Wyoming wildlife officials have regained managerial control of the state’s wolf population as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved the removal of Wyoming wolves from federal Endangered Species Act protections.
Wolf Populations Rebounding
Regaining managerial control over its estimated 350 wolves, Wyoming joins Idaho, Montana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, each of which regained similar control during 2011 and 2012.
Wolf populations have rebounded strongly in the Upper Rocky Mountain states and in the Upper Great Lakes region, prompting federal wildlife officials to return oversight of the species to the individual states in those regions.
The return of wolf population management to the respective states was long overdue, says H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.
“Wolves exceeded the population goal set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service years ago and should have been delisted then,” Burnett said. “There was no evidence that Wyoming’s previous wolf management plans would have endangered their recovery.
“This is a win-win for the environment, the economy, and state sovereignty,” said Burnett.
Rangers Fear Predation
Liz Lausk, communications director for the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, says wildlife officials must ensure the resurgence in wolf numbers does not decimate ranchers’ livestock.
“Wolves are predators, and they don’t respect boundaries. Since being reintroduced into the state they have affected producers that graze on public lands. Many growers graze on public lands and the ones that graze on lands in the northwestern part of the state where most of the wolves are located have seen a sharp increase in the number of wolf attacks since wolves were reintroduced there,” said Lausk.
“Contrary to public perception, wolves don’t just attack sick or injured animals. Many growers have reported wolf attacks on healthy, vibrant ones. This can cause a great financial loss to a grower’s herd,” Lausk explained.
Mark Holyoak, public relations director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, says the Fish and Wildlife Service should have returned wolf management to Wyoming and other states a long time ago.
“We believe they should fall under the same jurisdiction as any other predator, including lions and bears, and be managed by the state agencies so that if there is an excessive number, more hunting licenses should be issued and a proper balance restored,” said Holyoak.
Limited Hunting Permits
The Wyoming Game Commission will issue wolf hunting licenses this year but will call a halt to wolf hunts after hunters kill 52 wolves.
Eric Keszler, public information officer with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, says the way his state’s hunting season is structured, the 52 trophy animals that can be hunted this year are a conservative number because the wolf population would have to decline to about 150 before they could be considered again for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. This year’s wolf season will end as soon as the quota is met or on December 31, whichever comes first.
“Most of the hunters buying licenses are people in the area, and they want to have a wolf license just in case they encounter one while they’re hunting elk, deer, moose, or bighorn sheep. They want to be prepared,” said Keszler.
“I think it’s great that they’ve delisted the wolves from the ESA. We’ve been stuck in such a bureaucratic morass for so long now that this is a big relief,” said Colin Simpson, former Speaker of the House in the Wyoming legislature.
“When you live in a rural area, there are wolves, coyotes, and grizzly bears to contend with. I’m getting a hunting license for wolves, and my wife is too. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going specifically to hunt wolves or whether I’m getting it just to have it,” he explained.
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.