SUBLETTE COUNTY – Wyoming Game and Fish hoped to limit last year’s gray wolf trophy population by 24 percent, but one conservation group called the resulting 16-percent decline “astonishing.”
The 2017 annual Wyoming Gray Wolf Monitoring and Management Report was released April 12 by Wyoming Game and Fish with other cooperating agencies.
The report counts at least 347 wolves total in Wyoming in at least 53 packs, with at least 23 breeding pairs. Yellowstone has 97 wolves and 11 packs with three breeding pairs, and the Wind River Reservation has at least 12 wolves in two packs with one known breeding pair.
That makes at least 238 wolves, 40 packs and 19 breeding pairs in Wyoming’s trophy-game area. Wolves in the predator zone do not count toward population and recovery goals.
The report states gray wolf numbers dropped to 238 from 285 the year before and confirmed livestock kills and lethal removals also declined.
Game and Fish took over state management in late April 2017 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the northern Rocky Mountain wolves in Wyoming. They were already delisted in surrounding states.
Wyoming’s “recovery” criteria call for 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside Wyoming’s parks and reservation, within
the state’s trophy-game area.
“Under the state’s management, the Wyoming wolf population declined by an astonishing 16 percent in just one year,” said Andrea Santarsiere, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wolves won’t persist outside Yellowstone National Park if Wyoming continues to eradicate them at this appalling pace.”
Lead wolf biologist and report author Ken Mills pointed out Game and Fish set a 2017 minimum population objective of 160 wolves against the 210 reported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016.
Looking at the state’s current population of 238, Mills added, “We have more wolves for sure in the trophy-game area than we had at the end of 2011 before wolves were delisted the second time.”
He said he bases his reports and conclusions on data.
“It’s easy to look from the outside and make judgments, but my job is to stick to data and decisions made back in the delisting process and take care we haven’t diverged from what we committed to,” Mills said. “Wolves are not that simple with five different jurisdictions in the state.”
In 2016, FWS confirmed 243 livestock kills with 113 wolves removed. Last year, FWS and Game and Fish confirmed 191 livestock kills and 61 wolves were taken, according to the report. That includes 113 cattle, 81 sheep and one dog with five more cattle injured. They involved 29 packs – with 19 involved in three or more confirmed kills, the report states.
Wyoming Game and Fish’s first legal wolf-hunting season (for this delisting) last October in the trophy-game and seasonal management areas ended with 43 taken against a quota of 44. One more was killed illegally.
“The biological objective was to reduce the wolf population by approximately 24 percent in the wolf trophy game management area,” said Mills, to ensure Wyoming sustains the minimum number of 160 wolves.
Wolf-hunting season draft regulations for this fall are due out this month.
Outside the trophy-game area, 33 wolves were killed in the state’s predator zone last year. Grand Teton National Park is in the trophy-game area but hunting is not allowed.
With the 16-percent drop in wolf numbers, officials noted Wyoming wolf numbers outside Yellowstone and the Wind River Reservation have met and exceeded federal “endangered species” recovery criteria for 16 years now.
“After having management of wolves returned to Wyoming in April of 2017, we made a strong commitment to ensure we would be responsive and responsible managers,” said Dan Thompson, Game and Fish’s large carnivore section supervisor in Lander.
Go to https://wgfd.wyo.gov/News/Wyoming%E2%80%99s-wolf-population-above-recovery-criteria.