outside magazine, May 1996

Reality Bites

The honeymoon for Yellowstone National Park’s new gray wolf population appears to be over. In February alone, a string of incidents reminded federal officials just how tough predator reintroduction can be:

On February 5, officials were forced to destroy a wolf found feeding on domestic sheep 30 miles north of the park. It was the wolf’s second attack on livestock, leaving administrators no choice but to euthanize the animal under the program’s “two strikes and you’re out” policy.

Six days later, a snowmobiler discovered a dead wolf 90 miles south of Yellowstone near Daniel, Wyoming. At press time, investigators with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would confirm only that the animal had been killed illegally, although early indications suggest the wolf had been shot.

On February 26, a federal judge sentenced 42-year-old Chad McKittrick to six months after recalling for courtroom spectators the grizzly events of April 24, 1995. On that day, McKittrick shot a gray near Red Lodge, Montana, decapitated and skinned the animal, tossed the carcass into the bushes, and hid the wolf’s radio collar. Even a would-be sympathetic jury of mostly hunters
didn’t buy McKittrick’s story about mistaking the wolf for a feral dog. “We all agreed,” says juror Pat Cormier. “You must know your target before you pull the trigger.”

“Sure, we’re disappointed,” says Yellowstone spokeswoman Marsha Karle about the wolves’ recent run of bad luck. “But we’re pretty happy with things overall. We introduced 14 wolves last year, 17 this year, and we’ve had nine pups. And so far, we’ve only lost four.”

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