“This is a long time coming, as you all know,” said Mark Bruscino, statewide supervisor of the large carnivore management section.
Plans for Wyoming’s first wolf hunt come after years of litigation, court decisions, heated arguments and public meetings between wildlife officials, environmentalists and livestock producers.
In northwest Wyoming, wolves will be managed as trophy game animals year-round except in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation.
That area of the state will be divided into 12 hunting areas with a total wolf quota of 52. The trophy game season will take place from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31.
The plan also calls for a flexible zone covering northern Sublette and Lincoln counties and southern Teton County, where wolves will be managed as trophy game animals only from Oct. 15 until the end of the following February.
Outside of those protected areas, wolves can be shot on sight any time during the year.
“You can take them the same way you can take a coyote,” said Bruscino.
The only difference is that you must report a wolf kill to the Game and Fish, he said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Bruscino outlined the Game and Fish Commission’s drafts of Chapter 21, dealing with gray wolf management, and Chapter 47, outlining wolf hunting seasons.
“This is a new area. We’ve never had a wolf season before,” Bruscino said.
The proposed hunting and management regulations hinge on the management plan moving forward successfully this fall.
While wolf hunts have taken place in Idaho and Montana in recent years, Wyoming’s wolf management plan had not been approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and wolves remain on the endangered species list here. An agreement was reached last year, and the Wyoming Legislature and Gov. Matt Mead signed off on it last month.
If the management plan proceeds — and isn’t stymied by potential lawsuits when the delisting occurs — then gray wolves will be delisted this fall and hunters can take aim.
“I can’t guarantee it, but I think it’s going to happen,” Bruscino told about 40 residents gathered at last week’s meeting.
The state must commit to at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 individual gray wolves in Wyoming outside of Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation at the end of the calendar year.
“The (Game and Fish) commission also is committed to managing gray wolves in Wyoming to ensure genetic diversity and connectivity issues do not threaten the population,” Bruscino said.
He added that those management stipulations largely evolved out of a court decision where a judge ruled that wildlife officials couldn’t just assume there’s genetic connectivity between the three Northern Rockies wolf populations — they basically have to prove it.
“The legal folks think this is a real soft spot and a potential place for legal vulnerability if we didn’t plug this hole with a very strong commitment to monitor the genetics of these wolf populations all three states and exchange information to ensure that wolves are moving between the populations,” Bruscino said.
Another way Game and Fish officials will monitor genetics in wolves is through those that are killed.
Within five days of the wolf kill, hunters must present the pelt and skull to their Game and Fish regional personnel for registration. Within 24 hours of killing a gray wolf, hunters must report the kill to the Game and Fish by calling a toll-free number.
Residents at the meeting asked about shooting a wolf in a remote area where they may not have phone service.
“If you’re in the Thorofare, you’ll either have to find a high ridge or an outfitter camp or take a satellite phone ... or don’t shoot one unless you know you’re headed out the next morning,” Bruscino said. “Maybe the Thorofare isn’t a place you want to hunt a wolf in the first year.”
Another resident also questioned why the limits were so low in the hunt areas and whether it would make a difference.
“When you take 52 wolves and spread them over 12 hunt areas, no hunt area is going to have a lot,” Bruscino said.
He also said the state looked at the livestock and ungulate concerns in each hunt area. The thought was to put more pressure on wolves in areas where they’re causing more damage to livestock or wild ungulate herds. If the concerns were low in other areas, then the wolf quota is lower, so the state can maintain those breeding pairs.
Wolf quotas per hunters were based on the number of wolves, livestock depredations and impacts to wildlife in that particular area, Bruscino said.
The state will continue to gather written public comments on the draft regulations until 5 p.m. on Monday, April 23. Comments can be sent to: Wyoming Game and Fish Department, ATTN: Wolf Regulation Comments, 3030 Energy Lane, Casper, WY 82604. For more details or to read the draft regulations, visit http://tinyurl.com/7unqrj6.
Bruscino encouraged folks to send comments.
“For or against, they want to hear from you,” he said.
Park County Commissioner Loren Grosskopf attended Wednesday’s meeting and Bruscino said the Game and Fish Commission would like to hear from public boards and officials as well.
Park County Commissioners are slated to consider a letter of support for the wolf management plan at their meeting today (Tuesday).
The state is hosting a total of eight public meetings statewide on the wolf hunt. Cody’s meeting Wednesday, along with one the same night in Albany County, were the first. Those who attended Cody’s meeting appeared to all support the wolf management plan. No one spoke in opposition to it.
“I think this looks like a very logical plan, and hopefully it won’t fall apart in the courts,” said Dan White of Cody. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Game and Fish officials thanked residents for attending the meeting.
“I want to thank you all for taking the time to come out tonight. You’re making history,” said Alan Osterland, Game and Fish wildlife supervisor in Cody.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission is slated to consider the draft regulations at its April 25-26 meeting in Casper.
“We’re going to have a delisting rule in September, and then we’ll see what happens from there,” Bruscino said.
(Gib Mathers also contributed reporting to this story.)