From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 29 - October 12, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

FWS miscalculating wolf impact

by Cat Urbigkit

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is insisting that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service isn’t being completely honest about the impact of wolves in Wyoming. When wolf reintroduction was examined in an environmental impact statement in the mid-1990s, that analysis examined the impact of a recovered wolf population of 100 animals in Wyoming. Now that Wyoming has a minimum of 300 wolves, FWS only discusses impacts as a rate per 100 wolves, rather than the impact of the total wolf population, which is at least three times that original number.

Wyoming is still stewing about the FWS rejection of Wyoming’s petition to delist wolves and in a 60-page technical analysis of that rejection, Wyoming called FWS’ reasoning as based on “unrealistic assumptions, misinterpretation of data, misrepresentation” and used “infeasible or highly unrealistic” hypothetical examples.

The WG&F document provided a point/counterpoint format to some FWS claims and re-examined its original claims in the 1994 EIS on wolf reintroduction. WG&F noted:

• The wolf population in the Greater Yellowstone area in 2005 was at least 3.3 times the original EIS prediction for a recovered population.

• The number of breeding pairs of wolves in the GYA in 2005 was at least twice as high as the original EIS prediction and the number of breeding pairs in 2004 was at least 3.1 times the original EIS prediction.

• In 2005, the wolf population in Wyoming outside Yellowstone National Park exceeded the recovery criteria for the entire region and continues to increase rapidly.

• The estimated annual predation rate (22 ungulates per wolf) is 1.8 times the annual predation rate (12 ungulates per wolf) predicted in the EIS.

• The estimated number of ungulates taken by 325 wolves in a year (7,150) is six times higher than the original EIS prediction.

• The percent of the northern Yellowstone elk harvest during the 1980s currently taken by wolves (50 percent) is more than six times the original estimate of eight percent projected in the EIS.

• The actual decline in the northern Yellowstone elk herd (more than 50 percent) is 1.7 times the maximum decline originally forecast in the EIS.

• The actual decline in cow harvest in the northern Yellowstone elk herd (89 percent) is 3.3 times the decline originally forecast in the EIS.

• The actual decline in bull harvest in the northern Yellowstone elk herd is 75 percent, whereas the 1994 EIS predicted bull harvests would be “unaffected.”

WG&F stated: “Despite research findings in Idaho and the Greater Yellowstone Area, and monitoring evidence in Wyoming that indicate wolf predation is having an impact on ungulate populations that will reduce hunter opportunity if the current impact levels persist, the service continues to rigidly deny wolf predation is a problem.”

The 1994 EIS predicted that presence of wolves would result in a 5-10 percent increase in annual visitation to Yellowstone National Park. On this basis, the EIS forecast wolves in the region would generate $20 million in revenue to the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. WG&F reports that annual park visitation remained essentially unchanged after wolf introduction, and has decreased 2.6 percent since the wolf population reached recovery goals in 2000.

“Since park visitation did not increase as originally forecast, the service cannot legitimately conclude presence of wolves has had any appreciable effect on net tourism revenues,” WG&F stated.

WG&F stated: “Wolf presence can be ecologically compatible in the GYA only to the extent that the distribution and numbers of wolves are controlled and maintained at approximately the levels originally predicted by the 1994 EIS –100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs.” WG&F maintained that FWS “has a permanent, legal obligation to manage wolves at the levels on which the wolf recovery program was originally predicated, the levels described by the impact analysis in the 1994 EIS.”

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