The biggest hit of Yellowstone’s summer season so far? The Canyon Pack

It’s not often a new pack pops up in Yellowstone National Park. Especially when it pops up right on the doorstep of the Park’s headquarters.

But that’s exactly what happened this weekend when a remnant of the Hayden Park decided to den right outside Mammoth Hot Springs. Now dubbed the Canyon Pack, the group of three males and one female rather blatantly decided to set up shop south and east of the busy area.

So there’s a definite buzz in the air throughout the Park, but especially in Mammoth; traffic in the area has definitely been up as word got out about the denning. Tourists spend tens of millions annually for a glimpse of wolves in the wilds of Yellowstone, and the Canyon Pack is perhaps the most accessible wolf pack ever.

We’re not going to get into the psychology of why the wolves decided to den in such an active area — wolves, though, tend to do what they do without much concern of humans — but we have some theories. The biggest reason, of course, is probably the abundance of potential foodstuffs in the area, including a large elk population and the familiar spring emergence of red dogs.

In fact, it is amazing how little wolves care about humans. There’s still never been an instance of a non-rabid wolf attacking a human being, and wolves will lope along, oblivious to the humans gathered on the road to watch them. In terms of threats to people, wolves are rather low on the Yellowstone food chain: grizzlies in general and rutting elk are much more serious threats to anyone wandering in the Mammoth area.

So the management issue posed by the wolves has nothing to do with wolves: it has to do with the management of people wanting to get close to them. Park officials have already set up a fairly large den-closure area in response to the crowds desiring a glimpse of the pack, banning cars from stopping on the road between the Gardiner River Bridge and Mammoth. Also, cars are banned from stopping on the Mammoth-to-Norris road south of the Mammoth Horse Corral.

For Yellowstone officials and concessionnaire Xanterra, the emergence of the Canyon Pack is indeed good news. With both looking forward to a bleak 2009 summer season, the addition of a marquee attraction brings hope about increased bookings to Yellowstone National Park.

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