2 Teton collared wolves killed
Rash of killings of wandering park wolves spark calls for hunt buffer zones.
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
December 12, 2012
Hunters have killed two radio-collared wolves that roamed Grand Teton National Park, localizing a debate about the legal killing of “park” wolves used for research.
Details about the animals are few because a state statute prevents the park from releasing wolf-specific information, Grand Teton spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said. A look at harvests in hunt areas bordering the park shows that it’s likely many more Grand Teton wolves have been killed. Wyoming Game and Fish Department harvest data shows 13 wolves reported killed in hunt areas bordering the park.
For wildlife managers, the portion of those that were park wolves is inconsequential and biologically insignificant. Because wolves range great distances, the loss of those that use the parks is unavoidable.
The deaths of well-known wolves and sound wolf management are different issues, said Mike Jimenez, wolf management and science coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“When you radio-collar wolves, especially in areas where you can see them and identify them, those wolves take on identities,” Jimenez said. “Those wolves evoke strong emotions, that’s an issue."
“Wyoming has a very sound hunting program with conservative quotas,” Jimenez said. “That’s a separate issue. How you blend those two together, that becomes very challenging.”
Mark Bruscino, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s large carnivore supervisor, echoed those sentiments.
“We’re managing to conserve wolves in Wyoming on a population scale,” Bruscino said.
“Wolf populations are very dynamic,” he said, downplaying the death of individual animals. “Wolves get killed by other wolves, they get road-killed, they die in attacks on prey. Those niches will be filled quite quickly.”
Wildlife managers and pro-wolf groups are at odds following the shooting of at least 10 collared animals that frequent Wyoming’s two national parks. Included in the bunch was wolf 832F, a Lamar Valley pack alpha female, that was dubbed the “most famous wolf in the world.”
Eight collared animals have been shot outside of Yellowstone National Park. On Monday, Montana closed a portion of its hunt area abutting the park. Conservation groups are now calling for a similar buffer zone with limited or no hunting in Wyoming.
For Debbie Pierce, a frequent wolf watcher in Yellowstone, news that 832F had been killed was devastating. Wolf 832F was also known as “06,” for her birth year.
“When I read about 06, I literally just dropped to the floor and sobbed,” Pierce said in a phone interview from Minneapolis. “I don’t even know the numbers — hundreds of thousands of people have seen 06. She’s visible and anthropomorphized.”
In Grand Teton park, wolves are not as reliably visible or well known individually.
Six packs made up of about 50 animals have home ranges that include the park, Skaggs said. It’s impossible to say how many have been taken in this year’s hunt, she said.
“It would take genetic testing to be able to tell for sure,” she said.
On Oct. 1, the Fish and Wildlife Service ended Endangered Species Act protection for Wyoming wolves, giving the state the right to allow a hunt. Successful hunters are required to present pelts and skulls to Game and Fish personnel within five days, in part so biologists can acquire samples to determine the population’s genetic diversity.
The results of such tests and details such as age, sex, breeding status and location are being sought by the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. Two weeks ago the alliance filed Freedom of Information Act requests with Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks seeking details about killed wolves that are known to use the parks.
“The death of two radio-collared park wolves is a blow to wolf research and wolf management efforts, not to mention the integrity of the park ecosystem,” said Cory Hatch, the alliance’s wildlands director.
Park wolves are a “source population” for the rest of Wyoming’s wolf population, Hatch said.
“If we can ensure that those wolves are safe, we stand a better chance of ensuring that Wyoming has a healthy wolf population,” he said.
The situation in Montana — where officials closed portions of a hunt area because of the rash of harvested collared wolves — speaks to the importance of regularly updated, accurate information on individual wolves, Hatch said.
“Until we get more information, Wyoming should consider following Montana’s lead by closing all hunt areas adjacent to park boundaries,” he said.
Wyoming officials have received telephone and email requests about an emergency hunting buffer around its parks, but don’t appear likely to follow in Montana’s footsteps.
“We aren’t considering closing any areas,” Bruscino said.
Bruscino challenged the feasibility of a hunt-free buffer around the parks, pointing out that wolf 06 was killed 15 miles from Yellowstone.
“These animals were ranging out a long ways,” he said. “It’s not like someone was waiting at the park boundary.”
Fifty-eight of Wyoming’s 300 estimated wolves have been killed in the managed hunt and in a free-fire “predator zone” this fall. Bruscino said that level of mortality — about 20 percent — is sustainable.
A wolf advocacy group in Montana is applauding that state’s decision to close portions of the hunt, and says it will move on to Wyoming next.
“Wyoming is a whole different can of worms,” said Marc Cooke, president of Wolves of the Rockies. “Their plan really needs some help.”
Cooke and Hatch said they would advocate reduced harvest quotas around park boundaries, not hunt-free buffers.