Volume 3, Number 13 - June 26, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Wolf plan detailed
Since the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has released the draft statewide wolf management plan to the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, a non-governmental special-interest entity, this newspaper has determined that the document is indeed public and thus should be subject to news reporting to the remainder of the public. The final draft that will actually be submitted for public review is due to be released July 18.
The state law
The wolf legislation approved in the 2003 Wyoming Legislature calls for the maintenance of 15 packs of five or more wolves in the state, with seven of those packs located primarily outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway. So long as wolf numbers stay at these levels, wolves would be classified as trophy game animals within the parks and parkway and "those federally designated wilderness areas contiguous" to these areas. Because of the one-mile long common boundary where the Gros Ventre Wilderness touches Grand Teton National Park, wolves in the Gros Ventre will have trophy game status, but those 10 miles away in the Bridger Wilderness will be classified as predators. Wolves located outside these federally designated protected areas would be classified as predators so long as the population levels stayed up.
Should the wolf population drop to less than the 15 packs, with seven packs outside the parks, the legislation empowers the WG&F Commission to revoke the predator classification, instead designating wolves as trophy game in an expanded area of the state, to be determined by the commission.
It should be noted that even in areas where wolves would be classified as predators, all harvested wolves must be presented to a WG&F Department employee so biological data can be obtained.
The draft plan
The WG&F Department's latest version of a statewide wolf plan creates a large area called a "Data Analysis Unit." If wolf numbers fell below those 15/7 packs described in the law, trophy game classification would be expanded throughout the DAU, which encompasses most of northwestern Wyoming.
The plan states: "This classification will remain indefinitely, regardless of future pack numbers in this area, as it will have been demonstrated that the initial trophy game area is not large enough to provide adequate regulatory mechanisms to sustain seven wolf packs due to unregulated public take under predator status."
The DAU's southern boundary is Boulder Creek, then northeasterly to the Wind River Indian Reservation Boundary. It includes not just U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands, but also private lands all the way to Meeteetsee and Cody, on north to the Montana border. To the west of Pinedale, the southern boundary of the unit follows Highway 191 to Alpine and connects with the Idaho border.
According to the draft: "The Wyoming Range and the lower end of the Wind River Range were excluded from the DAU because of the potential for consistent conflicts due to large numbers of domestic livestock."
The state wildlife agency is required to monitor the wolf population to ensure that state and federal goals are met, but the plan notes that if the WG&F Commission decides to implement the DAU, "the department will restrict data collection to determine population status to only the DAU." Any wolves outside the DAU would retain their predator status and would not be monitored.
Dealing with conflicts
Livestock depredations were given little attention in the draft plan, in contrast to the section dealing with the potential for wolves to conflict with other wildlife species.
In general, the plan notes that where wolves are classified as trophy game, WG&F will be the lead agency in responding to wolf-livestock conflicts, but will continue to contract with U.S.D.A. Wildlife Services in assisting in investigating and resolving conflicts.
"The department will decide on an appropriate management action, based on the specific circumstances of each conflict," according to the plan. Instead of a specific set of guidelines for how to handle the conflicts between wolves and livestock, the plan states, "Management actions could include a variety of responses, and will be determined on a case-by-case basis."
The plan does acknowledge that lethal control is often the most effective management option for wolves that kill livestock.
In areas where wolves will be classified as trophy game, WG&F will be responsible for compensating property owners for damages or losses caused by wolves. The plan notes, "The department is determined to keep economic losses from a recovered wolf population to a minimum."
In areas where wolves are classified as predators, the department will not manage nuisance wolves, nor will it compensate for damages.
As for conflicts with big game populations, the department doesn't anticipate excessive depredation on ungulates in most circumstances. The plan does note: "However, some wintering elk, moose and bighorn sheep sub-populations on native winter range and elk on winter feedgrounds or near cattle feed lines could be susceptible to negative impacts from wolf predation and management action may be necessary under specific conditions."
The WG&F estimates the annual cost of managing wolves in Wyoming will be $450,000. The plan notes that a recovered wolf population will bring both positive and negative economic impacts, with positive impacts arising from increased tourism, and negative impacts may be experienced by livestock producers, hunters and outfitters.
The plan acknowledges that the economic impacts associated with wolves are difficult to predict.
"Because of the high profile of wolves and the nationwide public interest in them, the presence of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Area was expected to increase tourism in the area, however, overall visitation to Yellowstone National Park has decreased for unknown reasons since wolf restoration."
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