Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, and finally removed from the Endangered Species List in Wyoming on Sept. 30, 2012, following a decade of population numbers exceeding wolf recovery goals for total numbers. Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has been working extensively on the issue since he took office in 2011, and is said to be pleased with the final plan.
“Governor Mead worked out the concepts with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, then the Game and Fish Department had to figure out how to make it all work with the specific rules unique to this hunt,” explained Communications Director for Gov. Mead Renny MacKay of the process that took place prior to the inaugural hunting season.
Among the potential sticking points was the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s desire to increase connectivity for genetic diversity into Idaho. An agreement was reached to create a flex area, located south of Jackson Hole, with the intention to allow wolf migration between Idaho and Wyoming for part of the year to maintain genetic diversity, the rest of the year they would be concidered predatory animals.
The remainder of the state is either the protected, trophy game area or the predatory zone area, year round.
“In the areas of the state that fall into zone 3, where wolves are classified as predatory animals, no license is needed and there is no open or closed season. They can be taken for any reason,” explained Wyoming Game and Fish (WGF) Public Information Officer Eric Keszler.
The trophy game zone of the state includes 12 hunting areas. A quota has been set at 52 wolves, and licensed hunters have between now and Dec. 31, to reach that quota. Should 52 wolves be harvested during the season, total wolf numbers in Wyoming’s trophy game zone will be reduced from a current population estimate of 192 wolves to approximately 170 wolves, based on WGF population estimates.
“Specific quota numbers are set for each hunt area, and as of Friday (Sept. 28), we had sold just over 2,200 licenses,” stated Keszler, adding that on the first day of the season two wolves were harvested.
Despite the confidence at the WGF and Governor’s Office, Wyoming livestock producers remain skeptical of the long-term viability of Wyoming’s management plan.
“I think it’s a positive step and that the plan will work if they do it the way they say they’re going to, but I don’t have a lot of faith in that. All it takes is another lawsuit, and one judge, and you never know what it’s going to be like after that,” stated Fred Pape, who ranches a few miles into the predatory wolf zone in western Wyoming.
He added that this isn’t the first time wolves have been hunted in Wyoming, and that when a hunting season was opened in the late 2000s, it lasted two weeks before it was shut down. It has taken years to get hunting started again, and in the interim wolf population numbers have continued to grow.
“It’s like anything, whether it’s big game, predators or a cow herd, if you’re not controlling population through anything but the amount of food available to that population, you’re going to get in trouble, and that’s what we’re experiencing with the wolf. They need to be controlled!” explained Pape.
“I don’t know how you would hunt them in the fall beyond if they just happened to show up. They’re really tough,” Pape said. “Some people are saying they will try calling them, and I know in other parts of the country they use snow machines to look for tracks in the winter,”
“I think a lot of people who will be successful are those elk and deer hunters who have a license and happen to come across a wolf while hunting other species,” Keszler added.
Going forward, MacKay stated that lawsuits against delisting of the wolf in Wyoming will be the next big issue.
“Several groups gave notice in September of their intent to sue over this plan. There was essentially a 60-day notice when they filed, so that means in mid-November we may see legal challenges issued to the plan filed.
“The positive side is that Wyoming and the federal government worked together to create a good, solid plan. It was reviewed twice by an expert panel of five leading wolf biologists from North America, who all signed off on it. The Interior Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife also signed off on it. Governor Mead feels that Wyoming will do a good job managing wolves, and that Wyoming is the correct entity to manage them,” concluded MacKay.