‘Yellowstone’ Season 5: Why Those Dead Wolves are So Important Moving Forward

by Jon D. B.
Ian Bohen as Ryan in Yellowstone. American Grey Wolf.(Photo credit: Paramount Network Press, Getty Images Archives)

The ramifications of Yellowstone Season 5’s dead wolves may become the downfall of the Duttons. Let’s break it down.

The two-episode Yellowstone premiere gave us horrific family tragedy in the loss of John Dutton IV, yet it was the death of a pack of Yellowstone National Park wolves that looks to be spelling doom for the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch.

Episode 3 doubles down on this, too. But first, we’ve got to set the scene with the events of Episode 2.

While out riding in Episode 2, ‘The Sting of Wisdom,’ Rip, Lloyd, Walker, Colby and Ryan find a mother cow that’s been slaughtered by wolves. But Ryan doesn’t think wolves did it… Something else is at play here. The carcass has been mutilated and there are wolf tracks all around. But something doesn’t sit right with Ryan’s Livestock Officer training.

Regardless, Walker and Ethan retrieve a stray calf from the scene, and Rip sends the rest of the cowboys after the wolves to get them off the ranch. But the wolves show up again later. And the outcome holds dire consequences for Yellowstone moving forward.

Later that night, Ryan and Colby hunt find the wolves while they come in to prey on Yellowstone cattle once again. And they take them down with thermal goggles. As the two approach to tag the wolves, however, they discover the pack is outfitted with GPS collars.

Yellowstone National Park Comes to ‘Yellowstone’ – And it Ain’t Pretty

This is as bad as it gets. These GPS collars mean these are Yellowstone National Park wolves. And here they are dead on the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch.

If the public finds out that Dutton cowboys have “murdered” national park wolves, then it’s all over for Governor John Dutton. “These wolves have Facebook pages!” Ryan exclaims to Colby, stressing the public outcry that will ensue.

This directly mirrors Yellowstone National Park wolf conservation today. The wolves of the park are not only protected by federal and state law, but they’re held in high-esteem by the public as a great American conservation success story. If someone were to kill these wolves in reality, the public outcry would be severe, to say the least. There would be no outcome but damnation for whoever killed these wolves.

Yellowstone National Park wolf hunts elk. (Photo by William Campbell/Sygma via Getty Images)

Historically, the reintroduction of wolves to Montana happened n 1995. Most of Yellowstone‘s flashbacks with John Lucas as young John Dutton occur in the 90s, so we’re assuming that Season 5, Episode 3’s opening flashback is including this very real history for their version of ’95.

As reintroduced wolves continue to kill his cattle, John makes his way to the public hearing on this exact subject. The ranchers of Montana are losing livestock fast, but the state maintains an official record of “no proof” – meaning there’s no proving reintroduced wolves killed their cattle.

‘It’s a situation with no easy answer, and no good call on either side.’

And just like reality, the ranchers are infuriated. Each has clearly had livestock slaughtered by wolves, but there is nothing they can do – by law – to protect their animals from these protected wolves. It’s a situation with no easy answer, and no good call on either side. Wolves must be able to inhabit their natural habitat, but the needs of humans and their livestock are no less important. So what’s a man to do?

If that man is John Dutton, then he’s to demand a check from the government for his slaughtered cattle. Or there’ll be hell to pay.

In reality, the last several years have seen intense legal battles over the protection of the gray wolf in the U.S. In the term of President Trump, endangered species protection was lifted from the species. But under the Biden administration since, conservation organizations, government bodies, politicians, and national parks have all fought to have it restored. These animals are as in the public eye as any wildlife ever could be. And Taylor Sheridan has written this directly into the Yellowstone Season 5 plot.

GPS collars like the ones seen on the Episode 2 wolves track the movements of protected animals. And when they go dormant, an SOS signal is sent out. From there, everyone from game wardens to USFWS officers to Yellowstone National Park officials end up on the scene.

In short: things are about to get really, really bad for the Yellowstone.

Season 5, Episode 2 Saw Rip, Ryan, and Colby Attempt to Avert Wolf Crisis. It’s Only Getting Worse in Episode 3

Faced with an impossible situation, Ryan and Colby reach out to Rip for guidance with their dire wolf situation. As Rip rides out to the scene, he can’t believe these two shot wolves with GPS collars. Ryan explains they were using thermal and could never have seen the collars. The two even had wolf tags to legally hunt canines pursuing their cattle, but here they are regardless.

As such, the Yellowstone foreman instructs his two ranchers to do as they’re told with the collars. Rip then guides the cowboys into Yellowstone National Park. The plan? Keep the collars moving until there’s no way anyone could track the wolves’ demise back to the Duttons.

While this plays out, we see the iconic falls of the national park in Yellowstone for the first time. And it’s a shame it isn’t under different circumstances. Either way, the plot line will bring a whole lot of attention to real-world wolf conservation. This is directly in line with Sheridan’s work on previous seasons of the show that showcase real-world issues.

In the episode, Rip, Ryan, and Colby decide to fix this problem by fixing the wolf collars to logs. They then toss them down the Yellowstone River to be taken away by the current. If they keep moving, there’s no pressing issue, right?

“Don’t tell a f*cking soul,” Rip tells the two responsible. “Why would I tell anyone? This could land me in jail for a decade,” Ryan retorts. But this is surely to come back to haunt them. And it does.

‘Yellowstone’s Downfall May Be the National Park

In the final moments of Season 5, Episode 2, the wolves’ GPS collars, still tied to logs in the Yellowstone River, become stuck in a gathering of other logs. They are now completely stationary, which holds unimaginable consequences once discovered.

In this, Yellowstone gains its most pressing antagonist to date. And it’s not the U.S. Government and law enforcement that will be forced to reckon with these wolves. It is the unrelenting wrath of public opinion.

We saw John Dutton tackle this in Season 4 as he met animal rights protester Summer Higgins. But even that will pale in comparison to what Season 5 has in store. John Dutton is now Governor of Montana. And once the world discovers that his cowboys killed a pack of Yellowstone National Park wolves, there’s nothing that can save him from it.