From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 38 - September 20, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Comment period starts for new state wolf plan

by Alecia Warren

After multiplying faster than environmental agencies ever expected when they introduced the carnivores into the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) more than 10 years ago, the gray wolf population has reached a level in Wyoming that many agree calls for removal from the Endangered Species List.

Before the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (GFD) declares the best formula for removing excess wolves in the department’s final version of the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan, the department will explain the animals’ status and hear opinions from people across the state concerned about the issue, whether because they’ve lost livestock to the wolves or because they simply share concern for balancing the state’s ecosystem.

A dozen such people gathered at the Sublette

County Library on Monday night to hear the GFD’s presentation of its revised draft for the Gray Wolf Management Plan, currently available online for a 30-day comment period and planned for final publishing in February, if first approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

The purpose of the current plan, explained Bill Rudd, wildlife division chief at the GFD Cheyenne office, is to maintain a statewide wolf population of at least 15 breeding pairs of wolves — or an adult male and female with at least two year-old pups— with a minimum seven breeding pairs thriving outside the National Parks and Parkway.

Although Wyoming citizens can submit written commentary about the draft, the department’s hands are tied on making many changes, as the draft must comply with House Bill 0213, state legislation passed this year that specifies wolf management measures like ensuring that the state’s wolf population never drops below 10 breeding pairs. The draft follows closely with wolf management plans constructed by Idaho and Montana, which reintroduced wolves with Wyoming in 1994, when the FWS published a Final EIS for wolf recovery in Northwest Montana, Central Idaho and the GYA, specifically requiring the states to maintain wolves they caught in the act.

Wolves would be classified as predatory animals in the remainder of the state. “Taking” a predator class animal, which includes killing, capturing, harming or harassing the animal, isn’t regulated, though anyone who took a wolf would be required to notify the department within 10 days under the plan. The department hopes the dual classification would provide a greater degree of protection for remaining wolves than Idaho and Montana’s statewide predatory classification, which basically allows people to kill wolves “any time, for any reason,” Rudd said.

Franz Camenzind, a biologist and executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, couldn’t attend the Monday meeting, but said he was against the plan because of the state’s requirement to maintain a minimum amount of breeding pairs in Wyoming.

“Managing minimal numbers will require the state to account for the packs, and the only way to do that is to have a very, very hands on management program, and that’s very costly,” Camenzind said. Indeed, Rudd confirmed at the meeting that a large portion of the plan’s projected $4.55 million cost is attributed to tagging and monitoring wolves.

“So why not let the federal government deal with it and let them pay for it?” asked Paul Hagenstein, who owns a ranch south of Pinedale.

“From the input we’ve received, the public wants the state to deal with this,” Rudd replied, adding the GFD will work with the state legislature this year to secure funding. If the state treated wolves like all other trophy game animals and removed them when they were a problem but otherwise allowed them to fill their predator role, Camenzind said, the cost would diminish significantly.

“There’s no reason to just kill wolves because they’re wolves,” he said, adding that business owners in the GYA have told him the region would lose millions in tourism dollars from wildlife viewers if Wyoming permitted locals to shoot the main attraction. “There’s a population of some 300 animals in the state, and we’re trying to kill them down to a minimum?” he said. “What other kind of endangered species have we done that to? We have just as many black bears, are we going to go set traps for them? Of course not, the first thing people would say is there’s not enough of them.”

When local resident Phil Washburn asked Rudd after the meeting if the GFD spokesman could really see Wyoming killing hundreds of wolves, Rudd didn’t hesitate. “Yes,” he said. “We’re three times over the amount (originally aimed for).” The informational meeting in Pinedale was the first of four across the state this week, the following three given in Lander on Tuesday, Casper on Wednesday and Cody on Thursday.

Rudd said the GFD would accept writtencommentary on the draft through Oct. 10. “We realize it’s a very speedy process, but it needs to be done in that fashion, because other items have to be regulated before next February, when the delisting would occur,” he said, adding that this public commentary session will follow with more about details the department hasn’t yet addressed in the draft.

“The state of Wyoming is committed to maintaining the number of wolves necessary to stay delisted, but that number is based upon a dialogue with people in the state of Wyoming, and the wants and wishes of the public,” he said.

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