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Common Sense Should Dictate Wolf Policy, But No …

The federal government has been trying to turn over management of gray wolves to the individual states where the restored carnivores reside. One of the stumbling blocks to getting them under state control is that Wyoming’s management plan placed wolves in two categories, depending on where the wolf was at a given time. Inside Yellowstone National Park, they would be managed as trophy game animals, with hunting seasons and regulations like any other hunted animals. Everywhere else they would be listed as predators, and could be killed for any reason by anybody who could get close enough with a rifle.

Utah and Montana, the other two states with wolves, classify wolves as trophy game animals. Wyoming’s insistence on the two classifications was a major reason that a federal district judge recently overturned U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s delisting plan. The judge rightly noted that classifying 90 percent of Wyoming wolves as predators might isolate them from other wolves, a genetic guarantee that wolf populations would plummet below the numbers necessary to keep the species thriving, which would trigger another listing, etc. ad nauseum.
The solution seems so simple, yet opinion is split in Wyoming over what to do. Rep. Keith Gingery of Jackson has actually proposed the sensible solution: Make the wolf a trophy species state-wide. But there are others, says the Casper Star-Tribune , who would prefer suing the government to force it to accept the state’s plan.

Evidence that Gingery’s proposal is the right choice and his opponents are still living in a 19th-century mindset can be found in federal government records, which I found through Ralph Maugham’s indispensable Western news aggregator.

The Wyoming Wolf News Report for Oct. 13-17, includes this item: “On 10/18/08, Wyoming Wildlife Services investigated a dead calf in the Big Horn Mountains near Ten Sleep, WY. The calf died from causes unrelated to wolves; however, a wolf was seen scavenging the calf carcass. One set of wolf tracks was found near the carcass. A local resident recently took a photograph of a single black wolf walking through his cattle in the same area. Trapping efforts to radio collar this wolf will proceed after big game hunting season ends.”

This seems a reasonable response, from the perspective of the rancher and the wolf alike. But under the management plan that the state of Wyoming had in place after delisting, the outcome likely would have been different; that wolf could have been killed by the resident who took the photo or anybody else, for that matter. And since the wolf was scavenging the carcass, the killing of the calf could be blamed or at least associated with the wolf, in this case guilty of nothing more than following its nose to a possible meal site.

Here’s another item: “On 10/18/08, Wyoming Wildlife Services confirmed a calf injured by wolves in the Upper Green River drainage. On 10/20/08, WGFD confirmed a second calf injured by wolves in the same area. The calf was later euthanized due to the severity of the injuries. Control actions are ongoing to remove the 2 wolves that were involved in several depredations in the Upper Green River drainage this summer.”

Again, this would seem to be a sensible way to proceed. But under Wyoming’s management plan, the entire pack could have been hunted and exterminated and branded cattle killers.
Or this: “On 10/11/08, a local coyote trapper caught a yearling female wolf in the Upper Green River drainage, and reported the incident to the WGFD warden in the area. Wildlife Services was able to place a radio collar on the wolf and release it unharmed. The USFWS appreciates the help and coordination between the trapper, WGFD, and Wildlife Services.”

Again, the outcome would almost certainly have been different under the state’s management plan. The trapper could have legally killed the wolf as it struggled in the trap.
The Billings Gazette reports  that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to have another plan in place by next year.

If defies common sense that Wyoming wouldn’t draft a proper management plan that balances protection and management. Then again, don’t hold your breath, either.


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