Wolves are a unique species in terms of their cultural and politic affects, especially their ability to polarize public opinions. To some they are a symbol of the wild, the majestic rulers of the mountains if I may. To others they are a nuisances that kill cattle and wildlife species such as deer and elk. I for one find myself somewhere in the middle. As a small child I feared wolves, even though I had never seen one. By the time I was ten this fear had turned into respect and admiration. So I can see both sides, on one hand wolves must be maintained at manageable levels to prevent over population (accompanied by over-predation) but they should not be slaughtered to the point of extirpation as they were before.

On August 31 of this year wolves were officially delisted in Wyoming and control was turned over to the state wildlife agency. In a little over a month I have seen dozens of blog posts and news articles blasting the Wyoming Game and Fish Department over wolf management, specifically their use of limited hunting as a management tool. So after reading a lot of BS I took it upon myself to do some real research, something the other writers have not attempted to do or have no desire to do.

As most wildlife enthusiasts know wolves had been on the endangered species list for quite a while. However, many folks are unaware of the fact that wolves met the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) requirements for delisting ten years ago in 2002. Since then state agencies have been working with the USFWS, the agency which enforces the Endangered Species Act, to design acceptable management policies. Since control was turned over to Wyoming in late August there have been a lot of false statements about Wyoming’s wolf policies. So here are the facts I gathered in an interview with a representative of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

As of December 2011 Wyoming is home to 48 separate wolf packs, 36 of which are outside of Yellowstone National Park, with at least 27 breeding pairs and 19 of those are also located outside of YNP. The state has a total of 328 wolves with only 104 of those being found in the park. These numbers may seem low but they are actually good considering 1) Wyoming is on the fringe of the wolf reintroduction areas and 2) we are dealing with a carnivore, carnivore levels are stable at much lower number than prey species.

Wolf hunting has strict guidelines and is only allowed in certain zones. In fact the wolf hunting areas comprise less than 1/4 of the state and can be seen in the maps below. There is a strict quota system in place which splits the hunting are into different zones and once quotas are met the season closes. The zones with the highest wolf populations are only allocated a quota of 8 wolves while others are only allowed 1-2 wolves and any wolves killed must have their skulls and pelt presented to the WGFD for verification and study purposes within 24 hours of the kill. All together the total number of wolves on quota are 47 individuals, out of a total population of 328 individuals this means less than 15% of the total population can be harvested. One addition I might add here to help the reader understand how insignificant this number is has to do with how populations are surveyed. Based off my time as a Wildlife Ecology and Management student I can say that most population surveys count only adult animals. Thus the number of 328 most likely does not include the juvenile wolves.

Wolf Trophy Game Management Area Boundaries

Several anti-hunting groups have made remarks that wolves are now going to be slaughtered without restriction, dens are going to be gassed to kill pups, and a bounty has been placed on all wolf pelts to encourage the slaughter. After my interview with the WGFD I can now set the record straight. I was assured that there is no bounty on dead wolves and that the gassing of dens is highly illegal. While some may try to do this anyone caught will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. As for simple slaughtering of wolves there is some truth to their claims although as usual the details have been sensationalized and the truth has been disregarded. According to the WGFD any wolf outside of the hunting zones and YNP can be considered predatory and may be shot as such. However populations are so low outside of the YNP and hunting zones that they believe very few will ever be seen let alone shot at. If any predatory wolves are killed they must be reported to the WGFD within 10 days.

The bottom line is wolves are not in any danger here. They are a vital part of the ecosystem and our state game agencies intend to manage  them in a way that promotes the overall health of wolves and their habitat, including prey species. There is no need to sensationalize the story and claim the wolves are going to be extirpated again, to do so would be simply crying wolf. I apologize but I could not resist that last remark.

Additional Information and Direct Links to wolf regulations in Wyoming:

http://wgfd.wyo.gov/web2011/wildlife-1000380.aspx

http://wgfd.wyo.gov/web2011/Departments/Hunting/pdfs/REGULATIONS_CH470002742.pdf

http://wgfd.wyo.gov/web2011/Departments/Hunting/pdfs/REGULATIONS_CH210002741.pdf

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