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April 18, 2013 8:11 am

Game and Fish suggests halving 2013 wolf quota

Written by Gib Mathers

Wyoming’s wolf hunting quota could be reduced by half this year.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is proposing that the total 2013 quota in the wolf trophy game management and seasonal wolf trophy game management areas should be 26 wolves. Last year, it was 52 wolves.

The proposal to limit the quota to 26 will be presented to the public for review this spring.

A Powell hunter who has volunteered for many Game and Fish projects said Wyoming should decide the wolf quota, not the federal government. A Cody outfitter said the quota is spot on.

Cody outfitter Lee Livingston said he is OK with the reduced quota. It took Wyoming years to gain management and he doesn’t want the state to lose it by dropping below the minimum population mandated by the federal government. So, keep the quota conservative, he said.

“It’s better to err on the side of caution,” he said.

Still, Livingston said he doesn’t foresee outfitters guiding out-of-state hunters exclusively to take wolves, because there aren’t enough of the canines.

Last year, only one of his hunters took a wolf. Wolves are intelligent and will become more elusive in 2013.

“This next season is going to be interesting,” Livingston said.

Outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming must maintain 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs as part of the deal with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to retain state management.

If wolf numbers drop below those minimums, there is a risk of re-listing.

“It’s not automatic, but it could happen,” said Mark Bruscino, Game and Fish large carnivore program supervisor.

The department said its efforts to manage wolves has been successful so far.

Forty-one wolves were legally killed in the designated hunting areas last fall, and 25 wolves were harvested in the predator zone, which covers 80 percent of Wyoming.

So far this year, 14 wolves have been killed in the predator zone, according to Game and Fish data.

Their objective in 2012 was an 11 percent decrease in the wolf population. But more wolves were killed to protect livestock (see sidebar) and fewer pups (66) were born than the department anticipated in 2012, Bruscino said.

Pups can augment the population by up to 25 percent per year.

The department wanted to reduce the population from 192 to 172 individual wolves in 2012, said Game and Fish Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik, in a news release.

As of Dec. 31, 2012, the department estimated there were 169 wolves in the hunting areas. That’s a 12 percent population decrease, Bruscino said.

Although the department can’t count every wolf, 169 is pretty accurate and on a par with Fish and Wildlife’s population estimate, Livingston said.

The department is predicting there will be 160 wolves at the end of 2013, Bruscino said.

The department needs to maintain the wolf population above 141 — the number of wolves needed to ensure 10 breeding pairs — in case more wolves are lost to disease, illegal killing, cars or more livestock damage control than anticipated.

Tim Metzler of Powell said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is calling the shots.

“They’re dictators, they’re not managers,” he said.

Metzler said Wyoming has been paying for wolf management for years, so the state should adjust wolf population numbers.

More predators should be hunted until elk reach a sustainable population, he said. Metzler said the elk cow/calf ratio is 13 percent in the Sunlight Basin and Crandall Creek areas due to predation. It’s the worst cow/calf ratio in the world, he said.

Following the conclusion of the hunting season, Metzler said he saw a pack of 10 wolves in the Sunlight Basin area. Wolves are killing elk and deer in the subdivision on Way West Road. “More wolves than I’ve ever seen in Sunlight,” Metzler said.

Metzler said he believes wild ungulates are getting short shrift while predators receive preferential treatment. “I don’t want to dictate (population) numbers; I just want true sound management for all species.”

Livingston said there is enough room in Wyoming for wolves and the other wildlife.

He said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to manage wolves only.

The Game and Fish wants to manage all of Wyoming’s wildlife. “We have some damn good game managers and biologists in this state,” Livingston said.

But some environmental groups still disagree with the state’s wolf management plan.

“We think the Wyoming delisting rule and management plan is flawed, which is why we and others have challenged it in court,” said Matt Skoglund, wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We want to see Wyoming eliminate the predator zone and manage wolves as valued wildlife on the landscape, not manage wolf numbers down to minimum levels.”

Bruscino said, “The bottom line is, wolves have been restored in suitable habitat in the West and Midwest, and they’re doing just fine,” Bruscino said. “Wolves are easy to manage. The controversy around wolves has been hard to manage.”

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