Sunday, December 30, 2012

Wyoming’s first wolf hunt soon to close

Hunt will probably end below quota; but many more wolves killed in state’s wolves-are-just-vermin-zone-

Wyoming first wolf hunt ends Dec. 31. 2012.  Wyoming opted for a much less ambitious/less-destructive-to-wolves hunt compared to neighboring Idaho and Montana. Unlike its neighbors, Wyoming has a wolf maximum kill quota and a relatively short hunt. However, Wyoming also has (probably) far fewer wolves than Montana or Idaho.

As of Dec. 28, 41 wolves had been killed in the hunt. That is eleven short of the quota of 52.  The state also has sub-quotas by means of quotas for wolf hunt areas. Most of the hunt areas are already closed.  At the end of last year (2011), it was estimated there were 328 wolves in Wyoming.

However, hunting in Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks is not allowed. Neither is hunting allowed on the large Wind River Indian Reservation unless the tribes set a hunt, and they didn’t.  In principle that left about 200 wolves subject to the hunt in NW Wyoming where most of the wolves live.  As a result the loss of 41 or so wolves would not seem to reduce the wolf population after pups are born next April. However, there is an important caveat.  An unknown number, but at least 44 additional wolves had already been killed by Wildlife Services for real or imaginary livestock depredations and from poaching and accidents, plus natural deaths of wolves.

There is much more to the story, however.  Yellowstone Park’s wolf population has recently dropped precipitously by natural means and then two Park wolves were shot in the Wyoming wolf hunt when they moved outside the Park.  A number of wolf packs use parts of Grand Teton National Park, but none use it entirely because it is so small when one considers wolf movements.  Some argue ten or more  wolves that used Grand Teton were killed.  See previous story on Grand Teton.

The death of national park wolves has aroused a lot of controversy, especially considering that at least 7 more Yellowstone Park wolves were killed in Montana’s wolf hunt, prompting Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to close hunting along the most relevant parts of the northern boundary of the Park for the rest of season. The Montana wolf hunt continues in most of the rest of the state.

Most troubling to wolf conservationists is the deal Wyoming swung with the federal government’s not-so-wolf-friendly Department of Interior. The federal government allowed Wyoming to make about 85% of the state a continual free fire zone on wolves, with no protections whatsoever.  The feds allowed the state to turn what was an threatened species in Wyoming into mere vermin, just like that.
The official line was that  the rest of Wyoming was not good wolf habitat and inappropriate for wolves. Few wolves lived there anyway, officials argued.  The facts contradict much of the official line because 23 wolves have been killed since October in rest of the state.  That is almost half of the quota, although the quota does not apply to this “wolves-are-vermin-area.”  Easy, but crude, extrapolation then suggests the wolf population in this unregulated zone might be about 100 wolves, not the state’s estimate of 32 wolves.  Anyone with passing knowledge of the Salt River and Wyoming Ranges just south of Jackson Hole knows these mountains are packed with deer and elk. They are where most of 23 “vermin”  wolves were killed.

When Wyoming finalized their wolf hunt plans, conservation groups immediately filed “intent to sue notices.” They would have sued immediately, but federal law prevented this.  When the mandatory 60 day wait was up, two groups sued. One group was led by Defenders of Wildlife and second composed of the following: Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Conservation Congress, Friends of Animals, Friends of the Clearwater, National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians.  Later the National Humane Society sued.  On Dec. 21, a federal judge joined the first two lawsuits.  Much of the conservation argument concerns the 85% of the state where all the wolves can be wiped out.

Wyoming seems to have held a cautious wolf hunt, yet most of the sparsely populated state, which officially claims to have an excess of elk, is wiping out the wolf.