Wyoming OK’d for wolf hunt
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
September 1, 2012
Federal wolf protection is ending, and wolf hunting under new Wyoming rules could start in a month, officials said Friday.
When Endangered Species Act protection ends Sept. 30, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department can permit the state’s first regulated wolf hunt. The hunt, capped at 52 animals, is confined to a “trophy game” area that includes about 15 percent of northwest Wyoming. Outside that area, beginning Oct. 1, Wyoming wolves will be classified as predators and can be killed at any time by any means.
Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe announced the decision Friday.
“We’ve sent a final rule to the federal registrar, which removes Endangered Species Act protection for gray wolves in Wyoming,” Ashe said. “I want to underscore the fact that this rule represents our determination that wolves in Wyoming and across the northern Rocky Mountain region are recovered.”
Ashe said the population in the region “consists of at least 1,774 adult wolves and 109 breeding pairs” — far above recovery goals.
“The population has exceeded recovery goals for 10 consecutive years,” Ashe said.
Wyoming’s management plan ensures that a stable, healthy population will be maintained, Ashe said.
“Wyoming has removed the aggressive ‘manage down to minimums’ provisions that were among our principle concerns in previous state plans,” he said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service lifted ESA wolf protection in the Northern Rockies in 2009, excluding only Wyoming. Wyoming was excluded because its management plan didn’t provide adequate protection to the canines.
Wyoming’s management plan, agreed to last year by Gov. Matt Mead and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, calls for the state to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs of wolves and at least 100 individual animals. Wolves inside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway and the Wind River Indian Reservation will remain protected from hunting.
Critics contended Friday that the plan is still inadequate.
“Our initial response is that we are deeply disappointed with the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Chris Colligan, Wyoming wildlife advocate for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “The decision, we think, shows blatant disregard for public comments and thousands of GYC members that offered practical solutions to improve this plan.”
Colligan and Jenny Harbine, an attorney with Earthjustice, criticized the small size of the “trophy game” area.
“We think that the designation of wolves as predators in approximately 85 percent of the state, where wolves can be shot on sight, is unjustified and inadequate,” Harbine said.
Harbine criticized the plan for not requiring Wyoming to manage wolves at above the minimum level. From 2009 through 2011, the average Wyoming wolf population outside of Yellowstone was 233.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is relying on expressions of intent rather than legal commitments to protect wolves,” Harbine said. “Absent binding legal commitments, wolf management is subject to political whims.”
She said Earthjustice will file a lawsuit to block the plan.
Glenn Taylor, a big-game outfitter in Kelly, remains hesitant to tell clients about the wolf hunt because of the possibility of litigation.
“There may be a judge that steps in any minute between now and October 1st,” Taylor said. “It’s wait and see at this point.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.