Wyoming targets wolf packs

Star-Tribune environmental reporter
Sunday, December 31, 2006


JACKSON -- As they move toward delisting, many of the wolf packs in northwest Wyoming may be in the crosshairs.

There are estimated to be 23 wolf packs outside Yellowstone National Park, with three packs in the park. Under federal guidelines, Wyoming needs to maintain a minimum of seven packs outside the park, in addition to three inside, to ensure that wolves will not become endangered again.

Wyoming representatives have said they would like the federal government to eliminate the extra packs -- about 16 -- before removing wolves from federal protection and turning over management to the state.

The prospect of eliminating wolf packs has been mentioned in recent discussions between state and federal officials about a possible new approach to wolf management in Wyoming. The state's wolf management plan has been rejected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because it would subject the animals to unregulated killing in areas except Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and surrounding wilderness.

A new proposal aimed at resolving the dispute would increase the area where wolves would be treated as "trophy game," meaning they could only be killed with permission from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Regardless of which management plan prevails, Gov. Dave Freudenthal said reducing packs has always been on the table.

"In terms of reducing the packs, that's always been a state objective from the outset," Freudenthal said. "Frankly, it's essential for both wildlife and domestic livestock that we do that."

Meredith Taylor of the Wyoming Outdoor Council called the idea "a recipe for relisting."

"Why would we waste all the wildlife conservation success that we've invested by killing up to 16 wolf packs now?" she asked. "Wyoming took a big step forward with wolf recovery 10 years ago, but this shift in management by the (Fish and Wildlife Service) is a giant step back into the dark ages of wolf slaughter that got the wolves listed in the first place."

She also said managing for the minimum number of wolves would be more costly for the state -- through extensive monitoring and killing -- than letting wolves live as long as they don't get into trouble.

State Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, who has been working with federal officials on possible negotiations, said nothing is definite and any plan will have public input.

Mitch King, regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said there has been "some discussion about moving more aggressively with wolf control." He said attorneys are looking at that possibility.

"I'm not overly optimistic, but I want to hear what the lawyers say," King said. He said his optimism was "measured" because there would likely be outcry over the wolf killings.

"Although it sounds like a lot of bloodshed, that's more of an emotional argument," King said. "Experts said for wolves to be fully recovered, all we needed to do was have 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves, and wolves would survive that way. It does not mean wolves will be heading again toward extinction."

Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the lower 48 states for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in the last 10 years, about 550 wolves have been killed because of predation on livestock. He said how many wolves a state chooses to maintain, as long as it meets the federal standard, is at that state's discretion.

Environmental reporter Whitney Royster can be reached at (307) 734-0260 or at royster @tribcsp.com.

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