Essentially, the lawsuits argue that Wyoming’s predator zone, covering roughly 85 percent of the state, will not allow wolves to connect genetically with other wolves and thus expand the population outside of Yellowstone National Park.
Over the last couple of years, Gov. Matt Mead worked with U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar to get wolves delisted in Wyoming. As agreed upon by Mead and the federal government, Wyoming is managing for a minimum of at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Wolf hunting began Oct. 1, 2012 in Wyoming. Wolf hunting in Wyoming’s trophy management area ends today (Monday).
As of Dec. 27, 42 wolves had been killed out of the 52 wolf quota in the trophy area.
Locally, two wolves were left in the Absaroka unit (hunt areas 1 through 4) before the quota would be filled. Twenty-three wolves had been killed in the predator zone as of Dec. 26, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s online tally.
Wolves were introduced in Yellowstone in the mid 1990s, triggering controversy practically since Day One.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted a delisting plan from Wyoming in 2007, but resulting lawsuits nixed delisting.
In August 2010, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy put wolves back on the list because he said wolves in the Greater Yellowstone region represented a distinct population segment and should not be removed from federal protections in Idaho and Montana unless they were removed from federal protections in Wyoming as well.
In November 2010, U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson ruled that Wyoming’s dual status plan was valid with a little tweaking to guarantee genetic connectivity.
Johnson didn’t require Fish and Wildlife to accept Wyoming’s plan. But he said the service’s assertion that Wyoming list wolves as a protected trophy game species throughout the entire state was “arbitrary and capricious” and should be set aside.
Johnson said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should reevaluate Wyoming’s proposed trophy game area and determine if it’s adequate to maintain a healthy wolf population, or whether the area’s proposed boundaries should be expanded.
Since then, Wyoming created a flex zone south and slightly west of Jackson. It borders Idaho and is being managed as a trophy game area from Oct. 15 to the end of February to allow wolf distribution. The rest of the year, it is a predator zone.
“I’m confident that statutes and regulations are in compliance with the Endangered Species Act,” said Mark Bruscino, statewide supervisor of the large carnivore management section for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
The hunting season has been successful, and hunters have adhered to rules and the harvest has been well distributed among the different packs, Bruscino said.
He said he is certain the post hunting season count will reveal a wolf population well above the minimum recovery goal.
Will the lawsuits derail wolf hunting in Wyoming?
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Bruscino said.