One state gains control, two still seek it
Wyoming became the third western state where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared wolves recovered, and the state is on course to hold its first fair chase wolf hunt this fall. USFWS removed federal protection of the species there in late August. At press time, hunters had the green light to begin pursuing wolves the 1st of October. But on September 10th, Earth Justice, a consortium of environmental and animal rights groups that have sued over previous wolf delistings in Montana and Idaho, announced its intentions to file suit. The group takes issue with Wyoming’s plan to allow unregulated wolf hunting in roughly 90 percent of the state. State wildlife managers counter that more than 90 percent of Wyoming’s estimated 328 wolves live in the regulated hunting zones.
Wyoming Game and Fish has divided the state into three hunt areas. In the northwest corner outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the National Elk Refuge, hunters need a wolf license ($18 for residents, $180 for nonresidents) and can hunt through the end of February. To help ensure genetic interchange with wolves across the border in Idaho, Wyoming created a “flex area” south of Jackson and north of Afton. Hunters here need a license to hunt wolves from October to February, but then have no hunt restrictions as far as licenses or bag limits for the rest of the year. In the rest of the state, wolves can be killed year-round with no bag limits and no licenses required unless hunters plan to sell the pelt. A hunt map is available here.
Wyoming isn’t the only western state eager to take over management of wolves. Washington and Oregon both have wolf management plans in place and wolf packs rapidly multiplying.
“We don’t see any need for continued federal protections when state protections are there,” said Dave Ware, Washington state game division manager, in an interview with the Associated Press.
Washington recorded its first confirmed wolf pack since 1930 in 2008. In August, the biologists confirmed the state’s ninth pack, with at least three additional packs suspected. Wolves have fanned west into the state from Idaho and south from British Columbia, making their way clear to the Cascades. Oregon so far has five confirmed packs clustered in the state’s northeastern corner, though lone wolves have made long forays as far south as California. An Oregon wolf known to biologists as OR-7 made it to California’s Lassen Volcano National Park. At press time the wolf’s GPS collar showed it was in western Plumas County just south of Lassen. Crossing into the Sunshine State, though, OR-7 likely entered a starkly different political landscape when it comes to managing large predators. California banned mountain lion hunting in 1990 and in August fired the state’s wildlife commissioner after photos surfaced in the media of him displaying a legally harvested mountain lion in Idaho.
Oregon banned hunting of lions with hounds in a hotly contested ballot initiative in 1994, but has since extended the season in an attempt to increase harvest. When it comes to wolves, the state is as eager as Washington to gain the reins of wolf management.
“It seems very redundant to have a regulatory process at the state and federal level for that portion of Oregon,” said Tim L. Hiller, carnivore-furbearer coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).
Both Washington and Oregon are dealing with cattle predation problems from some packs, so ranching interests are looking to gain greater flexibility to deal with problem wolves.
“Dave and his folks are doing everything they can to reach out and demonstrate a commitment to the livestock industry that they will follow through with what they promised,” said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association. Field is quick to reinforce that ranchers are still leery of how the state will manage wolves, but less so than with the federal government.
“There has to be patience on both sides of the issue if we are going to come to a resolution that is going to work,” Ware said.
On August 25th, Oregon state biologists confirmed the state’s fifth wolf pack living deep in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. They spotted a pair of gray-colored adult wolves with five gray pups—the fifth litter of pups documented in Oregon this year. This expands the known range of wolves in the state. ODFW began monitoring the area closely after a photo of a black lactating female surfaced on June 4—apparently a different wolf from the newly discovered pack. Oregon’s wolf plan calls for delisting the gray wolf from state protections after four packs successfully produce pups for three years in a row, but federal protections would have to be lifted first. If wolves follow the same pattern as in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, both states will continue to see growth in the number of packs and expansion of range.
Sustaining both predator and prey species of big game in balance with suitable habitat and local human communities is no easy task. But state wildlife agencies have long proven their ability to do just that. Their success in meeting that challenge goes to the very heart of the North American Model of Wildlife Management. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation continues to staunchly support state management of wolves as soon as populations meet federal wolf recovery goals.