Well-known wolf "Spitfire" killed outside Yellowstone

This week on 60 Minutes, Bill Whitaker reports on the wolves' impact in the national park. Last month, a hunter killed one of its most beloved wolves

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Wolf watchers are calling for new measures to protect the canines around Yellowstone National Park after a Montana hunter killed a beloved wolf outside the park's borders last month.

Wolf 926F, known to photographers and wolf enthusiast as "Spitfire," was legally killed outside the park in Montana, a parks department official told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

Spitfire's mother was also famous among Yellowstone wolf watchers. Known as "06" for the year she was born, she had been the leader of her pack – and was legally shot and killed by a hunter outside the park's borders in 2012.

Like her mother, Spitfire had been the alpha female of her pack until ceding the role to her own daughter recently. 

This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Bill Whitaker reports on Yellowstone's wolves, which have thrived since being reintroduced to the national park in the mid-1990s. As Whitaker explains, the campaign to restore wolves to Yellowstone was so successful that wolves quickly spread out of the park and into neighboring states. There are now nearly two thousand wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

Landis Wildlife Films

After a long legal battle, those states finally won the authority to manage the wolf population outside the national park and have established wolf hunting seasons. According to the New York Times, Montana law forbids the creation of buffer zones around the park. The buffers would prevent Yellowstone wolves from being shot if they strayed from outside the park's invisible boundaries.

Wolf hunting is not allowed inside Yellowstone.

For his report, Whitaker interviewed Doug Smith, a National Park Service biologist who runs the Yellowstone wolf research program. Whitaker asked if Yellowstone's wolves are aware they'll be hunted outside the park.

"They don't know where the park line is," Smith said in the clip above. "We have ten wolf packs that live in Yellowstone. And most of those wolves spend the majority of their time in the park, well over 95 percent. Some of them, even 99 percent of their time is in the park. So they don't react to humans the way a wolf would that lives amidst humans."

Doug Smith

Smith recently told the Jackson Hole News & Guide that he is now considering hazing some wolves to condition them not to leave the safe confines of park boundaries. Hazing would consist of shooting the wolves with either paintball or beanbag guns when they cross the park line.

On the Facebook page "The 06 Legacy," members eulogized Spitfire.

"She faced so many challenges head-on and she was a survivor through everything. The only thing she couldn't overcome was a bullet," page administrators wrote earlier this month. "May she run wild and free with her mother and live on forever in the hearts of all of us who knew and loved her for the incredible alpha and mother she was."

Page administrators for the Facebook group Wolves of the Rockies also wrote about the killing, suggesting users contact elected officials and attend meetings at Montana, Fish Wildlife and Parks to advocate for the animals.

"We have all seen the outpouring of grief, rage and anger after the senseless killing of [Spitfire], which unfortunately was a legal kill," Wolves of the Rockies wrote in a post last month. "It is now time to put that grief, rage and anger to work."

To watch Bill Whitaker's 60 Minutes report on Yellowstone's wolves, click here.