Predator control update for Wyoming, South Dakota
On April 25, 2012, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission voted to allow hunters to kill up to 52 wolves in the state this fall. This follows a deal made in the summer of 2011 with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazer to end federal protections of wolves in the state. Final federal approval of the wolf delisting is anticipated to go through by early fall.
The state’s new wolf management plan will undoubtedly stir up legal challenges from environmental groups, and the state hopes Congress will act to exempt the state from these hurdles. Congress earlier extended such protection to wolf delisting actions in Idaho and Montana.
The delisting will help manage the wolf population, but it requires Wyoming to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs of wolves and at least 100 individual animals outside of Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation. Currently about 270 wolves reside in Wyoming outside of Yellowstone.
Under Wyoming’s plan, the state would allow hunting to last until 52 were killed, or until the end of the 2012. Wolves in the rest of the state would be classified as predators that could be shot on sight year-round.
The news was a much-needed relief for the state’s cattle and sheep producers, but for South Dakota rancher Clark Blake, who resides in Harding County, the wolf population is quickly becoming a problem.
“The wolves were delisted in Wyoming, and they have been made a predator in the state, as I understand it,” said Blake, who is president of the Tri-County Predator Control Board and is an aerial hunter in the area. “There is a season on them in the park. I think this is a really good thing. It will slow down the drift we are getting in South Dakota. We already have wolves here, with more sightings being called in with greater frequency.”
Blake said he’s received calls from the Black Hills area, as well as Sturgis and the surrounding area.
“Hopefully, South Dakota will take the wolves off the list and make them a predator,” he said. “Wolves will devastate the sheep and cattle industry in our state. They may not have the habitat here, but they will still do a lot of damage. Ranchers can’t shoot wolves unless they are confirmed killing livestock. This is hard to do, since the wolves leave very little evidence from their kill. Delisting the wolves would help immensely. Classifying them as a predator would dramatically improve the problem. This is what South Dakota needs before they get out of control.”
As an aerial hunter, Blake helps to manage mountain lions, coyotes and fox.
“The mountain lion population has become a huge problem,” he said. “Being an aerial hunter, we manage mostly coyote and fox populations. When we get complaints from someone losing sheep, we try to find these animals and get them killed. We try to keep the numbers down, so there isn’t so much depredation. There’s been a lot of complaints this spring with ranchers losing calves. The deer and antelope numbers are as low as I have ever seen them in my time. There are hardly any jackrabbits or cottontails. These predators are all looking for something to eat, and they are looking at our livestock for their next meal.”
Currently, the state employs a trapper, who has a Federally-funded plane to assist in managing the area, but funding will run out by mid-May, leaving the burden to county board members like Blake.
“It will be up to us pilots who fly for predator control to manage this problem,” he explained. “It will fall on our shoulders, even though we don’t have a lot of money to keep the planes running. It usually doesn’t take long for these predators to hurt the pocketbook.”
Blake stressed the importance of speaking with elected officials to let them know about the growing predator problem and how it directly impacts livestock producers.
“Be in touch with elected officials and let them know the problem,” he advised. “The Federal government will have to delist first, and then the state can follow suit and classify wolves as a predator. This needs to be done statewide. Producers need to call Washington, D.C. and be in touch with our Senators Johnson and Thune and Representative Noem. We need more state and federal funds to allow us to control these animals.”
In December 2011, Salazar announced the delisting of the gray wolf population in the western Great Lakes region, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and surrounding states, which affected eastern South Dakota; however, west of the Missouri River, federal law still prevails. Even though the gray wolf has been delisted in eastern South Dakota, the animal still remains protected under South Dakota law.
“Environmentalists don’t understand that when these predator populations get out of control, it directly hurts us ranchers who are trying to make our living off the land and livestock. This is a huge problem,” summed up Blake.