U.S. seeks to lift Wyoming wolf protections

The U.S. government has proposed lifting federal protection from wolves in the state of Wyoming which would allows unregulated killing of the animals in most of the state.

The proposal under a state wildlife management plan would require Wyoming to maintain at least 150 wolves statewide, including packs that roam Yellowstone National Park, out of a total statewide population estimated at 350 animals.

If the plan is adopted as expected, Wyoming's wolves would lose safeguards provided by the U.S.
Endangered Species Act within a year, joining more than 1,500 wolves in Idaho and Montana that were removed from the endangered list in May.

Wolves would remain off-limits to hunters inside national wildlife refuges and national parks, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. But restricted hunting would be allowed within a zone just outside those parks and refuges in the greater Yellowstone region of northwestern Wyoming, where most of the state's wolves reside.

Others fear for the wolves in the dens of the Parks. Wyoming’s draft wolf management plan could harm values such as wildlife viewing and the ecological landscape in Grand Teton National
Park, park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott said last week. Scott made the statement in a letter to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Sept. 6 during a formal comment period on the draft plan.

Six wolf packs used portions of the park at some point during the year for the last three years, Scott said in the letter. “Many of the individuals who are supportive of wolf restoration are very interested in conserving the packs that use the national parks,” Scott said. “[Grand Teton National Park] visitors have consistently cited wildlife viewing as the primary draw to the park, and viewing wolves is of great interest.”

Further, wolves help keep the park’s natural balance, Scott said. “Our goal is to maintain wolves as part of the natural ecological landscape in the park, which will require designing hunt seasons
and implementing management actions that maintain packs outside our boundary.”

Further, wolves help keep the park’s natural balance, Scott said. “Our goal is to maintain wolves
as part of the natural ecological landscape in the park, which will require designing hunt seasons and implementing management actions that maintain packs outside our boundary.”

“It’s important to note that, to date, packs that reside in Grand Teton National Park and adjacent national forest land have not been involved in large numbers of livestock depredations,” Scott continued. “We hope that strong consideration will be given to the fact that these packs are not chronic depredators and that allowing them to persist should help keep conflicts at a low level.”

In particular, Scott said she was concerned about Grand Teton wolves that move to the Gros
Ventre drainage during the winter when the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is feeding elk on one or more feed grounds in the area (left). “Over the last 12 years, more than 50 radio-collared wolves from 10 packs that spent significant amounts of time in Grand Teton National Park also visited the Gros Ventre drainage at some point,” she said. “Most of these visits occurred during the winter when the feed grounds were occupied by elk.

“This underscores the concern that multiple wolf packs could be eliminated or socially disrupted if wolves are targeted on or near feed grounds without regard to pack affiliation,” Scott said. “We urge the department to consider all the implications of wolf management actions on or near feed grounds carefully.”

Despite the concerns for the wolves connected to the parks, in the rest of the state, wolves would be classified as predatory animals, subjecting them to unlicensed, unregulated killing through methods such as shooting, trapping and pursuit on mechanized vehicles.

Once driven to the brink of extinction by government eradication efforts, wolves have been the subject of bitter debate in the Northern Rockies since they were reintroduced to the region in the mid-1990s as a vital but missing part of the ecosystem.

Ranchers and commercial outfitters vehemently objected, saying the animals would prey on livestock and compete with hunters for elk.

As wolf numbers rebounded under Endangered Species Act safeguards, protracted legal battles have ensued among the states, the federal government and wildlife advocates over what constitutes a recovered population of the animals.

Today, the Northern Rockies are home to nearly 2,000 wolves by state estimates, many more than
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set as the goal to ensure survival of the species.

Wolves in Idaho and Montana were delisted through an unprecedented act of Congress, giving those states largely unfettered control over the animals. Idaho and Montana have since opened public hunting seasons for wolves, and environmentalists are seeking to restore federal protections.

The federal government and Wyoming on Tuesday presented the state's wolf plan as a triumph forged from years of hard work.

Wyoming's wolves "are ready to stand on their own" under the state's oversight, Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said in a statement. Governor Matt Mead added: "This is an important step for Wyoming."

Conservationists took issue with allowing open season on wolves in at least 80 percent of the state. "It takes away all the rules of fair chase. This isn't how we manage wildlife in today's society," said Chris Colligan, wildlife advocate for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Source:
Reuters,"U.S. seeks to lift Wyoming wolf protections", accessed October 5, 2011
Jackson Hole News & Guide, "Park superintendent criticizes wolf plan", accessed October 5, 2011

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